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Daydreaming and Lusting after the Divine: Clement of Alexandria and the Neoplatonic Tradition
In his Stromata (IV 18, 116) Clement of Alexandria discusses lustful gaze as a most dangerous affliction that causes people to “daydream.” This daydreaming is understood to be the same as sinning since imagining sexual intercourse is as unlawful as acting on this impulse. However, Clement argues that those who look on beauty in chaste love use the body as a vehicle to contemplating true, spiritual beauty. Based on this distinction, my paper will examine Clement’s familiarity with the Platonic (i.e. Symp.210a-211c; Phdr.251a; Sophist etc) and Stoic (i.e. Cic.Acad.1.11; cf. Arist.De an.3.3.428af and Rhet.1.11.6) definitions of fantasia and the role of beauty in visionary spiritual ascents. Although the emotive influence of beauty and its association to political power is a standard topos in Byzantine historiography (i.e. Hatzaki 2010, 105-7) and hagiography (Calofonos 2014), yet our appreciation of the philosophical roots of this tradition and its textual transmission remains critically understudied. Furthermore, although the classical background(s) of the notion of “yearning for the divine” in the Western Christian tradition has attracted an impressive amount of scholarship (i.e. Sheppard 2014; Gertz 2014; Patten 2012; Sugito 2014), the oneirological theories of ancient philosophers and its influence on Byzantine thought have been discussed considerably less (Kalofonos 1994: 48-70; cf. Kenny 2001: 55-82; cf. Krönung 2014). Aware of Rosen-Zvi’s 2011 argument that Clement and other late antiquity thinkers employed the Jewish concept of the yetzer hara (inclination to evil) when discussing destructive sexual desire, I will focus on the role of Origen (i.e. Hom.Gen.3.6; GCS 6,46-7 in Drake 2013: 47), pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite and Maximus Confessor in transmitting the visionary experience or daydreaming of an ecstatic union with God in the Byzantium.
Aphrodite, Venus and Maria: Seafaring Religion, Astronomy and Imagination in Late Antiquity
Amelia R. Brown
University of Queensland
Modern scholars often characterize ancient Mediterranean seafarers as reluctant to lose sight of land, fearful of shipwreck and biased against traders as untrustworthy rogues. Yet the coast is the most dangerous place for a ship and descriptions of ancient voyages as well as shipwrecks show that ancient seafarers practiced point to point navigation using the stars, planets and landmarks visible from a distance to orient themselves. The study of ancient religion is usually terrestrial too, with a focus on studies of myth, civic cult and monumental architecture above interest in the ephemeral places and practices of everyday religion, including the invocation of gods and saints upon ships at sea and at harbourside sanctuaries. Gods and saints, however, were a focus of constant appeal from seaborne professionals like fishermen, merchants and rowers, as well as travellers and whole cities like Rome and Constantinople. Aphrodite had a central role in Greek maritime religion, as did related cults of Venus for the Romans. A hitherto little appreciated reason for this role is the use of the planet Venus in navigation and the relationship of all these goddesses to festivals of the new year, springtime sailing and safe travel eastwards and westwards on the Mediterranean sea. In this paper I outline the ways in which maritime saviour goddesses remained central to religion, astronomy and imagination in Late Antiquity, especially as upwind sailing technology spread alongside new mathematical and astral techniques of navigation. I also suggest some ways that the iconography and cult of maritime saviour goddesses and the needs of seafarers influenced the development of the cult of Maria, as Stella Maris in Rome and as Theotokos in Constantinople.
The Absence of Dreams and Visions in Psellos’ Chronographia and Their Importance in His Encomium for his Mother
University of Melbourne
Dreams and visions are sparse in Psellos’ Chronographia: where they do appear, he minimizes, distances, even derides them. In his Encomium for his Mother, they are of prime importance. Some indeed are given as his own. The discrepancy is only partly a matter of genre, for many histories take dreams and visions seriously, while some of his orations do not use them. The difference lies more in the ways Psellos presents himself. In the Chronographia, he is a self-made, king-making philosopher, a sceptical, rational innovator who alone decides what to value or discard from non-Christian traditions: he has himself unearthed some of these and can take responsibility for their reception. Dreams and visions are for others. In the Encomium for his Mother, by stark contrast, it is precisely dreams and visions which sanction his far-reaching studies, connecting his philosophy to the divine wisdom. Through his mother’s anxious concern for him, he is sensitized to fears and dangers non-existent in the Chronographia. Her piety is blessed with dreams on his behalf: without her visitations by John Chrysostom and the Theotokos, he would not have been allowed to leave her for a higher education in the City. After her death, he is led, through his own dream of her, to Basil the Great, under whose mystical protection and guidance he freely explores the non-Christian traditions, while finding that the depths of orthodoxy satisfy his yearning for the difficult and esoteric. These two works, Chronographia and the Encomium for his Mother, construct two versions of Psellos and dreams and visions, or their absence, plot the difference.
