Listening to the Gaoler’s Daughter


From whence come ideas? Kendra Leonard explores the origins of her new article (now live on the Cerae website) in this guest blog.

My article about song and meaning in The Two Noble Kinsmen came about through my already-existing research interest in Shakespeare and music and a symposium held on Two Noble Kinsmen organized by my friend and colleague Niamh O’Leary at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. My 2009 book Shakespeare, Madness, and Music: Scoring Insanity in Cinematic Adaptations examined the relationships between madness and music in film versions of Shakespeare’s three political tragedies—Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. But there is madness—or the simulacrum thereof—in many of Shakespeare’s other plays as well, and I wanted to examine the supposedly mad vocality of the Gaoler’s Daughter in particular.

The Two Noble Kinsmen is based on Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales and was first published in 1634. Two previous plays had taken this tale as their source: Richard Edwardes’s Palamon and Arcite from 1566, written for the young Elizabeth I, and an anonymous version that was played in 1594 by the Admiral’s Men. These works focused on the story of the aristocratic cousins divided by their love for the same woman and did not include the secondary plot line of the Gaoler’s Daughter and her love of Palamon. Scholars believe that the schoolmaster and his coterie were based on Francis’s Beaumont’s Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn from 1613. Despite a title page stating that the play was by ‘Mr. Iohn Fletcher, and Mr. William Shakespeare. Gent,’ Shakespeare’s involvement was often dismissed, and authorship was given to Fletcher and Beaumont. Recent research divides up the play between Fletcher and Shakespeare, assigning Act 1, scenes 1–3; Act 2, scene 1; Act 3, scene 1; Act 5, scene 1, lines 34-173, and scenes 3 and 4 to Shakespeare, the Prologue; Act 2, scenes 2–6; Act 3, scenes 2–6; Act 4, scenes 1 and 3; Act 5, scene 1, lines 1–33, and scene 2; and the Epilogue to Fletcher. The authorship of Act 1, scenes 4-5 and Act 5, scene 2 remains undecided. The songs sung by the Gaoler’s Daughter are contemporary ballads and broadside tunes that would likely have been well-known to audiences. That the Daughter knows so many ballads suggests that she is an avid collector of them—if not in print, then in aural memory.

Because of its later entry into the canon of Shakespeare’s plays, The Two Noble Kinsmen has not been produced as frequently as Shakespeare’s other works. To this date, it remains one of the few plays that has not been adapted for television or cinema. However, there are several recordings of professional, university, and amateur productions online. Many of these are particularly interesting for their treatments of the Gaoler’s Daughter’s songs. Often, actors and directors use the music for these songs as provided in Ross Duffin’s Shakespeare’s Songbook (Norton, 2004). Others sing the song texts to melodies of their own composition or improvisation. In some cases, the Gaoler’s Daughter sings fragments of music rather than entire melodies, and in an especially excellent performance of the play by students at Victoria University in Wellington, the Gaoler’s Daughter incorporates bits of song and speech together, creating a Sprechstimme effect that truly conveys the character’s emotional distress and gradual healing. Yet other productions bring new music into their stagings, such as the Brave Spirits Theatre did in 2014, using songs by Billy Idol (“White Wedding”) and Ingrid Michaelson (“The Chain”), among others.

Regardless of what kind of music is used, the Gaoler’s Daughter has much to say through it, and her songs provide alert audiences with a narrative too often overlooked.

Read Kendra’s article, ‘Listening to the Gaoler’s Daughter’, for free by clicking here!


Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Renaissance


Behind every great book likes a great culture. In her new article (now live on the Cerae website), Lisa Tagliaferri explores the intricate relationship between text and translation in the Renaissance.

Translation is a careful act of negotiation across not only language but culture, which becomes even more pronounced when we approach historical documents from a contemporary perspective. The work that is done to make a new text in the target language perform the same function as the source text seems remarkably similar to the kind of work that Baldassare Castiglione’s conception of the courtier must do: strike a balance between subtle nuance and astute daring, and achieve a certain amount of that untranslatable quality: sprezzatura.

