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This issue of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies is special for two reasons: it celebrates forty years of our journal's publication, and it is the first issue to be produced by our new publisher, Cambridge University Press. The issue is dedicated to Anthony Bryer, who was appointed to teach Byzantine History at Birmingham in 1964. Bryer was one of the leading figures in the creation of the journal and has been a member of the editorial board ever since the first issue appeared in 1975; he also served as the Business Editor from 1984 to 1994.
It is a great pleasure and an honour to be writing for the fortieth anniversary volume of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. As editor of the journal for some twenty years, from 1984 until 2004, I have watched the journal grow in stature and in esteem over that period, and I am delighted to see it continuing to do so in the hands of its current editors. In the first issue I edited, I also contributed an article that attempted to reconcile some very different approaches to the history of Byzantine society and culture, or at least, to show that such different approaches were not necessarily mutually exclusive. If now rather out-of-date in its content, that article remains a useful baseline for discussing the relationship between empirical research and writing and theoretical reflection. ‘“Jargon” vs. “the facts”‘? was a comment about the confrontation that at the time appeared to exist between, very broadly speaking, those who were interested in questioning the theoretical assumptions underlying and informing their research, and those who were not interested in such debates, preferring to see them either as irrelevant or as inaccessible. In my concluding remarks, I suggested that Byzantine Studies in the mid-1980s was in the process of what T. S. Kuhn would have called a ‘paradigm shift‘, that is to say, a process through which a traditional set (or sets) of assumptions and priorities, as well as theories and approaches, is replaced by different sets of ideas. While the changes in the nature of the subject that have occurred since then have not been particularly marked, there have nevertheless been some interesting and important developments that have altered the framework within which some ways of looking at the medieval eastern Roman world are carried on. The so-called ‘linguistic turn‘, for example, pushed Byzantinists, in particular, scholars of Byzantine literature and visual culture, to grapple with various aspects of what might very broadly be termed post-modernist and post-structuralist theory. This is evident in some of the writing and publishing of the later 1980s and 1990s in particular, and in some respects has now been incorporated into our ‘ways of seeing’ the Byzantine world.2 In particular issues of intertextuality, of authorial intention, of reception, and of the relativizing of cultural interpretive possibilities (in respect of our own perspective) have become part and parcel of scholarly discourse, thus greatly enriching our discipline.3 Represented by more recent work in literary studies and art history especially, I believe this shift also facilitated a much greater degree of cross-disciplinary reading, comparative thinking, and in respect of historical context and setting, a generally more open approach to the medieval west and the Islamic world in terms of both material and method.4
Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies was launched in the middle of a decade that saw many landmark events in Byzantine scholarship. I remember them well, because this was the decade when I became a Byzantinist, and attended my first two international congresses of Byzantine Studies, the 14th in Ceauşescu's Bucharest (1971), and the 15th, in post-Junta Athens (1976). Apart from the acts of these congresses, the 1970s produced many memorable publications that shaped our field. It would take too long to list them all, and it would be invidious to make, and justify, a small selection. I have chosen to focus my retrospective look on one small monograph of 1975 that makes a comprehensive statement about Byzantium and is therefore a representative illustration of where Byzantine studies were forty years ago and how far they have come, or not come, since then. My book of the decade is L’idéologie politique de l’Empire byzantin by Hélène Ahrweiler (Paris 1975).
1975 seems light years away. In parts of the field of Byzantine studies, at any rate, the world has shifted, and perhaps most of all in that contested territory of early Byzantium, otherwise known as late antiquity. The first issue of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies was published only four years after Peter Brown’s The World of Late Antiquity,1 and before the ‘explosion’ of late antiquity.2 This was also the start of another explosion: the emergence of late antique archaeology as a discipline, leading to its vast expansion and the enormous and ever-growing amount of material available today. For the first time, John Hayes's Late Roman Pottery (1972) enabled reliable dating criteria for the ceramic evidence that became the foundation of a new understanding of trade and economic life.3 The UNESCO Save Carthage campaign, a landmark in the reliable recording of excavations of the late antique period, began in the following year, and since then the growth in data has been exponential.
In 1964, when Anthony Bryer and I both started teaching at Birmingham University, Syriac studies were generally considered to be little more than an appendage to Biblical Studies, and any idea of a journal or a conference specifically focused on them was unthinkable. Fifty years later the situation has changed dramatically for the better, although the number of universities (at least in Britain) where Syriac is taught has lamentably decreased.
Forty years ago, I contributed my first independent article to Volume 1 of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, ‘The lament of the Virgin in Byzantine literature and modern Greek folksong’. For this fortieth anniversary issue, dedicated to A. A. M. Bryer, I have, as in the closing words of Theodore Prodromos’ seventh letter to Aristenos (Πεϱὶ Γλώττης), nothing to offer but μικϱαῖς ἀντιδεξιοῦσα σταγόσι, καὶ ταύταις θολεϱαῖς (‘meagre and murky drops’),1 further sullied with speculation on possible meanings of a single rare word: skordapsos. Does it mean ‘gut-knot’ or ‘eyesore’? Is it a vulgar form of chordapsos, an affliction of the intestines (attested in early medical texts)? Or is it a later vernacular term for ‘eye disease’, for which garlic (skordo) was, and remains, a known curative? And does it matter?
