Posted by: ken98 | March 26, 2010

Twilight Parliaments, British Republics, and 18th Century Homophobic Fits

Day 196 – Ken here (F)(3-26-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.31,32 pp.230-240)(pages read: 1330)

Feeling OK today, but am a little overwhelmed by the HUGE amount of material scrunched up in the next 10 pages: chapter 31 ends with the revolts of Britain, maritime Gaul, and the middle parts of Gaul (the Seven Provinces) and a brief history of Britain in the 40 year twilight period between the end of Roman occupation and the invasion of the Saxons (409 – 449). Then onto chapter 32, with an overview of the Eastern Empire (395-1453) and the beginning of the reign of Arcadius in the East and a lot about the eunuch Eutropius.

I have to say – all this eunuch-hating, homophobic diatribe from Gibbon is getting to be a bit much. It sometimes makes you wonder what sort of romantic/sexual experiences Gibbon had as a schoolboy/college-boy in British public schools at Westminster and later at Oxford. Maybe being a former Catholic, later rabid Calvinist/Protestant/Deist (that must have been a torment) has something to do with it too. More on that later…

The empire at this time was governed by two EXTREMELY weak emperors – the brothers Arcadius (an adolescent) and Honorius (probably mentally handicapped). The unlucky part of this whole debacle and the breakup of the empire was – even tho the empire – as an organism – tried to throw up competent “usurper” after “usurper” to take over like it had always done in the past under weak emperors – this time EVERY ATTEMPT CONSISTENTLY FAILED – the key to understanding the Fall of the Roman Empire is to understand the reason WHY it happened this way this time – in my humble opinion.

The Story
 
Independent Britain – Twilight Britain (409-449) and Armorica (409-419) and Seven “Parliament” of the Seven Provinces (418) (but not for long – too little too late)
 
  • Twilight Britain, France – a fascinating period – the absolute edge of Roman Imperial power and Barbarian Kingdom power – fascinating – as Spock would say – the most interesting times of any period are the CUTTING EDGES OF TRANSITION
  • Britian: revolts in Britain, cities form tiny Republics, rural areas coalesce under rich landowners who sometimes style themselves royalty, and trace their lineages back to pre-Roman war chieftains. Separation of Britain into islands of isolated Roman city life surrounded oceans of warring small chieftains
  • Britain: Gibbon notes even later, the cities of Britain (Honorius recognizes their independence and calls them the Cities of Britain – a very old and actually interesting/healthy way to refer to the relationship between empire and local government – too bad it happened to little too late – a common story
  • Britain: because of disunity and relative wealth and stability in the cities – Britain becomes a tempting target for barbarian (read: German Saxon) invasions – and they are successfully conquered after 449 – ending the 40 year twilight period
  • Armorica – the maritime provinces of Gaul – declare their independence under the usurper Constantine – Honorius honors it – they stay independent 10 years, until Honorius honors the barbarians who invade Gaul and declare themselves “guests” and rule in place of the Romans
  • The Seven Provinces – Honorius calls a true Parliament – church, great landowners, city senators of the Seven Provinces – apparently a long-held tradition (archaic holdover from Celtic times 400 years earlier?) but has to FINE people who refuse to attned. Too little too late – Honorius gives the center sections of Gaul away anyways to Franks and Burgundians in the next few years
  •  

    Brief Overview – Empire of the East (395-1453)
     
  • Gibbon rehearses the tried and true prejudices about the Empire of the East – decadent, self-involved, self-destructive, and imbued with the horrible stains of Eastern Despotism while still maintaining the FICTION of a REPUBLIC – some of it is justified – most of it is convenient generalizations not particularily helpful to historical analysis – but helpful to modern historians in making themselves feel superior to the depraved rulers/citizens of the Greek Byzantine Empire – in French you even call it the Low Empire
  •  

    Arcadius – his appearance – Emperor of the East – emperor at the age of 5
     
  • Arcadius in the East was emperor at 5, sole emperor at 12, dead by the age of 20 (life=377/8-408)
  • Honorius in the West was most probably mentally handicapped and the empire run by barbarians – he “reigned” – for 30 years
  • The unlucky part of this whole debacle and the breakup of the empire was – even tho the empire – as an organism – tried to throw up competent “usurper” after “usurper” to take over like it had always done in the past under weak emperors – this time EVERY ATTEMPT CONSISTENTLY FAILED – the key to understanding the Fall of the Roman Empire is to understand the reason WHY it happened this way this time – in my humble opinion
  •  

