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‘Old wine in new bottles’? Gregory Palamas’ Logos on Saint Peter of Athos (BHG 1506)*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2016

Mihail Mitrea*
The University of Edinburgh


In this article I attempt to enter the less studied ‘working room’ of the hagiographer and metaphrastes Gregory Palamas by contextualizing and analyzing, both on its own terms and comparatively, Palamas’ literary debut, the Logos on Saint Peter of Athos (BHG 1506). The article shows to what extent the hagiographer used, changed, supplemented, departed from his source—the tenth/eleventh-century Vita of Saint Peter (BHG 1505) written by a certain Athonite monk Nicholas—and refashioned the image of the saint when (re)writing his life.

Copyright © Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham, 2016 

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I am grateful to Claudia Rapp, Niels Gaul, Ioan Ică jr., and Cristina Mitrea for their insightful comments and suggestions. I am also indebted to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback. All translations into English are my own unless otherwise noted.


1 Cioran, E., Tears and Saints, trans. Zarifopol-Johnston, I. (Chicago 1995) 34 Google Scholar.

2 See Angelov, D. G. (ed.), Church and Society in Late Byzantium (Kalamazoo 2009)Google Scholar; Krausmüller, D., ‘The rise of hesychasm’, in Angold, M. (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity 5: Eastern Christianity (Cambridge 2006) 101–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Talbot, A.-M., ‘Old wine in new bottles: the rewriting of saints’ lives in the Palaiologan period’, in Ćurčić, S., Mouriki, D. (eds.), The Twilight of Byzantium. Aspects of Cultural and Religious History in the Late Byzantine Empire (Princeton 1991) 1526;Google Scholar Talbot, A.-M., ‘Hagiography in late Byzantium (1204–1453)’, in Efthymiadis, S. (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography (hereafter Companion), I. Periods and Places (Farnham 2011) 173 Google Scholar–98, esp. 176–9; Macrides, R., ‘Saints and sainthood in the early Palaiologan period’, in Hackel, S. (ed.), The Byzantine Saint (Birmingham 1983) 6787;Google Scholar Hinterberger, M., ‘Hagiographische Metaphrasen. Ein möglicher Weg der Annäherung an die Literarästhetik der frühen Palaiologenzeit’, in Rhoby, A., Schiffer, E. (eds.), Imitatio, aemulatio, variatio (Vienna 2010) 137–51Google Scholar. For the concept, process and production of metaphrasis in Byzantium, see Ch. Høgel, ‘Symeon Metaphrastes and the metaphrastic movement’, in S. Efthymiadis (ed.), Companion, II. Genres and Contexts (Farnham 2014) 181–96.

4 On the hagiographical œuvre of Constantine Akropolites, often styled as ‘the new metaphrast’, see Talbot, ‘Hagiography in late Byzantium’, 177–9, 190; Hinterberger, ‘Hagiographische Metaphrasen’, 146–8.

5 On Gregoras as hagiographer and metaphrastēs, see Lukhovitskiy, L., ‘Nikephoros Gregoras’ Vita of St. Michael the Synkellos. Rewriting techniques and reconstruction of the iconoclast past in a 14th cent. hagiographical metaphrasis’, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 64 (2014) 177–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hinterberger, ‘Les vies des saints du XIVe siècle en tant qu’œuvre littéraire: l’œuvre hagiographique de Nicéphore Grégoras’, in P. Odorico and P. A. Agapitos (eds.), Les vies des saints à Byzance. Genre littéraire ou biographie historique? (Paris 2004) 281–301.

6 On Kokkinos’ hagiographical writings, see D. Tsentikopoulos, Φιλόθεος Κόκκινος. Βίος και έργο, PhD Dissertation (Thessalonike 2001) 243–309.

7 See Sinkewicz, R. E., ‘Gregory Palamas,’ in Conticello, C. G., Conticello, V. (eds.), La théologie byzantine et sa tradition, II (XIIIe–XIXe s.) (Turnhout 2002) 131 Google Scholar–82, at 138–55.

8 Palamas, Gregory, ‘Λόγος εἰς τὸν θαυμαστὸν καὶ ἰσάγγελον βίον τοῦ ὁσίου καὶ θεοφόρου πατρὸς ἡμῶν Πέτρου τοῦ ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ ὄρει τῷ Ἄθῳ ἀσκήσαντος’, in Chrestou, P. K. (ed.), Γρηγορίου τοῦ Παλαμᾶ συγγράμματα, V (Thessalonike 1992)Google Scholar (hereafter Logos) 161–91.

