Siena is a small city in which local loyalties matter most above all. How easy do you think it would have been to keep secrets? You may wish to discuss your own hometowns—and/or scandals within your communities—as well.
Pia is valuable to her father only as a bargaining tool. How does she assert her own independence? In what ways is she a “woman ahead of her time?” What does that definition mean to you?
Riccardo, the son of an ostler, behaves with instinctive grace. Discuss nobility in the context of the story. How is it personified?
Do you think Riccardo was right to reject his inheritance? Why? And: what would
Pia wears Cleopatra’s coin around her neck. What is the significance of this charm? What other important artifacts, symbols, or talismans can be found in the book—and what do they mean to the beholder?
Discuss the role of the church in the story. How does it influence each of the characters in terms of belief and behavior?
To what extent has Violante become reconciled to her husband’s homosexuality by the end of the book? How would this story play out in a modern setting?
What changes Violante from a passive woman to a woman of bravery and determination? Again, take a moment to envision her in the world today. Would she be considered a feminist? Would
consider herself one?
How have Gian Gastone’s expectations corrupted his character? Also, does this make him a more
character, in terms of your reading experience?
There is an absence of mothers in the story but many fathers throughout. Do we, as readers, judge the fathers’ actions more or less harshly because of this gender imbalance? You may also wish to imagine the roles of some of the missing mothers in this novel. How might their offspring have turned out if they had been on the scene?
How does the art and architecture of the city support Violante as a ruler? How is the city of Siena a character in and of itself?
Discuss the equine “characters”—the donkey, Berio, Leocorno—in this novel. How does the author bring them to life for the reader? Moreover, how do they reflect the struggles of their human counterparts?