Day 654 – Ken here (M)(6-27-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.41, 42 pp.680-690)(pages read: 1740)
Well, I’m getting back in the swing of things, but still tired as all get-out.
I don’t know why, but even the driest day, Gibbonically, is forcing endless (as I’m sure it must seem to you) commenting out through my fingers, onto my keyboard, and into the general blogosphere, to finally wash up, like so much flotsam and jetsam on your computer screen at random moments as you google.
The dangerous act of typing “real estate” into the Google search bar may leave you stranded briefly here – inexplicably reading/putting up with my rants on a 6th century Roman General’s wife’s reputation being irresponsibly trashed by bitter and frustrated lackeys (read: Procopius). That, however, is the ever-present danger in googling (as well I know, from bitter experience) – excessive time-wasting late at night and a useless, but prodigious command of extremely trivial facts. But such is our peril-filled life here in the second decade of the 21st century…
anyways, onto some content…
A short day – Gibbon goes off on Antonina, Belisarius’s wife for the remaining 5 pages of chapter 41, then we draw WAAAAAAAAYYYYY BAAAAACK in a typical cinerama-scope Gibbonian slow pan shot of the entire Mediterranean world to review some barbarian nations (the Gepids – who disappear entirely, and the Slavs who don’t) as we begin 50 pages of Lombards, Slavs, Turks, Avars, Persians, and Ethiopians. Oh, and their wars with Romans.
(BTW – the pic above is from a 2005 article from Gamespy – in case you’d like to read the whole article – a PlanetFargo gamer review of Barbarians at the Gates – a strangely prophetic article for 2005 – commenting briefly on “irrational exuberance” in the real estate markets – yes the barbarians were already at the gates, in fact, they’d sacked the city and stolen all our equity ALREADY but we just didn’t know it in 2005 – but we sure found out – just look at Iceland – anyways… enough with the umbrage, bitterness, and bile, no matter how well-deserved – back to our regularly scheduled 6th cent. drama & crises….)
A Little Venom With Your History
Gibbon cannot squirt enough venom from his pen to do justice to the horror (or whore-er) that was Antonina (in his mind).
She was a daughter of an actress, and hence of a prostitute, from a family of vile charioteers. Obviously one of the most dangerous things in the world is a “loose and ambitious” female. Gibbon dignifies Procopius’s Secret History with some sort of obscure reference to the praiseworthy custom of having a man remind the person celebrating a triumph (ex. Caesar) that he WAS ONLY A MAN – as if the Secret History were a bald recitation of facts intended to humanize the super-human Belisarius.
Remember the Secret History is also the place where Procopius “proves” that Justinian and Theodora are ACTUAL, not METAPHORICAL demons in human form sent to the Earth to terrify and test the Roman citizenry with their demonic powers.
And what could be more ridiculous than an older woman with a younger man (the opposite, of course – older man + younger woman – being a natural and healthy occurrence).
Even her lover, Theodosius, the young Thracian, was a Eunomian heretic – an obscure “heresy” which had already died a slow death over the last century and a half – which at this point is kind of like calling him a follower of the bogey-man or maybe a Roundhead (yeah, that’d get your blood boiling if someone called you that in a club at 2AM) – an additional application of mud to make Antonina, even in her choice of lovers, as dirty as possible
It was the custom of the Roman triumphs, that a slave should be placed behind the chariot to remind the conqueror of the instability of fortune, and the infirmities of human nature. Procopius, in his Anecdotes, has assumed that servile and ungrateful office. The generous reader may cast away the libel, but the evidence of facts will adhere to his memory; and he will reluctantly confess, that the fame, and even the virtue, of Belisarius, were polluted by the lust and cruelty of his wife; and that hero deserved an appellation which may not drop from the pen of the decent historian.
The mother of Antonina was a theatrical prostitute, and both her father and grandfather exercised, at Thessalonica and Constantinople, the vile, though lucrative, profession of charioteers. In the various situations of their fortune she became the companion, the enemy, the servant, and the favorite of the empress Theodora: these loose and ambitious females had been connected by similar pleasures; they were separated by the jealousy of vice, and at length reconciled by the partnership of guilt.
Before her marriage with Belisarius, Antonina had one husband and many lovers: Photius, the son of her former nuptials, was of an age to distinguish himself at the siege of Naples; and it was not till the autumn of her age and beauty that she indulged a scandalous attachment to a Thracian youth. Her lover Theodosius.Theodosius had been educated in the Eunomian heresy;
(DEF ii, vol.4, ch.41, p.680)
The Famous Pearl Story
How Empress Theodora Rewards Her Best Friend
Theodosius, Antonina’s lover, had been sent to jail through the efforts of Antonina’s son Photius (son by another marriage, not by her marriage to the General Belisarius). Theodora arranges for his freedom and dramatically presents him to Antonina. Theodosius dies that day in the midst of an apparently vigorous session of lovemaking.
