Monday, June 24, 2013


Foteini Kolovou (ed.), Byzanzrezeption in Europa. Spurensuche über das Mittelalter und die Renaissance bis in die Gegenwart. Byzantinisches Archiv Band 24. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2012. Pp. vi, 354; 13 plates. ISBN 9783110272062. €129.95.

Reviewed by Hrvoje Gračanin, University of Zagreb (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The present collection of studies offers a search for traces of Byzantine cultural influence on (western) Europe from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to the modern times. Undoubtedly, Byzantium and its millennium-long history have inspired conflicting feelings over centuries, but it has remained a point of attraction for European intellectual and cultural elites since the sixteenth century.

The fifteen studies are grouped in five sections that are sorted chronologically. The majority deal with the Middle Ages and the modern age; there are only two studies dedicated to the Renaissance, one dedicated to the Reformation, and one to the Enlightenment. The focus is mostly on the literary image of Byzantium in various narratives.

Thomas Pratsch (pp. 15-26) examines the process of estrangement between the West and the East as seen in the heated theological disputes and ecclesiastical differences between the churches of Rome and Constantinople from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. He stresses that the increasing estrangement had political and ecclesiastical-political as well as ideological and cultural-historical elements but, despite all of the criticism and prejudices, Byzantium always remained the measure of things in the West. These conflicts never led to a definite breach and were regularly pushed to the background by higher political causes. However, the Crusades gave rise to new developments and ever greater resentment. This finally caused the final breach after the crusaders conquered and plundered Constantinople in 1204.

Walter Berschin's contribution (pp. 27-40) is a slightly revised version of his article published in the Literaturwissenschaftlichen Jahrbuch in 1988. It deals with the 12th-century Premonstratensian monk and theological writer Anselm of Havelberg, his diplomatic missions to Byzantium concerning theological disputes, and his theory of Christian history that was inspired by Greek patristic thought.

Nina-Maria Wanek (pp. 41-74) surveys the state of research on the Missa graeca and concludes that the various problems and aspects of this phenomenon have thus far been primarily viewed from the western perspective. She calls for a systematic comparison between the Latin and Byzantine codices that can clarify the question of Byzantine influence.

Ulrike Koenen (pp. 75-86) offers a case study on the four Byzantine ivory reliefs depicting Christ, Mary, Peter and Paul, known as the Bamberger Tafeln. These were refashioned at the request of Emperor Henry II into codex covers for two cantatories. She also describes their influence on Henry II's dedicatory image in an evangeliary from Bamberg (Staatsbibliothek, Bamberg, Msc. Bibl. 95, fol. 7v–8r in which Henry is shown together with the Mother of God. Koenen not only believes that the four ivory reliefs were kept at the scriptorium of the monastery of Seeon for a time but also argues that Henry II's dedicatory image originated from the same scriptorium.

Hartmut Wulfram (pp. 89-116) elucidates the process of de-individualization of the renowned Byzantine scholar Manuel Chrysolaras through six case studies of texts by his former students and acquaintances, Coluccio Salutati, Pier Paulo Vergerio, Poggio Bracciolini, Leonardo Bruni, Cencio de' Rustici, and Guarino Veronese. Chrysolaras was made into a celebrated initiator of the studia humanitas in Italy, but his real personality remained of little or no interest both to his contemporaries and to the next generation of humanists. This advanced to the point that his appearance was re-invented by some to match that of the famous ancient philosopher Aristotle.

Michiel Op de Coul (pp. 117-133) explores the scholarly activities of Ambrogio Traversari, an outstanding translator of Byzantine literature in 15th-century Italy. Most celebrated among his translations into Latin were Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite and the Pratum Spirituale of John Moschus, the works which established Traversari's fame. He was also prominent as interpreter and advocate of the Union at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, where his expertise was held in high esteem by Pope Eugene IV. The pope charged Traversari with the preparations for the transfer of the Council from Ferrara to Florence and with editing in collaboration with Bessarion the bilingual final decree of the Union Laetentur caeli et exultet terra.

Klaus-Peter Matschke (pp. 137-166) discusses an unexpected Byzantine contribution to the European cultural depository, the name of the wine Malvasia. This was used by German Protestants as a fighting slogan in their disputes with their religious opponents and even as an auxiliary construct for the formation of a new Protestant ethic. The history of Malvasia in connection with the 16th-century religious quarrels began with an attack on the personality of Martin Luther, his moral integrity and the seriousness of his religious concerns: Malvasia became a metaphorical symbol of Luther's and his close associates' inability to form clear judgement and to act in a sober manner due to their alleged dedication to this wine.

