A Companion to Byzantium
edited by: Elizabeth James
Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, ISBN: 9781405126540; 488pp.; Price: £110.00
Date accessed: 1 June, 2023
Whom would one choose as a companion to Byzantium? Many might ask for Michael Psellos, the 11th-century polymath who appears in nine of this volume's 27 chapters. A measure of the distance Byzantine studies has travelled in recent decades, but also of how far it has still to go, is the publication of editions and translations of Psellos' many surviving works. Of other candidates for companionship, the ninth-century patriarch and bibliophile Photios appears in five chapters, and the erudite tenth-century compiler and emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos in four. Those seeking a female companion would find that Anna Komnena appears as herself only in one chapter, plotting with her husband, although her Alexiad features far more frequently, and the wife of Justinian, the most famous of four Theodoras listed in the index, appears only twice in the same chapter, Neil Finneran's study of non-Chalcedonian churches. Our principal guide to Byzantium is, therefore, Liz James, Professor of Art History at the University of Sussex, who has edited this collection of essays by leading and emerging scholars in the study of history, literature, theology and art history, and of the various interstices and overlaps between these sub-categories of Byzantinistik.
James has adopted a reasonable organizing principle – four sections, their titles explained very briefly on p. 7, and each comprising between five and nine essays – for the presentation of chapters on 'Being Byzantine', 'God and the world', 'Reading Byzantine texts', and 'Some questions in material culture'. All of the essays are short, but James's introduction is, as its title announces, 'Very, very short'. One finds here no summary outline of essays that follow, which would appear to be the minimum an interested reader, for example a busy teacher looking to recommend additional reading, might ask from a learned companion or guide. Fiona Haarer's paper is also included in the introductory section, and its title is a little misleading. Without the space to offer a proper outline of 'the historiography of Byzantine history' (by which she means an overview of modern historical approaches to Byzantium), Haarer identifies two themes deserving of fuller study. These themes are well chosen: the notion of decline and fall, which has received a great deal of attention; and Byzantine identities, past and present, but notably in the modern European Union. Haarer postpones the latter discussion until her final page and a half, which is a shame, as it is studded with useful insights.
There is no strong editorial line on what an essay must, or even might cover, as is apparent from reading, one after the other, the six chapters that together are held to address 'Some questions in material culture'. The first chapter, with the tersest title, 'Archaeology' by Jim Crow, offers a nine-page conspectus that is akin to a handbook entry. The last chapter, which has the volume's longest, most shambling title – 'Late and Post-Byzantine art under Venetian rule: frescoes versus icons, and Crete in the middle', by Angeliki Lymberopoulou – runs to 20 pages with 14 maps or figures, and reads like a summary of a specialist monograph. The photographs in this chapter, particularly the author's own shots of wall paintings, are rather too dark to be of great use. They appear to my eye to be significantly worse than those illustrating John Hanson's 'The rise and fall of the Macedonian Renaissance', which may prove to be a useful essay for those teaching both art historical and historical courses. Kurt Weitzmann, who was concerned throughout his career to identify classical models for Byzantine motifs, is fingered as 'the key player in the construction of the Macedonian renaissance', and therefore of a parallel strand in older art historical thought, namely of 'Byzantine art as the preserver of the classical tradition', which it later transmitted to 15th-century Italy. John Lowden is identified as instrumental in revising the narrative articulated by Weitzmann, of ancient model to early manuscript drawing to Byzantine copy, through careful study of the same evidence. Hanson ends with a question more intriguing than that of origins, namely the significance of a particular image and the medium in which it is communicated to a tenth-century observer. The paper offers a nice balance of useful synthesis and insightful commentary.