‘As if in a vision of the night …’: Authorising the Healing Spring of Chonai
Alan H. Cadwallader
Australian Catholic University
The popular story of St Michael the great archistrategos of Chonai unequivocally relates the story of the defence of the sacred healing spring in an escalating three-fold drama of protection and vindication, that leaves an awe-inspiring mark on the landscape. Future pilgrims could not only use the topographical features as a guide to the site; those features provided a striking testimony from nature to the truth of the supernatural story. The problem for the popular narrative of the mighty archangel’s establishment of the spring and warrant for a sacred hagiasma is the admission that both Christians and pagans enjoyed the benefits of the therapeutic waters. Indeed, the story allows at one point that the spring was found rather than provided. This tension is clearly expressed in the various attempts to authenticate the existence of the site — from apostolic promise to a foundation story more familiar from earlier Greek models for the establishment of a sacred site — whether spring, grove, shrine or temple. The story attempts to compensate for its pagan origins by hesitating over the exact nature of the initiating encounter and by strengthening its orthodox Christian pedigree. In neither case is the narrative completely successful and yet we are left with a story that enabled a rural sanctuary, just outside of Colossae, to make the transition from pagan to Christian devotion.
Grief, Memory and Dreams in Psellos’ Funeral Oration for His Daughter
Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
The Byzantine polymath Michael Psellos (1018 – c. 1080), stricken with grief at the death of his daughter, delivered a funeral oration in her memory. This paper explores the narratives and cultural plots through which Psellos expresses his grief and explores his strategies for memorialization and consolation, including the use of dream narratives in the oration. Psellos also draws on themes from classical consolation literature, medical theories, psychological and physical models of emotions, virtue theory and biblical narratives to frame and conceptualize his grief, though none of these resources is sufficient to moderate it and the gulf between the dead and the living remains. Within this experience of painful rupture, the oration attempts to construct ways for Psellos’ daughter to continue to act despite death, through memory, intervention in dreams and as remembered in the liturgical practices of the community. The oration explores tensions between memory and forgetting in overcoming grief and writes his daughter’s life and his relationship with her into biblical stories, hagiographic tropes and liturgical practices. Dreaming, understood as a way in which saints can interact with the living, is central to Psellos’ consolatory strategy, while it also draws attention to the false promise of the presence of the dead loved one, as fantasy replaces physical relationship. Through the analysis of the speech, we gain insight into Byzantine dream theories and ways in which the death of loved-ones could be experienced, memorialized and understood within cultural narratives and ritual practices in the middle Byzantine period.
Memory, Imagination and Visuality in Armenian Commentaries on the Eusebian Canon Tables
Australian Catholic University
From Latin manuscripts in Ireland to Ethiopic codices in the kingdom of Axum, late antique and medieval gospelbooks were typically prefaced by a paratextual cross-referencing system known as the Eusebian Canon Tables. In such codices, the prefatory pages containing the tabular concordances were often richly decorated with a variety of colours and images, with animals such as birds and stags, lush vegetation and figures from biblical history. Despite the common presence of certain motifs across these diverse linguistic cultures, only in the Armenian tradition did there emerge commentaries on the meaning of these artistic schemes. In the present communication I will offer an interpretation of these commentaries by drawing upon the ground-breaking work of Mary Carruthers on the role of memory, imagination and images in the middle ages. Comparison with western sources suggests that this artistic elaboration in Armenian gospelbooks was intended to serve a mnemonic purpose, with the associations assigned to the various features of the artistic program serving as prods to the imagination of the reader about to encounter the text of sacred scripture. In this way, the Armenian commentaries provide evidence that the Canon Tables continued to function as a “threshold” into the text, a central function of paratexts as defined by literary theorist Gérard Genette.
Inscribing Memory in Constantinian Churches
University of Queensland
This paper examines the ways in which the emperors and family members of the Constantinian dynasty commemorated their role in ecclesiastical building projects. Imperial association with churches could be articulated through the grandeur and scale of the buildings, the quality of the materials used and imperial benefactions of decorations and objects for the interior. This paper focuses on the use of imperial inscriptions, carved either on the churches themselves or on dedicated gifts, as a way of creating permanent memorials of imperial involvement. It will discuss inscriptions in Old St. Peter’s, SS. Marcellinus and Peter, S. Croce in Gerusalemme, the Basilica Apostolorum and S. Agnese in the city of Rome, as well the Golden Octagon in Antioch.
I will present two key conclusions about these inscriptions. First, they were not present in churches or on church objects in a consistent manner and appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Inscriptions were not necessary for the Roman people to recognize that a church was an imperial foundation, as shown by the Bordeaux Pilgrim’s descriptions of Constantine’s foundations in the Holy Land. Second, these inscribed texts did not include all the formal features we might expect of building inscriptions, such as the full imperial titulature, and instead feature more allusive language emphasizing imperial devotion. I will argue that the form and distribution of these inscriptions reflect uncertainty as to how the imperial presence should be commemorated within ecclesiastical buildings during the reigns of Constantine and his sons, as Roman emperors negotiated with their relationship with the Christian church.
