Monday, December 16, 2019


Cynthia Stallman-Pacitti, The Life of Saint Pankratios of Taormina. Edited by John B. Burke. Byzantina Australiensia, 22. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. Pp. 538. ISBN 9789004366213. $270.00.

Reviewed by Alexander Alexakis, University of Ioannina (

Version at BMCR home site


The volume under review constitutes the eagerly anticipated publication of a much lauded Oxford DPhil dissertation by one of Cyril Mango's earlier graduate students. Unfortunately, Cynthia Stallman-Pacitti met with an untimely death in 1992 and the task of bringing forth her reworked dissertation fell upon the shoulders of John Burke, of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies of the University of Melbourne.

The extensive work of hagiography that is discussed, critically edited, translated into English, and commented upon in the present volume describes the mission and martyrdom of St. Pankratios. Pankratios, a native of Judaea, becomes a Christian and a disciple of the Apostle Peter, who eventually sends him to evangelize Taormina in Sicily. Fighting local deities, idols, heathen priests and officials, and demons, he manages to convert parts of the local population to Christianity. There follows the conversion of the army of the city and various miracles. Although paganism is not entirely extinct, Pankratios completes his mission and becomes the first bishop of Taormina.

On this premise, the author, a certain Euagrios, who presents himself as a witness to most events, even the martyrdom of Pankratios, builds a lengthy narrative (350 paragraphs) unknown from other sources.. The vita encompasses numerous novelistic episodes in which the element of the wondrous and exotic is present. For example, Bonifatios, the governor of Taormina, who is baptized a Christian at the end of the narrative, gathers an army half a million strong for an expedition, from which he returns, bringing with him Avar captives from Durazzo (in today's Albania) and Athens. Towards the end of the vita Euagrios inserts an aetiological myth, which explains the origin of the name of the city Taormina ("Tauromenion," from the name Tauros—a Canaanite giant and valiant warrior descended from Nimrod—and Menia—originally the wife of Rhemaldos, the master of Tauros, and after the death of the former, wife of the latter).1 The vita concludes with the martyrdom of St. Pankratios at the hands of the pagan Artagaros, brother of Aurelianos, the also pagan "politarches" (mayor?) of Taormina.

The introduction to the volume examines a number of possible termini ante for the creation of this text and eventually concludes with the suggestion that some time around the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth century is the most likely. Despite the presence of a number of references to icons (in which we find concrete examples of their educational function—a view widely accepted by later Iconophiles, embodied in the axiom "the images are the books of the illiterate"), Stalman-Pacitti is rightly cautious in branding this text as Iconophile. Taking a further step, I suggest a date before and very close to the outbreak of Iconoclasm for its composition, but I cannot offer any argument to support this assumption, apart from the weak argumentum ex silentio concerning events of Iconoclasm. This is aggravated by the fact that the value of the text as an historical source is rather limited. On the other hand, one cannot but notice the phrase: …Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, τὴν ἀόρατόν σου δύναμιν διὰ τοῦ τιμίου καὶ ζωοποιοῦ σου σταυροῦ και τῆς ἀχράντου καὶ προσκυνητῆς σου εἰκόνος (p. 450.9-10.). Although the expression ἀχράντου… εἰκόνος is common among both pre- and post-Iconoclastic authors, the earliest occurrence of the combination προσκυνητῆς… εἰκόνος is found in the Adversus Iconoclastas (PG 96:1349.48-49: περὶ τῶν σεβασμίων καὶ προσκυνητῶν εἰκόνων…), which dates to the year 775/6. In my opinion, this expression pressupposes the existence of issues related to the veneration of the images, which again points to some time after 726. The reason I maintain the reservations stated above concerning a dating after the outbreak of Iconoclasm is that the phrase in question is transmitted only by the eleventh-century Vienna manuscript, whereas all the other witnesses give: … καὶ τῶν ἀχράντων εἰκόνων, ὧν ἡμῖν δέδωκας…

Particular conclusions concerning the provenance of the work (most likely Taormina, despite the uncertainty of some topographic references), the purpose of its composition (advancement of the city's prestige and interests), and the sources of the work, stand on solid ground, and the arguments of the author result from a careful examination of the text.

