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21.04.15 Kaldellis/Polemis, Saints of Ninth- and Tenth-Century Greece

The Medieval Review

21.04.15 Kaldellis/Polemis, Saints of Ninth- and Tenth-Century Greece


This volume compiles seven hagiographies of less-well known male saints in Greece from the ninth and the tenth centuries CE, and prints the Greek texts with facing English translations. The volume also includes an Introduction, Abbreviations, a Note on the Texts, Notes to the Texts, Notes to the Translations, a Bibliography, and an Index of names, places, and selective subjects. This work falls under the overall publishing purpose of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library which aims to offer "the classics of the medieval canon as well as lesser-known gems of literary and cultural value to a global audience through accessible modern translations based on the latest research by leading scholars in the field." The present volume achieves more than satisfactorily the standards set by the series in terms of the selection of the translated texts, the quality of the translations, and the editorial work of Professors Anthony Kaldellis and Ioannis Polemis.

The Introduction discusses the importance of the texts, translated for the first time from Medieval Greek to English, on historical, cultural, societal, and literary grounds. Kaldellis and Polemis offer two reasons for the selection of the particular saints' lives: "they concern a poorly documented but hotly debated period in the history of medieval Greece, the ninth and early tenth centuries"; and "as a collected corpus they exhibit a great deal of literary variety, presenting students of hagiography with a compact dossier of texts that feature a range of literary modes and tropes" (vii). The editors suggest topics that may be examined through these compositions, such as "the barbarian invasions (Slav and Bulgar); changes in settlement (and resettlement) patterns; the postclassical history of cities, towns, and villages; Arab and pirate raids in the ninth and tenth centuries; ecclesiastical history; and monasticism...the cult of saints in Greece itself and the topographies of holiness (including holy mountains and the practice of piety in cities)" (vii-viii). At the same time, they are careful to emphasize that these works "do not provide a sufficient basis for a comprehensive history of the period, but their evidence, which is still generally unknown, fills in crucial parts of the overall picture" (vii). The Introduction gives a concise overview of each text, including the compositional date, authorship, content, topics addressed, and, where applicable, the political context of each of the saints' lives. As it may be useful for readers who are considering the volume to know something about the lives' content, I paraphrase them here:

1. Martyrdom of Nicholas the Younger:According to the text, Nicholas the Younger and his associates were sent to the city of Larissa in Thessalia to defend the area from the Avars. Whereas his companions were captured and killed, Nicholas took refuge on the mountain of Vounaina, where he became a hermit only to be found later and executed. Philip, the bishop of Larissa, translated Nicholas's companions' relics to Ternavon, whereas Nicholas's relic was discovered later by Euphemianos, the governor of Thessalonike, whose cure from leprosy demanded finding it and building a church in his name. Kaldellis and Polemis explain that it is difficult "to determine the historical basis of these events" (xii) described in this text.

2. Encomium of Nicholas the Younger by the Presbyter Achaïkos: The author of this text, a certain priest, Achaïkos, provides supplementary information on Nicholas and his companions' martyrdoms, the discovery of their relics, the governor of Thessalonike, his affliction with leprosy, and cure.

3. Funeral Oration for Athanasios, Bishop of Methone, by Peter, Bishop of Argos: Peter of Argos (eastern Peloponnese) narrates the life of Athanasios of Methone (southwestern Peloponnese), who was born in Catania, Sicily, but moved with his parents to Patras (northern Peloponnese) due to an invasion of Arabs in Sicily "in 827/8" (xiv). Athanasios was appointed an abbot in a monastery in Patras and was later appointed bishop of Methone. According to Kaldellis and Polemis, Athanasios must have died sometime after 879 "because the saint took part in the council of 879, which rehabilitated Photios" (xv).

4. Life of Peter, Bishop of Argos, by Theodore, Bishop of Nicaea: The text, whose author is the tenth-century bishop of Nicaea, Theodore (xv), narrates Peter's aristocratic descent, the espousal of the monastic life by his family, Peter's reluctance to become the bishop of Argos, his charitable work, especially during a famine, his efforts to liberate persons kept as hostages, and his ability to foretell events. (xvi). Kaldellis and Polemis argue that Peter of Argos might have participated in the Council of 920 "that condemned the fourth marriage of the emperor Leo VI" (xvii).

