To the Forestphone, Commissioner Gordon!

Who Was the Fourth Wife of Leo the Philosopher?

One of the funniest moments of my life came when my father, bored with asking the normal questions of my sister as she studied for her Byzantine history test, asked her "Who was the fourth wife of Leo the Philosopher?"

Without batting an eye or hesitating a second, my sister came back with "Zoe Black-Eyes," of course. Which was followed by great laughter, and general agreement that she already knew and had studied far more than enough for any conceivable Byzantine history test.

This is by way of enthusiastically recommending Lars Brownworth's Twelve Byzantine Rules lecture series--even though, by my count, he is only up to 4.5 rulers so far.

The sad thing is that Brownworth doesn't have time to tell some of the greatest of the stories of Byzantine history. As he gallops through the reign of Justinian, he doesn't have time to detail how Procopius of Caesarea, one of our major sources, is both the most obsequious of hagiographers and the most viciously unbalanced of slanderers--and of the same people, his boss Belisarius and Emperor Justinian. Nor does he have time to detail how, after leaving the employment of the Emperor Zeno in his service he had risen to the apex rank of Magister Militum per Orientalem, the (completely historical) Theodoric the Ostrogoth takes a detour and winds up in the Nibelungenlied, settling accounts for the murder of Seigfried by capturing Seigfried's murderer Hagen when Kriemhild sics Attila the Hun on her Burgundian relatives.

But very, very well done.