Posted by: ken98 | May 26, 2011

Noble Savage, Three and a Three Quarters Emperors, and a Swan Song

Day 622 – Ken here (Th)(5-26-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Pref,Ch.39 pp.520-530)(pages read: 1580)

Well, crazy stuff today – we thought our old (foreclosed upon) house had been ransacked but apparently not – what a very strange situation to be in.

Doing right is sometimes far from obvious, truth to tell the banks don’t make it very easy sometimes. Theodoric today is Gibbon’s example of how difficult “doing the right thing” can be – what is a Late Antique “barbarian” leader’s responsibilities to his own people and to the Roman world that raised him from boyhood to manhood? How does he fit into both the “civilized” world and the world of his fathers?

So, we start the 4th volume of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall today. It’s 7 years later (1788) and Gibbon has finished the last 1500 pages and the last 3 volumes (4,5,6 in one fell swoop) and is somewhat lost at sea as to what to do with the rest of his life. He is 52 years old, and unbeknownst to him will pass on in six years (1794). This day’s reading is mostly his Preface to the third volume – which is his swan song to the fabled history.

The Story
 
Preface to Volumes 4,5,6 (1788) and the Strange, Petulant P.S.
 
  • Gibbon mentions the scope of his work – From Trajan (100) to Mohammed II conquering Constantinople (1453)
  • His 1st intention was to make a book of ALL SOURCES – but soon saw this would lead to an entire library – not just a huge set of books as it already had
  • Even tho he lives in Switzerland, he is still very much an Englishman
  • He is finished with the history – and intends to take a break
  • Petulant P.S. – He reminds Englishman (this is so English) that “beyond the Alps” in his History of Rome means North (for a Roman) i.e. France, Germany, etc and NOT South (as every ENGLISHMAN would assume) – I guess it just re-affirms my strong belief in the English English-centrism
  • Petulant P.S. – He reminds Englishman that place names in English are actually quite often in a foreign tongue, if they are in a foreign land – and that probably the best spelling etc for such foreign names would be the names actually used in foreign countries rather than made up names (eg. Moslem instead of Muselman, etc) but ends up using whatever’s easiest and whatever gets the job done (he has after all 1000 years left to cover)
  •  

    Theodoric King of the Ostrogoths – Noble Savage
     
  • Gibbon loves him – and even more unusually, recites Theodoric’s earlier career (attacking the Romans) in a FAVORABLE LIGHT – even more interesting is the account (pp. 526-527)
  • Even more interesting is the account (pp. 526-527) where he writes history FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE GOTHS rather than ROMANS – something I’ve never seen him do before – you end up with an upside down version of the world – from the outside, Germanic barbarian-guest king in a Roman Province looking inwards at the empire and seeing the unjust ways Romans set barb against barb in order to get them all to kill each other off
  • He tells the story of Theodoric’s rise, his being sent as a hostage and raised by Leo I in Constantinople at 8 years old, his being released at 18 and alternately siding with the Romans and trying to feed his people at the same time
  • He attacks fellow Goths (by order of the Romans) then is convinced to take up Gothic claims rather than fighting Roman battles for the Romans – this is the beginning of the end for the West
  • This highlights the highly complicated state of things in the empire in the late 400’s – barbarians in the process of becoming Romans, Romans in the process of becoming something else, depopulation (due to plague, war), nomadic migrations pushing entire nations into abandoned areas, powerful Romans ruthlessly squeezing the weak – Barbarians holding up/shoring up the remains of Roman civ. – It was often very difficult to tell who was a real Roman patriot
  •  

    Zeno (474-491)
     
  • From backcountry of Turkey – Isauria – rough and ready – Romans for centuries but cons’d barbs by Constantinople
  • married daughter of Leo and Verina – Ariadne
  • Verina revolts against Zeno, puts her worthless bro on the throne – Basiliscus
  • Gibbon doesn’t say much more
  •  

    Anastasius (491-518)
     
  • Gibbon has little to say about him – just that he married Ariadne and was an older man, a domestic of the palace
  •  

