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Proco'pius

*Proko/pios), one of the most eminent Byzantine historians, was a native of Caesareia in Palestine, where he was born, at the beginning of the sixth century of the Christian era. He went to Constantinople when still a young man, and there obtained so much distinction as an advocate and a professor of eloquence, that he attracted the attention of Belisarius, who appointed him, in A. D. 527, his ὑπογραφεύς, or secretary. In this quality Procopius accompanied the great hero on his different wars in Asia, Africa, and Italy, being frequently employed in state business of importance, or in conducting military expeditions. In the Gothic war we find him entrusted with the commissariat department, and at the head of the Byzantine navy, a post of vital importance for the success of the campaign. Procopius returned with Belisarius to Constantinople a little before 542. His eminent talents and corresponding merits were appreciated by the emperor Justinian, who conferred upon him the title of illustris, made him a senator, and in 562 created him prefect of Constantinople. Procopius died a little before, or a little after the death of Justinian, that is, about A. D. 565, at the age of sixty and upwards, probably nearer to seventy. Of this great historian Gibbon says, with much truth, that according to the vicissitudes of courage or servitude, of favour or disgrace, he successively composed the history, the panegyric, and the satire of his own times. It is, however, still doubtful whether Procopius actually was the author of that collection of satire and scandal which is attributed to him, under the title of Historia Arcana or Anecdotes. We shall speak of it after first mentioning two other points of doubt regarding our author, the solution of which has occupied the mind and the pen of eminent scholars. First, it has been questioned whether he was a Christian or a Pagan. Space, however, will not allow us to give even the shortest account of the different opinions that have been, or are still, prevalent on that subject, and we consequently merely mention that, while Eichel and La Mothe de Vayer, both quoted below, declared him to be a Pagan, Gerard Vossius, Fabricius, Harles, and others thought that he was a Christian. Indeed, Procopius frequently speaks of faith, either Christian or Pagan, in a manner inconsistent with his own words, so as fully to justify doubts respecting his creed. Assemanni and Cave take a middle course. The latter thinks that he was neither Christian nor Pagan entirely, but being somewhat of a sceptical turn of mind (or perhaps we ought to say, extremely liberal and excessively tolerant in religious matters) he used to despise the supersitions of the Pagans in his conversations with Christians, and would admit, when in company with Pagans, that there was also truth without the sphere of Christianity. We may add that Justinian, who was a bigoted Christian, whether in orthodoxy or heterodoxy, would probably not have permitted a Pagan to discharge the functions of a senator, or a prefect of Constantinople. The other doubtful point alluded to above is of a very strange description. For, since Procopius has given a most graphic description of the plague which devastated Constantinople in 543, rendering his narrative still more lucid and scientifically descriptive, by entering into medical details concorning the symptoms of the disease, &c., it has been thought by some that he was a professional medical man. He thus figures as a physician in several French medical dictionaries. But this is going too far. Procopius betrays, in all his works, a vast deal of miscellaneous knowledge, and while describing the plague, probably derived some additional information from medical friends, which, however, no more makes him a physician, than his work on the Buildings of Justinian constitutes him a professional architect.


Assessment

As an historian Procopius deserves great praise. Many of his contemporaries, as well as writers who lived a short time after him, speak of him with unreserved esteem. His style is good, formed upon classic models, often elegant, and generally plastic and full of vigour. The general impression of his writings is that of a man who has thought much and seen much, from a position at the highest quarters of information. Procopius is the principal historian for the eventful reign of Justinian.


Works

Among the works of Procopius the most important is :--


1. Ἱστορίαι (

Ἱστορίαι, in 8 books; viz., two On the Persian War, containing the period from A. D. 408-553, and treating more fully of the author's own times; two On the War with the Vandals, from A. D. 395-545; four On the Gothic War, or properly speaking, only three books, the fourth (eighth) being a sort of supplement containing various matters, and going down to the beginning of A. D. 553. It was continued by Agathias till 559. The work is extremely interesting; the descriptions of the habits, &c. of the barbarians are faithful and masterly done. Photius gives an analysis of the first two books, and Agathias, the continuator of Procopius, gives an analysis of all the eight books, in the preface to his History.

Editions

Latin Versions.

The first of these was published under the title De Bello Italico adversus Gothos gesto, lib. iv. Foligno, 1470, fol., Venet. 1471, fol., by Leonardo Aretino, or Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo, who, thinking that he had the only existing MS. of the work, was dihonest enough to style himself the author of it.