Architectural Imagination in the Early Byzantine Dalmatian Hinterland: The Excavations of a Multiapsed Church on Bribirska glavica 2014-2016
Theologiske meningesfakultat, Oslo
Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments, Split
This paper will present the most important results of the archaeological project Varvaria-Breberium-Bribir, conducted in partnership between Macquarie University, Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments, Det Theologiske meningesfakultat and Šibenik City Museum. The initial focus of the project is excavation of multiapsed church located below the early modern church of SS Joachim and Ann on locality Bribirska glavica, near Šibenik in Croatia. Earlier excavators regarded this church to be an example of early medieval multiapsed church, characteristic of the pre-Romanesque period in Dalmatia (ca. 9th-12th century). However, revision of earlier excavations and extension of excavated areas provided new results that strengthened arguments for redating this church to late antiquity. In addition, the excavations showed that the multiapsed church had a unique shape, unseen in Dalmatia in this period and providing material for reconstructing its exciting past in the early medieval era.
Memories of Byzantium as Reflected in the Churches and Monasteries of Egypt
The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt was written around the beginning of thirteenth century in Egypt, most probably by Abu l-Makarim, a Coptic church official, with later additions by others, possibly including Abu Salih the Armenian. There is only one known manuscript of the work. It gives a comprehensive if sometimes confusing account of the churches and monasteries of Egypt and surrounding countries in a literary form which seems to echo the Islamic ‘khitat’, the historical topographies describing the areas settled by the Muslim conquerors. The book describes numerous churches and monasteries grouped into regions and gives snapshots of the history and points of interest of the regions it covers. Central to this account are selected historical events, from the time of the Pharaohs, recalled mostly in association with the dream of ‘Joseph the Truthful’, the destruction of monasteries by the Persians, the Islamic conquest under Amr al-As and, most recently and vividly recalled, the invasion of Egypt by Ghuzz and Kurds under Saladin. Byzantine emperors and their representative governors naturally appear in this story, reflected through the prism of different sources both Melkite and Coptic Christian as well as Muslim. There is no denying the confessional conflict in the Christian history of Egypt, but the writer often looks back to a time when hundreds of wealthy monasteries reflected and contributed to the ‘value’ of Egypt, which he seems to be promoting as an ‘asset’ to any realm in both financial and spiritual terms. This paper will look at how the writer creates his memory account of Byzantine times and how this contributes to his work as a whole.
Julian’s Funeral Law and the Debate Surrounding the Memory of St Babylas
University of Queensland
The emperor Julian’s time in the city of Antioch was remembered as a political fiasco. The emperor failed to make himself accessible to the citizens and his austere asceticism did not win him favour. The citizens of Antioch openly mocked Julian and refused to acknowledge the gods in the traditional manner he expected. Of the many memorable episodes regarding Julian’s visit to Antioch, one of the most controversial was his decision to remove the relics of St Babylas from the sanctuary of Apollo at Daphne. This action, and the Antiochene fascination with Babylas, seems to have resulted in Julian’s promulgation of an edict regarding funerary practices. Despite its vagueness, the emperor appears to have been prompted into action by something he witnessed while in Antioch, and this event can be assumed to be the Antiochene reaction to the moving of the relics. The insults hurled at him by the populace were no doubt disturbing evidence that they were not ready to embrace his reformed Hellenism. The edict is preserved in both the Theodosian Code and Julian’s own works. The edict never specifically mentions Christians by name. Instead, it appears to be a reaction to Christian burial processions through the city, which are presented by Julian as polluting the temples and gods.
This paper will argue that the policy propagated by Julian on funeral law was a reaction to the events surrounding the memory of St Bablyas which he saw in Antioch. In particular, it was a reaction to Christian worship of relics and bodies rather than his pagan gods. In order to demonstrate this, I will examine the content of Julian’s edict and how his experiences in Antioch informed this response. I will then discuss how the debate surrounding the memory of St Babylas could have resulted in the promulgation of the funerary law. From this, it is clear that Julian was willing to promote policies antithetical to the Christians of Antioch.
Political Motives in Memory and Imagination in Psellos’ Chronographia 5.22
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
The historian Michael Psellos is said to have put a speech into the mouth of Empress Zoe Porphyrogenita upon her journey to the island of Prinkipo, where she is sent to exile by her adopted son, Michael V, in 1042 AD (Garland, 1999). On board the ship carrying her to the island, Empress Zoe apostrophizes her homeland and fondly remembers her ancestors, particularly her uncle, the great Basil II, recalling the special attention paid to her by Basil as she grew up. “It was you, also, who so carefully brought me up and trained me, you who saw in my hands a great future for this same Empire” (Psellos, Chronographia, 5.22). Whether this, along with the rest of her speech, is a figment of Psellos’s imagination or the recollection of the memories of those on board the ship carrying the Empress, one thing is for certain: this speech paints a powerful picture of dynastic legitimacy to the Byzantine throne.