Three art historians (Cutler, Eastmond, Brubaker) employ no illustrations in their essays, doubtless to the delight of the publisher. Anthony Cutler, in his essay 'Makers and users', offers a prose diptych, each leaf concise, its tone astringent, its (intact) hinge being 'attitudes towards representation, and the definitions of that term, in Byzantium'. On makers he observes both the futility and silliness of seeking to identify Byzantine artists, their origins, or style, or their relationships to those who commissioned their work, which 'distract from more important questions such as the meaning intended or reception enjoyed by a particular work'. To explain the re-use of familiar motifs Cutler appears to prefer 'the magpie talent' of Byzantine artists to the oft posited, but not yet demonstrated copying from model or pattern books, for such books have failed to survive from (or did not exist in) Byzantium. For users, Cutler observes, Byzantine art was realistic because it was efficacious and emotive, not because it represented lifelike figures. Icons were to be touched and caressed like people, paraded among people as instruments of devotion but also of social control. Secular art was less predictable, and therefore more fantastic. Eastmond begins his essay with some cartographical cavils, in considering catalogues for major exhibitions of Byzantine art staged at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1997 and 2004. His concern is to problematise the notion of Byzantine art, and his point of entry is whether 'The limits of Byzantine art' coincide with the limits of the empire, however they might be defined. At what point, he asks, does Byzantine art become Georgian art, or Russian art, or Coptic art. Like Hanson and Cutler, Eastmond highlights the shift from an art history concerned with creation to one concerned with reception, and like Cutler he highlights a recent obsession with identifying crusader artists.
Brubaker's essay, 'Icons and iconomachy', begins with a reference to a British beer mat. Such references very quickly go out of date, of course, and many of the papers in this collection were commissioned more than five years ago. More enduring is the substantial point Brubaker is making: Byzantine lager drinkers would not have recognised themselves as iconoclasts, and only after the 740s might some, but not many, have thought of themselves as engaged seriously in a 'struggle over icons', or iconomachy (sensibly not elevated by capitalization). The origins, development and meaning of the struggle rather than of the icon is the chapter's principal subject, so the reader is offered not an answer to a question in material culture, but rather an important contribution towards better understanding of Byzantine political and religious history in the so-called – and still called, in Brubaker's forthcoming monograph with John Haldon – 'Iconoclast era'. The essay is informed by a close reading of many pertinent texts and, even more than Hanson's chapter, it will prove very useful to those who wish to discuss a controversy in Byzantine historiography with a group of able students. Brubaker's conclusion reminds us that the issue on which the struggle hinged, like Cutler's prose diptych, was representation. A by-product of the analysis is to pinpoint the 'beginning of the medieval Orthodox Byzantine state' in 680.
Brubaker's important paper both establishes and advances the state of research in a key area of Byzantine studies, and with a long history of its own, by summarising the findings of her larger project with Haldon. In a similar manner, Paul Magdalino, who has offered a slim monograph in French on medieval Constantinople (2000) and a 'Variorum' collection on its history and topography (2007), and has also spent much time teaching in Istanbul, reflects upon the empire's capital city. His title, the equation 'Byzantium = Constantinople', is explored only in the first two pages, where we are told that the empire which its inhabitants called 'Romania', and which we call Byzantine, 'was defined not by its fluctuating, shifting and porous borders, but by its secure and stable centre ...'. This is a judgement echoed by Catherine Holmes, in the following chapter entitled 'Provinces and capital', but only after tours of alternative centres and the limitations of provincial history. But what does one make, in the light of Eastmond's paper, of Magdalino's claim that 'Studies of medieval Byzantine art ... are effectively, but only implicitly, studies of Constantinopolitan culture'? The greater part of Magdalino's paper is devoted to a useful overview of scholarship concerned with Constantinople, from the fourth-century Notitia and various medieval Patria, through Gilles and Du Cange to Mango, Dagron and himself. The final part dramatically telescopes the history of the city from 'the last ancient polis' to 'the greatest Christian city of the Middle Ages'. One is left wanting more but knowing where to find it.
