Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Jack Harvey writes

Fancy Woman

Naked, the hatcheck girl
brings us
beyond haberdashery
to new coatrooms
of delight.
Against the boom boom
of thunder we
see the catacombs
of ancient sin
brought to perfection.

Theodora, you whore;
even the geese were
overpaid, pecking the
grain off your privates,
while generals watched.

That day the Hippodrome
was quiet:
the pantomime mocked
the glorious noisy chariots,
the noisy birds in cages.

Theodora, rant and rave:
your singing voice
nothing but your
stupid skin
shown off in broad daylight.

But the nightingale
is not much
on daylight;
the darker, the better
he sings.

Justin and Theo at Home [ivory and mosaic] -- Trici Venola


  1. In “Hyper ton Polemon Logoi,” (Words on the Wars) Prokopios, the preeminent historian of the 6th century, portrayed Theodora as a courageous and influential empress who saved the reign of her husband Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus Augustus. In “Peri Ktismaton” (On Buildings) he wrote flatteringly of them as a particularly pious couple. And in his “Apokryphe Historia” (Secret History) he claimed they were both demons whose heads were seen to leave their bodies and roam the palace at night; the emperor was cruel, venal, prodigal, and incompetent, and the empress was a woman of insatiable lust combined with shrewish and calculating mean-spiritedness. They are both saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

    Petrus was born of a peasant family in Tauresium, Dardania (Gradište, Macedonia, about 20 km [12 mi] southeast of Skopje). His maternal uncle Istok went to Constaninopolis, became a member of the new palace guard, a tribune, a comes, a senator, anda tribune, a comes, a senator, and comes excubitorum (the commander of the palace guard). When emperor Flavius Anastasius Augustus died in 518, he assumed the purple as Flavius Iustinus Augustus. He had already adopted his nephew, who assumed the Justinius cognomen when Istok became emperor and continued as his close confidant and magister militum praesentalis (commander of the eastern army). He succeeded his uncle in 527and made his wife his co-regent. He had married Theodora in 525. She was probably born in Cyprus; her mother was a dancer and actress, and her father a bear trainer at the Hippodrome, a vast enclosed building adjacent to the imperial palace where chariot races were held. Her father died when was 3, and her mother attached her to the Blue faction of charioteers. Like her sister she became a prostitute, and then a dancer and mime, famous for her portrayal of Leda and the Swan; according to Prokopios, “in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin…. she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat.” At 16 she went to Libya with its new governor, but after she became pregnant he sent her back to the capital. According to Prokopius she publicly complained that God had so made her that she could have intercourse with 3 men at a time, rather than the 5 she wanted. “Often she would attend a dinner party with ten young men or more all at the peak of their physical powers and with fornication as their chief object in life; and she would remain with her fellow diners all night long reducing them to state of physical exhaustion.” At 19, however, she became a devoutly religious wool spinner and attracted Justinian, who persuaded his uncle to change the law so that he, as a senator, could marry a person of a lower class.

  2. One of the first acts of Justinian’s reign was to begin the codification of Roman law, while Theodora encouraged a moral crackdown. Homosexuality was publicly condemned, and those caught committing a homosexual act were publicly castrated. Forced prostitution and child prostitution were banned, and rape became a capital offense. Theodora had a convent built for women who wanted to escape the brothels, but in effect it was a prison for those who refused to mend their ways. Women more allowed to divorce, have guardianship rights over their children, and to own and inherit property. The exposure of infants was outlawed. The death penalty was removed for women who committed adultery. Gambling was made illegal, and those found guilty had their hands severed. Theodora was chiefly responsible for reconciling the trinitarian Christians with the Monophysites, who claimed Christ was of 1 nature, not 3. Civil servants who were not Christians were removed from their posts; those who publicly converted but continued to worship the old religion in private were liable to execution for heresy. New anti-Jewish legislation was passed and many of Constantinople’s synagogues were torn down. Manicheans and Samaritans were brutally persecuted. The Neoplatonic Academy was closed.

    In 532 the Blue and Green factions rioted, besieging the imperial palace for 5 days and burning much of the city. They threatened to install Anastasius’ nephew as emperor. Justinian offered to consider a number of their demands, but Theodora insisted that he remain firm: “May I never be separated from the purple. If now it is your wish to save yourself Emperor, then it is no problem, for we have much money and here is the sea, the boats. However, having saved yourself consider the day when you would not have exchanged your security for death. Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as Empress. Purple makes a fine funeral shroud.” They clandestinely bribed the Blues to defect from the Greens, then sent troops into the Hippodrome and quelled the Greens. Over the next 3 days 30,000 people were killed, including the pretender Hypatius.

    Then Justinian rebuilt the city, including the Hagia Sophia. His armies defeated the Vandals in North Africa and recovered much of Italia and Spain. They also managed to hold at bay the Sassanid empire of Persia, and the Turkic and Slavic peoples north of the Danube river.

    Theodora died in 548 at 48. Justinian died in 565 at 83. Theodosia had given birth to a stillborn son, though it was possibly not Justinian’s. He was succeeded by his nephew, who was married to Theodora’s niece.


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