Isidore-of-Seville's Classical Library presents

Procopius, The Secret History
Richard Atwater (trans.), Tim Spalding (ed.), with user-submitted commentary.

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Introduction

The following is Richard Atwater's translation of the Secret History. Like all texts in the Isidore-of-Seville Classical Library, each section is accompanied by commentary, contributed by knowledgeable and interested readers. You are invited to contribute your scholarship and ideas to this commentary. A few sections, such as the infamous geese scene where aidoiôn is translated as "calyx of this passion flower," are being retranslated by the editor, SurfWatch be damned.

This text and the preliminary commentary were prepared in tandem with the web-directory Justinian, Theodora and Procopius on the Web, which contains annotated links to over 200 web documents related to Byzantium in the 6th century, including introductions better than the one that follows.

The Secret History

Like Thucydides and so many others, Procopius wrote the Secret History for posterity. Unlike them, he apparently wrote only for posterity, as general publication during his lifetime would have led to certain disgrace and probable death. In his account, the young future empress was a shameless and insatiable performing prostitute, the emperor a genocidal tyrant; both were, incidentally and quite literally, fiends. It is a strange, vicious, and, at points, borderline-pornographic work.

If Procopius had been just a malcontent with a pen, we might dismiss the Secret History as mere scurrilous pamphleteering. But Procopius was one of the sixth-century's great administrators and intellectuals, secretary to Justinian's top general, and author of the definitive history of Justinian's wars of reconquest. In his Wars and particularly in his account of Justinian's building program, Procopius cast the emperor, his empress Theodora and other figures of the court in a favorable light.

Not surprisingly, scholarship has long been absorbed in squaring Procopius' attitudes in the three works. Did he change his mind? Are there hints of his true feelings in the Wars and Buildings? Is the work a clever forgery? (Almost all now think it genuine.) Others have found the Secret History a mine of information about palace intrigue, common life in Constantinople and contemporary attitudes toward sex and power.

Text and Translation

The text presented here is by Richard Atwater, author of the children's book Mr. Popper's Penguins (I couldn't make this stuff up!). It was first published in 1927 and reprinted in 1963 by the University of Michigan with "indications that the copyright had expired" (in fact, the reprint hardly mentions Atwater). This text was scanned into text my Paul Halsall (homepage) in 1996 for the Internet History Sourcebook. I can be reached at timspalding@mediaone.net.

- Tim Spalding

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Design, textual changes and some commentary © 2001 Isidore-of-Seville.com. Email timspalding@mediaone.net.