1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > The Byzantine LIterature

(Part 26)



[The Byzantine Literature]

The literature of the Byzantine period, from the death of Justinian to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, is singularly destitute of interest for the general reader. There is not a single work of intense human passion. Not one man appeared gifted with anything like genius. The History, most notable books are books of history written by those who were themselves actors in the scenes, or at the least were contemporaries or nearly contemporaries of the events recorded. There is always a sense of reality about such works, however hazy our general conception of the times may be. Of these historians a full account is given in the article BYZANTINE HISTORIANS. Some of these writers discussed other subjects. Remarkable amongst these is Constantine VII., Porphyrogenitus, who wrote or caused to be written a whole series of books, treating of the administration of the empire, the ceremonies of the court, war, and jurisprudence. He got up a cyclopaedia of his-tory and politics, of agricultural science, of the veterinary art, and of medicine, and ordered the preparation of an epitome of Aristotle's work on animals, of a collection of Greek epigrams, and a collection of the histories of saints. Constantine's works do not give so much an insight into what he could do as into what he wished to do. Some of the historians were really men of wide culture. Nicephorus Gregoras (born 1295) received a liberal education in rhetoric, astronomy, and other subjects, and his literary activity ranged over the entire field of human knowledge. Others again combined the .study of rhetoric or philosophy with that of history. Pachymeres, for instance, wrote declamations of a pedantic and frigid nature on historical subjects, blending imagination with what he gathered from nistory.
The character of the Byzantine period is seen in the kind Poetr? of poetry that it produced. There were some good epigram writers in the reign of Justinian, but after his time the anthology received very few additions. The first versifier of importance that we meet in the progress of time is Georgius of Pisidia, who was deacon of the church of St Sophia in the reign of the emperor Heraclius (610-641). His muse celebrates various wars in iambic verse, such as the war against the Persians, the Avarie war, and the ex ploits of Heraclius. He also wrote several Christian pieces. Leo VI., called the Wise, who was emperor from 886 to 912, versified astronomical and ecclesiastical subjects, and wrote some prose works besides, most of which, if not all, deserve to lie in oblivion. Theodosius, deacon in the church of S* Sophia towards the end of the 10th century, used the iambic trimeter to narrate the capture of Crete, a work which derives all its value from the historical matter con-tained in it. Theodorus Prodromus is perhaps of all the Byzantine writers the one that comes nearest to the rank of a poet, yet even this approach is made only in some of his poems in the popular dialect, which have a strong satiric turn and a vein of humour. His more ambitious efforts have no claim to the title of poetry. The subjects are of wide range and various form—epistles, congratulatory addresses, historical and didactic poems. Some of them are in a dramatic form, such as the Catamyomachia, recently edited by Hercher in the Teubner Bibliotheca, in which besides the ordinary characters Prodromus introduces a chorus and semi-chorus, and the Krjpv$ and ofyyeAos so common in ancient plays. His largest poem is a romance called __ ____ 'PoSav6-rjv __! ________, consisting of nine books in iambic trimeter. It is entirely destitute of origin-ality, and overladen with rhetorical and unpoetic passages. It is given by Hercher in his Scrip/tores Erotici. Prodromus flourished in the reign of Manuel I., Comnenus (1143-1180). Another Byzantine, Nicetas Eugenianus, apparently of the same age, wrote a fictitious poem, __ ____ _________ ___. ___1_\__, which bears traces on every page of a close connexion with the similar work of Prodromus. Constantine Manasses also lived during the reign of Manuel I,, Comnenus, and wrote a fiction in the versus politicus, characterized by absurdity and poverty of thought and expression. Both of these romances are given in Hercher's Scrvptores Erotici. Verse was during this period used for the most prosaic purposes. Michael Psellus the younger, about 1018 A.D., employed it to give a synopsis of laws, Tzetzes to give an exposition of history. The work of Tzetzes is now called Chiliacles, from its being divided into books of a thousand lines. It is written in the versus politicus, and is a very heterogeneous mixture of fact and fiction, but occasionally contains references to customs and incidents which are not handed down to us elsewhere. Another critic, Joannes Pediasimus, wrote iambic verses, _-epi ywatKos ____)_ ___ _____)_ _] ±Io#os. Such were the subjects which the Byzantine muse treated, and as we have given a rather full catalogue of the poetical works produced in the Byzantine period in the ancient language, nothing re-quires to be said of the sterile nature of the poets and their poetry.
Dramatic poetry was also neglected, but enough was pro- Drama duced to keep up the continuity in the tradition of the drama. Sathas has tried to show that dramas were acted up to the latest period of the Byzantine empire, and though the notices are not numerous nor very conclusive, he seems to us to have proved his point (K. N. %___ lo-ropiKov SOKLJJUOV wepl rov Oearpov __! TTJ<S _______)? ru>v Jiv£p.vTivwv, Venice, 1878). We have already seen that Prodromus composed dramas. The most voluminous writer in this depart-ment is Manuel Philes of Ephesus, who flourished from about 1280 to 1330, and who himself probably acted on

