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Procopius: The Secret History (Penguin Classics) Paperback – March 25, 1982
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From the Back Cover
The last major ancient historian, Byzantine scholar PROCOPIUS OF CAESAREA (c. 500-565) traveled with the army of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I as a military adviser, and published his accounts of the wars the emperor fought in his eight-volume History of the Wars.
But what was the real story of life with Justinian, his wife, Theodora, and Justinian's greatest general, Belisarius? Procopius' Secret History was so scandalous that he withheld it during his lifetime, and in fact, it was not published until 1623. In this 1927 translation by RICHARD ATWATER (1892-1998), considered the best available, Procopius gives us all the scoop on:
* how the great general Belisarius was hoodwinked by his wife * how Theodora humiliated the conqueror of Africa and Italy * how Justinian created a new law permitting him to marry a courtesan * Justinian and Theodora: fiends in human form * the deceptive affability and piety of a tyrant * what happened to those who fell out of favor with Theodora * and much more.
An enthralling read, this curio of ancient history will fascinate anyone interested in tales of royal intrigue. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Procopius was born in Palestine around AD 500 and fought for the Byzantine Empire in Persia, Africa and Italy. Very little is known about him.
G.A. Williamson (1895-1982) was a Classical Exhibitioner at Worcester College, Oxford, graduating with a First Class Honours degree. He was Senior Classics Master at Norwich School from 1922 to 1960. He translated Josephus: The Jewish War (1959) and Procopius: The Secret History (1966) for the Penguin Classics. He died in 1982. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
As is well known, Procopius wrote both the official and the unofficial histories of Justinian's reign. In fact, the editor has an interesting passage on P.'s esoteric art of writing:
"...There are good reasons ... to take Procopius at his word, not least of which is the fact that the differences between these two works are more often apparent than they are real. The main one is that whereas criticism of Justinian and his policies in the Secret History is invariably explicit and direct and expressed in the authorial voice, in the History of the Wars the self-same accusations tend to be put into the mouths of others, such as foreign ambassadors or visitors to court, or are expressed implicitly, by way of literary allusion. Another ruse employed in the History of the Wars is to take charges levelled at Justinian in the Secret History and project them onto the Persian Shah Chosroes (Khusro). Justinian and Chosroes become, in effect, interchangeable as models of oriental despotism."
Nonetheless, Procopius does not lay everything out in the "unofficial" history, either. He may be describing a horrible state of affairs, and yet his rhetoric is often too classical:
If in the attitude of mind and way of life the difference between them (Justinian and Theodora) was apparent, they were at one in their rapacity, their bloodlust and their utter contempt for the truth. Both of them were the most practised liars, and if anyone who aroused Theodora’s ire was alleged to be committing any offence however trivial and insignificant, she promptly fabricated charges which had nothing to do with the accused and blew the matter up to criminal proportions. Endless indictments received a hearing, and a special court was set up to dispose of them. The judges appointed were of Theodora’s choosing, and it was their function to contend with each other to see which of them by the inhumanity of his verdict could succeed better than the others in satisfying the Empress’s desire.
Of Theodora's sexual depravity (the dishiest part of the book), I will say only that some things are too good to be true, and some things too awful.
Reassuring reading if you think we live in the worst of times.
The translation is readable.