Castiglione’s The Courtier, a bestseller of the early modern period that warranted an English translation by Thomas Hoby, continuously invites analysis with its broad scope that considers court life, laughter, and metaphysics. The historical setting makes the piece even more interesting, which is addressed throughout the book and in the preceding letter to Signor Don Michel de Silva, the Bishop of Viseu, and taken up again in Hoby’s rendition which includes an extra epistle of the translator, addressed to Lord Henry Hastings.

The letters are fascinating to me because they add an extra texture to the books, leaving substantial traces of the interpersonal relationships that live on the periphery of the texts. As I have studied Vittoria Colonna’s writing in the past, her mention in each Castiglione’s and Hoby’s introductory letters piqued my interest. Book III of The Courtier has served as a point of inquiry and often contention for feminist criticism (for good reason), and I was intrigued by the ways in which that section seemed to pivot off of the relationship that Castiglione had with Colonna, and that Hoby had with Elizabeth Parr.


Baldassare Castiglione and Vittoria Colonna

The correspondence between Castiglione and Colonna that took place outside of the books of The Courtier fueled my interest even more, as I considered this external material alongside the Renaissance classic. Realizing that Colonna was very much staking a claim as a literary critic of the text herself, while also serving to fuel the revision and publication process of the book, placed her in a paradoxical position that was both crucial to the eventual text yet challenged her friendship with Castiglione. Her situation, and that of her corollary Elizabeth Parr, present a feminine foil for the courtier, as individuals who both wield a certain amount of power and leverage an absence of power in an endeavor to advance their careers.

There is a growing interest in cases of cross-cultural exchange throughout the global Renaissance, and the transmission of texts between Italy and England is an area ripe for investigation. Additional inquiries into the texts produced by Castiglione and Hoby would certainly broaden our understanding of these works, as well as deepen our historical knowledge of both the Italian and English cultures of the early modern period.

Read Lisa’s article, ‘A Gentlewoman of the Court: Introducing and Translating the Court Lady’, for free by clicking here!

Ulrike Draesner’s Nibelungen . Heimsuchung – Book Launch


How has the Nibelungenlied inspired modern poet Ulrike Draesner’s new book? Stephanie Hathaway attended the book launch this November. 

Tuesday evening, New College, Oxford hosted the book launch for Ulrike Draesner’s latest volume of poetry: Nibelungen . Heimsuchung. The event was organized by Professor Karen Leeder and Mediating Modern Poetry, and attended by students and staff from modern, early-modern and medieval backgrounds. Ulrike Draesner, a visiting fellow of New College, presented and read selections from her new book that marks the advent of a completely new look for Reclam. Draesner explained that Reclam had acquired the rights to the 1908 Nibelungen illustrations by Carl Otto Czeschka, and asked her if she would compose poetry to accompany them. The result is a beautiful hard-cover volume showcasing the Czeschka colour illustrations in their full Jugendstil glory, complete with gold leaf, placed exactly as Draesner wished, to complement her expressive verse.

Hardly a work has been so charged with complexity in meaning and political and cultural undertones as the Nibelungenlied material. Indeed, Czeschka’s illustrations were themselves instrumental in inspiring Austrian director Fritz Lang to create his epic five-hour silent film version in 1924, at a time during which German cinema was at the forefront of the development of motion pictures.

It is through all of this background that Ulrike Draesner’s verse shines a light of perspective both selective and thought-provoking. She talked about how she had studied the Nibelungenlied at university and, as an “honorary medievalist”, how the Middle High German epic had inspired her then, and again upon coming back to it later, always giving new meaning. Her verse is modern, rhythmic and evocative, focussing, as she says, on the individual.  The book treats each of the four heroic figures: Kriemhild, Sigfried, Brünhild and Hagen, giving their feelings and perspectives voice in “lyric monologues” in German, occasionally interspersed with Latin, English and Middle High German, and concluding with 23 short Nibelungen “novels”.

