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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 8

This webpage reproduces a Chapter of
The Secret History


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 10

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter IX

p103 The traits, then, of Justinian's character, as far as we are able to state them, were roughly these. And he married a wife concerning whom I shall now relate how she was born and reared and how, after being joined to this man in marriage, she overturned the Roman State to its very foundations. 2 There was in Byzantium a certain Acacius, keeper of the animals used in the circus, an adherent of the Green Faction, a man whom they called Master of the Bears. 3 This man had died a natural death during the reign of Anastasius, leaving three girls, Comito, Theodora and Anastasia, the eldest of whom was not yet seven years of age. 4 And the woman, now reduced to utter distress,1 entered into marriage with another husband, who, she thought, would later on assist her in both the care of the household and in her first husband's occupation. 5 But the Dancing Master of the Greens, a man named Asterius, was bribed by another man to remove these persons from that office and to make no difficulty about putting in the position the man who had given him the money. For the Dancing Masters had authority to administer such matters as they wished. 6 But when the woman saw the whole populace gathered in the Circus, she put garlands on the heads and in both hands of the three girls and cause them to sit as suppliants. 7 And though the Greens were by no p105means favourable to receiving the supplication, the Blues conferred this position of honour upon them, since their Master of the Bears also had recently died. 8 And when these children came of age, the mother immediately put them on the stage there — since they were fair to look upon — not all three at the same time, but as each one seemed to her to be ripe for this calling. 9 Now Comito, the first one, had already scored a brilliant success among the harlots of her age; and Theodora, the next in order, clothed in a little sleeved frock suitable to a slave girl, would follow her about, performing various services and in particular always carrying on her shoulders the stool on which her sister was accustomed to sit in the assemblies. 10 Now for a time Theodora, being immature, was quite unable to sleep with a man or to have a woman's kind of intercourse with one, yet she did engage in intercourse of a masculine type of lewdness with the wretches, slaves though they were, who, following their masters to the theatre, incidentally took advantage of the opportunity afforded them to carry on this monstrous business, and she spent much time in the brothel in this unnatural traffic of the body. 11 But as soon as she came of age and was at last mature, she joined the women of the stage and straightway became a courtesan, of the sort whom men of ancient times used to call "infantry."2 12 For she was neither a flute-player nor a harpist, nay, she had not even acquired skill in the dance, but she sold her youthful beauty to those who chanced to come along, plying her trade with practically p107her whole body. 13 Later on she was associated with the actors in all the work of the theatre, and she shared their performances with them, playing up to their buffoonish acts intended to raise a laugh. For she was unusually clever and full of gibes, and she immediately became admired for this sort of thing. 14 For the girl had not a particle of modesty, nor did any man ever see her embarrassed, but she undertook shameless services without the least hesitation, and she was the sort of a person who, for instance, when being flogged or beaten over the head, would crack a joke over it and burst into a loud laugh; and she would undress and exhibit to any who chanced along both her front and her rear naked, parts which rightly should be unseen by men and hidden from them.

15 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. 16 Indeed there was never anyone such a slave to pleasure in all forms; for many a time she would go to a community dinner3 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.

p109 17 On one occasion she entered the house of one of the notables during the drinking, and they said that in the sight of all the banqueters she mounted to the projecting part of the banqueting couch where their feet lay,4 and there drew up her clothing in a shameless way, not hesitating to display her licentiousness. 18 And though she made use of three openings, she used to take Nature to task, complaining that it had not pierced her breasts with larger holes so that it might be possible for her to contrive another method of copulation there. 19 And though she was pregnant many times, yet practically always she was able to contrive to bring about an abortion immediately.

