Text and Narrative in Byzantium: Visiting Scholars and Students in Uppsala and Paris

Below is a list of the scholars who visited Uppsala (or went from Uppsala to Paris) within the project Text and Narrative in Byzantium, in most cases together with a description and/or report of their respective individual research project.

Baukje van den Berg, Amsterdam (September 1, 2014 – March 15, 2015)

Becoming Byzantine…

I started studying Eustathios of Thessalonike as a commentator of Homer from the perspective of Classical Studies. I soon realised, though, that it is more meaningful to study Eustathios’ Homeric Parekbolai from the perspective of Byzantine Studies, within their twelfth-century context, and as a document of their time. My stay in Uppsala (August 2014-March 2015) has greatly contributed to my understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ of the twelfth-century intellectual world, and the place of Eustathios and his Parekbolai within this world.

During my time in Uppsala I had the opportunity to share my research in the form of earlier-written chapters and texts written in Uppsala especially with Ingela and Eric, but also with other members of the Greek department. Moreover, it was possible to exchange ideas that had not yet taken a definite shape, which gave me a clearer view on the complete layout of my thesis as well as the place of my research within the field of Byzantine Studies. All of this resulted in a very productive period (I rewrote a chapter, wrote two articles, prepared and presented two conference papers, and did research for the next thesis chapter).

I attended seminars and lectures, often on Byzantine topics, and met scholars from Sweden and abroad. I had the opportunity to develop my organisational skills by co-organising together with Eric two workshops (Second Uppsala Workshop in Memory of Ole Smith on Twelfth-century Byzantine Culture, 13 November 2014; Byzantine Beauty: a Workshop on Byzantine Aesthetics, 12-13 March 2015). In sum, I benefited from the stimulating and active environment in many ways, and I hope to return to Uppsala soon.

Stanislas Kuttner-Homs, Caen/Paris (April 18 – May 3, 2015)

En tant qu’étudiant invité à l’Université d’Uppsala, j’ai eu le plaisir d’inaugurer le programme d’échanges scientifiques « Text and Narrative in Byzantium » entre universitaires français et suédois. Mon travail de recherches durant ces deux semaines (18 avril-3 mai 2015) était organisé autour de trois axes : la coopération, l’expérimentation et la rédaction. La coopération fut la colonne vertébrale de mon séjour à Uppsala : auprès des discussions informelles furent organisées plus ateliers, en effectif réduit, pour discuter de plusieurs problèmes de recherches que je soumettais aux enseignants et aux étudiants de l’université. Nous avons ainsi pu travailler sur deux articles à paraître, l’un dédié à la métrique et au rythme du vers politique de quinze syllabes, l’autre à l’esthétique et à l’èthos du rythme de la prose d’art dans l’Histoire de Nicétas Chôniatès – ainsi que sur un livre commandé par un éditeur suisse, dont tout l’enjeu serait de composer une introduction à la littérature byzantine. J’ai soumis aux participants de l’atelier le plan du livre ; nous avons discuté des critères herméneutiques et théoriques nécessaires pour mener cet ouvrage. Si l’expérimentation fut l’objet de plusieurs ateliers, Mme le Prof. Nilsson m’a avant tout invité à exposer lors de son séminaire de langue et littérature grecque une récente hypothèse sur les structures narratives de l’Histoire de Nicétas Chôniatès. Cette communication m’a permis de mettre à l’epreuve certains critères de recherches, notamment le concept d’ « architecture textuelle », de discuter de la place de la narration dans l’historiographie byzantine et d’ouvrir à nouveau le dossier des « genres » littéraires. Le reste de mon séjour fut dédié à la rédaction d’articles à venir et de ma thèse de doctorat. Un long entretien avec Mme le Prof. Nilsson, au sujet de ma thèse et de ses récents développements, fut, au début de mon séjour, un point de départ parfait pour détresser les fils de plusieurs problèmes ainsi qu’un début de bon augure à la coopération.

