Ex Libris Kirkland

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First Written 550
Genre History
Origin Byzantium
Publisher Penguin
My Copy library paperback
First Read September 05, 2023

The Secret History

The Trumpian comparisons stand out. There are dueling factions in the city that are combination sports teams / political parties - I cannot get over that their names are simply 'The Blues' and 'The Greens' - and Procopius accuses Justinian of only supporting one side as long as he can milk them for cash.

Noted on September 8, 2023

Like, for example: there was a real historical whale that terrorized shipping around Constantinople, Porphyrious. It came up in Belisarius, and also in Moby Dick, but both times I didn't really clock it as a historical thing, just instead a myth.

Noted on September 5, 2023

I read a historical fiction work a few years back that covers this same time period and some of the same characters. What fun to read a primary source translation. This is apparently a polemic that follows a standard form, but retreads and contradicts works of history that Procopius wrote. Like Count Belisarius, this has so many things that seem made up that are apparently historical.

Noted on September 5, 2023

For as he sat in darkness he could not himself make out whether it was day or night, and he was never allowed to speak to anyone else. The man who tossed him his daily ration of food met him as beast meets beast, neither saying a word.

Quoted on September 5, 2023

[ This is a strong start: every author could aspire to something similar:]

But as I embark on a new undertaking of a difficult and extraordinarily baffling character, concerned as it is with Justinian and Theodora and the lives they lived, my teeth chatter and I find myself recoiling as far as possible from the task; for I envisage the probability that what I am now about to write will appear incredible and unconvincing to future generations. And again, when in the long course of time the story seems to belong to a rather distant past, I am afraid that I shall be regarded as a mere teller of legends or listed among the tragic poets. One thing, however, gives me confidence to shoulder my heavy task without flinching: my account has no lack of witnesses to vouch for its truth.

Quoted on September 5, 2023

For everywhere there was utter chaos, and nothing was the same ever again: in the confusion that followed, the laws and the orderly structure of the state were turned upside down.

To begin with, the factionalists changed the style of their hair to a quite novel fashion, having it cut very differently from the other Romans. They did not touch the moustache or beard at all but were always anxious to let them grow as long as possible, like the Persians. But the hair on the front of the head they cut right back to the temples, allowing the growth behind to hang down to its full length in a disorderly mass, like the Massagane do. This is why they sometimes called this the Hunnish look.

[everything’s going to hell, just look at their mullets!]

Quoted on September 5, 2023

But on this subject I have said enough. I do not wish to bore my readers, and in any case no man alive could recount all that Justinian did on these lines. I will next make clear that he never had any regard even for the Blues, to whom he expressed so much devotion, if there was money to be had.

Quoted on September 8, 2023

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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