Draesner was in fine form as she read selections, many from the Kriemhild section, and then from the chorus of crows. Showing some of Czeschka’s illustrations, Draesner focussed on the scene in which Kriemhild dreams about her future husband, Sigfried, as a flacon who is attacked by two eagles. The rhythmic, kinetic verse leapt from the page as Draesner read with her emotive, velvet voice, and the interplay between language and senses could be keenly felt. English translations were read by Professor Almut Suerbaum and Karen Leeder, and were equally well-composed to evoke the images and feelings of the figures.

There followed a short discussion of the ways that the Middle High German epic Nibelungenlied was used in this work, and how it inspired Draesner, who said that she had tried to connect with the psychology of the figures, where the epic described only action, inaction and power-play. The evening wrapped up with drinks and lively discussion in one of those rare occasions that modernists and medievalists are met with the same subject matter. Ulrike Draesner’s book is a real treasure for all Germanists from medievalists to post-modernists, and hearing her perform the verses she composed was an absolute pleasure.

Stephanie L Hathaway, University of Oxford, 10 November 2016.

Stephanie’s review will be published in volume 3 of Cerae Journal!

The Blinding of Harold II at the Battle of Hastings

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 57 : La mort d'Harold

Bayeaux Tapestry, Scene 58 – The Death of Harold

What was it about eye wounds that so fascinated writers and illustrators in late Anglo-Saxon England? Matthew Firth explores this in the companion blog to his new article ‘Allegories of Sight: Blinding and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England‘.

There are few images in medieval art as well known, or as well debated, as the depiction of Harold II dying with an arrow in his eye at the Battle of Hastings.  As a pictorial representation of a momentous event in English history, the transition from an Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman realm, its fame is justifiable.  Much of the debate surrounding this depiction of Harold’s death revolves around whether this is indeed the way Harold died or if it represents an authorial invention, anachronistic restoration or the preservation of a vernacular tradition.  It is not a debate into which my paper, ‘Allegories of Sight: Blinding and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England’, enters.  Indeed, I studiously avoided the Bayeux Tapestry in my exploration of Anglo-Saxon attitudes to punitive blinding; Harold’s death is only metaphorically punitive, and is extensively hypothesised elsewhere. Yet it was out of a now distant conversation on the iconography of Harold’s death with a fellow student at the University of New England that this paper was born: Why the eye? Was there subtext to an injury to the eye in this cultural milieu? Are there other examples in the late Anglo-Saxon/early Anglo-Norman world?

I should briefly disclaim that my Master’s research focuses on Anglo-Saxon societal attitudes to punitive mutilation, especially as represented in narrative sources. That is a nice neutral summation that tends to garner polite attention. ‘Societal attitudes to punitive blinding’ on the other hand tends to garner mildly shocked looks of bemusement and a disapproving interrogation. This is perhaps because the social mores of a society and time long distant and alien to modern sensibilities can be difficult to access.  The term ‘punitive mutilation’ gels with a popular image of brutality in the medieval world without being confronting, whereas the idea a person being deliberately punished through blinding provides a more palpable and horrific image. Certainly if we were informed on the news tomorrow of a deliberate and malicious blinding in our neighbourhood it would be shocking crime engendering the censure of the community.  Nonetheless, in the course of my research it did not take long to locate examples of blinding in Anglo-Saxon literature, both actual and fictional, being perpetrated from the highest tiers of society.

