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The Secret History, Introduction

The Secret History

by

Procopius of Caesarea

translated by Richard Atwater

(Chicago: P. Covici, 1927 New York Covici Friede 1927)

Richard Atwater, the translator of this text, is better known as co-author, with his wife Florence Atwater, of the children's classic, MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS (Boston: Little Brown, 1938, and a continuing best-seller).
A limited edition of THE SECRET HISTORY (760 copies) was published by Pascal Covici in 1927. Design by Douglas McMurtrie, with a specially created Procopius type on vellum.
[Information supplied by Mr. Atwater's daughter]
Reprinted, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1961, with indication that copyright had expired on the text of the translation.

INTRODUCTION

Procopius of Caesarea (in Palestine) [born c.490/507- died c.560s] is the most important source for information about the reign of the emperor Justinian [born 482/3, ruled. 527-565] and his wife Theodora [d. 547/8]. From 527 to 531 Procopius was a counsel the great general of the time, Belisarius [505-565]. He was on Belisarius's first Persian campaign [527-531], and later took part in an expedition against the Vandals [533-534]. He was in Italy on the Gothic campaign until 540, after which he lived in Constantinople, since he describes the great plague of 542 in the capital. His life after that is largely unknown, although he was given the title illustris in 560 and in may have been prefect of Constantinople in 562-3.

He wrote a number of official histories, including On the Wars in eight books [Polemon or De bellis], published 552, with an addition in 554, and On the Buildings in six books [Peri Ktismaton or De aedificiis], published 561. He also left a "Secret History" [Anecdota, i.e. "unpublished things", not "anecdotes"], probably written c. 550 and published after his death, which was a massive attack on the character of Justinian and his wife Theodora. Parts are so vitriolic, not to say pornographic [esp. Chapter 9], that for some time translations from Greek were only available into Latin [Gibbon - in Ch. 40 of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire wrote about Theodora that "her arts must be veiled in the obscurity of a learned language ", and then went on to quote the passage in Greek with Latin comments!]

The Secret History claims to provide explanations and additions that the author could not insert into his work on the Wars for fear of retribution from Justinian and Theodora. Since both before and afterward, Procopius wrote approvingly of the emperor, it was suggested in the past that he was not the author of the work, but it is now generally accepted that Procopius wrote it. Analysis of text, which show no contradictions in point of fact between the Secret History and the other works, as well a linguistic and grammatical analysis makes this a conclusive opinion.

Paul Halsall

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