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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Last Classical Historian, 18 Sep 2011
By 
Arch Stanton (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: On Buildings: 7 (Loeb Classical Library) (Hardcover)
Since there are so many of these darn things the review shall be divided into three sections. First, a brief description of the Loeb series of books and their advantages/disadvantages. Second shall be my thoughts on the author himself, his accuracy, as well as his style and the style of his translator. This is of course only my opinion and should be treated as such. The final part shall review what this particular book actually covers.

The Loeb series date back to the turn of the last century. They are designed for people with at least some knowledge of Greek or Latin. They are a sort of compromise between a straight English translation and an annotated copy of the original text. On the left page is printed the text in Greek or Latin depending on the language of the writer and on the right side is the text in English. For somebody who knows even a little Greek or Latin these texts are invaluable. You can try to read the text in the original language knowing that you can correct yourself by looking on the next page or you can read the text in translation and check the translation with the original for more detail. While some of the translations are excellent mostly they are merely serviceable since they are designed more as an aid to translation rather than a translation in themselves. Most of them follow the Greek or Latin very closely. These books are also very small, maybe just over a quarter the size of your average hardcover book. This means that you'll need to buy more than just one book to read a complete work. They are also somewhat pricey considering their size. The Loeb Collection is very large but most of the more famous works can be found in better (and cheaper) translations elsewhere. If you want to read a rarer book or read one in the original language then you can't do better than the Loeb Editions.

Procopius was the last great Classical historian and a personal favorite of mine. His works were written in the middle of the 6th Century during the reign of Justinian when the Empire was once again on the rise. His books are about the wars to reconquer the Western Empire which had fallen in 476. As an author Procopius is highly readable. His works cover a very interesting period and do so with great skill. He is from the Sallustan school of history writing and divides his work into sections based on similar topics instead of following a strictly chronological approach. This makes his books both easier to follow and more entertaining for the reader. While his books are technically focused on the wars they cover much more than that including politics and economic matters. Procopius is also the author of two other very different books. One a very boring panegyric on the building works of Justinian and the other called the 'Anecdota' or 'Secret History' which is basically a collection of every possible slander he could make against Justinian, his wife Theodora, and just about everybody else he'd ever met. As you might gather from those two different books Procopius suffers on accuracy issues. While he doesn't seem to have told direct lies (except in his secret history) his lies of omission are likely to be serious. Unfortunately he is our main source for that era which makes it hard to check him against other sources. Still, even if he fudges facts a little to obscure some points he is unlikely to have completely changed the events described. The translation is quite good.

This volume contains Procopius' book on the buildings of Justinian. The book is basically a panegyric glorifying Justinian and the works he constructed. The idea that the same man could write both this and the Secret History is disturbing. The man must have been a real snake. The biggest sin of this book is that unlike the Anecdota it is boring beyond belief. Descriptions of buildings is not a topic likely to interest many people, especially when it doesn't include pictures.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Warning: Byzantine, 26 Jan 2011
By 
reader 451 - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: On Buildings: 7 (Loeb Classical Library) (Hardcover)
Justinian's Buildings was once read as a tourist or archaeological guide to the Near East and to Constantinople, but it is both much more and much less than that. Modern historians have shown it to be a formulaic work, not so much descriptive or exhaustive, but an argumentative piece aiming to extol the emperor's church and fortress-building. Indeed, the Buildings are only interesting when they are fitted into Procopius' overall writings.

Procopius of Caesarea was a lawyer by training, and his three works: the Wars, the Secret History, and the Buildings sometimes sound as if he is presenting us the evidence, the prosecution, and the defence at Justinian's trial. The Wars are superficially a factual account embellished with such features of classical history as set speeches and allegorical anecdotes, the Secret History is a rant of a grotesque rather than a realistic turn, and the Buildings is an encomiastic text with strong Christian overtones. They also contradict each other in points of fact. Procopius, for example, says in Buildings that Justinian rebuilt the public baths in Constantinople and improved the water supply, contradicting the Secret History, which has the poor on the verge of dying of thirst. And while Buildings ascribes the hydraulic works at Dara to a divinely inspired vision of Justinian, Wars VIII state of the entry to the subterranean river that was their central feature: 'After the emperor Anastasius built this city, nature unaided fashioned and placed it there' (Wars, VIII.7.5-9.).

But Buildings was probably a commissioned work, and it is almost certainly not sincere. In the introduction, for example, Procopius makes a parallel between Xenophon's praise of Cyrus and his own eulogy of Justinian, with the conclusion that Cyrus' achievements were `child's play' compared to Justinian's. Note that first, Cyrus, in the classical, Herodotean framework that is invoked, meant the Persian tyranny that was the deadly foe of the free Greeks. If Justinian was a superlative Cyrus, as the introduction writes, was he not then a superlative tyrant? This seems all the more likely that, as the commentator Anthony Kaldellis found, the text of Justinian's decision to embark on the Vandal wars, in Wars III, is modelled on Herodotus' version of Xerxes' words upon attacking Greece. Second, Xenophon, an Athenian, betrayed his homeland in favour of its enemy Sparta. When Procopius compares himself to Xenophon, is he suggesting that Buildings is his own act of betrayal? The passage, tactically placed at the beginning of the work, may well be a watermark sign that the Buildings was a commissioned piece or that it was written under duress.

For readers on Procopius, the most important books are probably Averil Cameron's Procopius and the Sixth Century, and Anthony Kaldellis's Procopius of Caesarea.
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On Buildings: 7 (Loeb Classical Library)
On Buildings: 7 (Loeb Classical Library) by Procopius (Hardcover - 1 July 1989)
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