The production and reception of poetry was an important means of cultural expression during more than 1000 years of Byzantine history. This project deals with the poetry of late Byzantium, i.e. from c. 1204 (the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in the 4th Crusade) to the middle of the 15th century. Byzantium in this period was marked by political fragmentation. In the area of the former empire several polities emerged that were influenced by Byzantine culture, among others Nicaea in Asia Minor, Trebizond on the Black Sea coast, and Epiros in Northern Greece. Furthermore, Byzantine culture continued to thrive in regions which were no longer part of the Byzantine empire, such as Salento in Southern Italy, Crete and Cyprus. After the reconquest of Constantinople in 1261, the capital saw a cultural and literary heyday. Poems have survived from all of these regions. They were recited at specific events and ceremonies, inscribed on buildings or works of art, and read and discussed in the literary ‘salons’ (theatra) of the educated class. Their content and form were adapted to the specific political and social circumstances under which they were produced. For example, there are poems in the Byzantine tradition praising an Ottoman ‘emperor’, as well as highly archaizing difficult texts in ancient metres that were only addressed to a small group of intellectuals. The production and reception of poetry were an important means of building one’s own ‘Byzantine’ identity when political unity had been destroyed.
This project has three aims. The first is to map the literary landscape of poetry in late Byzantium. Poems should be understood as part of the cultural, social and political networks that were integral to their production. Of special importance is the fact that almost none of the authors were ‘full-time’ poets. Instead, most of them held political or clerical positions or worked as teachers. The second is to use detailed case studies to examine the production and reception of poetry, as well as its specific aesthetic qualities. The third is to make selected unpublished texts available in critical editions.
Byzantine poetry has seen growing interest from scholars in recent years. However, unlike the poetry of late antiquity through the 12th century, which has been the subject of both extensive studies and major research projects, late Byzantine poetry has been almost entirely neglected. This project deals with late Byzantine poetry as a whole for the first time and analyses the variety of forms and functions of poetry in an age of political fragmentation, when it served as a means of identity-building and cultural cohesion.
PROGRAMME OF THE CONFERENCE "Poetry in the Eastern Mediterranean from the 11th to the 15th Century Transcultural Perspectives", 24 January 2020