Monday, December 16, 2013


Anna Maria Taragna, Ten Centuries of Byzantine Prose: A Selection of Greek Texts. Universitas. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2012. Pp. lxiv, 319. ISBN 9788862744171. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Frederick Lauritzen, Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose, Bologna (

Version at BMCR home site

An anthology of Byzantine prose is most welcome, and Anna Maria Taragna's book is an admirable achievement. It aims to introduce the range and peculiarities of Byzantine Greek to those who are not familiar with it, but it will also aid those who wish to revisit this long tradition of writing. The survey contains over a hundred texts and does not limit itself to specific types or genres of Greek but illustrates their variety during ten centuries.1 One may question starting in the sixth century (Gibbon or Ostrogorski would have aimed more for the late third or early fourth), but the popularity of late antiquity as an isolated field may explain such a choice.

The volume has a series of useful indices: a table of contents (v-viii) organised alphabetically; a short biography of each author included in the bibliography and the editions employed (xiii-xliv); a table of centuries in which the text are classified chronologically (295-298); and a table of genres (299-307).

There are interesting inclusions as well as exclusions. Procopius of Caesarea (221-227), Michael Psellos (228-237), and Anna Comnena (117-123) are the only ones who are given more than three pages of Greek text, not only because they are the best-known Byzantine authors but also because of the widely held belief that they are part of a linear evolution of Byzantine thought and style. One may question the exclusion of eleventh-century writers such as Alexios Studites, John Italos, or Nicetas Stethatos since they are representatives of hochsprachliche literatur and were influential in the centuries which followed. One may also wonder why the two legal documents (typika) which establish the monastic communities of Athos were not included, especially that of Monomachos which has some legal authority even today. It is probable that Anna Maria Taragna simply did not have the space to add more Middle Byzantine texts. More serious is the omission of Nikephoros Choumnos, who beside being a rival of Metochites is author of important philosophical texts such as the refutation of Plotinus. Indeed the only (minor) weak point of the volume is the lack of philosophical texts. This is obviated by the inclusion of important theologians (though Gregory of Sinai and Marcus Eugenicus are missing).

If one turns to the table of genres, those that have four texts or more are as follows: Chronicles (6), Dialogues (8), Encyclopaedias (6), Epistolography (11), Hagiography (8), Historiography (20), Philosophy (4), Strategika (4), Theological literature (10), Typika (4). This outline reflects the author's interest History, Epistolography and Theology.

The editions employed are carefully described in the introduction and reviews listed. The editions employed appear to be the most recent and widely used, with only 18 texts coming from editions published before 1945. This indicates the effort Taragna put into finding more recent editions for the majority of texts and suggests that the availability of certain editions may have influenced the selection, for example Choumnos, where the easiest available edition of some of his treatises is published in Creuzer's Plotini Opera of 1835.2

There are no notes to the texts, a choice which allows the reader to focus on the Greek. This means that the volume would be excellent to use in a classroom, but may be more difficult for individuals to employ, even a specialist interested in exploring different genres or topics on his or her own.

All in all it is a useful volume recommended both for the specialist and the beginner.


1.   The volume contains one hundred texts more than Nigel Wilson, Anthology of Byzantine Prose (Vienna 1971), which published 24 texts.
2.   One should note that in the editions of the Book of the Eparch (16), it would have been useful to include the Russian edition and commentary by M. Ja. Sjuzjumov, Vizantijskaja kniga eparcha (Moscow 1962).

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