Is a history of Byzantine literature possible?: Questions of literary method in a postmodernist world
Textual production in Byzantium has been allotted a peculiar ‘middle state’. On the one hand, it is viewed as a continuation of, or an appendix to Ancient Greek literature, thus being divided into ‘secular’ and ‘religious’, while, on the other, it is divided into ‘learned’ and ‘vernacular’, the latter category having been defined as Modern Greek since the middle of the nineteenth century. This mental and textual hybridity, projected onto Byzantine literature (the result of political-ideological currents within Greek Studies broadly defined), has blocked the way to an approach that would read Byzantine textual production in an integrated manner on its own historical, socio-cultural and aesthetic terms, therefore, as a dynamic system rather than a static condition. At the same time, literary theory has systematically attacked the very notion of literary history, changing to a substantial extent the way in which literary histories are conceived and written today. Specific examples from different times will be used to demonstrate the difficulty of viewing Byzantine literature as being in a ‘middle state’, while also new proposals will be made in order to step out of the scholarly and ideological impasse in which Byzantine Studies have found themselves. Writing a ‘new’ history of Byzantine literature can be viewed as an experiment in proposing a radical paradigm shift, while also overcoming some of our postmodernist anxieties.
Panagiotis A. Agapitos is Professor of Byzantine Literature at the University of Cyprus. His research interests focus on textual and literary criticism, with an emphasis on Byzantine rhetoric and its performance, poetics, erotic fiction and the representation of death in Byzantine literature. He has published Narrative Structure in the Byzantine Vernacular Romances (Munich 1991), The Study of Medieval Greek Romance (Copenhagen 1992), Theodoros Metochites on Greek Philosophy and Ancient History (Gothenburg 1996), the first critical edition of the thirteenth-century verse romance Livistros and Rhodamne (Athens 2006), and most recently Between History and Fiction: Medieval Narratives between History and Fiction: From the Centre to the Periphery of Europe, 1100-1400 (Copenhagen 2012), a volume edited with L. B. Mortensen. He is currently preparing an English translation with introduction and notes of Livistros and Rodamne for Translated Texts for Byzantinists (Liverpool University Press), and a study on the periodization of Byzantine literature.