As a visiting PhD student at Uppsala University, I was honoured to inaugurate the exchange program on ‘Narrative in Byzantium’ between French and Swedish scholars. My work during the two-weeks (April 18th-May 3rd 2015) was organized around three key words : cooperation, testing, and writing. ‘Cooperation’ was the main goal of my stay in Uppsala, and, besides casual talks and discussions, I organized my time around workshops, with small ‘teams’ discussing various research. We worked on two forthcoming papers – one dedicated to the metrics and rythmics of the Byzantine political verse, the other to the aesthetics and ethics of prose rhythm of an extract of Niketas Choniates’ History – and a book ordered by a Swiss editor and dedicated to be an Introduction to Byzantine Literature. I submitted the draft of the book and discussed the aims and the intellectual tools needed for this work. If ‘Testing’ was part of those several workshops, I was invited to submit at Prof. Nilsson’s Greek Seminar a recent hypothesis on narrative structures in Niketas Choniates’ History. This lecture permitted me to test hermeneutics tools such as ‘textual architecture’, discussed the place of ‘narration ‘ within Byzantine historiography and opened again the question of literary ‘genres’. The last part of my stay was dedicated to writing, i.e. to personal research and the writing of my PhD thesis. A long talk on my thesis and its recent developments with Prof. Nilsson at the beginning of my stay was a perfect step to unknot several problems and a perfect introduction to ‘cooperation’.

Nikos Zagklas, Katowice/Vienna (April 25 – May 23, 2015)

During my one-month stay at the University of Uppsala I worked on a group of seven still unpublished poems preserved in Vaticanus gr. 743. These seven works are different in tone and character: three satires, three religious epigrams (on Sts Jacob the Persian and Barbara as well an epigram for a depiction of Christ), and a short encomium to a choir and its conductor. I managed to establish a critical text of the poems and produce a draft translation and literary commentary. Moreover, together with Ingela Nilsson, we started working on an article about the use of ancient novels in Byzantium under the working title “‘Many learned men discuss them’: a reappraisal of the ancient Greek novel in Byzantium”. This paper will be a first attempt to show that the ancient novels were used in a school setting. Finally, I had the opportunity to work on various aspects of my current research interests which are concerned with the corpus of Theodore Prodromos and the twelfth-century literature more broadly (especially poetry and schedography).

Adam Goldwyn, NDSU (May 11-15, 2015)

In Uppsala we worked principally upon the Troy volume The Trojan Wars and the Making of the Modern World, forthcoming in Studia Graeca Upsaliensia, 2015): we set the order of the table of contents, reviewed some changes that needed to be made to some of the chapters and discussed what issues needed to be addressed in the introduction. Together with Nikos Zagklas, we read some Greek poems that he was editing and translating. Ingela and I also discussed some of the recent work on Byzantine romances, preparing our proposal to CUP of a volume on the Palaiologan romances. We also read drafts for each other, among which my forthcoming ”Ioannes Malalas and the Origins of the Allegorical and Novelistic Traditions of the Trojan War in Byzantium” Troianalexandrina 15, 2015) and “Theory and Method in Ioannes Tzetzes’ Allegories of the Iliad and Odyssey”, in Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Homer from Byzantium to the Enlightenment (2017).

Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen, Aarhus (September 1 – November 30, 2015; January 1 – December 31, 2016)


Isabel Kimmelfield, Nijmegen (September 21 – October 19, 2015)

During my month in Uppsala I worked on my PhD project on the suburbs of Constantinople and also prepared and presented a paper at a small conference on Constantinople. My stay was an excellent opportunity to discuss aspects of my research in detail with fellow Byzantinists and Greek philologists and to receive excellent feedback, particularly concerning the structure of the project. This took place through multiple informal conversations with members of the Greek department, as well as during a presentation I gave at one of the department’s regular research seminars. I was also able to participate in a Greek reading group and attend a set of seminars on the history of Byzantine Greek – both very helpful for improving my Greek reading skills. My time in Uppsala was very inspirational, leaving me with many ideas about how to take my research forward. It also allowed me to meet many scholars, both from Sweden and abroad, to develop contacts and exchange ideas. Since my visit, Ingela has kindly kept me on the research group mailing list and I have been able to participate in a seminar via Skype, allowing me to continue to benefit from the conversations and exchanges that made my time in Uppsala so useful. I hope to return soon, possibly in the short term to organise a workshop, and in the longer term, I hope to stay for a longer period to gain even more from this excellent research group!

