Thursday, May 30, 2013


Denis Searby, Ewa Balicka Witakowska, Johan Heldt, ΔΩΡΟΝ ΡΟΔΟΠΟΙΚΙΛΟΝ: Studies in Honour of Jan Olof Rosenqvist. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia Byzantina Upsaliensia, 12. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2012. Pp. 239. ISBN 9789155481070.

Reviewed by Florin Leonte, Central European University, Budapest (

Version at BMCR home site


This volume includes eighteen essays in English, French, and Italian, which were presented to Jan Olof Rosenqvist in gratitude for his many years in service to the field of Byzantine Studies. The papers cover a wide range of topics: hagiography, the history of literary genres, art history, and linguistics. The volume also highlights the importance of Professor Rosenqvist's research on Byzantine literature in general, and on saints' lives in particular. A comprehensive list of the dedicatee's publications precedes the papers. Each chapter is followed by an extensive bibliography.

Understandably, most articles deal with hagiography. In her study of the Life of St. Domnika, C. Amadou defends the importance of a text about which little is known. This vita offers evidence for changes in attitudes toward magical practices and reveals the hagiographer's efforts to draw a line between true miracles and satanic magic. P.A. Bodin discusses several cases of canonization in modern Russia, which, he argues, represent an important culture-generating phenomenon. Such canonizations have a twofold purpose: to serve the Russian Church in maintaining the memory of and settling accounts with the Soviet harassment of Christians, and to reinforce patriotic sentiment in post-communist Russia. S. Constantinou discusses The Life of Mary of Antioch, a text which differs from other Byzantine writings on holy women: a major element of hagiographical narratives, the detailed presentation of the saint's asceticism, is absent from the Life of Mary. The author argues that the uniqueness of this text can be explained by looking at its lay audience. With this vita, the hagiographer sought to provide guidance for the conduct and aspirations of lay people and not those of a monastic audience as is the case with most hagiographical works. V. Déroche looks into late antique epiphany, focusing on collections of the miracles of Cosmas and Damian and of Artemios. He concludes that late antique miracle collections conceive of divinity as a ubiquitous presence in the world. In this sense, such texts seem related to the ancient pagan writings, a continuity which is more visible than in the western world. The symbolic world of hagiography is explored by S. Efthymiadis on the basis of Leontios of Neapolis' Life of St. Symeon the Holy Fool. The author examines an episode involving Symeon's appearance in a sick person's dream where he is playing dice with Death. In the story, Symeon makes the perfect throw and persuades the person to stop sinning. This image of Death playing dice is unique for the Byzantine world. However, as noted, in the Christian West the representation of encounters between men and Death involve the game of chess. Two cases are further analyzed: a fifteenth-century mural by Albertus Pictor and a chess-game scene in Ingmar Bergman's movie The Seventh Seal. While there are similarities between Leontios' account and the western ones, it is also clear that the two different games (dice and chess) have deeper symbolical implications: if in the West chess stands for one's pursuit of rational knowledge, in the Byzantine East tyche (represented by dice) controls everyone's life.

D. Searby begins with a discussion of the meanings of encyclopedism. While taking into consideration previous definitions, Searby argues that texts that have been classified as "spiritual florilegia" display several encyclopedic traits. He explores the florilegia derived from John of Damascus' Sacra Parallela and focuses on the anthologies that are dependent on a text of pseudo-Maximus the Confessor, the Life of Cyril Phileotes. This hagiographical text is particularly interesting in that some of its chapters resemble a florilegium with the narrative reduced to a minimum. Searby argues that a pure florilegium is a "compilation of excerpts from other works in which the author's role is reduced to selection and arrangement." Finally, the meaning of encyclopedism is connected with enkyklios paideia and in this sense, he argues, we can regard florilegia as encyclopedic. A.-M. Talbot offers a translation of a brief vita written by Philotheos Kokkinos, Patriarch of Constantinople in the mid fourteenth century. Kokkinos was known for his lengthy hagiographical texts, but this one, The Life of St. Nikodemos, is unusually short. Nikodemos lived in Thessalonike in the early fourteenth century. Even though he joined the Philokales Monastery, he played the holy fool by living with prostitutes. In 1307, he was killed by some citizens of Thessalonike. Kokkinos' Life, which promotes the cult of Nikodemos, focuses on his saintly deeds, death, and miracles. S. Wahlgren tries to illustrate several principles of New Philology. He underlines the need to use manuscripts for more purposes than simply to reconstruct a text's original shape. If Western medieval texts have benefited from New Philology, Byzantinists are only now beginning to take advantage of this approach. Wahlgren looks into the manuscripts of the Chronicle of Symeon the Logothete and tries to measure the extent to which we can trace intentional change in the Logothete tradition. He concludes that we should take an interest in manuscripts as entities rather than just extracting from them the text for a critical edition. D. Westberg follows in the footsteps of J. O. Rosenqvist who, in his doctoral dissertation, analyzed the syntax of the Life of Theodore Sykeon by Georgios of Sykeon (seventh century). Westberg looks into the text's literary strategies and studies the particular symbolism involved in the distinction between civilization and wilderness. The author notices that, contrary to other scholars who highlighted the text's rhetorical deficiencies, this is certainly a "literary text." Furthermore, Westberg argues that in the vita Theodore is acting in the guise of a mediator not only between God and men, but between the ordered world and the wild.

