Quotulatiousness

September 23, 2017

Roger Scruton – On ‘Harry Potter’

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Conservatism Archive
Published on Sep 4, 2017

September 13, 2017

The Thirty Years War

Filed under: Europe, France, Germany, History, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Nov 2014

http://www.tomrichey.net

The Thirty Years’ War was fought from 1618-1648 (Thirty Years!) in the Holy Roman Empire. It began as a conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Bohemia, but grew to involve Denmark, Sweden, and France. After the French began helping Gustavus Adolphus, the Protestant king of Sweden, the lines became blurry and the war became more about the balance of power in Europe than about religion. The Peace of Westphalia paved the way for France to become the dominant power in Western Europe and for the permanent decline of the Holy Roman Empire as a political institution.

If you like this lecture, check out my other lectures for AP European History and Western Civilization!

August 19, 2017

Baldwin IV – The Leper King of Jerusalem – IT’S HISTORY

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 27 Jul 2017

On today’s episode on It’s History we take a brief look at Baldwin IV – the 12th century ruler of Jerusalem bound with an incurable disease. Suffering from leprosy Baldwin was known to charge into battle with his right hand paralyzed and yet managed to achieve victory. Learn more about this truly astounding figure!

August 14, 2017

QotD: Millenarianism, left and right

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Secularists and leftists enjoy sneering at conservative Christians who believe in the Rapture and other flavors of millenarianism. Reasonably so: it takes either a drooling idiot or somebody who has deliberately shut off most of his brain, reducing himself to an idiotically low level of critical thinking, to believe such things. The draw, of couse, is that each individual fundamentalist implicitly believes he will be among the saved — privileged to honk a great big I TOLD YOU SO! at all those sinners writhing in the lake of fire.

It is therefore more than a little amusing to notice how prone these ‘sophisticated’ critics are to their own forms of idiotic millenarianism.

Anybody remember Paul “Population Bomb” Ehrlich? This is the guy who predicted that megadeaths from global famine would be the defining feature of the 1970s. Or Jeremy Rifkin, the guy who told us all in 1986 that the Frostban bacterium engineered to protect plants against cold snaps would mess up the Earth’s climate? Or the brigade of self-panickers (Carl Sagan was briefly one of them) who warned us all back around 1980 that an impending Ice Age was about to destroy civilization? Or, hey — how about the ozone hole; remember when we were all going to die of UV-B-induced skin cancer?

It’s easy to laugh at those particular doom-mongers now; there has been plenty of time for their predictions to fail. But we have plenty of apocalypse merchants peddling equally silly scenarios, on equally thin evidence and bogus reasoning, today. And the same ‘sophisticated’ secularists who lapped up Paul Ehrlich’s nonsense are swaying to the Gospel shout of global warming and “peak oil” — just as self-hypnotized, and just as stone-stupid, as an Ozark Mountains cracker at a tent-revival meeting.

Rather than getting to gloat over sinners writhing in a lake of fire, the draw is getting to feel superior to capitalists and Republicans and Americans; they will all surely Get Theirs and starve in their SUVs when the Collapse Comes, while virtuous tree-hugging Birkenstock-wearers, being in a state of grace with Gaia, will retire to renewable-energy-powered communes and build scale models of Swedish socialism out of macrame supplies or something.

The hilarious part is how self-congratulatory the secularist millennarians are about their own superiority over the religious ones, when in fact the secondary gain from these two kinds of delusional system is identical.

Eric S. Raymond, “Peak Oil — A Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy for Secular Idiots”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-11-13.

August 3, 2017

Not the Nine O’Clock News – Monty Python worshipers

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 21 Jan 2009

A sketch from the british series Not the nine o’clock news commenting on the controversy created by the Monty Python’s film – Life of Brian.

July 31, 2017

Byzantine religion – not a joking matter

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

When Tamara Keel isn’t talking about guns, she apparently relaxes by talking about Byzantine history:

Court of Emperor Justinian with (right) archbishop Maximian and (left) court officials and Praetorian Guards; Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. The dark-haired bearded man to Justinian’s right is believed to be Belisarius. (via Wikimedia)

So, this Maximus dude was a bureaucrat in the Byzantine Empire who apparently had religion as a hobby, as did everybody in Constantinople back then. All the Byzantines did was watch chariot races, debate arcane theological matters, and riot and/or kill each other over differences of opinion on chariot races or arcane theological matters. (Oh, and they engaged in so much intra-governmental intrigue that they went in the dictionary for it.)

