Agathias

Agathias or Agathias Scholasticus (c. AD 536-582 (594?), of Myrina (Ἀγαθίας σχολαστικός, Μυριναῖος ), an Aeolian city in western Asia Minor, was a Greek poet and the historian who is a principal source for that part of Justinian's reign his history covers.

He studied law at Alexandria, returned to Constantinople in 554 to finish his training and practised as an advocate (scholasticus) in the courts. Literature, however, was his favourite pursuit.

He wrote a number of short love-poems in epic metre, called Daphniaca (Δαφνιακὰ ). He also put together an anthology of epigrams by earlier and contemporary poets and himself, under the title of a Cycle of New Epigrams. Agathias re-edited the Greek Anthology, which preserves about a hundred epigrams by Agathias that show considerable taste and elegance. He also wrote marginal notes on the Periegetes of Pausanias.

After the death of Justinian (565), some of Agathias's friends persuaded him to write the history of his own times. This work in five books, On the Reign of Justinian, continues the history of Procopius, whose style it imitates, and is the chief authority for the period 552-558. It deals chiefly with the struggles of the Byzantine army, under the command of the eunuch Narses, against the Goths, Vandals, Franks and Persians.

"His pages abound in philosophic reflection. He is able and reliable, though he gathered his information from eye- witnesses, and not, as Procopius, in the exercise of high military and political offices. He delights in depicting the manners, customs, and religion of the foreign peoples of whom he writes; the great disturbances of his time, earthquakes, plagues, famines, attract his attention, and he does not fail to insert "many incidental notices of cities, forts, and rivers, philosophers, and subordinate commanders." Many of his facts are not to be found elsewhere, and he has always been looked on as a valuable authority for the period he describes." —Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01204b.htm).

"The author prides himself on his honesty and impartiality, but he is lacking in judgment and knowledge of facts; the work, however, is valuable from the importance of the events of which it treats" (Enc. Brit. 1911). Gibbon contrasts Agathias as "a poet and rhetorician" with Procopius, "a statesman and soldier." Christian commentators note the superficiality of Agathias' nominal Christianity: "There are reasons for doubting that he was a Christian, though it seems improbable that he could have been at that late date a genuine pagan." (Catholic Encyclopedia) No overt pagan could expect a public career during the reign of Justinian, yet the depth and breadth of Agathias' culture was not Christian (Kaldellis).

Agathias (Histories 2.31) is the only authority for the story of Justinian's closing of the re-founded Platonic (actually neoplatonic) Academy in Athens, 529, often cited as the closing date of Antiquity. The dispersed scholars, with as much of their library as could be transported, found temporary refuge in the Persian capital of Ctesiphon, and return— under treaty guarantees of security that form a document in the history of freedom of thought— to Edessa, where just a century later the forces of Islam encountered the classical Greek culture of Antiquity, especially its science and medicine. (see Bechtle)

Links

Excerpts from his work (Greek)

Encyclopædia Britannica 1911:Agathias (http://77.1911encyclopedia.org/A/AG/AGATHIAS.htm)

Catholic Encyclopedia: (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01204b.htm) Agathias

Agathias on the Persians (http://www.sasanika.com/pdf/Agathias%20Final.pdf): excerpts from Agathias' History (in English)

Gerald Bechtle, Bryn Mawr Classical Review of Rainer Thiel, Simplikios und das Ende der neuplatonischen Schule in Athen, Stuttgart, 1999 (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2000/2000-04-19.html) (in English).

Bibliography

References

Agathias, Histories, edited by Joseph D. Frendo, in Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, vol. 2A, Series Berolinensis, Berlin, 1975
Averil Cameron, Agathias (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 1970
Anthony Kaldellis, "Things are not what they are: Agathias Mythistoricus and the last laugh of Classical " in Classical Quarterly vol 53 (2003) pp 295-300.
Kaldellis, "The Historical and Religious Views of Agathias: A Reinterpretation," in Byzantion. Revue internationale des etudes byzantines vol 69 (1999) pp 206-252.
Kaldellis, "Agathias on history and poetry," in Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies vol 38 (1997), pp 295-306

Rear me not, traveller ! The weapon I,
That Ajax once at Hector taught to fly !
Rude as I am, let Homer's verse unfold
How Priam's son along the plain I roll'd !
Now mortals scarce can raise my massive length
With levers ; shame on their degen'rate strength !
But hide me, Earth ! for 'tis indeed disgrace,
To be the jest of such a puny race.
Greek Anthology

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