Several studies deal with other kinds of Byzantine texts. A. A. Longo examines the sources of Theodore Prodromos' tetrastichs dedicated to the biography of Basil the Great to celebrate the feast of the Three Hierarchs in the first year of Alexios Komnenos' reign. The author identifies several sources, above all the texts of Gregory of Nazianzos. D. Afinogenov discusses the sources of two passages in Theophanes' History: the naval battle of Phoenix (655) and the beginning of the Arab conquest of Syria and Palestine (approximately 675). Afinogenov makes a comparison with George the Monk to solve some of the riddles posed by Theophanes' compilation techniques. The author concludes that the sections of Theophanes' history dedicated to the Arab conquest and the reign of Constans used four major sources: a pamphlet, oriental chronicles, a homily by Anastasios of Sinai, and a treatise on the origins of Islam. J. Akujärvi explores the construction of the periegetic genre by comparing Pausanias' Periegesis, Dionysius Periegetes, and Eustathius' Commentary. She asks how texts can be read after they became isolated from their literary context and argues that, despite the scarcity of sources, a periegetic genre can still be reconstructed. Akujärvi concludes that the influence of other genres (geography, ethnography, etc.) emerging in the texts of ancient authors can be evaluated only when the text is understood within its primary periegetic genre. B. Bydén focuses on the criticism of Aristotle in the dialogue Florentius by Nikephoros Gregoras (ca. 1337). Bydén offers a brief overview of Byzantine Aristotelianism, which was strongly influenced by the late antique tradition of Aristotelian commentary from Porphyry onwards. The study deals with the dialogue's unconnected thoughts on natural philosophy which seem to belong to a unitary philosophical system. However, as the author suggests, there is no clear proof for such a system. Instead, the dialogue seems rather to deal with the "freedom and limitations inherent in radical epistemological pessimism." B. Dahlman discusses one of the most interesting collections of Apophthegmata patrum, the so-called Sabaitic collection, a text copied in 1071 at the monastery of St. Sabas, Palestine. This collection was created for a monastic audience, as indicated by its composite nature that makes it different from a pure collection of apophthegmata. This nature is reflected in the fact that along with the apophthegmata placed in alphabetical order by the names of the desert fathers or mothers, the Sabaitic collection also includes more extensive narratives and passages from other monastic texts (e.g. Moschos' Pratum Spirituale and Palladius' Historia Lausiaca). The comparison with other collections of apophthegmata indicates that the Sabaitic collection survived in five manuscripts. Dahlman also argues that several manuscripts transmitted a second stage in the textual tradition. Finally, it seems that the collection combines the tradition of the systematic collections with apophthegmata transmitted through older textual traditions. L.-M. Peltomaa analyzes a kontakion by Romanos Melodos that includes a portrayal of the wife of Potiphar from the Old Testament. This kontakion was composed to urge people to abstain from desires of the flesh so they can celebrate the Resurrection. The analysis reveals that Romanos deliberately employed this story in order to increase his listeners' appreciation of this female character, whom he lets shake the established political order. Arguably, Romanos alluded to historical events when writing this kontakion, for there is evidence that the female figure he created for the wife of Potiphar was credible in the eyes of his audience. J. Blomqvist explores the use of the particle πλήν, a linguistic detail which, arguably, illustrates a phenomenon typical of Biblical Greek. Evidence shows that in the New Testament πλήν was used with the same meaning as in the Old Testament. Moreover, this use of the particle πλήν cannot be found in extra-Biblical Greek. Thus, in Biblical contexts, πλήν appears to have an affirmative meaning, most probably borrowed by the translators from the Hebrew of the Old Testament.

Two studies are concerned with art-historical issues: E. Witakowska and W. Witakowski discuss the paintings in the church of Yemrehanna Krestos (Ethiopia). The analysis of the painting and the dedicatory inscriptions indicate that the donors were clergymen and most probably monks. One piece of evidence for that is the preference for monastic figures. Thus, we have St. Alexius who incorporates all monastic virtues, St. Kiros, a Coptic hermit-monk, St. Libanos and Takla. Furthermore, it appears that the donors were educated, with a good knowledge of Scripture, who commissioned the paintings and the inscriptions with the prayers as elements of a well thought-out project. B. Kiilerich analyzes the uses of chromatic effects by Byzantine artists. The study of sculpted images, mosaics, and painted objects in church interiors (e.g., the Lips Monastery) reveals that in their works artists made conscious use of polychromy and polymateriality. The composition of artistic objects indicates that they were elements of carefully planned, major artistic programs. This is indicated by the layout of the images which was created according to a system of proportions designed to generate an effect of harmony. The author argues that such harmonious proportions were meant to reflect God's order where the artistry of both the parts and the whole had to be equally rendered. That is why in Byzantium one will find a poikilia of materials and colors instead of monochromy.

It is not easy to do full justice to a book that includes many articles from such a wide range of topics. Noticeably, some of the contributions try to connect medieval phenomena to aspects of modern life. As with many edited collections, the contents might have been arranged differently. Perhaps a thematic or a chronological order would have been helpful. That minor issue aside, this is a valuable collection of essays and a worthy tribute to the research of Professor Rosenqvist.

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