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21.06.17 Raffensperger/Olster, Radical Traditionalism

The Medieval Review

21.06.17 Raffensperger/Olster, Radical Traditionalism


The histography of Late Antiquity and Byzantium is populated with great scholars, and Walter Kaegi is certainly one of them. This volume is a collection of essays dedicated to the legacy of Kaegi as a researcher, a teacher, and a mentor. Each essay in the book is expertly executed in a style that shows the influence the mentor had on each author. In general, each piece works well in the context of the others. They can stand alone while at the same time are linked together by the common themes that highlight Kaegi's own work. The work truly succeeds as a festschrift and as compendium of independent research separate from the honoree.

In the interest of full disclosure, I too have been influenced by Walter Kaegi. When I was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for a while we did not have a Byzantinist, and I needed to take my field examine. Kaegi was generously willing to give it to me and I have a wonderful memory of sitting in his office talking about all things Byzantine for a couple of hours. He has always greeted me kindly whenever I have seen him since. This is all to say that I completely understand where the editors and contributors were coming from as they put this volume together. Walter Kaegi is truly a wonderful scholar, teacher, and mentor and deserved the honor of this festschrift.

These sentiments come forth in chapter 1, which provides the customary review of Kaegi's work as a scholar, teacher, and mentor. Yet, the essay provides more than a compendium of nearly sixty years of articles and books; rather it presents a structure for the remainder of the collection. It seems to indicate that the three sections, which the essays are divided into, are a reflection of the major themes of Kaegi's work. This is merely one of the methodological and thematic aspects that ties the collection together as a whole. The goal of the editors is simply put: "this volume, unlike the vast majority of festschriften, seeks to look beyond the mere collections of chapters to examine something more systemic in the nature of the scholarship: how one scholar, Walter Kaegi, can exert influence on scholarship in a wide variety of fields" (17). By placing Kaegi's work in its proper context, the first chapter sets the stage for successfully doing just that.

The first section of the book deals with the concept of Quellenkritik, and thus focuses on the methods that scholars work with and interpretate opaquely edited and redacted sources, which was an important part of the way Kaegi approached his primary source materials. To that end, in chapter 2, Robert Schick provides a close analysis of a fifteenth-century Arabic history of the cities of Jerusalem and Hebron, entitled al-Uns al-Jalīl bi-Tarīkh al-Quds wa-al-Khalīl. The text was written by the chief Islamic law court judge of Jerusalem. The essay is germaine to the section, because the account written in the Mamluk period has proven problematic for scholars. Schick, here, provides a translation of one section of the al-Uns al-Jalīl and then a commentary on it. His work proves to be an excellent example of Quellenkritik as he sorts through the issues surrounding the access to the text as well as the use of it.

The focus on sources plays out on center stage in the remaining two chapters of the first section as well. Leonidas Pittos takes up the Histories of John VI Kantakouzenos in chapter 3. The author works to put Kantakouzenos's use of the words logos and ergon into their proper context. In some ways, the words seem out of place until one realizes the important influence that Thoukydides exerted on the Histories. Through a careful critique of the sources, it becomes clear that the Thoukydidean model shaped the way Kantakouzenos conceived of these concepts, and the exercise ofQuellenkritik proves effective once again. Sources again prove to be important in chapter 4 as Olster turns to a short speech, which he calls odd, given by Constans II. The oratory is recorded by Theophanes in his Chronicle under the year 641/642. The notice is only about 10 lines long, but Olster states that "as Walter Kaegi often demonstrated, in the context of events, such a brief notice might connote a great deal more" (58). By examining the accounts that Theophanes places in the years surrounding the event in question as well as a wider historical context, through careful source critique, Olster shows that the brief speech, if not fabricated by Theophanes, was a ritualized attempt to create political legitimacy and stability.

Part II shifts to the examination of another of Kaegi's scholarly activities: addressing the relationship between institutions and political activity. Each of the essays in the section demonstrates that this relationship was no less important in the premodern world, but that it was, in the end, far less clear; an assessment that there is no doubt Kaegi would agree with. In chapter 5, Nathan Leidholm reexamines the relationship between political rebellion in North African in the fourth century and the institution of the Donatist church. He challenges that commonly held view of many scholars that the rebellious Firmus and Gildo justified a close alliance with Donatism because of their desire to form an independent African kingdom separate from Rome. Through careful analysis, Leidholm determines that the sources that depict Firmus and Gildo were written after their defeat and that they actually would have had more to gain from forming a connection with the orthodox communities in the region. The resulting conclusion is that although Firmus and Gildo did revolt, the sources linked them to Donatism after the fact in order to demonize them, thus not supporting the presumption of an ideological or systemic link between their revolts and the Donatist Church. This essay in and of itself seems to combine Kaegi's passion of examining these types of relationships with Quellenkritik.