Both Psellos’ imagination and the memories of Zoe and her attendants can be argued to serve a powerful statement with a dual purpose – to re-emphasise Zoe’s legitimate right to the throne through blood ties and to appeal to the people of Byzantium. While her bloodline is the clear indicator of her legitimacy, against that of Michael’s plain upbringing, it is the people of Byzantium who hold the ultimate power in the election and deposition of a ruler and therefore their aid must be sought in order to bring a tyrant to justice.
Divine Fantasy and the Erotic Imagination in Symeon the New Theologian
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
In his Erotes, or Hymns on Divine Love, Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) explored the mutual desire between God and the male monk through elaborate erotic metaphors. Many of the poems cast the monk in the role of a bride, shifting his gender, engaging expectations of sexual activity on a wedding night. Others left the monk gendered male, thus casting the relationship between Christ and his beloved in homoerotic terms, in some cases also figuring this activity as the consummation of a marriage. The hymns employ a variety of erotic tropes of the sort known also from earlier and later romantic literature particularly the novel. Filled with scenarios of longing, seduction, abduction, desire to be penetrated, interpenetration, rape, desire for rape and sexual bondage, the hymns, while not necessarily evidence for actual erotic practices, offer a window on the scope of Byzantine sexual fantasy, perhaps especially male sexual fantasy. Indeed, the scenarios presented in the corpus require ostensive referents beyond the text in the Byzantine sexual imagination in order to be legible. To some extent, this realm recapitulates the unequal roles of lover and beloved — whether male and female or male and male — already established in ancient and late ancient Greek literature. Symeon’s repeated longing for or staging of acts of domination, possession and constraint expose a construction of sexuality that is hierarchical and even agonistic while remaining mutually pleasurable. Rather than focusing on Symeon’s sexualized spirituality in itself, this presentation investigates the impact of the erotic imagination on Symeon’s theology and self-understanding.
Procopius’ Account of Justinian’s Dream of Silk
The University of Queensland
The Byzantine silk industry played a major role, both economic and political, in the history of the Byzantium Empire. From the fourth century onwards, silk garments increasingly assumed an important role in status designation and, through association with murex purple dye, the imperial cult. Lacking direct knowledge of sericulture during these centuries, Byzantium was reliant on their eastern neighbour and constant enemy, Persia, for their silk that travelled from China on the overland and maritime ‘Silk Routes’. From the beginning of Justinian’s reign, he sought to break this Persian monopoly – going so far as sending embassies to the Christian Axmites to block the Persian merchants in India. Though this attempt was unsuccessful, there survive two historical accounts from the sixth century – Procopius, a contemporary to the unfolding events, and Theophanes (via Photius), writing in the latter half of the sixth century – which narrate the end of Persian monopoly of trade and the establishment of Byzantine sericulture. In this paper I explore Procopius’ episode – focusing on the accuracy of his account and his overall goals in including this episode in his Wars. Furthermore, I contrast Procopius’ account with other surviving evidence, such as Theophanes’ account of the same event and surviving silk textiles woven in imperial factories. I hope to show through this paper the knowns and unknowns for the beginnings of the Byzantine silk industry – which from the sixth century onwards grew and flourished throughout the empire.
‘The dream that was Rome’: Memory of Empire During the Komnenian Restoration
Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo
Anna Komnene’s Alexiad described the Roman Empire as once stretching from the Pillars of Hercules in the west to the Pillars of Dionysus in the east, Thule to the north and the troglodyte country to the south. Though this rhetorical description is used to overemphasise how small and beleaguered an empire Alexios I had to defend by comparison, it does raise real questions as to the perceptions and pretensions to empire that the twelfth-century Roman emperors held. The term Komnenian ‘reconquista’ is often used to describe this period, but between court rhetoric and diplomatic and military practicality, what did these emperors aim to reconquer?
Though court rhetoric often makes comparisons between the Komnenoi and great figures of the past, this paper argues that when such similes are made, court rhetors such as Theodore Prodromos, Michael Italikos and Nikephoros Basilakes do so with specific messages in mind. Taking the reign of the often under-researched John II as a primary case study, the deeds of mythological, Old Testament, classical and more recent figures are deployed to illustrate the political intentions of his regime.
This paper will analyse the uses of the memory of empire during the twelfth-century Komnenian restoration, primarily within Byzantine court rhetoric but also that contained in Eastern Christian, Arabic and Latin writers. Such an analysis will reveal which lands and peoples these emperors sought to reconquer as they were cast in the light of their predecessors, allowing us to understand the Komnenian ‘Dream that was Rome.’
