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Round Table:

Convener: Frederick Lauritzen

Charles Barber,
Michael Psellos on Art and Aesthetics

Alexey Barmin,
Psellos – Participant of the Anti-Latin Polemics of 1054?

Floris Bernard

Jean-Claude Cheynet,
Michel Psellos, administrateur

Dejan Dželebdžić,
Michael Psellos’ Historia Syntomos

Elizabeth Fisher,

Michael Grünbart,
The Letters of Michael Psellos and Their Function in Byzantine Epistolary Culture

Corinne Jouanno,
Michael Psellos on Rhetoric

Frederick Lauritzen,
Psellos’ Philosophical Works

Diether Roderich Reinsch,

Die Chronographia des Michael Psellos als Werk mündlicher Prosa
Frederick Lauritzen


The year 2018 marks the millennium of Michael Psellos’ birth and the present round table
seeks to explore his writings in view of this anniversary.
The study of a single author offers a number of fixed points, especially if there are numerous
surviving works. In the case of Psellos, more than one thousand texts are associated with his name,
making him one of the most prolific authors of Constantinople. The wide ranging nature and
peculiarity of his vision point to him as an important author in order to appreciate Byzantine taste
and mentality.
C. Barber (us) Art History
A. Barmin (ru) Theology
F. Bernard (be) Poetry
J. C. Cheynet (fr) Psellos et l’administration
D. Dželebdžić (sr) Historia Syntomos
E. Fisher (us) Hagiography
M. Grünbart (de) Epistolography
C. Jouanno (fr) Rhetorique
F. Lauritzen (it) Philosophy
D. R. Reinsch (de) Chronographia

Charles Barber
(Princeton University)

Michael Psellos on Art and Aesthetics

Within the extensive and rich corpus of Michael Psellos’s writings, there are numerous and
important discussions of images. These reflections are found in letters, in commentaries and
paraphrases of philosophical works, in hagiographic, judicial, rhetorical, as well as historical studies.
While the sources are varied, they nonetheless provide an opportunity for us to examine how Psellos
discusses works of art and also whether it is possible to identify the construction of an aesthetic
attitude to art in the work of this crucial Byzantine philosopher. Of course, any discussion of “art”
or “aesthetics” begs questions regarding the appropriateness of these terms for the visual culture of
Byzantium. Rather than addressing this broad and complex issue in this brief essay, I will here focus
on how these terms (or rather their Greek equivalents) make their appearance in Psellos’s writings.
Psellos’s aesthetic response to works of art betrays both a profound interest and pleasure in
the physical and sensible qualities of things, as well as an intellectual indifference towards and a
desire to overcome these very qualities. It is a primarily visual aesthetic, one that is rooted in both
Christian and Neoplatonic assumptions. As such, it is bound to the differences that inhere to the
divisions that distinguish the sensible from the intelligible, the material from the spiritual, and
the human from the divine. As we shall see this aesthetic disposition leads Psellos to develop a
consistent and hierarchal aesthetic that even as it delights in human creativity, privileges a beauty
and a subject that precedes and overwhelms the work of art.
The key concerns in Psellos’s visual aesthetics are summarized in a letter addressed to an
unknown recipient that reports on an encounter with a miraculous icon of the Mother of God in
the monastery Ta Kathara. Let me begin by quoting this letter as a whole, before then unpacking
the themes presented here in light of other works:
I am a most fastidious viewer of icons; but one astonished me by its indescribable
beauty and like a bolt of lightning it disabled my senses and deprived me of my power
of judgment in this matter. It has the Mother of God as its model and has been painted
in her likeness. Whether it is similar to her (that supernatural image of beauty), I do
not quite know. I know this much and just this much, that the corporal nature has been
faithfully imitated by means of the mixing of colors. Yet the form is incomprehensible to
me and is sometimes apprehended visually and sometimes conceptually.
I do not therefore write about what I have beheld, but what I have experienced. For it seems
that having completely exchanged its nature, it was transformed in to divine-like beauty and
surpassed visual perception. Yet, because of this, she neither looks stern nor is she again
decked out in a singular beauty; rather she is beyond both these measures and descends into
knowledge only so much that, while her shape is not known, she astounds the viewer.
She has been depicted interceding with the Son and eliciting mercy for men, as is customary
in both truth and images. Moreover, she entertains no doubts in her supplication nor

does it appear that she laments over her request; rather, she calmly extends her hands in
anticipation of receiving His grace and is confident in her prayer. The bolts from her eyes
are miraculous in every direction. For she is divided between heaven and earth so that
she might have both: both the one (i.e. Christ) whom she approaches, and the people for
whom she supplicates.
At any rate this is what I grasped seeing the icon for the first time. After that, having
astounded me, it surpassed my ability to see. Because of it, the monastery of ta Kathara
is fortunate; more so than the earth is fortunate because of Edem.

This letter is brief, but it nonetheless presents a consistent account of Psellos’s aesthetics. It tells
us that Psellos claims to be a “most fastidious,” perhaps exacting viewer of icons. Having introduced
his perceptual engagement with the image, Psellos then leads us towards the necessity of this “visual
sense” being surpassed. For the beauty that has here astonished Psellos does not come from his
perception of the shape presented by the icon, which is a faithful imitation in color of the Mother
of God’s corporal nature, rather this “indescribable beauty” has disoriented Psellos, leading him to
understand that beauty is not rendered by the visual and material shape found in the icon alone,
but also requires a conceptual knowledge of the form that lies behind the shape. This knowledge
becomes known thanks to the miraculous activity of the Mother of God. She changes the nature
of the icon, so that “divine-like beauty” can become visible there. Psellos thus leads us from an
aesthetic or sensible perception of beauty, to one that surpasses human visual perception and that
is orchestrated by the subject of the work of art. As such, it is an aesthetics that offers a model that
differs distinctly from our modernist and representational modes of describing and responding to
works of art. It is a perceptual mode that is governed by surprise and astonishment, as the normal
condition of the thing seen has been miraculously overwhelmed by the subject of re-presentation.
This is an aesthetics that is rooted in the differential play of intelligible beauty and sensible
perception. A framework for our understanding of how this play unfolds in Psellos’s thought can
be found in his On Perception and Perceptibles, his On Beauty and his On Intelligible Beauty. These
reveal a debt to both the Aristotelian and the Platonic traditions that is found throughout Psellos’s
writings and that betrays his adherence to a Late Antique conception of intellectual formation. These
texts show Psellos deploying both an Aristotelian account of the senses and Plotinian accounts of
beauty to address aspects of human perception and intellection. Although very different in their
perspectives, these essays establish themes that recur throughout Psellos’s discussion of works
of art. For example, in On Perception and Perceptibles Psellos follows Aristotle and Alexander of
Aphrodisias in rendering a non-tactile account of human vision. As such, sight finds its cause in
the subject of vision. It is the thing seen that moves the transparent medium (air) and that becomes
manifest as a color impression upon the transparent and watery medium that is the eye. It is this
emphasis upon the thing seen, on movement, change, and color that echoes throughout Psellos’s
other texts and that underpins his accounts of human vision. In contrast, Psellos’s discussions of
Plotinus’s notions of beauty allow him to construct a non-sensible account of an intelligible beauty.
In these essays, Psellos examines the supernatural Beauty that descends from Intellect. His concern
is, therefore, with that beauty that may reside in things but that, ultimately, has its origin in Intellect.
It is a beauty that is not of this world, even if it may descend and become manifest in this world.
An echo of this is to be found in the Ta Kathara letter, where the Mother of the God: “descends into

knowledge only so much that, while her shape is not known, she astounds the viewer.” As such,
Psellos grants control over the descent into knowledge to the Mother of God herself. It is she who
polices how she is to be perceived, only becoming wholly manifest when a miraculous event that she
determines temporarily overcomes the division between heaven and earth, the intelligible and the
sensible. Psellos thus shows an engagement with quite distinct aesthetic legacies, one determined
by a human perceptual horizon, the other open to a Beauty that, strictly speaking, surpasses the
aesthetic. Psellos embraces this double ground when he tells us that: “I do not therefore write about
what I have beheld, but what I have experienced.” For him, the limits of human vision need to be
overcome in order for the experience of divine things to take place.
The potential for conflict between these two perceptual modes, the intellectual and the
sensible, recurs throughout Psellos’s works. It is perhaps most beautifully rendered in his account
of a Crucifixion icon, where we find Psellos grappling with the problem of what can and cannot
be seen in an icon. He begins by establishing the icon’s clarity and accuracy in rendering Christ’s
human body. This is achieved by emphasizing the naturalistic quality of the painting and using a
lengthy and specific evocation of Christ’s body to reiterate the precise and tangible qualities of the
representation. Hence:
But there is something more here, or rather this is a very work of nature, so that the
picture seems to be the product not of art but of nature. For the belly protrudes a bit
from the rest of the body, and its colors make it appear not level with the chest, but it has
distended as is reasonable. For the organs within it force out the belly, and the skin itself
has been stretched at the navel. The heart, liver and whatever naturally branches from
there, namely blood vessels and the <membranes> containing the lung or rather both
lungs are concealed from the viewer. But if the entry point of the wound in his side had
not already closed, we would perhaps have observed through it what I mentioned as if
through a dilator.
This passage’s forensic quality serves to underline the point that one is being invited to see
Christ’s actual body in the painting. It is a proposition that assumes the possibility of an accurate
Although Psellos is at pains in his writings on art to establish the accuracy of any given
rendering, he also always qualifies this understanding by offering doubts regarding the adequacy
of such a rendering for a divine or holy subject. In this way, Psellos indicates that a complete
presentation of the subject of the painting remains beyond painting’s grasp. For while the icon
can present the visual aspects of this subject, other aspects of this subject can only be grasped by
means other than the painting, whose material constraints need to be overcome. This familiar
dualism is developed in an extraordinary and beautiful passage in the Crucifixion ekphrasis, which
speaks of the impossibility of an adequate representation of Christ. Here, Psellos tells us that the:
“whole image seems to be living,” and that: “But, just as beauty exists as a result of the opposition
and harmony of limbs and parts, and yet often a woman is extraordinarily radiant as a result of
entirely different causes, so it is in this case,” and that: “while this living painting exists as a result of
component parts combined most felicitously, the entire living form seems to be beyond this, so that
life exists in the image from two sources, from art which makes a likeness and from grace which
does not liken to anything else.” Psellos, while clearly attentive to the play and variety of the parts in

the image, argues that these in themselves do not produce the living quality in the painting. Rather,
this quality depends upon an understanding of the whole subject.
Given Psellos’s doubts regarding art’s adequate representation of its subject, he needs to examine
ways in which these limits may be overcome. In the Crucifixion ekphrasis this is introduced by way of
the concept of living painting. This was a quality that did not come from the craft of painting, rather:
God inspires with his grace not only creatures who possess reason but also images which
lack life; an indication of this fact is the likenesses which often move, speak and behave
with the power of reason towards those who observe them. These likenesses seem to be
the product of the human hand, but God actually fashions them without our knowing it,
if I may put it thus, and presents them in visible form by using the hand of the craftsman
as his vehicle for the picture.
Clearly, then it is God’s grace that endows an image with this quality. For, it is thanks to God’s
guiding the human hand that these images can become animate. This point is returned to at the end
of the ekphrasis when Psellos remarks upon the accuracy of the painting and then attributes this
quality to an: “oversight that is beyond the painter’s hand and that this overseeing mind had returned
that painting to its prototype.” The introduction of this further origin for the work of art allows
Psellos to explain the uniqueness of this icon when, in the lengthy passage quoted above, he says: “Yet
I would not compare this painting to any other paintings, neither those set up by past hands or that
represented the archetype accurately, nor those from our own time or from a little before that had
made some innovations in form.” Thus, for Psellos, this painting, thanks to divine intervention, has
escaped both the claims of tradition and the inventiveness of contemporary painters. Furthermore,
the presence of this “overseeing mind” helps Psellos to account for his doubled understanding of
the icon, one that draws attention to both the seen and the unseen possibilities in painting. This
doubled quality is found in Psellos’s movement away from the claims to clarity on the part of the
icon and towards an altogether more ambiguous account of the image:
Although this suffering brings him [Christ] in due course to death, the power that moves
the hand of the artist also animates the body that has breathed its last. Thus he has been
distinguished from those living among the dead, and from the dead who live among the
living. For his veiled limbs are somewhat ambiguous, and the visible parts are no less
doubtful. Just as art shrouds it also discloses both the lifeless and the living. This is true
of his bloody garments, whether light or dark, as well as of the living dead presented on
the cross and clearly suffering an excessive death, now living because of the accuracy of
imitation – or rather, then and now in both manners. But there his life is beyond nature and
his death is beyond pain. Here both are beyond the art and the grace that has shaped the art.
It seems, then, that even with divine intervention, the image can only offer a partial account of
its subject. The icon may allow us to see an accurately rendered subject, but it will also permit us to
know that we cannot grasp the whole in the work of art itself.
Psellos’s concern for the visibility of the painting’s subject extended beyond the question of its
making. He was also very interested in the perception of the work. Once again, he was to argue
that the viewer needed assistance in order truly to see the subject of the work of art. The problem
of perception can be found throughout the Ta Kathara letter. Even though this letter begins
by remarking the fastidious quality of Psellos’s viewing, the limitations of this activity are soon