At some point, Maximus dropped out of government service and took up religion as a full-time occupation, leaving the city of Constantinople for a monastery in Anatolia. Skipping town ahead of the invading Persians, he landed in Carthage, in Eastern Roman hands for the nonce, thanks to Justinian and Belisarius’s ruinously expensive Mediterranean campaigns.

The big argument in the Church (there was just the one, back then) at the time was between guys who thought Jesus had two natures, human and divine, but only one divine will, and other guys who thought that Jesus had not only two natures, but also a human will and a divine will. Seriously. This was a very big deal and dudes were killing each other over it.

Well, the first view, Monothelitism, was the official view at the time, but Maximus was a believer in the second, or Dyothelitism. And he and the new Pope, Martin I, called a religious council in Rome to debate on the matter without bothering to ask the Emperor. When the council turned out a Dyotheletic verdict, Emperor Constans II (a Monotheletist) had both Pope Martin I and Maximus arrested.

The Pope got de-Poped and banished to the Crimea, where he died. Maximus was tried and sentenced to exile. However, he would not shut up about Dyothelitism and wound up having a great big show trial a few years later, following which he got his tongue cut out and his right hand cut off so he couldn’t tell people that Jesus had two wills anymore or even write it very legibly. Then he got banished to Georgia. (The one on the Black Sea, not the one you drive through on the way to Florida.)

He died in exile there in 662 AD. Nineteen years later, at the Third Council of Constantinople, the Church (still just the one) decided that maybe Jesus did have two wills after all. Maximus received a posthumous pardon, sort of a more official version of “Whoops! Hey, sorry about the tongue and the hand and the whole exile-and-dying-in-prison thing. No hard feelings, okay? Here, have a feast day.”

I told you they took their religion seriously in Constantinople, didn’t I?

July 28, 2017

QotD: Soviet agitprop still echoes today

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Stalinist agitprop created Western suicidalism by successfully building on the Christian idea that self-sacrifice (and even self-loathing) are the primary indicators of virtue. In this way of thinking, when we surrender our well-being to others we store up grace in Heaven that is far more important than the momentary discomfort of submitting to criminals, predatory governments, and terrorists.

The Communist atheists of Department V understood that Christian self-abnegation tends to inculcate a cult of self-sacrifice even among Westerners who are themselves agnostics or atheists. All the propagandists had to do was make the case that the value of self-abnegation applies to culture as well as individuals. By doing so, they were able to entrench the idea that suicidalists are morally superior to non-suicidalists.

They did this so successfully that at least one major form of Western self-abnegation seems to have developed as a secondary phenomenon: “deep environmentalism”. I can’t find any sign that this traces back to the usual Stalinist suspects, but it is rather obviously a result of generalizing suicidalism not just to culture but to species.

I think it’s important to understand that, although suicidalism builds on some pre-existing pathologies of Western culture, it is not a native or natural development. It is an infection that evildoers and their dupes created and then spread as part of a war against the West; their goal was totalitarian control, and part of their method was to talk the West into slitting its own throat.

Eric S. Raymond, “Suicidalism”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-09-13.

July 25, 2017

The Greatest Scientist of the 20th Century You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Filed under: History, Religion, Science, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 13 Jul 2017

There’s a perception that religion and science go together about as well as mayonnaise and marshmallows. In some instances, this is, perhaps, true. But on a typically warm Southern California January in 1933 at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California (the same place and same time that Jack Parsons of rocket science fame was doing his experiments — history intersecting!), religion and science proved that these two ideals didn’t have to be enemies.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/02/georges-lemaitre-greatest-scientist-youve-never-heard/

July 18, 2017

Signs of the libertarian revolution

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

L. Neil Smith explains how some clearly libertarian trends are being misinterpreted in the latest Libertarian Enterprise:

… primarily as a result of the Internet turning human communications completely sideways, depriving those who have falsely believed they own us of their lofty perches, the 10,000-year-old Age of Authority is ending. Communication between human beings is now lateral, egalitarian, even Tweets from the President, and it doesn’t matter at all how much governments stomp their jackbooted feet or scream and shout. Their kind of social structure is doomed as humanity enters a new era.

