Posted by: ken98 | March 10, 2010

Autistic Emperors, African Usurpers (Again), and Mistaken Chickens

Day 180 – Ken here (W)(3-10-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.28, pp.110-120)(pages read: 1210)

It’s a sparkling day outside – bright sun, a few clouds, and I’m inside, reading and writing about the late, late 4th century – not feeling so hot today, so maybe it’s all for the best to be taking a break, and just taking it easy.

We continue with chapter 29 and the puppet emperors Arcadius and Honorius – two young men, raised as virginal, holy Christians, doomed to be manipulated by a powerful court of eunuchs, barbarians and romans, largely forgotten by history, living as prisoners in their own palaces. Not exactly inspirational reading material.

The Story
 
Two Empires Divide – Greek versus Latin, East versus West

  • With Arcadius and Honorius both youths, both at the mercies of barbarian general-administrators, both empires begin a long slide into court faction and power plays among the various interests involved
  • Greek speaking East, rich and cultured, and less prone to barbarian attack despises the Latin West, and pragmatic Rome
  • Latin Rome, source of the empire, and Italy despises the effeminate, Greek-speaking East, with its capital (Constantinople) just a century old, and its pretensions to compete with the City of Rome, now in its 1100th year
  • Beginning of Greek/Latin break – in the future, within a hundred or so years, Latin will become a dead language in the East, Greek will be the language of Law and the common tongue – in the West, Latin will continue as the language of the Church, and modified Latin will become the national languages of the new barbarian kingdoms (ex. French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, etc)
  • It is not only a political division, but a cultural one – the end of the Pax Romana and the dream of a Romany, and the beginning of a Latin Europe (as opposed to Greek Asia)
  •  
    Gildo and the African War

  • Gildo and his brother Mascezel use the Romans to battle for North Africa
  • Gildo takes over from the tyrant Firmus and rules North Africa as his personal fief – much the same way Zenobia ruled Palmyra during the 200’s – the end of the 300’s is another time of Crises – in some ways it is the period 280 – 350 which is the anomaly – a united empire</li>
  • African War (398) – Stilicho sends in a tiny force of 5000 men to attack Gildo (after 10+ years of Gildo ruling in freedom)
  • Gildo is a native North African (moor), and calls upon the desert tribes to help him
  • Stilicho sends in the army, Gildo’s army deserts him, Stilicho wins
  • Mascezel, who was leading the troops into North Africa, supposedly dies drowning in a river (having fallen off a bridge), un-aided by Stilicho, smiling down at his struggles – man! these Late Antique historians are vicious – this from Procopius – I wonder what the truth really is?
  •  
    The Character of Honorius

  • Weak, simple, given to small tasks (feeding and keeping poultry)
  • Probably mentally handicapped – and given a bad reputation in history
  • a reign of 28 years, during which the effective political control of the empire in the West went from Atlantic to Balkans, Germany to Africa – to nothing
  •  

    An amazing piece of history - absolutely amazing!  A piece of jewelry of Maria, un-consummated wife of the (possibly handicapped) emperor Honorius of the West, daughter of the barbarian general Stilicho.  Christian pendant of Empress Maria, daughter of Stilicho, and wife of Honorius. Musée du Louvre. The pendant reads, around a central cross (clockwise): HONORI MARIA SERINA VIVATIS STELICHO.  All this from the turn of the century (400's), over 1600 years ago.  And we know the story behind it also - amazing!!!

    An amazing piece of history - absolutely amazing! A piece of jewelry of Maria, un-consummated wife of the (possibly handicapped) emperor Honorius of the West, daughter of the barbarian general Stilicho. Christian pendant of Empress Maria, daughter of Stilicho, and wife of Honorius. Musée du Louvre. The pendant reads, around a central cross (clockwise): HONORI MARIA SERINA VIVATIS STELICHO. All this from the turn of the century (400's), over 1600 years ago. And we know the story behind it also - amazing!!!

    A gorgeous painting by Paul Laurens (1880) The Emperor Honorius - raised to the purple while a child, he was virtually a prisoner in his own palace his whole life - could he have been autistic or mentally handicapped as well?  Very likely.  With a reign of 28 years, its no wonder the empire collapsed in the West - bad luck for the Western empire

    A gorgeous painting by Paul Laurens (1880) The Emperor Honorius - raised to the purple while a child, he was virtually a prisoner in his own palace his whole life - could he have been autistic or mentally handicapped as well? Very likely. With a reign of 28 years, its no wonder the empire collapsed in the West - bad luck for the Western empire

     
    The Famous Story of the Cock and Rome – Honorius Reacts to the Fall of Rome

    The historian Procopius – not an admirer of the emperor Honorius in the least (who would admire, the man on whose watch the empire crumbled, and the capital sacked repeatedly?), is merciless when describing Honorius.

