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edited by

Franco Mormando Thomas Worcester

Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies 78 .Truman State University Press


The Literature of Plague and the Anxieties of Piety in Sixth-Century Byzantium

IN 381, GREGORIOS F NYSSA O (bishop of Nyssa and brother of Basileios, or Basil the Great, the theologian and bishop of Kaisareia) wasin Constantinople to promote the cause of Orthodoxy atthe general council of the church convened by the emperor Theodosius 1. II?-a famous passage, he com- . plained of the lower classes' addiction to theologicalspeculation. You know who I mean. The whole city is full of them, the alleys,the markets, the squares, and the wards; those who deal in apparel, who change money, who sell us our food. If you ask about a sale, he will philosophize to you about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire about the price of bread, he will answer that "the Father is greater and the Son lesser"; and if you say, "Is the bath ready?" he will assert that the Son comes from non-Being. I don't know what to call this evil, an inflammation of the brain or a mania or some other illness that destabilizes the mind. 1 This passage has caused considerable mischief. Offering some comic relief in an otherwise tedious theological context, as well as a glimpse of the passions of the common man, it has become one of those fixed quotations that have been lifted out of context and recycled by historians who see here
IGregorios of Nyssa, Oration on the Divinity of the Son and the Spirit, Including an Encomium of Abraham (1863): 553-76, quote at 557. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the author's.

theJust, in PG46


Byzantinisches Erotikon. what he is actually saying is that those. 4McGuckin. St. The idea. though encounters such as he describes would certainly have been possible throughout that century. only that the lower classes were. But one must be careful. 3Baldwin. 2:28. 279. in part because scholars have allowed the sources to dictate what theology really is. The aim of this essay is to reveal a different limitation of Byzantine theology that has also gone unnoticed. council. Cregorios "asserts everyone was obsessed by theological niceties.2 Anthony Kaldellis the essence of the Byzantine mind. review of Procopius of Caesaria. who likewise argued that theology was not a proper subject for gossip.f whose conclusion has been extended by others to all classes and periods of Byzantine culture. Many sources attest to the turmoil and even violence of the theological controversies. see MacMullen. Later Roman Empire. Moreover. Gregorios's complaint strictly applies to only one year-a year of a. has made its way into fiction-for example. Reed and Mayer." wrote Gibbon. 2Gibbon.g. What is essentially a polemical caricature has "since been overused to portray the Byzantines as collectively obsessed" With theology. he is deriding the theological enemies of his own faction as ignorant moneychangers and tailors. It confirms the western stereotype of a civilization addicted to and debilitated by theological subtlety. which is set in the age of Justinian. Gregory of Naziamzus.. he is complaining that the population of the capital followed a theology that had been declared heretical. 964. See also Jones. Prominent Byzantinists have suspected that the average Byzantine neither knew nor cared about the theories and laws of the church fathers. "The eager pursuit of religious controversy afforded a new occupation to the busy idleness of the metropolis. Beck. involving questions of essence. Gregorios is not saying that "everyone" was obsessed with theological niceties. a study that has oddly never been undertaken despite (or because of) the confident use of passages like the one quoted above.t is rarely acknowledged in this connection that Gregorios is here expanding a passage in an oration by the leader of his faction." This is not the place to examine the social scope of theological obsessions in Byzantium. which is significant-and one city. 37. I. niceties were Arian. History of the Decline and Fall. Two for Joy (35). and so forth.t" In truth. Many more such statements can be cited. For the social attitudes involved. especially for centuries after the fourth. . It can be seen from Gregorios's complaint that theology for him (and the shopkeepers) was exclusively a matter of defining the nature of God viewed abstractly. the relation between the Father and the Son. 478. as well as in other parts of the empire. for example. Gregorios of Nazianzos. In short. e. The passage is invoked talisman-like against all who would qualify or reject this impossible picture. the acting bishop of Constantinople. substance. Voting for God. What orie realizes after perusing a few centuries' worth of theological treatises is that the Byzantines produced little or nothingthat explained God's historical agency in their own post-apostolic times.

.Lllt::li::llUlt:: VI rli::lgUt:: ariu Auxreues UI rlety 111 i:)lXUl~\. For the Byzantines.~i:.. the Incarnation was a theological problem. they were far more . one finds that the Byzantines avoided clarifying God's role in history and only alluded to it rhetorically.JeIllury nyzanuum o in living history. i. Incarnation. Granted. Byzantine Theology. but that event was theorized more in relation to the nature and substance of God and less in relation to human history. that God became an individual Man at a particular moment in history dated by the reigns of historical kings and procurators. but they are vague. 35-36. and why of the Second Coming. and Barnes. and rarely attested after Eusebios of Kaisareia (ca. barely scratching the surface of the infinitely more humble world of human history. a historical event. then.importance has been assigned to apocalyptic texts. 185-86. What is remarkable. the Byzantinesproduced no systematic theology explaining in terms of human history the where. What exists is a very small number of apocalyptic narratives-the closest that the culture came to quasi-historical fantasy-but these can hardly be called theology. involving the consolidation of the Roman Empire and the reign of Augustus. probably deliberately so as not to infringe on the rights of the church. At the other extreme. especially Mango. see Meyendorff. that.. and Second Coming against which mundane human history is supposed to be taking place. 6For an introduction to these texts. some answers were offered to the latter question. Emperor and Priest.f One has to look to find them." . •. fed back directly into discussions of his nature. as a religion it postulates a linear story of Creation. Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition. chap. Imperial orations and decrees proclaimed that the emperor was God's vicegerent on earth." Looking beyond events that were integral parts of the Christian message. Christianity is often called a historical religion. By human history is here meant the concrete events of which the historians wrote and not the notion of the salvation of man in the abstract that was a part of God's plan and. therefore.Interested in how the divine and the human interfaced in the person of Jesus Christ than in the question of why God chose that particular moment to become man. 12. Christian Attitude towards the Emperor. Undue. had to playa central role in any theory. did not influence the intellectual mainstream. and second. no treatises were written on the topic. "Byzantinism and Romantic Hellenism. and in some cases had been written outside the empire. see Alexander.. is how rarely that overarching divine story intersected in Byzantine thought with actual human history. 48-49. but the claim is polemical and no argument is offered.i •. but what this meant exactly was left unsaid. To some scholars. by which two things are meant: first." apocalypticism represents the essence of Byzantium. To be sure. For the Byzantines' fundamentally nonhistorical theology of the Incarnation. the Incarnation. Constantine and Eusebius.Y\J. 300 AD )-they never became thesubject of impassioned (or really any) debate. 7See Dagron. when. not a historical one. 7 The covenant between God and nation in the Old 5See the passages cited in Setton. unconvincing.

