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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Wars


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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(Vol. V) Procopius

Book VIII (continued)

 p271  21 1 Such was the progress of the wars in each land. And the Gothic war continued as follows. After the emperor had summoned Belisarius to Byzantium as stated in the preceding narrative,​1 he held him in honour, and not even at the death of Germanus did he purpose to send him to Italy, but he actually appointed him commander of the imperial guards as being General of the East, and detained him there. 2 And Belisarius was first of all the Romans in dignity, although some of them had been enrolled before him among the patricians and had actually ascended to the seat of the consuls. 3 But even so they all yielded first place to him, being  p273 ashamed in view of his achievements to take advantage of the law and to claim the right which it conferred, a circumstance which pleased the emperor exceedingly. 4 Meanwhile John, the nephew of Vitalian, was passing the winter in Salones. And during all this time the commanders of the Roman army, expecting him in Italy, remained inactive. And the winter drew to its close and the sixteenth year ended in this Gothic War, the history of which Procopius has written.

5 When the following year opened, John was minded to depart from Salones and lead his army as quickly as possible against Totila and the Goths. 6 But the emperor prevented him, bidding him remain there until Narses the eunuch should arrive. For he had decided to appoint him commander-in‑chief for this war. 7 But the reason why this was the wish of the emperor was explicitly evident to no one in the world; for it is impossible that an emperor's purpose be discovered except by his own will; but the surmises which people expressed I shall here set down. 8 The thought had occurred to the Emperor Justinian that the other commanders of the Roman army would be quite unwilling to take orders from John, not consenting to be in any way inferior to him in rank. 9 And consequently he feared lest by being at cross purposes or by playing the coward through envy they might make havoc of their operations.

10 And I also heard the following account of the matter given by a Roman gentleman when I was  p275 sojourning in Rome; and this man was a member of the senate. 11 This Roman said that once, during the time when Atalaric the grandson of Theoderic ruled Italy, a herd of cattle came into Rome in the late evening from the country through the forum which the Romans call the Forum of Peace; 12 for in that place has been situated from ancient times the temple of Peace, which was struck by lightning. And there is a certain ancient fountain before this forum, and a bronze bull stands by it, the work, I think, of Pheidias the Athenian or of Lysippus. 13 For there are many statues in this quarter which are the works of these two men. Here, for example, is another statue which is certainly the work of Pheidias; for the inscription on the statue says this. 14 There too is the calf of Myron.​2 For the ancient Romans took great pains to make all the finest things of Greece adornments of Rome. 15 And he said that one of the cattle then passing by — a steer — left the herd and mounting this fountain stood over the brazen bull. 16 And by some chance a certain man of Tuscan birth was passing by, one who appeared to be a very rustic fellow, and he understood the scene which was being enacted and said (for the Tuscans even down to my day are gifted with prophecy) that one day a eunuch would undo the ruler of Rome. 17 And then indeed that Tuscan and the words he uttered earned only laughter. For before actual experience comes men are ever wont to mock at prophecies, whilst proof does not upset them, because the events  p277 have not come about and the tale of them is not credible, but seems akin to some ridiculous myth.

18 But now all men, yielding to the arguments of actual events, marvel at this sign. 19 And it was perhaps for this reason that Narses marched as general against Totila, the emperor's judgment penetrating the future, or chance ordaining the inevitable thing. 20 So Narses, receiving a notable army and great sums of money from the emperor, set forth. 21 But when he came with his command to the midst of Thrace, he spent some time at Philippopolis, having been cut off from his road. 22 For an army of Huns had made a descent upon the Roman domain and were plundering and pillaging everything with no man to stand in their way. But after some of them had advanced against Thessalonice and the rest took the road to Byzantium, Narses finally departed thence and marched forward.

22 1 Now while John, on the one hand, was at Salones awaiting Narses, and Narses, on the other hand, was travelling rather slowly, being hindered by the inroad of the Huns, meantime Totila, while awaiting the army of Narses, was engaged as follows. 2 He placed a part of the Romans and some of the members of the senate in Rome, leaving the rest in Campania. 3 And he commanded them to look after the city as well as they could, shewing plainly thereby that he felt repentance for what he had done to Rome previously; for he had, as it happened,  p279 burned large parts of it, particularly on the further side of the Tiber River. 4 But these Romans, being reduced to the state of slaves and stripped of all their money, were not only unable to lay claim to the public funds, but could not even secure those which belonged to them personally.

5 Yet the Romans love their city above all the men we know, and they are eager to protect all their ancestral treasures and to preserve them, so that nothing of the ancient glory of Rome may be obliterated. 6 For even though they were for a long period under barbarian sway, they preserved the buildings of the city and the most of its adornments, such as could through the excellence of their workman­ship withstand so long a lapse of time and such neglect. 7 Furthermore, all such memorials of the race as were still left are preserved even to this day, and among them the ship of Aeneas, the founder of the city, an altogether incredible sight. 8 For they built a ship-house in the middle of the city on the bank of the Tiber, and depositing it there, they have preserved it from that time. And I shall now explain what sort of a ship this is, having seen it myself.

