Friday, August 19, 2011


Apostolos Spanos (ed.), Codex Lesbiacus Leimonos 11: Annotated Critical Edition of an Unpublished Byzantine Menaion for June. Byzantinisches Archiv Bd 23. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2010. Pp. xxiv, 452; 8 plates. ISBN 9783110221299. $238.00.

Reviewed by Eirini Afentoulidou, Institut für Byzanzforschung, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (

Version at BMCR home site


The Menaion is a liturgical book containing the hymns proper to the non-moveable feasts of the yearly cycle of the Byzantine church. The Menaia-manuscripts reflect the liturgical praxis of the particular churches that used them: although they are generally speaking uniform, they bear differences one from the other. These differences concern the saints celebrated, the date of the celebration, the akolouthia (service) transmitted for each celebration, the texts that constitute each akolouthia as well as their order, and textual variations. Therefore, for scholars working on Byzantine liturgy and hymnography, Menaia-manuscripts, like other liturgical manuscripts, have a double function. Each one of the transmitted texts was created by its author, before it became part of a Menaion-manuscript, and this original form was the archetypus in the classic philological sense; every manuscript has its own variants, which have to be critically evaluated in order to reconstruct the archetypus. Interpolations, which are common in liturgical manuscripts, have to be elucidated, and possible non-liturgical testimonies to be taken into account. On the other hand, every liturgical manuscript, with its peculiar structure and variants, is an object of study on its own merit. Editorial practices reflect the various approaches to liturgical manuscripts. Some scholars edit one single manuscript with its special characteristics, restricting themselves to minor corrections. This makes sense in the case of some codices considered of particular importance (cf. the edition of the Horologium Sinaiticum by Maxime Ajjoub.1) Another approach is the detailed and/or comparative description of liturgical manuscripts, without an edition of the full texts, as is the case in manuscript catalogues. A third approach is philological work on particular hymnographic texts, i.e. the constitution of an incipitarium, a critical edition etc. (e.g. the project "Analecta Hymnica Graeca."2 The texts that attract the attention of scholars are mostly kontakia for the period until Romanos (6th c.) and kanons for the 7th c. onwards. These approaches complement each other and are often combined. This is the case with the book under review: it is a detailed description of the Codex Lesbiacus Leimonos 11 (henceforth L) and a critical edition (with introduction and commentary) of the hitherto unpublished texts preserved in this manuscript, notably nineteen kanons.

Chapter 1 of the Introduction is a presentation of codex L in the context of Byzantine liturgy. The codex is a Menaion of the month of June. It is dated to the 11th century and belongs to the early tradition of the Menaia; the structure of the akolouthiai (services) is similar to that of other Menaia of its time. The codex does not provide information on the performance of the hymns it transmits, e.g. how they were to be combined with hymns from the weekly cycle, whether they were to be sung during Vespers or Matins etc. Spanos explores the possible uses of the texts by drawing on information from contemporary Typika (books that regulated the performance of the hymns in the services of a particular church).

Chapter 2 presents each one of the nineteen kanons, which are edited for the first time, and the akolouthiai containing the kanons. The presentation begins with a short hagiographic notice on the commemorated saint(s) and their cult, as well as information on relevant hagiographic and hymnographic texts. Thus it provides a context for the examined hymns (indeed, hymns can hardly be properly appreciated, if they are isolated from the celebration of which they form a part). For some of the saints, the akolouthia in codex L is the only known hymnographic text; for St. Ioseph and his fellow martyrs (28 June) the akolouthia is the only hitherto known attestation. The presentation continues with a description of the structure and content of the kanon and the hymns that accompany it (stichera, kathismata etc.). The question of authorship and issues of hymnographic composition, such as the use of heirmoi from different kanons, the re-use of theotokia and other troparia in new kanons by the same or by other hymnographers (p. 27; p. 46) etc. are addressed in this chapter as well.

Chapter 3 is a short presentation of the known hymnographers whose kanons are edited in the present book. Sixteen out of nineteen kanons were written by prominent hymnographers.

Chapter 4 focuses on the manuscript tradition of the edited texts. It begins with the detailed description of codex L, which is the focus of this book. A less detailed description follows of codex Hierosolymitanus Sabaiticus 70, which bears considerable similarities to codex L. Moreover, a selection of twenty six further Menaia-manuscripts, which transmit one or more of the nineteen kanons, is briefly presented. Spanos continues with the study of the transmission of the kanons edited in the present book. Since none of the examined Menaia transmits exactly the same texts as codex L, Spanos explores the manuscript tradition of each one of the nineteen kanons separately. For five of them, the codex L is so far the codex unicus. For the edition of the other fourteen kanons, Spanos examines the relationship between the manuscripts, but, like many editors of hymnographical texts, he does not reconstruct a stemma.

A point addressed in this chapter is the provenance of codex L. There is no external evidence for the history of the manuscript until the late 19th century, when it already belonged to the Leimonos Monastery on the island of Lesbos. From internal evidence (the commemorated saints and the similarities with codex Hierosolymitanus Sabaiticus 70, which at some time belonged to the Akataleptos Monastery in Constantinople), Spanos suggests a Constantinopolitan origin.

The edition is based on codex L, except for the parts missing due to physical damage. From this manuscript come the titles, the kanon and the other hymnographic texts for each day of June. If a text from the akolouthia is already edited, only the incipit and the reference are given. If another manuscript has stanzas of a kanon or a text other than the kanon, which is not transmitted in L, this is edited in the Appendix. Corrections based on the collation of other manuscripts are few. It was Spanos' decision to edit the text of the Codex Lesbiacus 11; this is indeed a good text, but not necessarily always better than the text of other manuscripts. For example, L is the only codex that transmits the right reading λοίμην (sc. ἐβδελυγμένων θυσιῶν, in 1.137, p.150), whereas the other codices have λύμην; but whether one adopts the variant πλουτιζόμεθα ἀνυμνοῦντες of codex L, or πλουτιζόμενοι ἀνυμνοῦμεν of most other codices (6.39, p. 199), is a question of the editor's methodology. Some of the editor's choices are explained in the Commentary.

The few remarks that follow concern mostly ambiguities in the organisation of the material or the wording in the Introduction. For example, the use of the term "unpublished akolouthia" vs. "unpublished kanon" is unsystematic and not explained. Throughout the Introduction one remains with the vague impression that only the nineteen akolouthiai with a hitherto unpublished kanon will be edited, but in fact unpublished texts other than kanons (i.e. stichera, kontakia etc.) from all thirty days of June are included. There are also some inaccuracies in the terminology and phrasing concerning the manuscripts: for example, Spanos uses the term "omit", when the text is missing due to loss of folios (e.g. on p. 120, l. 5), or or refers to "the twenty-eight extant" manuscripts and adds in a footnote that "these manuscripts do not represent the total of extant Byzantine Menaia" (p. 87). There are several errors which would have been corrected after a more careful reading.

Nevertheless, Spanos combines a good knowledge of Byzantine hymnography with enthusiasm for his object. This book will be useful for scholars studying Byzantine liturgical books, liturgical poetry and the cult of saints.


1.   Ajjoub, M. (ed.), Livre d'heures du Sinaï (Sinaiticus Graecus 864). Introduction, texte critique, traduction, notes et index (Sources chrétiennes 486). Paris 2004.
2.   I. Schirò et al. (ed.), Analecta hymnica Graeca e codicibus eruta Italiae Inferioris. Vol. 1-13. Rome 1966-1983.

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