History or Ancient Novel?:
The Usurper Procopius

Edmund Cueva

Xavier University

It has been recently pointed out that the narratives that touch upon Procopius' renunciation of his title of count, his burial of Julian, retirement to his estates near Cappadocian Caesarea, imprisonment by Valentinian and Valens after their accession, fantastic escape from prison, and flight to the Tauric Cheronese all smack of the Greek novel.[1]  This paper will examine the elements the comprise this period of Procopius's life and attempt to verify if in fact the components of the historical accounts may have been influenced by the genre of the ancient Greek novel.  It was after all Julian himself, the last pagan emperor and a relative of the usurper, who cautioned that the ancient novel or fiction must be avoided.  He stated that "it would be suitable for us to handle histories composed about real events: but we must avoid all the fictions written of old in the style of history, love subjects and everything in fact of that type."[2]  The ancient Greek novel by this time had reached its evolutionary height, but at the same time it had returned to the basic historical building blocks that had formed and given structural support to the earliest of the ancient Greek novels (i.e. Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe and Xenophon's Ephesisaca).  The focus of this paper will be on the narratives that comprise or allude to the post-Julian imprisonment and escape of Procopius that are found in Zosimus' New History (4.4.3–5.2), Philostrogius' Ecclesiastical History (9.5), and Ammianus Marcellinus' Rerum gestarum Libri (26.6.3–4).

[1]  Lenski, Noel.  2002. Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century A.D.. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London.  71.

[2] Translation by A. D. Nock.

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