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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most devastating character assassination ever written ...., 15 Feb 2007
This review is from: The Secret History (Classics) (Paperback)
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. It seems unlikely that the people Procopius worked for could have been either as perfect as he presented them in the books he published openly or as demonic as he presents them in this book written behind their backs.

Personally I suspect the real Belisarius was much closer to the man presented in Graves' novel "Count Belisarius" than to the figure in this book. Nevertheless "The Secret History" will continue to be read for two reasons.

First, it is the most devastating exercise in character assassination ever written. And secondly if anyone wants a critical account of anything in the reign or life of Justinian, you are guaranteed to find it here.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Sep 2011 03:10:59 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 Sep 2011 03:41:11 BDT
Marshall Lord's review was submitted on 15 February 2007, so it is not a review of the new version of the Penguin book which was published on 4 October 2007. Peter Sarris has revised Williamson's translation from 1964. In addition, he has written a new introduction to the text.

PS. The eight-volume history about Belisarius' military campaigns is usually referred to as the "History of the Wars."

Torben Retboll
Bangkok
Thailand

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2011 15:41:45 BDT
Last edited by the author on 15 Oct 2011 15:42:43 BDT
I don't think anything in my review was particularly specific to a particular edition, but you are quite correct. I posted this view before Peter Sarris, who UIAMM is a friend of a friend and an old boy of the same school as myself, updated the Williamson translation.

FWIW I was working from the Folio Society 1990 edition, which used exactly the same G.A. Williamson 1966 translation as the 1981 Penguin edition and was reprinted with permission from Penguin books. I cannot now remember whether I posted this against the Folio or 1981 Penguin edition, either of which would have been appropriate, but obviously it wasn't against the October 2007 Penguin edition which had not then been published.

Philip Ziegler's Introduction to the 1990 Folio edition of "The Secret Histories" refers to Procopius's eight volume history of Belisarius's campaigns as being, quote

"Usually known as 'The Histories' or 'The Discourses about the Wars.'"

I think you can use either of these terms or "History of the Wars" and most informed people will know exactly which books you are talking about.

Posted on 12 Dec 2012 02:47:31 GMT
Miketang says:
Shouldn't that be Empress Theodora?

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Dec 2012 06:19:41 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Dec 2012 06:24:48 GMT
To Miketang:

I think your comment is a reference to the original review, submitted 15 February 2007, where Marshall Lord mentions an Empress "Theodosia" - two times!

You are quite right: the name of Justinian's wife is Theodora - not Theodosia.

But only Marshall Lord can correct the name, because he wrote the review.

Perhaps he will. Let's wait and see.

Regards,

Torben Retboll
Bangkok
Thailand

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Dec 2012 23:14:57 GMT
Yes.

Thank you for pointing that out. I have rectified the mistake.
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