It is fair to say that all narratives of blinding in Anglo-Saxon society are didactic. Some more directly so than others.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle attributes numerous political blindings to Æthelred II (the Unready) during is tumultuous reign, while the law codes of his successor, Cnut, are the first codes to specify blinding as a legal punishment for recidivist criminals. Such historical blindings are multifaceted in motivation. For Æthelred, blinding deprived rivals of political power while stopping short of the sin of murder, while Cnut’s law codes reflect a theological concern to punish the sinner while preserving their souls that they may repent and receive redemption. In a society in which each person’s worth was defined by their ability to contribute to their community, the punishment of blinding extended beyond the victim.  The victim’s family was burdened by a member that still consumed valuable resources but was now functionally unable to add to those resources, while the mutilated features of the victim were a visual exemplar to the community, warning of the repercussions for criminal behaviour.

In hagiography blinding takes on a different aspect. Here the practice is almost always a narrative trope and almost always serves to demonstrate the power of the saint. This can take many forms (and are frequently rather entertaining). St Kenelm’s treacherous sister attempted to curse the procession translating her brother’s remains and, as she read an imprecatory psalm backwards, her eyes shot out onto the psalter. A man erroneously sentenced to mutilation had his eyes remove and, having lived like this for three months, had them restored by St Swithun.  St Dunstan fled from the shores of England just before King Eadwig’s mother-in-law (and some-time lover) could catch and blind him.  Whether the saint is enacting blindings, healing blindings or avoiding blindings, God’s favour for the saint is on display in their spiritual power. As artefacts of saints’ cults this is certainly one intent of the narratives, yet the duality of the trope cannot be ignored as a didactic motif. Those who do wrong in the eyes of God are blinded by his agents, while the innocent partake in his blessings.  These narrative elements are representative of moral archetypes familiar to an Anglo-Saxon audience and, as such, provide evidence of Anglo-Saxon societal attitudes toward blinding.

I do not believe that blinding was a common punishment in tenth- and eleventh-century England, nor that it was undertaken lightly. Indeed, it is this cultural reticence to the practice that grants blinding in hagiographical narrative its pedagogic impact. But I do believe that it began to gain some acceptance as a practical political and legislative expedient. It is clear that sight was a cherished faculty in Anglo-Saxon England and that blinding was a vehicle in which personal agency could be invested, political power could be diminished, and spiritual power could be augmented.

Read Matthew’s article, ‘Allegories of Sight: Blinding and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England‘, for free by clicking here!

John Lyly’s ‘Anatomy of Wit’ as an Example of Early Modern Psychological Fiction


Adele Kudish relates her first encounter with John Lyly’s Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit in a blog post accompanying her new article in Ceræ: Volume 3.

I first discovered John Lyly while writing my dissertation on what I call “proto-psychological fiction” or “analytical fiction” in Early Modern European prose. Proto-psychological fiction is a sub-genre in which analysis—self-questioning, questioning the motivations of others, the narrator questioning and distrusting the motivations of characters—subsumes all other sense of plot. In other words, analysis itself comes to comprise the plot. Authors of proto-psychological fiction depict a damning view of human nature through scenes of dissimulation, duplicitous language, and, most of all, the strategies of characters who think they know what they want, but who discover that they no longer desire their love objects as soon as their love is reciprocated.

While doing research on how the term “psychological” had been applied by critics to fiction, I came across some references from the nineteenth century that described Lyly’s prose romances, Euphues: Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England, as forerunners of the psychological novel in England. While I had already been researching proto-psychological fiction in Early Modern Italy and France, in Boccaccio’s Elegy of Madonna Fiammetta, Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron, and Madame de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves, the English part of my thesis was going to begin with Samuel Richardson. I was obviously intrigued by an Elizabethan author who could potentially provide an earlier link to the development of proto-psychological fiction.

