Procopius wrote the most startling revelation of official incompetence and veniality. He wrote venerable histories about Belisariaus. But he also wrote about the scandals of Justinian’s court. Here is what one source says:
The Secret History reveals an author who had become deeply disillusioned with the emperor Justinian and his wife, Empress Theodora, as well as Belisarius, his former commander and patron, and Antonina, Belisarius’ wife. The anecdotes claim to expose the secret springs of their public actions, as well as the private lives of the emperor, his wife and their entourage. Justinian is portrayed as cruel, venal, prodigal and incompetent; as for Theodora, the reader is treated to the most detailed and titillating portrayals of vulgarity and insatiable lust combined with shrewish and calculating mean-spiritedness.
His Secret History (you can read it all at this link) makes good reading today. Not much different I suspect to the truth about modern politicians. Although this is strong stuff about a woman who is a saintess in the Roman Catholic Church:
And as she wantoned with her lovers, she always kept bantering them, and by toying with new devices in intercourse, she always succeeded in winning the hearts of the licentious to her; for she did not even expect that the approach should be made by the man she was with, but on the contrary she herself, with wanton jests and with clownish posturing with her hips, would tempt all who came along, especially if they were beardless youths. Indeed there was never anyone such a slave to pleasure in all forms; for many a time she would go to a community dinner with ten youths or even more, all of exceptional bodily vigor who had made a business of fornication, and she would lie with all her banquet companions the whole night long, and when they all were too exhausted to go on, she would go on to their attendants, thirty perhaps in number, and pair off with each one of them; yet even so she could not get enough of this wantonness.
Regardless, tonight I watched Donizetti’s opera Belisario with libretto by Salvadore Cammarno. It strays substantially from the story of Belisario as it has come down to us. My take is that he was competent, loyal, a good husband, and a mighty leader of troops. Probably killed and enslaved more than ISIS today. The opera makes him a figure of evil and sympathy. His wife, Antonio, was in history shrewd and calculating, but loyal. In the opera she is evil incarnate. That is opera for you. Is it true or human folly served up to entertain?
Donizetti could sure write music that entertains and I enjoyed every note of this most obscure opera. It will never hit the MET–too detailed although the music would entertain an idle, rainy Saturday. This DVD comes from the Bergamo Musica Festival and a great show it is, with traditional costumes of indescribable antiquity. Lots of warriors, battles, betrayal, blindness, and the finding of a long-lost son. Filii is a great aria.
Don’t expect to learn history. But do watch as a perfect example of Bel Canto opera and Donizetti otherwise forgotten. And then go read more of Justinian who gave us the Institutes of Justinian, the codification of Roman law that still essentially is the law of Europe and South Africa. Napoleon renamed it the Code Napoleon in Europe, but made few changes other than those induced by the Latin comments of the Dutch jurists. Another misguided politician.
Justinian and Theodora appear to have been much in love. He and she apparently agued the nights away on the topic of the Holy Trinity. Keep in mind this was still an open topic then. Not yet solidified into the modern church view–a crazy theory but one you must take on faith. I wonder if they screwed in lust after a good argument about the holy trinity–whatever the differences of their views. Kind of like the vigorous debate that seem to be inspired by some of my previous postings on this blog.
I do appreciate all the comments and debate. I read them all with great interest–and many of them change my perspective. I do not answer or get involved. For the points are too convoluted and complex for my 68-year old brain. I cannot implement all the good advice I am given: I cannot, for example, report the misfeasors and lousy stability analysts. I have advised my clients to do the analyses again and correctly. And maybe avoid those stupid consultants and their plethora of junior computer analysts doing incorrect flow nets and stability calculations.
Keep in mind folks, that I am a mere blogger, watching opera, ruminating on Justinian and Theodora and their modern counterparts. I admire Belisarius and Antonia on the basis of what I read in these books:
- The Hero of Byzantium by Joseph Lessard
- The Life of Belisarius, The Last Great General of Rome by Lord Mahon
- Count Belisarius by Robert Graves (by far the most entertaining of them all).
And I revel in the pornography of Procopius. Better than opera.