As Cecily Hennessy demonstrates in her essay 'Young people in Byzantium', when we write of Byzantines we frequently are writing about youths and children, since together they were always the majority of the population. Childhood and youth each lasted for approximately the same length of time, with youth beginning at sexual maturity and ending at 25. The largest single age group was always children, since every youth must once have been a child aged under 12 (girls) and 14 (boys), and many more than this number were born, perhaps twice as many. A very large proportion of Byzantine babies and infants died. Although abortion and infanticide were far less common that in the pre-Christian empire – the practices was banned in the later fourth century – around half of children died before the age of five, largely through disease and accidents, but also through hunger and thirst. In times of hardship, children were the most vulnerable in Byzantium as in all subsistence societies. Hennessy has updated her paper carefully to reflect the publication in 2009 of a volume on childhood in Byzantium. She explains that most children and youths were educated, to some extent regardless of wealth, although it is wrong to suggest (p. 86) that Theodore of Sykeon was poor because he was the son of a prostitute. In fact his mother was an enterprising innkeeper, a small business owner who supplied her son with expensive clothes and a gold belt. Moreover, Theodore spent a good deal of time with a companion who was possibly a slave, and the fact that Byzantium was a slave-owning society where many children were born into slavery is explored here briefly. Hennessy's passing insights highlight the absence of a chapter on slavery and its omission from the volume's index. A plumper companion might have introduced the visitor to Byzantium's ubiquitous slaves, and also to its army and military thought, to its architecture, both church and secular, to its monks and monasteries, to its habours, ships and sea-faring, to the imperial office, ceremonies and political thought, all of which have received important recent treatments.
Several important paths for future research are cleared in papers on memory, emotions and performance. Amy Papalexandrou, in 'The memory culture of Byzantium', encourages 'future students of sound and aurality in Byzantium' to forage for evidence of everyday life, and in her essay, a model of condensed erudition, she starts in church, with the sights, sounds and smells of the liturgy, and a famous apse mosaic, before passing from lament to encyclopedism through signet rings, carved monograms, and the tattooed foreheads of iconophiles, all devices intended to thwart the three great enemies of memory: time (chronos), envy (phthonos) and forgetfulness (lethe). Martin Hinterberger, in his essay 'Emotions in Byzantium', is also interested in phthonos, which he describes as playing a far larger role in Byzantine life than its English equivalent, envy, does today. Phthonos is a Byzantine 'hypercognized emotion' that stands in stark contrast to guilt, for example, which is identified as characteristic of modern life but virtually absent in Byzantium. One might suppose that guilt would have been ubiquitous in a medieval Christian society stained deeply by sin, but as Hinterberger observes, we cannot rely on modern expectations and definitions, but must be precise and consistent in our use of Greek terms to understand medieval emotions. The Greek term that equates most closely to emotion is pathos, which Hinterbergers translates as 'passion of the soul'. Passions had caused the fall of Satan, whose manipulation of passions allowed him to lead humans astray. Klimakos' Ladder of Divine Ascent identifies certain passions and prescribes the means to overcome them. After 390, Theodosios I legislated to prevent his own anger getting the better of him (again), instituting a 30-day interlude between capital judgment and execution, which ruling was reinstated in the 11th century. Like Papalexandrou's, this is a compelling piece of original writing, informed by the best new research from outside of Byzantine studies.
Margaret Mullett's 'No drama, no poetry, no fiction, no readership, no literature', reviews a great deal of recent scholarship devoted to Byzantine performance, including her own important studies and several articles available only to their authors and to her (as editor of a forthcoming collection, the proceedings of a Byzantine spring symposium entitled Performing Byzantium). It is here clear that 'performance suffused Byzantine civilization', and that scholarship has moved far past a stale debate about whether there was 'real theatre' in Byzantium. Of poetry we are reminded that there was plenty, that Byzantine prose, inscriptions and invocations might all be poetic, and that letters, of which some 15,000 have survived in 150 collections, performed functions expected of poetry in other cultures. Poetry also features in Byzantine romances, works of fiction that flourished from the mid-12th century. But fiction had flourished before this too, in historiography and hagiography and, particularly, in a vast repertoire of beneficial tales or parables. Byzantine 'literature' did not conform well to the modern paradigm, a triangle with the genres of drama, poetry and fiction at its three corners. If earlier critics were disappointed not to find a neat triangle, today's researchers delight in the absence of lines and corners, or indeed of genre.
