Agathias was a lawyer and public official in Smyrna,
but his main interests were literary. He had received
an outstanding education in Constantinople, whither his
family had moved from Myrina in Asia Minor. (According
to one source, this move was to further the education of
Agathias' brilliant sister, who was also a writer and
a legal scholar.) He was a close associate
(and possibly son-in-law) of the
lawyer-poet Paul Silentiarius,
and emulated Paul's career. His writings include both
religious and secular
poetry; some of the latter is
rather at odds with Christian sexual morality, although
it is unclear to what extent this is the result of the later
Roman tendency to slavishly imitate ancient models.
Agathias is best remembered today
as the editor of The Circle, a
of East Roman epigrams which
Constantine Cephalas in the X Century would
amalgamate with similar compilations from
classical times to create
Greek Anthology. Rather like Auden
editing the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, Agathias
chose to include an extensive sampling of his own works,
with the result that he is the best-represented, though
sadly perhaps not the best, Greek
Anthology poet -- something which has by no means altogether
pleased later generations!
There has been a curious tendency to present Agathias as a pagan;
translated selections from the Anthology often include
specimens of his erotic verse, but almost never of his sacred
Paganism still had a few advocates in the intellectual circles where
Agathias moved, but he himself, like most of his peers, was
almost certainly a Christian believer. A good analogy might be
to the Cavalier poets of XVII Century England, with their
blend of mystical Anglicanism and Arcadian mythological fantasy.
Agathias was also an important
historian of events in his own
era; his writings on this subject too have been misrepresented
as pagan, despite overt Christian asides and
favourable references to
converted barbarians as "our fellow-Orthodox".
Norman Hugh Redington
Under construction --- far from complete! Read with caution.
From Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography.
--- Isidore of Seville
1912 Catholic Encyclopedia: (Read with caution)
J. W. Mackail:
Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology,
(London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890).
- A. Cameron:
The Greek Anthology from Meleager
to Planudes, (1993).
Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.
- Ronald C. McCail:
The Earthquake of A.D. 551 and the Birthdate
and Byzantine Studies (8/3): 241.
- F. A. Wright:
The Poets of the Greek Anthology.
London: Routledge, undated (1930s?).
Written by a poet and including many translated
poems, this seemingly "popular" work may
be closer to the reality of its subject than
many pretentious academic treatments.
- Cyclus, (The Circle).
This is the
compilation of "modern" (in Justinian's day)
poems and epigrams which Agathias edited, and in
which he included about 100 of his own productions.
It forms roughly a third of the present Greek
Anthology. Readers interested in Orthodox
civilisation are advised to seek an unabridged
version, as classicists routinely omit Christian
with facing-page translation by W. R. Paton.
Harvard (Loeb Classical Library No. 67), 1916.
As of this writing, the online version
is still under construction and
has only reached Book VI.
--- Ancient Library
Meant as a sequel to Procopius' (public) history
of Justinian's reign,
this unfinished work covers only the years
552-559. The focus is on military affairs and foreign
policy, but there are also vivid
descriptions of the decade's two great earthquakes
and the subsequent rebuilding of Hagia Sophia.
Agathias has a clear and entertaining prose style
and an eye for small details
which bring the era very much to life.
Translated by Joseph D. Frendo.
Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1975.
Return to St Pachomius Library.