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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 3

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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 5

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter IV

 p43  At about this time another thing also befell him, as follows. The plague which I mentioned in the previous narrative​1 was ravaging the population of Byzantium. And the Emperor Justinian was taken very seriously ill, so that it was even reported that he had died. 2 And this report was circulated by rumour and was carried as far as the Roman army. There some of the commanders began to say that, if the Romans should set up a second Justinian as Emperor over them in Byzantium, they would never tolerate it. 3 But a little later it so fell out that the Emperor recovered, and the commanders of the Roman army began to slander one another. 4 For Peter the General and John whom they called the Glutton declared that they had heard Belisarius and Bouzes say those things which I have just mentioned. 5 The Empress Theodora, declaring that these slighting things which the men had said were directed against her, became quite out of patience.​2 6 So she straightway summoned them all to Byzantium  p45 and made an investigation of the report; and she called Bouzes suddenly into the woman's apartment as if to communicate to him something very important. 7 Now there was a suite of rooms in the Palace, below the ground level, secure and a veritable labyrinth, so that it seemed to resemble Tartarus, where she usually kept in confinement those who had given offence. 8 So Bouzes was hurled into this pit, and in that place he, a man sprung from a line of consuls, remained, forever unaware of time. 9 For as he sat there in the darkness, he could not distinguish whether it was day or night, nor could he communicate with any other person. 10 For the man who threw him his food for each day met him in silence, one as dumb as the other, as one beast meets another. 11 And straightway it was supposed by all that he had died, but no one dared mention or recall him. But two years and four months later she was moved to pity and released the man, 12 and he was seen by all as one who had returned from the dead. But thereafter he always suffered from weak sight and his whole body was sickly.

13 Such was the experience of Bouzes. As for Belisarius, though he was convicted of none of the charges, the Emperor, at the insistence of the Empress, relieved him of the command which he held and appointed Martinus to be General of the East in his stead, and instructed him to distribute the spearmen and guards​3 of Belisarius and all his servants who were notable men in war to certain  p47 of the officers and Palace eunuchs. 14 So these cast lots for them and divided them all up among themselves, arms and all, as each happened to win them. 15 And many of those who had been his friends or had previously served him in some way he forbade to visit Belisarius any longer. 16 And he went about, a sorry and incredible sight, Belisarius a private citizen in Byzantium, practically alone, always pensive and gloomy, and dreading a death by violence.​a 17 And the Empress, learning that he had much money in the East, sent one of the Palace eunuchs and had it all brought back. 18 But Antonina, as I have said, had indeed quarrelled with her husband, yet was on terms of closest friendship and intimacy with the Empress, seeing she had recently accomplished the ruin of John the Cappadocian. 19 So the Empress, in her determination to shew favours to Antonina, left nothing undone to have it appear that the woman had interceded successfully for her husband and had rescued him from such overwhelming misfortunes, and to bring it about that she should not only be completely reconciled with the wretched man, but also that she should unequivocally rescue him as though he were a prisoner of war whose life had been saved by her. 20 And it came about as follows. Belisarius had on one occasion come early in the morning to the Palace, accompanied, as was his wont, by a small and pitiful escort. 21 And finding the Emperor and the Empress not well disposed towards him, and also having been insulted there by men of the base and  p49 common sort, he departed for his home late in the evening, often turning about as he walked away and looking around in every direction from which he might see his would‑be assassins approaching. 22 In such a state of terror he went up to his chamber and sat down alone upon his couch, thinking not one worthy thought nor even remembering that he had ever been a man, but perspiring constantly, with his head swimming, trembling violently in helpless despair, tortured by servile fears and apprehensions which were both cowardly and wholly unmanly. 23 Meanwhile Antonina, as though not understanding at all what was going on or expecting any of the things which were about to happen, was walking up and down there repeatedly, pleading an attack of indigestion; for they still maintained a suspicious attitude towards one another. 24 In the meantime a man from the Palace, Quadratus by name, arrived after the sun had already set, and passing through the door of the court, suddenly stood by the door of the men's apartments, stating that he had been sent there by the Empress. 25 When Belisarius heard this, he drew up his hands and feet upon the couch and lay there upon his back, completely prepared for destruction; so thoroughly had all his manhood left him. 26 And before Quadratus had come into his presence, he displayed to him a letter from the Empress. 27 And the writing set forth the following. "You know, noble Sir, how you have treated us. But I, for my part, since I am greatly indebted to your wife, have decided to dismiss all these charges against you, giving to her the gift of your life. 28 For the future, then, you may be confident concerning  p51 both your life and your property; and we shall know concerning your attitude towards her from your future behaviour." 29 When Belisarius had read this, being transported with joy and at the same time wishing to give immediate evidence of his feelings, he straightway arose and fell on his face before the feet of his wife. 30 And clasping both her knees with either hand and constantly shifting his tongue from one of the woman's ankles to the other, he kept calling her the cause of his life and his salvation, and promising thenceforth to be, not her husband, but her faithful slave. 31 As for his property, the Empress gave thirty centenaria​4 of it to the Emperor and restored the remainder to Belisarius.

