Thursday, 17 August 2017

Procopius Revisited

Time for some more reflection.  First, I love the fact that Cameron's and Kaldellis' chapters bookend the book.  I also confess a great love - too strong? - for reading about how scholars came to their chosen topics/views.  Reading Cameron's discussion of how she came to Procopius were fascinating.  At the same time, I like Kaldellis' idea that more of us (those writing about Procopius) ought to say why we like reading him.  I admit in my own case I was influenced by three things.  I knew little about late antiquity (why did we cut off there?), but I started doing some background reading to bring myself up to speed.  One particularly influential book for me was Cameron's first edition of the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity. In that book, this fellow Procopius kept popping up.  While I don't remember what stood out, I do remember the sense that he seemed an intriguing figure who deserved closer attention.  I seem to recall too that some of the formative thinking about this took place on a stationary bike at the McMaster University athletic centre (circa 2001, 2002).

Second, I love these sorts of chapters/papers:  ones that highlight key aspects of a topic, some gaps in the scholarship, and avenues for future work.  More often than not, these are the ones that have the most scribbles in my copies.  Given my love for Roman military things, historiography things, and late antique things, it's no surprise that these chapters here really float my boat.

Third, I want to go back to a couple of points that both Cameron and Kaldellis have made (separate ones, more or less), which have given me much to think about.  One is Cameron's emphasis on narrative and storytelling, that I mentioned in my woe-is-me post (which also has me thinking:  what sorts of efforts should we make to publicize our books, and how can I make my work reach more people?).  Cameron notes that his narrative approach relates to writers of sixth century history as well as other types of Byzantine prose writing, like hagiography.  That's a fascinating idea, and I'm sure not wrong.  I remember coming across all sorts of useful discussion vaguely related to these comments in Clark's 2004 book, History, Theory, Text.  Maybe this is one avenue that deserves more exploration:  Procopius and hagiography.  After all, Procopius spends a lot of time characterizing a few individuals in his Wars, to say nothing of his Secret History.  In crafting his portraits of Belisarius, has Procopius adopted and adapted some of the techniques employed by hagiographers? 

Cameron also draws attention to Procopius' writing practices, especially with respect to what he chose to include and exclude.  I talked about this a bit, but I'll be touching on it even more in the sequel.  It seems to me that one of the hardest things to grasp (and it's almost certainly impossible) is why Procopius left things out, and one particular topic I'll be looking at in the book is recruitment.  I suspect that as work continues on this sequel, I might have to address quite regularly why things were left out:  did it suit his literary objectives somehow, is it a desire to make his work more palatable to his audience?  There's so much he likely did know, even the regularly military stuff I'm interested, that he doesn't discuss. 

Yeah, I seem to be trailing off so I'll move on to the next topic.  Cameron stresses that all three of Procopius' works are anchored in material life, while Kaldellis (following Turquois) highlights the materiality of Procopius' writing.  This is how he "structures, textures, surfaces, and fleshes out a world for us" (Kaldellis 2017:  265).  His point is that Procopius has produced a literary simulacrum of sixth-century experience, and he draws attention to a number of topics for which this might be true including weapons, wounds, and forts.  What I need to do, clearly, is read Turquois' thesis in its entirety and bear her conclusions in mind when looking at all the war stuff.  One current project, stemming from the grant, is on battle narrative in late antique classicizing historiography. It might be worthwhile to consider all this as I examine (or continue - it's well on its way) my intended subjects, Ammianus, Jordanes, Procopius, Agathias, and Theophylact.   As it happens, when it comes to open or pitched battle, Procopius might well be one of the weaker ones of the group.  I think, if anything, Agathias and Ammianus might be the strongest in this regard, though only time will tell (and more reading). 

Unfortunately now Cameron and Kaldellis have me wanting to write a third and fourth sequel of my Procopius book, the third on narrative techniques in the Wars as a whole (maybe narrative and character), the fourth on the materiality of warfare in Procopius.  But then I'll never do any of these other things.  Maybe I could combine the two into my eventual study of Agathias?  If nothing else, this book has so far reminded me why Procopius might still be one of my favourite topics.  It's also been a very challenging year or three professionally, and it's stimulating discussions like these that keep me going.

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