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

By Anthony Kaldellis | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Tales Not Unworthy of Trust: Anecdotes
and the Persian War

Ancient and Byzantine historical narratives represent a nexus of scholarship and literature. To describe real events, they utilize techniques of empirical verification in conjunction with a broad range of literary devices. Also, they have moral or philosophical goals that seem inappropriate to factual reporting today. This has long been known, though its implications have not been absorbed into the mainstream of scholarship, at least not with regard to Byzantine writers. Narratives are still evaluated primarily in terms of factual reliability, while anything that may distort that is set down to “bias” or, at best, “worldview” (a more charitable, if nebulous category). Still, there are passages that do not make even that cut and are ascribed to incompetence or bad judgment. This is the fate of many anecdotes found in the works of all but a very few ancient historians such as Thucydides. Along with omens, they are among those aspects of ancient historiography that make modern readers most uncomfortable. They seem to be little more than unsubstantiated rumor and are furthermore not susceptible to quantification, which frustrates social historians.

But this is to miss their purpose and function. A man’s personality, for instance, was not always simply described in so many words. Often a story was told about him from which it could be inferred. So too the character and history of nations. Whereas modern studies of wars introduce the two sides by analyzing their social and political structures, foreign interests, and geography, many ancient historians conveyed the essential points through anecdotes. Readers have to think hard about these stories to appreciate their significance, for serious authors would never include them merely to entertain. The function of anecdotes is intimately linked to the main themes of the work in which they appear. That is why so many of them lack historical context: it is easier that way to structure them around key ideas. Detecting and appreciating those concepts, that is, reading,

-62-

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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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