revealed. This begins when the Marian icon astounds him with its beauty, threatening to disable
his senses and his power of judgment. For while her shape is discernible in the icon, her “form is
incomprehensible to me and is sometimes apprehended visually and sometimes conceptually.” Given
this, Psellos chooses not to write of what he has beheld, but of what he has experienced. He thus tells
us that he most overcome the sense of sight in order to see more fully. This is not an argument for
widening the sensory horizon, it is rather an argument for surpassing this. The experience beyond
mere beholding appears to have been one marked by a complete change in the object of vision and
thus in the possibilities for vision. Thus Psellos writes: “having completely exchanged its nature, it
was transformed into the divine-like beauty and surpassed visual perception.” The changing quality
of the object of vision is crucial for Psellos. We have already noted that Psellos followed Alexander
of Aphrodisias’s commentary on Aristotle’s De Sensu in identifying an affective model of vision, in
which the thing seen changes the medium of sight. Similarly, for a divine or holy subject to be truly
seen the medium that permits them to be seen also needs to change. Material representation by
a human artist could depict the corporal nature of its subject, but it could not, where appropriate,
convey the invisible quality of holiness or divinity. For this to become possible, the icon needed to
change. This is what occurs in the icon contemplated by Nikolaos of the Beautiful Source, where
the icon is transformed into the Mother of God’s “entire fleshly nature.” Similarly, the Empress
Zoe’s Christ Antiphonetes icon changes color. Perhaps most crucially, Psellos is our only witness
to a change in the miraculous Marian icon at Blachernae that signals the authentic presence of the
Mother of God, thus validating the judicial process and decision brought before her.
An ethical aspect to viewing is a consistent presence in Psellos’s writings on art. He is interested,
in particular, in the beholder’s preparedness to see. While this could be an intellectual preparation,
it could also be understood in more broadly ethical terms. Hence, when writing his Blachernae
discourse, Psellos notes that an illiterate woman in the crowd could still see the vision, even if
she did not know the words of the hymns. Psellos returns elsewhere to the preparation of the one
looking. This point is reiterated in a letter to John Xiphilinos:
They [i.e. the ancient philosophers] attach the intelligible beauty to the souls based on the
beauty around us; since the former is neither visible nor known in itself, they represent
the prototype to us by way of likenesses. If it is then necessary to ascend to that prototype
by means of knowledge, let us despise corporal beauty as the faintest echo of the perfect
and close to matter; let good pursuits and good deeds and good words raise us up to the
first Beauty.
Psellos also insists upon an ethical preparation for looking at icons themselves. Thus in another
letter, Psellos warns his correspondent that a true vision of the Mother of God will not come to those
who make frequent visits to the icon, but to those who “first and foremost [succeed] in modeling
themselves upon the virtue of the higher ones.” This point is enlarged upon in his account of Nikolaos
of the Beautiful Source, where the abbot is presented as a model of virtue. Psellos’s interest in the
ethical spectator is in part a product of his model of ascent and descent. Ultimately, it is a model that
exceeds the limits of painting itself, a fact that Psellos both recognizes and engages. For the icon,
as a human product, can be a beautiful thing, appreciated for the skill of its manufacture, and even
collected. Yet, for all these qualities, the icon remains limited. As the record of a human perception
of the visible world, it cannot embrace the invisible or the supernatural and therefore struggles to
provide an adequate description of a divine or holy subject. This might lead Psellos to abandon

the work of art as a lowly medium. But, he does not. Rather, he embraces the icon as a necessary
point of exchange between man and God. The icon remains valuable as an expression of what man
might know and as the site for encountering the astounding manner in which divinity, in its excess,
can become present and visible in the work of art. It allows him to speak of the preparation of this
viewer, but it does not lead Psellos to guarantee that such preparation will lead to a vision. This
remains in the gift of the subject seen in and through the painting.
Given the above considerations, it is possible to argue that it is appropriate to speak of both
art and aesthetics in regard to Psellos’s writings on images. Neither term should be read in terms of
their modern usage. Rather both should be read out of Psellos’s texts. There, art is to be understood
as an instance of rational human making that is, in these examples, manifest in painted icons. This
is a very broad understanding that falls in line with ancient thought. The specific work of these
products is to translate human visual perception into artifacts that memorialize this perception
by means of imitation. It is in this regard that we can then speak of an aesthetic. This is not the
systematic or disciplinary study of art as an autonomous object of enquiry. Rather, it is a proposition
that we can better understand Psellos’s conception of art by drawing this close to his understanding
of the senses. This then leads us to a Plotinian legacy in his account of beauty. For there is a beauty
in the work of art itself, but this beauty is but a shadow of the intelligible beauty that exceeds both
the work of art and the senses themselves. It would be wrong to interpret Psellos’s discussions of
art and aesthetics in light of modern conceptions of these terms, but it would be equally wrong to
deny the play of these terms in his texts and thereby ignore the possibility of this author’s discourse
on both art and aesthetics.

Alexey Barmin

Psellos – Participant of the Anti-Latin Polemics of 1054?

It has been suggested recently (Lauritzen F. Psello – discepolo di Stetato? In: Byzantinische
Zeitschrift 101, 2. 2008. S. 715—725; Idem. Stethatos’ Paradise in the Ekphrasis of Mt. Olympos
by Psellos (Orat. Min. 36 Littlewood)? In: Византийский Временник, 70. 2011. P. 139–150) that
Michael Psellos was a “true follower” (“un seguace fedele”) of his elder contemporary Niketas
Stethatos. This point of view has been substantiated in the first line by the similarity between the
opinions of Psellos and Stethatos in three questions: both of them argued that the human soul is
being separated from the body immediately after death, that God limits all things without being
limited by anything and that the evil doesn’t have its own substance. F. Lauritzen opposes the ideas
of both authors on these subjects to the corresponding opinions of John Italos. The researcher notes
also that Psellos described the mount Olympos in Bithynia in terms similar to these employed
by Stethatos in his treatise about Eden – as a point of meeting of heaven and earth, as a place of
spiritual pleasure and as an imperial palace.
Without entering here into a closer examination of the proofs produced by F. Lauritzen, I’d
like to take into consideration another piece of evidence which, to my mind, could shed some
light on the relationship between Psellos and Stethatos. I mean the treatise “On the Last Supper,
that it happened one day before the Passover of the Law, i.e. on the 13th day of moon”. This writing
has drawn attention of P. Gautier when he was studying the manuscript Vat. gr. 2220, datable to
1304–1305. The researcher noticed that the treatise on the f. 30v.–32, wich didn’t bear any indication
of its author in the title, was there among different writings of Michael Psellos. P. Gautier observed
also that this treatise as the neighbouring writing “How the souls of just men and sinners are being
alloted after death” on the f. 36–36v. dwell on the subjects which have been studied by Psellos in
his great cosmological work “De omnifaria doctrina”. Basing on this evidence, the researcher drew
conclusion that the treatise “On the Last Supper” had been written by Michael Psellos (Gautier P.
Un second traité contre les latins attribué à Théophylacte de Bulgarie. In: Θεολογία.1977. T. 48. P.
These considerations gave reason to P. Moore to include the writing in his list of the works
of Psellos. Soon afterwards the new catalog of the manuscripts of the library of the oecumenical
patriarchate confirmed this attribution: the manuscript Panaghia 64 of the end of the 13th century
contains the same treatise bearing the name of Psellos in its title (Moore P. Iter Psellianum. A
Detailed Listing of Manuscript Sources for All Works Attributed to Michael Psellos. Toronto, 2005.
P. 228; Catalogue des manuscrits conservés dans la Bibliothèque du Patriarcat oecuménique. Vol. 1 /
Ed. M. Kouroupou et P. Géhin. Istanbul. P., 2008. P. 200).
The author of the writing argues that the Last Supper happened not on the 14th day of month,
but on the 13th , i.e. on the eve of the Jewish Passover. This chronology is based in the first place on the
testimony of the Gospel according to John who affirms that the Jews were going to eat the Passover
on the day of the crucifixion of Christ. Psellos also remembers the Old Testament prohibition of
eating anything cooked at the Passover meal. To his mind, the dish which the Savior dipped a sop in

on the Last Supper (Joh 13, 26) was containing some cooked food (like a sauce), and in this case the
supper couldn’t have been the Passover meal. The author adduces the Old Testament prescription
to eat the Passover meal with loins girded, with shoes on feet and with staff in hands (Ex 12, 11).
He concludes that all the participants had to do it while they were standing; Psellos opposes this
prescription to the fact that Christ and his disciples were lying on the Last Supper (Mat 26, 20).
Then the author diverts his attention from the question of the chronology of the Last Supper
and looks into eclipse during the crucifixion of Christ – an event mentioned in the Gospel according
to Lucas (Luk 23, 44). Psellos mentions the description of this eclipse in the letter to Policarpos of
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who believed that the moon had then changed its course and
gone backwards. The author refers to the same work when he is reasoning how God stopped the
sun by the prayer of Joshua (Joshua 10, 12–13) and how God made it go back eastwards at the time
of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38, 8). In the first two cases (eclipse during the crucifixion and the miracle of
Joshua) Psellos reproduces the exact words of Maximus the Confessor in his commentary on the
Areopagite. In the last case (the miracle at the time of Hezekiah) Psellos to some extent disagrees
with Maximus because the “fifth turn” (τροπή) of the Sun’s course means for him the late autumn
(μετόπωρον), and for Maximus that meant its miraculous course backwards.
Another source to Psellos was the treatise by John Philoponos “That the Last Supper of the
Lord happened on the 13th day of moon one day before the Passover of the Law and that Christ
with his disciples didn’t eat then the lamb”. Not only the titles of both writings indicate to their
common character, but also their first lines where the Passover of the “Law and Figure” (τὸ νομικὸν
καὶ τυπικὸν πάσχα) is opposed to the “true Easter”(τὸ ἀληθινὸν πάσχα). The Gospels are quoted
practically in the same order in both treatises – initially Mat 5, 17, then Luk 22, 19–20, Joh 18, 28,
Mat 26, 2, Joh 13, 1. From these citations the same conclusions are drawn, the same arguments are
adduced and their wordy expressions are often the same.
The question of the date of the Last Supper got importance in the middle of the 11th century with
the beginning of the Byzantine polemics against the use of the unleavened bread in the Armenian
and Latin liturgy. In fact, if the Last Supper was not a Jewish Passover meal, there should have
been used an ordinary leavened bread and not an azyme for the first Eucharist. Thus the Byzantine
liturgical use of leavened bread in the liturgy gained a serious advantage over the Armenian and
Latin use of azymes.
One of the first writings to discuss the problem of liturgical bread was the first letter of Leon of
Ohrid to John of Trani, and there are some parallels between this treatise and the Psellos’ work. So,
the beginning of the latter with an assertion that the Lord fulfilled and abrogated the Law of Moses
remembers the words of Leon of Ohrid: “With the fulfillment of the Law … the azymes must be
abrogated”. Psellos writes about a “shadow” (σκιά), i.e. the preliminary drawing which disappears
when the final image in colors is painted; the same word is used by Leon of Ohrid when he asserts
in his first letter to John of Trani that the Jews “dwell in shadow” and likens the Law of Moses to the
shadow in his second letter.
But these parallels are scarce and the differences between both writings are more remarkable.
Psellos doesn’t assert directly that Christ used the leavened bread on the Last Supper; he abstains
from direct polemics as he doesn’t mention the liturgical use of Latins. The two authors date the Last
Supper differently, as Leon believes that it began as a Jewish Passover meal on the 14th day of month.

As the Psellos’ dating of the Last Supper fitted the Byzantine polemical goals better than the Leon’s
point of view, it is not surprising that it got assumed by the later Byzantine polemists.
More clear are parallels between the Psellos’ treatise (namely its second part) and the two
polemical works of Niketas Stethatos – his fifth anti-Armenian treatise and the first redaction of
his anti-Latin work “On the azymes”. According to both Stethatos’ writings, the Lord didn’t allow in
miraculous way the full moon to occur on the 14th day of month which happened then on Thursday.
In this way Christ prevented Jews from eating their Passover meal in due time. It is remarkable that
this passage contradicts the dating sustained by Stethatos in both his writings little above where he
affirms that the Last Supper happened on the 13th day of month. Obviously, it were this contradiction
and poor evidence in favor of a “miraculous” interpretation of events which later forced Stethatos to
give up this argument in the second, abridged redaction of his anti-Latin writing.
The arguments of Psellos and Stethatos differ not only textually – the first affirms only that the
solar eclipse during the crucifixion of Christ had an extraordinary character and the latter writes
that the full moon had been postponed by God for one day. At the same time, both authors are
united in their desire to make a tie between the chronology of the Last Supper and the supernatural
action of the Lord. It seems quite probable that one of them had been influenced in this question by
other. In this case, who exerted influence and who was influenced?
As it has been noted above, F. Lauritzen assumes that it were the writings of the elder (Stethatos)
who served as a source of ideas and images to the younger (Psellos). In fact, the latter could be borne
about 20 years after the first. But if one diverts his attention from this difference in age between the
two authors and regards their texts, other conclusions could seem appropriate.
First of all, there isn’t any intrinsic tie between the two parts of Psellos’ writing – the first
one where the date of the Last Supper is discussed in plain terms and the second where the author
dwells on supernatural events in the planets’ course – topics which are very distantly related to
the main subject of the treatise. These supernatural events are brought into consideration because
the evangelist Lucas had mentioned the solar eclipse during the crucifixion of Christ and Pseudo-
Dionysius the Areopagite afterwards had explained it as a consequence of an extraordinary course
of the moon. Thus all this account seems to be for Psellos not so much an argument in favor of his
dating of the Last Supper as a casual appendix to his writing. Quite differently looks the attitude
of Stethatos who is so carried away by the idea of a supernatural force exerted on the course of the
moon that he even doesn’t take notice of the contradiction between two dates of the Last Supper he
espouses in the same writings.
Then, it was not Stethatos but Psellos who indulged in astronomy as it is evident from his
relatively extensive work “On the course of the year, cycles of son and moon, their eclipses and
computing of the Easter”. Among other things, Psellos disagrees in this work with those who
believe that the darkness during the crucifixion of Christ happened from an “occasional” – i.e. not
supernatural – eclipse. This point of view conforms very well with one expressed in the treatise “On
the Last Supper” and is substantiated by the fact that the crucifixion occurred at the Jewish Passover
– consequently, at the time of the full moon when both moon and sun were in directly opposed
parts of the firmament. It is true that Psellos writes here about only four “great turns” (τροπαί) of the
sun – spring, summer, autumn and winter, – whereas in the treatise “On the Last Supper” he counts
five “turns of the year”. But this difference in numbers comes from the mentioned dependence of

Psellos’ writing on the commentary of Maximus the Confessor who also counted five “turns”. On
the other hand, Psellos means under “fifth turn” not the miraculous course of the sun backwards
as Maximus did, but late autumn; he changes in this way an assertion of his predecessor according
to his own views. All these physical problems were far remote from the interests of a theologian as
Stethatos was.
To my mind, this evidence makes sense to believe that it was the Psellos’ treatise “On the Last
Supper” which suggested Stethatos the idea to use an argument of a supernatural interference in the
course of the moon in his reasonings about the date of the Last Supper. If that is true, the Psellos’
treatise should have been written not after the second half of 1053, because Stethatos should have
had enough time for the subsequent preparation of his “Fifth treatise against Armenians” and his
both anti-Latin writings. This dating conforms to the possible influence on Psellos from the first
letter of Leon of Ohrid which has been composed not later than in 1053 when a response to it
has been written by pope Leon IX or in his name. It is also possible that the common traits in the
writings of Psellos and Leon of Ohrid go back to the patristic heritage – e.g., to the treatises “Against
Jews” of John Chrysostomos.
It is difficult to tell if Psellos’ writing aimed polemics against Armenians, or Latins, or both
Armenians and Latins. As one can conclude from existing sources, the oral polemics against Latins
began in 1051 when the katepan of the Southern Italy Argyros came on a visit to Constantinople;
the anti-Armenian writings should have appeared in 1049–1053, when the catholicos Petros I
dwelt there. Probably, the question didn’t seem very important to Psellos as he mentioned only
the question of Filioque on a proper occasion later in his praise to the late patriarch Keroullarios
and passed over in silence other points of disagreement, including the azymes. The succinctness
of the treatise and the silence over liturgical differences with other Christians make one think that
religious polemics of the time didn’t interest Psellos very much – even if he consented to take part in
them indirectly. Being obviously much more interested in astronomy, he found the way to draw it to
the subject of the dating of the Last Supper. Seemingly, his reasonings on this occasion about cases
of divine interference in the planets’ course suggested to Stethatos the idea of divine interference in
the course of the moon at the time of Christ’s passion.

