- Reading in the Byzantine Empire and Beyond ed. by Teresa Shawcross and Ida Toth
Reading in the Byzantine Empire and Beyond opens with a small Byzantine poem, translated by the scholars E. and M. Jeffreys, to whom the volume is dedicated. It is a perfect way to prepare the reader for what to expect from the book:
If you desire to hear of the deeds of good soldiers,To learn and be instructed, perhaps you will make progress.If you know letters, start reading;If, on the other hand, you are illiterate, sit down by me and listen.And I hope, if you are sensible, that you will profit,Since many of those who have come after them have made great progressBecause of the stories of those great men of old.(xix)
Byzantine scholarship, along with all of its relevant areas, is one of the greatest legacies of the eastern Roman Empire. While many monographs, articles, and projects have edited and charted this vast Byzantine intellectual territory—including the brilliant examples of Lemerle, Browning, and others—many parts remain unknown or incompletely examined. Corralling such a bulk of information into a single work might seem to be a Sisyphean task. However, Reading in the Byzantine Empire and Beyond shows that this indeed is possible, at least to a certain extent. The book's aim is to present "a comprehensive introduction to the history of books, readers and reading in the Byzantine Empire and its sphere of influence" (i). In the first two chapters, the editors, Theresa Shawcross (Princeton University) and Ida Toth (University of Oxford), introduce us to the topic. Shawcross's "Byzantium: A Bookish World" simplifies and explains aspects of Byzantine intellectuality, such as educational procedure and epistolography, while Toth's "Modern Encounters with Byzantine Texts and their Reading Publics" prepares readers for content that will be "a notable departure from the traditional scholarly focus on chronological or generic classification of literature."
The twenty-seven chapters, contributed by distinguished researchers and scholars from various fields, cover subjects throughout the Byzantine era, from the fifth through the fifteenth centuries, and span geographical [End Page 89] areas across, and even outside, the empire, such as Cyprus in the fourteenth century and Armenia in the ninth and tenth centuries. Many of the authors approach their sources in a manner that leads away from typical conclusions toward new hypotheses. In part 1 of the book, for instance, Marina Bazzani unearths the significance of the great eleventh-century teacher John Mauropous through an examination of his poem nr. 29, while Michael Angold proposes a new interpretation of the historical facts surrounding the fifteenth-century patriarch Gennadios II Scholarios. Judith R. Ryder considers the content of the speeches of the eleventh-century scholar John the Oxite as a political instrument of the Komnenian court. Paul Magdalino's alternative interpretation of liturgical poetry posits new geographical, social, and cultural discoveries in the Byzantine capital. Finally, Tassos Papacostas studies the evidence of the Black Death's impact in specific areas of the island of Cyprus by using various notes from the margins of the cod. Par. gr. 1588.
Part 2 is divided into three sections, the first of which discusses the importance of scholarship and education in every aspect of Byzantine life. Panagiotis Roilos analyzes John Sikeliotes' Byzantine adjustment of Hermogenes' rhetoric in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Jonathan Shepard identifies an intellectual work by Byzantine general Katakalon Kekameunos. Niels Gaul "reads aloud" late Byzantine texts in a per-formative style based on the terms theatron and choros. The second section considers the relationship between specific scholars and religion, revealing social and political features of their intellectual environment. David M. Gwynn discusses John Malalas' spirituality, Johannes Koder analyzes social values through the Hymns of Romanos the Melode, Manolis S. Patedakis focuses on literary topoi in Saint Symeon the New Theologian's work, and Alessandra Bucossi examines the use of biblical quotations in Andronikos Kamateros' twelfth-century rhetoric as a tool of Komnenian imperial propaganda. The third section deals with the Byzantine imperial court and western...