15.08.66, Efthymiadis, ed., The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography, Volume II

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Sarah Insley

The Medieval Review 15.08.66

Efthymiadis, Stephanos, ed. The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography, Volume II: Genres and Contexts. Ashgate Research Companions. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014. pp. xix, 512. ISBN: 978-1-4094-0951-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Sarah Insley
Brown University

This anticipated second volume of The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography "aims to explore the wide variety and variations of the literature on saints" (ix) in Greek from late antiquity (ca. 300 CE) to the end of the Byzantine period (1453 CE). It significantly expands upon the first volume, published in 2011, which offers a chronological and geographical overview of hagiographical writing in Byzantium and neighboring traditions. [1] As such, the focus of this second installment is on addressing the major questions that arise when hagiography is studied as literature, primarily by delineating the various forms of hagiographical writing popular in the period, and by addressing issues of authorship, audience, and the context of its production and circulation. The two volumes together are thus intended to provide a holistic introduction to one of the most widely composed and read literary forms of the Byzantine period, both as an initiation for the novice and as a handy reference to ideas, texts, and bibliography for the specialist. This is a tall order, and much needed in the field of Byzantine literary studies.

The second volume, comprised of sixteen papers prefaced by a general introduction, is organized into three sections addressing key considerations in the study of Byzantine hagiography from a literary perspective. Part I, "Genres, Varieties and Forms," offers a clear delineation of the various "sub-genres" that are included under the banner of hagiography. Martin Hinterberger's chapter, "Byzantine Hagiography and its Literary Genres: Some Critical Observations," serves as an excellent introduction to this great variety of forms, offering a useful classification of hagiographical texts and also a concise summary of the challenges posed by treating hagiography as a "genre" in the first place. This is followed by six chapters detailing some (though, unfortunately, not all) of the forms identified by Hinterberger: Marina Detoraki provides an overview of martyr passions in Greek; miracle collections are treated in greater detail by Stephanos Efthymiadis; André Binggeli covers beneficial tales; and Andrea Luzzi offers an overview of "Synaxaria and the Synaxarion of Constantinople," a significant addition, as synaxaria (lists or calendars of saints with short notices from their lives) can easily be overlooked in surveys of Byzantine hagiography precisely because they are not necessarily treated as literary texts. These chapters dedicated to distinct forms are supplemented by two dealing with more general topics. Stephanos Efthymiadis covers "Greek Byzantine Hagiography in Verse," which considers verse texts "composed in elaborate metres [...] and not intended to be sung in a church office" (162)--i.e., as distinct from hymnography on the saints, which is treated in a later chapter; and Christian Høgel offers a helpful introduction to "Symeon Metaphrastes and the Metaphrastic Movement."

Part II, "Hagiography as Literature," includes six chapters that deal with an assortment of topics germane to the study of hagiographical writing as a literary form, though it must be said that it is not immediately clear to the reviewer why some of these papers are grouped under this heading rather than in one of the other two sections (as will perhaps be clear from this overview). The first two selections indeed treat key issues in the literary study of hagiography: again, Martin Hinterberger offers a concise and helpful introduction to the challenges posed by the question of authorship in Byzantine hagiography ("The Byzantine Hagiographer and His Text"). This is paired with a contribution on "Audience, Language and Patronage in Byzantine Hagiography," co-authored by Stephanos Efthymiadis and Nikos Kalogeras. The next two offerings, Antonia Giannouli's "Byzantine Hagiography and Hymnography: An Interrelationship" and Charis Messis' "Fiction and/or Novelisation in Byzantine Hagiography," offer stimulating assessments of two topics, namely medieval Greek hymnography on the saints as it relates to hagiographical writing in prose (virtually wide-open for future study), and the fascinating question of how to evaluate Byzantine hagiographical texts as fictional works, both from the perspective of their contemporary authors and audiences, and as modern readers. The last two chapters in this section shift the focus toward the subjects of hagiographical texts: Stavroula Constantinou offers an overview of the controversial and well-known works dedicated to holy fools and transvestite female saints, as well as an interesting discussion of performance and humor, in "Holy Actors and Actresses Fools and Cross-Dressers as the Protagonists of Saints' Lives" [sic]; while Nathalie Delierneux surveys hagiography devoted to women protagonists in "The Literary Portrait of Byzantine Female Saints," highlighting the variety of roles held by holy women in Byzantine hagiography and evolving attitudes toward female sanctity over the course of the Byzantine period.

Part III, "Hagiography and Society," includes three chapters that deal broadly with the social and cultural context in which hagiographical texts were produced, and by extension the ways in which the study of this literature can illuminate said context. Michel Kaplan and Eleonora Kountoura-Galaki address the issue of hagiographical texts as bearers of economic and social historical detail. Helen G. Saradi provides a stimulating study of how cultural attitudes toward the city, shaped by and catalyzing new responses to ancient civic ideals, are represented in hagiography and also affect Byzantine paradigms of sanctity. And finally, the collection closes with an interesting paper by Anthony Kaldellis ("The Hagiography of Doubt and Scepticism") that provides an important corrective to the view, shaped in part by monodimensional readings of hagiographical literature, that Byzantium was a homogeneously religious society exhibiting credulity and gullibility before the figure of the saint. Kaldellis shows, by contrast, that hagiography is full of evidence to the contrary, and he encourages a more nuanced evaluation of hagiographical literature in the context of Byzantine society.

On the whole this is a rich collection that offers a thorough introduction to the study of Byzantine hagiographical writing, both in its treatment of the texts themselves and by synthesizing current scholarly discourse on this immensely significant body of literature. One of its most valuable features is the comprehensive bibliography provided with each chapter, especially the up-to-date references to editions and translations of the primary sources. As such, it fulfills the mission of such companion projects by supplying a handy, go-to guide for a wide audience. Perhaps not surprisingly for a volume of this size and scope, the quality of the contributions is inconsistent. Some of the most successful chapters go well beyond a survey of surviving texts to present thoughtful (and thought-provoking) responses to this complex literature. Notable among these are the contributions by Giannouli, Hinterberger, Høgel, Kaldellis, Messis, and Saradi, which provide concise and stimulating discussions of various aspects of hagiography as literature and also challenge us to expand our research horizon. Others offer more general surveys of hagiographical forms and texts, but work well within the volume as a whole.

The main difficulty here is the lack of a clearly delineated introduction to the volume. The editor's introduction focuses primarily on the issue of whether and how hagiography is to be considered a literary genre, yet oddly fails to set out the general aims of the collection and the principles by which it was organized. As a result, it can feel at times as if one is encountering a series of discrete papers rather than a unified collection that makes a wider argument about the state of the field. Though perhaps a superficial point, it should also be remarked that the copy-editing of the volume is haphazard--while this is not so extreme as to cause confusion to the reader, it is nevertheless evident enough to be a distraction. Yet this should not detract from the significant achievement of the project. The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography should prove immensely useful both as a ready reference for specialists, and as a key source through which to introduce students and scholars in related disciplines to the rich field of Byzantine hagiographical studies.



1. Stephanos Efthymiadis, ed., The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography. Volume I: Periods and Places (Farnham , Ashgate: 2011).

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