One set of consequences of this change is examined, if a bit superficially, in a June article on Breitbart.com by one Liam Deacon, who informs us that a new study finds that “Traditional Views on Same Sex Marriage, Abortion, Pornography [and sex before marriage] in Britain [are] Rapidly Diminishing”. These are trends of the last four years, and to the extent they’ve also occurred long since in America — add in the legalization of marijuana and the increased tendency of individuals to arm themselves against crime and terrorism — it means that most academic and official analyses of socio-political events from, perhaps, the Tea Party Uprising of 2009. through the election of Donald Trump to the triumph of Brexit are dead wrong. We are not undergoing any merely conservative or populist (whatever that means) swing of the pendulum, but an all-out libertarian revolution. I think I know one when I see one: I’ve been doing my best to arrange one for my entire adult life.

According to the study, conducted in 2016, the latest edition of the “British Social Attitudes” survey, resistance from organized Christianity, even the Roman Catholic Church, which used to form a bulwark against social changes like this, is now crumbling, with 64 percent in favor of gay marriage, and 75 percent favoring pre-marital sex. Seventy percent of Catholics believe that abortion is within a woman’s rights. Pornography, too, is now approved by a majority.

Researchers somehow, irrationally, believe that these changes are in opposition to other events, such as “Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen” but they’re wrong. The object in all cases, is self-determination, which is the very heart of libertarianism. Increasingly, people — of all ages, the article observed with a note of amazement — are unwilling to accept dictation from once-respected leaders and traditional social, political, and economic structures. I’d like to believe this is because of the conspicuous failures of authority over the past century or so, but, entirely without condescending — most people are just too busy earning a living and living their lives for theories — I’m not certain that the average person’s thinking is that informed or organized.

More likely, the soap-opera of everyday living has taught them far better than the pompous pronouncements of the fat-heads in power. And for those of us who never believed in Authority, that’s very good news.

July 15, 2017

The Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee

Filed under: History, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

As a long-time admirer of H.L. Mencken (since discovering Prejudices: A Selection in a used book store on Queen Street in the mid-1980s), I’ve always had an interest in the skullduggery around the “Scopes Monkey Trial” … and apparently so has Colby Cosh:

H.L Mencken celebrates the repeal of Prohibition, December 1933.

In a merely procedural sense, the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, ended on July 21, 1925 with the conviction of biology teacher John T. Scopes on the charge of instructing students that “man has descended from a lower order of animals.” But of course the real Monkey Trial is eternal, winding its way anew through American life, decade after decade. The carefully staged publicity stunt in Tennessee was merely one occasion in a longer struggle over the nature of man and the limits of his knowledge. I know this is an old-fashioned romantic ACLU-liberal view of the matter, but I hold to it.

As I write this column, county officials in Dayton are unveiling a statute of Clarence Darrow, the garrulous, crooked lawyer who represented Team Enlightenment in the original 1925 contest between Darwinian evolution and the Scriptures. In 2005, the citizens of Dayton, where Monkey Trial tourism is now a crucial industry, erected a statue of William Jennings Bryan on the grounds of the immortal Rhea County courthouse. Bryan had been the chosen hero of evangelical Christianity in the trial, dying less than a week after its conclusion, and is the namesake of a local bible college, which paid for the statue.

[…]

I became a serious student of the Scopes Trial as an undergraduate. Like anybody else, I had seen the 1960 Hollywood rendering of the play about the trial, Inherit The Wind, which represents Bryan as an ignorant windbag, Darrow as a tired, patient figure of ostentatious nobility, and a thinly disguised H.L. Mencken as a cruel nihilist newspaperman. Today, I suppose I would regard Mencken as the real hero of the show. He was privy to the ACLU’s engineering of the trial as a publicity stunt, but he also always said that Tennessee was within its constitutional rights to forbid the teaching of evolution — to be, in his view, just as backward as its people wished.