'Large-scale narrative coherence presumes a certain kind of sustained reading from beginning to end of a text. But some of the genres more illustrative of Byzantine narrative technique and style, like hagiography or chronicles, function more like repositories of smaller self-contained stories held together by little more than a convenient organizing principle, like the life of a saint or an indiction[al] year'. This observation is taken from the fine essay by Emmanuel Bourbouhakis and Ingela Nilsson, on Byzantine narrative and storytelling, which reminds us that few Byzantines would expect to hear, and far fewer still to read, an extended piece of writing in one sitting. It is an observation that might easily be applied to the book in which it is found. Here we learn of the Byzantine love of story-telling, complementing Mullett's paper and also Roger Scott's on 'Text and context in Byzantine historiography', which begins with the story of a blind dog who performed tricks. Set in the reign of Justinian, the anecdote features in more accounts of that period than any other except for the construction of Hagia Sophia. It is as well to emphasise, as these three chapters do, that short stories, amusing or edifying, circulated widely throughout the Byzantine millennium, for example the beneficial tales that John Wortley has done so much to excavate and popularise. A chapter devoted to spiritual and liturgical writings and readings is a notable omission from the volume, although Judith Waring offers astute commentary on the circulation of the Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Klimakos.
If all Byzantines loved stories, the educated also posed rhetorical questions, about which Mary Whitby writes with great insight, if not, like Psellos, in 15-syllable political verse. Psellos' course-book On rhetoric complemented earlier works that remained in use, notably those from Late Antiquity, including Menander Rhetor's treatise on epideictic rhetoric and Aphthonius' progymnasmata, literally 'before exercises'. A grammatikos would provide his pupils with practice in composition 'before' proceeding to exercises in declamation, the delivery of a speech. Formally, the roles of grammatikos and rhetor were distinct, and the latter's job could be far more lucrative. According to Diocletian's edict of maximum prices, issued in AD 301, an elementary teacher might command 50 denarii per pupil per month, whereas a teacher of rhetoric and public speaking would earn five times that amount. We do not have comparable data for the 11th century, but certainly a literary education and grounding in rhetoric remained essential to securing employment in a local or municipal bureau, or in the offices of a provincial governor or administrator. There were always far more qualified candidates than there were bureaucratic jobs, and therefore to excel in rhetoric gave one an advantage in this regard, and quite trifling matters may be addressed in Byzantine documents in a highly rhetorical fashion. Such language was used, in many cases, to impress those who could not understand it, as legalese or other jargon is today.
When Hinterberger observes that for Byzantines, 'emotions were understood mostly as a problem for the relationship between humans and God', a timely editorial insertion refers to the reader to Mary Cunningham's paper, 'Byzantine views of God and the universe'. The Orthodox Church taught, and teaches, that 'human beings possess the potential to become like God (theosis) both by means of spiritual endeavour and by divine grace'. Yet, the universe was conceived as rigidly hierarchical, like Byzantine society, and so progress was slow, painful, and required the help of intermediaries. Hades remained distinct from hell, unlike in the West, until the Last Judgement, when it would give up the souls of the dead, to be reunited with their bodies. Until that time, when time ends, the prayers of the living rather than purgation (the Byzantines rejected the notion of purgatory) might be effective in saving a soul. After death, but pending the final judgment, the soul would pass through various toll booths, where good and bad deeds would be weighed, and the soul assigned to a part of Hades. The fortunate might find themselves in the lap of Abraham. Numbered among good deeds, one might have donated to a church, or indeed donated a church, as Vassiliki Dimitropoulou explains in 'Giving gifts to God'. Gifts would frequently contain invocations to intercessors, including a variety of saints, but especially the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Liturgical vessels were frequently donated in this way, for example the Hama flask and chalice, in silver with repoussé decoration, today in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, which were presented to a church in fulfillment of a vow, presumably following an efficacious prayer. The flask bears the inscription 'In fulfillment of a vow and for the salvation of Megale and her children and nephews, and for the repose of the souls of Heliodoros and Akakios'. They both date from the mid to later sixth century. Still richer donors might found and endow whole churches or monasteries, and as the middle Byzantine aristocracy emerged and seized control of an expanding economy during the 11th and 12th centuries, there was a boom in the construction of small churches, effectively family chapels, uniquely preserved in Kastoria in northern Greece, and of family monasteries for which the powerful often acquired tax exemptions and provided with foundation documents (typika) that specify the material and spiritual beneficiaries of the patron's largesse. Donations might also include expensive manuscripts, as Judith Waring notes in passing in her essay on 'Byzantine book culture', although a good percentage of manuscripts preserved in monasteries were produced there. Of the 'approximately 60,000 manuscripts in Greek' to survive from Byzantium and post-Byzantium, around 15,000 'are housed in the libraries of the monasteries of Mount Athos'. A disproportionate number of expensive items has survived, and many of these have in turn received a larger amount of attention from scholars. The cataloguing of the archives of Mount Athos is as yet incomplete (Archives de l'Athos, 1937-), and news on the progress of a digitization project is hard to locate.
