The Medieval Review 10.03.24

Nyström, Eva. Containing Multitudes: Codex Upsaliensis Graecus 8 in Perspective. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Byzantina Upsaliensia 11. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2009. Pp. 340. . $38 978-91-554-7501-7.

Reviewed by:

Martin Hinterberger
University of Cyprus

The book under review is an exemplary study that sheds fresh light on the history of Byzantine literature as well as of postbyzantine intellectual life from an innovative and utterly rewarding perspective. Codex Upsaliensis graecus 8 is a Greek miscellany from the 1480s and contains about 90 different texts stemming from various areas of Late Antique and mostly Byzantine literature. The most conspicuous and extensive among these texts are (in the order in which they appear in the manuscript) Stephanites and Ichnelates, excerpts from Paul of Aegina's Medical Compendium, Gregory Thaumatourgos' Treatise on the Soul, a Monody on the Capture of Constantinople by Manuel Christonymos, the Constitution of Florence by Leonardo Bruni, Gemistos Pletho's On Virtues and Reply to the Treatise in Support of the Latin Doctrine, Libanios' Declamation 26, Excerpts from Tzetzes' Histories, a selection of Theophylact Simokates' Letters, a florilegium, Theodoret of Kyrros' Cure of the Pagan Maladies (four longer excerpts), the Correspondence between Libanios and Basil the Great, mathematical problems, and the Life of Aesop together with Aesopian Fables. It is Eva Nyström's aim to turn our attention away from the conspicuous text to the apparently unimportant short one as well as from the single text to the manuscript as a whole in which these seemingly unrelated texts are united.

Virtually the entire codex is written by one hand that Nyström, relying on previous studies, identifies with the scribe Theodore, known also from Parisinus gr. 3045, which he completed in 1488. After a useful discussion concerning terminology (what exactly do we mean by the term miscellany?), Nyström presents her argument divided into three main parts of equal length. In part one, Bringing out the structure, Nyström offers a meticulous codicological analysis focusing on the exact distinction of codicological units. This approach allows her to reconstruct the history of how the single parts of Upsaliensis gr. 8 were combined into the codex we have today. It becomes clear that, despite its seemingly random content, the book constitutes a carefully constructed whole.

In the following part, Making sense of a one-volume library, the particular texts are presented according to four principal textual categories, namely narrative, rhetorical, philosophical and theological, and practical texts. Of course, these categories overlap each other, but they are rather useful for grouping this extraordinary textual diversity. Despite the enormous extent of the textual material, Nyström has reached a remarkably good understanding of most individual texts and provides useful information and judicious observations for all texts contained in Upsaliensis gr. 8, so that this part of her study will be read with profit also by everybody interested in the single texts.

Through the analysis of the letters contained in Upsaliensis gr. 8 (as part of the rhetorical category) and the philosophical- theological texts, Nyström successfully approaches Theodore's intellectual world. There are letters and texts composed by Pletho and Bessarion, but also by Marc Eugenikos. Recurring topics are the soul and a certain rivalry between Aristotle's and Plato's views about this and other subjects. Lively discussions about these topics dominated the 15th century, and Theodore's choice of texts indicates that he belonged to the party regarding Plato the better philosopher.

At the end of this section Nyström reaches the conclusion that Upsaliensis gr. 8 as a conscious choice of texts reflects the personal preferences and interests of its creator and owner, Theodore. In this sense, the book, one could say, constitutes an autobiographical document (in a very broad sense of the term).