One problem in attempting to delineate a strain of psychological fiction before Freud is that critics tend to claim that many different works—as varied as Murasaki Shikibu’s Japanese romance The Tale of Genji (written circa 1021) to Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons (1782)—constitute the first “psychological novel,” simply because they are concerned with interiority. There have been a few studies that define “psychological fiction,” like Russian critic Lydia Ginzburg’s On Psychological Prose, which focuses on character and the development of personality in literature, and Leon Edel’s The Modern Psychological Novel, which focuses on Modern literature and thus uses the term “psychological” without anachronism. Although these studies are very interesting on their own, they describe something totally different from what I had in mind about proto-psychological fiction. In addition, I realized that most studies of psychological fiction tend to associate “psychological” fiction with nineteenth-century realism (as Ian Watt does in The Rise of the Novel), or with the development of modern subjectivity and characterization. Yet, even the two early nineteenth century novels that I was writing about for my dissertation (by Austen and Stendhal) deal with “psychology” or consciousness in a very different way than nineteenth century realism does. Their sense of “psychology” is actually more in line with sixteenth and seventeenth-century conceptions of self-governance, that is, the debate about whether it is the passions or reason that control us.

Proto-psychological fiction is ultimately about a disabused reading of humanity; it is written by authors who profoundly doubt our ability—and even our willingness—to know ourselves. Euphuistic rhetoric is a device that creates both inroads and barriers between characters, drawing characters close together and then separating them physically. Like so many other conduct manuals of this era (even the ones Lyly himself mocked), Euphues can be read as a veiled political text that warns of the perils of revealing one’s true feelings. Also interesting to me is the figure adynaton, which is “a confession that words fail us,” as well as the themes of cyclicality, dilation, and deferral, as well as dissimulation, doubt, silence, and incomplete or misrepresented knowledge. The works I write about share a tendency on the part of the narration to keep characters apart, to trap them in a closed, confusing society, and to defer, for as long as possible, any chance of intimacy, finality, or resolution.

Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit is certainly such a text. Euphuism is paradoxical, self-doubting, contradictory, and self-correcting language. Narrators and characters in Euphues attempt to read each other, but they are constantly faced with deception, misprision, doubt, and confusion, leading to self-deception, jealousy, and crises of love. On the level of vocabulary, certain verbs (such as to think, to believe, and to dare, as well as verbs of seeing and seeming), as well as the adverb almost, illustrate that one character is attempting to read—that is, produce knowledge about—another, to read herself, or to do both. Characters who attempt to look within themselves are usually wrong in some way. They are mistaken about their own knowledge, about a belief, or about someone else, so that characters engage in infinite reciprocities, moving to and fro, never capable of alighting on any stable certainty. For this reason, jealousies come to the surface and love is always thwarted.

Proto-psychological fiction is neither romantic nor realist, it is not baroque for Baroque’s sake, nor didactic. Narrators in analytical fiction are not omniscient: they are sometimes even one step behind the characters in their journey—not toward, but, perhaps, around knowledge. This is because characters are simply not “knowable” in these works. Even when their stories end with a marriage (as I discuss in another article on Austen’s last novel, Persuasion), characters in analytical fiction do not really change, they do not grow into knowledge in the same way as characters in novels labeled “Realist” do. Their hearts and minds are fickle, suspicious, and dissimulating, so that striving to know falls by the wayside of analysis. This particular sub-genre of narrative is found in fiction across the centuries and from all over the world, written by authors who share a pessimistic view of human nature as incapable of—or else unwilling to strive towards—self-knowledge.

Read Adele’s article, ‘John Lyly’s ‘Anatomy of Wit‘ as an Example of Early Modern Psychological Fiction’, for free by clicking here!


A most strange witch pamphlet: A Most Certain, Strange, and True Discovery of a VVitch (1643)

In this guest post from Sheilagh O’Brien, we learn a little more about where she discovered the interest and insight for her recent article on the Witch of Newbury, now fresh off the press on the Cerae website!


My interest in the Witch of Newbury came about in the early stages of researching my doctoral thesis on witch trials during the English Civil Wars (1642-1649). Two facets of the major pamphlet on the Witch of Newbury, A Most Certain, Strange, and True Discovery of a VVitch, struck me: the first was that the case took place outside of the English legal system; and the second was the weight it gave to the physical testing of the witch.