Floris Bernard.

(No title)

Psellos definitely wrote texts in verse, but is he a poet? The question is not as absurd as it
first appears. As is well known, on many occasions Psellos provided his readers with explanations,
justifications, and clarifications on the style, aims and intellectual programme of his writings.
Through his works, we meet Psellos in various roles: Psellos the polyvalent teacher, Psellos the earnest
historiographer, Psellos the skilled orator, and of course the most cherished self-representation of
all, Psellos the philosopher. But Psellos the poet is conspicuously absent. Psellos never describes
himself as a poet, he never compares his works with those of other poets, past or contemporary, and
he nowhere reflects specifically on the poems he wrote.
Instead of the distinction between poetry and prose, Psellos’ mental landscape is dominated
by the opposition between rhetoric and philosophy, which not only corresponds to a distinction
between disciplines of knowledge, but also between different types of discourse and even different
lifestyles and cultural and social ideals. Poetry cannot claim to embody one of these.
In accounts of his own education, Psellos either totally ignores poetry (in his Chronographia),
or states that he was impatient to leave the subject of poetry behind and to move on to the more
attractive subject of rhetoric (in the Encomium for his mother). When talking about the competing
teachers in contemporary Constantinople (in the Funeral oration for Xiphilinos), he reserves the
Platonic derisory term pandemos (“vulgar”) for chairs of poetry. We have to clarify here that Psellos
is referring to the education of poetry at school, comprising the reading and interpretation of Homer
and the knowledge of ancient meters, which were parts of the grammatical curriculum. However,
one cannot escape the impression that the reputation of poetry as a whole was influenced by this
image of juvenility and lack of seriousness.
And yet, a corpus of several thousands of verses is transmitted under Psellos’ name. Michaelis
Psellis poemata is the title of a hefty Teubner volume, edited by Leendert Gerrit Westerink. But
the title is somewhat misleading. Half of the texts of that volume are marked as “spuria”. They
are transmitted under the name of Psellos in the manuscripts, but Westerink dismissed Psellos’
authorship of these poems on several grounds. Sometimes the manuscripts with an attribution to
Psellos are clearly in the minority and are also otherwise not to be trusted in matters of author
identification. Sometimes, a defective metrical technique excludes Psellian authorship. In other
cases, Westerink pointed to incompatibilities with what we know of Psellos’ biography.
The fact that there were so many spuria is interesting in itself. Michael Psellos seems to have
become a household name for especially didactic poetry, but also for entertaining intellectual
Perhaps Westerink’s firm distinction between “authentic” and “spurious” is not very helpful.
Many of the poems considered authentic by Westerink, especially some shorter ones, are dubious
themselves, as Psellos’ name is only transmitted by a limited number of testimonies (sometimes just
one), which are not always that trustworthy.

But this does not affect the core of Psellos’ poetry. This consists, first, of some exceptionally
long didactic poems: on the titles of the psalms, the Song of Songs, medicine and law. A group
of shorter didactic poems forms a cycle, as Hörandner observed, ostensibly offered to the young
imperial prince Michael. Subjects of these poems are grammar, dogmas, church councils, and
canon law. A poem on rhetoric perhaps also belonged to this cycle. All of the major didactic poems
except the one on medicine are written in politikos stichos. Furthermore, there are two poems
dedicated to Isaac Komnenos, which, although not ranked among the “didactica”, have a didactic
undertone as well. Rather well-known is the long funeral poem for Maria Skleraina, mistress of
Constantine IX Monomachos. Psellos also wrote two remarkable invectives, a celebratory officium
for Symeon Metaphrastes, and a paraphrase of Kosmas’ canon on Holy Thursday. Iambic trimeter,
or dodecasyllable, is the preferred meter for these poems, but, remarkably, Psellos also wrote two
poems in the form of the canon.
This poetic oeuvre reflects many roles and occupations of Psellos: as a courtier, as a combative
intellectual, and, predominantly, as a teacher. Trying to cover all these genres and purposes would
inhibit me from going into any detail, so I will focus henceforth on his didactic poetry, forming the
bulk of his corpus in verse.
Westerink’s impressive apparatus fontium shows how Psellos in each didactic poem closely
follows an existing source. His dependence on a single text is spectacularly, and perhaps even
embarrassingly, discernible in the poem on the Song of Songs, as Luciano Bossina has shown.
Psellos not only duly takes over the interpretations and even the wordings, of Gregory of Nyssa’s
exegesis, but he also breaks off his own commentary at exactly the same place where also Gregory’s
exegesis stops, flatly announcing that the Song of Songs has come to an end, while a significant part
is in fact left uncovered. Psellos also fails to comment on the first four verses, which is due to some
particularities in the transmission of Gregory’s text.
Psellos’ didactic poems can thus legitimately be described as metrical paraphrases, but they
also clearly belong to the genre of didactic literature. The first person singular speaks as a teacher
addressing a pupil, who is, with one exception, emperor or son of the emperor. At frequent intervals
in the text, Psellos addresses this pupil, often exhorting him with imperatives such as “know”, “learn”,
“hear”. He also anticipates questions from him, responds to his supposed amazement, and draws his
attention to remarkable points.
But unlike the didactic poetry we know from Antiquity, Psellos’ poems cannot be seen as literary
re-elaborations of their subject. They do not narrate, embellish, or amplify. They are in essence lists
of explanatory glosses to difficult terms, lemmas, or textual passages that need interpretation. The
only significant discursive operations, apart from providing a didactic setting, are: selecting and
summarizing the existing material, and versifying it. In fact, these two operations are interrelated.
Psellos himself reflects on the purposes of his didactic poetry in the poem on medicine.
Perhaps he felt a need to do so because at this point he had been explaining at length the colors
and odors of urine. He states, with a traditional topos, that he wanted his colleague intellectuals to
gain knowledge of the subject while being attracted by the charis of the meter. We are left with the
question what this charis means exactly to Psellos and his public.
The politikoi stichoi poems also advertise their own qualities. Clarity and conciseness are the
two most important. Combined, they result in the quality of “synoptical”: that is, enabling to have

at a glance an overview of the subject. The terms synopsis, synoptikos and synopsizein frequently
occur in the poems, and synopsis is also found in the titles above poem 8 on law, and above the cycle
beginning with the poem on grammar (poem 6). In the poem on law, this “synoptical” feature is
also connected to the quality of eutheratos, “easy to catch”. The impression Psellos wants to give, is
that his poems provide concise summaries, where you can easily find the answer you are looking for.
In the poem on rhetoric, he brags that he has summarized the whole discipline of rhetoric
in one small roll. The sheer material aspect may indeed have played a role in the motivation to
write in verse. After all, in poetry, the text is laid out line by line. Therefore, these poems are also
visually structured as lists, dividing knowledge in small entries, vertically aligned. The metrical
pattern moreover ensures that each of this entries is of equal length. One can easily imagine how
this enhances the “synopticality” (“surveyability”) of the subject matter.
But the rhythm of the politikos stichos was of course mainly there to be heard. When we want
to imagine the attraction of rhythm, the transfixing power that it could have on its listener, then
we only need to turn to some of Psellos’ statements about the effects of his own eloquence. In one
letter (Sathas 189), he describes how people dance, applaud, and are transported by his words, and
notably by their enchanting rhythms. While all this can apply to prose as well, in this letter Psellos
specifies that these musical qualities can be found in both prose and poetry.
Another letter (Sathas 187) reiterates the conceit of mixing philosophical thoughts with
rhetorical charm. Psellos specifies that he “labours on rhythm in my words, and on metron.” In
contrast to rhythm, metron refers more unambiguously to poetry. Also the context of this letter is
interesting. Psellos is actually giving advice to a teacher about how to initiate a pupil into philosophy.
Rhythm, and, as it seems, poetry specifically, can be engaged to make subject matter attractive, not
just to a general public, but to an audience of students.
This brings us back to charis. In Psellos’ metadiscursive statements, charis refers to rhetorical
charm, resulting in a pleasurable, and indeed sensual, reading experience, as Stratis Papaioannou
has shown. Melody, harmony, and rhythm come up very frequently in connection with charis. To be
sure, the kind of elegantly phrased, sophisticated prose also exhibits these features. But in Psellian
discourse, the boundaries between poetry and prose collapse: poetic discourse is, essentially, a
rhetorical pattern of rhythmical cola taken to the extreme. This eminently applies to the politikos
stichos, the first widely used stichic meter solely based on accentual rhythm and not on arcane
prosody. This meter does not satisfy the classicizing standards of the intellect, but the sensory
experience of the ear.
One text gives us a surprising clue to understand Psellos’ reticence about his poetry and the
expectations of his milieu towards politikoi stichoi and didactic poetry. This is a fragment from his
funeral oration for Xiphilinos, at a point when Psellos portrays his friend’s rhetorical talents.
In contrast to what most orators thought necessary, he did not divide rhetoric into different
parts, nor did he compress its infinite power by turning it into something like a synoptic work,
in similar fashion to those who separate the sea from the great waters; instead, he discovered all
its effects and principles, and adopted these in his work, not by making a synopsis of its wealth
for common people or lazy and indolent emperors, but by demonstrating its whole amplitude.
Psellos praises Xiphilinos for not doing what he very obviously has done himself: making
selective summaries for emperors. Even the vocabulary is remarkably reminiscent of the terms that

occur in Psellos’ didactic poems. The word synopsis, used twice in this fragment, was explicitly the
quality his poems strive after. This gives us an idea of the criticism potentially leveled at Psellos’
didactic poems, which he here perhaps wanted to atone for. Compressing knowledge in synopseis
is seen as a rejectable kneefall for the ordinary tastes and intellectual laziness of non-elite people.
This brings us to the imperial dedications of the didactic poems in politikoi stichoi. These are
not straightforward, since the lemmata above the poems in the manuscripts disagree as to which
emperor the poems are dedicated to. Most poems are dedicated to either Constantine Monomachos
or Michael Doukas, depending on the manuscript, and poem 2, according to one manuscript, was
even written for Nikephoros Botaneiates. One lemma, above poem 6, gives more circumstantial
evidence: it specifies that Constantine X Doukas had ordered Psellos to write a synopsis of all
sciences, for the benefit of his son, soon to become Michael VII Doukas. As Wolfram Hörandner
has shown, the title pertains not only to poem 6, but to a cycle of didactic poems also comprising
poems 3, 4, and 5, on dogmas, church councils, canon law. All these poems were also dedicated to
Constantine Monomachos according to a significant number of manuscripts; one manuscript of
poem 5 even mentions Psellos’ first name Constantine, which he had before he became monk. It
thus seems that Psellos simply repackaged some poems initially written for Monomachos, in order
to suit the wishes of the Doukas family.
One may wonder whether that wasn’t a little inconvenient. But then we perhaps overestimate
the importance that emperors attached to the didactic poetry made by their court poets. When in
his Chronographia, Psellos himself recounts his teaching to imperial pupils, he mentions how he
enticed Monomachos with his learning, but if Monomachos’ interest would have gone beyond a
short-lived infatuation, as it now appears, Psellos would certainly have mentioned this. His portrait
of Michael VII Doukas, while otherwise full of panegyric praise, is rather disparaging about the
scope of learning addressed by teacher and imperial student, when it comes to details. Michael only
dabbled with average success in the writing of… poetry.
Are the didactic poems in fact written with an imperial audience in mind? The first poem, on the
titles of psalms, has an interesting sublayer. One branch of manuscript has no imperial dedications, and
also the addresses to the emperor in the poem itself are left out or replaced by addresses to philologoi.
This may seem the work of a later redactor, so Westerink did not adopt those readings, but he was
not aware of one remarkable manuscript. This is the Clarke 15, a splendid small psalter, preceded by
some poems of a certain Mark the Monk, and also by a fragment taken from the end of Psellos’ poem
1. The readings in that fragment correspond exactly to the branch of manuscript concerned here.
Importantly, Clarke 15 is dated to 1078, which would mean that the branch of manuscripts without
imperial dedication goes back to a version still made during Psellos’ lifetime.
We should thus not be led astray by the dedications. It seems obvious that the poems were already
consumed by a non-imperial audience during Psellos’ life. I would suggest that he used them, with
or without clear traces of imperial dedication, for his teaching of “normal” students as well. It is no
coincidence that later compilers and readers avidly took to Psellos’ poems as convenient summaries of
knowledge, even though they duly copied the imperial dedications. These added prestige to the author,
but would certainly not inhibit the demand of a broader audience for metrical summaries of this kind.
The question of dedicatees cannot be seen separated from the question of meter. This is obvious
enough when we think that the only poem not sporting any imperial dedication is also the only

poem written in dodecasyllables rather than politikos stichos. This is the poem on medicine, which,
as Psellos clarifies, was written for friends, that is, grammaticians, rhetors and philosophers, in sum,
members of the intellectual elite.
For them, the use of politikos stichos would be unacceptable. In these circles, it was not seen
as a meter at all. Contemporary metrical treatises or manuals do not deign to treat the politikos
stichos. Mauropous, teacher of Psellos, attacks someone who had written verse without meter, that
is, ametron metron, undoubtedly intending politikos stichos. Niketas Stethatos uses the same phrase
to describe the poetry of Symeon the New Theologian, purely accentual poetry neglecting prosody.
In front of his imperial patrons, however, Psellos vaunted the attractions of the meter and the
simpler register that it entailed. It is in fact logical that Psellos, in his funeral oration for Xiphilinos,
had put lazy and indolent emperors on a par with common people. Their literary tastes were the same.
It has often been conveniently overlooked that the didactic poems of Psellos form the first
extensive corpus of politikoi stichoi, and contain the very first reference to the term politikos stichos
in the poems themselves (namely at the end of poem on the Song of Songs). The attributes “popular”,
“vernacular”, and the idea that politikos stichos is close to the rhythmical heartbeat of the real people,
sit rather unwell with Psellos’ image of an elitist, disingenuous writer.
And, as the fragment from the funeral oration to Xiphilinos shows, they also rather sit unwell
with the self-image Psellos himself wanted to impart. The poem on medicine was a first attempt to
present knowledge in a respectable meter, but, as the failing beginning and end of the poem show,
he probably never got round to completing a final version of the text.
The poems in politikos stichos, by contrast, are all finalized products. Packaging these poems as
a gift was a viable strategy to gain favor at the court, and for the public at large, enhanced his image
of imperial preceptor. They satisfied a very broad demand for simplified, summarized knowledge
that used simpler language and could be performed orally in a rhythm that really entices the ear
instead of trying to accommodate fossilized prosodic structures.
But in the careful construction of his self-image elsewhere, there was no need to draw the
attention once more to the writing of summaries for indolent emperors, in a meter that commanded
no respect in intellectual circles. For all of the thousands of verses that Psellos has written, he was
still not, nor did he wish to be, a poet.

