A New Book on Byzantine Literature: Writing and Reading Byzantine Secular Poetry, 1025-1081



A new volume on middle Byzantine poetry was recently published at Oxford University Press:
Writing and Reading Byzantine Secular Poetry, 1025-1081, by Floris Bernard.

Here is the abstract:
In the mid eleventh century, secular poetry attained a hitherto unseen degree of wit, vividness, and personal involvement, chiefly exemplified in the poetry of Christophoros Mitylenaios, Ioannes Mauropous, and Michael Psellos. This book examines the various social occasions, opportunities, and constraints that motivated and influenced the reading and writing of poetic texts. It critically reconsiders modern assumptions about poetry, focusing instead on Byzantine conceptions of the role of poetry in society. By providing a detailed account of the various media through which poetry was presented to its readers, and by tracing the initial circulation of poems, it takes an interest in the Byzantine reader and his/her reading habits and strategies, addressing aspects of performance and visual representation. The extraordinary social mobility of the time and the importance of education were driving forces behind textual display, and fuelled contests and competitions. Didactic poetry is part of this seething rivalry between teachers, influencing the adoption of unusual metres. Poets developed different self-representative strategies against the background of an unstable elite struggling to find moral justification; the thoughtfully arranged collection of Mauropous in particular bears traces of this. Finally, this study addresses the question of patronage, analysing the discourse employed by poets to secure material rewards, and explaining the social dynamics of dedication. Gift exchange is a medium that underscores the value of their poetry and confirms the exclusive nature of intellectual friendship.




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