20 And often even in the theatre, before the eyes of the whole people, she stripped off her clothing and moved about naked through their midst, having only a girdle about her private parts and her groins, not, however, that she was ashamed to display these too to the populace, but because no person is permitted to enter there entirely naked, but must have at least a girdle about the groins. 21 Clothed in this manner, she sprawled out and lay on her back on the ground. And some slaves, whose duty this was, sprinkled grains of barley over her private parts, and geese, which happened to have been provided for this very purpose, picked them off with their beaks, one by one, and ate them. 22 And when she got up, she not only did not blush, but even acted as if she p111took pride in this strange performance. For she was not merely shameless herself, but also a contriver of shameless deeds above all others. 23 And it was a common thing for her to undress and stand in the midst of the actors on the stage, now straining her body backwards and now trying to penetrate the hinder parts both of those who had consorted with her and those who had not yet done so, running through with pride the exercises of the only wrestling school to which she was accustomed. 24 And she treated her own body with such utter wantonness that she seemed to have her privates5 not where Nature had placed them in other women, but in her face! 25 Now those who had intimacy with her immediately made it clear by that very fact that they were not having intercourse according to the laws of Nature; and all the more respectable people who chanced upon her in the market-place would turn aside and retreat in haste, lest they should touch any of the woman's garments and so seem to have partaken of this pollution. 26 For she was, to those who saw her, particularly early in the day, a bird of foul omen. On the other hand, she was accustomed to storm most savagely at all times against the women who were her fellow-performers; for she was a very envious and spiteful creature.

27 Later she was following in the train of Hecebolus, a Tyrian, who had taken over the administration of Pentapolis, serving him in the most shameful capacity; but she gave some offence to the man and was driven thence with all speed; consequently it came about that she was at a loss for the necessities of life, which she proceeded to provide in her usual way, putting her body to work at its unlawful traffic. She p113first went to Alexandria; 28 later, after making the round of the whole East, she made her way back to Byzantium, plying her trade in each city (a trade which a man could not call by name, I think, without forfeiting forever the compassion of God), as if Heaven could not bear that any spot should be unacquainted with the wantonness of Theodora.

29 Thus was this woman born and reared and thus had she become infamous in the eyes both of many common women and of all mankind. 30 But when she came back to Byzantium once more, Justinian conceived for her an overpowering love; and at first he knew her as a mistress, though he did advance her to the rank of the Patricians. 31 Theodora accordingly succeeded at once in acquiring extraordinary influence and a fairly large fortune. For she seemed to the man the sweetest thing in the world, as is wont to happen with lovers who love extravagantly, and he was fain to bestow upon his beloved all favours and all money. 32 And the State became fuel for this love. So with her help he ruined the people even more than before, and not in Byzantium alone, but throughout the whole Roman Empire. 33 For both being members of the Blue Faction from of old, they gave the members of this Faction great freedom regarding the affairs of State. 34 But long afterwards this evil abated for the most part, and in the following manner.

35 Justinian happened to be ill for many days, and during this illness he came into such danger that it p115was even reputed that he had died. Meanwhile the Factionists were still carrying on those excesses which have been described, and in broad daylight, in the sanctuary of Sophia, they slew a certain Hypatius, a man of no mean station. 36 Now after the crime had been committed, the tumult occasioned by the act reached the Emperor, and his courtiers, taking advantage of the absence of Justinian from the scene, all took pains to magnify to him the outrageous character of what had taken place, recounting from the beginning everything which had happened. 37 Then at length the Emperor commanded the Prefect of the City to inflict the penalties for all that had been done. Now this Perfect was named Theodotus, the one to whom they gave the nickname "Pumpkin." 38 And he, making a full investigation of the affair, did succeed in apprehending and executing by due process of law many of the malefactors, though many hid themselves and thus saved their lives. 39 For it was destined that before long they themselves should rise to the control of the affairs of the Romans.6 As for the Emperor, he suddenly and unexpectedly recovered and thereupon immediately set about putting Theodotus to death as a poisoner and a magician. 40 But since he could find no pretext whatever which he might use to destroy the man, he tortured some of his associates most cruelly and compelled them to utter against the man statements which were utterly untrue. 41 And as all stood aloof from him and in silence grieved over the plot against p117Theodotus, Proclus alone, who held the office of Quaestor, as its incumbent was called, declared that the man was innocent of the charge and in no way worthy of death. 42 So, by decision of the Emperor, Theodotus was conveyed to Jerusalem. But learning that certain men had come there in order to destroy him, he concealed himself the whole time in the sanctuary and continued so to live up to the time of his death.