    Revolt of Theodoric (475-488)
     
  • Theodoric is given gold and food and land, but never enough to really make a home or feed his people with
  • Gibbon says they wasted all that was given them – a typically Greek no-barbarian-is-worthwhile attitude – which Gibbon takes up with a vengeance also
  •  

     

    A Quick Tour Through Three and a Three Quarters Emperors from the Sticks
     

    Gold solidus of Leo I

    Gold solidus of Leo I


     

    1) Leo I (457-474).. Leo I (a Roman from Thrace – 457-474) – kind of like Andrew Jackson – a frontier emperor (being from the outback, the raw frontier with the barbarians thronging from the North and East). Leo’s wife Verina was to be a potent force for a long time in the empire.

    Leo was the last Easterner to be raised to the throne by a German in the East (the Alan general, Aspar) – Leo relied on fierce native Roman Isaurian troops (Roman Isauria was really the wild wild West for the Romans) to counter-balance and ultimately destroy the puppet-making desires of Germans – who at this point – the late 400’s were the ones actually running the governments of both the West and the East. Rome was not so lucky as Constantinople, and in the West, Rome fell, and the Germans took over completely, in appearance as well as in fact.

    The East escaped this trap (reliance on German Generals). However, the Isaurians took over instead (at least they were Roman) in the person of the next emperor – Zeno (with much conniving of Verina).

    Bust of Leo I from the Louvre - a very rare Eastern Roman example of the typical Roman bust - the artist has tried to give him the soul-ful 5th century eyes in 3D - he still seems to be staring intently in your direction - only three hundred years earlier remains of this kind of portraiture was common - how much has changed since the 200's

    Bust of Leo I from the Louvre - a very rare Eastern Roman example of the typical Roman bust - the artist has tried to give him the soul-ful 5th century eyes in 3D - he still seems to be staring intently in your direction - only three hundred years earlier remains of this kind of portraiture was common - how much has changed since the 200's


     
    Gold solidus jointly issued by Leo II and Zeno - Leo II was the grandson of Leo I and the son of Zeno but never saw his 8th birthday - Zeno and Leo II ruled together for less than a year (474) and then Leo II conveniently died leaving Zeno alone and in charge - when you think of it, its actually pretty amazing that a coin survived and WE HAVE THE COIN from a & year-old emperor who ruled for less than a year almost 1600 years ago

    Gold solidus jointly issued by son Leo II and his dad Zeno - Leo II was the grandson of Leo I and the son of Zeno but never saw his 8th birthday - Zeno and Leo II ruled together for less than a year (474) and then Leo II conveniently died leaving Zeno alone and in charge - when you think of it, its actually pretty amazing that a coin survived and WE HAVE THE COIN from a child emperor who ruled for less than a year almost 1600 years ago


     
    1-1/2) Leo II (474). The seven month, 7-year-old emperor Leo II son of Zeno and murdered? by Zeno was next (died Nov. 474). It’s difficult to say what strings are being pulled and by whom in this, an increasingly BYZANTINE web of intrigue, plot and counter-plot. Or maybe it was all innocent – who can tell?
     
    Photo of Grover Cleveland - the 22nd and 24th President of the United States - like the emperor Zeno he got asked back after being asked (so to speak) to leave

    No, this isn't Leo, it's a photo of Grover Cleveland - the 22nd and 24th President of the United States - like the emperor Zeno he got asked back after being asked (so to speak) to leave - the only 2 term pres. not to serve 2 consecutive terms


     
    2) Zeno (474-475, 476-491). Like Grover Cleveland, he was raised, ousted and then invited to return (altho, if you remember, Grover Cleveland DID get the Popular Vote – but not the Electoral Vote – in 1888 and so lost for his 2nd term – and… I guess there’s no real comparison between the double-dealing, conniving Basiliscus and Benjamin Harrison).
     