Margaret Mullett, Dumbarton Oaks (November 23-30, 2015)


Ellen Söderblom Saarela, Linköping University, to Paris (EHESS) (March 1 – June 14, 2016)

Ce printemps, j’ai passé trois mois et demi à Paris. Mon but du séjour était de travailler sur mon projet doctoral. Mon projet porte sur la littérature romanesque au 12e siècle, notamment sur un roman français (Partonopeu de Blois) qui raconte une aventure amoureuse entre un chevalier français et l’héritière de l’Empire byzantin. Dans ma thèse, je discute la signification de Byzance dans le roman, et si sa présence narrative peut nous dire quelque chose sur les relations littéraires entre l’Occident et Byzance à l’époque. Je suis très heureuse d’avoir pu profiter des bibliothèques magnifiques parisiennes, mais je me sens surtout bien fortunée d’avoir eu l’occasion de discuter mon projet avec les byzantinistes à l’EHESS. Ils m’ont tous donnée des remarques et conseils pertinents pour la continuation de mon travail. J’y ai aussi eu l’opportunité d’un séminaire entier pour présenter mes idées, ce qui vraiment m’a été très utile et dont je remercie les collègues immensément.En plus en mai, Texte et récit à Byzance a organisé deux jours (un quasi-colloque ?), où des membres du projet d’Uppsala, de Gent et de Paris ont donné des présentations de leurs différents projets, et où il y avait aussi des autres chercheurs parisiens présents pour contribuer aux discussions.Je suis donc revenue en Suède pleine des idées et connaissances nouvelles pour la continuation de mon projet doctoral.

Matthew Kinloch, Oxford University (September 1, 2016 – January 15, 2017)

I am currently a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, supervised by Prof. Catherine Holmes. I will be a visiting researcher in Uppsala from September 2016 to January 2017. The Text and Narrative in Byzantium network provides a rigorous and collaborative environment to work on the more theoretical elements of my project.In Uppsala I will largely be working on my doctoral project concerning narrotological approaches to thirteenth-century Byzantine historiography. The project involves an extended critique of modern historiography concerning the period, a reanalysis of the ‘evidence’ provided by contemporary and near-contemporary texts, and an attempt to formulate an alternative paradigm for explaining and describing the period. I am particularly interested in the representation of different types of political actors, especially urban populations.

Sandro Nikolaishvili, Central European University (September 1, 2016 – January 15, 2017)

Reception of the Byzantine Political Culture and Literary Traditions in Medieval Georgia, ca 1030 –1213
In this dissertation, I aim to uncover the ways in which Byzantine ideas of power representation were transmitted to the empire’s periphery and adopted by the Georgian rulers who legitimized their rule and promoted their image in this way. I intend to study the ideology of kingship/queenship of the following rulers: Bagrat IV (r.1027–72), Giorgi II (1072–89), Davit IV (r. 1089–1125), Giorgi III (r. 1156–84) and queen Tamar (r. 1184–1213).
My research is based on the comparative study of the various Greek and Georgian literary narratives (historiographical writings, prose and verse panegyrics) as well as imperial/royal imagery, numismatic material, and epigraphic inscriptions. I focus on the Georgian and Byzantine sources that reflect the offical image of the kings/emperors, by means of which Georgian and Byzantine rulers comunicated their image to the audience. In the Georgian encomiastic historical writings and panegyric poetry I trace the evolution of the ideology of rulership. I intend to see what methods Georgian literati applied in their narratives to construct the image of the ideal rulers. My interest lies in the ways they arranged their narratives, and in the style, language, metaphors and Classical and Biblical exempla that they used. I place the encomiastic Georgian historiography and court poetry in the context and compare it with the Byzantine literary narratives in order to discern to what extent Georgian tradition followed Byzantine rhetorical traditions. For instance, Georgian panegyric poems as well as historical narratives were, similarly to Byzantine encomia, heavily imbued with sun-like and Christ like image of the ruler. The royal imagery and the numismatic materials serve as the examples of understanding the extent to which the Georgian rulers adopted Byzantine iconography and language of power for their self-promotion.