with no need to point to specific historical deeds. 736-49). QuestionsandAnswers. Ioseph Genesios. biblical. Question 96 (cols. no attempt was made to prove the commensurability of crime and punishment. rather. an "excellent administrator of the Roman commonwealth. and rhetorical modalities. personal. one must expect that writers who set .20-21. "Insight or Incoherence?" For a seventh-century attempt to confront this problem. Lesmiiller-Werner and I. Any sin would do for this purpose or even sin in general. Book 1: On the Reign of Leon V19.9 Apollo of the Silver Bow could stride down from Olympus with anger in his heart and send plague to the Achaian camp in order to avenge the insult to his priest lilni quattuor (Berlin: W. and eternally unchanging God?lO If the preceding is correct. What should be expected is a range of reactions reflecting the real complexity of Byzantine intellectual life. . Moreover. 1978). lOThe shift away from pagan conceptions. de Gruyter.out to explain such' events failed either to find a common ground among. and the inevitable rise of the problem of evil. the so-called Justinianic plague.inPG89 (1865): 311-824.22-23. The Byzantines had no agreed-upon way of talking about the historical agency of their God or the 8Patriarch Nikephoros I on Emperor Leon V in Theophanes Continuatus. sophistication. On the Reigns of the Emperors 1. ed. But how can one reasonably blame a plague on an omnipotent.l" And while it was common to ascribe imperial defeat and natural disaster to God's anger at.reverses did not elicit coherent theological responses in Byzantium. Constantine's conversion was not taken as a historical national covenant like that of Abraham. 1838). Thurn. It never constituted a theology of God's intervention in history arid never clarified the nature of divine justice in relation to human history. Why did the innocent suffer for the crimes of the wicked and why did the wicked prosper? In short.14. scientific. ed. and internal consistency of 'which they were capable in strictly doctrinal theological matters. but the model was not a good fit.16.4 Anthony Kaldellis Testament could also be invoked. 1. this explanation was only a pietistic cliche invoked in response to individual events. as each writer turned selectively to different classical. all-good. and incorruptible ruler and. 1. And this is exactly what is found in the written sources for the plague of the sixth century. themselves or to deploy individually the precision. 30-31. 9Cf. Josephi Genesii reg. can be detected in Plato Republic 379a and in many other subsequent passages throughout the work. the Byzantines never engaged systematically with the problem of evil. A. theological. Young. with Orthodox Romans as the new Israel. The Byzantines knew that their state and national polity had a different historical origin from their faith and was constituted along different lines to serve different purposes. human sin. Weber. esp. one expects to find that great-natural catastrophes and imperial. Bekker (Bonn: E. because Christianity promised individual and not national salvation andbecause the state and the faith were never fully integrated in Byzantium. conscientious. An Orthodox patriarch could in all honesty concede that a hated heretical emperor was still a brave. see Anastasios of Sinai (?).

Secret History. 157-58.18. 11. For justinian's legal works.. . there has been no systematic study of the Byzantine response to this event. must have been in some way responsible. ed. "[ustinianic Ideology and the Power of the Past. cr. Famine and Pestilence. 12Stathakopoulos (Famine and Pestilence. esp." 20) devotes a few lines to the stance of the writers. whole cities and their inhabitants had been destroyed because of these sins. justinian. 13justinian. Nature was especially unkind to the Byzantines in the sixth century. ed. see Kaldellis. Justinian's regime became infamous for cutting the penis-kaulotomia is not "castration't=-of those who so offended against God and nature. and famines. in Novellae. logically. Justinian fully developed the logic of punitive theology and was the only contemporary willing to specify the sins that incurred divine anger before the outbreak of the plague.Literature of Plague and Anxieties ot r'iety III orxtn-v. Procopius ojCaesarea. Fires and earthquakes destroyed major cities such as Antioch and Berytos. The Civil Law. The ultimate authority in the Byzantine Empire during the plague was Justinian himself (527-565 AD).l'' llSee Stathakopoulos. Scholl and Kroll. and Malalas. primarily those of demographic impact and epidemiological identification. who went beyond all his predecessors and successors in formulating an ideology of imperial rule that asserted his own supremacy in both Roman and Christian terms." he declared in 536. Elizabethjeffreys et al. Before 541. 127-28. he issued a continuous stream of legislation in which he sought to regulate many aspects of his subjects' lives in accordance with his theological-ideological priorities. Social Tolerance. ed.enrury nyzanuulll :. 16.Black Death. though skeptics like the historian Prokopi os believed that the charges were usually pretexts to confiscate the wealth of the accused or to dispose of personal enemies. 364-65." l':}ustinian. Not only did he codify existing Roman law and legal theory (in the Corpus iuris civilis). discussion of this plague has focused on historical problems. II 0-54. 171-74. Tribonian. in Novellae.not fundamentally different. Scholl and Kroll. see Pazdernik. Scholl and Kroll. In 536-537. 253. "Mediterranean Plague in the Age of justinian. 16:288-89. earthquakes. and in Chronicle ojjohn Malalas.12 This essay will focus on its impact on popular piety and on the theological conjectures that it elicited. So far.18-21. 16:95. "We are accustomed to consider God in everything that we do. and Scott. he had declared that it was. 277-94. trans. a dust cloud obscured the sun for months. and Horden.J moral meaning of calamitous events for which he. 18. 381-83. Evidence from earthquakes will also be adduced on occasion. preface. Worst of all. as responses to those were. However. ed. Novel 18. For his ideology.l" Accordingly. and Scott.34-36. Civil Law. 146-54) devotes a few pages to the social response. Novel 141 (559 AD). 15See Boswell. Christianity. 541 witnessed the outbreak of the deadliest plague in European history before the . Novel 77. both citing previous scholarship. in Ioannis Malalae Chronographia. 6. Chronographia. and Homosexuality. The main sources are Prokopios. Thurn. see Honore." chap. Allen ("The Justinianic' Plague.U This plague was the worst disaster in all of Byzantine history and occurred in an age that was exceptional in terms of intellectual activity and unusually rich in written sources. sodomy and blasphemy that caused plagues. in Novellae.13. In general.