Pamphlets on witches – like those on the Witch of Newbury – give us what Marion Gibson has described as a ‘privileged view of an element within the development of a very specific and enduring myth […] which intersects in increasingly complex ways with what we perceive to be real.’

The pamphlets are often the most detailed records we have, not only for trial proceedings, but for what occurred around them. But even in those cases where we have multiple sources, including trial records and pamphlets, there are many details which we lack about the pre-trial testing, and how communal pressure was applied – if these things were even recorded at all.

That is not to say the records we have don’t provide many other detail, which often startle and confuse the unwary reader. Reading accounts of witches in early modern Europe, you rapidly become desensitised to the many bizarre and disturbing claims made by people who had been bewitched, or who had confessed to having done the bewitching. In the East Anglia trials I examine in my thesis there are many instances of this: in one narrative, swarms of lice were reported to chase down and attack a witch’s victims in broad daylight; another witch claimed to have two familiars in the shape of hounds, with boar bristles on their backs.

Another woman confessed she had seen the Devil in the shape of her recently deceased children, one saw him in the form of her dead husband. Some even said he dressed like a gentleman, and wanted to be their husband. Others claimed to have met the Devil as a little boy on a country road, or a talking dog in a lane late at night. In fact if there is one thing that can be said for early modern witch trials in England, it is that the details of each case are as unique as the person accused.

But these extraordinary details come from within a framework that does become familiar when you work on this area. These witches were accused by their neighbours, following confession they were brought before a magistrate or JP and informations and examinations were set down on paper. After this they would be placed in gaol, awaiting trial, usually by first the Quarter Sessions and then by the Assize courts. These cases were tried under laws we know and understand, and in a structure that by and large remains unchanged across the period.

But the woman killed at Newbury doesn’t fit into any of the normal frameworks. She doesn’t even have a name, because those who found her didn’t take her to trial. Instead the soldiers who saw her arrested her, tested her to see if she was a witch – as they thought – and then executed her that very day. This incident therefore gives us an unusual opportunity to see what a group of men claimed to have done when confronted by what they believed to be a witch. The circumstances of her death make the ‘Witch of Newbury’ one of the most unusual cases of witch persecution (as opposed to prosecution) in early modern England.

It is the extraordinary circumstances of the Witch of Newbury’s death which gives us unusual insight into witch beliefs outside of the legal system. Through texts like A Most Certain, Strange, and True Discovery of a VVitch we actually hear the story of people who believed they were confronted by a witch. Yet even here we are dealing with a second hand source, and so these ideas and the text in which they are found must also be critically examined. Although the ideas were not filtered through the framework of the English court system, they are still filtered through the framework of a witch pamphlet.

The Witch of Newbury was not the only woman attacked and killed by soldiers near or on the site of Civil War battles. The women who died may not have faced a court, but they were persecuted for many of the same reasons other women and men were prosecuted for witchcraft: The attackers judged them to be witches, in part because they thought them to be immoral. Or as one witch in Suffolk would confess: “pride and lustfullnes had brought her to this, […] for she had the deuill w[i]thin [her]”.

Whether the Witch of Newbury likewise regarded herself as having the Devil inside her, we can never know. Certainly her attackers believed that her actions, however potentially innocuous they may have been, were proof of the terrible and terrifying powers of a witch. As unusual as her case is, she met the same fate as more than five hundred others across England and thousands more across the early modern Christian world.  Understanding how her attackers conceived of her and the steps they took to prevent her from harming them, gives us access into a world that is both very different, and alarmingly similar, to our own.

You can read Sheilagh’s full article, ‘A ‘Divellish’ Woman Discovered: The Witch of Newbury, 1643’, by clicking here.

Uncovering Manly Eunuchs in the Byzantine Empire

Could a eunuch be considered “manly” in the early Byzantine Empire? This is the question Michael Stewart has set out to answer in the fourth article for Volume 2 titled “The Andreios Eunuch-Commander Narses: Sign of a Decoupling of Martial Virtues and Masculinity in the Early Byzantine Empire?”

