How to humiliate a Patrician in debt: Empress Theodora, Procopius of Caesarea, and the Origins of the Political Verse in Byzantium

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

In his Secret History (XV.24–35), Procopius of Caesarea tells how an elderly patrician, unable to pay his creditors, tried to recover a sum owed to him by one of the servants of Empress Theodora. The high-ranking senator appeared before the empress in person in order to plead his case. Her response was a humiliating retort, whose precise meaning is not easily determined: πατρίκιε ὁ δεῖνα, µεγάλην κήλην ἔχεις. This offence spurred Procopius to report this episode but conceal the patrician’s name. Despite his discretion, it seems certain that the patrician in question was none other than the magister officiorum Hermogenes, the addressee of an imperial rescript (Justinian, Novel 138) which alludes to his financial problems. Hermogenes is a four-syllable name which is proparoxytone in the vocative case. Its restitution into Procopius’ text turns the answer chanted by Theodora and her eunuchs into a rhythmical 15 syllable pattern (Πατρίκιε <Ἑρµόγενες>, µεγάλην κήλην ἔχεις), the same as a Byzantine political verse. This restitution confirms a conjecture made in 1943 by Donald Struan Robertson. The evidence of Procopius as well as of Romanos the Melode suggests that the political verse came into being before the so-called “dark ages.” Addendum: In the paragraph discussed in this article, Procopius swears not to reveal the name of the elderly partician (Secret History, xv, 25: οὗπερ ἐγὼ τὸ ὄνομα ἐξεπιστάμενος ὡς ἥκιστα ἐπιμνήσομαι). This is a literary reminiscence from Herodotus, Histories, I, 51.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMélanges Bernard Flusin
EditorsAndré Binggeli, Vincent Déroche
Place of PublicationParis
Pages421-438
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2019

Publication series

NameTravaux et Memoires
PublisherDe Boccard Edition - Diffusion
Number1
Volume23

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'How to humiliate a Patrician in debt: Empress Theodora, Procopius of Caesarea, and the Origins of the Political Verse in Byzantium'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this