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Secret history

4.5 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 145 pages
  • Publisher: Dorset Press (1992)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0006P273M
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A detailed but biref record of the sixth century Roman/Byzantine emperor. As a contemporary account, it has historical interest. However, one does not have to read far to realize the author is far from objective as his motive is to denigrate every aspect of this ruler's character and reign. This negative bias is so extreme that it is hard to credit. If it were all accurate, it is difficult to see how the empire could have survived for so many centuries after Justinian. Fortunately, the introduction outlines that this is a highly biased account and having read this, it is easier to digest the constant and unreleneting criticism. An alternate view of one of the Roman Empires more famous later rulers.
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Format: Paperback
OK, so maybe that's an exaggeration. Procopius' penchant for dishing out the dirt is one of the reasons, however, that this is probably the most "readable" of Byzantine texts for modern audiences. He absolutely skewers Theodora, recounting her rise from child prostitute, circus performer and all-around besotted, depraved, licentious harlot to Empress of the Roman Empire. This is the primary reason this is the SECRET history, else Procopius would have ended up like Boethius.
Though Theodora was Procopius's primary target for vitriol, none of the personages who graced Justinian's court come off smelling so great. Justinian's most celebrated general, Belisarius (whom Procopius accompanied in several campaigns), comes across as kind of a good natured boob, whom Theodora easily tricks. Justinian himself is nowhere near the paragon Procopius depicted him as in his "official" history. When Justinian isn't scheming or engaged in petty retributions, he is basically passive, letting his wife run the show.
However interesting numerous passages are throughout the Secret History (P's recounting of the Plague that wiped out most of Constantinople in 542 AD, for instance), what it boils down to are the juicy parts. Who can say how many Latin scholars through the ages have turned to Procopius when they felt the need for a little titillation? Though the shock value has definitely diminished as far as our "modern" sensibilities are concerned, it's still some pretty heady stuff. I mean, Theodora makes Catherine the Great look like Mother Theresa, by comparison.
Procopius' official histories (eight books on military campaigns and five books on architecture) are perhaps of more merit to Byzantine scholars. In terms of enjoyable reading, however, this is definitely the place to start.
BK
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