Posts Tagged ‘Theodora’

Iconfection

Posted in General on March 15th, 2012 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

A rather significant birthday approaches, and I face the prospect of being 20 for the third time.  It is daunting to realize that I have outlived Henry VIII.  At least I am still younger than William Frawley was on “I Love Lucy.”

However I just received a wonderful consolation from my friend–and fellow Jeopardy relic–Leah Greenwald.  She knows my love of both Byzantine history and marzipan, and so she crafted this masterpiece: an iconfection of the Empress Theodora.

Here is the birthday geezer with his marzipan pinup.

photo

If you are not familiar with Theodora, allow me to introduce her.

http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2007/02/05/the-first-draft/

Yes, I am reluctant to eat this wonderful iconfection.  But at Leah’s urging, I will commit this act of trampsubstantiation.

So you can see that my birthday–this Saturday–is off to a delightful start.

 

Urban Renewal, Byzantine Style

Posted in General, On This Day on January 13th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

January 13, 532:  Green and Blue Clash With Purple

Hagia SophiaOn this day in 532 the citizens of Constantinople protested against a corrupt and tax-loving government by burning down half of their city. The rioters displayed a remarkable unity; they were composed of two political factions–the Greens and the Blues–who usually hated each other. These two parties had evolved from the fans of two competing chariot racing stables; green and blue were the identifying colors of the respective teams.

However, the Byzantine personality (Greek pedantics + Christian theology – Hellenic charm) would not be content with just rooting for a sports team. The fans organized into political parties with vying interpretations of the Trinity. Of course, each interpretation of the Trinity would have a militia to expound it. Between the Greens and the Blues, Constantinople was always on the verge of a riot; but the Imperial government was usually adroit at balancing the factions, playing one off against the other.

The Emperor Justinian should have been a master of this statecraft. He had an amused contempt for mankind and had a genius for cultivating the vices in others; he literally brought out the best in your worst. Appreciating their “talents”, Justinian would appoint thieves to be treasurers, hucksters as diplomats, and elevated an actress to empress. Yet, this wily Emperor misjudged the temper and the patience of Constantinople’s factions.

The two rivals joined forces, and they gave their alliance a name: Nika. It is the Greek word for victory. In a week of rage, half of the city was destroyed. Demonstrating their new-found ecumenism, the Nika rioters even burned churches. Yet, the rioters did not attack the Palace. Since the Imperial Guard was content to hide in the barracks and avoid any dangerous exertions such as defending the city, the rioters respected the army’s privacy.

Reveling in their power the rioters now proposed a new emperor, a reluctant but pliant noble named Hypatius. The “old” emperor was free to flee the city: the rioters had left him unimpeded access to the port. Indeed, Justinian was about to take that itinerary. He had called an imperial council of his few remaining supporters to plan the evacuation. However, this ignominious flight was scorned by the Empress Theodora.

Still very much the actress, she declaimed, “For one who has been an emperor it is unendurable to be a fugitive. May I never be separated from this purple, and may I not live that day on which those who meet me shall not address me as mistress. If, now, it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficulty. For we have much money, and there is the sea, here the boats. However consider whether it will not come about after you have been saved that you would gladly exchange that safety for death. For as for myself, I approve a certain ancient saying that royalty is a good burial-shroud.”

If the Empress was prepared to fight and die for the throne, the men of the court were shamed into being just as heroic. (The court eunuchs probably were still eager to leave.) Although the Imperial army was unreliable, several of the loyal officers had personal retainers who would follow orders. These troops numbered no more than a thousand, but they were an elite force of veterans. The rioters were in the tens of thousands but they were an undisciplined mob and, worse for them, oblivious to the danger. The Nika rioters had gathered at the Hippodrome, the social center of the city. It was a great place for a celebration but an even better place for a massacre.

The Hippodrome’s entrances were all at one end of the stadium. The troops seized the gates and then proceeded to scythe the trapped mob. Thirty thousand were killed; the Nika Riot was crushed. The hapless Hypatius was captured. He pleaded his innocence and Justinian believed him; however, Theodora still insisted on an execution.

As for Justinian, he did not view the riots as a warning but rather as an opportunity. First, he would have to raise even more taxes to rebuild the city. More importantly, Constantinople now would be rebuilt his way. For example, the rioters had destroyed the old church of Hagia Sophia. Justinian envisioned the new church to be a monument to him.

And it still is.

