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Georgetown University


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Fall 2017
Sep 20, 2017
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CLSS 165 - Byzantine Lit/Culture
In this class we will read the literature of the Byzantine tradition (in English translation), from the foundation of the city of Constantinople in AD 330 to AD 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks (thus ending the Byzantine era). In other words, a thousand years of medieval writing! Byzantium is little known among modern students, in part because it has been seen as a derivative and decaying society by historians since the time of Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) and his influential Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1176–1788). To quote a recent scholarly article on the subject, “It used to be thought that Byzantium was a society without a literature, or that if it had a literature, it was without a readership, without literary merit, without poetry, without fiction” (Margaret Mullett in the Blackwell Companion to Byzantium). In recent years, however, the study of Byzantine culture has witnessed a great resurgence of activity, and aspects of the society that were once viewed as staid and unworthy of close attention have become active topics of research and debate. In this class we will focus on three types of surviving texts in particular: historiography, hagiography, and hymnography (the “Three Hs”). Historiography is the best known of the three, because modern historians often mine Byzantine historical texts for information about the Crusades and other topics. Our goal will be to read Byzantine historiography on its own terms and to consider the role of the author in shaping his or her narrative. Hagiography is the general category of texts having to do with saints and their marvelous lives and works. We will read several of these texts and consider how the different Lives reflect (or subvert) the dominant strains of Byzantine culture and politics. Finally, we will read hymns from Byzantium in order to understand better how poetry could be a medium of both self-expression and communal identity formation in the Byzantine Church. Of course, some texts that we will read do not fit into the “Three Hs”, such as the medieval Greek novel Drosilla and Charikles, or the unique manual on How to Run the Empire by the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. These examples, when taken together, will provide a sweeping grand narrative of Byzantine history as expressed in its dynamic and rich literature.

3.000 Credit hours
3.000 Lecture hours

Levels: Undergraduate
Schedule Types: Lecture

Classics Department

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