An Anthology of Byzantine Prose - N. G. Wilson

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KLBINB TEXTE FOR VORLBSUNGEN U ND OBUNGBN BBCJlONOBT VON HANS LlBTZWANN HBJlAUSCBGBBBN VON JCUJlT ALANO 189 AN ANTHOLOGY OF BYZANTINE PROSE BY N I GEL G. WI LSON WALTER DE GRUYTER BERLIN NEW YORK 1971 KLEINB TEXTE FOR VORLESUNGEN UND 0BUNGEN BEGRONDET VON HANS LIBTZMANN HBRAUSGEGEBEN VON KURT ALAND 189 AN ANTHOLOGY OF BYZANTINE PROSE BY NIGEL G. WILSON \\'ALTER DE GR UYTER BERLIN NEW YORK 1971 ISBN 3 11 001898 5 1971 b1 Waiter de Gm,tet & Co., -.orma1a G. J. J. Gaucmas, Vcrlagobnchbwndbmg- Gcoq Relmu -Kad J. TtllbGer- Vclt & Comp. Bcrlla. 30 Allc Rcchtc, imbc.......W.. du dcr 'Obc:ractzuag lA fraDdc SPftCbco. Ohac aUidztJcldicbe Geachmisuag des V crlaga bt eo aach Dlcht gcat11UCt, diaca Bach oclcr Tcllc daraua auf pbotomcchaniKbcm Wcgc (Photoi:Dplc, Milaokoplc) Z1l (Prlaud ill Gamlm1) Satz uad Druck: Waiter de Gm,tet & Co., Bcrlla. What numbers of fine writers in the later empire of Rome, when refinement was carried to the highest pitch, have missed that fame and immortality which they had fondly arrogated to themselves? How many Greek authors, who wrote at that period when Constantinople was the refined mistress of the empire, now rest either not printed, or not read, in the libraries of Europe? GOLDSMITH The citizen of the world. Introduction . Abbreviations CONTENTS Cosmas Indicopleustes . Procopius .. . Agathias ... . Ioannes Malalas Ioannes Moschos Theophanes the confessor Methodios ...... . Photius . . . . . . . . . Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus Ioannes Mauropous Michael Psellos Cecaumenos . . Anna Comnena Eustathius . . Michael Choniates . Timarion .... Georgios Acropolites Theodoros Lascaris . Maximos Planudes Theodoros Metochites Nicephorus Gregoras Manuel II Bessarion Ducas .. Page 1 5 6 11 22 26 28 32 36 40 63 68 68 83 87 98 108 111 . . . 121 123 . 126 130 .. 136 . 142 146 .. 162 INTRODUCTION This book is intended for students and scholars who would like to learn about the Byzantine world from primary sources. It has been designed mainly for those who already know some classical Greek, but I hope that it may also tempt medieval historians and students of modern Greek literature to make their first direct acquaintance with an unusually fascinating period of history. My object has been to select from prose writers a number of representative extracts which will give a general picture of Byzantine life and culture. The only existing anthology of this kind is a little book by G. Soyter, Byzantinische Ge-schichtsschreiber, Heidelberg 1929, which seems to me too short and limited in scope to be satisfactory. The task of an anthologist is not easy. Byzantine literature is so vast in bulk - Migne's Patrologia Graeca consists of a hundred and sixty one volumes-that no one can read more than a fraction of it, and consequently no fully representative selection can be compiled without exceeding the limits of space that must be observed in a book designed as an introduc-tion. In order to stay within these limits I had to take difficult decisions. The most practicable solution led to two restrictions in the choice of passages. The first is chronological: following the example of Beck and Krumbacher I have assumed that Byzantine literature began in the reign of Justinian. As a result some authors of the fourth and fifth centuries who are important in themselves and were influential in Byzantium have been left out. The writings of John Chrysostom, the Cappadocian Fathers and Athanasius' Life of St. Antony are the most obvious omissions. The second restriction is that, whereas nothing has been done to obscure or minimise the pervasive influence of the church in every sphere of life, some kinds of theological literature, especially sermons, mys-1 Wilson 2 INTRODUCTION ticism and philosophical theology, have been excluded. This may be thought a shortcoming, particularly in view of the emphasis given to matters connected with the survival and study of classical antiquity throughout the book. Perhaps! should anticipate criticism by saying that the decision, though not easy or welcome, seemed justifiable on two grounds. My purpose has been not so much to give examples of every class of prose writing as to offer a panorama of Byzantine life. In addition it is a tenable proposition that the Byzantine contribu-tion to theology is less important for the history of European culture than the preservation and study of classical Greek texts. In the selection here offered to the reader the historians claim the lion's share. That is only to be expected. Although they