3:143.12. it was only after their remedies had failed that he sought healing from the saints (a standard. for example. yet 16Prokopios. not only to the upper classes. Proclamations designed to put the fear of God into his subjects and discourage them from unnatural acts did not necessarily correspond to how he himself responded to the plague when it struck or indeed when he himself was infected by it. "A Day and Ten Months in the Life of a Lonely Bachelor.7. ed. Miller.23. "Procopius. These passages show different modalities of thought that perhaps rarely intersected in Justinian's conscious mind. For pestilence in his encyclopedia. and Prokopios. Even disregarding Prokopios's cynicism-which. The majority of the empire's population would not have required Justinian'sprompting to view the plague as a manifestation of divine anger. 63. he may have known the theological statements in the edicts to be specious but useful for the purposes of reform.18 There is also evidence that at some point during his reign. Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner 294-97. For his works. Sampson 1. Buildings 1. one must be careful in drawing conclusions about what the emperor "believed" from this evidence. Birth of the Hospital. 17For Aetios as a court physician. At any rate. 80-84.f'' A "noble lie" about sodomy could only be salutary. Gray. Many modern historians have viewed that emperor's military policies. may still have accurately represented the emperor's motives-it is not clear that the zealous pronouncements of a reformist emperor are a full or· faithful reflection of his thoughts on the matter." 503.100-110. Justinian certainly made use of their services. and Aetius of Amida. 16 Prokopios's account of the plague makes it clear that physicians were very active in the capital during those months and were widely available. in a separate episode. Bibliotheke 221 (178a).1. A passage in a different work by Prokopios implies that the emperor was constantly attended by physicians and. pattern of behavior in Byzantium) .l? L. certainly knew and probably actively solicited opinions about the plague that had nothing to do with sodomy and such. and Greatrex. 19Miller.. Aetios of Amida.5 (PG 115:284) has Justinian served first by an anny of doctors and then healed by the doctor-saint Sampson. composed a popular medical encyclopedia that included a (cribbed) section on pestilence and contagious diseases. see Hunger.20. 18Prokopios. see Scarborough. Justinian reformed the medical profession by assigning doctors to Christian hospitals and providing state support for them. 20See. "Legacy ofCha1cedon. then. "Byzantium in the East." esp. Theodora. These encounters are probably fictional. ideological positions. Wars 2.l? Justinian." 48. and there is every reason to believe that he put faith in those opinions. 15n33. . as Prokopios reveals that he was. 80-81. 91-92. despite its bias." 228. Photios. Henry. The later Life of St. and even theological views as flexible and pragmatic in the extreme. For doctors and saints. 48-49. Secret History 4. One of his court doctors. There is at present no satisfactory way to reconcile the imperial patient surrounded by state doctors with the zealous moral reformer who blamed plagues on sin or with the inquisitor who unmanned bishops for crimes against nature. see Efthymiades. Birth of the Hospital.6 Anthony Kaldellis Of course.

I ~: . 24This "compassion" is meant either as a euphemism for God's "anger. they lapsed again to worse habits. chap. 286-87. i and Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor. The Secret History. Unlike.a. say. The first seventeen books reflect an Antiochene perspective. whose Greek text survives in an abbreviated form covering all of history from the Creation to the end ofjustinian's reign. Malalas is not being cynical here. as when Suetonius says that the emperor Domitianus did not propose any cruel measure without first expounding on the virtue of clemency. "Malalas. 22Scott. the perspective shifts to Constantinople. and frequented churches. In other words. de Boor. ed.jeffreys et al. or the origin of this entry in Malalas.S' That latter part of the chronicle. the plague itself manifested God's compassion.Malalas basically plagiarized Eustathios of Epiphaneia while inventing other sources and information to give an appearance of original research. nd Scott. Chronographia 19. "Malalas. but after God's mercy [philanthropia] had returned. which covers the reign of justinian. 11.. 7) argues that for events before circa 500. ed. Jeffreys." 169. Prokopios. "Malalas' Sources."25 21See Croke. Thurn.n Ioannis Malalae Chronographia.211a 14. however terrible it may appear.that view was only one among many other interpretations. There is some uncertainty about the sources of that chronicle. 335. Mango and Scott. went on litanies. 24Suetonius. nd in Chronicle of i a John Malalas.Warren Treadgold (Early Byzantine Historians. "Malalas and Jusa tinian's Codification. but at some point in book 18. As far as contemporary historians were concerned. loyally promotes justiniari'spropaganda about important events such as the Nika riots of 532. all that God does.92. this view was limited to the chronicle of Ioannes Malalas and those who used it. trans. possibly by following official notices. the Man and His Work. Malalas regarded the "reign of terror as proper and right" and believed that "security" could result from "fear. 23Malalas. consistently. By definition. 25Theophanes the Confessor. 407. trans. F Chronicle ofJohn Malalas. The early ninth-century Byzantine chronicler Theophanes the Confessor probably copied his entry on the earthquake of 554 AD from the original version of Malalas. moreover." 103-4. n 'Theophames Chronographia." His very brief extant entry on this event ends by piously declaring that "God's compassion [eusplachnia] lasted in Byzantion [that is. Domitianus. or euphemism. It was not possible to maintain this paradox. It states that "for a while men were overcome by contrition. trans." 17-25. 1:229. Chronicle s. 293-94. 6046. and Justinian's Propaganda. "The Lord God saw that man's transgressions had multiplied and he caused the overthrow of man on the earth." 12-31. is done out of compassion and love. nd Jeffreys.Constantinople] for two months:"23 This "compassion" does not refer to the passing of the plague but very precisely to the duration of its outbreak."22 ' Malalas's view of the plague can accordingly be predicted from these 'premises." or quite literally in the sense that God sent the plague in order to reform mankind for its (long-term) benefit. not the fact that he allowed it to pass after two months.