    The story of Eutropius – “Regent” for Arcadius – part I OR The Only Good Eunuch is a Dead Eunuch
     
  • For the entire story – see below
  • Summary – Eutropius came to power, defending the East against barbarian/Generals takeover – did indulge in a fair amount of politics, managed to make many friends, and many enemies, and lived the typical life of a successful Late Roman courtier – meteoric rise, unlimited power, fast fall, eventual execution and execration
  •  

     
     
     

    Mosaic of Narses - a famous eunuch-general 130 years in the future (530-550) under the emperor Justinian.  Apparently eunuchs are good for something.  In some ways - despite the extreme Gibbon-invective - Eutropius paved the way for more accepting public attitudes towards high-ranking eunuchs in the Eastern Empire

    Mosaic of Narses (I'm hoping, I'm not quite convinced this is his portrait) - a famous eunuch-general 130 years in the future (530-550) under the emperor Justinian. Apparently eunuchs are good for something. In some ways - despite the extreme Gibbon-invective - Eutropius paved the way for more accepting public attitudes towards high-ranking eunuchs in the Eastern Empire

    Last Word…
    Gibbon on Eunuch Hating (again) – Hating What’s Different – Sexual Minorities in the Later Empire
     

    It is hard sometimes to read the ancient actions of people now long-dead (we’re talking 1600 years) and make any sense of it at all. Most of our sources for this period (the early 400’s), especially for Eutropius the Eunuch-Regent for the adolescent Western Emperor Arcadius come from the satyrical pen of the poet Claudian who absolutely HATED Eutropius. It is significant that after his fall from power, the great orator and Archibishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth) tried to prevent his execution without success. Eutropius prevented the young Arcadius from wedding the Eastern Empire’s Regent/Tyrant (Gaul-lish extraction) Rufinus’s daughter – and maybe preventing the Eastern empire from falling into the same cesspit of barbarian domination that sucked the entire West down the drain in a period of 10 years.
    He gained the consulship and performed the offices of the highest officials in the land, but earned the enmity of the empress (he assisted in enthroning) and the imperial court.

    And he was a eunuch – did I mention that already?

    Gibbon never tires of pointing that fact out with the most un-balanced, florid, un-detached purple prose possible in describing and re-describing Eutropius physical state and appearance. Very un-Enlightenment-like, and most enthusiastic. Probably would’ve gotten his Rational-Man card yanked, ripped up and his epaulets pulled off in the Age Of Reason Club if anyone had been overcome by emotion enough to pursue the matter.

    The truth? Eutropius had the “normal” life of any courtier in the Later Roman Empire – a short period of absolute power followed by execution and desecration of his memory. He had strong supporters, and strong enemies. He did things that were unpopular with the people, and things which were very popular with the people. He was execrated and praised. The fact that a former slave and a eunuch was able to rise to the top of the bureaucratic heap is more a sign of the insignificance of his physical state in the East. Remember, after Gibbon falls over himself, foaming at the mouth at the unnatural and strange creature running the empire for a few years, that being a eunuch is NOT a choice, you get cut at an early age and not of your own free will. What a person makes of himself afterwards (and I use the word person consciously and emphatically) is actually something quite spectacular for a sexual minority. Narses, in 130 years will be a great Eastern Roman General and patriot and high government official – and he is an Armenian eunuch, trusted by the great Justinian. It will be interesting to see what Gibbon does with Narses.

    This from Gibbon himself (sorry for the length – its just too good (bad) to edit much more than I did):

    The first events of the reign of Arcadius and Honorius are so intimately connected, that the rebellion of the Goths and the fall of Rufinus have already claimed a place in the history of the West. It has already been observed that Eutropius, one of the principal eunuchs of the palace of Constantinople, succeeded the haughty minister whose ruin he had accomplished and whose vices he soon imitated.

    Every order of the state bowed to the new favourite; and their tame and obsequious submission encouraged him to insult the laws, and, what is still more difficult and dangerous, the manners of his country. Under the weakest of the predecessors of Arcadius the reign of the eunuchs had been secret and almost invisible. They insinuated themselves into the confidence of the prince but their ostensible functions were confined to the menial service of the wardrobe and Imperial bedchamber. They might direct in a whisper the public counsels, and blast by their malicious suggestions the fame and fortunes of the most illustrious citizens; but they never presumed to stand forward in the front of empire, or to profane the public honours of the state.