9 Acta Sanctorum, June, II, 538–56.

10 J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca 150, 996–1040.

11 See n. 8 above; among the codices he used I list the fourteenth-century Coislin. 97, fols. 193–202 (the text has several lacunae), Athos, Iveron 266, fols. 254–67; and the fifteenth-century Paris. gr. 1239, fols. 249–63, Athen. EBE 2715, fols. 187–200, Athos, Pantel. 215, fols. 609–40, Athos, Vatop. 134, fols. 318–34, Sinait. gr. 1604, fols. 539–64, and Sinait. gr. 1851, fols. 290–304. For his edition Chrestou did not use the fourteenth-century Mosquensis Syn. gr. 212, fols. 251–63, and the fifteenth-century Athos, Lavra 1573, fols. 259–63.

12 Chrestou, Γρηγορίου τοῦ Παλαμᾶ ἅπαντα τὰ ἔργα, VIII (Thessalonike 1994) 274–3.

13 ‘Βίος καὶ πολιτεία τοῦ ὁσίου καὶ θεοφόρου πατρὸς ἡμῶν Πέτρου τοῦ Ἀθωνίτου’, ed. K. Lake, The Early Days of Monasticism on Mount Athos (Oxford 1909) (hereafter Lake) 18–39.

14 Meyendorff, J., Introduction à l’étude de Grégoire Palamas (Paris 1959) 382 Google Scholar–3.

15 Polemis, I., ‘Neoplatonic and hesychastic elements in the early teaching of Gregorios Palamas on the union of man with God: The Life of St. Peter the Athonite ’, in Efthymiadis, S. et al. (eds.), Pour une poétique de Byzance. Hommage à Vassilis Katsaros (Paris 2015) 205–21Google Scholar.

16 Rigo, A., ‘La Vita di Pietro l'Athonita (BHG 1506) scritta da Gregorio Palama’, Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici 32 (1995) 177–90;Google Scholar see idem, ‘De l'apologie à l’évocation de l'expérience mystique. Évagre le Pontique, Isaac le Syrien et Diadoque de Photicé dans les œuvres de Grégoire Palamas (et dans la controverse palamite)’, in A. Speer, P. Steinkrüger (eds.), Knotenpunkt Byzanz. Wissensformen und kulturelle Wechselbeziehungen (Berlin 2012) 85–108.

17 Janin, R., ‘Pietro, eremite sul Monte Athos, sancto’, in Bibliotheca Sanctorum X (1968) 712–3Google Scholar; Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit, 26427 (hereafter PmbZ).

18 Delehaye, H. (ed.), Synaxarium ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae e codice Sirmondiano, nunc Berolinensi, adiectis synaxariis selectis: Propylaeum ad Acta Sanctorum Novembris (Brussels 1902);Google Scholar see Luzzi, A., ‘Synaxaria and the Synaxarion of Constantinople’, in Efthymiadis, Companion, II, 197208 Google Scholar; Flusin, B., ‘L'empereur hagiographe. Remarques sur le role des premiers empereurs macédoniens dans le culte des saints’, in Guran, P. (ed.), L'empereur hagiographe: Culte des saints et monarchie byzantine et post-byzantine (Bucharest 2001) 2954,Google Scholar esp. 41–7.

19 Papachryssanthou, D. (ed.), ‘L'office ancien de Pierre l'Athonite’, Analecta Bollandiana 88 (1970) 2741 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 34–41.

20 Cf. Patterson Ševčenko, N., ‘Canon and calendar: the role of a ninth-century hymnographer in shaping the celebration of saints’, in Brubaker, L. (ed.), Byzantium in the Ninth Century: Dead or Alive? (Aldershot 1998)Google Scholar 101–14; PmbZ 23510.

21 Cf. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, A., Ἱεροσολυμιτικὴ Βιβλιοθήκη, II (St. Petersburg 1894)Google Scholar 118–31.

22 ‘Κανὼν τοῦ ὁσίου Πέτρου ψαλλόμενος τῇ ἑσπέρᾳ φέρων ἀκροστιχίδα’, ed. A. A. Longo, Canones Iunii, in I. Schiro (ed.), Analecta hymnica graeca e codicibus eruta Italiae inferioris, X (Rome 1972) 11–22.

