- Studies in John Malalas (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 9, Number 2, December 1991
- p. pp. 161-162
- View Citation
Reviews 161 served. Yet surely some sort of dissonance must be set up when w e read, for example, a sonnet written by a w o m a n who knew, as we do, that women are in general the objects, not the subjects, of this poetic genre. David Buchbinder School of Communication and Cultural Studies Curtin University of Technology Jeffreys, Elizabeth, Brian Croke and Roger Scott, eds, Studies in John Malalas (Byzantina Australiensia, 6), Sydney, Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1990; paper; pp. xxxvii, 370; R.R.P. AUS$21.00. The work of the early Byzantine chronicler John Malalas presents many problems for scholars. As one of the contributors to the volume under review expresses it w e basically have to work with 'a 150-year old redaction of an inaccurate 350-year old transcript of a 900-year old manuscript'. If this were not enough to discourage attempts to work towards an understanding of the work, various passages of subsequent Greek authors stand in obscure relation to it as do later works in Slavonic, Ethiopic, Syriac and Latin. The tradition of scholarship on this author has therefore been marked by teaming which, however powerful, has rarely proved adequate to the task at hand. It is the great merit of this new collaborative volume to have placed discussion of John Malalas on a much firmer basis than has ever been the case. And, coming as it does after the publication of a translation of John Malalas by a group of authors substantially the same, it stands as testimony to the remarkable strength of Byzantine studies in Australia today. John was a native of Antioch. The significance of the word 'Malalas' is uncertain. A younger contemporary of Justinian, he was a man of orthodox belief, quite possibly the occupant of an administrative post. He wrote a history from the time of A d a m which is particularly full for affairs concerning Antioch, for which he seems to have had access to a local 'city' chronicle. Having moved to Constantinople, perhaps in 535, he produced an updated version of his work which probably ended with the death of Justinian in 565. In its latter parts the chronicle is of great importance as a primary source. Throughout, it provides evidence for the thought-world of its author. A particularly interesting feature of this is John's concern to show that Christ was crucified 6,000 years after the creation of Adam, an idiosyncratic point of view which may owe something to speculation concerning the end of the world. Again, some of John's emphases in Greek and R o m a n history seem weird to m o d e m readers, but implicitly enshrine an understanding that a nation can exist only under a monarchy. This, and much more, is either demonstrated for thefirsttime or argued for with new strength by the authors of this book. 162 Reviews Appreciation of John has not only been hindered by complex textual problems. His Greek is of a kind relatively close to the vernacular of the sixth century, the optative being rare and the dual non-existent Scholars accustomed to the classicizing language and modus operandi of an author such as Procopius have often looked askance at John and have assumed that his popular style indicates that the work need not be taken seriously. Whereas Procopius had the good taste to locate his nanative of the plague of 542 against a Thucydidean perspective, for John the proper background was that of the Flood of Genesis. In his work 'the wrath of God' (Oeopnvia, a word which John is one of the first authors to have used) is manifested on an uncomfortable number of occasions. Yet some early medieval works popular in style and apparently naive in content, such as the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, may have been written for the intelligentsia of their day. Later Byzantine scholars did not disdain to learn from John, and recent work on Procopius is teaching us that the classicizing Wars should not be privileged against his other works. W h e n approached without condescension, texts such as that of John have more to offer...