When listening to the Byzantium and Friends podcast by Dr. Anthony Kaldellis I typed the introduction, so credit to him. Speaking about philology, the study of Ancient Greek classical text, he highlighted the prominent, crucial, and yet hard to see role that Byzantium played in that. (Ancient) Greece has enjoyed a very very privileged place in the history of philology generally, it has been a pioneer…Fragments have been collected, author biographies have been exhaustively studied, dates, inscriptions, papyri, everything has been collected. Often digitized and made accessible and available. It’s an extraordinary position to be in. And classicists often take all of that for granted…they often don’t know where it all comes from, how it was constructed, what are the elements, the primary elements that the material things from which all these materials were assembled, like you rarely go and see that inscription, that stone that has the text on it, or that book, that manuscript, which is often a specialized collection and often in Europe, which has the text you may study for decades but you never actually go and look and feel the manuscript. You’re kind of cut off from that almost.

Many classicists like to believe that the society they study, Ancient Greece down to the early (Roman) Empire, was something very very separate from what they know as Byzantium. That Byzantium rests on a different set of values, both as a state and as a civilization with its own literary and religious values. They often don’t pay much attention to it, learn little about it, and sometimes even think about it as the antithesis of what they work on. There are certain images associated with classical Greece that often attract people to study Ancient Greek text and Ancient Greek culture. And those are perceived to be very very different from those of Byzantium, and you have to be interested in very different things in order to be drawn to that (Byzantium). Classics is a much larger and much more prestigious and well-funded and well organized field in comparison to Byzantine studies. That is sort of evident to anyone part of both and sort of feels that gap, as I am. Yet there is certain sense, and I think it’s a very important one, a primary one at that, in which classics is essentially a part of Byzantine studied but it just doesn’t know it. It’s almost an annex to byzantine studies, something that emerges from Byzantium. Why do I say this? Well, on a certain obvious level almost all of the manuscripts we have of classical authors are Byzantines ones, and in particular late Byzantine, and sometimes middle Byzantine. We very very rarely have ancient access to ancient texts. Like from a papyrus or something like that. The classical texts we have are those that Byzantine writers and readers decided to preserve, and comment on. Not just copy but study, talk about, and add value to. And it’s not just that. A great deal of the technology that is involved in classical philology is of Byzantine origin. To mention some obvious things – the codex form, the book. When you pick up a text, the only part of it that is distinctively modern is that it has been printed(printing press), and that the pages are standardized…but if you compare to the way in which books were read and studied in Antiquity, you realize how decisive the Byzantine contribution was here. The shift from the roll to the codex(book). The invention of small case letters, the gradual systemization of accents, of punctuation. The conversion of commentaries into scholia, that is instead of having a commentary that was a separate boo …the scholia were put in the margin almost as kind of footnotes that can be placed on any part of the page. The collection of texts of authors together, sometimes even prefaced with a biography of the author…Those are Byzantine innovations that were applied to the selection of classical texts which were most meaningful to Byzantine readers and writers and therefore survived to our time…the (Byzantine) contribution is decisive.

Another important part from the episode was where Dr. Kaldellis explained how “this was more than just copying the texts (ancient texts) so that we have them. In other words they weren’t doing what they were doing in order to make sure that we have classical texts; they were doing what they were doing for their own sake.” But, the Byzantines are casually dismissed as just copiers, and often not even credited for their work. Sometimes classicists studying Ancient Greece may vaguely say “a later source, they are usually referring to a Byzantine lexicon.”






Byzantium and Friends Podcast, by Anthony Kaldellis. Episode 68, Classical Scholarship and Philology in Byzantium with Fillipomaria Pontani