Sunday, October 09, 2011

From a Groom to an Emperor – Part II – Little Theophilus and Big Basil

The abbot of this monastery had a strange dream that night - some unknown voice was calling him and telling him to get out and open the door to the emperor. Delirious and still half asleep, he looked outside the door, but he didn’t noticed anyone. He returned to bed.

As soon as he fell asleep again, the same voice called and told him to come out of the monastery and greet the emperor. Being very confused now, the spiritual father once again went to the door. He noticed only a stranger in rags, and went back to bed.

As soon as he sank into sleep, the unknown voice strictly commanded him: “Go out and bring in to the monastery the one who sleeps on the stairs. He is the emperor!” The frightened abbot of the monastery of Saint Diomedes came out, woke Basil, invited him in and offered him dinner. In the morning, he sent him to take a bath and gave him new clothes.

The abbot had a brother who was a doctor. As soon as the doctor saw the tall and handsome young Basil, he immediately recommended him to one of his patients, Theophilus, who was a relative of Emperor Michael III (842-867). Because of his small height, Theophilus was nicknamed Theophilitzes (small Theophilus). Since he was aware of his fragile physical appearance,  this aristocrat liked to be surrounded by servants of imposing height and tremendous strength. He dressed them in shiny clothes and enjoyed flaunting with them through the city streets. When he saw Basil, he immediately took him into his service.

After a while, Basil was introduced to the most prominent people of the Byzantine Empire.

On one occasion, there was a luncheon at the imperial court. Many guests were invited, including the Bulgarian delegates who were passing through the capital on the Bosphorus. At the end of the lunch, as it was a tradition, a competition of wrestlers was arranged for the entertainment of the audience. Ostentatious Bulgarians claimed that they have such an athlete who will defeat all of his Byzantine adversaries. And, indeed, the strong Bulgarian defeated all Roman wrestlers.

Dispirited because some barbarian defeated all their fighters, the Byzantines had tough time coping with the defeat. But Theophilitzes, who also was at the luncheon, stated confidently that his servant can beat the Bulgarian. The arena was immediately re-prepared, the hall was sanded to be a suitable foundation for the fighters and the victorious Bulgarian started wrestling with Basil.

The Bulgarian wrestler was trying very hard to lift the Byzantine groom in to the air. However, the opposite happened. Basil, who was physically stronger, lifted the Bulgarian, swung him around himself, and with a skilful move that was very famous in martial arts of that time, threw him on the ground. The excited Byzantines, whose honor was saved by a giant groom, loudly greeted their winner. On the other side, injured and unconscious Bulgarian wrestler was barely coming to himself. With this accomplishment, Basil drew attention to himself. The members of high court circles remembered well the young groom.

Shortly after this event, Emperor Michael III received as a gift a very beautiful horse from one provincial governor. When he approached him to look at his teeth, the horse got frightened so much that no one couldn’t tame him. Once more, Theophilitzes intervened. He told the emperor: “My Emperor, I have at home a young man who knows with horses. His name is Basil”.

Without hesitation, they brought the groom who, according to notes of one Byzantine writer, was like Alexander on Bucephalus. He got on the recalcitrant stallion and just few moments later, he had control over the untamed animal.

Emperor Michael III, who was just a few years younger than Basil, was delighted, and forced his cousin Theophilitzes to give him his groom. Then, still under the strong impression of what happened, he took his new servant to show him to his mother - Empress Theodora. And while her son was talking excitedly about his new groom, she watched silently and suspiciously the tall newcomer. It was obvious that she didn’t share her son's happiness.

When Basil left, with concern in her voice, Theodora told her son:It would have been better if you never met him.  He will destroy us.”

To read Part III – „The one who sleeps beside”, click HERE.

To return to Part I – A boy named Basil, click HERE.

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