Andrew Louth, addressing 'Christology and heresy', starts with an awkward typo that should have been caught. A succinct summary of controversies and conciliar rulings, the first half of this paper focuses by necessity on material that precedes the dedication of Constantinople, which James has chosen as the starting date for the volume. It rather peters out in the eighth century, when the last ecumenical council was held at Nicaea in 787 (and a cross-reference to Brubaker's paper might have made sense), after which 'the dogmatic tradition of the Byzantine Church achieved a certain stability'. In contrast to other papers, Louth offers no references other than Biblical citations. In addition to the short selection of 'further reading', those in search of longer definitions for the many heretical -isms might turn with profit to the various handbooks and dictionaries of Late Antiquity published in the past two decades. Those interested in heresiology and the limits of Orthodoxy might look to Averil Cameron's recent writings. For the extension of those limits geographically, one can read Jonathan Shepard's 'Orthodoxy and northern peoples: goods, gods and guidelines'. Here Shepard expertly condenses some of his recent substantial contributions on the expansion of the Orthodox world, generally on diplomatic-cum-missionary activity, and particularly on the application of Mary Helms' theory of 'superordinate centers' and 'acquisitional societies', sketching a spectrum of responses among Byzantium's northern neighbours, notably Bulgars, Rus' and other inhabitants of the region beyond the Black Sea, of which Shepard knows more than anyone else currently writing in English.
Topics of interest to Byzantinists, as with all specialisms, have shorter or longer shelf-lives, and their bibliographies have continued to grow since papers in this volume were written. Identity has endured, with a literature that is only now beginning to ebb. Dion Smythe was among the first and best students of Byzantine identity, and specifically of alterity, editing an important collection in 2000. His paper in this volume gives the impression of having been written only shortly after that. Consequently, it is heavy on 'otherness', and cannot take account of works published more recently than c. 2002. Since then both Averil Cameron (2006) and Évelyne Patlagean (2007) – whose essay of 1981 is considered, and listed as 1981b in the bibliography – have devoted much energy and erudition to his question 'Who were the Byzantines?' Less interestingly, but nonetheless pertinent to points Smythe makes about flux, the US INS (alluded to on p. 69), has changed its name several times in recent years, apparently now settling on USCIS. The idea of 'feudalism' in Byzantium, which once enjoyed heated discussion, has been quietly shelved, and Peter Sarris devotes only a couple of pages to it in his rapid overview of the 'Economics, trade, and "feudalism"'. There is a useful paragraph on notions of 'feudalism' in the West, where the views of Bloch, Ganshof and compounded 'Marxists' are glossed, but no comparable commentary on the Russian school that pushed the idea in Byzantine scholarship, and against which the emigrant Alexander Kazhdan wrote once he was settled at Dumbarton Oaks. One might read, for some background, his 1993 paper 'State, feudal and private economy in Byzantium', which is not cited. Sarris' essay is very good and covers a wide period, although most detail concerns matters before c. 750, dovetailing with his impressive book on the early Byzantine economy. There are in addition comprehensive and synthetic works on the middle and late Byzantine economy, from which Sarris cites only sparingly. He draws attention to six, by my count, of the 51 articles in the Economic History of Byzantium, ed. A. Laiou (2002), including four by the late Professor Laiou herself, and one of the three articles written or co-written by Cécile Morrisson – here and in the bibliography misspelled as Morrison, although it is correct under 'further reading' – who has done so much to expand our knowledge of numismatics and economic history. Since Sarris' paper was written, Morrisson and Laiou have offered an overview of the Byzantine economy (2007), which is added to the list of 'further reading' but not integrated into the paper, and in 2008 Morrisson presided at the Dumbarton Oaks symposium on 'Trade and markets in Byzantium', the papers of which will be published. Sarris correctly highlights the importance of archaeology in expanding the source base for economic historians, which is manifest in many of the articles Laiou commissioned for the 2002 collection and also the papers delivered at the 2008 symposium, both of which can be accessed as full papers or abstracts via the Dumbarton Oaks web pages (www.doaks.org).
