Saturday, June 23, 2018


Stratis Papaioannou, Christian Novels from the 'Menologion' of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks medieval library, 45. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2017. Pp. xxvi, 318. ISBN 9780674975064. $29.95.

Reviewed by Elisabeth Schiffer, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Medieval Research (

Version at BMCR home site

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Translations of Byzantine texts into modern languages find a ready welcome, especially when they are accompanied by a revised Greek text and by explanatory notes. The present book by Stratis Papaioannou fully meets these expectations.1 Six texts with female protagonists have been chosen out of the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes, i.e., the late tenth-century Byzantine liturgical collection of hagiographical texts. These include the following saints: Kyprianos and Ioustina (BHG 456), Pelagia of Antioch (BHG 1479), Galaktion and Episteme (BHG 666), Euphemia the Young Maiden (BHG 738), Barbara (BHG 216), and Eugenia (BHG 608).2 Symeon's collection enjoyed one of the highest levels of popularity among Byzantine texts, as may be concluded from the high number of the surviving manuscripts. Yet, the purpose of his enterprise was not solely a practical one. With a few exceptions, these texts were systematically rewritten in a certain, in most cases higher, linguistic register. It is this special nature of the texts that wakens the Byzantinists' particular interest in the so-called Metaphrastic Menologion, in addition to research in Byzantine hagiography.

Even though hagiographical texts are among the most frequently translated Byzantine sources, little effort has been made so far to translate parts of Symeon Metaphrastes' Menologion.3 This is primarily due to the generally unfortunate editorial situation of these texts: They are transmitted relatively standardized, but in a vast number of liturgical manuscripts. In view of this, an editor of a Metaphrastic "Life" or "Passion" has to take a well-considered decision about the basis of manuscripts, and Papaioannou decided thoughtfully to present the Greek text based on a collation of eleventh-century manuscripts. (For the list of manuscripts see pp. 268-73). He states that his edition does not reflect the full text-history. Instead, it is his intention to present the text as it was in use in eleventh-century Byzantium. He also consulted some late Byzantine and post-Byzantine manuscripts.

In addition to summarizing the status of research on Symeon's rewriting enterprise, Papaioannou explains in his introduction why he calls the texts in focus "Christian novels." It is not unproblematic to apply this modern term, as he himself states, but he decided to do so because of the fictionality of these narratives and because of their resemblances to the late antique Greek novel. When saying this, it is important to emphasize—as Papaioannou explicitly does—that these texts of novelistic character were not understood as such by their audience. On the contrary, the Byzantines regarded these texts as relating true stories, written for edification and liturgical purposes (see pp. xiv-xviii).

In the notes on the text, Papaioannou points out parallels within the Metaphrastic Menologion, like similar thoughts and phrasing, as well as several formulaic expressions that are used throughout the corpus. He also indicates the frequent use of proverbs. Furthermore, he hints at similar use of language in the chronicle of Symeon Logothetes, whom he considers "most likely identical" to Symeon Metaphrastes (see p. 298 and p. 306).4 Other texts that are repeatedly referred to in the notes are Euthymios' "Barlaam and Joasaph" and the Suda. Regarding Euthymios' "Barlaam and Joasaph," it is known by now that it shows numerous parallels with the Metaphrastic corpus. Papaioannou, in the present edition, points out parallel passages that have been unrecognized up to now. He holds the view that the Menologion is rather the source-text than the dependent one, which is a welcome contribution to a discussion that started some years ago.5 The Suda is referred to with regard to proverbs, but also with regard to learned and to common expressions listed there. In my opinion, this approach is well worth pursuing, since this Byzantine encyclopedia was compiled at about the same time in a similar intellectual environment. Furthermore, Papaioannou points also towards authors that were influenced by the Metaphrastic Menologion, like Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos. Only here and there the reader of the book could perhaps think of another way of interpreting a phrase, but these are minor details in view of multiple well- solved textual challenges.6

Apart from dealing with the text in the strict sense, this edition gives also evidence about marks and comments in the manuscripts' margins. They are neither unusual nor very numerous, but they have not been looked at earlier. In the context of the Menologion, it is to be hoped that they can help us to learn more about the actual reading practice during the early morning office, when once they have been studied in a suitable number of manuscripts.

Altogether, this volume is a good example of making Byzantine hagiographical texts accessible to a wider audience. Modern readers might be surprised to read, for example, that the parents of Saint Galaktion bear the names of Leukippe and Kleitophon, the protagonists in Achilleus Tatios' novel. Furthermore, in the notes on the texts we are reminded of allusions to ancient myths like Cassandra and Agamemnon, on the one hand, and the captivated Saint Euphemia and her captor of Goth origin, on the other, to mention just one more example. For those studying Byzantine literature, Papaioannou's book demonstrates in an encouraging way how to lay a foundation for future studies on Symeon Metaphrastes' Menologion. These could be pursued either individually for single saints, as has been generally the practice, or thematically, like in the present book. A third option one may think of could be an edition of a representative selection of Metaphrastic texts following the calendar of Saints, but this is rather wishful thinking than a suggestion, in view of the enormity of the task.


1.   In Papaioannou's book, as in other volumes of the DOML series, text and translation face each other, they are followed by notes regarding manuscript transmission (pp. 275-81), and completed by comments on the text and the translation (pp. 283-312), as well as by an index of names (pp. 315-18). An index of Greek words would have been desirable, however, it is not standard practice in this series.
2.   Altogether twenty-one female protagonists feature in Metaphrastes' collection of in total 148 texts. There is still a considerable interest in women-Saints' Lives, as demonstrated by another recently published—Italian—translation of pre-Metaphrastic texts, some of them serving also as source-texts for the relevant Metaphrastic version. See Cinque Sante Bizantine: Storie di cortigiane, travestite, eremite, imperatrici, ed. L. Franco (Milan, 2017).
3.   Only few translations into modern languages can be found in more or less recent editions of Metaphrastic texts, Papaioannou lists them on p. 314. One could add to these the revised edition of the life of Saint Stephen the Younger, published equally by F. Iadevaia, Messina 2003. Berger's edition of the Passion of St. Mamas (BHG 1019) is erroneously mentioned here; this text is not part of the Metaphrastic Menologion, but one of the source-texts for the Metaphrastic version (BHG 1018).
4.   Looking more into details concerning the discussion whether these two authors were identical or not, would certainly go beyond the scope of the present publication.
5.   See J. K. Grossmann, "Die Abhängigkeit der Vita des Barlaam und Ioasaph vom Menologion des Symeon Metaphrastes," in: Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 59 (2010): 87–95 in response to R. Volk, "Das Fortwirken der Legende von Barlaam und Ioasaph in der byzantinischen Hagiographie, insbesondere in den Werken des Symeon Metaphrastes," in: Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 53 (2003) 127–170.
6.   To name but one example, the expression "according to the great Luke" (p.2, Kyprianos and Ioustina c.1) seems probably to refer to Luke as the traditionally seen author of the Acts of the apostles, whereas in the relevant note the mention of Luke is regarded as a false attribution by Symeon Metaphrastes.

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