Milan Vukasinovic, Paris-Belgrade (September 1 – October 1, 2016)

Nicaea, Epiros, Serbia – Ideology and Power Relations in the Narratives of the First half of the 13th Century.
The ideology of the so called hereditary states of the Byzantine Empire after the fall of Constantinople in 1204 has already been addressed several times by Byzantinists. However, most of these studies produced only detailed catalogues of the common places in these states’ ideological systems, comparing them to those of earlier and later epochs and to each other. My starting premise is that ideology and power relations can be read in the structural elements of the narrative recognized by the classical and post-classical narratology.

My research is based on a three-way path. First part represents narratological surveying of different kinds of sources produced in Nicaea, Epiros and Serbia in the period spanning roughly from 1204 to 1261. One of the main hypotheses is that a gradual narrativity can be found in the entire written production and that the division between narrative and documentary sources does not stand ground. The questions of narrator, voice, time and space are expected to uncover each author’s attitude towards the entities in question. Next step leads from a single narrative to the question of genre and literature, trying to discover why specific narrative formulations were more or less represented in each of the states. Finally, I will try to step out of the text and into the context, by using the tools of post-classical narratology and literary criticism, in order to establish the correlation between the politics of the state, the produced narratives and the people who shaped it. The idea is to uncover a more balanced and comprehensive heterarchical power structure inside as well as between these polities, by looking at the way they shaped the narrative about the world they were acting in.

My participation in the graduate student exchange program between the University of Uppsala and the EHESS in Paris, developed in the frame of the Narrative in Byzantium project, proved to be extraordinarily useful for my scholarly development. During my stay in Uppsala, my work was centered on three main axes: partaking in regular activities of the Department of Linguistics and Philology, discussions with members and guests of the Department, and development of my own ongoing research projects. I attended inspiring lectures on Byzantine music and European hagiographic traditions, as well as the presentation of the Ph.D. research projects in the LILAe graduate symposium. The innovative format of the Narratology Reading Group, coordinated by Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen and focusing on the theories and practices of fiction, allowed us to tackle important issues that usually stay neglected in standard academic contexts. Although the members of the Department work on a variety of diverse research topics,   the common framework of the narratological approach generated fertile discussions, especially on the narrative approach to epistolary genres and the narrative representations of space. Moreover, the simultaneous presence of other guest graduate students dealing with the Byzantine 13th century history and literature has helped me solve a number of specific issues linked to my doctoral research. Under the completely devoted, pedagogically nuanced and scientifically experienced supervision of the head of the Department, Ingela Nilsson, I managed to finish two important articles (“Letters and Space – Function and Models of Epistolary Nodes in Serbian Hagiography” & “Doing and Telling Administration and Diplomacy: Speech Acts in the Thirteenth Century Balkans”). Still, the perfect working conditions provided by the University allowed me to advance my doctoral research, by reading and discussing the sources and restructuring my thesis. I also had the opportunity to present the part of my research on ideology and rhetoric in the 13th-century Byzantine world and get useful feedback from my colleagues.