itself is too long to have been lifted from the Antiochene chronicler. He often refers to it simply as "the wrath" or "the chastisement. Here "mercy" (lit. if one can call it that. the empire was scourged with earthquakes and wars. quotations." 299-310. 2Gyuhannan's account of the. and relatively incoherent.or even anti-scientific. the (titular) Monophysite bishop of Ephesos (usuallycalled John of Ephesos. however. 26 Yuhannan's account of the plague is the longest extant and may have originally been a separate treatise before he incorporated it into his Ecclesiastical History. his account of the plague L. and throughout). and parallels. It is also very personal and reflects Yuhannan's circumstances and outlook. Yuhannan was alternately allowed to speak at the court for the Monophysite cause or persecuted for doing just that. which have corrupted the earth (for example. For his relationship to Malalas. pietistic rather than ironic. 2:235-40.) His account of the event is in almost all ways the oPpo-. Syriac that started with Julius Caesar. For additional fragments. ed. During his long life. but this has mostly been lost. 74-98. Its moral and theological tone also differs from the third main account of the event. "Malalas in Syriac. the narrative. Chabot. after 558. hoping that those who read it "during this remainder of the world" will become wiser "and will be saved from wrath here [that is. fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah (81-82. This complex moral logic shapes the longest surviving account of the plague. 84). (Relatively little progress has yet been made in determining exactly what he took from Malalas. that byYuhannan. emotionally charged rather than seemingly dispassionate. It is known that he used Malalas for his own account of the sixth century. that by the ecclesiastical historian Evagrius. 75. in this world] and from future torment" (76. He says that he decided to leave a record of the event. though his name was not John and he never settled at Ephesos). is often interrupted by passages of scriptural and theological expostulation. The plague. non. Yuhannan begins his narration by invoking the lamentations of Jeremiah "over the afflictions of Jerusalem" (74). site of the better-known one by Prokopios: biblical rather than classical. which has been preserved in part in a Syriac chronicle written toward the end of the eighth century. a native of Amida (like Justinian's doctor Aetios) and. is muddled and distorts the events themselves. He witnessed the outbreak of the plague at Constantinople in 542. Like Pharaoh.28. This moral logic. Chronicle 9. Though he used Malalas generally. the plague being the last and most terrible chastisement (82-84). see Witakowski. also 98). Later in life. in Pseudo-Dionysius ofTel-Mahre: Chronicle Part III." that is. he wrote an ecclesiastical history in. . plague will be cited from the translation by Witakowski. This sets the stage for a rhetorical lament charged throughout with biblical allusions.8 Anthony Kaldellis 1I . "love of mankind") has its usual sense: it refers to the lifting of the punishment and not to the punishment itself. see Michael the Syrian. but was assigned in that year byJustinian to convert the pagans of Asia Minor. God's wrath at humanity'S sins. Yuhannan claims.

Certainly. his ethics differ from those of the modern world.seems that ') he could not find much to give a credible picture. 78: "within one hour. asking someone (politely!) for a gift of money for his commemoration in case he should die and after all his family had also died (93-94). then. cf. he stands close to Malalas. he has his characters die impossibly swiftly. And in order to maintain a tight causal link between sin and punishment. A week's delay would. and corpse-bearers asking for higher wages when the labor supply had diminished and cash was readily available (9495) . only to those committed during it. . in fact. But contrary to what he promises at the beginni~g of his account (76). We hear of no processions of flagellants or persecutions of Jews." 28 Second. but it. Justinian was trying to limit wage inflation.27 none of these seems to merit the death penalty. their movements slow and methodical to give the residents of the next city time to repent by giving away their material goods (85-86). although Yuhannan acknowledges that the punishment was "pitiless" (74) and "terrible" (84). such 271n544. He never specifies the collective sins that (presumably) brought the plague on in the first place. his source for other events of the sixth century. also 94). Moreover. Novel 122. with the exception of one to"Yllthat reverted to pagan worship (79-80). Age offustinian. Yuhannan chose to concentrate on sins committed during the plague rather than before it." given that it acted as "a call to repentance" (85)." and throughout). all of Yuhannan's sinners are killed for what he regards as the cardinal (and capital) sin of fact as soon as they commit a sin. apparently. 163. Yuhannan compares the advance of the plague to that of the armies of a great king. Here. Was this. it emerges that law and order did not break down during the plague and. 28Evans. weaken the moral lesson. but still the crimes alleged are tepid. "The modern reader must be struck by the soberness of the accounts. Yuhannan implies in his general statements that the chastisement was "a just sentence" (77) for the accumulated sins of mankind. the worst that Yuhannanwitnessed? He seems to have been obsessive about greed and indeed suggests at one point that the whole purpose of the plague was to curb or eliminate desire for material goods: "everyone who might still covet things of this world was quickly deprived of life" (95." as it were-never link this punishment to sins committed before the plague appeared.Justinian. but the specific anecdotes in his account-his "evidence. After surveying all the evidence. and the degree of acceptance by the general populace. But the crimes hardly justify the punishment: for example. he insists that it revealed the "benignity and grace of God. taking goods from houses and towns whose inhabitants have died (77-79). many Byzantines turned to a life of piety and charity because of it. contradicting all that is known about the symptomatology of the disease (for example.First.