Two essays with light-hearted titles present some solid scholarship in interesting areas. Myrto Hatzaki explores Byzantine aesthetics (oddly without using the term), and attitudes to the body. She shows how writers reduced physical beauty to a check-list which, nevertheless, had its basis in a perceived truth, and which as an ideal persisted through many centuries. Those today interested in neuroaesthetics might highlight the apparent importance of the peak-shift effect, where such essential features can be exaggerated to produce an intensified response in a viewer, which would appear to correlate well with the function of the icon, and a Byzantine listener might more easily imagine a beautiful person by being offered an essential description of one. Hatzaki suggests that 'Byzantium has been seen as a world which valued spirituality above physicality', where physical characteristics were held to reveal spiritual characteristics. Therefore, features considered ugly are attributed to those with bad characters, who may be described as 'broad with a fat paunch, shaggy hair, prominent lips and a large face with a big greying beard' (Nikephoros I, who has just died in battle with the Bulgars), rather than with 'fair curly hair, large eyes, a white and rosy face, deep black eyebrows' and a chest 'a fathom broad' (the poetic hero Digenes Akrites). Yet, as one might expect, beauty can also be deceiving, and ugliness mask a beautiful soul. Dark skin is always a bad sign, and demons are frequently described as Ethiopians, while the faces of angels shine with skin of ineffable whiteness. Shaun Tougher's 'Having fun in Byzantium' is devoted to chariot-racing and mimes in the early and middle periods, beginning with Julian's disdain for both expressed in his Beard-hater. Zercon the Moor was a mime by default, and as described by Priskos he conforms to Hatzaki's criteria for ugliness, being a Moor, short, with a hunchback, deformed feet, a flat nose and a stammer. A more deliberate jester, Theophilos 'Gryllos', entertained Michael III and his friends, but not the emperor's mother, whom Gryllos, disguised as the patriarch of Constantinople, blessed with a fart. It is a shame to realise that these disparaging tales, contained in the secular life of Basil I, may well be fictions. Tougher notes that the frequency, if not the popularity, of chariot racing declined into the middle period, and he might have drawn attention to several more tenth-century accounts than he does, including a lacunose poem by Christopher of Mytilene in praise of the races, and the scolding received by Gregory, a pious follower of St Basil the Younger, who was drawn into the stadium en route to visit the holy man, thus coming under the spell of the demon who presided there. Most expansively, Constantine VII had rules for the staging of imperial races written down in his Book of Ceremonies, which Gilbert Dagron has edited and translated into French (Travaux et mémoires, 2000).