In this guest post, Michael sheds some light on where this article came from and why he chose to publish it in Ceræ.

‘Narses’, from the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna

The genesis for this article sparked from a moment of crisis. In September of 2012, I received the results back from the examiners of my University of Queensland Doctoral dissertation, ‘The Soldier’s Life: Martial Virtues and Hegemonic Masculinity in the Early Byzantine Empire’. Put simply, in this work, I argued that martial virtues and images of the soldier’s life represented an essential aspect of early Byzantine masculine ideology.

One of my key chapters explored how the seminal early Byzantine historian Procopius utilised the Greek concept of andreia (translated rather loosely in English as manliness and/or courage) in his books on the Emperor Justinian’s mid-sixth century reconquests of Italy. I felt at home with the writings of Procopius. Indeed, my work on the historian had begun in 2000 with my 2003 San Diego State University Master’s thesis, ‘Between Two Worlds: Men’s Heroic Conduct in the Writings of Procopius’. So I received a jolt to my confidence when it was this chapter that had largely prevented me from passing without changes. While my examiners largely enjoyed the chapter, which eventually would be published as ‘Contests of Andreia in Procopius’ Gothic Wars’, Parekbolai 4 (2014): 21-54, they observed correctly that I had glaringly omitted discussing the Byzantine general Narses’ status as a eunuch-general. Indeed, one examiner concluded that the fact that a eunuch could command Byzantine armies undermined somewhat my larger conclusion that Procopius and other Byzantines believed that the field of battle represented a masculine realm.

Disheartened at first, I went back to Procopius to chart out and explore his depictions of Narses. At this stage, I discovered that Procopius’ views on Narses were more complex than most scholarship and I had generally believed. Intrigued, I began comparing Procopius’ account with other literary sources, Byzantine and Western. What was surprising to me, was how little most of these ancient writers had to say about Narses’ eunuch-status. Indeed, even anti-Byzantine Western accounts tended to praise Narses’ martial qualities and overall virtues.

Content that the case of Narses did not undermine my larger conclusions, I inserted a short section on Procopius’ views about the eunuch-commander into my response. Happily these changes were accepted, and my dissertation was approved in early January 2013. I still, however, had a nagging feeling that if I wanted to move my work forward I needed to delve deeper into the ways these innovative eunuch-soldiers were perceived in the Byzantine and non-Byzantine world. So I continued to research and write, and—somewhat hesitantly, decided to post a nascent version of this piece on my website: The reaction was immediate. Two top-scholars on Procopius and Byzantine eunuchs encouraged me with helpful insights on how the piece could be improved.

These positive and negative criticisms allowed me to continue honing the paper. This development was aided further by an invitation to give a paper at the 2014 conference for the Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, ‘Breaking Down Barriers: Eunuchs in Italy, 400-625, a talk that touched on some of the themes in this current article. Satisfied that the paper might be worthy of publication, I stumbled upon Cerae’s call for papers dealing with the theme ‘Transitions, Fractures, and Fragments’. The growing prevalence of eunuchs leading Byzantine armies from the sixth century certainly represented a key transition from the classical to the early medieval Byzantine world. A firm believer in open access, and seeking to publish a piece in a journal from my adopted homeland of Australia, Cerae seemed the proper choice.

Once again, in order to answer the pithy critiques of the journals two anonymous examiners, some more hurdles needed to be overcome. Yet, like the process I learned as a youth growing up in the state of Vermont of making 1 gallon of maple syrup by boiling 40 gallons of arduously collected sap, the result was worth the long process. In conclusion, then, the current piece must be seen as a truly collaborative piece. My thanks to everyone who made it possible, and keep those comments coming, because, as I have learned, that is surely the best way onward for any scholar.

You can read Michael’s full article, “The Andreios Eunuch-Commander Narses: Sign of a Decoupling of Martial Virtues and Masculinity in the Early Byzantine Empire?”, by clicking here.