Diogenes or Dionysus?

As Fabianus said, “A cowl doesn’t make the monk.” The young man wore the habit of a novice monk, but he saw himself as an artist, an author and a truth-teller. When Theodora discovered her childhood friend from her Hippodrome days illuminating manuscripts in the scriptorium of the Great Palace, she enlisted him to tell her story – a version of history to counteract the scurrilous Secret History she knew her enemy Procopius was writing. What Theodora wanted was clear: a testimonial to her virtue and triumphs.


What Fabianus wanted was less clear. He wanted to please his patron, but he also wanted to fulfill a prophecy made when he was a starving street urchin: that he would discern and profess the truth of human hearts.

Born to a prostitute and abandoned to the streets of Constantinople at a tender age, Fabianus had been sheltered by Theodora when they were both children. They sang and danced together, performing mini-plays for coins much like today’s buskers. Yet the orphan boy was otherwise friendless and constantly threatened by predators.

To help him escape pedophiles and poverty, Theodora arranged for him to enter a monastery where he was educated. A quick learner, Fabianus studied classical Literature, ancient languages, rhetoric and church doctrine. When he returned to Constantinople aged twenty-one, Fabianus was ideally suited to the task Theodora gave him. Thereafter, he played a role in all the events of the story as a witness, participant and historian to whom recollections were confided. Chatty, catty, sympathetic to his idol Theodora’s aims and empathetic to her needs, Fabianus played a key role in presenting her story.

He was not only Theodora’s scribe but her intimate confidant, a jack-of-all-trades personal assistant. When she charged him with more dangerous missions, such as spying on the beastly John of Cappadocia and stealing precious documents, Fabianus didn’t hesitate. Although he would have willingly laid down his life for her, he much preferred that she see him as a man, rather than just a loyal employee. Professionally, he was Diogenes in search of an honest tale, but personally he was more akin to Dionysus, the god of revelry, pleasure and the theater.

In seeking the truth, the mystery Fabianus was most keen to solve was that of Theodora’s real nature. Was she just acting in her most ambitious role – as an Empress in love with Emperor Justinian? If it were a performance, might she prefer an old friend from the circus? The dark recesses of the human heart that Fabianus most dearly wanted to illuminate belonged to Theodora.

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