    Gold coin of Basiliscus - again, an extraordinary thing to see - as he reigned only a year or so - and yet we see his coin one and a half millenia later

    Gold coin of Basiliscus - again, an extraordinary thing to see - as he reigned only a year or so - and yet we see his coin one and a half millenia later


     
    2-1/4) Basiliscus (475-476). I’ve never liked Basiliscus much to say the truth – Leo I’s amazingly expensive and outrageously outfitted Roman Naval Invasion of North Africa (468 – invading the Germans who had invaded and taken Roman North Africa many decades before) FAILED BECAUSE OF BASILISCUS’S pride and ineptitude – the brother of Leo’s wife. Now he took over and booted Zeno out (Zeno was married to his niece – Ariadne – his sister the former Empress’s daughter).
     
    Semissis of Anastasius I - he married the widow of the previous emperor (Zeno) and lived a very very long time (27 years) as emperor - a significant achievement  in the Later Roman Empire

    Semissis of Anastasius I - he married the widow of the previous emperor (Zeno) and lived a very very long time (27 years) as emperor - a significant achievement in the Later Roman Empire

     
    3) Anastasius (491-518). Gibbon doesn’t have much to say about Anastasius except that after the death of Zeno, Zeno’s widow Ariadne married “an aged domestic” (is that like the widowed Lady of the House marrying the butler? that seems to be Gibbon’s drift) who ended up reigning for 27 years – quite the achievement in Eastern Rome! Gibbon didn’t say much about Anastasius (2 lines) I think, because in Gibbon’s time there wasn’t much written history to speak of available (the most extensive sources for the whole 50 years of Zeno and Anastasius being pretty much Count Marcellinus’ Chronicle – the continuator of Eusebius’Ecclesiastical Histories from almost two centuries before).

     

    A solidus of Theodoric - you have to give it to the Roman coin-die makers, they TRIED to get the gist of a long, Breck-like sweeping Germanic head of hair onto the face of the coin, but ended up making Theodoric look like he was being eaten alive by a man-eating mop-like animal - his face is also disturbingly round - in the common parlance, on the whole I'd have to say that this was a FAIL

    A solidus of Theodoric - you have to give it to the Roman coin-die makers, they TRIED to get the gist of a long, Breck-like sweeping Germanic head of hair onto the face of the coin, but I've always thought they ended up making Theodoric look like he was being eaten alive by a man-eating mop-like animal - the face is also strangely and irritatingly round, and the hands disturbingly small - in the common parlance, on the whole, I'd have to say that this was a FAIL (or maybe they did it on purpose, they, the die-makers being after all probably conquered Romans - who knows?)


     

    The First “Internet Hoax” or “Urban Legend” – the Famous (and Stupid) Signature Plate
     

    If ever there was an instance of Byzantine-East Roman cultural prejudice – and outright lies – then this is one.

    Look at these symbols -> Θ Ε Ο Δ (4 Greek letters, the 1st four letters of TH-E-O-D -E-R-I-C ‘s name).

    Ask yourself if a man, raised in the East Roman court at Constantinople from the age of eight until an adult, nimble, agile, smart, and an expert at any sport he thought to take up, later the king of Rome and all Italy would be so uncoordinated and slow as not to be able to remember and form with his own hand these 4 letters to affix at the bottom of official correspondence? He had to have a template created with the lines cut out so that he could trace them onto the bottom of official papers? Yet this is what Procopius would have us believe, and practically EVERY OTHER HISTORIAN who mentions Theodoric (incl. Gibbon) sniggeringly (is that a word?) repeats the same lame story – a typical case of working mouth (or pen) without engaging brain first.

    I mean, Come on! Think for a second! This so obviously reeks of Greek sneering at Gothic barbarians it’s ridiculous (literally) – I’m so tired of hearing it, (reading it over and over again in every Late Antique history) that I’m tempted to make an entry in Snopes.com and put an end to it once and for all. It’s a medieval urban legend! For goodness’ sake guys give it a rest!