The choice of texts and their arrangement in the particular codex, however, are also determined by the already existing codices from which Theodore had copied his texts. Nyström justly refrains from undertaking a thorough comparison with other codices, because such an endeavour would have been beyond the scope of her book. As a further step, however, such a juxtaposition of several late- byzantine codices of a similar type would seem to be a promising approach. For example, Codex Monacensis graecus 525 (compiled in the 1360s) lends itself to comparison with Upsaliensis gr. 8 on several levels. This codex too contains as its major narrative work Stephanites and Ichnelates as well as the Life of Aesop, Aesopian Fables and other texts that also appear in Upsaliensis gr. 8 (e.g., a list of Egyptian months or Diocles' Prophylactic Letter). [1] Contrary to the case of the latter codex, for the Munich manuscript we know quite a lot about Andreas Libadenos, the scribe/compiler of the codex and at the same time the author of a substantial portion of the texts contained in Monacensis 525. The examination of the content of his codex in the light of Libadenos' biographical data makes clear that the former indeed reflects not only the compiler's interests, but also his life. The obvious relationship between codex and compiler attested in Monacensis gr. 525 corroborates Nyström's attempt to extract from Upsaliensis gr. 8 an intellectual portrait (of course much more abstract in this case) of the otherwise unknown Theodore. A comparative study of these and other miscellanies could establish the basic characteristics of this kind of manuscript. For the time being we may note that many of them reflect an interest in popular narrative literature with a strong moralizing touch, as well as in medicine and astrology.

In the main part 3, Taking a closer look, three short texts of seemingly minor importance are investigated in detail: a moralizing medical treatise on the consequences of sexual intercourse during menstruation (text 29 of Upsaliensis gr. 8), an introduction to ramplion, a kind of geomancy with the help of sand (text 66), and a formulary on how to address various officials in letters (text 81). The latter text proves to be especially useful for the reconstruction of Theodore's social environment, although its model, the original titulary collection, seems to have been compiled thirty years before the creation of Upsaliensis gr. 8, in about 1449. These three texts are edited and thoroughly commented on. The volume is completed by an appendix consisting of the edition of 19 rather short texts, partly of unknown authorship. Not all of those texts are indeed unedited as the title of the appendix claims, and I am not convinced that it is worth editing excerpts from Constantine Manasses' Chronicle when a good critical edition of the entire work is available.

The texts are carefully edited, although here and there incorrect diacritics have slipped Nyström's attention. Occasionally she keeps the manuscript's (spelling) errors where as an editor she should have critically intervened in order not only to comply with modern spelling standards, but to facilitate the understanding of the texts. Text 61 is a list of explanations of words according to their provenance. The last section has Greek words that originated from Latin. Here, for example, the manuscript's readings should be corrected as follows: metallizetai (two lambdas; to be sent to the mines); hemiolia = ta hemisy ton tokon (the gloss ends here, whereas the following word natalion already is the beginning of the next entry); for sportateuetai read deportateuetai (to be exiled). In this case the Lexikon zur Byzantinischen Gräzität would have been of great help, not only concerning the correct spelling, but also for finding parallel texts, as the Lexikon refers the reader who looks up metallizomai and natalion to a similar list published in Fontes Minores VIII. [2] But these are minimal flaws in an otherwise amazingly careful book.

Eva Nyström's book could be a starting point for a series of similar studies that would provide precious insight into the perception of Byzantine texts, an underexplored field so far. One can only hope that other scholars will follow the example of Eva Nyström, who has convincingly shown how important the thorough examination of the manuscripts, especially of miscellanies, is for our understanding of Byzantine and post-byzantine culture and its literature.



1. See my paper (in Greek) on Monac. gr. 525 in Copyists, Collectors, Redactors and Editors. Manuscripts and Editions of Late Byzantine and Early Modern Greek Literature, ed. by D. Holton, T. Lendari, U. Moennig, P. Vejleskov. Crete University Press, Herakleion 2005, pp. 25-42.

2. E. Trapp et alii, Lexikon zur Byzantinischen Gräzität, besonders des 9.-12. Jahrhunderts. Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 1994-2007 (so far six fascicles have been published, covering words until the end of pi). The list of juridical terms was published by L. Burgmann, Das Lexikon auseth, in L. Burgmann, M. Th. Fögen, R. Meijering, B. H. Stolte (eds.), Lexica Iuridica Byzantina. Fontes Minores VIII, Frankfurt a. M. 1990, p. 249-337, esp. 329-331.