    I, personally, feel Honorius was probably handicapped, and had the misfortune to be Theodosius’ son and an inheritor of the Western empire. Perhaps, the illness came upon him when he was an adult (schizophrenia?) or he was autistic the whole time. His reactions, which seem foolish in the extreme, have a ring of truth to them if considered as the product of a mind struggling with difficult mental problems and being forced to live in a venemous court atmosphere surrounded by ruthless Late Antique courtiers (and there’s not much quite as ruthless as a Late Antique courtier).

    I don’t know how long I would’ve lasted, under the best of conditions in that poisonous environment. It’s also interesting to me that Honorius died a natural death, 28 years into his reign. Most emperors were not making it that long – conveniently dying of “natural causes” or “in battle”. Maybe he was such a non-threat, such a useful, harmless imperial prop that his continued existence posed no problem to any of the succeeding barbarian general administrations actually running the empire.

    Could the empire have fallen because the man at the helm was mentally handicapped, and not because of a “general moral degeneracy” which is the typical (and Gibbon-ian) explanation for the decline of the empire in the West? Bad luck for the West makes more sense to me than vague moral, historical forces at work. But maybe it was both.

    Anyways… here is the famous chicken-feeding story which Gibbon REFUSES to quote even in a footnote:

    (Rome is about to be sacked by Alaric – it is August 410 CE)

    This from a translation of Procopius in the Gutenberg project online

    Alaric armed his whole force for the attack and was holding them in readiness close by the Salarian Gate; for it happened that he had encamped there at the beginning of the siege. And all the youths at the time of the day agreed upon came to this gate, and, assailing the guards suddenly, put them to death; then they opened the gates and received Alaric and the army into the city at their leisure. [Aug. 24, 410 A.D.] And they set fire to the houses which were next to the gate, among which was also the house of Sallust, who in ancient times wrote the history of the Romans, and the greater part of this house has stood half-burned up to my time; and after plundering the whole city and destroying the most of the Romans, they moved on.

    At that time they say that the Emperor Honorius in Ravenna received the message from one of the eunuchs, evidently a keeper of the poultry, that Rome had perished. And he cried out and said, “And yet it has just eaten from my hands!” For he had a very large cock, Rome by name; and the eunuch comprehending his words said that it was the city of Rome which had perished at the hands of Alaric, and the emperor with a sigh of relief answered quickly: “But I, my good fellow, thought that my fowl Rome had perished.” So great, they say, was the folly with which this emperor was possessed.

    (www.gutenberg.org, II. 2nd paragraph)

    What Honorius thought had fallen, when in fact it was the capital city

    What Honorius thought had fallen, when in fact it was the capital city

     
    Quotable Gibbon – Hating Monks – Again (He just can’t help himself)
    A Melancholy Madness … the Effect of Disease

    Gibbon is describing the transportation of troops across the Mediterranean. Of all passages, you would think this one would be absolutely free of any references to monks and Gibbon’s almost obsessive hatred of them. But no. Gibbon finds an obscure reference and gives an almost one-page quote from an ancient historian (Namatianus) describing and denouncing the monks of one particular island in the Mediterranean (Capraria, off of the Tuscan coast of Italy).

    This from Gibbon:

    The fleet of galleys and transports sailed in tempestuous weather from the port of Pisa, in Tuscany, and steered their course to the little island of Capraria, which had borrowed that name from the wild goats, its original inhabitants, whose place was now occupied by a new colony of a strange and savage appearance.

    “The whole island (says an ingenious traveller of those times) is filled, or rather defiled, by men who fly from the light. They call themselves Monks or solitaries, because they choose to live alone, without any witnesses of their actions. They fear the gifts of fortune, from the apprehension of losing them; and, lest they should be miserable, they embrace a life of voluntary wretchedness. How absurd is their choice! how perverse their understanding! to dread the evils, without being able to support the blessings, of the human condition. Either this melancholy madness is the effect of disease, or else the consciousness of guilt urges these unhappy men to exercise on their own bodies the tortures which are inflicted on fugitive slaves by the hand of justice.

    and this from the footnote:

    Note 046
    Claud. Rutil. Numatian. Itinerar. lib. i. 439-448. He afterwards (ib. 515-526) mentions a religious madman on the isle of Gorgona. For such profane remarks, Rutilius and his accomplices are styled, by his commentator Barthius, rabiosi canes diaboli. Tillemont (Mem. Eccles. tom. xii. p. 471) more calmly observes that the unbelieving poet praises where he means to censure.