I am guessing, but I suspect that Bryer's first introduction to Nicholas Mesarites was like mine through a very short article by A. A. Vasiliev, entitled ‘Mesarites as a source’,1 which was a footnote to his much more substantial ‘The foundation of the Empire of Trebizond’,2 which dominated the field for years. Vasiliev was responding to a criticism by Franz Dölger, who suggested that Vasiliev might have benefited from a perusal of the works of Nicholas Mesarites, which had been edited by his old master August Heisenberg.3 Vasiliev was adamant Nicholas Mesarites had little to contribute to the early history of the Empire of Trebizond. In his opinion, the Seljuq inscription from the walls of Sinope, which Heisenberg included in his commentary, was far more valuable than anything that could be gleaned from Mesarites’ writings. This rather explains why they remained a neglected source.
My subject is the relatively small body of literary texts written on the islands of Crete and Cyprus, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, under the influence of the Italian Renaissance. As a matter of fact, the two articles I published in BMGS during the first ten years of its existence had nothing to do with Renaissance literature. My delayed appearance in my chosen field offers me a personal angle to comment on one of the ways the subject has changed since the mid-1970s.
Ottoman Studies, in particular what we might call ‘hard-core’ or ‘archive-based’ Ottoman Studies with its considerable emphasis on Ottoman palaeography, Ottoman diplomatics and/or the cataloguing and editing of archival holdings (not necessarily as an end in itself but a first step towards advancing document-based studies on Ottoman history and culture) is a field that has come under considerable strain in recent years across (most of) Europe. This prompts the following question: Will the subject as we have known it still be able to reproduce itself in future?
A sign of anthropology's Greek coming-of-age is the inevitability of omitting significant contributions from this account. In the 1970s, omission would have been perceived as an insult. Today it is the happy effect of a proliferation that makes it impossible to represent the entire spectrum in one short overview. Anthropology's most substantive contributions to Greek studies, then as now, were detailed ethnographies, providing a counterweight to the generalizations of more top-down, model-building social sciences while constituting an important bridge between social-science and humanities disciplines. There has been less interest in meeting the challenge of the discipline's own commitment to cross-cultural comparison, although Danforth's comparison of firewalking rituals in Greece and the United States1 was an early exception – subverted, as Bakalaki points out, by his Greek publisher's omission of the American material.2 Internal comparison was present as soon as anthropologists themselves began to proliferate,3 but few initially questioned the presupposition of a reified common national culture.
Periodically reviewing developments in a subject area and reflecting on the past and future directions of a discipline can be useful and instructive. In the case of Modern Greek Studies, this has rarely been done, and most of the reviews of the field come from USA.1 So I take this opportunity to offer some thoughts on what has propelled changes in the field over the last forty years, on the fruitful (and occasionally trenchant) dialogue between Neohellenists inside and outside Greece and on the future of modern Greek studies as an academic discipline. During this period modern Greek studies have flourished with a number of new trends, debates and scholarly preoccupations emerging. At the same time many research students received their doctorates from departments of Modern Greek Studies, particularly in the United Kingdom, and were subsequently appointed to teaching posts at Greek, Cypriot or other European, American and Australian universities. Modern Greek departments in the UK have often been the driving force behind the discipline since the early 1980s. New approaches were introduced, challenging ideas were debated and influential publications emerged from those departments, which shaped the agenda for the study of modern Greek language, literature and culture. It should be noted that the influence of those departments in shaping the direction of modern Greek Studies has been out of all proportion to the number of staff teaching in them.
In 1975 interest in contemporary Greece in the UK was at its height. The launch of Byzantine and Modern Studies coincided almost exactly with the ‘Greek Month in London’, when venues all over the city simultaneously hosted a series of cultural and academic events that brought together artists, writers, historians, diplomats, Greeks and philhellenes from many walks of life in a month-long celebration. It was advertised on buses and in the Underground. You couldn't miss it. It was so successful that the organizers followed it up a year later with an ‘Islamic Month in London’. That’s how big the contemporary Greek world and its culture were, back then.
The description of the festival for Saint Demetrios in Thessaloniki in the Timarion has long been used as a source for regional and liturgical history. It is in fact a literary rewriting of a festival at Delphi in Heliodoros’ Aithiopika. This paper demonstrates how the description of the Demetria represents a moment in Byzantine humanism as well as a reflection on the process of literary composition itself. An explanation is also proposed here for why Heliodoros’ festival at Delphi in particular, out of all descriptions of festivals in ancient literature, appealed to the author of the Timarion.
This contribution is based on a new interpretation of the well-known passage found in the Description of the church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople by Nikolaos Mesarites (XXVIII, 63.18–64.3 Heisenberg = 910b. Downey), normally dated to the late twelfth century. It provides a reappraisal of the question regarding the Byzantine painter Eulalios and his alleged self-portrait in one of the scenes of the monument's decorative cycle.
This article discusses a unique case of a miraculous fish therapy used for a variety of skin diseases, which seems to have been practised in the mid-fifth century at the shrine of St. Michael in the city of Germia (mod. Gümüşkonak). It aims to enhance our knowledge of Byzantine therapeutic approaches to ‘elephant disease’ and contribute to debates on modern fish spa therapy.