The next part of the Introduction is dedicated to the study of the manuscript tradition mainly of the first recension of the text (the other two extant recensions are justifiably ignored as later and based on the first). It is interesting to note that all five parchment manuscripts except one are of South Italian provenance: Vaticanus gr. 1591 (a. 964, originally from the monastery of Grottaferrata), Vaticanus gr. 1985 (XIth cent., from South Italy), Messanensis S. Salvatoris 53 (XIIth cent.), Cryptoferratensis BβV (Xth cent.). and the Vindobonensis Hist. gr. 3 (olim 11, XIth and XVth cent., not from South Italy, with a third Vatican paper manuscript being its apograph). It seems that the tradition of the text is not straightforward and, as Stallman-Pacitti suggests, there is no way of establishing manuscript families with close connections among the manuscripts. Rather, she suggests the existence of three groups: the first consisting of Vaticanus gr. 1591, Messanensis 53, and the end section of the Vaticanus gr. 1985; the second consisting of Cryptoferratensis BβV and the major part of Vaticanus gr. 1985; and the third populated by Vindobon. Hist. gr. 3 and its apograph. In her edition, Stallman-Pacitti has also taken into account the limited segments that appear in sources of the Iconoclast period, i.e., the small excerpts in the Iconophile florilegium of Parisinus gr. 1115 (fol. 254v), which partly overlap with those found in Letters 72 and 199 (as per the PG edition)2 of Theodore of Studios and the more extensive citations in the Refutatio et Eversio of the Patriarch Nicephors of Constantinople.3 Based on all these witnesses, the author furnishes the best possible edition under the circumstances, with an extensive and detailed apparatus criticus and an adequate apparatus fontium. However, a few shortcomings might be observed here and there, especially typographical errors, the elimination of which—given the extent of this enormous hagiography—would have taxed the patience of the most careful editor.4

In conclusion, I agree with the late author that the vita Pancratii, despite its limited historical value, provides "evidence concerning the topography and monuments of Eastern Sicily and Calabria, architecture, ecclesiastical attitudes and arrangements, liturgical rites, attitudes and practices regarding religious images, church decoration, writing materials and book production, the position of Jews, the development of apostolic legends… the Christian view of the pagan world, deaconesses, the possible presence of Slavs and Avars in Sicily… and in general, the outlook of a Sicilian on the world, [which] is still of considerable value" (p. 22). To all these, I would add the intriguing linguistic elements of the text, which merit some further study. It is noteworthy that the text displays a number of hapaxes,5 and rare words and grammatical forms.6 A last remark: the most recent entry in the bibliography dates to 1994. This indicates that the Life of St. Pancratios has not attracted the attention of the scholarly community. I hope and wish that this is something that the new publication will change.7