43 Such was the story of Theodotus. But the Factionists, from then on, became the most discreet persons in the world. 44 For they could no longer bring themselves to commit the same outrages as before, although the way was open for them to practice their lawlessness in their way of living more fearlessly than ever. 45 And the evidence is this, that when some few of them at a later time displayed a similar boldness, no punishment was meted out to them. 46 For those who from time to time had the authority to punish provided to those who were guilty of outrageous actions easy opportunity for concealment, thus spurring them on by this concession to trample down the laws.

47 Now as long as the Empress7 was still living, Justinian was quite unable to make Theodora his wedded wife. For in this point alone the Empress went against him, though opposing him in no other matter. 48 For the woman chanced to be far removed from wickedness, but she was very rustic and a barbarian by birth, as I have pointed out. 49 And she was quite unable to take part in government, but p119continued to be wholly unacquainted with affairs of State, indeed, she did not enter the Palace under her own name, thinking it to be ridiculous, but bearing the assumed name of Euphemia. But at a later time it came about that the Empress died. 50 And the Emperor,8 having become foolish as well as extremely old, incurred the ridicule of his subjects, and since all were filled with utter contempt for him as not comprehending what was going on, they disregarded him; but Justinian they cultivated with great fear. For by a policy of stirring things up and throwing them into confusion, he kept everything in a turmoil.9 51 Then at length he set about arranging a betrothal with Theodora. But since it was impossible for a man who had attained to senatorial rank to contract marriage with a courtesan, a thing forbidden from the beginning by the most ancient laws, he compelled the Emperor to amend the laws by a new law, and from then on he lived with Theodora as his married wife, and he thereby opened the way to betrothal with courtesans for all other men; and as a tyrant he straightway assumed the imperial office, concealing by a fictitious pretext the violence of the act. 52 For he was proclaimed Emperor of the Roman conjointly with his uncle by all men of high station, who were led to vote thus by an overwhelming fear. 53 So Justinian and Theodora took over the Roman Empire three days before the feast of Easter, a time when it is not permitted either to greet any of p121one's friends or to speak him peace.10 54 And not many days later Justinus died a natural death, having lived nine years in office, and Justinian alone took over the throne with Theodora.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Haury, comparing ἐκπίπτειν εἰς ἀμηχανίαν in Procopius VIII.xi.48 and VIII.xxvii.25, suggests that there is here an ellipsis of εἰς ἀμηχανίαν. The above use of ἐκπίπτω is illustrated by such usages as ἐκπίπτουσα, "widow" (sc. τοῦ γάμου), "a fallen woman" (sc. τῆς ἀρετῆς), ἐκπίπτειν, "to fail" in an undertaking (as in Plutarch Sertorius 4), etc.

2 The foot-soldiers, as the humblest of fighting troops, gave their name to the plainest of the courtesans.

3 A "feast" to which everyone brought something.

4 The guests were presumably reclining in Roman fashion on three couches arranged on three sides of a rectangle open at the foot (the triclinium). As they lay propped upon their left elbows, their heads towards the head table, their feet would extend toward the open side through which Theodora made her entrance. Her act was performed, then, upon the unoccupied lower end of a couch which projected beyond the feet of the three banqueters on each of the side couches.

5 On this meaning, αἰδώςαἰδοῖον, cf. Suidas, s.v., IliadII.262, OdysseyX.70.

6 The meaning of this obscure reference cannot be recovered; see critical note.

The critical note to the Greek text is:

Through Piccolo's corrections, ἐπιπολάσαι and τοῖς, and Alemannus' Ῥωμαίων, this corrupt passage has been made intelligible and consistent with the context: ἐπιαπολέσθαι αὐτοὺς πράγμασι Ῥωμαίων ἔδει.

7 Lupicina, cf. Chap. vi.17.

8 Justinus, with whom Justinian shared the throne for four months before his actual accession.

9 Cf. Aristophanes, Knights, 692:

καὶ μὴν ὁ Παφλαγὼν οὑτοσι προσέρχεται

ὠθῶν κολόκυμα καὶ ταράττων καὶ κυκῶν.

10 εἰρήνη ὑμῖν, "Peace be unto you," as in Luke xxiv.36, was a salutation much used by the Christians.

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