Jean-Claude Cheynet

Michel Psellos, administrateur

Michel Psellos fut simultanément le grand intellectuel du XIe siècle, mais aussi un homme
d’action. Il accomplit une magnifique carrière politique, certes en connaissant des moments de
disgrâce. Il eut tout de même le temps de travailler au sein de l’administration impériale, comme
un fonctionnaire ordinaire. C’est cet aspect des activités de Psellos que je vais examiner sous deux
points de vue : Psellos gérant ses propres biens et Psellos au service de l’Etat. Pour en juger, nous
ne disposons que de textes provenant de la main de Psellos et chacun sait que ce dernier avait une
tendance marquée à l’autosatisfaction.
La gestion par Psellos de ses biens personnels ne fut pas toujours, semble-t-il, une réussite.
N’ayant pas hérité d’une fortune familiale substantielle, sa richesse lui fut octroyée par les empereurs
dont il fut l’ami. Il obtint un palais en viager et une grosse quantité de nomismata, mais il subit au
cours de sa vie des pertes considérables. Un voleur lui déroba une importante somme en liquide,
300 nomismata, destinés à acheter une propriété, le laissant dans une « pauvreté philosophique ». Il
fut également dépossédé d’une partie de sa fortune à la suite d’un procès perdu, lorsqu’il dut offrir
une compensation financière à Elpidios Kenchrès, fiancé de sa fille, lorsque les fiançailles furent
ensuite rompues sous le prétexte de l’inconduite du jeune homme.
En revanche, Psellos eut plus de succès avec la série de monastères qu’il avait obtenus des
souverains en charisticariat. D’après sa correspondance, il s’est soucié d’investir intelligemment
pour procurer des revenus à ces établissements. Ses placements avaient l’inconvénient de se porter
sur des propriétés possédées à titre viager et cela explique peut-être que, sous Alexis Comnène, un
petit-fils de Psellos en était réduit à faire appel à la charité d’un $ membre de la famille Kamatèros,
par l’intermédiaire de Théophylacte d’Achrida.
Psellos fut aussi chargé de la gestion des biens d’autrui, comme épitrope de Théodore Alôpos,
un proche collègue. Ce dernier était originaire de Rhodes et Psellos, après sa mort, écrivit au juge
des Cibyrrhéotes pour que les enfants du défunt, sans doute mineurs, se voient restituer les terres et
les animaux dont les voisins s’étaient illégalement emparés.
Psellos commença sa carrière publique comme grammatikos de l’empereur Constantin
Monomaque. Ses qualités le firent remarquer et progresser au sein de l’administration. Il avait été
très tôt initié au métier de fonctionnaire thématique, en entrant dans la suite d’un juge, lui-même
issu d’une illustre famille de fonctionnaires civils, un Kataphlôros. Psellos fut juge du thème des
Bucellaires, qui n’était pas le plus prestigieux de l’Empire, mais n’était pas trop éloigné de la capitale.
On ignore à quel moment de sa vie se situe cet épisode et plusieurs hypothèses sont possibles. Il fut
sans doute aussi juge des Thracésiens, poste plus glorieux. De ses activités de juge, Psellos retient
que Môrocharzanès, l’un de ses successeurs comme juge des Bucellaires, n’a pas pu dénoncer un
jugement que lui-même avait rendu après enquête, car Môrocharzanès n’avait pas sa compétence.
Il se montre également très sensible à l’excellent accueil que lui auraient fait les habitants de
Philadelphie, lorsqu’il était revenu dans ce thème après y avoir un temps exercé la fonction de juge.

Certains habitants se souvenaient de lui et l’entourèrent en l’embrassant, avant de lui présenter une
demande d’intercession pour un allègement fiscal.
Rien dans l’œuvre de Psellos, notamment dans ses lettres, ne nous informe sur son activité de
juge, les décisions qu’il a prises. En fait, Psellos exerça peu de temps en province. La majeure partie
de sa vie, à l’exception de son retrait temporaire dans un monastère bithynien, il resta à la cour de
Constantinople, où il se transforma en lobbyiste. C’est la facette de Psellos que nous connaissons le
mieux, car la majeure partie de ses lettres concerne ses interventions en faveur de ses amis auprès de
juges qu’il connaît, et en faveur des fonctionnaires envoyés en province qui, craignant les calomnies
de cour, redoutent de perdre la faveur impériale, source d’avancement et de richesses.
Il fut aussi appelé à rédiger des chrysobulles diplomatiques qui exigeaient, outre la connaissance
du protocole, le sens de la mesure et de la précision à propos des clauses concrètes. Nous n’avons pas
conservé les chrysobulles que Psellos écrivit pour le calife fatimide pour le compte de Constantin
Monomaque, mais, avec sa modestie habituelle, le rédacteur se vante, dans la Chronographie, d’avoir
corrigé les formules trop humbles que l’empereur adressait au calife. En revanche, nous pouvons
encore apprécier le talent de Psellos lorsqu’il rédigea le chrysobulle en faveur de Robert Guiscard,
au nom de Michel VII Doukas.
Psellos fut assurément un meilleur spécialiste des affaires publiques que de la gestion de ses
biens personnels.

Dejan Dželebdžić

Michael Psellos’ Historia Syntomos

(No text)

Elizabeth A. Fisher
(George Washington University, Washington DC)


Let me start by saying that I am pleased and gratified to be included in this Psellos Roundtable
with scholars whose work I admire and have used. I would also like to thank Frederick Lauritzen
for organizing this discussion and for inviting me to participate in it.
To begin, I note with appreciation that our organizer has compiled and circulated over the years
a list of publications on Psellos, including critical editions and interpretations of his hagiographical
writings. I do not therefore intend to attempt a bibliographical survey of that topic. Instead, I will
examine the scholarly resources and directions for new research that have emerged and developed
since I produced my own critical edition of Psellos’ hagiographical essays, Michaelis Pselli Orationes
hagiographicae (Teubner 1994). What I have to say reflects my own experience but will also apply to
other editors not only of Psellos’ hagiographical texts but also of other categories of Psellos’ immense
literary output.
The Teubner series aimed to provide a comprehensive publication of Psellos’ innumerable
works in distinct categories like hagiography, philosophy, poetry, funerary orations, forensic
compositions, etc. The collection of Psellos’ hagiographical orations as conceptualized by L. G.
Westerink includes eight logoi on various holy subjects. Only the vita of Auxentios and the encomion
of Symeon Metaphrastes represent traditional hagiographical compositions, i.e. biographies of
men and women who lived extraordinarily holy lives, although additional vitae and encomia may
await identification and publication. For example, G. Makris recently edited an encomion of St.
Panteleemon preserved in two 11th-century manuscripts and argued that Psellos authored that
encomion as well as unpublished vitae of Sts. Kallinikos, Laurentios, and Prokopios (Kotzabassi and
Mavromatis 2009). Thus Psellos’ traditional hagiographical compositions represent two separate
genres (the vita and the encomion) and also present the challenge of attributing anonymous works
that resemble Psellos’ compositions to Psellos himself. Makris used now classic studies of Psellos’
literary style (Renauld [1920], Böhlig [1956], Sevcenko [1981], and Ljubarskij [1978 and 2004])
as well as Kaldellis’ recent stylistic assessment (2006) in order to provide parallels for passages
from the unattributed encomion of Panteleemon. It is difficult to provide definitive proof of
such a stylistic attribution; Paschalides considers the encomion of Pantaleemon “securely” Psellos’
(Efthymiades 2011), while Kaltsogianni (BMCR 2010.06.07) is less certain. Because the Thesaurus
Linguae Graecae has expanded to include medieval texts, the prospect of assessing an anonymous
work in terms of an author’s unconscious stylistic habits has become at least possible, based on
solid philological evidence. Patterns of favored word usage and habitual word collocations can be
examined and tested with the aid of the TLG. However, formulating productive searches for this
rich resource is a significant challenge.
The remaining six hagiographical logoi in the Teubner hagiography collection illustrate
Westerink’s recognition that the category “holy subjects” extends beyond saints’ lives and into
broader areas of Psellos’ thinking, such as reflections upon events celebrated in feasts of the Church.

Four orations commemorate scriptural and liturgical events, i.e. the Presentation of the Theotokos
in the Temple, the Annunciation, the Beheading of John the Baptist, and the Crucifixion, while
an unusual historical oration describes the miraculous intervention of the Archangel Michael
during Heraclius’ Persian campaign. This oration testifies to the power of holy individuals to affect
historical events and to leave physical evidence (the immovable military cross in the Archangel’s
church) as evidence of their supernatural activity. The Blachernae Oration is also an unusual item
among hagiographical logoi. In it Psellos turns his attention to the functioning of the Byzantine
court system and proposes a new method to decide vexed legal cases using a miracle in place of the
normal and corruptible system of Byzantine courts and judges with special jurisdictions. The oration
becomes in effect a detailed discussion of contemporary Byzantine legal practice and theory, which
Psellos accomplishes by quoting and explicating fifteen separate Basilics related to legal procedure
and jurisdiction of courts (Oration 4. 498-603). Twice Psellos interrupts his catalogue of relevant
laws to quote his own legal writings verbatim—On Divination by Shoulder Bones and Bird Flight
(Philol. 8, 1853) at 522-24 and On the Division of Legal Actions (Weiss 1973) at 579-83. The oration
demonstrates either that Psellos had near total recall for laws and his own legal writings or that these
texts stood near his writing table as he worked. Psellos’ famous description in this oration of the
miraculous lifting of the Virgin’s veil at the Blachernae Church, so well known to art historians, is
incidental to Psellos’ primary purpose (Fisher 2012).
In short, Westerink’s rather elastic category “Orations on Holy Subjects” reflects his recognition
that the Byzantines admitted spiritual reasoning into areas we consider secular, i.e. military history
and legal theory. Teubner’s division of Psellos’ writings into volumes classified by generic subject
matter is a useful organizational method, but it does not represent Byzantine categories of thought.
For example, Hinterberger recognizes hagiographical elements in Psellos’ funeral oration for the
abbot Nicholas and notes strong affinities between Psellos’ biography of his mother and a traditional
hagiographical vita (Efthymiades 2014). Kaldellis moreover sees an ironic comment on the genre
of hagiography in Psellos’ Chronographia. Although the rather eccentric Chronographia belongs to
the genre of history, in it Psellos praises the notoriously self-indulgent Constantine IX Monomachos
as holy or “divine” (theios); in Kaldellis’ view, Psellos may be subtly questioning the concept of a
saint and warning his Byzantine audience to read with a skeptical eye his own heavily rhetorical
hagiographical essays (Kaldellis 1999). Similarly, in a much admired analysis of Psellos’ Vita
Auxentii Kazhdan (1983) noted the striking and even amusing parallels Psellos inserted to make
the saint resemble the hagiographer himself (e.g., both loved to sing).
Despite Teubner’s rather procrustean classification system, critical editions of Psellos’ works
are essential to our field, and Teubner makes editions available not only in individual volumes but
also in a complete online set that may be purchased at awe-inspiring cost. For libraries reluctant
to sacrifice shelf space and readers without ready access to a scholarly library, the online collection
is a great step forward. Time will tell where it leads us. An emerging online venue for Byzantine
texts and translations is the stable URL, where length is not a consideration and additions and
corrections are easy for an author to make once a text is uploaded. Harvard’s Center for Hellenic
Studies has given an electronic home to a few Byzantine texts, such as my own heavily annotated
translations of Psellos’ encomion for Symeon Metaphrastes and of his oration on the Blachernae
miracle (http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5584). A Google search yields the site readily,
where the translation is available in full at no cost to readers and without restriction on the author