Dreams, Visions and Desire in the Letters of Emperor Konstantinos VII Porphyrogennetos and Theodoros of Kyzikos
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Eighteen letters that passed between Konstantinos VII Porphyrogennetos and Theodoros of Kyzikos (Darrouzès 1960/Tziatzi-Papagianni 2012 [B1-18]) are notable for their frequent homoerotic warmth. Scholars shy away from analyzing these letters (probably from the 940s) on this basis, dismissing the erotic language as mere metaphor, e.g. Messis’ PhD thesis, 2006, 823. These letters also feature frequent mentions of dreams and visions (e.g. epp. 1, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11). If we consider dreams and visions with desire in two of the letters, one by Konstantinos (ep. 3) and an answering one by Theodoros (ep. 4), we will see that homoeroticism exists in dreams and in waking visions. The letters show homoerotic desire as a thing of imagination beyond conscious control and an object of conscious rumination.
In letter 3 Konstantinos speaks in erotically suggestive language of ὄνειροι that harass his sleep. When awake, Konstantinos curses his waking vision (ὕπαρ). But then his ὕπαρ turns to anticipation of friendly biting amid desire (ποθῆσαι τὸν ποθούμενον καὶ δακεῖν…φιλικῶς): dream’s desire reappears in waking life. Theodoros’ answering letter also contains strong erotic language, even increasing the carnality with a correction of Konstantinos’ δακεῖν φιλικῶς to δάκνειν ἐρωτικῶς.
Presented as phenomenologically varied, homoerotic desire’s different modes make it a metaphor for friendship that at times advertises its non-metaphoricity. Is it time to grant that we cannot rule out actual desire between these two men? If not that, then these letters must at least attest to relatively low rates of what we could call, anachronistically, homophobia in the empire during the Macedonian dynasty.
Loyalty and Betrayal: Villains, Imagination and Memory in the Reception of the Johannite Schism
Australian Lutheran College/University of Divinity
By the eighth century and the production of the Vita of John Chrysostom by “George of Alexandria”, the heroic status of the exiled Bishop John and villainous role of the Empress Eudoxia and the Alexandrian bishop, Theophilus, had become a standard element in the successive retelling of John’s story. In many ways this is standard. The demonization of the “other” as a component in the discourse of oppositional groups is a well-recognised phenomenon. So, too is the characterisation of polarising figures as demon or saint, hero or villain. Heavily biased as the surviving sources are in this instance, indications are that the historical reality (whatever that may mean) was significantly different. What we want to do in this paper is to dig deeper into the construction of memory in this fashion, as a process in two stages. Using as our case study the Johannite schism (c. 403-438 CE), we will use Moral Foundations Theory to explore the agency of loyalty/betrayal in fostering anger against perceived traitors and partisan in-group cohesion on both sides during the emergence and duration of the schism (stage 1) and how the reported memory of events, with their emphasis on loyalty/betrayal and of agents in those events (especially imagined villains) (stage 2) functioned in the process of its reception.
Dynastic Dreams and Visions of Early Byzantine Emperors
The dreams of Byzantine emperors make frequent appearances in our ancient sources in relation to visions of future dynastic plans or as explanations of arguably unexpected successions. In this paper, a number of such dynastic dreams or visions as reported in literary sources of the early Byzantine period will be examined: specifically, (a) the visions of non-existent but hoped-for dynastic heirs described in the poetry of Claudian Claudianus at the court of the emperor Honorius at the end of the fourth century; (b) the reported dream of the emperor Anastasius in the Anonymus Valesianus in the early sixth century explaining why none of his nephews succeeded him as emperor; (c) the sixth-century panegyrist Corippus’ account of a dream of the emperor Justin I in which he was offered the throne by the Virgin Mary; and finally, (d) the dream of the emperor Maurice in which his encounter with Christ in his sleep leads to his sacrifice of his throne, his life and the lives of all of his heirs in recompense for his sins during the usurpation of Phocas (602AD) and as reported in both Theophanes Confessor and Theophylact Simocatta.
Each of these dreams in some way concerns imperial heirs – either the desire for them, the need to choose between them or the execution of them – pointing to the preoccupation of emperors and indeed commentators of the time with issues of dynasty and succession in the early Byzantine world. This paper will explore this key theme of the early Byzantine literary tradition and the discourse of imperial dreams and visions in this period against the contemporary politics of the era.