Sebastian Kolditz (pp. 169-193) investigates how various 18th-century narratives (Gibbon, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Meletios of Ioannina, Johann Daniel Ritter, lexicon articles in Johann Heinrich Zedler's Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon aller Wissenschafften und Künste) treat the political and ecclesiastical history of the late Palaiologan period. Special attention is paid to a curious document published in Regensburg in 1721, which dealt with privileges that (real or fictitious) descendants of the Palaiologean dynasty received from the Holy Roman Emperors. Kolditz concludes that the reception of the late Palaiologan period in the 18th century was not confined to scholarly discourse between enlightenment intention and factual explanation (auf wissenschaftliche Diskurse zwischen aufklärerischer Absicht und Faktenerklärung beschränkte). This could also be used by a resourceful claimant to establish a social prestige for himself.

Angelika Corbineau-Hoffmann (pp. 197-218) takes for the starting point of her study Racine's tragedy Bajazet and its paradigmatic role in shaping the image of Byzantium as the stage of power struggle and bloody revenge. She then explores how it influenced the perception of Constantinople/Istanbul by the French travellers who visited the city in the 19th century.

Charlotte Schubert (pp. 219-241) examines the motif of a wise nomad (the Scythian Anacharsis from the fourth book of Herodotus' Histories) in the Byzantine tradition and western European literature. Her main emphasis is on Wilhelm Walter's history novel Der Anarchasis des 13. Jahrhunderts. Ein Sittengemälde der Vorzeit published in Aachen in 1845.

Helena Bodin (pp. 243-257) focuses on the Byzantine patterns of thought in the work of Swedish physician and postmodernist writer Lars Gyllensten. She treats this on three levels: hagiological, iconographic and theological. Bodin concludes that Gyllensten's literary work points to a fundamental change in function of Byzantine theology through which its original confessional and didactic purpose within the Eastern Orthodox liturgy is semantically remodelled to suit the existential and aesthetic functions within modern and postmodern literature and epistemological debates.

Gerhard Emrich (pp. 259-272) analyzes modern Greek lyric of the 19th and 20th centuries in search for Byzantium as a poetical motif or a metaphorical theme. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Byzantium is rarely mentioned and, when touched upon, it is often passed over with just one word or one sentence. This is especially notable in comparison with classical antiquity and, in the context of the 19th century, with the still recent freedom fight against the Ottomans, which both provided almost inexhaustible sources of poetic inspiration. The exception to the rule are Kostis Palamas, Konstantinos Kavafis and Odysseas Elytis who are singled out by Emrich as poets with a tendency to use the Byzantine material to address issues of their contemporary moment.

Spyros N. Troianos (pp. 273-295) explains the stages of formation of the modern Greek legal system in the 19th century, which experienced a shift from the one based on Byzantine legal texts to one based on Roman law. This development was particularly facilitated by the establishment of the monarchy in 1833 under the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty.

Thomas Fuchs and Christoph Mackert (pp. 297-312) examine the three collections of Greek manuscripts in the holdings of the Leipzig University Library: the Codices graeci in the possesion of the University; the Greek manuscripts of the Leipzig City Library that were entrusted as a deposit to the Leipzig University Library in 1962; and modern Greek manuscripts, primarily from the bequest by Biblical scholar Konstantin von Tischendorf and philologist Karl Friedrich August Nobbe.

Philipp Dörler and Johannes Preiser-Kapeller (pp. 313-345) focus on how Austrian schoolbooks dating from the late 18th to the early 21st centuries deal with Byzantium and its history. The study is divided in three parts: the first treats the schoolbooks from the Habsburg Monarchy (1771-1918); the second covers schoolbooks from the time of the First Republic and the Corporative State (1918-1938); and the third addresses schoolbooks in the Second Republic (1945- present day). In its results and conclusions this analysis is congruent with the study by Stefan Albrecht, "Byzanz in deutschen, französischen und englischen Schulbücher", in A. Helme-Dach (ed.), Pulverfass, Powder Keg, Baril de poudre? Südosteuropa im europäischen Geschichtsschulbuch/South Eastern Europe in European History Textbooks, Hannover 2007, pp. 11-40, and shows many parallels with the study by Georgios Dimitrakos, Die Behandlung der byzantinischen Geschichte und Kultur in den deutschen Schulgeschichtsbüchern, Athens 1975.

The book ends with the list of contributors, an index, and thirteen plates. All in all, the studies represented in this collection give interesting perspectives on the perception and reception of Byzantium in the European context, and they indicate the true richness of potential research topics and research directions. This said, it has to be pointed out that the collection lacks conceptual cohesion and is more of a conglomeration of only loosely related studies. Furthermore, the absence of any treatment of the Eastern Europe and the elements of its cultural, religious and ideological heritage that are still rooted in the Byzantine tradition is conspicuous.1 This is even more surprising when one bears in mind that Kolovou opens her introductory essay (pp. 1-12) with several lines from Joseph Brodsky's Flight from Byzantium.


1.   For instance, Kolovou is not entirely right when stating that the scholarly attention given to the study of Byzantium as a cultural phenomenon in the European context is as recent as 2003. The Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga had already opened this field of study with his groundbreaking Byzance après Byzance: continuation de l'"Histoire de la vie byzantine" in 1935.

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