    (DEF II, v.3, p.116, fn.46)

     
     
     
     

    Last Word…
    Scene of Bethlem Hospital from the William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress.  Bedlam was the famous English Insane Asylum noted for its horrific treatment of inmates, but also paradoxically for the development of a new paradigm for treating the insane - as persons who were patients and were mentally ill, not morally degenerate.  The (useless) emperor Honorius may have been in need of help, possibly due to autism, or from some other mental illness - maybe it was the efforts of the vilified General Stilicho that kept the empire together for as long as it did hold together

    Scene of Bethlem Hospital from the William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress. Bedlam was the famous English Insane Asylum noted for its horrific treatment of inmates, but also paradoxically for the development of a new paradigm for treating the insane - as persons who were patients and were mentally ill, not morally degenerate. The (useless) emperor Honorius may have been in need of help, possibly due to autism, or from some other mental illness - maybe it was the efforts of the vilified General Stilicho that kept the empire together for as long as it did hold together

     
    Honorius – Was He Autistic or Handicapped? It Certainly Looks Like It
     
    Gibbon, writing in the 18th century (when Insane Asylums where an innovation and a travesty, like Bedlam and a weekend’s entertainment for a penny) would probably have not been very sensitive to autistic individuals or the mentally handicapped. He probably would have stigmatized mental illness as a moral degeneration (a popular theory of insanity of the time – insanity caused by loose living and poor moral hygiene). In the accounts of Honorius, we seem suspiciously close to descriptions of the mentally ill. Could Honorius have been handicapped in some way, rather than just lazy, corrupted by court, or weak and cowardly? That seems the likely explanation to me.

    Gibbon’s take is that Honorius was held a prisoner in a palace-cell, never educated, and eventually became “simple” and lazy and a “forgettable” emperor. I think there is more to the story than that.

    This from Gibbon:

    The joy of the African triumph was happily connected with the nuptials of the emperor Honorius, and of his cousin Maria, the daughter of Stilicho; and this equal and honourable alliance seemed to invest the powerful minister with the authority of a parent over his submissive pupil. … But the amorous impatience which Claudian attributes to the young prince must excite the smiles of the court; and his beauteous spouse (if she deserved the praise of beauty) had not much to fear or to hope from the passions of her lover. Honorius was only in the fourteenth year of his age; Serena, the mother of his bride, deferred, by art or persuasion, the consummation of the royal nuptials; Maria died a virgin, after she had been ten years a wife; and the chastity of the emperor was secured by the coldness, or perhaps the debility, of his constitution.

    His subjects, who attentively studied the character of their young sovereign, discovered that Honorius was without passions, and consequently without talents; and that his feeble and languid disposition was alike incapable of discharging the duties of his rank, or of enjoying the pleasures of his age. In his early youth he made some progress in the exercises of riding and drawing the bow; but he soon relinquished these fatiguing occupations, and the amusement of feeding poultry became the serious and daily care of the monarch of the West, who resigned the reins of empire to the firm and skilful hand of his guardian Stilicho. The experience of history will countenance the suspicion that a prince who was born in the purple received a worse education than the meanest peasant of his dominions, and that the ambitious minister suffered him to attain the age of manhood without attempting to excite his courage or to enlighten his understanding.

    The predecessors of Honorius were accustomed to animate by their example, or at least by their presence, the valour of the legions; and the dates of their laws attest the perpetual activity of their motions through the provinces of the Roman world. But the son of Theodosius passed the slumber of his life a captive in his palace, a stranger in his country, and the patient, almost the indifferent, spectator of the ruin of the Western empire, which was repeatedly attacked, and finally subverted, by the arms of the barbarians. In the eventful history of a reign of twenty-eight years, it will seldom be necessary to mention the name of the emperor Honorius.

    And this from the footnotes:

    Note 061
    Procopius de Bell. Vandal. 1. i. c. 2 [tom. i p. 316, ed. Bonn.]. I have borrowed the general practice of Honorius, without adopting the singular, and, indeed, improbable tale, which is related by the Greek historian.

    Note 062
    The lessons of Theodosius, or rather Claudian (iv. Cons. Honor. 214-418) might compose a fine institution for the future prince of a great and free nation.. It was far above Honorius and his degenerate subjects.

    (DEF II, v.3, p.110-111, fn.

    The famous anecdote of Honorius being more interested in raising chickens and feeding poultry than running the Western empire seems to bear this out. That, and the fact his marriage to Stilicho’s daughter, Maria, was never consummated in 10 years of marriage (although he was 14 when he got married), and his indifference to most “adult Roman” activities like horse-riding, bow-shooting, fencing, etc, point to an untold story, perhaps making the end of the Western Empire, and Stilicho’s “reign” as “regent” and General Master of the West all the more heroic.

    Steel engraving of Bethlem Hospital at St George's Fields, 1828.  The famous Lunatic Asylum of London - you could poke an inmate with a stick for a penny, once a month on Tuesday you could do it for free (free admission Tuesdays).  Bedlam also pioneered modern techniques for treating the mentally ill as patients rather than incarcerated inmates.  Honorius might have been better off here - although I'm thinking the imperial palace was probably a pretty comfortable place to be ill in, if you had to be ill

    Steel engraving of Bethlem Hospital at St George's Fields, 1828. The famous Lunatic Asylum of London - you could poke an inmate with a stick for a penny, once a month on Tuesday you could do it for free (free admission Tuesdays). Bedlam also pioneered modern techniques for treating the mentally ill as patients rather than incarcerated inmates. Honorius might have been better off here - although I'm thinking the imperial palace was probably a pretty comfortable place to be ill in, if you had to be ill

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