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

By Anthony Kaldellis | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The Representation of Tyranny

The first sentence of the Wars declares the work to be about the wars waged by Justinian against the barbarians. The narrative takes place mostly on the frontiers and in lands being conquered, paradoxically relegating the capital to the margins. Yet though he never left the capital, Justinian determined the course of those events more than any other person. The first sentence of the Secret History declares the work to be about what happened within the Roman empire, or about “the lives of Justinian and Theodora” (1.4). Justinian was at the heart of Procopius’ concerns.

The Secret History is the most virulent invective from antiquity, and nothing can explain it except sheer loathing for Justinian and his regime. It is impossible to believe that this hostility did not also shape the Wars, which was written at the same time. Naturally, criticism of the regime in a public work had to be veiled or indirect, and we have found many instances of this. In a separate reading of the Wars, I intend to demonstrate that Procopius opposed Justinian’s wars—not just the means by which they were waged, but entirely.

The focus of this chapter is not on the wars but on the way in which Procopius conceptualized and represented the tyranny of Justinian, first in the Wars, where it emerges indirectly, albeit with curious nuances that merit discussion, and second, in the Secret History, where its manifold elaboration calls for a comprehensive study. These are problems in literary representation, not historical analysis, though we are dealing here with the most important source on the most consequential reign of the later Roman period. In particular, I intend to discuss the parallels that Procopius establishes between Justinian and various Persian kings, especially Chosroes, and the way in which Roman and Persian rulers are made to converge. This will lead to a discussion of Justinian’s demand for proskynesis and the title despotes. I will then examine Procopius’ attempt in the Secret History to come to grips with the ideology of the regime and the possible limitations of his effort. The shrillness of the work reflects his frustration with the inadequacy

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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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