32 Such, then, was the turn of events in the case of Belisarius the General, the man at once whom not long before Fortune had delivered Gelimer and Vittigis as captives of war. 33 But for a long time back the wealth of this man had been exceedingly irritating to both Justinian and Theodora, as being excessive and worthy of a royal court. 34 And they kept saying that he had hidden away in secret the greater part of the State funds of both Gelimer and Vittigis, and had given only a small and utterly insignificant portion of them to the Emperor. 35 But as they reckoned up the great labours of the man and the slanderous talk in which outsiders would indulge, and since at the same time they could not lay hands on any satisfactory pretext against him, they remained quiet. 36 But just then the Empress, catching him terrified and utterly reduced to cowardice, by a  p53 single act brought it about that she became mistress of his entire property. 37 For the two entered forthwith into a relation­ship by marriage and Joannina, the only daughter of Belisarius, was betrothed to Anastasius, grandson of the Empress.​5 38 Now Belisarius made the request that he should receive back his proper office and, upon being designated General of the East, should again lead the Roman army against Chosroes and the Medes, but Antonina would have none of it; for she maintained that she had been insulted by him in those regions, and never would he again set eyes upon them.

39 For this reason, then, Belisarius was appointed Commander of the Royal Grooms​b and was sent to Italy a second time, having promised the Emperor, as they say, that he would never ask him for money during this war, but that he himself would provide the entire equipment for the war with his personal funds. 40 Now all suspected that Belisarius, in arranging matters concerning his wife in the manner I have described, and in making this promise to the Emperor, as here related, concerning the war, was prompted simply by the desire to be quit of the life in Byzantium, and that, as soon as he got outside the circuit-wall of the city, he would seize arms immediately and set himself to some noble and heroic task to punish his wife and the others who had done him despite. 41 He, however, disregarding all that had happened, and forgetting completely and neglecting the oaths which had been sworn to Photius and his other kinsmen, meekly followed the woman, being extraordinarily  p55 smitten with her, though she was already sixty years of age. 42 However, when he got to Italy, matters kept going wrong for him every single day, because the hand of God was definitely against him. 43 At first, to be sure, the plans of this General against Theodatus and Vittigis, in the existing circumstances, though they seemed ill adapted to what was going on, resulted for the most part in a favourable outcome; but in the latter period, though he did gain the reputation of having made his plans for the best because of the experience he had acquired in managing the affairs of this war, yet failing as he did in the sequel, most of his misfortunes were credited to what was accounted folly. 44 Thus it is clear that it is not by the wisdom of men but by the power of God that human fortunes are regulated, though men are wont to call this "Fortune," since they do not know the reason why events turn out in the manner in which they become manifest to them. 45 For that which appears unaccountable is wont to have the name of Fortune applied to it. But let each man form such an opinion about these matters as he likes.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Book II.xxii, xxiii.

2 μεστός is used, especially in later Greek, with a noun in the genitive to describe satiety and impatience with a thing. Cf. Plutarch, Mor. 541D (of Themistocles): ὁπηνίκα τοὺς Ἀθηναίους ἑώρα μεστοὺς ὄντας αὐτοῦ, "that the Athenians were sick and tired of him" (cf. "fed up with").

3 Book IV.xviii.6.

4 See Chap. i.33, note.

5 Cf. p. xix.

Thayer's Notes:

a The Middle Ages, ever fertile in creating legends, created from this the story that Belisarius, blinded, was reduced to the state of a pauper in rags, roaming the streets of Constantinople begging for alms. The moralizing tale has given rise to the proverbial expression "like Belisarius begging an obolus"; and its picturesque appeal has been exploited by several artists, best among them probably Jean-Louis David, seen here. The story is completely untrue.

[image ALT: A painting of an old man, seated in front of a Roman temple or similar building to the viewer's right. He is blind and holding a little girl in front of him, and extends his hand to receive alms from a beautiful young woman expensively draped. Behind her, a Roman soldier raises both hands in a gesture of surprise. In the background, on the left, a vague scene of a monumental city at the foot of a mountain. It is the painting 'Belisarius begging for alms' by Jean-Louis David.]

On the stone block where the beggar has rested his stick, David has dutifully provided a caption, Date Obolvm Belisario: "Give a penny to Belisarius".

b The title of Commander of the Royal Grooms (ἄρχων τῶν βασιλικῶν ἱπποκόμωνComes Sacri Stabuli) is somewhat low-level; in his public-consumption History, however, Procopius suggests very strongly that Belisarius was στρατηγὸς αὐτοκράτωρ (general and imperator): see Bury's note.

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Page updated: 15 Jun 20