Inherit The Wind makes its pseudo-Mencken a heartless guttersnipe mostly as a device for elevating a sympathetic Darrow even further. This is part of the movie’s major liberty with the events of the trial: it has Bryan drop dead in mid-rant at the moment of its culmination, instead of waiting a few days. What I discovered as a student was that, aside from this excusable concession to theatrical unity, the film probably deserves some kind of prize for general fidelity to historical events.

July 8, 2017

Renaming Ryerson

Filed under: Cancon, Education, History, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

There’s apparently a demand from the usual suspects to change the name of Ryerson University in Toronto, because the man the university is named after was a key figure in the establishment of the hated aboriginal residential school system. Colby Cosh discusses the man, his history, and the issue:

The name of “Ryerson University” self-evidently exists to honour Egerton Ryerson, rather than merely to perpetuate the words or the sound of his name as a semantic object. Ontario, as a society, is free to reconsider this decision and, in a sense, put Ryerson on trial.

Which he might, after all, win. Egerton Ryerson was alive from 1803 to 1882; his place in the history of residential schools is based on activity he engaged in between 1837, when he was involved with Indian education as a member of the missionary Aborigines Protection Society, and 1847, when he wrote a report outlining future principles for aboriginal “industrial education.” For most of his life these ideas were never implemented. In the 1880s, by which time Ryerson was recognized as a Canadian founder, he had become more influential — and so the younger Ryerson was a central posthumous author of a system he never lived to see.

As an influence, nearly anyone would now judge him very harmful. He thought it was important that education should be provided to Indian children through boarding schools, and by the churches, with a strong religious element. Like many theorists of the 19th century, he believed in frogmarching aboriginal peoples through an accelerated agricultural-pastoral phase of cultural evolution, as part of their progress toward equality and their emergence from state “tutelage.”

The effects of these principles, once applied, were beyond disastrous. But Ryerson’s advice was not predicated on harming or punishing First Nations. He was opposed in his own time by malign quietists who preferred to plan for Canadian Indians to literally die off in out-of-sight places. He worked with aboriginal colleagues in developing his ideas, spoke Ojibwe, and modelled his vision of Indian education on outstanding European schools for the (European) poor.

This would be a strange approach if his goal had been genocide. Which is not to say that he or anyone else ought to be judged mostly on his intentions.

The Canadian state lies under remarkably heavy obligations to Egerton Ryerson for both its development and its current form. He is an important reason that religious tests for political participation never gained a foothold in our country. He is the father of secular public schooling here, though he would hate to hear that. As a bureaucrat, he stood for a non-partisan public service when that was a weird new idea, and did as much as anybody to show it could work.

Gerry Bowler discusses similar cases down to Hector-Louis Langevin:

If you go to the Doge’s Palace in Venice and consider the portraits of the city’s rulers, you will find them all in chronological order until you come to the place where you would expect to see that of Marino Faliero, elected in 1354. Instead of his likeness, you will behold only a black pall and the words “Hic est locus Marini Falethri decapitati pro criminibus” (This is the spot for Marino Faliero, beheaded for his crimes).

In the 20th century, Kremlinologists had a hard time keeping up with the Soviet personalities who achieved high office but somehow earned the wrath of Josef Stalin. One day, they’re a member of the Politburo, a famous poet or a marshal of the Red Army; the next day, they’re given a bullet in the back of the head and their names are erased from Communist Party publications, with photographs altered to show that they had never – despite what witnesses might remember – reviewed the troops in Red Square, been acclaimed a Hero of Socialist Labour or stood beside Vladimir Lenin during the revolution.

Unfortunately, Canadians are not above this sort of thing. Now is the turn for Hector-Louis Langevin. For the crime of being associated with the Indian residential school system, his name is to be stripped from one of the buildings on Parliament Hill. Although he was a Father of Confederation, an architect of a nation spanning half a continent, the political class of today deems him unworthy of being remembered. Never mind that his ideas were utterly respectable in his day and shared by those who are, for the moment at least, still allowed to be memorialized – Sir John A. Macdonald, Archbishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché or Sara Riel, for example – they are now considered shameful.

The irony is that this brouhaha will not obliterate Langevin from public memory; thousands now know more about his life and works than they did a month ago.