As Charles W. King examines the story of the Attila and Honoria, moving slightly forward chronologically, the relationship between familial institutions and political maneuvering rises to the fore. The narrative is that the western princess, Honoria, actually invited Attila to attack Gaul and possibly offered him her own hand in marriage. Questions, of course, exist as to whether this actually happened. For that reason, King begins by examining the story and the sources for it. He concludes that the veracity of the story matters little, because what is more important is what the story indicates about the role a princess could play through her familial and marital position in the politics of both the Western Empire and the Hunnic kingdom. The institutions of family and politics are intrinsically linked in at least this corner of the late antique world. As are the institutions of punishment and government, as demonstrated by Christian Raffensperger in chapter 7. It is common knowledge that blinding was used a punishment in the Middle Byzantine period. Raffensperger's aim is to trace whether the practice was transmitted to other regions of eastern Europe that were under the Byzantine sphere of influence. To that end, the author describes blinding practices in Byzantium, among the Rus', in Poland, and in Hungary. There clearly appears to be a relationship between blinding and political institutions in all of these regions, yet it is impossible to ascertain the connectivity and method of transport of these ideas. The conclusion of the essay is that "we are left to simply posit the existence of the interconnectivity of these societies and ideas through marriages, religious missions, conflicts, and even actions, such as blinding" (129).

Finally, Part III turns to another of the distinctive "Kaegi" methods of interpretation, which is the ways by which power and authority were encoded in a variety of cultural forms. In the first essay of the section, Jeremy Thompson examines four ninth-century manuscripts of Hincmar of Reims. More particularly, Thompson looks at the personal monogram that was placed on the documents. The argument is that these nominal emblems carry with defining characteristics of the author of the text. In the end, Thompson demonstrates that monograms provide scholars with media through which discussions of authority and identity can occur. Daniel Larison also pays close attention to the features of a text in chapter 9. Here, Larison describes George of Pisidia's Contra Severum. It is shown that the text clearly both exults Heraclius and demonizes the Syrian Monophysite population in the last days of Byzantine control of the region. The themes of Kaegi's scholarship show their influence on Larison, in terms of the Quellenkritik, close sources examination, and the attempt to find significance in the cultural artifact of a religious treatise.

The next two essays deal with two topics that have drawn much attention from scholars recently: "otherness" and "space". In chapter 10, Hisatsugu Kusabu takes up yet another cultural practice, that of labeling people seen as other from the dominant group. In this essay, the group that was labeled was the Paulicians, and Kusabu shows the that methods and practices of naming different groups of heretics was directly correlated to the way Orthodox intellectuals identified and socialized people of foreign ethnicity in the oikoumene. In essence labeling allowed for the coupling of foreign and heretical identity. Space is the cultural capital of chapter 11, as Galina Tirnanić takes the reader on a tour of the Forum of Constantine. After describing the space in Constantinople as it would have appeared to the average person living in or visiting the city in the Byzantine period, the author makes the argument that by being in that space, one participated in the process of remembering the past and become an active actor in the process of performing history. Specifically, Tirnanić points to the way the relationship between the emperor and those who opposed imperial policy played out in the physical and mental spaces of those who found themselves in the Forum. The final essay of the collection takes up another cultural medium: artistic representations. Here, Alice Christ explores the links between images of sacrifice and those of martyrdom in the fourth century. Here again the cultural is seen in relation to power, but it is ecclesiastical and episcopal authority that the shifts in imagery seem to reenforce and perpetuate.

The epilogue is a short comment on the legacy of Walter Kaegi. Through it one can see the importance of his scholarship and, perhaps equally importantly, of the influence he had on those he mentored. One can always muse on the purpose of a festschrift. One can ask if it is merely to honor or if the essays contained can advance scholarly in directions that would be acceptable and intriguing to the one being celebrated. The best examples of this genre may well do both. Olster remarks at the end of chapter 1 that he "would suggest that the work might have ore significance for scholarship than a collection of useful essays" (18). His suggestion is well taken, as this festschrift is more than simply honorific, but also, in the model of the honoree, provides the results of exceptional research that will be valuable for scholars who want to continue in Kaegi's footsteps.