Posted by: ken98 | June 1, 2011

Of Great Love Affairs, Emperors and Prostitutes, Of Spurned Courtiers and Lubricious Women-Despising Historians

Day 628 – Ken here (W)(6-1-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.40 pp.560-570)(pages read: 1620)

The empress Theodora from San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.  She is with a group of courtiers, facing another group, centered on the love of her life, her husband the Emperor Justinian

The empress Theodora from a mosaic in the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. She is with a group of courtiers, facing another group, centered on the love of her life, her husband the Emperor Justinian


 

How’s that for a title for a blog? Properly lengthy and Eighteenth Century-like. Or just Ken-like. In any case…

A short day content-wise

As we slide faster and faster into the Justinian bog, Gibbon takes an entire day out to run over (literally and figuratively) Justinian’s wife, Theodora, the prostitute who became a saint, and was an empress throughout the entire latter part of it. We start with Procopius (the man whom we have to thank for all this data that Gibbon will spin out for the next 300 pages on the Emperor Justinian).
 

I suppose I really should be having a field day with Gibbon’s rampant, raging sexist/misogynistic comments and subtext-in-capital-letters – perhaps I will at the bottom if I have the time – however, I should warn you its already 11:40 PM, so the quantity of historical jawboning here will, in all probability, be at a minimum today.

But enough about me, lets talk dirt about Theodora. Or not. We’ll see…

The Story
 
Procopius – Yellow Journalism at its Finest – in Flawless Ancient Greek
 
  • Wrote 3 major works on Justinian’s reign
  • 1) The Wars: Persian, Vandal, Gothic – in 7 books – Procopius was a secretary to the General Belisarius and so had 1st hand exper w/the Wars
  • The Wars are cautious and moderate in tone, only hinting at things he went wild with in the Secret History
  • 2) The Secret History – Justinian and Theodora are LITERALLY DEMONS in human form sent to DESTROY HUMANKIND
  • we can only assume Procopius didn’t progress up the Byzantine hierarchy as he wanted, and he wrote this “secret” book to get back at Justinian
  • 3) The Buildings – a long openly sycophantic work on Justinian’s building/engineering accomplishments – Procopius even gives Just credit for buildings he probably didn’t build
  • This was his last work, he must have found an opp for advancement, and used The Buildings to flatter his way in (a not-uncommon way of authors getting govt appts in classical times)
  •  

    Theodora – Birth, Upbringing, Early Life
     
  • Daughter of the bear-keeper of the Green Factions (native of Cyprus) – one of 3 daughters
  • Dad dies, the daughters are poverty stricken w/her mother, eventually the daughters “graduated” to the only occupations women could earn money at – actresses and prostitutes – or wives – Theodora, who was reputed to be very beautiful, was a pantomime in the Comedies
  • Theodora apparently was a courtesan for many years, abroad in the empire, eventually returns to a small house in Constantinople, chaste, spinning wool, and catches the eye of Justinian – who is a young(er) man at the height of his power under his uncle, the emperor Justin
  •  

    Theodora – Empress
     
  • Justinian takes her as his wife thru many difficulties, incl amending the law that did not allow nobles to wed lower-class actresses
  • Justinian loves her madly, makes the court and the whole world swear allegiance BOTH to Justinian and to Theodora
  • Theodora is ABS LOYAL to Justinian – in fact, Proc says that they pretended to disagree to draw the different cabals/groups at the court in this direction of that direction – sounding out the opposition – maybe thats why Proc hates Theod and Just so much, they were such a great team
  • Exs of their “working” the court: Theodora stayed Arian, Justinian stayed Nicene, Theodora loved the Blues, hated the Greens, Justinian was the opposite
  • Of course, since she was a woman, she was tyrannical – Gibbon and Proc mention how she imprisons people who crossed her
  • She started a nunnery across the straits from the city in an old palace expressly for “reformed” prostitutes – Procopius says it was so strict, the inhabitants would throw themselves off a cliff on one side of the nunnery to escape her strict discipline
  • Gibbon lists her virtues: courage, loyalty, strength, no hint of any extra-marital activities after her wild youth, intelligence, beauty and wit
  •  

    Theodora – death 6-11-548
     
  • of cancer, Justinian is inconsolable
  •  

     
     
     

    Theodora and her retinue, in all their glory - mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna

    Theodora and her retinue, in all their glory - mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna


     

    Last Word…
    Giddy Gibbons – or Gibbons in Misogynistic FULL SWING
     

    I’ll just let his descriptions speak for themselves. Suffice it to say, his source is Procopius and the Secret Histories – so these are the words of a gifted writer and a spurned courtier writing a book he does not intend to publish in his, or his children’s lifetimes – a kind of literary time-bomb, gaged to go off at some future date and utterly destroy the great man’s (Justinian’s) fame.

    Apparently Theodora was good at what she did. I’ve never seen Gibbon quite so venemous and well, slobbering over a historical personage.

    The satirical historian has not blushed (23) to describe the naked scenes which Theodora was not ashamed to exhibit in the theatre. (24) After exhausting the arts of sensual pleasure, (25) she most ungratefully murmured against the parsimony of Nature; (26) but her murmurs, her pleasures, and her arts, must be veiled in the obscurity of a learned language. After reigning for some time, the delight and contempt of the capital, she condescended to accompany Ecebolus, a native of Tyre, who had obtained the government of the African Pentapolis. But this union was frail and transient; Ecebolus soon rejected an expensive or faithless concubine; she was reduced at Alexandria to extreme distress; and in her laborious return to Constantinople, every city of the East admired and enjoyed the fair Cyprian, whose merit appeared to justify her descent from the peculiar island of Venus. The vague commerce of Theodora, and the most detestable precautions, preserved her from the danger which she feared; yet once, and once only, she became a mother. The infant was saved and educated in Arabia, by his father, who imparted to him on his death-bed, that he was the son of an empress. Filled with ambitious hopes, the unsuspecting youth immediately hastened to the palace of Constantinople, and was admitted to the presence of his mother. As he was never more seen, even after the decease of Theodora, she deserves the foul imputation of extinguishing with his life a secret so offensive to her Imperial virtue.