regarding subsequent print publication. In fact, in addition to publication on the Center’s site, these
two orations will be included in a volume of translations forthcoming from Notre Dame University
Press and dedicated to Psellos’ writings on literature and art (ed. Barber and Papaioannou). Due to
the constraints of publishing hard copy, readers of the Notre Dame translations will be referred to
the notes in the online publication for the Greek text of passages that are discussed in detail in the
print publication.
I have also found that online publication offers an editor or translator useful opportunities
unavailable once a text is published in hard copy. The Center for Hellenic Studies allowed me to
make a few changes to my translation and to include as a frontispiece on the site a high quality
digital image of Psellos accompanied by his eye-rolling student Michael VII Doukas who requested
the oration (Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain Mark 1.0). The image cost nothing either
to me or to the online publisher but adds a visually arresting imperial context for Psellos’ work.
Online publication also provides resources that assist scholars greatly in producing a critical
edition. Online manuscript catalogues are searchable, and manuscripts themselves are gradually
coming online. Thus the tasks of locating and collating manuscripts is becoming easier, more
efficient, and available to more scholars. Also, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae has expedited
immeasurably the task of compiling a corpus fontium, as I have experienced in the course of editing,
annotating, and translating Psellos’ texts on the Blachernae miracle and on Symeon the Metaphrast.
When I began editing these texts for Teubner, the TLG was available only in its very early stages,
and a search of the full corpus could take hours. Nevertheless, pure gold was to be found. One
of my fellow Teubner editors, for instance, was astonished to learn that the TLG had enabled me
to identify the phrase “nets of <rhetorical> delights” (Symeon Metaphrastes lines 262-63) as a
reference to Longinus’ fragmentary Ars rhetorica. Without the TLG, an editor relied upon verbal
memory to identify references like this. However excellent, human memory is not a resource able
to match the limitless potential of the TLG. As classical works first entered the TLG canon, we
recognized the broad range of authors read and quoted by learned Byzantine authors like Psellos;
with the addition of medieval texts, we continue to learn what Byzantine authors were familiar
to Psellos and his contemporaries. For example, in the encomion to Symeon Metaphrastes (line
272) Psellos displays his own wide reading and vast command of obscure vocabulary by using the
previously hapax prosembibazein, a rare word evidently coined by the patriarch Nicolaus I Mysticus
in his correspondence to Pope Anastasius III (Ep. 32, on the fourth marriage of Leo VI). The future
promises further revelations, as editions of Byzantine theological writings become available and
enter the TLG database.
Although Google Scholar enables scholars to locate editions and translations rapidly and
Google Books makes sections of valuable texts available online, we have not solved the problem of
simultaneous labor on the same text by two scholars unknown to one another. The online registry of
editions and translations in progress maintained by Alexandra Bucossi is an attempt to address this
frustrating and wasteful situation, provided that individual scholars make use of it (greek.editions.
translations@gmail.com). A stable URL as home for Bucossi’s valuable initiative is highly desirable.
Finally, I would like to outline the direction of my own current research in the hagiographical
writings of Psellos. As an extraordinary intellectual and accomplished rhetorician, Psellos is not a
typical hagiographer, although Paschalides notes that he shares interests and qualities with other

11th-century scholars like Xiphilinos, Theophylact of Ohrid, and Mauropous, and further that both
Psellos and Mauropous entered the lively controversy that denied the possibility of recognizing new,
i.e. contemporary, saints (Efthymiades 2011). Psellos contested this view by composing not only
an encomion of Symeon the Metaphrast but also a canon for the Metaphrast, thus creating a sort
of festal resource for celebrating a new saint. Was this aspect of Psellos’ hagiographical activity an
initiative to gain sainthood for Symeon Metaphrastes, a scholar like Psellos himself? Since there
was no formal route of canonization in Byzantium, this question has brought me to examine what
process enabled the Byzantine Church to recognize a new saint. In the case of St. Symeon the
Metaphrast, the process begun by Psellos took several centuries and very nearly foundered.
Michel Kaplan (1990) has sketched the qualities that characterize a saint by analyzing some ten
saints of the Middle Byzantine period; I have relied upon his detailed and insightful work in order to
compile a tentative list of qualifications for Byzantine sainthood. At this point in my research, the
list is subject to reconsideration and revision.
First, a saint was a man or woman considered to be the recipient of extraordinary gifts
from God and therefore the object of attention from followers; among these followers was an
associate who recorded the events and miracles occurring during the saint’s virtuous life and
even after his or her blessed death. Second, a public tradition honored and venerated the saintly
person persistently through time by such means as the formation of a cult, pilgrimage to the holy
gravesite, or commemoration during the celebration of the liturgy. Third and finally, the status of
a saint merited the establishment of a special day of commemoration recognized in the liturgy of
the Church and recorded in one of three forms of chronological records that contained material
associated with the saints—the menologion, or collection of saints’ lives; the menaion or collection
of liturgical texts used in celebrating individual saints’ feast days; and finally and definitively, the
Synaxarion of Constantinople that consisted of a series of short notices describing the subject of
each feast celebrated in the Great Church of St. Sophia. It must be noted that some figures achieved
extraordinary status near to sainthood but never received that final elevation into the Synaxarion
of Constantinople. The martyred 10th-century emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (963-69) is such
a figure. Although the day of his death was commemorated for a time with a special office or
akolouthia, his cult gained no official recognition in the Orthodox Church and soon disappeared
(Dagron 2005). Although Psellos’ encomion and canon provided the faithful with a liturgical means
to honor Symeon Metaphrastes, the two works did not survive together in the manuscript tradition.
The encomion apparently achieved some limited popularity, surviving in two manuscripts
of the 13th century, one of the 14th and one of the 15th. However, Psellos’ canon for the Metaphrast
barely survived at all, preserved only in a single manuscript of the late 13th or early 14th century
as a part of an akolouthia for the Metaphrast. My current project seeks to determine whether the
akolouthia incorporating Psellos’ canon was a composition of the Palaeologan period and effectively
augmented Psellos’ compositions in order to provide a more robust resource for celebrating a feast in
honor of Symeon the Metaphrast. The process of gaining holy status for the secular scholar Symeon
Metaphrastes extended into the mid 15th century, when Mark Eugenikos composed the entry for
St. Symeon Metaphrastes (November 28) in the Synaxarion of Constantinople and established in
the calendar of the Great Church a feast honoring the “new” saint presented by Psellos some four
centuries earlier.

Michael Grünbart
Münster, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität

The Letters of Michael Psellos and Their Function

in Byzantine Epistolary Culture

Letters are normally preserved as coherent selections or larger collections in manuscripts.

Modern editions mostly follow the classical approach of text editions that try to establish an
archetypus. They often create the impression of a definitive and complete collection of one letter-
writer; different stages of transmissions and variants in the wording of letters are abandoned into
the apparatus criticus.
Although letters were originally exchanged they turned into literature; after being copied and
stored by a learned audience they started a second life and sometimes they became model letters or
were reused with slight modifications (Grünbart 2015).
New philology and digital edition techniques put special emphasis on textual variants and
multi-faceted transmission. Scribes are no longer been seen as mechanically copying a text, but
actively “reworking” and recycling it (Cerquiglini 1999 and Nichols 1990, 8). Variance is an inherent
characteristic of medieval literature (Nichols 1990, 8-9). Cerquiglini and Nichols argue that each
manuscript witness (“Textzeuge”) has to be treated as an equally important manifestation of medieval
writing and as a characteristic usage of a certain piece of text. Both render traditional editorial
methods unsuitable for these texts. Reading Byzantine letters the importance of variants become
apparent because they are indicators of re-modelling and second-hand usage (see below). Another
important issue of digital edition technique is that editors now deal with “documents” rather than
“works” (Robinson 2013, 107), a premise that can perfectly adapted to Byzantine epistolography as
well. A letter preserved in a manuscript is a unique document with an individual context.
In a project dealing with the Byzantine epistolary tradition in toto the ways of arranging
collections and organizing letters in a single manuscript will be investigated. It should lead to a better
understanding of Byzantine epistolary culture and the place of letter-writing in the educational system.
Problems of transmission become apparent in various cases. One of the most prominent
examples is the correspondence of Michael Psellos. He belongs to the most prolific Byzantine letter-
writers, his letters are preserved in many manuscripts (Papaioannou 1998 and 2013) and their new
edition is expected eagerly (Papaioannou forthcoming). 515 letters are attributed to the scholar
and politician (copied in 19 principals mss, and another25 mss with individual pieces Papaioannou
2012, 301).
In an instructive article Stratis Papaioannou discussed the transmission of Byzantine letters
(asking both how many manuscripts contain letters of a certain letter-writer and how many letter-
writers are known by just a single manuscript, Papaioannou 2012, 291-295) and put special emphasis
on collections of Michael Psellos (Papaioannou 2012).
The oeuvre of Psellos has turned into a classic some decades after the death of its composer
(for Psellos’ Wirkungsgeschichte see Emmanuel Kriaras in Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen

Altertumswissenschaft S XI, 1968, 1176—1179). This can be proven by theoretical statements of
Byzantine scholars and by examples of reception or mimesis in the oeuvre of certain epistolographers.
The grammarian Gregory of Corinth recommends a couple of models for letter-writings: Besides
the canon of epistolographers flourishing in late antiquity he specifies and recommends Michael
Psellos (Komines 1960, 128-129). The statement of Gregory can be confirmed by John Tzetzes, who
discussion about him (Duffy 1998, Agiotis 2013) or by the praise of Michael Choniates who casts
Psellos’ name together with Cato, Cicero, Arrian and Themistios (letter nr. 28 Kolovou).
But the works of the hypatos ton philosophon were not only venerated per se; there was also active
involvement with them as they were both copied and reused. The anonymous excerpts and adaptations
of Psellos’ Omnifaria doctrina in the famous Barocc. gr. 131 form a neat example (Pontikos 1992). It
goes without saying that Psellos left traces in other genres like epistolography as well.
In the corpus of Euthymios Malaces, who belonged to the learned circle of Eustathios of
Thessalonica, several letters are preserved that were taken from other letter-writers. The second
letter in Bones’ edition is in fact a letter of Synesios with some minor changes, nevertheless the
editor included it in the collection (Bones 1937). Letter 4 in the same edition can be identified as
original Psellian or Ps.-Psellian composition. Malakes seems to appropriate an archetype for his
own use (Gautier 1977, 105 nr. 13). The letter provides a classification: Δεητική. οἴκτου δεόμενος
(“a letter of request; a person who requires compassion”). It seems that Malakes’ version does not
depend on an archetype (the Psellian piece being the second witness), but is in fact a reworked
version of the original (the Psellian piece). Forms of address, lexicographic inventory and syntax
have been altered, but the common material is striking (Grünbart 2003, 36-37). Paul Gautier noted
the similarity between those two letters, but he revoked Psellos’ authorship.
Another example can be found in the sphere of Michael Choniates. 21 prooimia of letters
have been published at the end of the edition of his epistles (Kolovou 2001, 288-291). Most of
these pieces preserved in a Florentine manuscript. are borrowed from John Chrysostom, but one
seems to have its roots in a Psellian original (Kolovou 2001, 289, l. 35-45, no notification of the
similarity or provenance of the passage in the edition). It is a lengthy text comprising more than a
prooimion of a letter. But exact reading shows small differences between these two versions while a
further manuscript, not used by its editors Kurtz and Drexl, makes it clear that their edition did not
base on the most reliable testimony. The manuscript nr. 508 of the Rumanian Academy of Sciences
containing much unpublished material as the collection of the monk Hierotheos has not been taken
into consideration. The Romanian and the Florentine manuscript (cod. Laur. Plut. 59,12) are more
suitable for understanding the letter – the documents are presented in three columns:

Michael Psellos ep. 2 Michael Choniates Hierotheos 106 (125
Kurtz- Drexl Epist. Init. p. 289,35ff. Kolovou Darrouzès; ed. Grünbart)

