Day 633 – Ken here (M)(6-6-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.40 pp.590-600)(pages read: 1650)
Feeling OK, and somehow have a lot to say, and not a lot of time to say it in today – so without further ado, ladies and germs, I give you the mid-portions of chapter 40 of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall…
Interior of the Hagia Sophia - erected in 6 years for 21 billion dollars - the famous massive floating central dome (JUST LOOK AT IT!) was not surpassed (I know, I know, there are all kinds of ways to guage - surpassed - ) for 1000 years - building this huge, cutting-edge, engineering-wonder of a church in the 530's was as significant an effort as the Space Program of the 1960's in the U.S. in many ways.
The hated John of Cappadocia – the Investment Banker of the Byzantines
John of Cappadocia – illiterate – but a master of squeezing revenue out of provinces to finance the empire – Justinian uses him a lot, and gets rid of him only when abs necessary
Gibbon has nothing but bad to say about him – eventually John runs afoul of Theodora (per Procopius) and she plots his destruction after 10 years of service to Justinian
He uses scheme after scheme to create more revenue for the treasury – until at last he is betrayed by a false witness and appears to be seeking a liason with a highly-placed general’s wife (of Belisarius), and is condemned, but in a golden parachute, white-collar crime kind of way, sent to an easy prison
Theodora gets him accused of murdering a bishop and he is banished to the deserts of Egypt as a beggar
On Theodora’s death he is allowed to return (as a priest) to Constantinople
A Brief Aside on Byzantine Engineers
Anthemius – the guy who designed the Hagia Sophia with Isidore of Miletus
Justinian and his buildings
Justinian is well-known for his buildings – thanks to the same guy who smears him with muck at every turn – Procopius – late in Propcopius’s life he wants additional favors of Justinian and so composes this praise-poem of Justinian on his buildings (even attrib some to Just that were built by others, but its never a bad idea to NOT pad your imperial praise poems as much as is possible) – elsewhere in his Secret History, Procopius complains/maintains that Just bankrupted the East in his building program
The Hagia Sophia – the Space Program “Race to the Moon” of the 530’s
I LOVE THIS CHURCH – although I’ve never had the opportunity to see it in person
Hagia Sophia means Church of the Holy Wisdom – (Hagia=holy, Sophia=wisdom – Gr) – not Saint Sophia
Burnt down a couple of times – the last time in the Nika riots (from yesterday’s reading)
Rebuilt in just under 6 years at a cost of 21 billion dollars – something akin (in cost and time) to the 1960’s push to land a man on the moon
The Hagia Sophia is a miracle of engineering – and was the biggest cathedral in the world from the middle 500’s (when it was built) for a thousand years until the Seville Cathedral dome of the 1520’s – its dome seems to float on the four supporting half domes. The dome fell a few decades after it was built, and Justinian had it re-domed immediately, and has stood ever since
Hagia Sophia – shape of Greek Cross in floorplan, and half-dome, full-dome architectural scheme was a brand new way of looking at church architecture and SET THE STYLE of Eastern Roman, then Russian and Greek architecture to this day
Why Keynes is like Justinian – or Vice Versa (Ken here, not Gibbon obviously)
The cost of Hagia Sophia alone, was the ENTIRE SURPLUS from the previous emperor’s savings of 27 years (from emperor Anastasius – see treasury/budget from yesterday’s reading) – and this is only one of the hundreds of building projects Just engaged in – so maybe Procopius was right – he DID spend A LOT OF MONEY on buildings – but THERE ARE FAR WORSE THINGS TO SPEND YOUR MONEY ON – and I’m not sure the relative prosperity of Justinian’s time (except for the plague) was not due in part to this Keynesian stimulus package
Other Buildings – or Why Justinian is like Christopher Wren
25 Churches – in Constantinople alone – kind of like Wren in London after the Great Fire of London (1666)
Also built numberless aqueducts, hospitals and bridges (altho NO theaters or baths)
Justinian was like Keynes. Photo of John Maynard Keynes - the apostle of demand-side economics - ie stimulus packages to prime the economic pump and get money circulating again and get an economy back on its feet. Justinian did the same thing with the MASSIVE BUILDING and FORTIFICATIONS PROGRAMS during the 3 decades of his reign - successfully in my opinion (but not, maybe in Gibbon's)
Justinian was like Wren. Painting of Christopher Wren by Godfrey Kneller (1711) - Justinian was like the architect Wren - well, maybe like Anthemius (Justinian's architect), and Justinian was like Charles II - anyways.... BOTH MEN got to rebuild their capital cities and especially the churches of their capital cities AND set th architectural style of their time for years and years to come
Hagia Sophia at sunset - the four minarets at the four corners were added after the Turkish conquest in 1453
Quoteable Gibbon – On John of Cappadocia
Procopius hated him, Gibbon hated him.
As ever, Gibbon is a master of the momentary innuendo, the placement of a short phrase that damns all the more effectively because of its near-insignificance (ex. below – “perhaps his vices strongly recommended him…”
His knowledge was not borrowed from the schools, and his style was scarcely legible; but he excelled in the powers of native genius, to suggest the wisest counsels, and to find expedients in the most desperate situations.
