Core Class + Tutorial: Texts and Communities in Byzantium
This course will discuss the relationships between texts and society in Byzantium. Primary focus is the way texts are used to shape social groups: monastic/devotional communities, intellectual/elite communities, families, and provincial communities. The concept of friendship as a driving force behind social networks will also draw our attention. We will discuss how texts propagate group identities, create or underline social distinctions, and channel communal emotions. It is our intention to straddle the divide between low-brow and high-brow, between monastic and intellectual, and between province and Constantinople. The active agency of a text (instead of being a passive historical source) will be a main focus of this course. We will investigate how the same genres (especially letter-writing and poems) can be engaged for different ends in different social environments, and how topoi acquire different value according to the use they are put to. Authors receiving particular attention include Theodore the Stoudite, Kekaumenos, and Michael Psellos, but we will also focus on foundational texts of Byzantine monasticism, polemical texts, liturgical poetry, and funeral rhetoric.
Each tutorial will take the primary texts under close consideration that form the basis of the observations of the previous class. Features such as style, topoi and genre will receive closer attention. The tutorial will also provide opportunity for consultation on how the essay can build further on the reading and analysis of the primary texts.
By the end of this course, students will be able to:
- Reflect on the status of texts as active agents in society
- Relate features such as genre, style, and so-called topoi to the interests of the specific social group (or even microstructure) that made use of the text
- Have more understanding of the world of textual production and consumption in Byzantium, as differentiated by social stratum and ideological group
- Reflect on the concepts of communal identity, microstructures, and intra-societal distinction in Byzantium
- Clarify important social developments in Byzantium on the basis of different genres of texts
The core class can be taken without tutorial, but not the other way round.
- Students only taking CC: forum contributions on the basis of assigned readings (40%), short essay (50%), class participation (10%)
- Students also taking tutorial: informal presentations of/introductions to primary texts (40%); oral contributions to discussions (40%), longer essay (+20%)