Other versions are :--De Bello Pers. et Vandal. ex Versione Raphaelis Volaterran., Rome, 1509, fol.; by Christopherus Persona, Rome, 1506, fol.; cum Praefatione Beati Rhenani, Basel, 1531, fol.; cum Zosimo, ibid. 1576, fol.; cum Jornande et Agathia, Lyon, 1594, 8vo.; sub titulo De Gothorum Origine, Frankfort, 1606, fol.; by Hugo Grotius, in his Historia Gothor. Longobard. et Vandal., Amsterdam, 1655, 8vo.; and others.

Greek and Greek and Latin :

A portion of the Bellum Gothicum, Graece et Latine, by Petrus Pithoeus, in his Codex Legum Wisigothorum, Paris, 1579, fol.; the 8 books by David Hoeschel, Graece, together with De Aedificiis, Augsburg, 1676, fol.; Descriptio Ponti Euxini, ex Libr. I. de Bello Gothico, Graece et Latine, by Bonaventura Vulcanius, in his Scriptores Rer. Gothicar., Leyden, 1597, 1617, 8vo. H. Holcroft published an English translation, London, 1653, fol. There are also French, German, and Italian translations.


2. Κτίσματα (

Κτίσματα, Libri VI. de Acdificiis conditis vel restoratis auspicio Justiniani. A work equally interesting and valuable in its kind, though apparently too much seasoned with flattery of the emperor. Gibbon thinks that Procopius was afraid of having offended the pride of Justinian, through too faithful a narrative of glorious events in which the emperor had no personal share, and that he subsequently wrote on the splendid buildings of his master, in order to regain his favour.

Editions

The editio princeps, by Joan. Hervagius, Graece, Basel, 1531, fol.; the same, Paris, 1543, and ibid. 1537, 4to., with a Latin translation by Fr. Cranenveld, and notes of Th. Adamaeus; a Latin version by Arnoldus Vesaliensis, together with the eight books of the History and Zosimus, Basel, 1576, fol.; by David Hoeschel, Graece, ad calcem "Historiarum," Augsburg, 1607, fol.


3. Ἀνέκδοτα

Ἀνέκδοτα, Historia Arcana, a collection of anecdotes, some of them witty and pleasant, but others most indecent, and sometimes absurd, reflecting upon Justinian, the empress Theodora, Belisarius, and other eminent persons. It is a complete Chronique Scandaleuse of the court of Constantinople, from A. D. 549 till 562. The authorship of Procopius has been much doubted, partly because his contemporaries do not mention it, and partly because such a production can hardly be reconciled with the character of a grave historian and statesman. However, the first writer who attributed this work to Procopius, namely Suidas (s. v. Προκόπιος), does so in a verve positive manner, and adds that it had until then not been issued for circulation, which, indeed, it was not fit for. Montesquieu and Gibbon both give credit to the Anecdotes, and do not doubt the authorship of Procopius.

Editions

Historia Arcana. Graece et Latine, cum Notis N. Alemanni, Lyon, 1623, fol.; idem, Cologne, 1669, fol.; a Joan. Eichelio, Helmstädt, 1654, 4to.; Excerpta, by Hugo Grotius, in his work quoted above. The famous Christian Thomasius intended to make a new edition, but it did not appear. There is an English translation, 1674, 8vo.; a German, by Paul Reinhard, Erlangen and Leipzig, 1753, 8vo.; and there are French and Italian versions.


4.

Orationes, probably extracts from the "History," which is rather overstocked with harangues and speeches.

Editions

Orationes, Basel, 1538, 8vo.


Editions

There are two collections of the Works of Procopius, with Latin versions, notes, &c.; the first by Claude Maltret, Paris, 2 vols. fol. 1662, 1663, which is not very carefully edited, and was badly reprinted at Venice, 1729, fol.; and the second in the Bonn Collection of the Byzantines, by Dindorf, Bonn, 3 vols. 8vo. 1833-1838: it contains Alemanni's valuable notes on the Historia Arcana, an index, and a text revised with great care.


Further Information

Fabric. Biblioth. Graec. vol. vii. p. 553, &c.; Cave, Hist. Lit. vol. i. p. 510; Hanckius, Script. Byzanl. ; La Mothe de Vayer, Jugemens sur les listoriens Grecs, in the 8th vol. of his Oeuvres.

[W.P]

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