The corruption of his heart was equal to the vigor of his understanding. Although he was suspected of magic and Pagan superstition, he appeared insensible to the fear of God or the reproaches of man; and his aspiring fortune was raised on the death of thousands, the poverty of millions, the ruins of cities, and the desolation of provinces.
From the dawn of light to the moment of dinner, he assiduously labored to enrich his master and himself at the expense of the Roman world; the remainder of the day was spent in sensual and obscene pleasures, and the silent hours of the night were interrupted by the perpetual dread of the justice of an assassin. His abilities, perhaps his vices, recommended him to the lasting friendship of Justinian: the emperor yielded with reluctance to the fury of the people; his victory was displayed by the immediate restoration of their enemy; and they felt above ten years, under his oppressive administration, that he was stimulated by revenge, rather than instructed by misfortune.
(DEF ii, vol.4, ch.40, p.591)
Sperm Whale swimming contentedly (well, he looks like he's smiling to me) just under the ocean's surface - what our friend Porphyrio might have looked like in happier times
Long Before There was Shamu the Killer Whale, There was the Mystery of Porphyrio the Sperm Whale
Porphyrio is a bit perplexing and puzzling – perplexing to Gibbon, because he was a whale in what he thought was a whale-free zone, the Mediterranean – and puzzling to me because Porphyrio seems to be a little, lost whale (well, a decent-sized large whale – 18 feet wide by 45 feet long) in the Black Sea. But you decide if I’m just trying make something obvious a bit more mysterious in order to eke out a few drops of melodrama from the current day’s 10 pages of Gibbon-reading.
I had no idea that the Mediterranean hosted whales, (as neither did Gibbon – see footnote 110 below), but apparently a non-migratory, and hyper-social sub-species does just that – see also Sperm Whales of Greece video on http://www.whaletrackers.com. However, due to the oxygen starved and colder waters of the Black Sea, Sperm whales aren’t seen in those waters, just north of the Mediterannean, thru the straits upon which sit the city (our city) of Constantinople (Istanbul).
Solution to a 1500 Year-Old Mystery
There’s a little bit of a mystery surrounding the tale of the Sperm Whale Porphyrio (as told by Gibbon, as originally told by Procopius). Gibbon maintains in the footnote that whales do not breed in the Mediterranean – well, we know a sub-species DOES do just that nowadays – and probably even more so 15 centuries ago long, long, before the Sperm whales were hunted almost to extinction. The weirder thing is the location of the river sand spit Porphyrio grounded himself on and died upon.
If the “Sangaris” of ancient times is the Sakarya Nehri of modern Turkey, then Porphyrio died in the Black Sea (above Constantinople and above the Mediterranean) – only, Sperm whales DON’T swim in the Black Sea currently – possibly because the Hellespont is so shallow (relatively) and long, and has a strong current like a river. What was Porphyrio doing up there? Possibly he had gotten disoriented and was actually TRYING TO ESCAPE – the sound of the river might sound like the rushing of the water through the Hellespont and out to the Mediterranean, the Sakarya Nehri is the 1st big river to the east of the entrance to the Hellespont – so maybe he just made a fatal error. Well, its a theory….
Map of modern Turkey - look at the southern coastline of the Black Sea, you'll see a river emptying into it from the central peninsula - towards the right - called Sakarya Nehri - if the mouth of this river is Porphyrios place of death - maybe he was just trying to escape back into the Med. and mistook the river for the Hellespont - who knows?
Here’s the sad tale of Porphyrio from the pen of Gibbon:
Note: If we take the cubit to be 18 inches, Porphyrio was 18 feet wide by 45 feet long.
On the Asiatic shore of the Propontis, at a small distance to the east of Chalcedon, the costly palace and gardens of Heraeum (108) were prepared for the summer residence of Justinian, and more especially of Theodora. The poets of the age have celebrated the rare alliance of nature and art, the harmony of the nymphs of the groves, the fountains, and the waves: yet the crowd of attendants who followed the court complained of their inconvenient lodgings, and the nymphs were too often alarmed by the famous Porphyrio, a whale of ten cubits in breadth, and thirty in length, who was stranded at the mouth of the River Sangaris, after he had infested more than half a century the seas of Constantinople. (110)
(DEF ii, vol.4, ch.40, p.547)
“Infested”? I guess Gibbon didn’t like whales very much – unless the verb infest has greatly changed in meaning over the last 200 years or so.
and from the footnote:
Procopius, l. viii. 29; most probably a stranger and wanderer, as the Mediterranean does not breed whales. Balaenae quoque in nostra maria penetrant, (Plin. Hist. Natur. ix. 2.) Between the polar circle and the tropic, the cetaceous animals of the ocean grow to the length of 50, 80, or 100 feet, (Hist. des Voyages, tom. xv. p. 289. Pennant’s British Zoology, vol. iii. p. 35.)]
(DEF ii, vol.4, ch.40, p.547. fn.110)
A sad picture - like Porphyrio, 15 centuries earlier, an entire pod of Sperm Whales lies stranded on sand bars awaiting help from - Jan 2009 on Perkin's Island, Tasmania, Australia