A Role Model for Blagojevich

Posted in General on December 11th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Studying history has given me a high standard for scandal. So I am not impressed by a governor attempting to auction off a seat in the U.S. Senate. No, to merit my interest Rod Blagojevich should have offered to sell the entire state. China might want Illinois just for the soybeans. While I would appreciate Blagojevich’s brazenness, I still could not credit him with originality. That same stunt was pulled by King Theodahad in 535 when he offered Italy for sale.

When faced with invasion by a rich enemy, Theodahad’s offer seemed a practical compromise. Even the Italians shouldn’t have minded. At least, the new owner would have a more pronounceable name: Justinian. Besides, Theodahad was not exactly an heroic inspiration–or even a paisan. He was an Ostrogoth, although with a veneer of Roman culture. (Theodahad fancied himself a classical scholar, which by Ostrogoth standards meant he could read.) His uncle Theodoric, leading a barbarian horde, had conquered Italy some 40 years earlier.

Theodoric (454-526) had proved to be an excellent ruler. In fact, he was last competent leader that Italy has had in the last 15 centuries. Unfortunately, his abilty was not hereditary but his monarchy was. Theodoric left the throne and Italy to an idiot grandson who managed to drink himself to death. With his preoccupying vice, the royal sot forgot to have heirs. His mother, Amalasuntha, was Theodoric’s daughter and assumed that she was next-in-line to the throne; she had been the regent during her son’s youth–although that clearly was not a glorious success. However, the Ostrogothic nobility did not like the idea of being ruled by a woman. To placate this barbarian misogyny, in 534 Amalasuntha agreed to share the throne with her cousin Theodahad.

That arrangement lasted only a few months. Although Theodahad had never shown any previous interest in politics, once he was on the throne he wanted the power all to himself. At least Amalasuntha did not seem to mind her ouster. In fact, she was planning a luxurious retirement in Constantinople. As regent and queen, she had been in correspondence with the Emperor Justinian and they had developed a friendship. There were suspicions that Justinian was smitten with the Ostrogothic queen, who was said to be a beautiful, voluptuous blonde. The Empress Theodora–who was a petite brunette–felt the need for her own foreign policy.

The ambassador from Constantinople presented Theohadad with a Byzantine puzzle. Justinian demanded the protection of Amalasuntha, but Theodora wanted a distinctly different form of care for her perceived rival. The Emperor and the Empress clearly had imcompatible aims, and Theohadad was in a hopeless position. Whatever he did, he would have an enemy and a war. The Byzantine ambassador confided this advice to Theohadad. Justinian would be the more congenial enemy; at least, he might forgive. Soon after, Amalasuntha died her in bath–strange accident.

Theohadad planned for the inevitable war by negotiating the surrender. Once the Byzantines landed in Italy, he would cede the kingdom in return for a yearly income of 1200 pounds of gold. (That would be the equivalent of 15 million dollars.) Of course, Theohadad did not mention his plans to the Ostrogoth army. So the commanders were surprised that the King did not respond when the Byzantines conquered Sicily in 535 and then invaded Southern Italy the next year. As the Byzantines moved north, the Ostrogoth generals simply decided to mobilize the army without Theohadad’s permission. And if they could ignore him, they might as well oust him. A cousin-in-law replaced him. The Ostrogoth nobles never knew of Theohadad’s treason (the Byzantines could keep a secret); they just despised him as an incompetent and a coward.

You already know the mortality rate among deposed Ostrogoth rulers. In Theohadad’s case, no one pretended it was an accident. The Byzantines would eventually conquer Italy but it took 19 years. The long war would destroy the Ostrogoths, exhaust the Byzantines and ravage Italy. Perhaps a simple if unethical sale would have been preferable…and a bargain.

The First Draft

Posted in General, On This Day on February 5th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

The Empress Theodora died some 1400 years ago. Hollywood still might not be ready for her. So, how would I sell the ‘concept’…

“Trust me Bubbie-baby (Bubbie-sen in the case of Sony/Columbia), history makes a good story; in fact, that is why it is history! The storyline has sex, intrigue, war, plague, corruption and religion; of course, it can be funny. That’s how I intended it.

“The plot in a sentence? An intelligent prostitute works her way to the throne, where she plots, terrorizes, extorts and kills for the sake of justice, social reform, religious tolerance and governmental efficiency….No, she didn’t morph. The career change took several years.

