Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity

By Anthony Kaldellis | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Classicism and Its Discontents

The Preface of the Wars

“Procopius of Caesarea composed a record of the wars which Justinian, the emperor of the Romans, waged against the barbarians of the east and of the west.” The first sentence of the Wars announces its author and his theme and does so by imitating the first sentences of Thucydides and, to a lesser degree, of Herodotus. This form of mimicry was by no means original. In the second century A.D., the satirist Lucian of Samosata had complained that many historians of his time tried to imitate the great founders of classical historiography in this very way, hoping to appropriate for themselves the hallowed prestige of the classics. An acerbic and unforgiving critic, Lucian castigated them for superficial affectation. “Crepereius Calpurnianus the Pompeiopolitan composed the history of the war between the Parthians and the Romans.” Such introductions constituted crimes against good taste. Yet we must also admit that they were the inevitable product of the undisputed and stifling authority of classical texts. There simply were no alternative models. In the end, even Lucian could only encourage future historians to model themselves on Thucydides, albeit in a more thoughtful and tasteful manner. His response to bad imitation was better imitation.1 But the dearth of grand themes made the imitation of great historians as shallow as it was inevitable.

In the age of Justinian, four centuries later, those models no longer held sway unchallenged. Competing conceptions of historiography had developed and even gained popularity. The universal chronicle evolved to meet the needs of those who desired concise summaries of world history that highlighted the importance of Christianity within the course of creation. By the time Procopius finished the Wars, John Malalas had released the first edition of his chronicle, covering events from creation to the reign of Justinian. Marcellinus, who had worked on that emperor’s staff, had twice updated the chronicle of Jerome, itself a translation and continuation

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Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Classicism and Its DisContents 17
  • Chapter 2 - Tales Not Unworthy of Trust- Anecdotes and the Persian War 62
  • Chapter 3 - The Secret History of Philosophy 94
  • Chapter 4 - The Representation of Tyranny 118
  • Chapter 5 - God and Tyche in the Wars 165
  • Appendix 1 - Secret History 19–30 and the Edicts of Justinian 223
  • Appendix 2 - The Plan of Secret History 6–18 229
  • Abbreviations 231
  • Notes 233
  • Bibliography 275
  • Index 299
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