June 17, 2006

Procopius, Generalship, and Homer

I have to go back to the academic posts. I also pointed out in my US defence that the lesser football nations are getting better, when in this World Cup it seems that the opposite has happened as the traditional giants are getting the results.

So, I had my upgrade meeting on Wednesday morning and one of the most interesting things that came of it was this idea of shaping my dissertation around generalship. Admittedly, I had been thinking about this over the past 6 months or so, and particularly recently as I've been working on this conference paper (on Procopius and Maurice and generalship), and so it seems like a logical progression, well, of sorts. I certainly do think, at least in the PW and the VW (which are what I've paid most attention to thus far), that generalship pervades Procopius' descriptions of battle. Plus, I think it would tie in with the work that I've done, and I would have to change all that much from my research plan. At the core the dissertation is meant to be a study of the battle descriptions of Procopius. The idea is that once I've done that, then here will be this work that will help guide those who use P in their own work, at least for warfare. It should also add something new to this discussion of P's classicism. Then there's this cultural bit that I've been thinking about. That is also where the generalship comes in. Do his views match those of the Greek literary tradition? Do his views match those of his contemporaries? Where does he fit? Interesting stuff.

Now, the problem is, that whenever I think about generalship I'm always thinking, is that too obvious? Is that all I'm doing really? After all, that's what P says he's going to do. So, he does it. But, I guess no one's really paid much attention to it, though it may only be because they didn't think it was necessary. Hmmm. I'm not sure. Belisarius has been discussed before, but usually in relation to P's development and thoughts and so forth. If I do go with this generalship approach, then P's characterization of B will certainly become an important part. I'd have to figure out where to fit that in, though I think I already have an idea. Hmm.

Also, thinking about the Gothic Wars and this rise and fall of B, I'm wondering if the GW aren't to some degree modelled on the Iliad. At the beginning of the Wars P makes this comparison between Homeric archers and contemporary archers. By making that comparison, he's trying to show why the Wars of J are the greastest ever. Fair enough. But, he also wants to make these little claims throughout, which I think he does, and with a reasonable amount of subtlety. Some scholars have seen in the GW some major similarities with Thucydides. Now, might those similarities be more in keeping with the Iliad? The whole thing starts with a woman who, to a certain degree, is taken (or forced to leave), her home. There is someone who claims that he only wants to get back what is his. The GW end on a somewhat negative note. There is the fairly tragic Greek hero, Belisarius, and the fairly tragic Trojan hero, Totila. Plus, that same Totila ends up dying in flight, much like Hector. There is a long period of stalemate, or flip–flopping in momentum between the two sides in the body of the work. And, the battle scenes are more gory in the GW than they'd been in the PW or VW. Plus, I also think that there are some big lists (ala the Iliad). So, what better way to make out your war as the best of all time than by comparing it with the greatest epic of all time? A little tweaking of the historical details of the GW to match, at least subtly, the Iliad, and then you have the Gothiad. Or something. Anyway, we'll see if my close reading of the GW changes this impression.

Go Oilers!!!!


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  1. Mike Stewart

    I feel your pain. I did an MA on Men's Heroic Conduct in Procopius in 2003 and currently am doing my dissertation at the University of Queensland with John Moorhead. I have had some pretty good discussions with Kaldellis…. though like most I think he avoided many "Christian" things in Proc that clash with his claims. I argued to Kaldellis that even if Procpius remained a staunch Hellenist he would have been influnced by sixth–century Christian ideals. At the moment I am working on andragthia "manly virtue" in the sixth–century classicising histoirans. I have created a lexicon of how Procopius describes the 'good' and "bad" traits of men in Gothic Wars. Seeing how Procopius described each of the Gothic leaders in "gendered language" has proved intersiting…and drives home the literary nature of the entire work. Though like you I am in the early days of this topic and it changes as I write. That said, I agreed with many of Kaldellis' claims…especialy Procopius' veiw of the Goths and Belisarius.
    Here is a footnote from one of my many rough chapters on the type of language used to describe "flawed" leaders: Procopius illustrated how an accusation of “softness” drove Belisarius to abandon his prudence before the battle of Callinicium in April of 531. Impassioned by their Easter fast, the Christian soldiers felt that the eve of the holiday represented the opportune time to engage the Persian army. Belisarius attempted to forestall their ardour by pointing out that “a large number of you have come on foot and all of us are fasting [a statement that is difficult to believe considering that not all of the soldiers could have been Christians]” Instead of heeding Belisarius’ advice, the soldiers and officers insulted Belisarius to his face by accusing him of “softness (μαλθακος)” that had destroyed their “fighting zeal (προθυμίας)”. Against his better judgment, Belisarius gave into their insults by reassuring his troops, “that now he was of good courage [νυν δε θαρσειν] and would go against the enemy with a better hope [έλπίδι].” The Eastern Roman army went on to suffer a devastating defeat at the hands of the Persians (Wars 1.18.13–29). In another instance, the Heruls launched an unjust, and ultimately disastrous war against the Lombards, when their leader, Rodolphus, succumbed to his peoples taunts that he was “effeminate and womanlike” (μαλθακόν καί γυνακώδη). Wars 6.14.11. Do not want to bore you too much with this good luck and keep writing your Prokop blogs!!!!

    22 Jun 2006, 12:51


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