23 Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database (Washington 1998) 82–3; Papachryssanthou, ‘La vie ancienne de Saint Pierre l'Athonite. Date, composition et valeur historique’, Analecta Bollandiana 92 (1974) 19–61, had previously argued, although not convincingly, that the year 980 is most probably the terminus ante quem for Nicholas’ composition of Peter's Vita.

24 Throughout the Vita, the hagiographer presents himself as ‘the humble Nicholas’ (ὁ ταπεινὸς Νικόλαος) [Lake, 35.10] and speaks of Mt. Athos as his own abode: τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ [Lake, 35.14], τὸ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς τοῦτο θεῖον ὄρος [Lake, 39.17–18]; PmbZ 26139.

25 Samarra (nowadays a town in Iraq), situated on the east bank of the Tigris River, was briefly the capital of the ʿAbbāsid caliphate in the 9th century.

26 Janin, ‘Pietro’, 712, erroneously identified St. Symeon mentioned in the Vita with St. Symeon the Stylite.

27 Cf. Papachryssanthou, ‘Des groupes anachorétiques aux grands couvents’, in Papachrysanthou (ed.), Actes du Prôtaton (Paris 1975) 61–93, at 64–5; P. Soustal (ed.), Tabula Imperii Byzantini XI (Vienna forthcoming).

28 Unidentified place; Külzer, A. (ed.), Ostthrakien (Eurōpē). Tabula Imperii Byzantini XII (Vienna 2008) 591 Google Scholar.

29 Lake, 8–17 (introduction), and 18–39 (edition).

30 Binon, S., ‘La vie de S. Pierre l'Athonite’, Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici 5 (1939) 4153 Google Scholar.

31 Papachryssanthou, ‘La vie ancienne’, 19, 21.

32 Nicola della Santa Montagna. Alle origini dell'Athos: la vita di Pietro l'Athonita (Magnano 1999).

33 Rigo, ‘La Vita di Pietro’, 178.

34 Flusin, B., ‘L'hagiographie monastique à Byzance au IXe et au Xe siècle. Modèles anciens et tendances contemporaines’, Revue Bénédictine 103 (1993) 3150 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 Papachryssanthou, ‘La vie ancienne’, 40.

36 Anrich, G., Hagios Nikolaos. Der heilige Nikolaos in der griechischen Kirche, I (Leipzig 1913) 153–82Google Scholar. Lake, 17–8, overlooked this fact and instead explained why the hagiographer might have attributed his source to Methodios of Patara (†312). This enkomion is transmitted by numerous tenth- and eleventh-century codices such as Sinait. gr. 525, Vat. gr. 2084, Vat. gr. 1641, Vat. gr. 1673, Vat. gr. 824, Moscow Syn. gr. 26. A perusal of Anrich's apparatus criticus and its collation with Lake's edition of Nicholas’ Vita may offer further evidence with regard to the date of Nicholas’ composition. For instance, it seems that Lake's account of the miracles of St. Nicholas of Myra (Lake, 18–23) follows the text of Methodios’ enkomion (Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos, 174–81) very closely as transmitted by the eleventh-century manuscript Vat. gr. 824, fols. 176v–84.

37 Papachryssanthou, ‘Des groupes anachorétiques’, 61–93.

38 Flusin, ‘L'hagiographie monastique’, 36.

39 Cf. Papachryssanthou, ‘La vie ancienne’, 20, n. 3; Rigo, ‘La Vita di Pietro’, 179–80. There are considerably fewer Athonite manuscripts (to my knowledge only two) of the Vita dating back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries: Mosquensis Syn. gr. 387 (once the property of the Great Lavra) and Protaton 36.

40 Theophanes, ‘Βίος καὶ πολιτεία καὶ ἄσκησις καὶ φαιδροὶ ἀγῶνες καὶ θαύματα τοῦ ὁσίου καὶ θεοφόρου πατρὸς ἡμῶν Μαξίμου τοῦ τὴν καλύβην πυρπολοῦντος ἐν τῷ Ἁγίῳ Ὄρει τῷ Ἄθωνι’, ch. 6, ed. Halkin, ‘Deux vies de S. Maxime le Kausokalybe ermite au Mont Athos (XIVe s.)’, Analecta Bollandiana 54 (1936) 38–112, at 73.1–7. See also ch. 11, ed. Halkin, 81.13–5.