the stage. His dramas are occupied with the exhibition of the great deeds of his patrons, or resemble in some respects our Moralities, making characters of the various virtues. Hvmns. The Byzantine period produced a considerable number of hymn writers. Among them may be mentioned Germanus, who was patriarch of Constantinople in the | reign of Leo the Isaurian ; Theodoras Studites, a theologian of some mark (759-826) ; the emperors Constantine Porphyrogenitus and Leo the king; and Photius, patriarch of Constantinople. The hymn writers who stand highest are Cosmas, who flourished in the 8th century, and whom W. Christ calls "princeps melodorum Graecoium"; Joannes Damascenus, a contemporary of Cosmas; and Theophanes 6 Ppairro?, who lived nearly a hundred years after Cosmas (see Anthologia Grceca Oarminum Christi-anorum adornaverunt W. Christ et M. Paranikas, Leipsic, 1871).

Antho- The Byzantines occupied themselves with collections of iogy- poems, but the works of Cephalas and Planudes Maximus
of this nature have already been discussed in the article ANTHOLOGY.

Prose When we pass from poetry to prose we meet with the writings. game want 0f creative power. The Byzantines collect the writings of others and annotate, but they give us no original works. They performed two services to literature. They handed down the forms of literary expression, and by their indefatigable energy in excerpting and embodying in their own works the works of others, they have preserved for us many valuable documents of antiquity, or at least portions of them. During the Byzantine period there were also various phases of literary life. After the death of Justinian literary activity became gradually less, until in the time of the Iconoclasts intellectual culture was repressed, manuscripts were destroyed, and literature fell into disre-pute and neglect. A revival took place under the Mace-donian dynasty, but when the Latin empire was established in Constantinople, a relapse into semi-barbarism again took place. Under the Paleeologi the literary spirit once more came to life. Amidst these changes it was impossible for a vigorous creative literature to flourish, and the bright periods are mainly characterized by efforts to destroy the effects of the previous dark era by gathering together all kinds of information. Hence arose the compilations of Porphyrogenitus that have been already mentioned, and similar attempts were made at similar periods.
Several of the Byzantines attained to high eminence in the cultivation of science, but sometimes their exertions took a fruitless direction, especially when they aimed at discovering the method of converting the baser metals into gold. It is in the study of grammar, in the production of lexicons and the annotation of the classical writers, that their best men have gained for themselves a name. The works of the writers on these subjects are of no interest to the common reader, but they furnish the scholar with many attractive problems. Who were the authors from whom the Byzantines borrowed 1 How far are their works inter-polated 1 How far are the original authorities mutilated ? These and such like inquiries crop up in connexion with almost every one of these writings. The writers who are best known as contributing to our knowledge of the ancients are Tzetzes, Eustathius, Moschopulus, Thomas Magister, Joannes Pediasimus, and Demetrius Triclinius, Tzetzes (probably the same word as Cascius) lived in Con-stantinople about the year 1180. His Chiliades have been already mentioned. He wrote notes on Homer, Hesiod, and iEschylus, but he was especially copious on Aristophanes.
