Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Monograph Do-over

I've been reading some of the chapters, particularly the opening and closing sections, in Lillington-Martin and Turquois' new edited volume on Procopius, and a few things have jumped out at me, much as I suspected they would.  For one, it's a bit disappointing my book came out as late as it did, as the gestation period of the edited volume meant that no one really had the chance to digest what I had to say.  On the other hand, had the edited volume come out before the book, there's every chance I might have seriously considered tweaking (to put it mildly) some of the book to respond to the interesting points that have been made.  One other, general observation:  some of the avenues for future research proclaimed in this book I have already embarked upon.

Let's begin with the first point.  A couple of contributors (Whitby and Kaldellis) draw attention (or at least refer in passing) to the heroic, even Homeric, character of the Gothic War narrative, especially as it applies to the siege of Rome (537/538).  I discuss all this in detail in the book (chapter 4).  Somewhat frustratingly, I'd initially stumbled across this character to the narrative back at the start of the PhD in 2006.  But things being what they are, Hornblower managed to comment on it before I did, at least in print, owing to the publication of his contribution to the Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare.  Still my chapter, a revised version of what was in the original PhD, discusses this in detail. 

Indeed, Kaldellis (2017:  261) notes that Procopius' "coverage has breadth and detail in the right proportions as a military historian".  That, in a nutshell, summarizes what I argue on the book, though my focus is more narrowly on battle.  To complicate things, the follow-up, or sequel (which I've discussed regularly in this blog) as I'm thinking about it, will look at this more broadly, though more on this a bit later.

Another point that Cameron, Van Nuffelen, and Kaldellis draw attention to (to some degree or other) is the relationship between author and text.  On the one hand, there's caution about how much we can take an author at his word (Cameron, Kaldellis).  On the other, Van Nuffelen notes scholars have hardly ever heeded the advice of literary scholars that author and text are two different things.  I did - and had planned to do more of this in the monograph.  My desire to do so, however, was regularly tempered (by others) at the various submission/revision stage, such that I ended up including a background chapter (one that I'd planned to add to the end - after the reader had seen what I had to say about the text). 

The narrative structure of Procopius' works features too, unsurprisingly.  There's a sense that more could be done on this.  Cameron (2017:  15) identifies this as an approach that "seeks to analyse the techniques by which narrative is constructed" and highlights his techniques of narrative and storytelling , while Kaldellis (2017:  261) says that Procopius' "ontology of action" remains to be studied.  Although my focus was narrower (combat), this, again, is precisely what my book does.  I ask (or answer), how does Procopius tell the story of battle, and what sort of narrative techniques does he employ?  See, for instance, the second sections of my second, third, and fourth chapters.  It involves bringing some narrative theory into the discussion, though also hints of rhetoric and classicism, among other things. 

On the other hand, doubt is cast on the value of genre in understanding a text.  Admittedly, I stressed the importance of genre in understanding how Procopius describes and explains combat.  I even went so far as to claim that Procopius was constrained by his chosen genre (classicizing history).  I think my point, however, was that this explained why he didn't include all those little details that military historians are often so keen on.  Indeed, I also tried to show that for all this influence of genre, he was able to craft some truly remarkable accounts of battle, and that his latent classicism didn't necessarily mean that he couldn't represent reality truthfully (Van Nuffelen 2017:  40 - the prologue, section four in my introduction, and chapter six).  Additionally, I spent a good part of the time showing what makes his accounts of combat in the Wars such dramatic narratives (section three in chapter two, and sections 2a, though maybe 2b and 2c too, in chapter four).

Then there are the avenues for future research (they are many), some of which I've started to take up (or will do soon).  Cameron (2017:  18) says it's inadequate to evaluate Procopius' three works in terms of reliability and truth-telling.  This had been my intention with the follow-up, under the preconception that people would rather read that sort of thing than what I had done in Battles and Generals.  Some months ago that approach seemed better left for something else (a commentary, maybe), and some sort of unifying theme would make for a much better project.  Well, lo and behold, that's when I stumbled across the emphasis on fear, raiding, booty, and defence that unifies all three texts, at least if your focus (like mine) is on military issues.  Along the way I plan to situate Procopius' writing on war in the real-world context.  This means, to follow Kaldellis (2017:  269) to some degree, to look at the sixth century empire's military institutions through an analysis of the papyrological, legal, and narrative evidence, though I too will be using, where warranted, the epigraphic evidence.  Increasingly, it seems, scholars are seeking to understand the relationship between Procopius and Justinian's laws (Kaldellis 2017:  268), and I plan to do this, where possible, and where it pertains to military issues, in the sequel.

So there's me responding to what I've read so far.  There's more, and there will be more, but my bicycle's busted and I think my youngest daughter (all of 1.5 months) may soon crack.

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