mostly set to work with the narrow aim of writing military and political history, they permitted themselves digressions from the main theme which are admirably suited for inclusion here. There is also little doubt that the historians are the best writers of medieval Greece. Only their works can stand the test of being translated into a modern language for the benefit of a wider audience than professional scholars. Of the other literary forms the letter is best represented, and throughout the period it was practised with success by school-masters, bishops, statesmen and even emperors. The absence of two authors requires explanation. The story of Barlaam and Joasaph, usually ascribed to St. John Damascene, has been omitted, since I am inclined to share the view of D. M. Lang, BSOAS 17. 2. 1955. 312---8, that it is a translation from the Ge9rgian and not an original work of Byzantine literature. And there is no specimen from the works of Plethon. This is deliberate, since the proper appraisal of his philosophical position is not yet agreed among scholars. I suspect that the revolutionary nature of his ideas has been exaggerated, and would refer the reader to E. Wind, The pagan mysteries of the Renaissance, second edition, Penguin Books 1967, 244-6. His economic ideas, however, designed to strengthen the Morea, are reflected in the extract given from Bessarion's letter. INTRODUCTION 3 Most Byzantine prose was written with the object of imitating the language and style of the great Athenian writers of the fifth and fourth centuries B. C. The historians for example attempted frequently and with varying degrees of success to model their style on that of Thucydides. But that did not prevent them from borrowing Ionic expressions from Herodotus, who was also read and respected as a model. Most writers permitted themselves to use the vocabulary of the Septuagint and New Testament, and few could resist the temptation of drawing on the large additional resources of vocabulary offered by Hellenistic Greek. This modified or impure Atticism lasted as long as the empire, and led to excesses of virtuosity that were scarcely equalled by the most dedicated practitioners of Ciceronianism in the Italian Renaissance. Even when allowance is made for the slow pace of linguistic change in Greek, this degree of archaism limited freedom of expression so much that the result could not often be more than mediocrity of literary achievement. Gibbon roundly condemned Byzantine literature: 'Not a single composition of history, philosophy or literature has been saved from oblivion by the intrinsic beauties of style or sentiment, of original fancy or even of successful imitation. In prose the least offensive of the Byzantine writers are absolved from censure by their naked and unpresuming simplicity; but the orators, most eloquent in their own conceit, are the furthest removed from the models they affect to emulate'. The highest praise that a Byzantine author is likely to receive from a critic is that he writes a smooth pastiche, so as not to offend the reader by linguistic incongruity, and at the same time offers thought or narrative worthy of attention. Yet it is hard to withhold a certain admiration for a man who handles the classical language a millennium after its maturity as well as Procopius does. The development of the Greek language and the importance of Atticism are described by R. Browning, Medieval and modern Greek, London 1969, especially chapters 2--4. Advanced students may like to consult G. Bohlig, Unter-suchungen zum rhetorischen Sprachgebrauch der Byzantiner, 4 INTRODUCTION Berlin 1956, 1-17, who shows that authorities did not always agree in their definition of strict Attic practice. In the commentary a large proportion of the notes are linguistic, because it is important to show in detail how the Byzantine authors deviated from the usage of their models and what the components of their vocabulary are; the closer the superficial resemblance to classical Greek the more necessary it becomes to note the differences. Learned allusions to classical authors are traced wherever possible; the educated Byzantine reader was expected to be able to follow them. I have not assumed that the extracts will necessarily be read in the chronological order in which they are given, and for that reason notes are occasionally repeated. Byzantine Greek should be pronounced in the same way as the modern language. The accent had changed from pitch to stress by the fourth century, and most of the changes in the values of vowels and consonants were complete by the tenth century. A very important feature in late Greek