The Author and the General at the End of Antiquity: Military Language, Imagery, and Metaphors in the Sixth-Century Histories
Despite the lively state of current Procopian scholarship, the works of his immediate successor, Agathias of Myrina (Agathias Scholasticus), and his successor Theophylact Simocatta remain hidden from the spotlight. This is perhaps because many scholars still regard Agathias and Theophylact’s historical narratives as bare, confused, and peppered with specious classical affectations. Moreover, the large shadow cast by Procopius can make them hard to see. Very few read Agathias and Theophylact on their own terms and for their own sakes as historians. Fewer still have undertaken any analysis of the literary elements of their supposedly confused and generic military narratives.
In my thesis, I will endeavour to show that far from being generic or dry, their military narratives, like Procopius’, are rich tapestries of interwoven themes carefully woven together using allusion, metaphor, and language. I will take several examples from the histories of Procopius, Agathias, and Theophylact to illustrate this and to serve as points of comparison. The remarkable depth and inventiveness of Agathias’ military narrative in particular is a unique example of stunning innovation in military storytelling of a kind that exemplifies the subtle and emotive tastes of his day. Their military episodes were carefully constructed and made use of novel and sometimes obscure allusions to various military themes ranging from modes of generalship to battlefield tactics. They were concerned – though to different extents – with how battles should be fought and what it really meant when certain methods prevailed. The true depth of the metaphorical subtext of these military episodes and their subtextual and intratextual relationships to the overall narrative has hitherto been almost completely overlooked.
Each of them – Agathias especially – used military metaphors to comment on the genre of history writing and participated in agonistic authorship, competing with their predecessors by connecting their authorial methods to their favoured military tactics. I aim to demonstrate that military metaphors traditionally the purview of philosophy and rhetoric, including those concerning direct and indirect argument as well as feigned retreats, were used by sixth-century historians (and possibly others) to comment upon genre, style, and mode of argument.
Conferences/Seminars: Forthcoming: 2022 - Annual Journal of Medieval Military History Lecture - Title: "The Author and the General: Military Narrative in Agathias' Histories"
2021 – Oxford Medieval History Research Seminar - Title: “An Edifying Tale: Procopius and Generalship”
Publications: 2019 - The Byzantinist (Oxford University Byzantine Society) - Title: “Procopius and Slighting Fortifications in the Gothic War: Fano and Pesaro.”