Ἐδεξάμην εἰς χεῖρας, λαμ­πρότατε ἢ Ἐδεξάμην εἰς χεῖρας, αὐθέντα μου, Ἐδεξάμην εἰς χεῖρας, λαμπρότατέ
καὶ ὑπέρ­λαμπρε, τὴν γλυ­κεῖαν ἐμοὶ τὴν γλυ­κεῖαν καὶ ἐμοὶ ποθει­νοτάτην μοι αὐθέντα, τὴν γλυκεῖαν καὶ ἐμοὶ
καὶ ποθει­νήν σου γραφήν· ἐδεξάμην, σου γραφὴν καὶ αὐτὰς ἐνόμισας τὰς ποθεινοτάτην σου γρα­φὴν καὶ αὐτὰς
καὶ αὐτὰς ἐνό­ μισα τὰς Μού­ σας Μούσας εἰληφέναι ἢ τὰς Χάριτας, ἐνό­μισα τὰς Μούσας εἰληφέναι ἢ τὰς
εἰληφέναι ἢ τὰς Χάριτας δι’αὐτῆς, δι’ ὧν αὐτὴν κατεκόσμησας καὶ χάριτας, δι’ ὧν αὐτὴν κατε­κόσμησας
δι’ὧν αὐτὴν κατεκόσμησας καὶ θαυ­ θαυμασίαν οἵαν εἰργάσω καὶ ἡδονῆς καὶ θαυ­ μασίαν οἵαν εἰργάσω καὶ
μασίαν οἷον ἀπειρ­γά­σω καὶ ἡδονῆς γέμουσαν. ἡδονῆς γέμουσαν.
Τί γὰρ οὐκ εἶχεν ἐπα­ γωγὸν καὶ τί γὰρ oὐκ εἶχεν ἐπα­ γωγὸν καὶ τί γὰρ oὐκ εἶχεν ἐπα­γωγὸν καὶ θελκ­
θελκ­τήριον; μᾶλλον δέ, τίνι τὸν θελ­
κτήριον, μᾶλλον δὲ τίνι oὐκ τήριον; μᾶλλον δὲ τίνι oὐκ ἐφείλ­κετο
ἀνα­γι­νώσ­κοντα ὥσπερ μάγος τις ἐφείλκετο τὸν ἀναγινώσκοντα τὸν ἀναγινώσ­κοντα ὥσπερ μαγνῆτις
ἐφελκομένη τοὺς ἀναγινώσκοντας, ὥσπερ μαγνῆτις σίδηρον. λειμὼν γὰρ τὸν σί­δηρον; λειμὼν γὰρ ἦν ἄν­τι­κρυς
τοῦτο μὲν τῇ γλυ­κύτητι τῶν λέξεων, ἦν σχεδὸν ὡραιότατος, παντοίοις ὡραιότητος παν­τοίοις ἀγαθοῖς βρί­
τοῦτο δὲ τῇ συνθήκῃ τῶν συλλαβῶν; ἀγαθοῖς βρίθουσά τε καὶ θάλλουσα, θουσά τε καὶ θάλλ­ουσα καὶ ἄλλοτε
ἄλλοτε ἀλλῷ ἐφελκομένη τὸν ἀνα­ ἄλλου ἐφελ­ κομένη τὸν ἀνα­ γινώσ­
πλέον δὲ μᾶλλον ἔτερπεν, ὅτι τὴν
γινώσκοντα. τοῦτο μὲν τῇ γλυκύτητι κον­τα. τοῦτο μὲν τῇ γλυκύτητι τῶν
σὴν ὑγείαν εὐηγγελίζετο, ἣν ἐγὼ
τῶν λέξεων, τοῦτo δὲ τῇ συνθέσει τῶν λέξεων, τοῦτo δὲ τῇ συνθέσει τῶν
προτι­μοτέραν τοῦ παντὸς τίθεμαι
συλλαβῶν, πλέον δὲ μᾶλλον ἔτερπεν συλλαβῶν.
καὶ ἧς προ­ κριτικωτέρους οὐδὲ
ὅτιτὴν σὴν ὑγείαν εὐηγγελίζετο,
τοὺς Κροίσου θη­σαυ­­ροὺς ἐκεί­νους, πλέον δὲ μᾶλλoν ἔτερπεν, ὅτι τὴν σὴν
ἣν ἐγὼ προτι­ μοτέραν τoῦ παντὸς
οἵτινές ποτε ἦσαν, τίθεμαι. ὑγείαν εὐηγγελίζετο, ἣν ἐγὼ προτι­
τίθεμαι καὶ ἧς oὐδὲ τοὺς Κρoίσου θη­
μοτέραν τoῦ παντὸς τίθεμαι καὶ ἧς
ἀλλ’ ὑγιαίνοις, ὦ θεία καὶ θαυμασία σαυ­ροὺς ἐκείνους, oἵτινές πoτε ἦσαν
προ­κριτώτερον oὐδὲ τοὺς Κρoίσου
κεφαλή, φωτὸς ὄντως ἀξία καὶ τίθεμαι. ἀλλ’ ὑγιαίνοις καὶ στέλλοις.
θη­σαυ­ροὺς ἐκεί­νους, oἵτινές πoτε
θαύματος· ὑγιαίνοις καὶ στέλλοις
ἦσαν, τίθεμαι.
γράμματα, καὶ λαμβάνοις παρ’
ἡμῶν τὰ αὐτά. Τί γὰρ ἡμῖν ἄλλο ἀλλ’ ὑγιαίνοις, ὦ θεία κεφαλὴ φωτὸς
τερπνὸν ἢ σὰς συλλαβὰς ἀνα­ γι­ ὄντως ἀξία καὶ θαύματος. ὑγιαί­
νώσκειν καὶ δέχεσθαι καὶ διὰ τῶν νοις καὶ στέλλοις γράμματα καὶ
αὐτῶν δεξιοῦσθαί σε ἔῤῥωσο ἐν μέςῳ λαμβάνοις παρ’ ἡμῶν τὰ αὐτά. τί γὰρ
πολλῶν πραγμάτων ἀτάραχος καὶ ἡμῖν ἄλλo τερπνὸν ἢ σὰς συλλαβὰς
ἀκύμαντος ἅμα περιφυλαττόμενος. ἀναγινώσκειν καὶ δέχεσθαι καὶ διὰ
τῶν αὐτῶν δεξιοῦσθαι σε; ἔρρωσο ἐν
μέσῳ πoλλῶν πραγμάτων ἀτάραχος
καὶ ἀκίνδυνος ἅμα καὶ ἀπερίτρεπτος.

It becomes apparent that the letter of Psellos served as model that was copied and slightly
revised – the pieces are three documents used in different contexts. Psellos was kept as a model in
the collection of prooimia attributed to Michael Choniates (the last paragraph is missing). And it
seems that the monk Hierotheos (3rd quarter of the 12th century; Grünbart forthcoming) re-used the
Psellian piece with minor changes.
It becomes apparent that Byzantine epistolary culture was a vivid process of copying,
remodelling and adapting predecessors’ letters into a new context. Traces of this habit can be found
in the oeuvre of almost every Byzantine epistolographer. If we treat letters as documents and do
not search exclusively for the original appearance of a message, that process can be visualized in a
formidable manner. Michael Psellos will serve as prominent model.


(see also http://proteus.brown.edu/psellos/8126)

Agiotis, Nikos, Tzetzes on Psellos revisited. Byzantinische Zeitschrift 106 (2013) 1-8
Bones, K.G., Εὐθύμιος Μαλάκης, Τὰ σῳζόμενα Ι (Θεολογικἠ βιβλιοθήκη 2). Athens 1937
Cerquiglini, B., In Praise of the Variant. A Critical History of Philology. Translated by Betsy Wing. Baltimore. Md, 1999
Darrouzès, Jean, Un recueil épistolaire du XIIe siècle: Académie Roumaine cod. Gr. 508. Revue des Études Byzantines
30 (1972) 201–229
Duffy, J. Tzetzes on Psellos. In: C.-F. Collatz/J. Dummer/J. Kollesch/M.-L. Werlitz (eds.), Dissertatiunculae criticae.
Festschrift für Günther Christian Hansen. Würzburg 1998, 441-445
Gautier, Paul, Un recueil de lettres faussement attribué à Michel Psellos. Revue des Études Byzantines 35 (1977) 99-106
Grünbart, Michael, Athanasios Chatzikes und Michael Psellos. Byzantion 70 (2000) 307–308
Grünbart, Michael, Anmerkungen zur byzantinischen Briefrhetorik. In: L’épistolographie et la poésie épigrammatique:
projects actuels et questions de méthodologie: actes de la 16e Table ronde organisée par Wolfram Hörandner
et Michael Grünbart dans le cadre du XXe Congrès international des Études byzantines, Collège de France –
Sorbonne, Paris, 19–25 Août 2001 (Dossiers byzantins 3). Paris 2003, 31–41
Grünbart, Michael, Zusammenstellen vs. Zusammenstehlen. Zum Traditionsverständnis in Byzanz. In: Andreas
Rhoby/Elisabeth Schiffer (Hgg.), Imitatio – aemulatio – variatio. Akten des Internationalen Wissen­schaftlichen
Symposions zur Byzantinischen Sprache und Literatur (Wien 22. – 25. Oktober 2008) (Veröffentlichungen zur
Byzanzforschung 21 = Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist. Kl., Denkschriften 402). Wien
2010, 129–137
Grünbart, Michael, From Letter to Literature: A Byzantine Story of Transformation. In: Christian Høgel/Elisabetta
Bartoli (eds.), Medieval Letters. Between Fiction and Document (Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 33).
Turnhout 2015, 291–306
Grünbart, Michael, Exploring the hinterland: The letter collection of Hierotheos the monk (twelfth century)
Kolovou, Foteini (ed.), Michaelis Choniatae epistulae (CFHB 51). Berlin – New York 2001
Komines, A.D., Γρηγόριος Πάρδος μητροπολίτης Κορίνθου καὶ τὸ ἔργον αὐτοῦ. Rome 1960
Kurtz, Eduard – Drexl, Franz (eds.), Michaelis Pselli scripta minora magnam partem adhuc inedita II, epistulae, Milan 1941
Papaioannou, Stratis, A Fragile Literature: Byzantine Letter-Collections and the Case of Michael Psellos. In: P. Odorico
(ed.), La face cachée de la littérature byzantine. Le texte entant que message immédiat. Paris 2012, 289-328
Papaioannou, Stratis, Michael Psellos: Rhetoric and Authorship in Byzantium. Cambridge -New York 2013
Papaioannou, Stratis, Michaelis Pselli epistulae (forthcoming)
Pontikos, I.N., Anonymi miscellanea philosophica. A miscellany in the tradition of Michael Psellos (Codex Baroccianus
Graecus 131). Athens - Paris 1992
Robinson, P., Towards a Theory of Digital Editions. Variants 10 (2013) 105-131.

Corinne Jouanno
University of Caen-Normandie

Michael Psellos on Rhetoric

The following investigation is focused on Psellos’ letters, in link with some of his discourses
or opuscula directly relevant to the topic (such as his technical treatises, stylistic commentaries,
or encomia of people endowed with special proficiency in rhetoric). The large corpus of Psellos’
correspondence offers indeed valuable material for the study of his views on rhetoric and the way
he constructs his own image as an expert on the subject.
Quite a number of Psellos’ letters picture him as a rhetor active at the imperial court. In
letters sent to various emperors, he presents himself as a demegoros, ready to compose encomia
celebrating the virtues and high deeds of the emperor (KD 5 and S 3 to Romanos Diogenes, KD 29
to Konstantinos Doukas). He also repeatedly describes himself in the role of a lobbyist making use
of his rhetorical skills to praise his addressees or support their cause in front of the emperor or other
powerful personalities, sometimes successfully (he then congratulates himself on the efficiency of
his eloquence: KD 48, S 8, S 156), sometimes vainly (he then complains about the inadequacy of
circumstances and/or the deafness of the recipients of his discourses: KD 37, KD 49).
Psellos also appears as a teacher of rhetoric in some letters thus offering additional information
to the autobiographical statements included in the Enkomion for his mother, the Letter to Michael
Keroularios, epitaphioi for former pupils (Anastasios Lizix, or the referendarius Romanos), and
in a series of oratoria minora (n° 18-25) or theologica addressed by Psellos ad discipulos. Psellos
sometimes alludes to his work as a teacher, for instance in a letter to his fellow-student Romanos,
where he speaks of two well-gifted (φύσει δεξιοί) students with a passion for σχέδη : they have
got through all the exercises Psellos had prepared for them and are asking for new ones, so that
Psellos calls Romanos for help as a ταμεῖον σχεδῶν καὶ σίμβλον (KD 16). On the contrary, in a letter
addressed to Aristenos, whose son was one of his students, he complains about the latters’ excessive
fondness for Hermogenes, and pictures himself as a determined supporter of “ancient rhetoric”, that
is a kind of rhetoric which Plato would not have dismissed, for it is “political, genuine, and little
concerned with artificial beauty” (KD 224). We also possess some letters addressed by Psellos to
present or former students, notably those written to a certain Kyritzes (KD 27 and 28, perhaps one
and the same letter, and KD 210), characterized by their rather aggressive, polemical tone: Psellos is
indeed discontent with Kyritzes’ attacks against philosophy and rhetoric and his preference for law
studies, so that his letters offer a mix of reproaches, advice, and passionate advocacy of true rhetoric.
Psellos’ letters also include a rich amount of comments about his correspondents’ and his
own style. The abundance of such descriptive material is partly due to the self-referential character
typical of the epistolary genre, but it is a result as well of Psellos’ special concern with logoi – a
concern testified by the place imparted in the Chronographia to remarks on the rhetorical capacities
of all the actors of history. It is no surprise that Psellos, when complimenting his correspondents,
regularly underlines the sweetness (γλυκύτης) of their style, its grace (χάρις), and enchanting power
(θελκτήριον, θέλγητρον), in line with the theory of the epistolary genre, which valued the very

same features. More interestingly, in his stylistic comments, Psellos often makes use of technical
terms, thus parading his expertise in rhetorical matters, for instance in KD 4, where he enumerates
enthusiastically the various qualities of a friend’s letter (τὸν νοῦν, τὸ κάλλος, τὴν συνθήκην τῶν
λέξεων, τὸν τῶν νοημάτων ῥυθμόν, τὴν τῶν γραμμάτων ὡραιότητα, τὴν τῶν στίχων ἰσότητα, τὴν
ἀστειότητα τῶν συλλαβῶν, τὴν γλυκύτητα); similarly, in a letter to John Doukas, evoking the latter’s
praise of his own style, Psellos underlines the careful attention paid by John to every element of
style, ἔννοια, λέξις, σχῆμα, μέθοδος, ἁρμονία, ῥυθμός, ἀνάπαυσις (G 5). Some letters even contain
elaborate discussions on rhetorical questions, for instance KD 123 (to the krites of Aigaion),
where Psellos, exploring the links between παρρησία and τέχνη, speaks highly of oblique, indirect
(πλάγιος) logos, maintaining that, as far as discourse is concerned, straight blows are less efficient
than oblique ones, inflicted with art (τέχνῃ). In S 174, in response to Nikephoros, nephew of the
patriarch Keroularios, who had complained of the difficulty of his philosophical writings, Psellos
vaunts the merits of ἀσάφεια, quoting as an example Aristotle and the Christian “philosophy”. In
KD 45 (to John Mauropous) and S 11 (to Leon Paraspondylos), he develops considerations about
the rules of the epistolary genre and the specificity of exchange through letters, whose aim (reflect
the inner disposition of the writers) requires a minimum amount of art (the souls’ union, he says to
Mauropous, is κατάτεχνος). Discussions of the kind are prominent in letters addressed to recipients
with a professional interest in rhetoric: Mauropous, who had been Psellos’ teacher and is repeatedly
called the father of his eloquence (KD 45, S 183), is a special partner for in depth exchanges about
ῥητορικὴ τέχνη (cf. KD 34, KD 105), and the three letters to a maistor of the rhetors published by
Gautier (n° 18, 19, and 20) offer another striking example of rhetorical display, by means of which
Psellos voices his intellectual complicity with the addressee.
Hermogenes was a cornerstone for the teaching of rhetoric in the Byzantine education system,
and Psellos was inevitably familiar with his theories (in KD 31 he presents the “rhetorical method”,
ῥητορικὴν μέθοδον, as his “hobbies”, τὰ ἐμὰ παιδικά). He epitomized Hermogenes’ treatise On forms
of style, and composed a didactic poem long of ca. 500 lines, offering a synthesis of four major works
of the Hermogenian corpus, On issues, On invention, On forms, and the Pseudo-Hermogenian
treatise On the method of force. But he also wrote epitomes of other ancient technical works by
Dionysios of Halikarnassos and Longinos. He makes explicit references to these three theoreticians
in several letters and/or other writings: Hermogenes is mentioned at least eight times (Chron. 6,
197 bis, Or. for. 3, Or. min. 8, Theol. I, 19 and I, 27, Poem. 7 and 68 [spur.], S 174, KD 20 [dub.], KD
224); Longinos is quoted seven times (Or. min. 8, Theol. I, 56, I, 75 and I, 98, Char. Theol., Rhet., KD
28), and Dionysios five times (twice in Theol. I, 98 and Char. Theol., once in Theol. II, 16). Isolated
references to other more or less famous τεχνικοί include Thrasymakos and Hegesias (Theol. I, 25),
Nikagoras and Priskos (KD 28), Hadrianos of Tyr and Sopatros (Or. min. 8).
Psellos’ explicit allusions to Hermogenes testify his familiarity with both the latter’s biography
(Chron. 6, 197 bis) and his rhetorical theories: he twice underlines the centrality of Demosthenes to
the Hermogenian doctrine (Or. for. 3, Theol. I, 19) and also rightly comments upon Hermogenes’
high regard for clarity (S 174). In the above mentioned letters to a maistor of the rhetors, he makes
repeated use of technical terms borrowed from Hermogenes’ On issues and On invention, speaking
of κατάστασις (exposition) and προκατάστασις (pre-exposition), ἀνθορισμός (counter-definition)
and συλλογισμός (assimilation); he quotes the Hermogenian definitions of ἐπιφώνημα, περίοδος
and ἐπιχειρήματα, and successively paraphrases the incipit of the treatises On issues, On invention