    Eutropius was the first of his artificial sex who dared to assume the character of a Roman magistrate and general. Sometimes, in the presence of the blushing senate, he ascended the tribunal to pronounce judgment or to repeat elaborate harangues; and sometimes appeared on horseback, at the head of his troops, in the dress and armour of a hero. The disregard of custom and decency always betrays a weak and ill-regulated mind; nor does Eutropius seem to have compensated for the folly of the design by any superior merit or ability in the execution.

    His former habits of life had not introduced him to the study of the laws or the exercises of the field; his awkward and unsuccessful attempts provoked the secret contempt of the spectators; the Goths expressed their wish that such a general might always command the armies of Rome; and the name of the minister was branded with ridicule, more pernicious, perhaps, than hatred to a public character. The subjects of Arcadius were exasperated by the recollection that this deformed and decrepit eunuch, (6) who so perversely mimicked the actions of a man, was born in the most abject conditions of servitude; that before he entered the Imperial palace he had been successively sold and purchased by an hundred masters, who had exhausted his youthful strength in every mean and infamous office, and at length dismissed him in his old age to freedom and poverty. (7)

    While these disgraceful stories were circulated, and perhaps exaggerated, in private conversations, the vanity of the favourite was flattered with the most extraordinary honours. In the senate, in the capital, in the provinces, the statues of Eutropius were erected, in brass or marble, decorated with the symbols of his civil and military virtues, and inscribed with the pompous title of the third founder of Constantinople. He was promoted to the rank of patrician, which began to signify, in a popular and even legal acceptation, the father of the emperor: and the last year of the fourth century was polluted by the consulship of an eunuch and a slave.

    This strange and inexpiable prodigy (8) awakened, however, the prejudices of the Romans. The effeminate consul was rejected by the West as an indelible stain to the annals of the republic; and without invoking the shades of Brutus and Camillus, the colleague of Eutropius, a learned and respectable magistrate, sufficiently represented the different maxims of the two administrations.

    and this from the (juicier) footnotes:
    Note 006
    The poet’s lively description of his deformity (i. 110-125) is confirmed by the authentic testimony of Chrysostom (tom. iii. [in Eutrop. i. c. 3] p. 384, edit. Montfaucon), who observes that, when the paint was washed away, the face of Eutropius appeared more ugly and wrinkled than that of an old wornan. Claudian remarks (i. 469), and the remark must have been founded on experience, that there was scarcely any interval between the youth and the decrepit age of a eunuch.

    Note 007
    Eutropius appears to have been a native of Armenia or Assyria. His three services, which Claudian more particularly describes, were these:-
    He spent many years as the catamite of Ptolemy, a groom or soldier of the Imperial stables.
    Ptolemy gave him to the old general Arintheus, for whom he very skilfully exercised the profession of a pimp.
    He was given, on her marriage, to the daughter of Arintheus; and the future consul was employed to comb her hair, to present the silver ewer, to wash and to fan his mistress in hot weather. See l. i. 31-137.

    Note 008
    Claudian (l. i. in Eutrop. 1-22), after enumerating the various prodigies of monstrous births, speaking animals, showers of blood or stones, double suns, etc., adds, with some exaggeration,
    Omnia cesserunt eunucho consule monstra.
    The first book concludes with a noble speech of the goddess of Rome to her favourite Honorius, deprecating the new ignominy to which she was exposed

    (DEF II, v.3, p.239-241, fn. 6,7,8)

    Icon of John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth), Archbishop of Constantinople - and not a man to shrink from controversy (also a man with his own prejudices - esp. antisemitism).  John defended the fallen court official, the eunuch Eutropius, trying to prevent (unsuccessfully) Eutropius's execution.  Eutropius MUST HAVE BEEN good for something to have gotten the support of the First Man of the Christian empire in the East in the capital city

    Icon of John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth), Archbishop of Constantinople - and not a man to shrink from controversy (also a man with his own prejudices - esp. antisemitism). John defended the fallen court official, the eunuch Eutropius, trying to prevent (unsuccessfully) Eutropius's execution. Eutropius MUST HAVE BEEN good for something to have gotten the support of the First Man of the Christian empire in the East in the capital city

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