Sunday, March 7, 2010

Life of Basil I Part 1

Note: this is only a very, very preliminary draft which I haven't corrected yet.





1. It has been my desire and yearning for a long time to impart experience and knowledge to the minds of the studious through the ever-remembering and immortal mouth of history and I wanted to, if I could, record the entire period of Roman rule in Byzantium as well as its emperors, their officials, their generals, their subordinates, and one by one their more noteworthy deeds. But since such an undertaking would require a long time, constant labor, an endless supply of books, and free time from business, it was not possible for us to make such an undertaking and so I had to take the second course and record the story of a single emperor who raised the empire on high, who was named after empire (1), and who greatly benefited the Roman State and the empire. It will be my task to recount how he was brought up and what he accomplished so that posterity shall not be ignorant of the first source and root from which sprung this imperial tree which has lasted so long and so that his descendants shall have a guide, an image, and archetype of virtue worthy of imitation. If we are granted more time to live and we are not impeded by outside affairs, perhaps we will add an account of what happened down to our own generation.

2. It is our proposition to show that though the emperor Basil came from Macedonia, he was descended from the Armenian line of Arsakes. Arsakes, who ruled the Parthians, rose to such a height of glory and virtue that is became a tradition later on for the Parthians, Armenians, and Medes to be ruled by no one not descended from Arsakes and his family. And so, later on, when the Armenian ruler died, there arouse a dispute among the royal line of these nations over the throne and who had the right to rule. Artabanus and Kleienes not only lost their ancestral right, but also were in danger of their lives, so they fled to the capital of Constantinople. Leo the elder, Zeno’s father-in-law was emperor at that time. He made them welcome and kindly granted them housing and a pension worthy of their nobility in the capital. When the Persian king at that time learned of their flight from their country to the capital and of how kindly they were received by the emperor, he sent them letters summoning them back with the promise that he would gladly restore them to their paternal throne seeking for himself the resulting subdual of their people. They got the letters and were still considering what to do, when one of their servants informed on them to the emperor and presented him with them. It was then realized that the Persian king wanted to take over the kingdom not on their behalf, but his own and so he was summoning them for this purpose, which would not benefit them or the Roman State, so action was take to prevent from Persian king’s scheme from coming to pass. Consequently, the emperor reduced them ease through which they could act under the guise of consideration by moving them to Nike in Macedonia along with their wives (they were later betrayed by them) and their children so that they would have more space and freedom. As time went by and the Saracens increased their power, the amir mnun at that time tempted Arsakos’s descendants in the same way. He sent them letters calling upon them to return to their ancestral heritage and rule. When this action was discovered by the emperor at that time, Heracleios, and the letters were seized. Since he decided that the Saracens were doing this not out of any love on their part for them, but their own ambition for power hoping to subdue easily the race because of its affection for Arsakes, if they had them with them, the emperor consequently moved them again to Philippi, a city in Macedonia for greater security. Then he moved them again from there to Adrianople on the pretext of improving their state. They found the spot quite accommodating and mingled amongst themselves prospering quite well, all the while preserving their fathers’ nobility and their line unmixed.

3. Years later, during the reign of Constantine with his mother Irene, Maiktes, who was himself descended from Arsakes, came on some business or other to the preeminent city of Constantinople. There he met by chance a kinsman named Leo recognizing him from his outward appearance and his peculiar clothing which was not like other people or humble, but noble and flashy. He struck up a conversation with him and found out that he was from the same race and location. He preferred this similarity because of the man’s virtue and so he married one of his daughters by which the father of our subject was born, who was brought up well with praiseworthy raising and nourishing and reached manhood. He was very healthy and strong with all sorts of other good qualities for which he made many men want to make him their son-in-law. Yet there was a noble woman who lived in Adrianople and after her husband died lived modestly as a widow (there was a not entirely dim rumor going around that she was related to Constantine I), who he thought was more preferable to the others who lived around him and consequently he married her noble and beautiful as well as modest daughter. It was from them that the very root of the imperial family, Basil, sprung with Arsakes’ blood in him on his father’s side, as it has already been said, and with the blood of Constantine I on his mother’s side as well as some glorious blood from Alexander. Descended from parents such as these, Basil had foreboding signs of his later glory straightaway. He had a crimson headband on when his hair first came in and purple dyed swaddling clothes when he was baptized.

4. Up until this point, the descendants of Arsakes had remained cut off on their own living in Adrianople, although they frequently intermarried with locals. But then Krum, the Bulgarian ruler, broke his treaty with the Romans and laid siege to Adrianople, of which he obtained the surrender after a long time because it was running out of supplies. He took everybody in it with its archbishop Manuel back to Bulgaria. Amongst those deported, were Basil’s parents who had him still in swaddling cloths. There by maintaining their own Christian faith without renouncing it, the marvelous archbishop and the people with him managed to convert many Bulgarians to the true faith (this nation had not yet been converted to piety) and they laid the seeds of Christ’s teaching all over drawing the Scythians away from their national error and bring in the light which is knowledge of God. For this reason, Mutrag, Krum’s son, was moved to anger against them and because he could not convince holy Manuel and many of his supporters to renounce Christ, he subjected them to torture and gave them a martyr’s death. Thus many of Basil’s kinsmen won a martyr’s glory such that he was not even without his part of people’s reverence for them. Nevertheless God visited his people and led their exodus (the Bulgarian ruler was unable to hold off Roman forces for long and so he had to give in). While the Christians about to be released were being gathered together, he noticed young Basil laughing slyly at something funny and skipping around as though he were free and pulled him aside and gave him an enormous apple. The child bravely then leaned on the ruler’s knees with no ill intention showing his nobility in his unaffected manner so much so that the ruler was taken aback and his bodyguard was slightly irritated.

5. But to make a long story short, every Christian who had been deported as a prisoner left for home by the grace of God as well as Basil’s parents who brought along the beloved son. While he was still a young child, something happened that revealed his later fortune, which I think must not be passed over in silence. One summer, his parents went out to their farm to oversee their laborers and wake them up to work. Since the day was getting hot and the sun was beating down already on them with afternoon intensity, they put their son to sleep fashioning a shelter of a sort from wheat stocks for him so that he sleep protected from the sun’s scorching heat. While they were busy with the workers harvesting, an eagle swooped down and sat down above their son with its wings spread out casting its shadow over him. A shout went up that among the bystanders that the eagle would hurt the child and his mother, just like any mother who loves her children, sprinted to him. Seeing the eagle casting a shadow over the child with its wings and unafraid of her approach, rather at ease with it, since she was not able to come up with any better impromptu plan, she threw a stone at it. And so the eagle took off and appeared to have gone away. But when she returned to her husband and the workers, the eagle returned to its old spot cast a shadow over her child and again people cried out seeing it, she rushed to her child and the eagle went away when she threw a stone at it, and then returned to the workers. It is quite clear that what happened did happen by any workings of chance, but divine providence since the same thing happened a third time. Such is how God always gives some of omens of greatness and signs of what it to come. It happened to him not just a few times as he got older, but many times he was found sleeping shaded by an eagle. However, he did not make a big deal out of it … even if he neglected and ignored the great signs that presented themselves to him. No one, in the religious houses or public houses he went to, could get him to reckon it at all. Anyway, since spending any more time here would seem like flattery and like we had nothing better to say about him since we are so set on dwelling on this part of his story, we will present everything of the same nature that happened and his childhood. Yet let us move on and avoid giving too much praise here which is not at all praiseworthy.

1. Note in Greek basileia here refers to the empire from which we get the name Basil

No comments: