Michael Psellos on Literature and Art: A Byzantine Perspective on Aesthetics

University of Notre Dame Pess
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Michael Psellos has long been known as a key figure in the history of Byzantine literary and intellectual culture, but his theoretical and critical reflections on literature and art are little known outside of a small circle of specialists. Most famous for his Chronographia, a history of eleventh-century Byzantine emperors and their reigns, Psellos also excelled in describing as well as prescribing practices and rules for literary discourse and visual culture. The ambition of Michael Psellos on Literature and Art is to illustrate an important chapter in the history of Greek literary and art criticism and introduce precisely this aspect of Psellian writing to a wider public. The editors of this volume present thirty Psellian texts, all of which have been translated—some in part, most in their entirety—into English. In the majority of cases, the works are translated for the first time in any modern language, and several are discussed at length here for the first time. They are grouped into two separate sections, which roughly translate to two areas of theoretical reflection associated with the modern terms “literature” and “art.” As such, these texts display Byzantine views, attitudes, and ultimately tastes regarding what is thought to be beautiful as well as moral, and appealing as well as mentally and psychologically effective, in texts and artistic objects.

Contributors: Christine Angelidi, Christopher M. Geadrities, Elizabeth A. Fisher, David Jenkins, Anthony Kaldellis, Demetrios Kritsotakis, Antony Littlewood, and Jeffrey Walker.

Charles Barber is professor of art and archaeology at Princeton University.

Stratis Papaioannou is associate professor of classics and director of the Program of Medieval Studies at Brown University.

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About the author

Michael Psellos was a Byzantine Greek monk, writer, philosopher, politician, and historian.

Charles Barber is professor of art and archaeology at Princeton University.

Stratis Papaioannou is associate professor of classics and director of the Program of Medieval Studies at Brown University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Notre Dame Pess
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Published on
Apr 30, 2017
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Pages
446
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ISBN
9780268100513
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Ancient & Classical
Literary Criticism / Medieval
Philosophy / Aesthetics
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Curtis A. Gruenler
In this book, Curtis Gruenler proposes that the concept of the enigmatic, latent in a wide range of medieval thinking about literature, can help us better understand in medieval terms much of the era’s most enduring literature, from the riddles of the Anglo-Saxon bishop Aldhelm to the great vernacular works of Dante, Chaucer, Julian of Norwich, and, above all, Langland’s Piers Plowman. Riddles, rhetoric, and theology—the three fields of meaning of aenigma in medieval Latin—map a way of thinking about reading and writing obscure literature that was widely shared across the Middle Ages. The poetics of enigma links inquiry about language by theologians with theologically ambitious literature. Each sense of enigma brings out an aspect of this poetics. The playfulness of riddling, both oral and literate, was joined to a Christian vision of literature by Aldhelm and the Old English riddles of the Exeter Book. Defined in rhetoric as an obscure allegory, enigma was condemned by classical authorities but resurrected under the influence of Augustine as an aid to contemplation. Its theological significance follows from a favorite biblical verse among medieval theologians, “We see now through a mirror in an enigma, then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). Along with other examples of the poetics of enigma, Piers Plowman can be seen as a culmination of centuries of reflection on the importance of obscure language for knowing and participating in endless mysteries of divinity and humanity and a bridge to the importance of the enigmatic in modern literature. This book will be especially useful for scholars and undergraduate students interested in medieval European literature, literary theory, and contemplative theology.
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