But oblivion is not enough for today’s signallers of their virtue. They want to go beyond Orwell’s novel 1984, past amnesia into disgrace. They want to dishonour Langevin and those who were of his opinion – and by extension, anyone today who opposes current aboriginal policies.

As Orwell told us: “You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.”

So long, Langevin!

June 19, 2017

QotD: The Pope

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Quotations, Religion — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

I am not a Catholic but I understand that, unlike the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, where total contempt from the congregants more or less comes with the job, the Bishop of Rome is generally held in some respect by his church.

Mark Steyn, “Last Laughs in Europe”, SteynOnline.com, 2015-09-28.

June 5, 2017

“Islam now enjoys the same kind of moral protection from blasphemy and ridicule that Christianity once (wrongly) enjoyed”

Filed under: Britain, Government, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Brendan O’Neill on Facebook:

One of the major problems we face is not that our society is too mean about Islam, but that it flatters Islam too much. Islam now enjoys the same kind of moral protection from blasphemy and ridicule that Christianity once (wrongly) enjoyed. All last week I received furious emails and messages in response to two articles I wrote about the Manchester attack, telling me that using the word Islamist is Islamophobic, because it demeans Islam and its adherents by suggesting they have something to do with terrorism. This is why our political leaders so rarely use the terms Islamism, radical Islam and Islamic terrorism: because they want to avoid offending Islam and also because they don’t want to stir up what they view as the public’s bovine, hateful prejudices. This censorious privilege is not extended to any other religion. We do not avoid saying “Catholic paedophiles” about the priests who molested children for fear of tarring all Catholics with the same brush. We happily say “Christian fundamentalist”about people who are Christian and fundamentalist. We use “Buddhist extremists” to describe violent Buddhist groups in Myanmar. Only Islam is ringfenced from tough discussion; only terms that at some level include the word “Islam” are tightly policed; only criticism of Islam is deemed a mental illness — Islamophobia.

This is incredibly dangerous. This censorious flattery of Islam is, in my view, a key contributor to the violence we have seen in recent years. Because when you constantly tell people that any mockery of their religion is tantamount to a crime, is vile and racist and unacceptable, you actively invite them, encourage them in fact, to become intolerant. You license their intolerance; you inflame their violent contempt for anyone who questions their dogmas; you provide a moral justification for their desire to punish those who insult their religion. From the 7/7 bombers to the Charlie Hebdo murderers to Salman Abedi in Manchester, all these terrorists — *Islamist terrorists* — expressed an extreme victim mentality and openly said they were punishing us for our disrespect of Islam, mistreatment of Muslims, ridiculing of Muhammad, etc. The Islamophobia industry and politicians who constantly say “Islam is great, leave Islam alone!” green-light this violence; they furnish it with a moral case and moral zeal.

There are no quick fixes to the terror problem, but here is a good start: oppose all censorship and all clampdowns on offence and blasphemy and so-called “Islamophobia”. Every single one of them, whether they’re legal, in the form of hate-speech laws, or informal, in the guise of self-censoring politicians being literally struck dumb on TV because they cannot muster up the word “Is…is…is…islamist”. This will at least start the process of unravelling the Islamist victimhood narrative and its bizarre, violent and officially sanctioned sensitivity to criticism. And if anyone says this is “punching down” — another intellectual weapon in the armoury of Islam-protecting censorship — tell them that it is in fact punching up: up against a political class and legal system that has foolishly and outrageously sought to police criticism of a religion. This means that the supposedly correct response to terror attacks — “don’t criticise Islam” — is absolutely the worst response. Making criticism of Islam as commonplace and acceptable as criticism of any other religion or ideology is the first step to denuding Islamist terrorism of its warped moral programme, and it will also demonstrate that our society prizes freedom of speech over everything else — including your religion, your God, your prophets, your holy book and your feelings.

QotD: Subsidiarity and the family

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Against the policy wonks of this world, whose instinct is the bigger the better, we should make a particular point of subsidiarity. This is the organizing principle that matters should be handled by the smallest, lowest, most immediate competent authority, rising only by necessity to any higher level, and then only as high as it needs to go.