Lorenzo Ciolfi, Paris (September 10 – October 9, 2016)

The “battle of Pera” and its narrative in contemporary sources
My Ph.D. thesis engaged the broader scholarly debate about the interactions between the Byzantine religious and political spheres through a historical re-evaluation of the literature surrounding John III Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254). Vatatzes is one of only two Byzantine emperors (Constantine the Great is the other) still venerated as a saint by the Orthodox Church. He is celebrated in the Vatatzeia festivals held in his Thracian hometown Didymoteicho, which also has a church dedicated to him since 2010. Moreover, the legend of the so-called “petrified emperor” brings us into a contemporary context where evocations of John III demonstrate the strength of his enduring legacy as one of the major figures of Greeks’ past and a vital junction in the survival of their culture. Nevertheless, in spite of the importance of Vatatzes and his significance for the topic of Byzantine imperial sainthood, only a poor bibliography concerning him exists.

For these reasons, my research offers an innovative analysis and new critical edition of the fourteenth century George of Pelagonia’s Βίος τοῦ ἁγίου Ἰωάννου βασιλέως τοῦ Ἐλεήμονος, the anonymous Βίος τοῦ ἁγίου βασιλέως Ἰωάννου τοῦ Βατάτση τοῦ Ἐλεήμονος τοῦ ἐν Μαγνησίᾳ, and Nikodemos the Hagiorite’s Μνήμη τοῦ ἁγίου, ἐνδόξου, θεοστέπτου βασιλέως Ἰωάννου Βατάτση τοῦ Ἐλεήμονος, τοῦ ἐν Μαγνησίᾳ, both written in the Ottoman empire, and shows how Vatatzes came to be “canonized” – in the fluid, Byzantine sense of the term – and how his cult took shape. Moreover, it proposes a new reading of the life of George of Pelagonia, a rather unknown Byzantine author.
During my stay in Uppsala I will analyze one particular episode in George of Pelagonia’s Life of St. John (38), which constitutes the only reference to the author’s own era: the tragic events of the so-called “battle of Pera” (1348-1349), by which the imperial troops tried without luck to stop the continuous threats of Genoa.

This was undoubtedly one of the events that most struck Byzantine authors in the second half of the fourteenth century and whose narration not only entered the historical work of Nikephoros Gregoras (XVII.2) and the diaries of Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (IV.11), but was also the subject of a specific Λόγος ἱστορικός by Alexios Macrembolites. Most likely, some of these scholars were eyewitnesses of the terrible and unexpected Byzantine defeat.
The content of these works, so varied in nature and function, shaped their different interpretations of events: on the one hand, Gregoras and Kantakouzenos aimed to offer their readers a truthful account of what “really” happened (although these two are in stark contrast in attributing responsibility for the failure); on the other, Macrembolites and George made of the battle a manifesto by which to denounce the political and moral decadence of an empire already weakened by a long-lasting internal crisis and the severe pressure of enemies on the borders.

The aim of my four-weeks project is to retrace the descriptions of the “battle of Pera”, analyzing the aforementioned texts alongside each other in order to identify the stylistic features used by the authors according to the different purposes of their works and highlighting what made George of Pelagonia’s narrative different. At the same time, by studying representations of the same historical event – univocal, of course, in its dynamics –, I will define the narrative techniques employed to make each story seem more credible and plausible than the others circulating at the same time, and thus more likely to persuade the audience of the author’s own specific message.

During my four-week stay at the University of Uppsala, I had the opportunity to work on three chosen excerpts of the Life of the emperor St. John the Merciful by George of Pelagonia, a mid-fourteenth century text, whose edition and commentary are at the core of my Ph.D. research.
While the Life borrows its basic features of plot from hagiography and eulogy, the three fragments on which I focused seem to display stylistic similarities to novels and romances. This allows us to offer new readings of this important work. In particular, I received valuable comments and remarks during the seminar on which the excerpts were discussed: this has allowed me to contextualize them and better understand the cultural background of the author of the Life.
The frequent interactions with the members of the department contributed towards the completion of two articles: the first focuses on Constantine VII’s Excerpta historica’s compositional schemes, while the second explores the use of the narratological concept of time in the Life of the emperor St. John the Merciful.

