Sunday, August 15, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Sofia Kotzabassi (ed.), Das hagiographische Dossier der heiligen Theodosia von Konstantinopel. Einleitung, Edition und Kommentar. Byzantisches Archiv Bd. 21. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009. Pp. xv, 196. ISBN 9783110219852. $155.00.
Reviewed by Stavroula Constantinou, University of Cyprus


According to the Synaxarion of Constantinople (10th century), Theodosia, a saint of questionable historicity, was an iconophile nun martyred under the iconoclast emperor Leo III (717-741) for causing together with other women the death of a spatharios ("sword-bearer": member of the imperial guard) while he was trying to destroy an icon of Christ placed above the main entrance to the palace. The fact that the Synaxarion is the earliest text referring to Theodosia suggests that her cult was established in the tenth century. It was, however, not earlier than the late Byzantine period under the imperial dynasty of the Palaiologoi (1259-1453) that Theodosia's cult became most popular, as attested by a considerable number of texts produced during this time: three encomia, akolouthies, canons, megalynaria and epigrams venerating Theodosia, and historical works as well as memoirs of Russian travelers mentioning the saint, the veneration of her relics, and her miraculous cures.

Kotzabassi's exemplary edition of four hagiographical texts devoted to Theodosia, namely the three aforementioned Palaiologan encomia written by an anonymous author, John Staurakios and Constantine Akropolites, and an earlier anonymous Passion found in the Imperial Menologion A (11th century), makes accessible in its entirety the hagiographical dossier of this understudied yet important Byzantine holy woman. Kotzabassi's volume reviewed here consists of an introduction, four chronologically arranged chapters, one for each of the Byzantine texts mentioned above, an appendix that provides an edition of the anonymous akolouthia of Theodosia including a canon on her written by Nikephoros Moschopoulos, and four useful indices: an index locorum, an index nominum propriorum, an index memorabilium, and a general index.

The introduction is divided into four parts, the first of which functions as an introduction to the other three. The introductory part introduces the saint, briefly discusses her historicity, and points out her popularity in the Palaiologan period. Unfortunately the author makes no attempt to give an answer to the important question why Theodosia became so popular in this specific period. The next two parts present very briefly the texts on Theodosia produced in the middle and late Byzantine periods. The fourth part is on the saint's feast day and the location of her relics. In general, the introduction discusses in some more detail the same themes that preoccupy Nicholas Constas in his introduction to the English translation of the Synaxarion notice of Theodosia.1

Apart from the first, all the other chapters have the same structure. They consist of an introduction to the edited texts, and other eight parts: 1. "Structure of the Encomium", 2. "The Encomium's Transmission", 3. "On Language and Style", 4. "On Prose Rhythm", 5. "On the Present Edition", 6. "Text", 7. "Summary", and 8. "Commentary". The first chapter has six of these parts; excluded are the one on structure and the one on prose rhythm. Since Theodosia's Passion does not have the rhetoric character of the encomia, there might be nothing to say about the text's rhythm. But like the encomia, and all texts, the Passion does have a structure, which the editor should have presented given that she has done so for the other texts she edits in the discussed volume.

The introductory part included in all chapters is rather short. It mainly discusses issues concerning dating. The section on structure found in the chapters where Theodosia's encomia are edited, in which the editor basically presents the contents of each part of the edited texts, appears somewhat unnecessary when there is a part that gives the texts' summaries. Although it is perhaps unfair to wish for more, it would have been more helpful had the editor provided translations of the edited texts instead of summaries of their contents. The section on language and style does not provide any analysis of the texts' stylistics and rhetoric. In all cases it is a catalogue of some rhetorical figures. It has also some brief remarks on language: whether it is influenced by theological or profane literature. A worthwhile task in the framework of this section would have been a comparative analysis of the rhetoric of the three encomia. In fact, it is unfortunate that the author undertakes no literary comparison of the three encomia. The volume's strength is the edition, which provides clear texts. There are almost no typos. Finally, the commentaries provide useful information and helpful interpretations of names and places. They are also good in identifying geographical and prosopographical references.

In summary, this is a very useful edition of some interesting texts. Despite the few complaints of the present reviewer, the editor has performed a very valuable service in making Theodosia's hagiographic dossier available. Kotzabassi's work is the starting point for an investigation of the creation and development of Theodosia's cult on the one hand, and for a literary approach of her encomia on the other.


1.   Nicholas Constas, "Life of St. Theodosia of Constantinople", in Alice-Mary Talbot, Byzantine Defenders of Images: Eight Saints' Lives in English Translation, [Byzantine Saints' Lives in Translation, 2] (Washington, D.C. 1998), 1-7.

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