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June 26, 2006

The Narrative Structure of Procopius' Wars

So, I've been thinking a bit about the structure of the Wars as whole and here I'm going to add some ideas that I might try testing out at some point in the future. Not sure just how plausible it is yet, but, a little elbow grease, a few more months, and some more close reading of P's Wars and I might have a better idea. It does seem to fit with this wonky 'rise and fall of Belisarius' idea. So, much to think about.

Having thought about the Homeric aspects again of the Gothic Wars and then the Wars as whole, I think that the Wars, whether or not it really does present the rise of Belisarius, is at least presented fairly symmetrically: in other words, it has a more or less symmetrical narrative. The order I think would be something like A1–A2–B1–B2–C–B/A. Now, the A and the B at the beginning are a little longer than the B and A (which is why I have made it A1–A2–B1–B2 and then B/A) in the latter part of the Wars, and admittedly the C is not quite at the geometric centre of the history. But, there are a number of things that, at least at this point, suggest such a structure.
1. Early on in the PW there is the somewhat mythological (historical perhaps?) battle between Ephthalites and Huns; at the end of the bk 8 there is the Heroic battle (as P calls it) between Teias and the Goths and Narses and the Romans.
2. Not long afterwards in the PW is the key battle of that part of the Wars, the Battle of Dara, which represents Belisarius' smashing debut; towards the end of bk 8 is the Battle of Taginae, which in many respects represents Narses' smashing debut. Plus, the two battles themselves are ordered along similar lines. P gives us a list of the Roman fighters in both cases, the forces themselves in both cases are heterogenous (reflective of the actual situation I'm sure, but P doesn't always highlight the varied character of the armies), there is a little skirmish between the 2 forces, there is one central set or lone single combat which boosts the morale of the Roman forces , there is the some sort of communication between the two sides before the central part of the narrative really begins (Peroz to Belisarius about bathing and Totila to Narses about a delay), there are speeches that are in some ways similar, there is the arrival of reinforcements for one side which ushers in the 2nd day of battle, and there's even the eating issue (midday stratagem at Dara, Narses prepared for that at Taginae), and then finally the main phase of fighting, and even the length of the two battles is comparable (about 85 lines for Dara, and about 95 for Taginae). Not perfect, but awfully similar, particularly when it's clear that there is quite a bit of variety among all the battle–narratives.
3. There is another key battle in bk 8 (the naval battle around Ancon) just as there is yet another key battle in the PW at Callinicum. And, while both of these battles are fairly important, it is the preceding in the case of the PW, and the following in the case of bk 8, that is the most important.
4. The peak of the narrative is the first siege of Rome, when Belisarius reaches his high–point of his career. The fighting here is rather unlike any other fighting in the rest of the Wars. Plus, this part of the Gothic Wars is also the most 'Homeric' and so 'heroic' of the Wars as a whole. And, to be honest, it is really only the Gothic Wars that is Homeric, for there P focuses on the single–combats and makes numerous references to both Homer and the events of the Odyssey (journeys of Odysseus).
5. In book 8 we have a return to the affairs of the capital of Byzantium, which were somewhat passed over in the VW and first couple of books of the GW, that were a fairly important part of the PW (though admittedly, bk 8 lacks set pieces along the lines of the the plague and the riots).
6. There is only the second sea–battle presented a little more than halfway through bk 8 that is similar to the sea battle at the beginning of the VW.
7. One last thing that I'll point out (of what I've noticed at this early stage) is the fact that we seem to get a return to the analepses that were common in the battels of the PW, but weren't really in the VW. At the same time, the prolepses that were fairly common in the VW, are not quite so evident in the bk 8 and in the latter stages of the GW.
8. One very last point: Belisarius doesn't appear in the narrative until well into the PW, whereas, he disappears from the narrative in the early stages of book 8.

One thing that I'll want to check about this is what sorts of events are described in the beginning and the end of the narrative. If there are X battles in the first 'half' of the narrative, are there also X battles in the second half? And if not, how close are they? As it stands, there are several battles described later on too, but they're often quite brief. That, however, may have been a conscious choice. I'll have to think about that.

Anyway, before I really think about any more of this I'll be doing some more thinking about discipline and generalship in the sixth century. A conference paper is only a week and a day away. Oh…and with 5 minutes to kickoff, go Australia!

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