“Yes, I suppose that there are marketing opportunities; maybe, Hanes could could come out with a line of tunics, or Monsanto could manufacture pre-fab mosaics. The Vandals, Goths and Huns would make great action figures. I’m not so sure about a tie-in with Hallmark; the only cuddly, little characters would be the court eunuchs.

“Theodora is a great role. She is a career woman, a 6th century feminist as well as a recovering nymphomaniac. Yes, I could see Meryl Streep trying her medieval Greek accent; we could call the film ‘Hagia Sophia’s Choice.’ Yes, it could be a vehicle for Brad and Angelina although the Emperor Justinian never did not his own fighting, especially single-handed. True, only three historians would know the difference.

“Music videos? Actually, Gregorian chants came a little later. I suppose if Evita Peron can sing, so can Theodora.

“Yes, I know that science fiction sells better than history. Perhaps we caould set the story in the 33rd century instead of the 6th. We can add the special effects that history lacks. You know, ‘Theodora and the Byzantine Empire’ does have an extraterrestrial ring to it. We can market it as a sequel to Barbarella.”

Who knows? I might end as successful a prostitute as Theodora.

Urban Renewal–Byzantine Style

Posted in On This Day on January 11th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

On this day in 532 the citizens of Constantinople protested against a corrupt and tax-loving government by burning down half of their city. The rioters displayed a remarkable unity; they were composed of two political factions–the Greens and the Blues–who usually hated each other. These two parties had evolved from the fans of two competing chariot racing stables; green and blue were the identifying colors of the respective teams.

However, the Byzantine personality (Greek pedantics + Christian theology – Hellenic charm) would not be content with just rooting for a sports team. The fans organized into political parties with vying interpretations of the Trinity. Of course, each interpretation of the Trinity would have a militia to expound it. Between the Greens and the Blues, Constantinople was always on the verge of a riot; but the Imperial government was usually adroit at balancing the factions, playing one off against the other.

The Emperor Justinian should have been a master of this statecraft. He had an amused contempt for mankind and had a genius for cultivating the vices in others; he literally brought out the best in your worst. Appreciating their “talents”, Justinian would appoint thieves to be treasurers, hucksters as diplomats, and elevated an actress to empress. Yet, this wily Emperor misjudged the temper and the patience of Constantinople’s factions.

The two rivals joined forces, and they give their alliance a name: Nika. It is the Greek word for victory. In a week of rage, half of the city was destroyed. Demonstrating their new-found ecumenism, the Nika rioters even burned churches. Yet, the rioters did not attack the Palace. Since the Imperial Guard was content to hide in the barracks and avoid any dangerous exertions such as defending the city, the rioters respected the army’s privacy.

Revelling in their power the rioters now proposed a new emperor, a reluctant but pliant noble named Hypatius. The “old” emperor was free to flee the city: the rioters had left him unimpeded access to the port. Indeed, Justinian was about to take that itinerary. He had called an imperial council of his few remaining supporters to plan the evacuation. However, this ignominious flight was scorned by the Empress Theodora.

Still very much the actress, she declaimed, “For one who has been an emperor it is unendurable to be a fugitive. May I never be separated from this purple, and may I not live that day on which those who meet me shall not address me as mistress. If, now, it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficulty. For we have much money, and there is the sea, here the boats. However consider whether it will not come about after you have been saved that you would gladly exchange that safety for death. For as for myself, I approve a certain ancient saying that royalty is a good burial-shroud.”

If the Empress was prepared to fight and die for the throne, the men of the court were shamed into being just as heroic. (The court eunuchs probably were still eager to leave.) Although the Imperial army was unreliable, several of the loyal officers had personal retainers who would follow orders. These troops numbered no more than a thousand, but they were an elite force of veterans. The rioters were in the tens of thousands but they were an undisciplined mob and, worse for them, oblivious to the danger. The Nika rioters had gathered at the Hippodrome, the social center of the city. It was a great place for a celebration but an even better place for a massacre.

The Hippodrome’s entrances were all at one end of the stadium. The troops seized the gates and then proceeded to scythe the trapped mob. Thirty thousand were killed; the Nika Riot was crushed. The hapless Hypatius was captured. He pleaded his innocence and Justinian believed him; however, Theodora still insisted on an execution.

As for Justinian, he did not view the riots as a warning but rather as an opportunity. First, he would have to raise even more taxes to rebuild the city. More importantly, Constantinople now would be rebuilt his way. For example, the rioters had destroyed the old church of Hagia Sophia. Justinian envisioned the new church to be a monument to him.

And it still is.