Eustathius is well known to scholars for an elaborate commentary on Homer. He was brought up in Constantinople, and in 1160 became archbishop of Thessalonica and in 1174 archbishop of Myra in Lycia. Besides his labours on Homer he wrote many theological and several historical works. Manuel Moschopulus belonged to the 13th century. He wrote many works on different points of grammar, and scholia on Pindar, the Tragedians, and Theocritus. Thomas Magister of Thessalonica flourished in the reign of Andronicus II. (1283-1332), and composed articles on ancient literary history, and scholia on jEschylus and other Greek writers. Joannes Pediasimus, who lived towards the end of the 14th century, is best known by his scholia on Hesiod; and Triclinius, who taught grammar in Con-stantinople at the same period, wrote scholia on Hesiod, Pindar, and the Tragedians. Nothing can exceed the stupidity of these writers and their fellow scholiasts of the Byzantine era. They misunderstand the acute remarks of their Alexandrian predecessors or bury them in verbiage. They are utterly uncritical in their discussion of historical questions ; they are continually going wrong in their gram-matical expositions; and they are passionately fond of nonsense. Perhaps nowhere, to take one instance, in the whole of literature could wilder etymologies be found in greater numbers than in the scholia on the Plutus of Aristo-phanes. Yet these men thought highly of their work, and Triclinius tells us, in regard to a trivial book which he wrote on metres, that he accomplished the task only through divine inspiration. Notwithstanding this, they have pre-served for us within the quantities of rubbish many valuable facts and expositions derived from earlier writers.
Ignatius, deacon in the reign of Michael II. (820-829), bram-Gregorius, archbishop of Corinth in the second half of the ™ar. 12th century, Holobolus, in the reign of Michael VIII., and Joannes Glycas, patriarch of Constantinople in 1316, are the principal writers on grammar. Of these Gregorius is best known, for his work on the Greek dialects, though full of mistakes, has deservedly attracted the attention of scholars.

Of the writers of lexicons Suidas is the best known. He Lexicons, flourished in the 10th century. His work contains not only explanations of words but biographies of men. It is an undigested mass of statements which are often contra-dictory, but is of great value, for he has incorporated facts and expositions from early writers possessed of accurate knowledge. A full account of Suidas, and a discussion of all the questions connected with him, are given by Bernhardy in the prolegomena to his edition of the Lexicon. The Etymologicum Magnum is another important work of the Byzantine period, having been compiled in the 11th century. The appellation magnum or ^iya does not belong to it originally, but was added by Mnsurus, its first editor, or Calliergis, its first printer. Gaisford in his edition has discussed this and other matters concerning the Etymologi-cum. A much smaller work by Philemon is a Technological Dictionary, written in the second half of the 12th century. Among the lexicon-writers is Photius, who was patriarch of Constantinople, and died in an Armenian convent about the year 891. Photius was a man of marked individuality, and his history is mixed up with that of his country. A more detailed account of him will therefore be found in a separate article. Porson prepared an edition of the Lexicon, which was published after his death by Dobree. The Leipsic edition contains a review by Blomfield (Edin. Rev., xlii., 1813) of Hermann's edition of Photius, in which the English reader will find a full discussion of the sources and value of the Lexicon. Photius also prepared a work gene-rally cslle&Photii Bibliotheca, containing extracts and notices of 280 books which he read while acting as ambassador in Syria. The nature of this work awaits more minute investi-gation than it has yet received; but there can scarcely be a doubt that some of the articles are the productions of a dishonest man, or of a late interpolator, or of both. His Letters, recently edited by Valettas, are of great importanc for a knowledge of the times.