Demetrios. for which beliefs he was willing to endure persecution and imprisonment. Those who. Even Yuhannan cannot avoid the moral illogicality of all these events. In his account of the miracles of St. 1:76. But no theological treatise attempted to weigh the balance. see Stathakopoulos. Ioannes claims. 324-28. This admission of theological ignorance about God's historical agency stands in significant contrast to Yuhannan's confident understanding of God's essential nature (the Monophysite position). the remedy itself occasioned further opportunities for the sins it was presumably meant to correct. Demetrius. The Miracles of St. 29 Put differently. when it came to events such as the plague their theological instincts seem to have been very uncoordinated-unlike Gregory of Nyssa's shopkeepers and bath attendants. Could . see Skedros. And whereas sixth-century Byzantines adhered to very specific doctrinal formulas when it came to questions of Christology and divine essence. For Ioannes and St. and trans. "built ships of almsgiving" only managed to "buy for themselves the kingdom" (86)-if "only" is an appropriate word in a Christian context. Demetrios: Miracle 3 (31).jeopardized their fate in the afterlife." in this world. Ioannes. The bishop maintained that the punishment was still less than what his flock's sins really warranted. No one was spared. Whereas Byzantine theology about the nature of God rose to an exceptionallevel of sophistication and subtlety and has remained fundamental to the discipline to this day. only proved God's wisdom. Yuhannan's God is capable of virtually annihilating mankind for the purpose of morally reforming it. ed.10 Anthony Kaldellis repentance apparently did not save anyone "here. in Les plus anciens recueils des miracles de Saint Demetrius. like Noah. nor comprehended. and concludes by taking refuge in apophantic theology: the plague caused "astonishment about His righteous judgments which cannot be understood. Lemerle. as many people became angry with God for sending such an affliction and spoke out against him. For the. .God not foresee that only a few would hear hisjnessage and change their ways? Here we stand on the threshold of the thorny problem of (human) free will and (divine) omniscience. 79). Interestingly. Saint Demetrios of Thessaloniki. the bishop of Thessalonike in the early seventh century. by human beings" (87). This. even those who recognized their sinfulness and tried to desist from it (cf. which the Byzantines avoided. looks back to the outbreak of 586 (or 597) and notes that the plague destroyed not only bodies but also souls. but this. they died like the rest. Still. date of the outbreak in question. there were times when the logicofpunitive theology verged on incoherence. what Byzantine ecclesiastical writers had to say about God's historical role and active justice in this world remained vague and sometimes barely coherent. the first extant literary source to record the sixth-century plague is the Latin epic poem that Flavius Cresconius Corippus wrote in 549·on the North African 29Ioannes of Thessalonike. Still. for Ioannes. Famine and Pestilence.

But "the Almighty Creator. In general.31 One can only guess at the "theology" behind this statement. there are no references to God's anger or the sins of mankind in 30Corippus.343-400. Evagrius wrote his history in the 590s and also used the original version of Malalas as a source. in The Syriac Chronicle Known as That of Zachariah of Mitylene." 472-73. the only sins Corippus cites have to do with property disputes arising from the large number of premature deaths: "all kinds of courts were opened. Chronicle 10. piety withdrew entirely. it too singles out the sin of avarice as the source of God's ire.. language. then. and geographical location.. The Iohannis. Despite the vast differences in genre. hardly a collapse of law and order. despite the differences between the two men. 313. Shea. 31Pseudo-Zacharias." . Evagrius. still he does not seem to have followed Prokopios on the plague. but he does not go on to imitate Thucydidesas Prokopios had. trans. one finds an even more different picture. see Moderan. Be notes at the outset of his account that the plague resembled the one in Thucydides. ed. or. 60-62. "Zachariah Scholasticus and the Historia EcclesiS astica of Evagrius Scholasticus.. When turning to the chief ecclesiastical historian of the sixth century. Thefragment on the plague in the Syriac continuation of the Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias of Mytilene '(Zacharias wrote the original in Greek in the late fifth century before becoming the bishop of Mytilene. delayed no longer to apply the lash to that wretched populace. Corippus's logic is near to Yuhannan's. Allen. who was ordered by God to destroy men. this is mild stuff.. . Corippus's theological narrative differs in one crucial point from that of Yuhannan. Evagrius. there is increasing divergence.P'' It is not known how Corippus "explained" the plague. Hamilton and Brooks. he discussed extensively. "Corippe et l'occupation byzantine de l'Afrique. in Flavii Cresconii Corippi Iohannidos. subject matter. God is said to have punished the African provincials for the sins they committed during the plague by sending Moors against them afterwards. De bellis Libycis of Flavius Cresconius Corippus. While he relied heavily on Prokopios for the sixth-century wars. . for an ecclesiastical historian. in general. Iohannis 3. vindictive legal actions introduced . as his anger bade Him. Diggle and Goodyear. Yuhannan's hometown) says vaguely that the plague "was' a scourge from Satan.campaigns of the Byzantine general Ioannes Troglita (though this text is absent from almost all discussions of the plague)." Again.. rather. which. Here it is not the plague that is ascribed to God's anger. and trans. ee. For one thing. as the opening verses of his account are missing. In writers closer in genre and cultural origin to the Syriac Monophysite monk. stands midway between the theological and emotional account of Yuhannan and the dispassionate classicism of Prokopios. In fact. pus's moral schema is quite similar to that of Yuhannan. the lawyer of the church of Antioch. his continuator was an anonymous monk writing in 569 in Amida." Still. seu De bellis libycis libri 8.9. Corip. 107-8.

vagrius Scholastikos the Church Historian. bears a very loose responsibility for the event. Symeon Stylite leJeune (521-592). he.2:235-36. 190-94. Ecclesiastical History 4. God "knows" them. not necessarily a moral reformer wielding plagues as blunt instruments.32Evagrius discusses the spread and periodic outbreaks of the disease and notes that he himself was infected while still a child and that he lost many family members in later outbreaks (his wife.23). 32Evagrius. 229-32. for him. the plague in general. 163.. God. and trans. . van den Ven. Whitby. see Cameron. Bidez and L. Age ofJustinian. 33A11en. ed. who knows both the causes (aitiai) of the event and where they lead. and other relatives and servants. Parmentier. does not speculate on the nature and identity of these natural causes. though that outlook is sometimes ascribed to him. On "anger." etc. Procopius and the Sixth Century. having experienced the horrible death of so many loved ones. E 34Life of St.12 Anthony Kaldellis his account. Evagrius implies. It is possible that. he then tries to discover the pattern of contagion. implying that these causes were something separate from God. in 591/592. recorded in the contemporary Life of St. 292n74 . and Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Scholasticus. God. as it will move in whatever direction pleases God. Evagrius himself. is not the sarrie as them. he is an omniscient physiologos. 1:210-11. may not have been responsible for the original outbreak. ed. God will direct only the future movement of the plague. This episode is . but he may now intervene to protect his 'long-suffering worshippers. presumably on the assumption that all Byzantines thought that way. many children. which is perhaps a polite way of asking for reprieve. according to which Evagrius's mindwas tempted by diabolical thoughts and moved to blasphemy. because his daughter had died while the children of a pagan neighbor had not. The saint read Evagrius's mind and sent him a reproachful letter. Symeon the Stylite (the Second). see ibid. then. he lost a daughter and her son). 233 in La vie ancienne de S. he notes that the saint had personally encouraged him to stop thinking about why his own children had died while those of a pagan neighbor had not (6.33 remark: "And what will happen now is unclear." Evagrius imposes no moral interpretation on the plague (there is no "sin" nor "wrath"). he closes with this "bland. 34Even so.. and even the theological conclusion . On. however. trans. and Evans. Evagrius was less eager to throw about words like "sin" and "wrath. J. almost certainly purposefully. at the very least. He discusses the symptoms and reports (contrary to Yuhannan) that most died on the second or third day. if any at all. 177-79.. Evagrius rushed to Simeon to beg forgiveness." which is always easier to do when someone else is the sinner-and the victim. In his chapter on Simeon Stylites. This interpretation of Evagrius's position is reinforced by his reference to the plague's "causes" (the classical scientific term used since the time of Thucydides and Hippocrates)..29 in Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius. Noting that the plague has lasted for fifty-twoyears. 42. 194. Symeon the Stylite (the Second).quoted directly above is vague.

