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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 9

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 11

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter X

 p121  So Theodora, born and nurtured and educated in the manner I have described, came to the dignity of Empress without having been impeded by any obstacle. 2 For not even a thought that he was doing an outrageous thing entered the mind of the man who married her, though he might have taken his choice of the whole Roman Empire and have married that woman who, of all the women in the world, was in the highest degree both well-born and blessed with a nurture sheltered from the public eye, a woman who had not been unpractised in modesty, and had dwelt with chastity, who was not only surpassingly beautiful but also still a maiden and, as the expression runs, erect of breast;​1 3 but he did not disdain to make the common abomination of all the world his own, not dismayed by any of the misdeeds which we have previously recounted, and to lie with a woman who had not only encompassed herself round about with every other rank defilement but had also practised infanticide time and again by voluntary abortions. And I think that I need make mention of nothing else whatever in regard to the character of this man. 4 For this marriage would be amply sufficient to shew full well all the maladies of his soul, since it serves as both an interpreter and a witness and recorder of his character. 5 Since that man who pays no heed to the disgrace from deeds previously  p123 committed and does not shrink from revealing himself to his associates as a loathsome character — for such a man no path of lawlessness is untrodden, but fortified by the effrontery that is never absent from his brow, he advances readily and with no effort to the vilest of actions. 6 Nor, in truth, did a single member of the Senate, when he saw the State putting on the crown of this disgrace, see fit to shew his disapprobation by forbidding the deed, though the Senators were all to do obeisance to the woman as though she were a god. 7 Nay, not even a single priest shewed himself outraged, and that too, though they were going to address her thereafter as "Mistress."​2 8 And the populace which previously had been spectators of her performances straightway demanded with upturned palms, in defiance of all decorum, that they might be in fact and in name her slaves. 9 Nor did a single soldier rise in wrath at the thought that he was destined to undergo the perils of campaigning all in behalf of the interests of Theodora, nor did any other human being oppose her at all, — because, I suppose, they had been made submissive by the thought that these matters were so ordained​3 for them, — but allº allowed this outrage to be brought to fulfilment, as if Fortune had made an exhibition of her power, to whom in truth, as she presides over all the affairs of mankind, it is a matter of no concern whatever either that the things which are done shall be reasonable or that they shall seem to men to have happened in accordance with reason. 10 At  p125 any rate she suddenly exalts one man to a great eminence by a sort of unreasoning exercise of her authority, though many obstacles seem to have grappled with him, and she opposes him in nothing whatever that he undertakes, nay, the man is carried along by any and every means to whatever post she has ordained for him, while all men without demur stand aside or retire before Fortune as she advances. But as to these matters, let them not only be as is pleasing to God but also be so set forth.

11 Now Theodora was fair of face and in general attractive in appearance, but short of stature and lacking in colour, being, however, not altogether pale but rather sallow, and her glance was always intense and made with contracted brows.​4 12 Now all time would not suffice for one to tell the most of her experiences in her life in the theatre, but by selecting in the preceding account a few incidents only I may have done enough to give a fair picture of the woman's character for the benefit of future generations.

[image ALT: A mosaic of the head and shoulders of an alert-looking woman of about 40, wearing a jeweled crown, pendant earrings of strings of pearls or gems reaching down to her breasts, and a cloak. To her right, a man holding a bowl; to her left, a woman in an ambroidered gown. It is a depiction of the late Roman Empress Theodora.]

Portrait of the Empress Theodora
Mosaic in the south wall of the Apse of the Church of S. Vitale, Ravenna

13 But at the present time we must briefly make known her acts and those of her husband, for they did nothing whatever separately in the course of their life together. 14 For a long time, it is true, they were supposed by all to be diametrically opposed to each other at all times in both their opinions and their ways of living, but later it was realized that this impression was purposely worked up by them in order that their subjects might not, by getting together in their views, rise in revolt against them, but that the opinions of all their subjects might be at variance regarding themselves.

 p127  15 Now first of all they set the Christians at variance with one another, and by pretending to go opposite ways from each other in rending them all asunder, as will shortly be related by me.​5 In the second place they kept the Factions divided. 16 And Theodora, on the one hand, would pretend with all her might to be espousing the cause of the Blues,​6 and by extending to them full freedom of action against their opponents, she gave them licence, in a quite irregular way, to commit their crimes and perform their pernicious deeds of violence. 17 But Justinian, on the other hand, had the appearance of one who was vexed and secretly resentful, yet unable to oppose his wife directly, and many times the two even shifted the appearance of authority and pursued the opposite course with reference to one another. 18 For while he would insist on punishing the Blues as offenders, she, with feigned anger, would make a scene because, as she would say, she had been overruled by her husband against her will.

19 But the partisans of the Blues seemed, as I have said,​7 to be most temperate.​8 For they did not think it right to coërce one's neighbours to the utmost possible, and in the keen rivalries in connection with the lawsuits, while each side seemed to support one of the disputants, yet it was inevitable that the victory should fall to that one of the two who espoused the unjust cause, and that thus they should win for themselves as plunder most of the property of the disputants. 20 In fact many men who were counted by this Emperor among his intimates were elevated by  p129 him to positions where they had authority to act arbitrarily and to wrong the Government as they wished, but when they were seen to be in possession of a large sum of money, straightway they were found to have given some offence to the woman and to be at variance with her. 21 At first, then, he did not hesitate to champion these men whole-heartedly, but later on, forgetting his good-will towards the poor fellows, he all of a sudden began to waver in his enthusiasm. 22 And she would then straightway ruin them utterly, while he, pretending not to observe what was passing, would seize their whole property, acquired though it was by a shameless procedure. 23 Now in all this trickery they always were in full accord with each other, but openly they pretended to be at variance and thus succeeded in dividing their subjects and in fortifying their tyranny most firmly.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Nicetas, Ann. 178B, ὀρθότιτθος νεᾶνις; Statius, SilvaeII.270, stantibus papillis.º

2 [Δέσποινα]: The most exalted title with which to address a woman corresponding to "Domina" but with a more gentle connotation.

3 δεδόσθαι, sc. σφίσι or τοῖς Ῥωμαίοις.º Herwerden points out (in Lexicon) that κεκλιμένοι means humiles facti. The full expression is ἐπὶ γόνυ κεκλιμένοι. No further emendation is necessary.

4 Contrast BuildingsI.xi.8: "for to express her charm in words or to embody it in a statue would be, for a mere human being, altogether impossible."

5 Cf. Chap. xxvii.13.

6 Cf. Chap. ix.7.

7 Cf. Chap. vii.3.

8 See Appendix I.

Page updated: 9 Jun 20