1.   The entire episode of Menia and Tauros bears vivid traces of novelistic influence. Moreover, a short note added in the Appendix (p. 498) suggests that the storymay owe some debt to the pseudo-Kallisthenian Alexander Romance.
2.   The numbering of Theodore of Studios's letters appearing in the present volume is obsolete, since in the year of our author's death a new edition appeared by Georgios Fatouros, in which the relevant letters are nn. 221 and 532 respectively: Georgios Fatouros (ed.), Theodori Studitae Epistulae, pars altera textum epp. 71-564 et indices continens [CFHB, Series Berolinensis, 31/2], Berlin – New York, 1992, pp. 346.101-106, and 799.122-800.136, (for the Pankratios excerpts).
3.   Stallman-Pacitti (p. 25) gives a reference to the two manuscripts that transmit this particular treatise. However, in 1997 a critical edition of this work appeared: Jeffrey M. Featherstone (ed.), Nicephori Patriarchae Constantinopolitani Refutatio et Eversio Definitionis Synodalis Anni 815 [CCSG 33], Turnhout, Brepols, 1997, in which the lengthy Pankratios excerpt occupies pp. 143.3-147.112.
4.   Without any intention of detracting even a single morsel from the value of this significant work, I cite here a few examples of errors spotted in the Greek together with some objections concerning the understanding of some other readings: p. 74.3: κακοτέχνους (not -τέχνου); p. 168.19: καταπεσάτω (as in Vatic. gr. 1591 [henceforth = A] fol. 29r not καταπέσατο); p. 176.15/180.3: θεράπον (not -ων); p. 178.14: ἐπίδος (not ἐπιδὸς); p. 184.5: …πατρική ἀθυρμία, translated as: "…you reproach me because… the ancestral consensus(?) has called." The word ἀθυρμία is a hapax, but if we accept derivation from ἀθυρμός (Spiel in LbG) we may translate: "…you reporach me that… my paternal frivolity called me Consul, etc.; p. 200.10: κεχαρακτηρικότες (not κεχαρακτηριακότες, A fol. 37r); p. 200.14: κατανυγέντες (as in A fol. 37r, not κατανοιγέντες), here the translation should change from "…They opened their mouths…" to "They felt shame and…"; 204.27: πειθανικὰ ἤθη: All manuscripts seem to agree on this reading but it does not make sense translated as "…your obligatory customs." I would recommend emendation to πυθωνικά and translate as "…your divinatory customs," p. 220.19: δαῖμον (not δαίμων); p. 220.23: τὸ ἦχος: τοῦ ἤχους trasmitted by A and another two manuscripts is also satisfactory; p. 224.8: πεισθῶσι (not πειθῶσι, A: πισθῶσι); p. 244.3: ἰᾶταί σε (as in A. fol. 49r, not ἴαταί σε); p. 264.22: ἀποχωρίσατε (not άποχωρήσατε); 266.18: ἀποχωρίσας (not ἀποχωρήσας); p. 276.15: πεπληρωσῶσα is an hapax, which to me seems to be an ungrammatical form of πεπληρωκυῖα; p. 292.23: κολακεῖαι not κολακείαι; p. 292.25: …ἔφη πρὸς τὸν δεινότατον πολιτάρχα· «πολλοῖς…»: Suggested punctation: …ἔφη πρὸς τὸν δεινότατον· «Πολιτάρχα, πολλοῖς…», and translation: …said to the terrible one: "O, politarch, I have used many…"; p. 308.2: εἰπὲ τῷ (not εἴπε τῷ); p. 324.22: ἕτεραι καθέδραι (not ἑτέραι…); p. 326.1/338.10/408.12: εἱστήκεσαν (not ἱστήκησαν); p. 354.24: ἐν ᾧ καὶ πεφώτισμαι (as in A fol. 75r, not ἐν ᾗ καὶ…); p. 362.26-28: …λέγοντες· «ἰᾶται ὑμᾶς ὁ Κύριος», καὶ θείᾳ <…> οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ἰοῦνται… δαιμονιῶντες: A (fol. 77r) reads: …λέγοντες· «ἰᾶται ὑμᾶς ὁ Κύριος καὶ οἱ θεοὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ἀπολοῦνται τῆ δυνάμει τοῦ Κυρίου… Χριστοῦ», πολλούς τε δαιμονιῶντας ἰάσαντο.... A makes perfect sense and the translation should change to: … they said: "The Lord will heal you and the impotent gods will perish by the power of… Christ", and they healed many possessed by demons…; p. 404.15/470.13: παίδων (not παιδῶν); p. 412.3: εὐθείου ἀνέμου: the grammatical form is εὐθέος ἀνέμου but an emendation to εὐδίου ἀνέμου (mild wind) seems good to me; p. 412.22: προσεγγίσαι (not προεγγίσαι); 420.7: ἀνέγνων (not ἀνέγνω); 426.7: ζαγρὸς; 426.11/12 εὔθειος ὁ πλοῦς / εὐθείου πλοός: as above 412.3: εὔδιος ὁ πλοῦς / εὐδίου πλοός; 432.11: ὀρεινήν; 478.12: πολύκρεων (not -ον).
5.   See for example: ἔνσυρτος (56.13), στροβλήματα (76.6), ἀθυρμία (184.5), ἐδακτυλοτύπησεν (188.6), δακτυλοτύπησιν (188.9), τριβισμός (202.10), ἱδρυνόμενον (264.20), μολικόν (306.14), πλάκωμα (344.11), ἀκαιροβιβλίων (416.25), μονοδότης (424.8), λιθοβολίδας (428.8), μαντεῶνα (436.10), πολυανδρομέρει (-μένη Α, 440.24).
6.   Such as, for example: διάκονα (340.23), συνόρια (430.2), πολύκρεων (478.12), ἐρωτικῶν ἐμπυρώσεων (282.18).
7.   A search in indexed databases yielded only two major recent entries: Paul Stephenson, The Byzantine World, Abingdon – New York: Routledge, 2010, pp. 225-227 and Albrecht Berger, "Kerkylinos und Kerkyra" in Sofia Kotzabassi & Giannis Mavromatis (eds.), Realia Byzantina, Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009, pp. 21-23.

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