Prokopios follows' classical models. even though he claims to have followed Malalas here._. whereas Evagrius. 177-79 ("mild by comparison"). Marincola.altering Malalas's theological interpretation.'" ~-"''''''''\..-_ - - _ "'-0'--... !._ _"""'"_ '-J . his difference from Malalas seems to have been fundamentally theological. his benevolent chastisementof man. In fact. Granted. a traditional objective of the ancient historians.t. by drawing attention to his own and his family's experience of the plague-"for the chapters that Prokopios embedded in his narrative of the wars between Justinian and Persia (Wars 2. Cf. Evagrius's account of the 588 earthquake at Antioch.... .. "to. cites Malalas as his source for the fires and earthquake that destroyed Antioch in 525/526.1. His outlook is in all important respects the exact opposite of that of Yuhannan... In particular. though the Byzantines were not inclined to put that difference into words. in general. noting only in the following chapter that the subsequent election of Ephraim of Antioch as bishop proved to be beneficial: "God's saving grace for men.interweave my own affairs also into the narrative"-Evagrius enhances his credibility as a reliable eyewitness of events.L.. its implied protest..I. But in what proportion? And what did all this have to do with earthquakes and plagues? The most important source for the sixth-century plague is found. Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography. raised up Ephraim of Antioch" (4. It is possible that Byzantine theology was insufficiently developed in this direction for him to do so with confidence. Hence perhaps the neutrality of his account and.t.. which exhibits its own sympathy at the very moment of despair.8. Evagrius must have been aware' that he was . Ecclesiastical History 6. omits all this in his account of those events. Overall. as it has been shown that Prokopios was careful to preserve the distinctive aspects of the sixth-century plague 35See.36 This is a more balanced view of God's involvement. general. 36See. and the mysteries of his love' (17. and tempers the sword of anger with mercy.I.JIJ~(A. the balance seems to tilt toward the merciful.I.A. however. which he knew far better than Malalas and Yuhannan. indeed.5." he says.I. for instance.L70. this did not mean that he accepted that his relatives deserved to die because of their sins.A. Beyond these personal motives. The extant version of Malalas refers throughout and constantly to God's wrath. which devises cure~ before the blow. sibly..LJl. Evagrius again highlights his family misfortunes in his account of the 588 earthquake at Antioch. God was both merciful and wrathful.6). he so closely imitated Thucydides' account of the plague in Athens in the first year of the Peloponnesian War that he was accused by many modern scholars both of lack of originality (imitation being regarded as affectation) and of distorting the facts of the event itself.J'. pos.22-23).16). Evagrius's reluctance to accept punitive theology may have also been due to his respect for the Creek scientific and historical tradition.. Evagrius.. not biblical ones. Evagrius Scholastikos. But these charges no longer carry conviction.8.LJ J. Ecclesiastical History 6. but unfortunately he did not cite his reasons for doing so. Allen.

see ibid. here. however.14-16). The feel of clinical precision throughout is reinforced by the observations and investigations of the capital's doctors. from an Orthodox point of view. unless some divine influence has touched them.22. 1. he did not make this argument explicit. though they were not short of opinions. The wicked. it would be entirely correct to say that "either because of some chance (tyche) or providence (pronoia)" the disease carefully picked out the worst and allowed them to live (2. but there are so many passages in 'his work whose theological . gave up their lawlessness and took up religion. whom Prokopios obviously consulted (for example. 3BKaldellis.23." And what does "God" meanin Prokopios. despite the fact that their remedies proved ineffectual. chap.J 37For the plague. 210-13. Procopius ofCaesarea. he says. Unlike Thucydides.P'' One of these occurs in connection with the plague. implications are.. but not because they had learned wisdom or had suddenly become lovers of virtue. No. However he says nothing of "wrath" or "sin. anyway? Throughout the Wars. which he witnessed himself (2. Consider how carefully the moral logic is parsed. 26-27. for classicism in general. commenting on the disruption of burial practices. .14 Anthony Kaldellis and also because literary classicism is being rehabilitated as a more sophisticated and effective narrative technique than was previously recognized. 2. for it is impossible to change qualities that are instilled in people by nature (Physis) or habituation (didaskalia) over a long period of time. In fact. where. they reverted to their previous way of life and became even worse than before. He follows the geographical spread of the plague. But when they had survived the disease. see Kaldellis. Now. including the narrative of the plague. and then devotes a chapter to the course of the plague in Constantinople. so utterly bizarre ·that one is entitled to be suspicious. it is sometimes assumed that despite this "classicizing facade" Prokopios basically shared his contemporaries' view that the plague was sent by God. "fortune" or "chance.29).1-2). describes the visions that accompanied the onset of the disease in a few of its victims." For obvious reasons. like Thucydides. citing previous bibliography. 37 Prokopios's narrative is seemingly dispassionate.22. they changed their ways now because of fear and what they took to be necessity. Prokopios constructs-a careful argument about the fundamentally amoral nature of the power that 'he believed was really dominant in the world: this was tyche. he denies that any of the physiologoi possessed an accurate understanding of the causes (aitiaz) of the plague. yet its soberness conveys a humanity that rivals Yuhannan's gory and hysterical lamentations. provides a careful medical account of the symptoms. He suggests this himself in his opening remarks.22. Procopius ofCaesarea. he then goes on to say that in the end one can do nothing but ascribe the whole thing to God (2. \ .9).

