Leslie Brubaker

title.none: Fryde, The Early Palaeologan Renaissance (1261- 1360) (Leslie Brubaker)

identifier.other: baj9928.0111.002 01.11.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Leslie Brubaker, University of Birmingham,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Fryde, Edmund. The Early Palaeologan Renaissance (1261- 1360). The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, 400-1453, Vol. 27. Leiden: Brill, 2000. Pp. x, 420. 143.00. ISBN: 9-004-11714-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.11.02

Fryde, Edmund. The Early Palaeologan Renaissance (1261- 1360). The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, 400-1453, Vol. 27. Leiden: Brill, 2000. Pp. x, 420. 143.00. ISBN: 9-004-11714-8.

Reviewed by:

Leslie Brubaker
University of Birmingham

The last centuries of the Byzantine empire--from 1261, when the Latin Crusaders were driven from the capital Constantinople by Michael VIII Palaiologos until 1453 when that same city fell to the Ottoman Turks--are usually referred to as the Palaiologan period, in deference to the family who ruled for much of this time. Until recently, it has been one of the less studied periods of Byzantine history, despite the amount of written and visual material remaining from, especially, the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Edmund Fryde, who died late in 1999 after submitting this book to press, examines the secular literary output of the first century of the Palaiologan period. He has provided a welcome addition to the growing list of publications dedicated to the late Byzantine period, and its breadth will be especially appreciated by undergraduate and beginning post-graduate students, for whom it will supply a good traditional overview.

Fryde begins with a brief and cursory survey of Byzantine preservation of ancient Greek literature up until the tenth century. This is not his focus, and the over-reliance on out-of-date secondary material results in a rather unsatisfactory introduction. In particular, the incorporation of Lidia Perria's palaeographical studies--and especially her work on early minuscule and on the so-called philosophical collection (both published in Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici)--would have significantly strengthened Fryde's opening remarks.

Additional introductory chapters survey Byzantine literary production between ca. 1000 and the beginning of the Latin occupation of Constantinople in 1204, and consider works written during the period when much of the Byzantine court lived in exile in Nicaea (1204-58). The bulk of the book (pp 82-387), however, concentrates on the century after the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople.

Fryde divided the material into chronological, thematic and, roughly speaking, biographical chapters. After an overview of literary works produced during the reigns of Michael VIII (1258-82) and Andronikos II (1282-1328), he turns to larger themes, with a chapter especially valuable for understanding intellectual history, on translations from Greek into Latin, as well as chapters on philological scholarship, higher education and rhetoric, audience, and specific subjects such as philosophy, historiography, and science. These are interspersed with studies on individual authors: Maximos Planudes, Demetrios Triklinios, Manuel Moschopulos, Thomas Magistros, Theodore Metochites and Nikephoros Gregoras. These are followed by a note on "the twilight of the scholarly Renaissance (after 1341)" and a brief comparison between the Italian Renaissance and what Fryde believes was its Byzantine parallel. The volume concludes with indices of manuscripts cited, names of persons (to 1500) and modern authors; black-and-white plates reproduce details from the mosaics and frescoes of the Chora monastery, commissioned by Theodore Metochites between ca. 1315 and 1321.

The book thus provides a useful survey, in English, of materials that have (mostly) appeared before in widely scattered publications and, often, in foreign languages. Fryde's focus is resolutely on secular literature, which he seems to feel is more "civilised" than religious writing--this is a book that far closer in spirit to the Enlightenment than to post-modernism or the linguistic turn. Texts are by and large accepted at face value: for example, rather than questioning why Theodore, son of the emperor Andronikos II, blamed Theodore Metochites for his father's downfall--a question that surely has an obvious answer, however justified the complaints may have been--Fryde (pp. 322-23) simply accepts the princely criticisms and moves on to Metochites' literary output. This is perhaps justifiable in a book devoted to literature rather than politics, though Fryde elsewhere is fully aware that literature does not exist in a vacuum: he notes, for example, that the religious controversies of the 1340s onward were sufficiently influential that "Byzantine civilisation...ceases to be intelligible without much attention to them". (376) More problematically, the term Renaissance is used uncritically (despite a rather feeble attempt to justify its at pp 11-12, in which Fryde seems unaware that Renaissance does not only signify a fresh start but has ideological implications in modern scholarship); and authors are evaluated in terms of what Fryde calls "Christian humanism". He defines this as a "special blend of Christianity and classicism" (12) but its application--to, for example, the writings of Theodore Metochites, mentioned earlier in this paragraph (at p. 327)--is vague, and when it is compared with Italian humanism at the end of the book the limitations of this sort of terminology become especially apparent.

The Early Palaeologan Renaissance is, in short, an old-fashioned book, with an intellectual framework that remains resolutely positivist. It is nonetheless also a practical and accessible survey of a too-little studied period, and will be especially helpful for those of us attempting to teach the period to undergraduates. With its publication, Fryde has paved the way for future generations of scholars to consider the period in a more nuanced way.