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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Postgraduate (History, Classics and Archaeology)

Postgraduate Course: Topics in Byzantine Literary History (PGHC11439)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course offers an introduction to Greek ('Byzantine') literature of the Middle Ages. This literature, which used to enjoy a rather bad press is now becoming an increasingly popular and innovative field of scholarship. While until recently it was often characterised as a literature 'without any literary merit, without a public, without a drama, without historical accuracy, without a point', and indeed perceived as 'escapist, fantastic', and 'always at least one stage removed from reality', this was based on a gross misunderstanding of the historical and cultural circumstances in which this literature was produced. Over the past two decades, a younger generation of scholars has begun to assert their voices more confidently, moving beyond the modern dictate of 'originality' and promoting the appreciation of Byzantine literature and rhetoric on their own terms. All source texts will be read in English translation.
Course description This course offers an intensive introduction to Byzantine literature and to provide criteria of how to interpret and analyse medieval literature critically and with attention to its historical and cultural conditions of production and circulation. The course, covering some eleven hundred and fifty years from the second sophistic and late antiquity to the end of the Byzantine empire in the early Renaissance period, must by necessity be selective. It offers a chronological survey of changing literary practices and tastes by throwing five spot-lights on seminal 'threshold' periods of Byzantine literary production, followed by five sessions devoted to current debates in scholarship.
In the first part, the focus will be on the production of rhetorical texts of various genres in changing socio-historical settings: deigning deuterosophistic rhetoric - and its Attic models - and patristic writings as the 'archive' of Byzantine literature, the class shall survey the introduction of Christianity into public discourse; the construction and deconstruction of Christian imperial ideology; as well as issues of power/canonisation (who decides what is written, read, performed, preserved), propaganda (who sings the emperor's praises for which reasons?) and learning: how did Byzantine students become accomplished rhetoricians, and why would they have wanted to compose rhetoric in an 'artificial' sociolect (i.e, a socially conditioned form of language, as, e.g. opposed to a dialect) imitating the ancient Attic dialect? Participants are asked to browse excerpts from the sources in translation and read recent scholarship by means of preparation; at the beginning of every session, the instructor will provide a kick-off lecture summarizing the major trends and developments and presenting his ideas for discussion.
In the second part, the focus will move to recent and current debates in the field. In this section, the focus is altogether more on recent and/or seminal secondary literature.
1. Introduction. 'The archive': the sophists & the fathers
I. Chronological Sessions: Trends & Developments
2. 'Later' late antiquity, c.500 - c.800
3. The Revival of Paideia, c.800 - c.950
4. 'Changing of the Guard', c.950 - c.1080
5. Byzantium' s 'Epic Age', c.1080 - c.1250
6. New Models of Identification, c.1250 - 1453
II. Topical Sessions: Current Debates & Approaches
7. Manuscripts & writing culture
8. Authors & (self-)performance
9. Mimesis & memory
10. Genres & genre-modulation
11. How to write Byzantine literary history?
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate, by way of coursework and examination as required, in-depth, detailed and critical command of the late antique and medieval Byzantine texts, and their socio-historical contexts, considered in the course
  2. Demonstrate, by way of coursework and examination as required, an ability to analyse and reflect critically upon relevant scholarship, primary source materials, and conceptual approaches considered in the course
  3. Demonstrate, by way of coursework and examination as required, an ability to understand and apply specialised research or professional skills, techniques and practices to different genres of Byzantine literature from different periods of Byzantine history
  4. Demonstrate, by way of seminar performance, coursework and examination as required, the ability to develop and sustain original scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by independently formulating appropriate questions and utilising relevant evidence considered in the course, and demonstrate originality and independence of mind and initiative; intellectual integrity and maturity; an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers; and a considerable degree of autonomy
  5. Demonstrate in a substantial, research-based, argument-driven and critical coursework essay the ability to conduct a sustained individual enquiry into a particular aspect of the topic
Reading List
1. Gregory of Nazianzus, Autobiographical Poems, tr. C. White (Cambridge, 1996)
2. Michael Psellus: Fourteen Byzantine Rulers, tr. E. R. A. Sewter (London, 1966)
3. Anna Comnena: The Alexiad, tr. E. R. A. Sewter, rev. edn, P. Frankopan (London, 2009)
4. O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniates, tr. H. J. Magoulias (Detroit, 1984)
5. Digenis Akritas, tr. E M. Jeffreys (Cambridge, 1998)
6. Four Byzantine Novels: Theodore Prodromos, Rhodanthe and Dosikles - Eumathios Makrembolites, Hysmine and Hysminias - Constantine Manasses, Aristandros and Kallithea - Niketas Eugenianos, Drosilla and Charikles, tr. with introd. and comm. by E. M. Jeffreys (Liverpool, 2012)
7. Theodore Metochites on Ancient Authors and Philosophy: Semeioseis Gnomikai 1 - 26 & 71, ed. and tr. K. Hult (Goteborg, 2002)
8. Av. Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse (Berkeley, Calif., 1991)
9. P. Brown, Power and Persuasion: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison, Wisc., 1992)
10. S. Papaioannou, Michael Psellos: Rhetoric and Authorship in Byzantium (Cambridge, 2013)
11. F. Bernard, Writing and Reading Byzantine Secular Poetry, 1025 - 1081 (Oxford, 2014)
12. A. Pizzone (ed.), The Author in Middle Byzantine Literature: Modes, Functions, and Identities (Berlin - New York, 2014)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills In addition to the course specific skills that the students will acquire, they will also show through the assessed pieces of work and the presentation that they are required to give in Semester 1:
- Enhancement of written and oral communication skills
- Refinement of observational skills
- Ability to research defined topics independently
- Library research skills
- Visual memory skills
- Presentational skills
- Analytical skills relating to analysis of primary and secondary evidence
Course organiserProf Niels Gaul
Tel: (0131 6)50 3776
Course secretaryMr Gordon Littlejohn
Tel: (0131 6)51 7454
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