Music Several scholars of the Byzantine period wrote on the and music and metres of the ancients. Their works abound in metre. errorS; but they preserve fragments of earlier writers which are interesting and valuable. The work of Psellus the younger, called ~ZvvTay¡ia. eh ras T£o-o-apas //.aftj/xariKag iirwTrjfws, contains large fragments of Aristoxeuus (West-phal, Fragmente der Rhythmilcer, supplement to the first volume of his Metrik); and Manuel Bryennius (about the year 1330) wrote three books on harmonics, which contain among other things an exposition of the later Byzantine musical system (see Westphal, Metrik, vol. i. p. 319). Rhetoric Of the rhetoricians only a very few deserve mention. Joannes Doxopater, who flourished in the reign of Alexius I., Oomnenus (1081-1118), wrote several works of a rhetorical nature, which are to be found in Walz's Rhetores Grceci. All that can be said of them is that they prove that he was a man of culture and refinement, and did not deserve the neglect and poverty which fell to his lot. A cluster of rhetoricians appeared in the reigns of Michael VIII. and Andronicus II., of whom the principal were Georgius of Cyprus, Nicephorus Chumnus, and Theodorus of Hyrtace. The emperor Manuel II., Palasologus, wrote several works of the nature of essays, and a large number of letters, several of which were addressed to Demetrius Cydones of Thessa-lonica, the author of a treatise on the Contempt of Death which has attracted some attention. PMlo- The study of philosophy was, generally speaking, sophy. neglected, but there were some who acquired renown as philosophers. Foremost amongst these was Michael Psellus the younger. He was born about the year 1018, and died shortly after the year 1105, after a chequered career. He was called by the men of his own age " Chief of Philo-sophers." His works range over the entire field of human learning. He wrote on the sciences, mathematical, physical, medical, on grammar and metres and music, on the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle, on psychology and dialec-tic ; and very recently Sathas has edited a work of his Jailed A Century of Byzantine History, which entitles him to a place among historians, a series of his letters which throw much light on the life of the Byzantines, and various discourses, panegyric and funereal. He lost the favour of the court and was supplanted by Joannes Italus, who also succeeded to the title of Chief of Philosophers." Several of his scholars attained distinction as authors, or rather compilers, of commentaries on the Greek philosophers. Theo- The theologians were to a large extent philosophers. The most famous among them was John of Damascus, who lived in the reign of Leo the Isaurian (718-741). He wrote on a great variety of subjects, theological and philosophical. The work by which he is best known is his Sacra Parallela, in which he has collected numerous passages from the writings of the fathers on such topics as repentance, faith, &c. The work is valuable as containing fragments of works which are not now extant. Alzog calls Dainascenus the last of the Greek theologians. In subse-quent times few appear worthy of attention, and it may suffice here to mention Nicephorus Callistus, " the Ecclesi-astical Thucydides," who lived in the 14th century. He compiled an Ecclesiastical History from Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomenus, and the other earlier ecclesiastical historians, endeavouring at the same time to make his style more elegant than that of his predecessors. Fiction. We find almost no attempt at light literature in prose during the Byzantine period. Only one work has come down to us of this nature, The Loves of Hysmine and Hysminias, by Eustatbius the Macrembolite. Hilberg, the last editor of the work, has tried to show with some success that Eustathius lived some time between 852 and 988. The work is full of imitations, and displays no in-ventive power.

A very full account is given of most of the writers here mentioned,
with lists of their works edited and unedited, in the later volumes
of the Bibiiotheca Graxa of Johannes Albertus Fabricáis, edited by
Harles, Hamburg, in 12 vols., 1790-1809; see also Cave, Scrip-
torium Ecclcsiasticorum Historia Literaria; Gibbon, Decline and
Fall of the Roman Empire; Midler and Donaldson's History of Greets
Literature, 1858; Dr R. Nicolai, Griechische Literccturgeschichte, vol.
iii., 1876. Many of the works of the Byzantine writers are found
only in ácé/c5oTa, especially those of "Villoison, Boissonade, Cramer,
Bekker, and Sathas, and often these editors investigate the history
of the writers. Sathas has thrown much new light on the life of
Psellus. o (J. D.)

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