41 Milliner, M. J., ‘Man or metaphor? Manuel Panselinos and the Protaton frescoes’, in Johnson, M. J., Ousterhout, R., Papalexandrou, A. (eds.), Approaches to Byzantine Architecture and its Decoration: Studies in Honor of Slobodan Ćurčić (Farnham 2002) 221–35Google Scholar.

42 Constantinides, E. C., The Wall Paintings of the Panagia Olympiotissa at Elasson in Northern Thessaly, ed. Perreault, J. Y., 2 vols. (Athens 1992)Google Scholar, vol. 1, 238–40, vol. 2, 102–3, 226. Another fourteenth-century portrait of St. Peter is preserved in the Church of the Holy Virgin at Mateič; see Djurić, V. J., ‘L'art des Paléologues et l’État serbe: rôle de la cour et de l’église serbes dans la première moitié du XIVe siècle’, in Art et société à Byzance sous les Paléologues (Venice 1971) 177–91Google Scholar, at 188 and n. 40.

43 Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire Byzantine. I. Le siège de Constantinople et le patriarcat œcuménique. III. Les églises et les monastères, 2nd edn (Paris 1969) 384.Google Scholar

44 Niphon, ‘Βίος καὶ πολιτεία τοῦ ὁσίου πατρὸς ἡμῶν Μαξίμου τοῦ Ἀθωνίτου καὶ Καυσοκαλύβη λεγομένου’, ch. 2, ed. F. Halkin, ‘Deux vies’, 44.5–6.

45 Joseph's canon praises the saint on June 22; moreover, the codex Mosquensis Syn. gr. 387 (11th c.) assigns the feast day to June 13.

46 Meyendorff, Introduction, 383.

47 Philotheos Kokkinos, ‘Λόγος εἰς τὸν ἐν ἁγίοις πατέρα ἡμῶν Γρηγόριον ἀρχιεπίσκοπον Θεσσαλονίκης’, ed. Tsames, D. G., Φιλοθέου Κωνσταντινουπόλεως τοῦ Κοκκίνου ἁγιολογικὰ ἔργα, Α´· Θεσσαλονικεῖς ἅγιοι (Thessalonike 1985)Google Scholar (hereafter Tsames) 427–591, at 466–7.

48 Kokkinos, Λόγος, 36, ed. Tsames, 467–8; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1–2, Hebrews 5:12–4.

49 BHG 1095 = Homily 53; Ch. Veniamin, Saint Gregory Palamas. The Homilies (Waymart 2009) 266–73.

50 Kokkinos, Λόγος, 37, ed. Tsames, 468–9.

51 Veniamin, The Homilies, xxv, argued that the Logos was originally a homily that later was expanded into a lengthy treatise.

52 Palamas’ Logos is interrupted on fol. 196v at the beginning of chapter 16 (Logos, 170.21) and on the next folio (197r), it jumps to chapter 24 (Logos, 189.18). Moreover, the Logos does not reach its end, stopping in the middle of chapter 52; see n. 11 above.

53 See Appendix 2.

54 On theatron in the Palaiologan period, see Gaul, N., Thomas Magistros und die spätbyzantinische Sophistik. Studien zum Humanismus urbaner Eliten in der frühen Palaiologenzeit (Wiesbaden 2011) 1753 Google Scholar.

55 Kabasilas, N., ‘Προσφώνημα εἰς τὸν ἔνδοξον τοῦ Χριστοῦ μεγαλομάρτυρα Δημήτριον τὸν Μυροβλύτην’ (BHG 543), ed. Ioannou, Th., Μνημεῖα ἁγιολογικά (Venice 1884) 67114 Google Scholar. Kabasilas mentioned his recently performed enkomion in one of his letters (dated around 1351/2), ed. Enepekides, P., ‘Der Briefwechsel des Mystikers Nikolaos Kabasilas. Kommentierte Textausgabe’, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 46 (1953) 1846 Google Scholar, at 30–1.

56 Meyendorff, Introduction, 383.

57 Logos, 127.

58 Meyendorff, Introduction, 383.

59 See Appendix 1.

60 Lake, 18; Logos, 161.4–10.

61 Logos, 162.9–22. On hagiographical topoi in the prooimia of saints’ lives, see Pratsch, Th., Der hagiographische Topos: Griechische Heiligenviten in mittelbyzantinischer Zeit (Berlin 2005) 1955 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 Logos, 163.1–25.

63 Logos, 166.1–16.

64 Logos, 167.1–3.

65 See Brubaker, L., Haldon, J., Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c. 680–850: A History (Cambridge 2011)Google Scholar.

