Thomas Conley

title.none: Jeffreys, ed., Rhetoric in Byzantium (Thomas Conley )

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.035 04.02.35

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Thomas Conley , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Jeffreys, Elizabeth, ed. Rhetoric in Byzantium: Papers from the Thirty-fifth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Exeter College, University of Oxford, March 2001. Series: Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies Publications, vol. 11. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. xii, 281. $80.00 0-7546-3453-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.35

Jeffreys, Elizabeth, ed. Rhetoric in Byzantium: Papers from the Thirty-fifth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Exeter College, University of Oxford, March 2001. Series: Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies Publications, vol. 11. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. xii, 281. $80.00 0-7546-3453-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Thomas Conley
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

As Elizabeth Jeffreys points out in her brief introduction, scholars over the past century and more have consistently underestimated or ignored the role of rhetoric in Byzantine literary production and social formation. The symposium at which the papers in this volume were delivered sought to right that situation. How successful it was will be evident from the remarks that follow.

To begin with, the two more programmatic papers. Michael Jeffreys' "'Rhetorical' Texts" (pp. 87-100) and Margaret Mullet's "Rhetoric, theory, and the imperative of performance: Byzantium and now" (pp. 151-170), are not very satisfying. Jeffreys wants to bring some specificity to what it means to call a text "rhetorical," which is a good idea; but, in the end, he seems more interested in alerting us to a forthcoming edition of the poems of Manganeios Prodromos (not to be confused with Theodore Prodromos, but both twelfth-century) that he and Elizabeth Jeffreys are preparing. Mullet's paper, the longest in this collection, argues for collaboration with current critical approaches to provide "nuanced, sophisticated and persuasive readings" (170). Rhetoric is one such approach, provided the critic takes in its social, emotional, and performative dimensions; but it is not the only one. As a result, the broad survey she presents comes close to being a litany of disciplines and "contemporary" theorists that reads like a shopping list for a very upscale academic market.

Much more rewarding are Jakov Ljubarskij's "How should a Byzantine text be read?" (pp. 127-135) and Erich Trapp's "The role of vocabulary in Byzantine rhetoric as a stylistic device" (pp. 117-125). Ljubarskij argues that different kinds of texts need to be read differently; and reminds us that there are many Byzantine texts that move well beyond the formal constraints of rhetorical prescription and qualify as artistic, multi-dimensional texts. There is little there to astonish the reader, but Ljubarskij's paper offers some interesting and subtle readings of Germanos of Constantinople (eighth century), Michael Psellos (eleventh), and Niketas Choniates (twelfth). He gets down to cases, in other words. The title of the paper by Trapp, one of the editors of the Lexicon zur byzantinischen Grazitat, does not look very promising; but the paper makes two important points: that Byzantine authors were not as constrained by Atticism as is often thought; and that hitherto unnoticed stylistic trends, connections, dependencies, and influences can be seen at the lexical level. And Trapp, too, gets down to cases.

There are several papers on texts we don't ordinarily think of as "rhetorical" in the sense of having persuasive ends. Ruth Macrides looks at "George Akropolites' rhetoric" (pp. 201-211), reminding us that, as evidently straightforward and unadorned as Akropolites' prose might seem, he was a keen student of rhetoric. The fruits of his rhetorical training can be seen, Macrides argues, in the subtle but effective synkrisis comparing Michael VIII Palaiologos and Theodore II Laskaris (which serves also as an apologia for Michael) that structures his narrative. At a less sweeping level, Catherine Holmes looks into "The rhetorical structure of John Skylitzes' Synopsis Historion" (pp. 187-199). What looks at first to be a mechanical determination of how closely Skylitzes' Synopsis follows the prescriptions laid out in the handbooks takes on an interesting turn when Holmes points to the similarities between Skylitzes' abridgments and the form of contemporary military handbooks.

"Rhetoric," then, is found in unexpected places, even in "the most apparently philistine of Byzantines" (as Mullett puts it at p. 154). In "The rhetoric of Kekaumenos" (pp. 23-37), Charlotte Roueche argues that the apparently artless style of Kekaumenos' late eleventh-century Consilia et Narrationes was a deliberate rhetorical choice, reminding us that claims of distancing oneself from rhetoric is one of the oldest rhetorical tricks in the bag, and that even the "plain style" is itself a style.

