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The Secret History (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Procopius , P. Sarris , G. A. Williamson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Oct 2007 Penguin Classics
A trusted member of the Byzantine establishment, Procopius was the Empire's official chronicler, and his History of the Wars of Justinian proclaimed the strength and wisdom of the Emperor's reign. Yet all the while the dutiful scribe was working on a very different - and dangerous - history to be published only once its author was safely in his grave. The Secret History portrays the 'great lawgiver' Justinian as a rampant king of corruption and tyranny, the Empress Theodora as a sorceress and whore, and the brilliant general Belisarius as the pliable dupe of his scheming wife Antonina. Magnificently hyperbolic and highly opinionated, The Secret History is a work of explosive energy, depicting holy Byzantium as a hell of murder and misrule.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed. / edition (4 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140455280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140455281
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 16.4 x 1.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 108,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Very little is known about Procopius. He was born in Palestine around AD 500 and fought for the Byzantine Empire in Persia, Africa and Italy.

G. A. Williamson (1895-1982) also translated Josephus: The Jewish Wars (1959) and Eusebius: The History of the Church (1965) for Penguin Classics.

Peter Sarris is a University Lecturer in Early Medieval History and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NOT SO HOLY AN EMPEROR............ 16 Feb 2003
A review by Luciano Lupini. This is a good translation of Procopius most controversial opus, by G.A.Williamson, Senior Master of Classics at Norwich School (from 1922 to 1960). Whilst The Histories and Buildings are recognized as Procopius politically correct works, The Secret History tells a stunning tale of greed, corruption and destruction under Justinian and Theodora's empire.
Undoubtedly Procopius (A.D. 500?-565) was a qualified witness (having been private secretary to the greatest of Byzantium generals, Belisarius), although modern historians are at odds with the contradictions between what he wrote before and after this History, and still wonder what true motivations lie at the bottom of this work. But in my opinion, for anyone interested in a different , more private, assessment of Justinian and Theodora's deeds and character, this is a book that requires to be read. With caution, but with interest.
The architect of the Corpus Juris Civilis, the Codex Constructionum and the Digest, normally viewed as a "great conqueror, a great lawgiver, a great diplomat, and a great builder" (J.B. Bury) is screened in its defects by the author. The History mainly revolves around Justinian, Theodora, Belisarius and Antonina, their deeds, defects and personal motivations.
Justinian is portraited as a man of infinite greed and vicious cruelty. Theodora is exposed as a harlot, with a mind perpetually fixed upon inhumanity, constantly meddling in the affairs of the state.........
But let's not spoil the juicy tidbits. Let me just say that after one sorts out the mess created by this book, a more clear picture of the causes of the demise of the Roman Empire, the workings of the Imperial Court under Justinian and corruption of the mores will remain.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By Marshall Lord TOP 500 REVIEWER
In which an apparently loyal aide gets a mountain of bile off his chest and proves that no man is a hero to his private secretary ...

Procopius was the Byzantine equivalent of a civil servant. Among other things he was secretary to the great general Belisarius. Throughout his life, and in the books which he published in his lifetime, he appeared to be totally loyal to Belisarius, and even more so to Emperor Justinian.

Procopius wrote an eight-volume history of Belisarius's campaigns, usually referred to as "The Histories" or "The Discourses about the Wars" (or sometimes "The history of the wars") which is one of the definitive historial sources for the life of Belisarius. Later he wrote an an account of the great works of architecture construced under Justinian's regime. That book, known as "The Buildings," is so nauseatingly sycophantic to Emperor Justinian that it makes the average New Labour MP look like a severe critic of Tony Blair by comparison.

But in "The secret history" which he wrote to be published after his death, Procopius got off his chest all the negative comments about Belisarius, Justinian, and their wives which he ruthlessly suppressed himself from making anywhere where they might get to hear about them. The book is pure undiluted poison, in a horribly fascinating way.

This book accuses Belisarius of being a trusting fool, but he gets off lightly. His wife Antonina is accused of fornication (including with her adopted son) and murder. Justinian is accused of being quite literally a demon in human form, and his Empress Theodora of being a Messalina: both Justinian and Theodora are represented as mass murderers.

God only knows how much truth there is in this account.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting ancient account 24 Sep 2011
Penguin Classics has published an English translation of the text we know as "The Secret History" written by Procopius - a Roman historian who wrote in Greek - ca. AD 550. The first version of the translation by G. A. Williamson was published in 1966 and re-printed several times. The second version (which is under review here) was published in 2007. Peter Sarris has revised Williamson's translation from the 1960s. In addition, he has written a new introduction to the text. At the end of the book there is a useful reference section where we find the following:

* Further reading
* Chronology
* Genealogy
* Maps
* Index of places
* Index of persons
* Index of subjects

Here is some background information about the first translator G. A. Williamson, the second translator Peter Sarris, and the author Procopius:

G. A. Williamson (1895-1982) was Senior Classics Master at Norwich School from 1922 to 1960. He also translated "The Jewish War" by Titus Flavius Josephus and "The History of the Church" by Eusebius for the Penguin Classics.

Peter Sarris was born in 1971 and educated at St. Albans School and Balliol College, Oxford. He is now University Lecturer in Medieval History and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Procopius was born at Caesarea, on the coast of Palestine, ca. AD 500. In 527 he was appointed private secretary and legal advisor to the famous military commander Belisarius, whom he accompanied on his first three campaigns, in Persia, Africa, and Italy. In 542 he was in Constantinople where he witnessed the terrible plague which visited that city. We do not know when he died. He may have outlived Justinian, who was emperor 527-565.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The dark side of the age of Justinian.
Does what it says on the tin - a savage attack on the policies (and character) of Justinian. Not an objective history - but a useful corrective to the Justinian-as-hero of most... Read more
Published 18 days ago by Paul Marks
4.0 out of 5 stars great read
Supposed to be a great Christian emperor and empress but just power mongers and nasty with it. enlightening read changes view of them
Published 6 months ago by david gloin
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Procopius's obvious intense dislike of his employers will resonate with many, but his rhetoric lacks style and I struggled to finish this book, although it is worth reading.
Published 12 months ago by RobR
3.0 out of 5 stars Hsssssssss
What is more enjoyable than a rant, provided it does not go on for too long. When however almost every character introduced is more and more constantly evil than even a pantomime... Read more
Published 17 months ago by opus
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
Bought because I felt I needed a contemporary view of Justinian and his court, to accompany the books I was reading by modern historians. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mr. Edward Gregory
4.0 out of 5 stars Tyranny of Empire
Procopius was the official Historian during Justinian's reign and, like many another Historian, was faced with the delicate task of creating an accurate account of events while... Read more
Published on 12 July 2011 by Seamus
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book but dated
Procopius' work is a relatively short and interesting read, it's just a shame that this edition is a reprint of an earlier and more dated edition from the 1960s, with the... Read more
Published on 23 Jun 2011 by Michael P.
5.0 out of 5 stars Byzantine indeed
The Secret History is, according to Procopius' own introduction, the key to his monumental Wars, which provide a classicising account of Justinian's reign up to AD 553. Read more
Published on 26 Jan 2011 by reader 451
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspective
If you have an interest in Byzantine history and are one of those people who likes to see the other perspective in history (in this case the reality behind Justinian and his wife... Read more
Published on 24 Dec 2009 by Nrhlangman
4.0 out of 5 stars A neat and nasty piece of political spitfire
Written in 550 AD, this is my kind of book - it's a vicious piece of political backstabbing written by one of the inner circle of Justinian - the Eastern Roman Emperor. Read more
Published on 25 May 2009 by Brownbear101
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