"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Byzantine Arguments

The more contemporary history of Byzantium moves on from the puerile sneering and sloganeering of Gibbon and later defamers, the more we realize the riches present in the complexities of the Eastern Roman Empire. A new book brings to our attention some of those intellectual riches. The esteemed Oxford Byzantinst Averil Cameron has recently authored Arguing It Out: Discussion in Twelfth-Century Byzantium (Central European University Press, 2016), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In this book the author contends-and this is not a very widely held view-that Byzantium deserves to be considered an influential part of the broader development of Europe, even though its borders also reached out to the vast territories of Anatolia and the Caucasus, and to the eastern Mediterranean. The long twelfth century, from the seizure of the throne by Alexius I Comnenus in 1081, to the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, is a period recognized as fostering the most brilliant cultural development in Byzantine history, especially its literary production. It was a time of intense creativity as well as of rising tensions, and one for which literary approaches are a lively area in current scholarship. The study focuses on the prose dialogues in Greek from this period-of very varying kinds-and on what they can tell us about the society and culture of the era when western Europe was itself developing a new culture of schools, universities, and scholars. Yet it was also the period in which Byzantium felt the fateful impact of the Crusades, which ended with the momentous sack of Constantinople in 1204. Despite revisionist attempts to play down the extent of this disaster, it was a blow from which, arguably, the Byzantines never fully recovered.

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