The family is that lowest level, and the Church is now almost alone in respecting it. The members are biologically related, as father, mother, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, and so forth. Orphans may sometimes be taken in, and step-fathers or step-mothers may occur — the world’s heritage of fairy tales attests to the nightmare, of step-mothers especially — but biological integrity is normative. Recent attempts by legislators to “redefine the family” are an unambiguously evil invasion of an order that nature has ordained. Pope Benedict was right to make this an issue of “human ecology,” and to see that it gave the lie to every grand leftist “ecological” scheme. How do you restore the natural order, on the “mega” scale, when you are systematically undermining it at the cellular level?

In the normal order of things — all cultures, all times, until recently — the family decides what is good for the family. It is amazing that this has become controversial, yet contraceptive practices that detach sex from reproduction have made it so, and all the predicted consequences have followed. It is a miracle that the Church is, even on paper, still holding the front line.

But what is the next level of authority above the family? As I am constantly reminded, both locally and universally, there is then a great leap. Through the last century and more, central authorities have been obsessively merging local authorities, for the sake of some plausible (but false) “efficiencies,” or economies of scale. For even on such shallow material terms, the tax load increases as the governments grow larger, the ambitions of politicians increase, and the ability of the citizen to observe relations between cause and effect progressively disappears.

David Warren, “Five thousand max”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-06-19.

May 30, 2017

The Belisarius fixation in SF&F

Filed under: Books, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jo Walton wonders why an otherwise obscure general of an otherwise obscure empire appears so often in fantasy and science fiction:

I once wrote jokingly here that there are only three plots, and they are Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and Belisarius, because those are the ones everyone keeps on reusing.

There is a conference in Uppsala in Sweden the weekend before the Helsinki Worldcon called “Reception Histories of the Future” which is about the use of Byzantium in science fiction. The moment I heard of it, I immediately started thinking about our obsessive reuse of the story of Belisarius. (I’m going. Lots of other writers are going. If you’re heading to Helsinki, it’s on your way, and you should come too!)

It’s strange that science fiction and fantasy are obsessed with retelling the story of Belisarius, when the mainstream world isn’t particularly interested. Robert Graves wrote a historical novel about him in 1938, Count Belisarius, and there’s Gillian Bradshaw’s The Bearkeeper’s Daughter (1987), but not much else. Whereas in genre, we’ve had the story of Belisarius retold by Guy Gavriel Kay, David Drake (twice) and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and used by L. Sprague de Camp, John M. Ford, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Silverberg, and Isaac Asimov. So what is it about this bit of history that makes everyone from Asimov to Yarbro use it? And how is it that the only place you’re likely to have come across it is SF?

First, let’s briefly review the story. First Rome was a huge unstoppable powerful indivisible empire. Then Rome divided into East and West, with the Eastern capital at Constantinople. Then the Western half fell to barbarians, while the Eastern half limped on for another millennium before falling to the Ottoman conqueror Mehmed II in 1453. We call the eastern half Byzantium, but they went right on calling themselves the Roman Empire, right up to the last minute. But long before that, in the sixth century, at the exact same time as the historical Arthur (if there was an Arthur) was trying to save something from the shreds of Roman civilization in Britain, Justinian (482-565) became emperor in Constantinople and tried to reunite the Roman Empire. He put his uncle on the throne, then followed him. He married an actress, the daughter of an animal trainer, some say a prostitute, called Theodora. He has a loyal general called Belisarius. He built the great church of Hagia Sophia. He withstood a giant city riot in the hippodrome, the great chariot-racing stadium, by having Belisarius’s soldiers massacre a huge number of people. He wrote a law code that remained the standard law code everywhere in Europe until Napoleon. And Belisarius reconquered really quite large chunks of the Roman Empire for him, including Rome itself. At the height of his success he was recalled to Rome and fired because Justinian was jealous. Belisarius had a huge army and could have taken the throne for himself, which was typical of both the Roman and the Byzantine empires, but he was loyal and let Justinian fire him. This is all happening at a time of Christian schism and squabbling about heresy between different sects.

While I’d quibble about her thumbnail sketch a bit, there’s more than enough there to fuel dozens of alt-history, fantasy, or science fiction novels … the fiction couldn’t be much more difficult to swallow than the reality. My first contact with the story of Belisarius was indeed the Robert Graves novel (which I still heartily recommend). I imagine that was true for most of the authors listed above.

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