A Dreamless Night? Reflections on Hymnography and Dreaming in Byzantium
University of Sydney
Although Biblical narratives of dreams abound, liturgical hymns seldom reflect on dreaming and its significance. Dreams are often treated with disdain: earthly glory and pleasure are “more deceptive than dreams” and mortal life is as ephemeral as a dream (Idiomela of the Dead); the bridegroom hymns of Holy Week entreat the faithful to overcome gloomy sleep and practice wakefulness; the Great Kanon of Andrew of Crete exhorts the congregation to weep at night before their days vanish “like a dream on waking”. Typological images encountered in dreams are, however, celebrated in hymns to the Theotokos. The narrative of Jacob’s dream of the ladder reaching up to Heaven was adopted by the Typikon of the Great Church as the prescribed scriptural reading for the Marian feasts, yet hymnography does not explore its typological significance as a prefiguration of the Theotokos beyond perpetuating this imagery in compositions such as the Akathist Hymn. Following the incarnation of the Logos in history, what use are riddlesome dreams? Indeed, a liturgical prayer attributed to Basil the Great presents sleep and dreams as negative forces and entreats God for light sleep and a dreamless night.
Nevertheless, the mystagogy of the Byzantine liturgy and its hymnography invited the faithful to experience a vision of history that unfolds in the liminal space between crucifixion and resurrection. Liturgical hymns such as the Great Kanon became an eschatological drama of the corporeal adventure of human restlessness on the precipice of dreaming. This paper explores how the ecstatic and cosmic events dramatized in the poetic universe of the Great Kanon were embodied in the divine theatre of the liturgy. It examines how the liturgy and hymnography perform a phenomenology of interiority through a dialogue between self and soul that anticipates the eschaton. After all, liturgical memory did not interpret the events of salvation through the prism of history but as realities that become present as part of the mystery of worship. Not unlike the description of dreaming in Plato’s Republic, hymnography presented images as resembling that which they signified. I will explore how Biblical figures and events from the past and the future are interwoven in liturgical time and space as a kind of mystical dream.
The Inner Source of Dreams: Synesius of Cyrene and His Byzantine Commentators
University of Rome (via Skype)
From Homer onwards, dreams have generally been perceived, in Greek culture, as a phenomenon that enters the human being from outside – inasmuch as inspired by the divinity – and not as a product of human interiority. That is the perception shared by all the authors of treatises on dream interpretations, in both the Classical and the Byzantine ages. Nevertheless, there exists a work distinctly dedicated to this subject that provides a completely different point of view: it is the treatise On dreams by Synesius of Cyrene.
Assuming that dreams are cognizable, Synesius argues that they must be perceived in the same way as sense perceptions: thus, they must pass through the center of human self-consciousness, which Synesius calls the “imaginative pneuma” (πνεῦμα φανταστικόν). This is only the beginning of a philosophical demonstration aiming to prove that all the images belonging to the becoming, including oneiric ones, reside inside the human soul and do not have their own source outside, namely in the material realm. In this manner, Synesius completely reverses the traditional Greek conception of dreams.
However, it would be quite difficult to interpret his thought correctly without having recourse to the Byzantine commentaries on this work. The most well-known commentary was written by Nicephorus Gregoras at the beginning of the fourteenth century, but there exists another anonymous one, of which the first critical edition is currently in preparation. This paper will also be the occasion to present the first results of this work, providing new elements to improve our understanding of Synesius’ philosophical approach to dreams.
Dream Interpretation in the Early Byzantine and Early Islamic Traditions of Hagiography and Historiography
Early Byzantine literature about dreams and dream interpretation opens a window onto the concerns of ordinary Christians and Muslims, as well as providing a theoretical framework for their interpretation. The tenth-century Arab Christian dreambook known as the Oneirocriticon of Achmet is evidence for the common roots of Byzantine Christian and Islamic dream interpretation (Mavroudi 2002) in the genre of dream key manuals. Other evidence of cultural cross-over is revealed in early Islamic and Byzantine dream narrative accounts in hagiography and chronicles. As a starting point, I take the taxonomy developed by Kenny (1996) for dream accounts in ninth-century Byzantine hagiography, which consisted of six types of dream: 1. personal-mnemic dreams, which pertain to everyday matters in the dreamer’s life; 2. medical-somatic; 3. prophetic or mantic; 4. archetypal-spiritual, in which the dreamer explores existential questions, and which may transform the dreamer’s waking behaviour; 5. Nightmares; and 6. Lucid dreams, in which the sleeper is aware of dreaming. I consider whether this six-fold division can be mapped onto other genres of Byzantine literature, such as chronicles, which contain dream narratives and interpretations. I will also consider whether Kenny’s taxonomy applies in the context of early Islamic hagiography. Even a cursory comparison of the two traditions suggests that early Islamic dream-writers interpreted dreams in a similar way to their Byzantine contemporaries, and that their dream accounts served similar literary functions in both hagiography and historiography.