. Agathias wrote accounts of the earthquakes of the early 550s. and sociology. His Wars was continued thirty years later by Agathias of Myrina (in western Asia Minor). pietism.3-5. 2. This insight completely reverses the "standard" belief about God's punitive measures in this world. First. R.alternative not present in his opening formulation. To a certain degree.would wicked men have been changed permanently. but they were not..Lnerature 01 .~o mixing Thucydidean scientific agnosticism with philosophy. Procopius of Caesarea. Frendo. and 5.. in Agathiae Myrinaei Historiarum Libri Quinque. That is why.20).P? Is the reader meant to think of the most wicked men whom the plague picked out and allowed to survive? Prokopios was not a lone skeptic in an age of fear-induced pietism. The kind of religion that wicked men practice in times of crisis has nothing to do with ~sdom or the love of virtue. The emperor is the only person in the whole narrative whom Prokopios specifically designates as having survived the plague.. and Prokopios is no doubt responding to such views as were put forth at the time orally before they made their way into the Christian chronicles. it refutes the belief of Malalas. which means that the plague cannot have been sent by a benevolent God intent on reforming wicked men.2. :. Second. Yuhannan. trans. and the outbreak of the plague in 558. Third. an .· though in accordance with his pedagogical intentions (and concern for his safety). 4. he says. Prokopios casually mentions that the emperor Justinian had become ill too (2. ed. he describes in detail the marked rise 39For Prokopios on justinian. It also introduces a new element to the discussion of the Byzantine reaction to the plague in the sixth century. and others that (temporary) terror can lead to moral reform. For in the next paragraph. Prokopios leaves the reader to think them through for himself. see Kaldellis.18for another "unexpected" alternative). Only if they had been touched by God. the implication of this passage is that the God to which Prokopios seems to ascribe the plague at the be~nning of his account is not the same as the Christian God. so changed. toward the end of his argument.10. namely irony. .23.15-16. Agathias transferred to the earthquakes what he found in Prokopios's account of the plague. the earthquake of Constantinople in 557. 40Agathias Histories 2. Prokopios allows the reader to wonder whether all this happened by chance orby providence. respectively. a poet and lawyer in Constantinople who turned his hand to historiography. For instance.2.. but a standard device by which the historian points his readers in the right direction after making a pietistic opening (cf. Keydell.l:'lagueand Anxieties of Piety in Sixth-Century Byzantium 15 This argument has many interesting implications. and Agathias: The Histories. Sharing Prokopios's classical outlook. Prokopios's statement that the plague chose the worse men and allowed them to live reinforces the suspicion that he cannot have believed that the Christian God (or any like god) was responsible for the plague. 5. chap.

Agathias. Yuhannan ascribes Euphrasios's death directly to God and claims that "the believersremembered the impudence of his evil deeds" (46-47). Earthquakes. But here we see what a philosophical difference a classical education could still make. Two very different sources. . This kind of-reasoning was not uncommon.. That behavior. But Agathias had more use for fear than had Prokopios.face value any instances where Agathias attributes events to God in his own voice without raising the possibility of pious fraud.6). see Kaldellis. 41For a thorough discussion. because many believed that it represented divine retribution for his sins. "Historical and Religious Views of Agathias. he notes. "could not properly be called justice or. then." like those devised by Plato (and indeed Agathias shows himself familiar with Plato throughout the History). But the evidence they cite is weak and forced. the Latin epic poet Corippus and the Syriac monk Yuhannan." 206-52. held . Yuhannan. His advocacy of such pious lies. How was their religion affected by such events? What refuge could it provide? The evidence is inconsistent. Still. do not discriminate between good and evil people. Having surveyed the learned classes' diverse reactions to the plague. Agathias rejects the popularascription of Anatolios's death to God. He devotes a whole chapter (5. for instance.16 Anthony Kaldellis in justice and piety that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe and that many assisted the needy. according to Agathias. Like those who. it is interesting to look again at Gregorios of Nyssa's shopkeepers. and even Evagrius.firm and active piety of the sort which stamps itself on the mind through the operation of sound convictions steadfastly . gloated over the hideous death of Euphrasios.4..5). But all reverted to their former way of life when the terror the great earthquake that struck that city in 526. " It is in fact only under the stimulus of sudden fear and for as long J as the emergency lasts that we make a few reluctant and perfunctory concessions to the ideal of charity" (5. should caution the reader against accepting at. In the end. This conclusion is essentially homage to Prokopios. depict a society driven by greed (though one in which the laws of property were apparently still observed). itis not altogether a bad thing if people should believe that they do. adduced to justify their a priori negative view of their contemporaries or to promote a moral agenda. he reminds us. . all that may remain secure in his digressions on the earthquakes of the 550s is the belief that they were due to "nature" (Physis). Yuhannan. advocates the use of "noble lies. the Chalkedonian bishop of Antioch.4) to the death of the wicked senator Anatolios in the earthquake of 557. he continues.41 Agathias was operating on a different level of philosophical sophistication than were Malalas. rejoiced at the death of the wicked senator Anatolios. "since the fear· of dying a horrible death may have a deterrent effect on some wrongdoers" (5.5. however.