5. Life and Miracles of Theokletos, Bishop of Lakedaimon: Theokletos, initially a hermit, was later appointed bishop of Lakedaimon (xvii), modern-day Sparta in southeastern Peloponnese. He came into conflict with influential persons of his time, and was driven away from his episcopal see and reinstated later (xvii). According to Kaldellis and Polemis, this text's Theokletos is most probably the same person as Theokletos of Lakedaimon "mentioned in the Acts of the Council of 869-870, which condemned Photios" (xvii).

6. Life of Theodore of Kythera, by Leo: Born in Korone (southwest Peloponnese) and handed at the age of seven by his parents to the local bishop to prepare him for the clergy, Theodore ended up at Nafplion (northeast Peloponnese) under the protection of a priest, presumably a relative, after his parents' demise (xviii). Despite his wish to become an ascetic, Theodore had a family, and was ordained a deacon by Theodore of Argos. He abandoned his family to become a monk and he traveled to Rome only to return to Monemvasia (southeast coast of Peloponnese) after four years and from there to travel to the island of Kythera to live as a hermit, accompanied for few months by a certain monk, Anthony. Theodore died in Kythera eleven months after his arrival at the island (xix). For Kaldellis and Polemis, this work is "an important source for the precarious situation of the coastal areas of the Peloponnese in the early tenth century and provides us with valuable information concerning the strategic importance of Monemvasia and the history of Kythera" (xxiii).

7. Commemoration of Arsenios, Archbishop of Kerkyra: This short hagiography narrates events from Arsenios's life, including his birth in Palestine, his presentatison to a monastery by his parents, his journey to Jerusalem, captivity and release by the Arabs, his appointment as the ecclesiastical administrator in Constantinople (xxiii) and later as the archbishop of Kerkyra, miraculous events, and his demise en route to Kerkyra from Constantinople, to where he travelled for a matter of his jurisdiction. For Kaldellis and Polemis, this text "provides important information about the Byzantine court's continued reception and promotion to high offices of Greek-speaking Christian immigrants from Palestine, the local defenses of islands that were distant from the capital, the tension between imperial and Church officials in the provinces and the need for bishops to travel to the capital, and the contests that continued to take place over the relics of saints after their deaths" (xxiii).

Kaldellis and Polemis have chosen a smooth, expansive English style to render the Byzantine Greek. However, I wish that they had discussed in the Introduction their approach to the translation, namely whether they preferred a literal or a literary rendition of the original language into English, or a hybrid of both. I will give a few examples: in the Life of Peter 3.2: "Ὧν Παῦλος ἐγεγόνει διδάσκαλος καὶ πατήρ, τὸ παράδοξον" is translated as "Paul became their teacher and spiritual father, which was indeed a strange turn of events." The editors/translators render the word "παράδοξον" as "which was indeed a strange turn of events," when it could have been rendered more simply as "which was surprising" or even "which was strange." In another case, in the Life and Miracles of Theokletos 3.1, the text has: "Τούτῳ γὰρ ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν σπαργάνων κἀκ πρώτης ἡλικίας τὴν κατὰ Θεὸν πτωχείαν ἑλομένῳ, καὶ τὸ τοῖς Ναζιραίοις κολλᾶσθαι καὶ τὰς αῦτῶν μανθάνειν καὶ σπᾶσθαι διαθέσεις καὶ ἀρετάς" the word "Ναζιραίοις" is translated as "monks"--with a stretch: this is the conceptual and not the literal meaning of the word "Ναζιραίοις" which means "Nazirites." Indeed, the author seems to refer to monks, but by using the word "Ναζιραίοις" he probably wanted to express the sense of fasting and dedication to God, referring obviously to the Nazirites in the Old Testament. Another choice that is salient, but unremarked on, is the rendition of the word "ἄνθρωποι" as "men." For example, in the Life and Miracles of Theokletos 19.8 the author writes: "Εἰ γὰρ ἄνθρωποι τηλικούτων εἰσὶν ὀργάνων εὑρεταὶ καὶ οὕτως ἀφορήτων εἰς κόλασιν..." and it is translated "For if mere men are able to devise such dreadful instruments of unbearable torture for punishment..." The author seems to refer to "people" or "human beings" in general and not specifically to "men," otherwise he could have used the word "ἄνδρες." Rendering "ἄνθρωποι"exclusively as"men" suggests something more exclusive than the original text can bear.

