The Medieval Review 12.10.30

Van Deun, Peter and Caroline Macé. Encyclopedic Trends in Byzantium?. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 212. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oosterse Studies, 2011. Pp. xx, 458. 80.00 EUR. ISBN: 978-90-429-2557-1. . .

Reviewed by:

Anthony Kaldellis
The Ohio State University

There is a battle being waged in this volume over a sizable portion of Byzantine textual production, though you have to pay attention to follow it. Most of the contributors try to stay out of it, and its only sign in the title is the question mark. In 1971, Paul Lemerle published a landmark study of Byzantine literary culture down to the tenth century entitled Le premier humanisme byzantin. Lemerle was a superb philologist and historian and his stimulating synthesis provided the framework for much subsequent research. However, partly in order to legitimate his long-despised subject-matter, Lemerle relied on validating concepts such as Hellenism, classicism, humanism, and encyclopedism, which he imported, without much qualification or definition, into the study of Byzantium. They have since been used, often in even less critical ways, by later Byzantinists. The present volume tackles only the last term, which Lemerle used as a rubric for the textual production of the tenth century and the court of Konstantinos VII in particular. The insurgency against it has been waged almost single-handedly by Paolo Odorico, who, in Byzantinische Zeitschrift (1990), argued correctly that encyclopedism is an inaccurate and misleading label for what were in fact textual collections, or a "cultura della syllogê." Byzantine compilations, starting in late antiquity, did not serve the functions or follow the methods that we associate with encyclopedias, which are modern artifacts. There was nothing essentially different about the compilations associated with Konstantinos VII.

Only three of the papers here take on the challenges posed by Lemerle's "encyclopedism." The rest are narrowly focused, even technical, studies of individual texts, collections, authors, or manuscripts that are linked to the culture of textual collections in Byzantium, sometimes loosely. In this sense, Odorico has won the battle, and, but for Lemerle's authority, the volume might better have been named after his cultura della syllogê, as is acknowledged by a number of the contributors.

I begin with the three more theoretical papers. Schreiner surveys some significant uses of the term "encyclopedia" in modern projects, including its origin in the Renaissance and the history of its use in Byzantine Studies, highlighting Odorico's dissident position (3-11). He then surveys the works of the ninth and tenth centuries in question (11-16): he affirms the Souda's encyclopedic credentials but is luke-warm about the works associated with Konstantinos VII. "Collections" is better than "encyclopedias" for this period. Schreiner is inclined to be generous to the term, but finds that it rarely works. Psellos' De omnifaria doctrina is the closest to a Christian encyclopedia, in the form of questions-and-answers (18-19). He also surveys the category of encyclopedic learning, which includes Photios, Psellos, Planoudes, Metochites, and Gregoras (19-21), all of whom receive papers here (except Psellos; and why not Leon the Philosopher?).

Odorico's paper might better have been placed after Schreiner's, not in the section on the ninth-tenth centuries. He offers a more streamlined and accessible version of his argument against the applicability of encyclopedism and on the implications of syllogê. Texts that are condensed "libraries," anthologies, collections of quotations, rearranged excerpts, and so on cannot claim the title of encyclopedias, or even proto-encyclopedias. He offers an insightful survey of such texts from Ioannes Stobaios (fifth century) and the monk Antiochos (early seventh) whose methods and goals were not fundamentally different from those of the scholars of Konstantinos VII. He then shows how his approach can help explain many other texts that consist mostly of rearranged and quoted material, anticipating Jeffrey's paper on Iakovos (99) and Magdalino's comments on the chronicle of Georgios the monk (100). Odorico then situates the court works of the tenth century in this context (102-106), finishing off Lemerle's category. His paper presents the "state of the question" to which all other must respond. There is one loose end: I am not sure that the Souda's encyclopedic credentials can so easily be dismissed (106). Schreiner may be on stronger ground here. An encyclopedia, after all, can be produced from recycled material; many are, even today.

Magdalino never disappoints. He offers here the outlines of an ambitious new interpretation of middle Byzantine culture, which is in progress. He accepts and translates Odorico's concept as "the florilegic habit" (143)--though he is still willing to call the Excerpta and Souda encyclopedias (144, 147). While Odorico maintains that there is nothing out of the ordinary in the imperial collections of the tenth century (104) and that they are independent of each other (91), Magdalino argues that they have unique features that set them apart from the florilegic habit, in that they were imperially commissioned and about history (144-146). He argues that this project extended the Triumph of Orthodoxy over iconoclasm in an effort to appropriate orthodoxy for the emperor and create an orthodox imperial culture. He therefore links this encyclopedic movement to religious figures associated with the Triumph (especially Theodoros Stoudites and Photios), and argues that there was a normative and prescriptive purpose behind it, "a religious ideology of law and order" (154). But there are places in the argument where "authority" works better than "orthodoxy," which dilutes the connection to religious Orthodoxy. Magdalino does not distinguish between upper- and lower-case versions of the word. It is hard to see how the editorial processes of simplification, purification, updating, and thematic reorganization can, by themselves, bring a text closer to either orthodoxy or Orthodoxy (150), or how the Excerpta are normative--and he means this in a strong sense, virtually assimilating them to laws, to "moral, social and political case law" (151). The paper closes with a brilliant original interpretation of Georgios the monk's chronicle as "an embedded florilegium in chronicle form," a "precedent and even perhaps stimulus for the emperor's historical encyclopedia" (158). Magdalino is convincing that Georgios created a florilegic history that pointed to the Triumph of Orthodoxy but I am unsure that we must view the works of Konstantinos VII in the same light. They were about "order," each in its own way, but I do not yet see Orthodoxy written all over them.

