The Byzantine language: How should we define vernacular literature? by M. Hinterberger

Byzantine literature

An article by M. Hinterberger (Cyprus) on vernacular Byzantine language:
Since Antiquity the Byzantines had inherited the usage of classicizing Greek for a wide range of literary genres. In particular, for all kinds of rhetorical texts ancient and late antique authors served as models. Higher education aimed at providing a thorough familiarity with these models, firstly in order to understand them and secondly in order to compose texts by imitating the models. Since the range of recommended patterns extends from Homer to George of Pisidia (i.e. texts from the 8th c. B.C. to the 7th c. A.D.) and since authors were inevitably influenced, to a greater or lesser degree, by their everyday language, in most cases the textual product was a peculiar mixture with a specific Byzantine character, which however – and this has to be stressed – does not mean chaotic or arbitrary. The majority of less literary types of text however (such as theological treatises, hagiography, popular narratives) were composed in a less pretentious idiom, though also quite different from the spoken language, somewhat comparable to the late antique koine and hence termed “Schriftkoine”. Both classicizing Greek and the literary koine had to be learned in school. Simple forms of this Byzantine koine made considerable concessions to everyday language, but only from the 12th c. on, was an idiom close to the spoken language used for the composition of literary texts. The latter category of texts, written in a language fairly close to the spoken, we usually refer to as vernacular literature, whereas all other texts are called learned.
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