9 The ship is one with a single bank of oars and is very long, being one hundred and twenty feet in length and twenty-five feet wide, and its height is all that it can be without becoming impossible to row. 10 But there is nowhere in the boat any pie­cing together of timbers at all nor are the timbers fastened together by any device of iron, but all the timbers are of one piece, a thing strange and unheard  p281 of and true only, as far as we know, of this one boat. 11 For the keel, which is a single piece, extends from the extreme stern to the bow, gradually sinking to the middle of the ship in a remarkable way and then rising again thence properly and in due order until it stands upright and rigid. 12 And all the heavy timbers​3a which fit into the keel (these the poets call "oak‑stays," but others call them "shepherds") extend each and every one from one side all the way to the other side of the ship. 13 These, too sinking from either end, form a remarkably shapely bend, in order that the ship may be fashioned with a very wide hull, whether nature under the constraint of their future use originally carved out the timbers and fashioned this arch or the sweep of the ribs was properly adjusted by craftsmen's skill and other devices. 14 Each plank, furthermore, extends from the very stem to the other end of the ship, being of one piece and pierced by iron spikes only for this purpose, that by being fastened to the timbers​3b they may form the side of the ship. 15 This ship thus constructed makes an impression when seen which transcends all description, for the nature of things always makes those works which are most cunningly built not easy for men to describe, but by means of her innovations so prevails over our usual habits of mind as to check even our power of speech. 16 Now none of these timbers has either rotted or given the least indication of being unsound, but the ship, intact throughout, just as if newly constructed by the hand of the builder,  p283 whoever he was, has preserved its strength in a marvellous way even to my time. Such are the facts relating to the ship of Aeneas.

17 Totila now manned with Goths as many as three hundred ships of war and ordered them to go to Greece, instructing them to make every effort to capture those who fell in their way. 18 But this fleet, as far as the land of Phaeacians, which is now called Cercyra,​4 was able to do no damage. 19 For it so happens that there is no inhabited island in that part of the sea which extends from the strait of Charybdis​5 as far as Cercyra, so that many a time, in passing that way, I have been at a loss to know where in the world the island of Calypso was. 20 For nowhere in that sea have I seen an island with the exception of three not far from Phaeacia, and only about three hundred stades distant, huddled close together and very small and having no habitations either of men or of animals or anything else at all. These islands are now called Othoni.​6 21 And one might say that Calypso lived there, and that Odysseus, consequently, being not far from the land of Phaeacia, ferried himself over from here on a raft, as Homer says, or by some other means without any ship. But let this be ventured by us only as a possible interpretation. 22 For it is not easy to reconcile the actual facts precisely with the very ancient records, since the long passage of time is wont very generally to change the names of places and the beliefs concerning them.

 p285  23 Such is the case of the ship which stands by the shore of the island in the land of the Phaeacians, made of white stone and supposed by some to be the very one which carried Odysseus to Ithaca at the time when he had the fortune to be entertained in Phaeacia. 24 And yet this boat is not a monolith, but is composed of a very great number of stones. 25 And an inscription has been cut in it and cries aloud that some merchant in earlier times set up this offering to Zeus Casius. 26 For the men of this place once honoured Zeus Casius, since the very city in which this boat stands is called up to the present time Casope. 27 In the same manner that ship is made of many stones which Agamemnon the son of Atreus set up to Artemis at Geraestus​7 in Euboea, seeking even in this way to blot out the insult to her, at the time when through the suffering of Iphigeneia​8 Artemis permitted the Greeks to set sail. 28 This is declared by an inscription on this boat in hexameters which was engraved either then or later. And though the most of it has disappeared because of the passage of time, the first verses are discernible even to the present and run as follows:

"Here on this spot Agamemnon did set me, a ship made of marble,

A sign of the fleet of the Greeks sailing to Troy e'er to be."

29 And at the end it has the words: "Made by  p287 Tynnichus, to Artemis Bolosia"; for thus they used to name Eileithuia in former times, because they called the pains of travail "bolae." But I must return to the point from which I have strayed.

30 When this Gothic expedition reached Cercyra, they plundered it thoroughly in a sudden raid, and also the other islands called Sybotae​9 which lie near it; 31 then suddenly crossing over to the mainland also they plundered the whole country about Dodona, and particularly Nicopolis and Anchialus, where the natives say Anchises the father of Aeneas passed from the world, while he was sailing from captured Troy with his son, and thus gave the place its name. 32 And going about the whole coast and meeting many Roman ships, they captured every one of them, cargoes and all. Among these happened to be also some of the ships which were carrying provisions from Greece for the army of Narses. Thus then did these things take place.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Book VII.xxv.1.

2 This famous statue (Greek Anthology IX.713‑742, 793‑798) stood in the market-place of Athens originally (Cic. Verr. IV.60).

3a 3b The ribs.

4 Modern Corfu.

5 Modern Strait of Messina.

6 Modern Othonian Islands.

7 Modern Porto Castri.

8 Sacrificed by her father, Agamemnon, in order to propitiate Artemis who had detained the Trojan expedition by contrary winds.

9 Modern Sybota Islands.

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Page updated: 14 Sep 20