I will now briefly survey the more technical papers, focusing on how they deal with, or dodge, the question of encyclopedism.

Papadogiannakis offers a nuanced introduction to the Questions and Answers of pseudo-Kaisareios, the only late antique text discussed in the volume. I am not sure, however, that the purpose of these texts "was to repeat, abridge and summarize reassuring touchstones of received wisdom" (38). The context of their production and reception was probably shaped by polemics and disagreements that determined the inclusion of particular answers, readings, and interpretations over others. Alexakis discusses dogmatic florilegia of the early ninth century and their role and dissemination in contemporary literary culture. He flirts with the term encyclopedia, then suggests "manual" (49). He has likely misunderstood Odorico when he calls "the culture of collecting…the indiscriminate copying and collecting of texts, perhaps with no apparent or worthwhile reason" (54-55). Schamp surveys the life of Photios before he became patriarch and theories on the date of the Bibliotheke. Grünbart offers an "incomplete excerpt" from a larger project on Byzantine epistolography based on an inspection of manuscripts with collections of letters. As no one has claimed these as encyclopedic, it goes to a general concept of collecting. He includes useful graphs of letters per century and letter-writers per century (79, 81). He surveys theories regarding the origin of these collections and the reasons for their preservation. Maltomini's paper is a lively survey of what we know about Kephalas and the production of his epigram anthology, offering close readings of the prefaces to the books of the Anthology that come from him to ascertain what they tell us about his purposes and methods. Fernández brackets the question of encyclopedism (125) and offers a critical edition of a pseudo-Chysostomic work on tears excerpted into a florilegium "that could be taken to be encyclopedic." The collection is indeed interesting; a translation of the piece would have been appreciated. Sode surveys theories about the date and order of the placement of the fragments of Petros Patrikios in the De Ceremoniis. She maintains that they were included by the team of Konstantinos VII and not later, by Basileios parakoimomenos, and argues for a more unitary process of compilation and transmission, with most of the materials having been collected in advance. Ceulemans presents a catena on the Song of Songs based on Gregory of Nyssa and Neilos. He includes a useful survey of all Byzantine catenae on that text (183-190) and proposes that the one in his manuscript is a new specimen. Along with the other texts in this manuscript, such as an alphabetically-arranged gnomologion of 400 sententiae, it provides us with an interesting view of the note-taking habits of a ninth-century scholar. In a paper that is at times difficult to follow, Crostini considers "miscellaneous evidence for an encyclopedic outlook," such as figures of exotic animals from a manuscript of Kosmas Indikopleustes that were recycled for moralizing purposes. She calls Menologia "monothematic encyclopedias" (225) and labels Barlaam and Ioasaph "a sort of encyclopedia of Christianity" (226). Her bold conclusion is that "we need not apologize for using the word 'encyclopedic,' provided we keep in mind the semantic range and specificity of this word within the medieval mentalité" (229), but it is not a medieval word and she does not define that semantic range. Jeffreys explores the possible working methods of Iakovos the monk who relied exclusively on quotation of authorities to compose his letters. At one point she raises the question of whether the florilegium from which he culled his quotations "could be called a spiritual encyclopedia" (236), but we do not know for a fact that such a text existed or that it was organized in an encyclopedic manner. De Vos proposes that the De oeconomia Dei by Neilos Doxapatres, still unedited, was written in Sicily. The text consists mostly of quotations. Neirynck argues that that text belongs here because "it is an extensive work that deals with a relatively broad range of (maily theological) issues" (258). He sets out to define it between florilegia and catenae. In a close philological examination, Bucossi searches for the "sources, arrangements, and purposes" of Kamateros' Sacred Arsenal. Roelli likewise considers the sources used by Markos the monk for the shorter of the two (Hesychastic) florilegia that he wrote, and provides also a useful survey of Byzantine spiritual florilegia (288-289). Canart offers a lengthy and technical examination of the scholarly anthologies of Planoudes and Moschopoulos, part of a larger work in progress. Featherstone surveys opinions about the purposes of Metochites' Seimeioseis gnomikai. He argues that it was a work of the 1320 (342), likely composed in the order in which we have it. Tinnefeld analyzes the polemical aspects of theological dialogues in Gregoras' Phlorentios and parts of the Roman History, claiming that his paper fits the volume under a broad umbrella concept (345), as Gregoras was a person who displayed encyclopedic learning. His paper contains much paraphrase and quotation of the texts. Pérez Martín offers a full paleographical presentation of Par. gr. 1630, written by Chariton of Hodegon and containing a diverse collection of texts (including texts by Psellos), which she itemizes in detail. She concludes that it reveals "personal encyclopedism." Finally, Rigo presents the Methodos and Kanon by the two Xanthopouloi, which was basically an ascetic rule; he lists its contents and includes a long Appendix with all textual citations by chapter and then a list of the authors and texts cited.

The quality of the papers is high, but most concern only specialists. Those interested in the state of "Byzantine encyclopedism" should read the papers by Schreiner, Odorico, and Magdalino. The other contributors nervously watch the debate by the sidelines. Most know that Lemerle's concept has outlived its worth (e.g., 29, 125 n. 1, 143, 215 n. 9, 284) but feel compelled to use it anyway. Is this solely because of the title given to the conference and volume by the organizers, buttressed by Lemerle's authority? Here, then, lies the paradox. Odorico's notion of syllogê has prevailed in practice insofar as only it explains the range and selection of topics in the volume, most of which have little to do with Lemerle's idea, but Odorico will have won the war only when the term itself is abandoned. For now, its loose, metaphorical, and confusing uses continue. But--to end with a warning--would syllogê not be liable to infinite expansion, given the range of topics, texts, and authors on display here? Is there any text (or author) that could not be construed as a "collection" of some kind?