    It’s another one of those stupid jokes that only a xenophobic, ignorant, chauvinistic fool would believe (and what’s worse, repeat) as if it were fact. It reminds me of those equally incredibly stupid “real” photoshopped pics of either Obama or Bush talking on the phone upside down with receiver to mouth and microphone to ear. Moronic, adolescent, jejune – words fail me.

    Remember, Procopius is the one who HATES (as we’ll discover later in the next 100 pages) the emperor Justinian and his wife the empress Theodora, and SERIOUSLY PROPOSES the the two of them ARE ACTUAL (not figurative) DEMONS who have changed into human form to TORMENT the ROMANS and TEAR APART the ROMAN EMPIRE (see Procopius’ Secret History – here).

    And now, here’s Gibbon’s take on it (I weep for his gullibility – it makes me somewhat question his judgement (unfortunately) on other historical matters):

    His body was formed to all the exercises of war, his mind was expanded by the habits of liberal conversation; he frequented the schools of the most skilful masters; but he disdained or neglected the arts of Greece, and so ignorant did he always remain of the first elements of science, that a rude mark was contrived to represent the signature of the illiterate king of Italy. (3)

    and the footnote

    Note 003
    The four first letters of his name were inscribed on a gold plate, and when it was fixed on the paper, the king drew his pen through the intervals (Anonym. Valesian. ad calcem Amm. Marcellin p. 722.) This authentic fact, with the testimony of Procopius, or at least of the contemporary Goths, (Gothic. 1. i. c. 2, p. 311,) far outweighs the vague praises of Ennodius (Sirmond Opera, tom. i. p. 1596) and Theophanes, (Chronograph. p. 112.)
    Note: Le Beau and his Commentator, M. St. Martin, support, though with no very satisfactory evidence, the opposite opinion. But Lord Mahon (Life of Belisarius, p. 19) urges the much stronger argument, the Byzantine education of Theodroic. – M.]

    (DEF ii vol.4 ch.39 p.526, fn 3)

    Thus endeth the rant for today.
     

     
     
     

    a Swan, singing (well, maybe quietly, to itself)

    a Swan, singing (well, maybe quietly, to itself)

    Last Word…
    Gibbon’s Swan Song – “I am not Conscious of Decay…”
     

    Living With Disabilities

    Gibbon was no pushover – that much is evident in his writings alone – he made enemies and friends freely – but I had no idea he managed to accomplish so much with an increasingly debilitating and embarrassing condition for most of his adult life, one which eventually killed him in a lingering, gruesome way.

    Gibbon had it rough – apparently suffering from a kind of internal hernia that caused his scrotum to enlarge hugely and odoriferously. Being a very fastidious (and at one time fashionable) man, he was pushed into much involuntary solitude as the style of clothes of the day would make masking his increasingly protuberant medical condition difficult if not impossible (tight fitting pants were the fashion rule in the last decades of the eighteenth century). Eventually incontinent, and one mass of infection and bloated swelling in his frontal regions, he passed a very painful final year and died horribly at 56 (see here for a horrific article in the July 1999 Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine on all the specifics and particulars of Gibbon’s medical life.

    Here are some of his “farewell” remarks in his Preface which we went through today:

    But I shall ever glory in the name and character of an Englishman: I am proud of my birth in a free and enlightened coutnry; and the approbation of that country is the bast and most honourable reward of my labours.

    (DEF ii, vol.4 ch.39-Preface,PS, p.520)

    Yet I consider that the annals of ancient and modern times may afford many rich and interesting subjects; that I am still possessed of health and leisure; that by the practice of writing, some skill and facility must be acquired; and than in the ardent pursuit of truth and knowledge, I am not conscious of decay. To an active mind indolence is more painful than labour…

    (DEF ii, vol.4 ch.39-Preface,PS, p.521)

    (the health and non-decay part is a telling white lie on Gibbon’s part – he didn’t advertise to the public his worsening condition in any way)

    and finally his last words…(on whether he would continue writing) – an uncharacteristically wry self-abnegation here…

    Caprice and accident may influence my choice; but the dexterity of self-love will contrive to applaud either active industry, or philosophic repose

    until tomorrow then – – – – –

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