and On forms, by way of playful connivance with his correspondent. Most conspicuous is the
influence of Hermogenes’ theory of forms (ἰδεαί) on Psellos’ stylistic judgments, heavily indebted to
the Hermogenian terminology.
But the part played by Dionysios of Halikarnassos on Psellos’ aesthetic conceptions seems
considerable too. His frequent use of musical images to describe rhetorical performances (e.g. KD
86, S 156, S 176, G 10), his many references to harmony (KD 222, KD 231, S 110...) may be a
result of his close reading of Dionysios’ treatises, for Dionysios’ aesthetics is characterized by the
importance given to the sonority of words: auditory impression is central in his appreciation of
literary works, and he even defines the “science of political eloquence” as “a sort of music” (Comp.
11, 13). Dionysios’ contrasting description (Comp. 21, 3) of an “austere harmony” (αὐστηρά) and
a “smooth one” (γλαφυρά) is recognizable in KD 45, where Psellos says to Mauropous that “the
pursuit of smooth words” (ἡ θήρα τῶν γλαφυρῶν λέξεων) is undesirable in epistolary exchange, or
in S 125, where he apologizes for the plain style of his letter, on the pretext that, living in a rustic
environment, he has lost “any talent for smoothing” (... τι γλαφυρόν). Another image frequently
used in Psellos’ letters and other texts dealing with rhetoric may have been inspired by his reading of
Dionysios: that of a “theatrical” oratory, exuberant and vulgar, Psellos opposes to more decent and
philosophical modes of expression (S 110: τῆς δημώδους ταύτης ῥητορικῆς... τῆς πολυτελοῦς τε καὶ
θεατρικῆς // τῆς ἀφελοῦς καὶ λιτῆς καὶ σεμνοτάτης φιλοσοφίας; S 174: τὴν πάνδημον ῥητορικήν...
τὴν θεατρικὴν καὶ ἀκόλαστον // τὴν οἰκουρόν τε καὶ σώφρονα). In Dionysios’ treatises the word
θεατρικός is indeed often applied to smooth harmony, whereas it is completely lacking in the
Hermogenian corpus. Similarly, Psellos’ frequent use of the adjective φυσικός to characterize simple
style (KD 45, KD 135, KD 159) is probably reminiscent of Dionysios, where φυσικός appears quite
often with the same meaning.
Considerations about kinds of style often interfere in Psellos’ letters with remarks about levels
of style. In quite a number of passages, Psellos incites his correspondents, supposedly impressed
and reduced to silence by his high rhetorical skills, to write him in the most simple style: the motif
occurs prominently in letters addressed to ecclesiastics (KD 88 and KD 135, to the patriarch of
Antioch; KD 267 and S 27, to monks), but also in letters to supplicants (KD 158), or friends (KD
136, KD 147, KD 264). In these letters Psellos urges his correspondents to write as plainly as they
speak (KD 88); he often associates plain language with high spirituality (KD 88, KD 267, S 27), but
also links disregard for the beauty of words with philosophical ethos (KD 158) or with old age’s
disinterest in stylistic embellishments (KD 88). Other letters present a reversed picture, with Psellos
apologizing for his use of low style in letters to correspondents some of whose are described as
prominent intellectuals (KD 25, S 125): to explain his choice of a low register, Psellos puts to the
fore his closeness to the addressee (KD 25, to his fellow-student George), special kairos making
rhetoric undeserved or impossible (S 102, S 25, S 186) or, with typical Constantinopolitan snobbery,
the deleterious influence of a rustic/barbarian environment (S 125, G 11). When exploiting such
a “discourse of modesty”, Psellos sometimes recurs to a typically self-referential play of words by
introducing the verb ψελλίζειν (“falter in speech”) or its compounds (ὑποψελλίζειν, παραψελλίζειν)
as a pretence of simplicity/self-deprecating (S 3, S 152, KD 105).
In the various letters dealing with levels of style, the contrast between highbrow and lowbrow
expression is often expressed through references to “Atticism”, meant to design learned Greek,
that is a language understandable only to the small part of educated Byzantines. Psellos contrasts

ἀττικίζειν with ἁπλῶς λέγειν (S 11) and with κοινολεκτεῖν (KD 91), he opposes “Attic language”
(ἀττικῇ τῇ γλώσσῃ) to “sincere and unelaborate” diction (ἁπλῶς καὶ ἀκατασκεύως), “simple
expression” (ἀφελῆ) to “honey of the Hymettos” (S 125). He regularly parades his ability to practise
Atticism (see S 145, where he boasts of twisting a crown ἐξ Ἀττικῶν συνηρμοσμένον λειμώνων for
Andronikos Doukas). In G 15, alluding to his international reputation as a teacher, he ironizes with
feigned modesty upon the exaggerations of his correspondents (Aemilianos, patriarch of Antioch),
according to whom he teaches the “Attic language” even to the Arabs!
In a letter to a (perhaps different) patriarch of Antioch (KD 135), Psellos equates his Atticism
with “Platonic” style, he opposes to the “evangelic sincerity” of his addressee. In KD 27, it is no
longer Plato, but Demosthenes who is quoted as an example of Atticism, and contrasted with three
sophists of the classical times, Gorgias, Hippias and Polos. Gorgias and Polos are similarly associated
in Theol. I, 98, where Psellos explains to students admiring philosophy alone why he is interested in
rhetoric too, and in which kind of rhetoric: he does not intend imitating Gorgias, Polos and their
kind, but authors practising philosophical rhetoric, like Dio of Prusa. Another reference to a similar
sophistic triad should perhaps be assumed in S 174, where Psellos opposes a vulgar, theatrical form
of rhetoric to a modest one, and curses Λυσίαι καὶ Πῶλοι καὶ Καλλικλεῖς, as representatives of the
first style. The combination, in the present form of the text, of Lysias’ name with Polos’ and Callicles’
seems indeed quite surprising, all the more so since Psellos usually cites the Athenian logographos
as an example of a simple, natural mode of expression, in line with the rhetorical tradition, which
considered Lysias as a model of clarity: it seems therefore rather tempting to suppose that, at some
stage in the transmission of the text, the name of Lysias inadvertently substituted for that of Gorgias,
better fitted in the context.
Nevertheless, one must remark that Psellos’ view of “sophistic” is somewhat fluctuating, for he
twice quotes Gorgias’ name in a positive way, in Theol. II, 6 where, presenting Gregory of Nazianzus
as a rhetor and a philosopher, he describes him ἐν πολλοῖς Γοργιάζων καὶ τρυφῶν τῷ πλούτῳ καὶ
τῷ κάλλει τῶν λέξεων, and again in letter S 182 where, boasting of his own rhetorical skills, he
compares his style with Gorgias’ “grandiloquence” (μεγαλοφωνία). Psellos’ use of terms such as
σοφίζεσθαι, σόφισμα, σοφιστικός is characterised by its ambivalence. To be sure, we can find quite
a number of passages where he employs these words in a critical way, to describe stylistic affectation,
often in contrast with plain, unpretentious style (KD 136, KD 264), and he occasionally associates
sophistic with a liking for dissimulation (cf. KD 185, where he puts τῶν σοφισμάτων on a par with
τῷ παραλογισμῷ and τῶν ἐν λόγοις μεταμορφώσεων). But he more often uses the term “sophistic”
to mean what we would call the “science of language”, when he wants to insist on the technical aspect
of rhetoric (see in S 42 the equation between σοφιστική and τέχνη on the one hand, φιλοσοφία and
ἐπιστήμη on the other hand). Consequently, Psellos does not hesitate to mention his “sophistic”
formation (τὴν γλῶτταν ταῖς σοφιστικαῖς τέχναις ἐκάθηρα), when he sums up his intellectual
career in his famous letter to Michael Keroularios ; he calls his chair of rhetoric in Constantinople
a sophistikos thronos (S 189); and he also prides himself on his ability to combine philosophy and
“sophistic” (S 42).
If Psellos once compares himself to the sophist Gorgias, he also identifies with other orators
of the classical times, Lysias (Chron. 7a, 26), Aeschines (KD 27), and of course Demosthenes,
praised by all the ancient theoreticians for his unsurpassable δεινότης: Psellos even appropriates
several of the latter’s sayings, drawn from his speech Against Midias (S 139) and from his celebrated

self-referential discourse On the crown (Or. min. 8 and 9). Such a role play mirrors Psellos’ well
known versatility, for he successively endorses the persona of authors endowed with rather different
rhetorical profiles, thus claiming his ability to succeed in every kind of eloquence. He often parades
his stylistic flexibility, and describes himself ready to fit any of his correspondents’ capacities and
expectations, in exploiting the whole range of the literary spectrum, from the most sophisticated
style to the most humble, from the most purist Greek to the most colloquial, even Barbarian
language ! Prone to identify with Proteus, he also compares himself to the titmouse (αἰγίθαλος),
which imitates the voice of every bird it encounters (KD 135).
Psellos’ adoption of a multiplicity of rhetorical models may be explained by his proclaimed
dissatisfaction with any of them. Indeed, none of the orators of the classical Greece escapes Psellos’
criticism. In S 102, he blames Isocrates for resorting to stylistic embellishments right in the middle of
difficult circumstances, regardless of the constraints of kairos. In his Encomium for John Mauropous,
he finds fault with Lysias’ meanness, he scornfully contrasts with the grandeur of Mauropous’ style.
In Theol. I, 98, Demosthenes in his turn is criticized for his uneveness, and proclaimed inferior to
Gregory of Nazianzus, who is able to handle all forms of style, and thus outshines the ancient orator,
as an eagle outshines a jay.
In adopting a polemical stance, Psellos aims at putting forward his independence of mind and
advertising his own originality. Such a pretence appears clearly in the various passages where he
disparages the ancient theoreticians of rhetoric, and boasts he will be able to complete, correct, or
improve their doctrines (Or. for. 3, Or. min. 8, Theol. I, 98). It shows as well through the reluctance
he sometimes expresses in following intellectual fashions (KD 224), and conforming to norms,
especially in one of his encomia for Constantine Monomachos (Or. pan. 5), where he proclaims
he does not want to imitate the orators who praise the emperor according to the rules of rhetoric
(τεχνικῶς), for the observance of usual standards is in that case ἄτεχνον, inasmuch as the virtues
of the laudendus are far above any standard. Psellos therefore professes to prove τεχνικώτερος by
transgressing the rules of art (τοὺς τῆς τέχνης κανόνας).

Frederick Lauritzen

Psellos’ Philosophical Works

One may consider an open question whether Psellos was a philosopher or not. Indeed it more
or less depends on the definition one gives to the term philosopher in order to make him fit in
it or to exclude him. What is certain is that Psellos was nominated consul of the philosophers,
probably in 1047 (Lefort 1976). Even the term ὕπατος τῶν φιλοσόφων is not very clear or how long
he actually held such a position. Nevertheless John Duffy and Dominic O’Meara have rendered a
great service providing two editions of his Philosophica Minora published by Teubner (Duffy 1992
and O’Meara 1989). These two volumes combine into more than five hundred pages of Greek text
of Psellos’ philosophical works. Paul Moore in his Iter Psellianum of 2003 lists 171 philosophical
works associated with Psellos. He divides them into four different sections according to their topics:
a) general and logical b) physics and meteorology c) miscellaneous and allegorical d) psychological
theological and demonological works. Of these 171 essays and treatises, 103 can be found in the two
Teubner editions. This makes a very handy and useful situation. It is therefore possible to obtain an
overview of his ideas through what is published without having to turn constantly to manuscripts.
Psellos’ main eccentricity seems to be his interest in the Neoplatonist Proclus, as he explicitly states
in the Chronographia 6.38. He prefers him over other Neoplatonists which are now more fashionable,
such as Plotinus or Porphyry and his references to Iamblichus and Damascius are quite rare. Such
a characteristic is useful to detect if works are spurious or not, with the proviso that not every text
which mentions Proclus is necessarily by Psellos (one may think, for instance, that Symeon Seth
mentions the Chaldean oracles and Proclus).
The two issues mentioned, whether Psellos is a philosopher or not and the authenticity of some
of his work depends on the interpretation of his philosophical works. With the help of Paul Moore’s
Iter Psellianum of 2003 one may indicate some points: there are 171 philosophical treatises. Of these
96 essays do not have a single article written about them. That is ca 56%. If one takes away the essays
that only have one article written about them, that leaves 133 essays which have one article or none.
That is 77% of essays. These articles frequently do not present discussions about the content, but only
bibliographical notices which discuss questions of transmission, such as manuscripts. Therefore one
may safely say that three quarters of Psellos’ philosophical works still need something written about
their content from a philosophical point of view. Before focusing on what is missing one should
turn to what has interested researchers until now.
The focus has been on essays discussing divination and esoteric readings (Phil. Min. I.32-
36 Duffy), allegorical interpretation (Phil Min I.42-48 Duffy), Chaldean Oracles (Phil. Min II.38
O’Meara), the question of the soul described in the Timaeus of Plato according to Proclus (Phil.
Min. II.4,6,29 O’Meara). These four topics reveal an interest of using Psellos’ texts as sources to study
other authors. He is an important source for Porphyry’s allegorical readings of ancient myths. He
is the main source for the text of the Chaldean Oracles; he preserves discussions on divination and
esoteric readings which probably derive from lost neoplatonic texts and finally he seems familiar with
Proclus’ psychology. Moreover all these topics are discussed in other texts of Psellos. For example,