I regularly attended the seminar on narratology organized by Uffe Holmsgaard and Ingela Nilsson: this has broadened my knowledge in this area significantly. It is also important to note that during my research stay at the University of Uppsala I benefitted from meeting internationally renowned scholars. The stimulating and vibrant atmosphere for learning at the department has been very beneficial to my ongoing research projects, but it also helped me generate new ideas for the next collaborative projects.

Francesco Monticini, Paris-Rome (September 10 – October 9, 2016)

Two Different Commentaries on Synesius’ On Dreams: a Comparison

In 405 AD the philosopher-bishop Synesius sent to his old teacher Hypatia a letter along with two then unpublished works: the first one was the Dion and the other one was a brief treatise about dreams (Περὶ Ἐνυπνίων). In the latter work, as one can read at the end of the letter, Synesius put forward “doctrines entirely new to Hellenic philosophy”.
At the beginning of the XIVth century, nine hundred years after the bishop of Ptolemais, a not so minor Byzantine scholar, Nicephorus Gregoras, wrote a commentary on Synesius’ On Dreams. However, he was not the only one: in fact, as remarked by N. Terzaghi and, more recently, by J. Lamoureux and N. Aujoulat, two manuscripts (Laur. Plut. 60.06 and Par. gr. 2988) convey a completely different commentary on Synesius’ work about dreams. Furthermore, both of them date back to the first half of the XIVth century.
The identity of the second author, although, is not presently known. The most evident dissimilarity between these two exegetical works is that the anonymous one stops after about a third of Synesius’ treatise, while the other one covers it entirely.
Since there exists neither a philological nor an analytical study dedicated to this anonymous commentary, my Ph.D. thesis aims to offer the first critical edition of its text. It will be the starting point for an exploration of the contemporary revival of Neoplatonic studies in Byzantium and its political and cultural implications. In fact, it was probably not by chance that in 1330 Gregoras sent his commentary on Synesius’ On Dreams to the Megas Domestikos John Kantakouzenos, in order to curry favour with him, just after the fall from grace of the Grand Logothete – and Gregoras’ old master – Theodore Metochites.
During my stay in Uppsala, I will analyze the relationship between Gregoras’ commentary and the anonymous one. By reading these texts in a synoptic way, it will be possible to compare the different approaches to Synesius’ text. In this manner, probably, one can conjecture the public for which these commentaries were intended as well.
Moreover, in order to reach the same goal, there will also be included, in this four-week project, a careful analysis of the proem that Gregoras addressed to the anonymous commissioner of his exegetical work on Synesius. The examination of this text, as well as the analysis of some Gregoras’ letters, will likely be crucial to improve our understanding of the most profound reasons which led many Byzantine scholars to become interested in Neoplatonic doctrines during the Palaiologan period.

The one-month research stay at the University of Uppsala was very important for my work as I could utilise the time and resources to pursue a further research for my doctoral thesis focusing on an anonymous commentary on Synesius of Cyrene’s On Dreams – of which I am currently preparing the first critical edition. I spent almost two weeks studying thoroughly particular philological and palaeographical aspects of the account. This allows us to better understand the relationship between the only two manuscripts that contain this exegetical work (ms. Laur. Plut. 60.06 and ms. Par. gr. 2988, both dating back to the first half of the XIVth century). Since Nicephorus Gregoras wrote a commentary on Synesius’ On Dreams approximately in the same period, I also worked on the preface that Gregoras devoted to the unknown commissioner of the work.
I presented the preliminary results of my research during a seminar which took place towards the end of my stay. This was particularly useful for me as I received valuable feedback from the international scholars who were attending the seminar.
It was also nice to participate to the seminars organized by Uffe Holmsgaard and Ingela Nilsson, as this has improved my skills and knowledge to approach texts from narratological point of view.
Lastly, I am very grateful for the opportunity given to me to have access to the University library. I succeeded in completing two articles: the first deals with the correlation between dreams and stars in Byzantine culture and the second with Constantine VII’s Excerpta historica’s compositional criteria.