Locating Memory and Imagination: From Nemesius of Emesa to John of Damascus
One of the intriguing questions discussed in ancient medicine and philosophy centred on the physical and anatomical location of memory, cognition and imagination in the human person. Interest in questions of this nature by ancient and medieval physicians and iatrosophists has continued through to modern neuroscience. Today as a result of technological advances, such as Computerised Axial Tomography (CAT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), it has become possible to monitor brain activity in order to pinpoint where certain functions take place. However, there is often disagreement on how these scans and images should be interpreted, just as in the ancient world there was no consensus on where these faculties were located. For some the heart (Aristotle) was the seat of memory and imagination while for others it was the head (Galen). This paper will focus on the interest in the localisation of these two faculties in late antiquity and early Byzantium, from the time of Nemesius of Emesa in the fourth century to John of Damascus in the eighth. It was during this period that the doctrine of ventricular localisation was promoted, in particular by Aetius of Amida in the sixth century, which was subsequently embraced as the norm in the Greek, Latin and Arabic medieval worlds. The physician whose name is associated with this theory is Posidonius of Byzantium, a largely unknown figure from the fourth or fifth century, whose contribution to Byzantine medicine has attracted the attention of a few scholars in recent years.
Some Dreams and Imaginative Memory in Select Byzantine Chronicles
University of Melbourne
Constantine’s sighting of the True Cross on 28 October 312, whether in broad daylight (as he himself supposedly told Eusebius much later, Vita Constantini 28) or in a nocturnal dream (Lactantius DMP 44 written much closer to the event) or both (as most Byzantine chronicles state), is surely the most important vision to have occurred in the Common Era, leading to Constantine’s (and Europe’s) conversion to Christianity and the effect of that on World History, thus deserving a place at this conference. Regrettably this paper will not attempt to answer the question of where or how the vision occurred but will examine rather the bland handling of this and later visions in Byzantine universal chronicles. It will ask whether they are any more significant in Byzantines’ understanding of history than some seemingly ordinary sightings such as (for instance) that of the ordinary jug of water that, in the time of Julian the Apostate, fermented and turned into sweet wine, thus heralding better times with Julian’s imminent demise, or of earthquakes which so frequently accompanied a change of ruler (see, e.g. BMCR 2016.09.49).
Dreaming of Treason: Portentous Dreams and Imperial Coups in Seventh-century Byzantine Apocalyptic Discourse
Ryan W. Strickler
Australian Catholic University, Brisbane
Recent scholars have taken an interest in Byzantine apocalypticism and Byzantine dream literature. In the field of Byzantine apocalyptic, Bernard McGinn, Paul Alexander, Gerrit Reinink, Stephen Shoemaker and András Kraft have brought necessary attention to a previously neglected field. Dreaming in Byzantium is a cutting edge subject, as evidenced by recent collected volumes (Oberhelman 2013, Angelidi and Calofonos 2014). However, much of the work thus far has focused on middle and late Byzantine dream manuals to the neglect of earlier centuries. Furthermore, little consideration has been given to the intersection between these two rather esoteric and related fields.
In the seventh century, dreams and visions were frequently used to foretell and explain disaster. Dreams related in the Historiae of Theophylact Simocatta predict the overthrow of the emperor Maurice. In some cases, literary evidence, such as the Trial of Maximus the Confessor, suggests that dreams were used to justify attempted coups d’état, even if such attempts were ultimately abortive. Such dreams, by their nature, claim to reveal the hidden will of God and are by definition apocalyptic. This paper explores the intersection between apocalyptic discourse and dreaming in seventh-century Byzantine literature.
Dreams and Visions Referred To in Life A and Life B of St Athanasios the Athonite
We have two hagiographical Lives giving us an account of the life of St Athanasios of Mount Athos, the saint who is credited with the introduction, at the end of the tenth century, of the coenobitic form of monasticism to the monastic community on the Athos peninsular, or the Holy Mountain as it is more commonly known. Both versions of the Life of the saint contain references to visions and dreams by which either future events are prophesied or the will of the divine is revealed. The two versions of the Life are interrelated so that either one is based on the other or they are both based on a now lost original. Of the two versions we have, as Jacques Noret informs us, there are five known manuscripts of Life A and fourteen of Life B. In Life B, which appears to be the more popular version, references are to be found to eight incidents of either visions which are experienced < ἀνοιχθἐντων τῶν ἔνδοθεν τῆς ψυχῆς ὀφθαλμῶν > or < δι᾽ ἐκστάσεως > or < ἰδεῖν κατὀναρ> or < ὁρᾶν καθ᾽ὕπνους> (i.e. in a dream).
More specifically four of the incidents that are referred to in Life B are day visions and are to be found in chapters 28, 35, 37 and 52. The other four which are to be found in chapters 63, 68, 71 and 73 are dreams. Four of these incidents have their parallels in Life A. These are the ones which are to be found in chapter 35 (chapter 109 of Life A); chapter 37 (chapter 124 of Life A); chapter 52 (chapters 201-202 in Life A) and chapter 68 (chapters 241-244 in Life A). The incidents which in Life B are referred to in chapters 23, 63, 71 and 73 are not referred to in Life A. This paper will attempt to explain the relationship and role of these dreams and visions within the context of the two Lives.