This, after forcing her husband (Belisarius) to publicly forgive her for intimating she was having an affair in the first place with Theodosius.
This from Gibbon:
(can it get any worse? yes it can)
At the end of the campaign, Belisarius was recalled; he complied, as usual, with the Imperial mandate. His mind was not prepared for rebellion: his obedience, however adverse to the dictates of honour, was consonant to the wishes of his heart; and when he embraced his wife, at the command, and perhaps in the presence, of the empress, the tender husband was disposed to forgive or to be forgiven.
The bounty of Theodora reserved for her companion a more precious favour. “I have found,” she said, “my dearest patrician, a pearl of inestimable value; it has not yet been viewed by any mortal eye; but the sight and the possession of this jewel are destined for my friend.” As soon as the curiosity and impatience of Antonina were kindled, the door of a bed-chamber was thrown open, and she beheld her lover, whom the diligence of the eunuchs had discovered in his secret prison.
Her silent wonder burst into passionate exclamations of gratitude and joy, and she named Theodora her queen, her benefactress, and her savior. The monk of Ephesus was nourished in the palace with luxury and ambition; but instead of assuming, as he was promised, the command of the Roman armies, Theodosius expired in the first fatigues of an amorous interview. The grief of Antonina could only be assuaged by the sufferings of her son.
(DEF ii, vol.4, ch.41, p.683)
Now, the demonic Antonina, with the help of Theodora tortures and kills her own son, for exposing her adultery and confounding her plans:
A youth of consular rank, and a sickly constitution, was punished, without a trial, like a malefactor and a slave: yet such was the constancy of his mind, that Photius sustained the tortures of the scourge and the rack, without violating the faith which he had sworn to Belisarius. After this fruitless cruelty, the son of Antonina, while his mother feasted with the empress, was buried in her subterraneous prisons, which admitted not the distinction of night and day.
He twice escaped to the most venerable sanctuaries of Constantinople, the churches of St. Sophia, and of the Virgin: but his tyrants were insensible of religion as of pity; and the helpless youth, amidst the clamours of the clergy and people, was twice dragged from the altar to the dungeon. His third attempt was more successful.
At the end of three years, the prophet Zachariah, or some mortal friend, indicated the means of an escape: he eluded the spies and guards of the empress, reached the holy sepulchre of Jerusalem, embraced the profession of a monk; and the abbot Photius was employed, after the death of Justinian, to reconcile and regulate the churches of Egypt. The son of Antonina suffered all that an enemy can inflict: her patient husband imposed on himself the more exquisite misery of violating his promise and deserting his friend.
(DEF ii, vol.4, ch.41, p.683)
(well, to Romans too, a Paradise of Endlessly Flowing Gold – an altogether NOT INACCURATE description of the money-machine that was The Eastern Roman Empire)
Looking at the careers of Antonina, Theodosius, Belisarius, Theodora, Photius and the rest of the players in this 10 pages of Gibbonian Tragedy – i.e. “The Tragedy of Allowing Females Power” – you get the feeling whole handfuls of puzzle-pieces, not just a few, forgotten puzzle-pieces here and there, are being conveniently left out of the historical puzzle-picture being pieced together in front of us (to continue to stretch this metaphor to its only possible conclusion).
Only a fool would assume that Procopius’s “public” Histories of the Wars and his “private” Secret History or Anecdotes even begin to show the complexity of the political situation in the 530’s and 540’s in Eastern Rome with anything approaching completeness or overall accuracy.
Its a little obvious that other wheels were turning here other than the ones Gibbon and Procopius and Company are pointing out. Photius and Theodosius were both linked closely to Belisarius’s family and his family fortunes and rank and honor clearly. Rising in the imperial court was a tightrope act, that often involved getting very dirty/bloody hands in the process of gaining offices and honors. But the rewards were spectacular, and the game was endlessly interesting to all the players involved.
Keep this in mind…
Nowhere else on the planet (well, maybe China, maybe Persia) was the sheer scope of possible rewards and success so enticing and so certain for the winners – as we’ve already seen in the career of John the Cappodocian – the effective, hated, and wildly successful and punished chief fiscal officer of the Roman empire under Justinian’s early years of rule.
The annual budget of the Roman empire (due to efficient tax gathering, and a well-developed commercial network for the 6th cent.) was in the trillions – a Roman emperor would spend more on a single dinner to impress a Persian ambassador than many barbarian successor kingdoms could muster in an entire year in revenues. The Romans their empire were still, in their supposed dotage, fantastically wealthy – and the rest of the world knew it – as did every young, ambitious man or woman in the Mediterranean world.