The collection ends with a 71-page bibliography. I note that this and other front and end matter (including a full list of contents, and a handy list of Byzantine rulers and key dates) is available currently as 'free content' at 'Wiley Online Library'. A subscription to this service appears to provide access to all chapters as PDF files, which would be of great benefit to those wishing to use the collection in teaching. A diligent student may encounter some niggling omissions and errors in the critical apparatus. I was not checking carefully, but stumbled across the following while looking into topics that interested me. Papalexandrou refers twice to (James 2005), an article by the editor, which does not feature among her eight listed works. Hinterberger refers to his own article (Hinterberger 2006), but the volume in which it is alleged to appear (Jeffreys (ed.): vol. 2) is not listed. Two works (Dennis 1977, 1997) are cited as an author's condemnation of and 'generous repentance' on the value of Byzantine literature (p. 232), but the bibliography offers only Dennis 1997a and 1997b, hardly sufficient time for the erudite Jesuit to repent. Sarris refers to (Haldon 1993), and one suspects this is Haldon's book listed as 1993a in the bibliography. However, in that year Haldon also offered a long and important paper on military service and lands. More significantly, the index is short and weak, at fewer than eight pages, and one suspects the reason might be a decision by the publisher to save space, and indeed the employment of an indexer attuned to the importance of people and places, but unfamiliar with key concepts. Entries for some individuals are also incomplete, for example Theodore and Theophanes, the tattooed iconophiles to whom Papalexandou refers (p. 117), also appear in Brubaker's chapter (p. 335) as the graptoi. There is no entry for 'Memory', despite there being a chapter devoted to it by Papalexandrou, in which she observes presciently that when looking 'through the index of nearly any book devoted to the Byzantines ... one will be hard pressed to find an entry for "memory" or its affiliates (memento, mneme, memoria)'. Sin, according to the index, appears only on pages 128 and 156–7, so in fewer places than sex (pp. 70, 84–5, 348–9), which is identified in three sinful contexts: Bogomil abstinence, the sexual appeal of young boys to monks, and those taking pleasure in the sexual misfortunes of others.
Flattering as it is to be identified as the companion of the volume title by Paul Stephenson, I fear it is an honour I cannot accept. I am but an editor, separating the wheat from the chaff. At least, however, I can explain, gloss and clarify here some of those editorial choices and decisions. Some have very practical answers. Thus, there is no introductory essay to the volume as a whole, with nice little overviews of each paper so no-one has to read them; this, however, is the house style of the series, which means that such introductions are the exception not the rule among the Companions. The index is limited, I agree. I don’t know how Stephenson found doing the index to his volume, but, I confess, I lost the will to live on it. I did tell myself, however, that if the worst reviewers did was criticise the index, I could live with it – so be it! As for pictures, please do not get me started on pictures!
The bigger question, however, is what makes a Companion or Handbook or World-of- type book? How does one fit a quart into a pint-pot? Why one topic and not another, one author and not another? If only all of these different versions on a theme could be planned together. I saw the Companion as very distinct to the Oxford Handbook of Byzantium, which is a more detailed and factual account. Instead, the Companion aimed to reflect questions and issues that I have both wondered about and come across in my teaching – what was the Macedonian Renaissance? Do ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’ matter? Why bother with post-Byzantine art? – and topics that seemed to me interesting but relatively little-discussed within Byzantine studies – memory, emotions, beauty, children – as well as themes that I thought were fairly central to understanding Byzantium – religion, economics. I also wanted a few broader ‘introduction to …’ type papers (archaeology, literature, for example) to get readers started, and have been kicking myself ever since about forgetting art. These choices were inevitably subjective and inevitably leave many gaps, but my hope is that other guides to Byzantium fill some of these. All contributors were asked much the same thing: write on this topic but please make it clear what the issues are and summarise and comment on them. Contributors were left to express this as they saw fit, to their interpretation, not mine. I wanted the chapters to be short and snappy where possible, because my hope was then both that such chapters would inform an interested public and also, as Stephenson astutely observes, that the chapters could be used as a basis for discussion with students. Finally, I wanted to break away from the standard topics of many of the handbooks and indeed the standard topics of certain authors. Having been asked to write on Byzantine women/gender for at least four different handbook-type volumes, not all Byzantine, I decided that it would be a change to miss out some of these well-worn themes, or at least to recast them (hence Dion Smythe on otherness rather than on gender; Shaun Tougher on ‘having fun’ rather than eunuchs) and to try to spread the net of topics and contributors.
As a Companion, this volume is a different animal to a Handbook or a Byzantine World. It isn’t an ‘everything you ever wanted to know’ or even a ‘complete guide to’; rather, it looks to escort the reader down some of the highways but a few more of the by-ways of Byzantium. I hope that answers the question of where it’s coming from.