I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
Secret History – Procopius
The Eastern Roman Procopius was a crony of the famous general Belisarius, whose sad story of glory to dust was told in Robert Graves’ Count Belarius, a masterpiece of historical fiction. Discontented and disgruntled about Belasarius’ shabby treatment, Procopius was also angered by the confiscatory taxes implemented by Emperor Justinian (483-565). The emperor had to pay for massive building projects, military expeditions, and his own and Empress Theodora’s (died 548) lavish lifestyle.
Procopius therefore wrote a biting history of Justinian and Theodora’s reign. Procopius spares nothing, grants nothing to Justinian. He asserts that Justinian was in fact a demon in human form, decked out all the flaws and all vices, ignorant, vindictive. As a true genius of evil, Justinian invented new torments for the honest and virtuous and rewarded functionaries and courtiers who distinguished themselves in crimes of theft and murder.
Theodora did not take second place to him in turpitude. The daughter of low entertainers, she first worked a low-class brothel, then took to the stage, which had to include sexual exhibitions. Procopius notes that her bit Leda and the Swan was especially salacious. Anyway, somehow she attracted Justinian into marriage and she became an empress. Her ways with subordinates pretty much sums up despotism:
Not even the government officials could approach the Empress without expending much time and effort. They were treated like servants and kept waiting in a small, stuffy room for an endless time. After many days, some of them might at last be summoned, but going into her presence in great fear, they very quickly departed. They simply showed their respect by laying face down and touching the instep of each of her feet with their lips; there was no opportunity to speak or to make any request unless she told them to do so. The government officials had sunk into a slavish condition, and she was their slave-instructor.
Join Procopius, then, in reveling in the description of its most outrageous and most extravagant luxuries. Assuming readers of this blog to be critical thinkers all, we know such excessive virulence raises suspicions as to credibility and requires some caution. But still the essential point stands: corruption is inherent in power and, even worse, in stupidity.