The father of Belisarius's wife, a lady whom I have mentioned in my former books, was (and so was her grandfather) a charioteer, exhibiting that trade in Constantinople and Thessalonica. Her mother was one of the wenches of the theater; and she herself from the first led an utterly wanton life. Acquainted with magic drugs used by her parents before her, she learned how to use those of compelling qualities and became the wedded wife of Belisarius, after having already borne many children.
Now she was unfaithful as a wife from the start, but was careful to conceal her indiscretions by the usual precautions; not from any awe of her spouse (for she never felt any shame at anything) and fooled him easily with her deceptions), but because she feared the punishment of the Empress. For Theodora hated her, and had already shown her teeth. But when that Queen became involved in difficulties, she won her friendship by helping her, first to destroy Silverius, as shall be related presently, and later to ruin John of Cappadocia, as I have told elsewhere. After that, she became more and more fearless, and casting all concealment aside, abandoned herself to the winds of desire.
There was a youth from Thrace in the house of Belisarius: Theodosius by name, and of the Eunomian heresy by descent. On the eve of his expedition to Libya, Belisarius baptized this boy in holy water and received him in his arms as a member henceforth of the family, welcoming him with his wife as their son, according to the Christian rite of adoption. And Antonina not only embraced Theodosius with reasonable fondness as her son by holy word, and thus cared for him, but soon, while her husband was away on his campaign, became wildly in love with him; and, out of her senses with this malady, shook off all fear and shame of God and man. She began by enjoying him surreptitiously, and ended by dallying with him in the presence of the men servants and waiting maids. For she was now possessed by passion and, openly overwhelmed with love, could see no hindrance to its consummation.
Once, in Carthage, Belisarius caught her in the very act, but allowed himself to be deceived by his wife. Finding the two in an underground room, he was very angry; but she said, showing no fear or attempt to keep anything hidden, "I came here with the boy to bury the most precious part of our plunder, where the Emperor will not discover it." So she said by way of excuse, and he dismissed the matter as if he believed her, even as he saw Theodosius's trousers belt somewhat unmodestly unfastened. For so bound by love for the woman was he, that he preferred to distrust the evidence of his own eyes.
As her folly progressed to an indescribable extent, those who saw what was going on kept silent, except one slave, Macedonia by name. When Belisarius was in Syracuse as the conqueror of Sicily, she made her master swear solemnly never to betray her to her mistress, and then told him the whole story, presenting as witnesses two slave boys attending the bed-chamber.
When he heard this, Belisarius ordered one of his guards to put Theodosius away; but the latter learned of this in time to flee to Ephesus. For most of the servants, inspired by the weakness of the husband's character, were more anxious to please his wife than to show loyalty to him, and so betrayed the order he had given. But Constantine, when he saw Belisarius's grief at what had befallen him, sympathized entirely except to comment, "I would have tried to kill the woman rather than the young man." Antonina heard of this, and hated him in secret. How malicious was her spite against him shall be shown; for she was a scorpion who could hide her sting.
But not long after this, by the enchantment either of philtres or of her caresses, she persuaded her husband that the charges against her were untrue. Without more ado he sent word to Theodosius to return, and promised to turn Macedonia and the two slave boys over to his wife. She first cruelly cut out their tongues, it is said, and then cut their bodies into little bits which were put into sacks and thrown into the sea. One of her slaves, Eugenius, who had already wrought the outrage on Silverius, helped her in this crime.
And it was not long after this that Belisarius was persuaded by his wife to kill Constantine. What happened at that time concerning Presidius and the daggers I have narrated in my previous books. For while Belisarius would have preferred to let Constantine alone, Antonina gave him no peace until his remark, which I have just repeated, was avenged. And as a result of this murder, much enmity was aroused against Belisarius in the hearts of the Emperor and all the most important of the Romans.
So matters progressed. But Theodosius said he was unable to return to Italy, where Belisarius and Antonina were now staying, unless Photius were put out of the way. For this Photius was the sort who would bite if anyone got the better of him in anything, and he had reason to be choked with indignation at Theodosius. Though he was the rightful son, he was utterly disregarded while the other grew in power and riches: they say that from the two palaces at Carthage and Ravenna Theodosius had taken plunder amounting to a hundred centenaries, as he alone had been given the management of these conquered properties.
But Antonina, when she learned of Theodosius's fear, never ceased laying snares for her son and planning deadly plots against his welfare, until he saw he would have to escape to Constantinople if he wished to live. Then Theodosius came to Italy and her. There they stayed in the satisfaction of their love, unhindered by the complaisant husband; and later she took them both to Constantinople. There Theodosius became so worried lest the affair became generally known, that he was at his wit's end. He saw it would be impossible to fool everybody, as the woman was no longer able to conceal her passion and indulge it secretly, but thought nothing of being in fact and in reputation an avowed adulteress.
Therefore he went back to Ephesus, and having his head shaved after the religious custom, became a monk. Whereupon Antonina, insane over her loss, exhibited her grief by donning mourning; and went around the house shrieking and wailing, lamenting even in the presence of her husband what a good friend she had lost, how faithful, how tender, how loving, how energetic! In the end, even her spouse was won over to join in her sorrow. And so the poor wretch wept too, calling for his beloved Theodosius. Later he even went to the Emperor and implored both him and the Empress, till they consented to summon Theodosius to return, as one who was and would always be a necessity in the house of Belisarius.
But Theodosius refused to leave his monastery, saying he
was completely resolved to give himself forever to the cloistered life. This
noble pronouncement, however, was not entirely sincere, for he was aware that as
soon as Belisarius left Constantinople, it would be possible for him to come
secretly to Antonina. Which, indeed, he did.