The series does not seem to allow a full critical apparatus on each page, probably to keep the text simple for reading and teaching, but that choice puts some readers at a disadvantage. The lack of apparatus criticus on these texts deprives their (mostly scholarly) readers of examining, for example, the variants of certain words, phrases, or biblical excerpts, or from understanding the history of these texts' textual witnesses. This may affect the volume's contribution in terms of textual scholarship and critical analysis of the texts for those interested in doing further research on them or even incorporating them in an upper-level class on Medieval Greek. Thankfully, in their Note on the Texts section, Kaldellis and Polemis offer bibliographical information on each work's "manuscript sources and previous critical editions" (309), and, in their Notes to the Texts section, they provide the corrections they have made in the texts vis-à-vis their earlier editions, but, unfortunately, they do not elucidate the reasons for these corrections. Nevertheless, Kaldellis and Polemis have managed exceptionally well within the series' guidelines.

The inclusion at the back of the volume of the "Notes to the Texts" section (which gives information on the corrections to the edited texts of the volume) and the "Notes to the Translations" (which provides information on intertextual excerpts from scriptural verses, classical and patristic sources as well as content information) as endnotes and not as footnotes at the bottom of each page preserves the text uncluttered, it frees space, and allows active readers to take notes in the margins. On the other hand, some readers may find that such an arrangement interferes with their reading of the texts because flipping back-and-forth can be distracting.

An important contribution of Kaldellis and Polemis in the volume is their "Notes to the Translations" section in which they "cite passages from both classical and scriptural sources for the quotations and allusions that appear in...[their] texts" (x). At the same time, they clarify that by citing these passages they "do not wish to imply that [their] authors always had those passages in mind or on their desk when writing these texts (though in many cases they clearly did) (xi)" but to demonstrate "what was likely only their ultimate sources" (xi) since "the sayings, phrases, and ideas in question would often have been known more generally, from their general circulation in Byzantine oral and literary culture (for example, in the liturgy, or anthologies)" (xi). This contribution is valuable for those who are interested in, for example, intertextuality and history of reception of scriptural, classical, and patristic sources in a number of ninth- and tenth- century Greek hagiographies. However, the structure of the "Notes to the Translations" renders their reading parallel with the translated texts somewhat unwieldy. Whereas the scriptural verses annotated in the "Notes to the Translations" are in italics both in the endnotes and in the body of the texts allowing them to be spotted easily, yet the classical and patristic sources are usually in italics only in the "Notes to the Translations" and not in the body of the texts, making their recognition particularly arduous. It would have been more reader friendly if a more consistent format were adopted within the body of the texts, one that could apply equally for both the scriptural verses and classical and patristic sources for which Kaldellis and Polemis provide information in the endnotes. Furthermore, the collection into a separate Index of the scriptural verses and classical and patristic sources, which Kaldellis and Polemis reference so industriously in their "Notes to the Translations" section among other notes, would have been a beneficial addition to their edition. As the volume stands, readers need to go to the individual notes, spot the references in which they are interested, and categorize them by source. Finally, given the many references to several geographical places in the texts, a map of these areas would be informative for reading these works in the context of where the stories are described to have occurred.

Overall, this volume offers an essential selection of texts. Kaldellis and Polemis need to be commended not only for their enterprise to put them together and provide information on their importance and topics that emerge through these compositions and the intertextual sources that seem to be present in these works, but also for their translation from Medieval Greek given their various styles. This volume will be valuable to those interested in hagiographical texts from the Middle Byzantine period in Greece, students of Medieval Greek, and individuals interested in the lives of saints in Greece, particularly the broader area of the medieval Peloponnese.