t" The "Great Old Man" Barsanouphios. "Quand la terre tremble . nothing like the lawlessness and disregard for others that Thucydides adduces for the plague of 430 Be (2. 78-80. and none is more compassionate than God. 150-151. who healed many by appearing to them in visions. claimed that in the recent outbreak the citizens packed the churches. There was no breakdown in public order. . according to Prokopios.44 Many who had not set foot in a church before would have fled there during the plague. both living and dead. present a plausible picture: the majority of the population suddenly found faith and practiced justice and charity.3.22. Demetrios: Miracle 3 (37-41). some slaves even abandoned their masters to do so. his point is rather to emphasize how universal and pitiless God's wrath was.11. he adds with satisfaction. When the earth shook. Lemerle. see Dagron.16. Overall. in other words. especially that of St. even if only to lapse into their former habits when the crisis was over. "Tremblements de terre a Constantinople. many fled to the churches. 44Ioannes ofThessalonica. to which list Evagrius Ecclesiastical History 4. and Vercleyen.Prokopios and Agathias." namely.35 (the relics of St.45 Many also turned to the saints.42 When they were infected with the plague and began to see frightful apparitions. no rise in violent crime. many Byzantines uttered pious cries of surprise and looked to the heavens to propitiate God. the Byzantines responded calmly and with compassion. while others labored. and trans. This picture harmonizes with the general impression gained from putting all of the sources together.22. and often found healing and a halt to further progress of the plague.11. and Yuhannan Chronicle 75.P In both kinds of clear the city of bodies.. He replied that "there are many who entreat God's compassion to cease his wrath from the world. at least according to hagiographic sources. died.53)." 43Procopius Wars 2. by contrast. Even Yuhannan notes that they died in droves in the churches. no popular discontent. though certainly they were numbed and depressed by the magnitude of the horror. was once petitioned "in regard to the world.i-6. Agathias Histories 5. at least according to the skeptical Prokopios (for the plague) and Agathias (for the earthquakes of the 550s). Justinian made mpney available for both purposes. Thomas) should be added. a wise hermit who would answer the questions of other monks from his retreat near Gaza. Almost all of those who stayed home. many of whom were public servants.88..3. but his attitude is not ironic. who wants to have mercy but is opposed by the multitude of sins that occur 42Agathias Histories 5. Their doctors. tended the sick without pause orfear. For Byzantine reactions to earthquakes in more detail. regarding the imminent destruction of the world in the plague. ed. 45Procopius Wars 2.3. for advice and prayer. a zealous few prostrating themselves before the altar. they tried to exorcise them by calling out holynames-·vainly. But in 541 their hopes were in vain. ". Ioannes.6-8 and 2. Miracles of St. Demetrios himself. and only venial opportunism. bishop ofThessalonica. Famine and Pestilence. 46See Stathakopoulos.

C . apparently. Letter 569. while the latter Wasbelieved by the majority of the Christian population.54. Cf. Barsanuphius and John. and Byzantine theology had not formulated a coherent ariswer to such events. 51 At Thessalonica. the reaction of the empire's population was not absolutely consistent. while the population coped 47Barsanouphios and Ioannes of Gaza. 4Byuhannan Chronicle 79-80. perfect in God. according to Yuhannan the people of Constantinople somehow got it into their heads that the plague was carried around by the clergy and those itinerant black-cloaked monks." He directed his fellow monks to seek the prayers of three holy men in particular: "There are three men. which only a few townsmen had practiced in secret before then. so when they saw one in the streets they screamed and ran away. and Letters from the Desert. 153-54. trans. 50Agathias Histories 5. who . Chryssavgis. many became angry with God for sending such a terrible affliction. Presumably Yuhannan himself was treated in this way.2. Much did not make sense about this plague.5-6. the shopkeepers and money changers of 542 most likely did not display the theological uniformity that Gregorios of Nyssa encountered in 381. not a council. God combines his chastisement with his mercy... the earthquakes opened the market for apocalyptic scenarios. Evagrius was tempted by "diabolical" thoughts even to the point of "blasphemy" when his daughter.5.47For the sake of these three men. ed. in Barsanuphe etJean de Gaza: Correspondance. It was the state that led the response. so he ascribed this belief-which was not at all to his liking and which persisted for two years after the initial outbreak-to rumors spread by demons. Thucydides History 2. 2.10. f. that the majority behavior was predictable. In short.. though the majority probably conformed to the orthodox cultural model outlined above.18 Anthony Kaldellis in the world. Neyt and de Angelis-Noah. Procopius Wars 2. 50 No doubt the former was confined to a small number of dabblers in the occult. But this does not mean. 51Yuhannan Chronicle 97-98. not the church. Through their prayers. the second was that God's anger was punishing mankind for its sins.. and other prophets (as Thucydides had noted for the plague in Athens).22.730-735. 49 Agathias cites two explanations for the plague that were current in his day: the first had to do with the "world cycles" attested in ancient Egyptian oracles and by the astrologers of Persia.2. as with the chroniclers and historians examined above. surely.21.48 According to Agathias. and it was all that preachers and monks could do to maintain a semblance of theological order. Yet. While some turned to holy men. keep the whole world from complete and sudden annihilation. charlatans. died while the children of a pagan neighbor did not. 49 Agathias Histories 5. God had not yet entirely destroyed humanity. Yuhannan tells of a town near Palestine that reverted to pagan worship. The burning issue was now a plague. they were not inclined to sympathize with God's anger.

subtle irony and rejection of superstition. and the pedagogical imperative to help the readers think for themselves rather than tell them what they ought to believe were still very much alive in sixth-century Byzantium. these explanations was not alwayscoherent. but of strictly personal factors as well. The skeptics Prokopios and Agathias. behind . educational backgrounds. Both Yuhannan and Evagrius wrote ecclesiastical histories at the same time and used the same source. When they did. the author on whose history all modern reconstructions are fundamentally based. offers in his account a subtle refutation of what many take to be the common outlook of all Byzantines. Yuhannan and Corippus took aim at trivial acts of financial self-protection. and belies the expectation that the Byzantines had a solid understanding of their God's actions (as opposed to his nature). the classical traditions of precise medical observation. and theologically in whatever way seemed best to each. Even those who believed that the plague constituted divine punishment or led to it rarely bothered to specify what had caused it.background. but their outlook was fundamentally different. Prokopios. emotionally. This diversity was not merely a function of the diverse languages. . even blaming those plague-carrying monks for spreading the disease. apparently' differed regarding the degree to which fear. they did not always agree. Among the literate classes especially there was a wide range of reactions. while Justinian had preemptively blamed sodomy and blasphemy. who were coming from the same classical'. The theology. promoted moral improvement.I I mentally. careful organization of material. Malalas. There. And the main and most reliable source for: the plague and the age as a whole. and philosophical goals of the authors. a dispassionate outlook. an author who personally witnessed much of what he described and was very well connected at the court and to powerful men in the provinces. genres. or rather the moral logic.

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