War by Other Means: The Memory of Sesostris in Early Byzantine Historiography
For the final classicizing historians of the early Byzantine period, the legendary figure of the Egyptian Pharaoh and empire-builder Sesostris provided a golden opportunity both to assert the value of deep historical memory in contemporary geopolitics and to demonstrate their own continuity with the tradition of Greek historiography reaching back to Herodotus, who first launched the long-lived Sesostris meme (Histories 2.102-110).
Agathias (2.18.5) provides context for the current Byzantine-Persian conflict over Lazica by reference to Sesostris’ original expedition to the region. The fact that, as Agathias notes, Sesostris not only subdued the territory as part of his conquest of Asia but permanently settled it with Egyptian soldiers suggests the strategic importance of Lazica; this lends weight to Agathias’ clear support, voiced in the immediately following passage (2.18.6-8), for the aggressive defence of Roman interests in Lazica by Justinian, who (like Sesostris) stationed a sizeable permanent garrison there. The reputed Egyptian ancestry of the Lazi/Colchians also serves (like their Christianity) to identify them more strongly as “our” people (to be protected from Persian expansionism), kindred to the Egyptians who had already been Roman for more than half a millennium.
In Agathias’ story, it is the historian himself whose understanding of current events is enriched by an Egyptological background: Justinian’s policy in Lazica is revealed to be in harmony with but not consciously influenced by Egyptian precedent. Agathias’ successors, Menander Protector and Theophylact Simocatta, take the motif a significant step further by attributing exactly such useful historical knowledge to Byzantine diplomats engaged in delicate and crucial negotiations. The remote legend of Sesostris becomes effectively weaponized, transformed into an instrument of imperial power against aggressive, puffed-up barbarians. The memory of Sesostris thus ends up in Byzantine historiography as a striking illustration of the value of “soft power” for a beleaguered empire that was increasingly reliant for self-defence on (perceived) cultural and educational, rather than military, superiority over its neighbours.
O Indomitable Thalassa: The Translation of Classical Maritime Symbolism into Byzantine Cultural Identity
The sea has always held an important place in the hearts and minds of those living in the Mediterranean region. In antiquity, maritime themes were a common motif across a range of literary and artistic genres and seafaring imagery was regularly imbued with religious, moral or political significance. Despite their often overt pagan or Hellenic connotations, maritime symbolism and imagery were adopted by both ecclesiastical and secular writers and artists in the early Byzantine period. Mosaics depicting maritime deities and seafaring scenes were installed in Christian churches, poets wrote of Fortune steering the ship of life and orators spoke of leaders at the helm of their state. Didactic texts taught of the corrupt nature of the sea and ecclesiastical writers viewed the church as a safe harbour. Seafaring customs and superstitions were also retained, with veneration transferred almost seamlessly from maritime deities to saints. Sailors and sea-merchants carried maritime customs and ideas with them into major port cities all over the Byzantine world and their culture thoroughly infiltrated mainstream culture and thought. This paper will demonstrate that maritime cultural memory was crucial to the early Byzantine identity and that mariners helped to shape society and the church throughout this period.
The Balkans at the End of Antiquity: Imagined Empire and Regional Realities
Recent research has greatly bolstered slightly older efforts to establish that the Balkans really matter to the imperial Roman government in any number of real ways (economically, militarily, theologically) in Late Antiquity. This was certainly the case during the reigns of Anastasius I, Justinian I and Maurice which framed the sixth century. But there are points of tension: the available evidence gives the impression that the Balkans of the sixth century was a discrete region of the Empire with its own geography, populations and problems and was in fact very slowly becoming detached from the Empire and the Empire’s imagined conception of itself.
Imperial responses to challenges within the Balkans in the sixth century address pragmatic concerns as well as imagined realities which were a reflection and projection of the designated role of the Balkans in the imperial enterprise at a conceptual level. Written, juridical and archaeological evidence allow some insight into the contrasts and connections between this imagined Empire and the regional realities. The Justinianic Code, for example, deals with contemporary problems in Balkan provinces (and in fact with territories which had already passed outside of imperial control), but in some instances couches itself in the language of remembrance of better times gone by, a legal panegyric aimed at creating an imagined landscape of Roman power beyond the Empire’s actual reach. Imperial responses to barbarian actions followed established Late Antique policy but failed, to Rome’s lasting detriment, to deal with groups who did not fit into imperial concepts of empire, frontiers and the Roman oecumene and the ways in which Rome had always used these things to its benefit. At the same time, the emperors of the sixth century were largely from provincial Balkan families, common soldier stock who likely had a genuine personal interest in the region.
This paper shall therefore examine some of the key aspects evident in the continued effort (and sometimes failure) to maintain the Balkans within the superstructure of imperial administration and the Roman oecumene in the sixth century, a time when the region was, despite the capital at Constantinople being located within it, increasingly moving further away from the central government’s notions of Empire.