Hagiography in Late Byzantium (1204–1453)

Authored by: Alice-Mary Talbot

The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754650331
eBook ISBN: 9781315612799
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043966


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The final period of the Byzantine empire witnessed an efflorescence in the writing of saints’ lives. From the last 250 years of Byzantium we know by name at least 60 practitioners of the hagiographic genre (not counting the anonymous authors), ranging from statesmen to patriarchs to simple monks. Despite the fact that most of their compositions have been edited, some more than a century ago, they have received relatively little attention from modern scholars, 1 1

One of the exceptions is Angeliki Laiou, who published some 30 years ago a very useful survey article on saints of the Palaiologan era, ‘Saints and Society in the Late Byzantine Empire’. Her focus, however, is entirely on the historical information provided by the vitae of these holy men, rather than on hagiography as a literary genre. Around the same time appeared Ruth Macrides’ pioneering article on saints of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century; see her ‘Saints and Sainthood in the Early Palaiologan Period’. For a brief and outdated overview of hagiographical composition between 1204 and 1453, see Beck, Kirche, 697–701, 793–6.

and only three vitae of late Byzantine saints [Theodora of Arta (BHG 1736), Gregory Palamas (BHG 718) and Romylos of Vidin (BHG 2383)] have ever been translated into a western European language. 2 2

The Miracula have fared better, since there is a partial French tr. of the Miracles of Kosmas and Damianos by Maximos the Deacon, and English tr. of the Miracles of the patriarch Athanasios by Theoktistos the Stoudite and the Miracles of Eugenios of Trebizond by John Lazaropoulos; for bibliographical details, see ch. on Collections of Miracles in vol. II.

There are several reasons for this comparative neglect of Palaiologan hagiography: some of the vitae are in rare editions, difficult to access; they tend to be quite lengthy, and the language of some is very high style and difficult to comprehend; finally, the Palaiologan era, viewed as a period of decline, has generally received less scholarly attention than earlier centuries. As will be seen, however, the surviving corpus of hagiographical texts well deserves study both as a source of historical data and as a literary phenomenon. 3 3

A recent preliminary overview of Palaiologan hagiography, emphasising a small group of vitae of neo-martyrs, has been made by Buket Kitapçı Bayri, as a DEA thesis in Paris, ‘La définition de ‘l’autre’ dans les récits hagiographiques de néo-martyrs de l’époque des Paléologues’. Martin Hinterberger is also engaged in a study of some of the major hagiographers of the fourteenth century, such as Nikephoros Gregoras, Philotheos Kokkinos and Philotheos of Selymbria.

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