    (DEF ii, vol.4, ch.40, p.565)

    and this in the “learned” footnotes

    Note 24
    After the mention of a narrow girdle, (as none could appear stark naked in the theatre,) Procopius thus proceeds (GIBBON INSERTS A GREAT DEAL OF GREEK HERE)
    I have heard that a learned prelate, now deceased, was fond of quoting this passage in conversation.

    (DEF ii, vol.4, ch.40, p.565, fn.24)

    and,

    Note 25
    Theodora surpassed the Crispa of Ausonius, (Epigram lxxi.,) who imitated the capitalis luxus of the females of Nola. See Quintilian Institut. viii. 6, and Torrentius ad Horat. Sermon. l. i. sat. 2, v. 101. At a memorable supper, thirty slaves waited round the table ten young men feasted with Theodora. Her charity was universal.
    Et lassata viris, necdum satiata, recessit.]

    (DEF ii, vol.4, ch.40, p.565, fn.25)

    I think her “Her charity was universal.” is probably a far more suggestive, dry, yet sultry phrase than workaday latin he quotes at the end. Gibbon probably could have had quite the career in porn if he’d been born a writer a few centuries later.
    and again,

    Note 26
    MORE GIBBON GREEK
    She wished for a fourth altar, on which she might pour libations to the god of love.

    (DEF ii, vol.4, ch.40, p.565, fn.26)

    Hmmmm. WHAT could he be referring to?

     

    The emperor Justinian - facing Theodora from across the church at San Vitale Ravenna - it almost looks like they two are NOT looking DOWN at the congregation, their Roman subjects, but looking ACROSS at each other, and smiling at a joke only the two of them understood

    The emperor Justinian - facing Theodora from across the church at San Vitale Ravenna - it almost looks like they two are NOT looking DOWN at the congregation, their Roman subjects, but looking ACROSS at each other, and smiling at a joke only the two of them understood


     

    Even Gibbon has enough when he recounts (well, now that I think about it, when it’s about Justinian, Gibbon gets philosophical, when it’s about Theodora, he gets, well, a little hot and hysterical), Justinian’s being accused of being a demon. I mean really. A Demon? You can hear him blustering in this footnote (Remember, all the really good stuff is in Gibbon’s footnotes)

    Note 018
    Justinian an ass – the perfect likeness of Domitian – Anecdot. c. 8. – Theodora’s lovers driven from her bed by rival daemons – her marriage foretold with a great daemon – a monk saw the prince of the daemons, instead of Justinian, on the throne – the servants who watched beheld a face without features, a body walking without a head, &c., &c. Procopius declares his own and his friends’ belief in these diabolical stories, (c. 12.)]

    (DEF ii, vol.4, ch.40, p.565, fn.26)

    But, back to Theodora. Here he turns on the whole female sex – WHAT AN OPENING LINE! “Those who believe that the female mind is totally depraved by the loss of chastity…” – kind of an attention-grabber there.

    Those who believe that the female mind is totally depraved by the loss of chastity, will eagerly listen to all the invectives of private envy, or popular resentment which have dissembled the virtues of Theodora, exaggerated her vices, and condemned with rigor the venal or voluntary sins of the youthful harlot. From a motive of shame, or contempt, she often declined the servile homage of the multitude, escaped from the odious light of the capital, and passed the greatest part of the year in the palaces and gardens which were pleasantly seated on the sea-coast of the Propontis and the Bosphorus. Her private hours were devoted to the prudent as well as grateful care of her beauty, the luxury of the bath and table, and the long slumber of the evening and the morning.

    Her secret apartments were occupied by the favorite women and eunuchs, whose interests and passions she indulged at the expense of justice; the most illustrious person ages of the state were crowded into a dark and sultry antechamber, and when at last, after tedious attendance, they were admitted to kiss the feet of Theodora, they experienced, as her humor might suggest, the silent arrogance of an empress, or the capricious levity of a comedian.

    Her rapacious avarice to accumulate an immense treasure, may be excused by the apprehension of her husband’s death, which could leave no alternative between ruin and the throne; and fear as well as ambition might exasperate Theodora against two generals, who, during the malady of the emperor, had rashly declared that they were not disposed to acquiesce in the choice of the capital. But the reproach of cruelty, so repugnant even to her softer vices, has left an indelible stain on the memory of Theodora.

    Her numerous spies observed, and zealously reported, every action, or word, or look, injurious to their royal mistress. Whomsoever they accused were cast into her peculiar prisons, (31) inaccessible to the inquiries of justice; and it was rumored, that the torture of the rack, or scourge, had been inflicted in the presence of the female tyrant, insensible to the voice of prayer or of pity. (32) Some of these unhappy victims perished in deep, unwholesome dungeons, while others were permitted, after the loss of their limbs, their reason, or their fortunes, to appear in the world, the living monuments of her vengeance, which was commonly extended to the children of those whom she had suspected or injured.

    The senator or bishop, whose death or exile Theodora had pronounced, was delivered to a trusty messenger, and his diligence was quickened by a menace from her own mouth. “If you fail in the execution of my commands, I swear by Him who liveth forever, that your skin shall be flayed from your body.” (33)

     

    Justinian and his guys at San Vitale - looking across at Theodora

    Justinian and his guys at San Vitale - looking across at Theodora


     

    Advertisements

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    Categories

    %d bloggers like this: