Edited by Charles Barber and Stratis Papaioannou
Michael Psellos has long been known as a key figure in the history of Byzantine literary and intellectual culture, but his theoretical and critical reflections on literature and art are little known outside of a small circle of specialists. Most famous for his Chronographia, a history of eleventh-century Byzantine emperors and their reigns, Psellos also excelled in describing as well as prescribing practices and rules for literary discourse and visual culture. The ambition of Michael Psellos on Literature and Art is to illustrate an important chapter in the history of Greek literary and art criticism and introduce precisely this aspect of Psellian writing to a wider public. The editors of this volume present thirty Psellian texts, all of which have been translated—some in part, most in their entirety—into English. In the majority of cases, the works are translated for the first time in any modern language, and several are discussed at length here for the first time. They are grouped into two separate sections, which roughly translate to two areas of theoretical reflection associated with the modern terms “literature” and “art.” As such, these texts display Byzantine views, attitudes, and ultimately tastes regarding what is thought to be beautiful as well as moral, and appealing as well as mentally and psychologically effective, in texts and artistic objects.
Contributors: Christine Angelidi, Christopher M. Geadrities, Elizabeth A. Fisher, David Jenkins, Anthony Kaldellis, Demetrios Kritsotakis, Antony Littlewood, and Jeffrey Walker.
“This book is a major contribution not only to the field of Psellian studies in particular, but also the major field of Byzantine aesthetics in general. To my knowledge, it is the first effort to bring together a host of particular texts (all by the pen of Michael Psellos) that touch upon literary theory, visual aesthetics, and aesthetics in a wider sense.” — Alexander Alexakis, University of Ioannina
“Modern histories of aesthetic theory in the West have resolutely ignored the contributions of Byzantine thinkers. Thanks to this splendid collection of translations, this will now change. The editors, both eminent scholars of Byzantine culture, together with a distinguished team of experts, have produced elegant versions of a wide variety of works by the brilliant polymath, Michael Psellos, accompanied with rich notes and introductions. The book is indispensable to anyone interested in Byzantine perspectives on art and literature.” — David Konstan, New York University
“This important volume offers a nuanced and compelling justification for Psellos’ traditional designation as ‘the best Byzantine author’—the translated texts help contextualize and illuminate not only Byzantine ideas of literature and art, but also those central to Psellos’ own philosophy. It is thus essential for Byzantinists as well as scholars working on any part of the Greco-Roman cultural tradition.” — Ingela Nilsson, Uppsala University
“Michael Psellos has been a neglected gem—until now. This authoritative selection of Psellos’ rhetorical and aesthetic writings, with its expert introductory essays and detailed annotations, will make him widely available and accessible at last. Thanks to the splendid efforts of this team of leading Byzantinists, Psellos will find his rightful place on the syllabus and in the classroom, and he will soon become a household name among students of Classics and of later periods. Michael Psellos on Literature and Art augurs a new era in the study of antiquity’s cultural heritage at the boundaries of art, religion, and philosophy.” — James I. Porter, Chancellor’s Professor of Rhetoric and Classics, University of California, Berkeley
“[This book] aims to establish the literary and historical value of the letters of Michael Psellos, and some of his other writings about literature and art. As the writer of a colourful history of the virtues and failings of the Byzantine emperors under whom he served as a civil servant and court philosopher, Psellos is a promising choice as a writer for reading with pleasure.” — Times Literary Supplement