Sometimes, too, there is more going on in a text than the rhetoric we expect (a point well-made by Ljubarskij). As Dimiter G. Angelov shows in his observations on later Byzantine rhetoric (on which see the informative survey in the present volume by C. N. Constantinides, "Teachers and students of Rhetoric in the late Byzantine period", pp. 39-53), there is more to epideictic than mere praise. "Byzantine imperial panegyric as advice literature (1204-c. 1350)" (pp. 55-72) shows that in the court rhetoric after 1261 "imperial panegyrists deliberated political action, raised arguments, and voiced opinions on important public issues" (72). This is an important fact to bear in mind, for it demonstrates both that traditional generic boundaries were more porous than is often assumed and that epideictic had a distinctly persuasive dimension to it. Ruth Webb tries to make a similar point in her "Praise and persuasion: argumentation and audience response in epideictic oratory" (pp. 127-135), where she argues against the common misconception that epideictic is the least "persuasive" of the traditional three genres. In doing so, she rightly refers us to Perelman's L'empire rhetorique and Pernot's magisterial La rhetorique de l'Eloge, but unfortunately not to the points made in those books that would have helped her make a more solid case: that argumentation in Perelman aims not just at creating adherence to a thesis but also at intensifying the audience's adherence to a thesis already adhered to; and that Pernot explores the profound implications of the fact that Roman imperial ideology was in late Antiquity promoted and performed not in Latin but in Greek. Issue might also be taken with the prominent role Webb assigns to Menander Rhetor in sixth- and seventh-century epideictic, as there is no evidence of any awareness of Menander before the tenth century.

From epideictic we move to court poetry. Wolfram Horandner offers a thoughtful survey of poetry meant for performance by authors from George of Pisidia (seventh century) to Akropolites (for whom we have only indirect evidence) in his "Court poetry: questions of motifs, structure and function" (pp. 75-85). The question of what close study of these texts can tell us about actual Byzantine court practices and conventions is complicated by the fact that the evidence is so fragmentary and various, ranging from George of Pisidia's imperial panegyric to wedding poems by Theodore Prodromos, for instance. Nevertheless, Horandner is confident that further study should enable us to acquire a more complete picture of court ceremonies. George of Pisidia is the focus, but with different ends in view, of Mary Whitby's "George of Pisidia and the persuasive word: words, words, words. . ." (pp. 173-86), where she offers a reading of that poet's accounts of the campaigns waged by the emperor Herakleios as, at base, public relations "laundering material for the public ear" and providing the Constantinopolitan public with "morale-boosting assurances" (186). This seems unlikely, as George's imagery and allusions are hardly tailored for "public" consumption; and it is besides not at all clear that his poetry was composed for public performance in any event.

What we see in Whitby's view is a determination to make George's poetry fit modern conceptions of public communication. This is true also of Mary Cunningham's "Dramatic device or didactic tool? The function of dialogue in Byzantine preaching" (pp. 101-113). The short answer to Whitby's question is "Both," as she tries to show that both intra- and extra-textual dialogue was an effective way of engaging and impressing congregations and was also a way to reinforce the authority of the preacher. But her suggestion that such preachers as Andrew of Crete and the Patriarch Germanos--both pre-Iconoclasm and both before the templon between the altar and the nave became features of church architecture--used dialogue to make things "easy to understand" (113) may suppose congregations more literate than they actually were; and the characterization of post-Trullo preachers "reading out published sermons" (108) seems a bit anachronistic. Likewise, "Rhetoric and writing strategies in the ninth century" by Martha Vinson (pp. 9-22) gives the misleading impression that Byzantine preaching was thought to be "accessible to the many (22). Vinson also overstates the direct influence of Menander Rhetor (see p. 13f.); the indirect influence of Aristotle's Rhetoric (14); and the level of audience sophistication: can it really be true that the audience of Gregory of Nazianzos' Homily 36 was as familiar with Plato's Apology as an American audience would be to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (15)? And how do the notions of "public relations" and "spin doctors" (12) really shed light on Leo VI's Funeral Oration?

Finally, there are three papers from a panel on rhetoric and visual images. The first is by Henry Maguire (whose 1981 Art and Eloquence in Byzantium stimulated most recent debate on the subject), "Byzantine rhetoric, Latin drama and the portrayal of the New Testament" (pp. 215-225, with 10 appended illustrations). Here Maguire extends the argument of his book to consideration of the techniques of ekphrasis, synkrisis, and antithesis as they are employed in iconic representations of various episodes from the gospels, pointing up the "fixity and good order" of the iconic tradition as contrasted to the "counterfeit performance of actors" in Latin liturgical drama. Robin Cormack's "'Living Painting'" (pp. 235-246, with 7 illustrations) argues against the view that sees a simple linkage between rhetoric and Byzantine art. While rhetoric may be "implicated in the structures of pictorial composition," he proposes, it is not "the single or even predominant factor in the process of production" (245f.). In a similar vein, Leslie Brubaker's "Text and picture in manuscripts: what's rhetoric got to do with it?" (pp. 255-265, with 7 illustrations) examines the relationship between words and images in manuscripts and points out that the images prompted the rhetoric as much as the other way around; and that even when "text and image attempted to communicate the same message, the difference in medium ensured that they did it differently" (264).

The contributors to this symposium are no strangers to rhetoric, but some are clearly newcomers whose footing is not quite firm. Accordingly, the quality of the papers is not consistently high, though it is never low. Because of the wide range of specialties represented, it is not clear what holds the collection together save the sometimes exuberant conviction that there is, after all, a great deal to be learned from paying close attention to what is going on rhetorically in a variety of texts. This is a collection that will of course interest Byzantinists (we have here a fine foundation for a seminar on Byzantine literature and society); but it should also be highly recommended reading for Classicists and students of the medieval West, as well.