66 Cf. Rigo, ‘La Vita di Pietro’, 183–4; idem, Alle origini, 35–9.

67 Logos, 171.5–6. On the biblical figure of Moses as a model applied to saints, see Rapp, C., ‘Comparison, paradigm and the case of Moses in panegyric and hagiography’, in Whitby, M. (ed.), The Propaganda of Power. The Role of Panegyric in Late Antiquity (Leiden 1998) 277–98Google Scholar.

68 Rigo, ‘De l'apologie à l’évocation de l'expérience mystique’; Polemis, ‘Neoplatonic and hesychastic elements’; Demetrakopoulos, I. A., ‘Υστεροβυζαντινή κοσμολογία. Η κριτική του Γρηγορίου Παλαμά στη διδασκαλία των Πλωτίνου και Πρόκλου περί κοσμικής ψυχής ᾿, Φιλοσοφία 31 (2001) 175–91Google Scholar.

69 Meyendorff, ‘Le theme du «retour en soi» dans la doctrine palamite du XIVe siècle’, Revue de l'histoire des religions 145 (1954) 188–206; see n. 68 above.

70 Logos, 171.17–172.24. Kokkinos quotes this passage in extenso in his encomiastic Logos on Palamas.

71 See Polemis, ‘Gregorio Palamas e la spiritualità athonita dell'epoca: Esperienze soprannaturali e il loro contesto’, in S. Chialà, L. Cremaschi, A. Mainardi (eds.), Il Cristo trasfigurato nella tradizione spirituale ortodossa (Magnano 2008) 296–98.

72 Logos, 172.24–174.5.

73 Rigo, Alle origini, 18.

74 Logos, 173.13–182.14.

75 See Halkin, F., ‘La Vie de saint Onuphre par Nicolas le Sinaite’, Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici 27 (1987) 727 Google Scholar; Kouli, M., ‘Life of St. Mary of Egypt’ and A. C. Hero, ‘Life of St. Theoktiste of Lesbos’, in Talbot (ed.), Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints’ Lives in English Translation (Washington 1996) 6593 Google Scholar, 95–116; Flusin, ‘L'hagiographie monastique’.

76 Logos, 184.24–33, 185.1–9.

77 Kokkinos, ‘Βίος καὶ πολιτεία καὶ ἐγκώμιον τοῦ ἐν ἁγίοις πατρὸς ἡμῶν Ἰσιδώρου πατριάρχου Κωνσταντινουπόλεως’ (BHG 962) 22–4, ed. Tsames, 329–423, at 353–8; idem, Λόγος, 29, ed. Tsames, 457–8.

78 Logos, 188.14–5, 189.25–6.

79 Lake, 38.

80 Logos, 190.10–3, 19–27, 191.12–3.

81 Logos, 191.14–8.

82 Cf., although for an earlier period, Rapp, ‘Hagiographers as antiquarians’, in S. Efthymiadis, C. Rapp, D. Tsougarakis (eds.), Bosphorus. Essays in Honour of Cyril Mango (Amsterdam 1995) 31–44.

83 Talbot, ‘Old wine in new bottles’, 22; cf. Theodora Raoulaina's (d. c.1300) vita of Theophanes and Theodore Graptoi (BHG 1793), the iconophile confessors, in which she criticizes the contemporary imperial policy of Michael VIII (r.1259–82) regarding the Union of Lyons; cf. also the anonymous enkomion of St. Theodosia that contains an invective against Michael VIII; E. Kountoura-Galake, ‘Constantine V Kopronymos or Michael VIII Palaiologos the New Constantine? The Anonymous Encomium of Saint Theodosia’, Symmeikta 15 (2002) 183–94.

84 Letter 17, ed. Constantinides Hero, Letters of Gregory Akindynos (Washington, DC 1983), 66–7, 339–41.

85 Rigo, Alle origini, 46–7.

86 Oration 21.5, ed. J. Mossay [Sources chrétiennes 270] (Paris 1980) 118: τοῦ μοναδικοῦ βίου νομοθεσίαν ἐν πλάσματι διηγήσεως.

87 Cf. Elian, A., ‘Byzance et les Roumains à la fin du Moyen Age’, in Hussey, M., Obolensky, D., Runciman, S. (eds.), Proceedings of the XIIIth International Congress of Byzantine Studies (London 1967) 195203,Google Scholar at 199.

88 Cf. Rapp, ‘Hagiographers as antiquarians’, 41.

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