in the text of the prosecution against patriarch Cerularios (Dennis 1994), there is much material
on the Chaldean oracles which has not been employed to disentangle Psellos’ understanding of
the topic. Westerink had used another essay of Psellos to establish the existence and content of a
commentary of Proclus on the Enneads of Plotinus (Westerink 1959). This famous article however
dismissed Psellos’ letters claiming that there could be no real interest in philosophy and therefore
his letters on philosophical topics were ‘pure fiction’. This antiquarian interest in Psellos’ writings
with the sole aim of finding fragments of ancient thinkers seems to have guided some of the critical
literature. Thus it appears that the interest in Psellos is driven by what he may yield as information
about ancient philosophy. In a nutshell: quellenforschung and codicology have been a priority.
If one turns to Philosophica Minora I (Duffy 1992), such a tendency may explain why the
essays on meteorological phenomena have no articles (Phil Min. I.20-29). Or his interest in the
Prior Analytics of Aristotle (Phil. Min. I.8-15), or his interest in dreams (Phil. Min. I. 38) or Hades
(Phil. Min I. 39-40). Surprising is the lack of interest in the logical question of the five voices (Phil.
Min. I.51). This debate seems to be essential both in Psellos and Italos who discuss the topic and
specifically the meaning of being and existence in relation to the five voices. The lack of study
of these subjects may be because they are not interesting. However these are precisely the topics
which are found in other authors of the time. The question of natural phenomena, in general about
physiology, is clearly important to thinkers such as Symeon Seth and Italos, as well as religious
writers. Logical questions are not only discussed extensively by Italos, but also by the Anonymous
Heiberg in 1007 (Heiberg 1928). The status of Hades or Hell appears in other contemporary authors
as well. Therefore it becomes clear that those texts which allow Psellos to fit in the intellectual milieu
of his contemporaries are those which are left aside and may support the impression that he was
unusually original compared to his contemporaries.
In the Philosophica Minora II (O’Meara 1989) edited by O’Meara, thirty one essays had no
articles in Moore’s bibliography. It is striking that in this volume there are numerous treatises on the
soul and especially on the connection between body and soul. Of 31 essays dedicated to this topic
only 4 have articles, illustrating the lack of interest in Psellos’ psychology. The main recent exception
being the study on the pneumatic body (Delli 2007). Of course his three essays on the Chaldean
Oracles have been studied (Phil. Min. II.38-40) (most recently Seng 2013). However an essay on
Assyrian wisdom (Phil. Min. II.41) has been left aside, as well as his study on sacrifice (Phil. Min.
II.42) and on demons (Phil. Min. II.45) as well as the future (Phil. Min. II.46). The lack of interest
in Psellos’ studies on the soul is striking since this can also place him better in the context of the
eleventh century. If one thinks of the writings of Symeon the New Theologian and Niketas Stethatos,
the question of the soul is important. Also the tale of Barlaam and Ioasaph deals with the soul.
Moreover Psellos’ demonology needs more detailed study (see also Larionov 2011). One should not
forget that Marsilio Ficino in the 15th century translated the De Daemonibus of Psellos into Latin
and Coleridge quoted Psellos’ demonology in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner of 1797.
Therefore it appears that despite the edition of Duffy 1992 and O’Meara 1989 Psellos is
somehow considered a repository of quotations of other writers. His interest in logic, psychology
and demonology are left aside in favour of his preservation of Poprhyry’s allegorical readings or
the transmission of the Chaldean Oracles. Thus it is difficult to detect what is genuinely by Psellos
or not. In this context arose the debate around Psellos’ commentary to the Physics of Aristotle
(Phi. 27 Moore 2003) published by Benakis in 2008. Golitzis (2007) argued that the commentary

was by Pachymeres. The debate is important and interesting and reveals the need to study Psellos’
perception of Aristotle as well as his interest in physiology which seems to become prominent in
the 1060s.
The question of ethics needs to be addressed as well. This brings one to the matter of a
neoplatonic ethics versus an Aristotelian one. There is a doctoral dissertation on the question
carried out by Denis Walter. It seems to be rather a central question in view of study of the various
ethics in the 12th century but especially for the philosophical interpretation of the Chronographia
which appears to be a study in people’s behaviour. It seems that studies in Psellos ethics are just
beginning. Nevertheless the Chronographia has been a central focus for broader philosophical
questions. It gave rise to the idea that Psellos had a secret humanist agenda (Kaldellis 1999) or even
a neopagan idea of philosophy. On the other side Zervos (1920) had argued that Psellos fits within
an orthodox framework. This is based on the modern notion of honesty or dissimulation in his
official behaviour. There is also the question of his secret agenda, a view supported by his study of
the Chaldean oracles, interpreted as an esoteric text. These questions are inextricably tied to Psellos’
orthodoxy and view of religion. On the surface, he does not seem to see any particular problem
either with pagan philosophy or Christian theology and he often mixes the two and combines them
in ways which are recognizable and typical of his taste. In terms of future research it may be useful to
search for Christian religious questions in philosophical texts and philosophical discussions within
Christian theology.
To conclude one may offer some questions pointing to possible avenues of research:
What interest does Psellos have in Proclus?
What does Psellos know about Aristotelian logic?
What does esoteric mean for Psellos?
Does Psellos distinguish between Christianity and paganism? And if so, at what level and to
what extent?
Is Psellos interested in ethics?
Does he have an opinion about predestination, fate and time?

These are some of the topics which he seems to address in his essays in Philosophica Minora
I and II. The question underlying them is whether he has an antiquarian interest or he is part of a
philosophical debate with his contemporaries.

Diether Roderich Reinsch

Die Chronographia des Michael Psellos als Werk mündlicher Prosa

Soweit ich sehe, hat Herbert Hunger als erster in „Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der
Byzantiner“, darauf hingewiesen, wenn auch nur beiläufig, dass Psellos seine Chronographia wie
auch andere seiner Werke nicht eigenhändig geschrieben, sondern diktiert hat. Hunger schreibt,
dass Psellos „beim Diktieren seiner Werke die Umgangssprache mit einbezog“. Hunger hat auch die
entscheidende Stelle zitiert, an welcher Psellos das expressis verbis sagt (Chronogr. VI 73,10-11). Er
habe, so Psellos, bei seiner Darstellung vieles weggelassen, was die Verfasser von Geschichtswerken
üblicherweise mitzuteilen pflegen, vor allem Einzelheiten militärischer Ereignisse, er habe seine
ἱστορία auch nicht nach Olympiaden oder Jahreszeiten wie Thukydides organisiert, sondern sich
auf das beschränkt, was er für das Wesentliche hielt: ἁπλῶς οὑτωσὶ τὰ ἐπικαιρότατα ταύτης (sc. τῆς
ἱστορίας) ὑπαγορεύσας.
ὑπαγορεύω bedeutet hier und an den anderen Stellen, an denen Psellos das Wort gebraucht,
ohne Zweifel „diktieren“. Mehrere dieser Diktat-Situationen werden in der Chronographia unter
Gebrauch des Wortes ὑπαγορεύω beschrieben: Basileios II. diktierte (ὑπηγόρευε) den Schreibern
kaiserlicher Urkunden, was ihm gerade auf die Zunge kam. Konstantin VIII. diktierte (ὑπηγόρευεν)
die kaiserlichen Schreiben mit einer solchen Geschwindigkeit des Diktierten (τῶν ὑπηγορευμένων),
dass seine ὀξυγράφοι zu stenographischen Zeichen Zuflucht nehmen mussten. Der Volksaufstand
gegen Michael V. traf Psellos selbst an, wie er gerade als Hypogrammateus kaiserliche Schreiben
diktierte (ὑπαγορεύοντα). Konstantin IX. diktierte (ὑπηγόρευεν) aus Misstrauen gegen seinen
Sekretär Psellos seine Briefe an den Kalifen selbst. Die Gesandten, die Michael VI. zum Usurpator
Isaak Komnenos geschickt hatte, trafen diesen an, wie er gerade ein Schreiben an den Kaiser diktierte
Im Umkreis der Regierungsspitze in Konstantinopel ist das Vorhandensein von Schreibern,
denen man diktiert, eine Selbstverständlichkeit, und Psellos hatte wohl immer, seit seiner Stellung
als ὑπογραμματεύς, Schreiber zur Verfügung, denen er diktierte und von denen er sich vorlesen
ließ, so auch, nachdem Michael VII. ein literarisches Selbstportrait verfasst hatte, welches er Psellos
zur Verwendung in dessen Darstellung zusandte. Da las der ὑπογραφεύς Psellos das Elaborat vor,
und Psellos hörte dem ἀνάγνωσμα zu (VII 175).
Herbert Hunger ist bis in neueste Zeit der einzige geblieben, der auf den Umstand hingewiesen
hat, dass die Chronographia von ihrem Autor diktiert worden ist. Ljubarskij, der den oben zitierten
Passus der Chronographia ausführlich zitiert und kommentiert, äußert sich nicht zu diesem
ὑπαγορεύσας, ebensowenig wie es andere getan haben (z.B. Krumbacher, Karpozelos, Pietsch,
Kaldellis). Allein Warren Treadgold ist in seinen „Middle Byzantine Historians“ näher darauf
eingegangen und hat damit vor allem auch strukturelle Eigentümlichkeiten der Chronographia in
Verbindung gebracht.
Die Unstimmigkeiten und „Fehler“, die Treadgold mit der spontanen Diktiersituation
erklärt, sind allerdings nicht unbedingt einleuchtend, z.B. was die Abstammung von Basileios
Parakoimomenos betrifft, die Psellos wohl eher absichtlich hinaufstilisiert hat, idem er behauptet (I 3),

der Parakoimomenos stamme vom selben Vater ab wie Basileios II. und Konstantin VIII. Die vielen
Text-Irrtümer im codex unicus gehen sicher nicht auf das Konto des diktierenden Autors oder seines
Schreibers (für die phonetischen Fehler hatte man das schon vorher als Möglichkeit angenommen),
sondern auf das Konto der Überlieferung und des inneren Diktats der Kopisten. Zweifellos richtig
aber ist, dass „the organization of the Chronography is loose and episodic … like a series of stories told
from memory“ (S. 298). So erklärt sich auch (von Treadgold in diesem Zusammenhang angeführt) die
doppelte Erzählung von der Thronbesteigung Konstantins X. Dukas, deren zweite Fassung einerseits
ein ganz anderes Bild von der Rolle vermittelt, die Psellos dabei gespielt hat, aber andererseits z.B.
einen Vergleich Konstantins mit Achilleus bis in Einzelheiten der Formulierung hinein wiederholt,
was bei einer Revision des Diktierten so niemals stehengeblieben wäre.
Schon Walter Ong hat in seinem Klassiker „Orality and Literacy“ von 1982 allgemein darauf
hingewiesen, dass die Diktat-Situation auch orale Strukturen eines Textes begünstigt. Auf die Seite
der oralen Strukturen gehören in der Chronographia die außerordentlich zahlreichen Rückverweise
innerhalb des Textes. Ein typisches Beispiel liegt in VI 151 vor: Dort spricht Psellos von der Alanischen
Prinzessin, die sich Konstantin IX. nach dem Tod der Maria Skleraina als Konkubine genommen
hatte mit dem Rückverweis ὥς μοι καὶ ἄνω που τοῦ λόγου λέλεκται. Dieses ἄνω που liegt gerade
einmal 6 Kapitel zurück, wo Psellos mit identischen oder ganz ähnlichen Wendungen dieselbe
Person und ihr Verhältnis zum Kaiser beschrieben hatte. Dort lesen wir auch den entsprechenden
Vorverweis. Andere Vorverweise sind blind, so in IV 8, wo von der natürlichen Begabung Michaels
IV. die Rede ist, in Rechtsfällen die richtige Entscheidung zu treffen, das ἀλλ᾽ οὔπω περὶ τούτων
aber nicht eingelöst wird, oder in VI 43,11-12, wo Psellos ankündigt, von seiner unentgeltlichen
Lehrtätigkeit zu sprechen, was er dann ebenfalls nicht tut. Typisch ist für die Vorverweise die
ἀναμεινάτω-Formel, die Psellos auch in anderen seiner Werke und in der Chronographia vier Mal
gebraucht: Ein bestimmtes Teilthema soll noch etwas warten. In dieselbe Kategorie gehören auch
andere Überleitungen, die wie diese typisch für mündliche Genera wie z.B. das Märchen sind: In VI
65 sagt Psellos, er wolle noch etwas über die Kaiserin Zoe sprechen, solange (in seiner Erzählung)
der Kaiser bei der Skleraina ruhe; das nimmt er VI 68 wieder auf: „Nachdem wir nun unsere
Erzählung bis hierhin haben gelangen lassen, wollen wir sie wieder zur Sebaste und zum Autokrator
zurückrufen und die beiden, wenn es denn gefällt, aufwecken und voneinander trennen.“ Das ist
der leichte Ton des souveränen Märchenerzählers, der sich auch in überleitenden Wendungen wie
εἶτα τί γίνεται oder εἶτα γίνεταί τι τοιοῦτον niederschlägt.
Spontan unterbricht sich der Erzähler an einigen Stellen mit der Bemerkung, er habe etwas
vergessen: In den Ausführungen über Konstantin IX. möchte er über die Krankheit des Kaisers
sprechen und schickt dem die Bemerkung voraus: „Was ich aber vor allem anderen vergessen habe
zu schildern“. In Bezug auf Konstantin X. Dukas sagt er (VII 110): „Was ich jedoch oben vergessen
habe zu berichten, das will ich jetzt, da ich mich daran erinnere, erzählen.“ Im Bericht über die
Schlacht von Mantzikert (VII 141) hat die Formel „was ich vergessen habe zu sagen“, da sie nicht
als solche erkannt und falsch interpretiert wurde, zum Missverständnis geführt, Psellos habe an
diesem Feldzug persönlich teilgenommen. Dort heißt es ὃ δέ με διέλαθεν: ἔλαθε τοῦτον αὐτὸς
δὴ ὁ σουλτὰν ... συνὼν τῷ στρατεύματι („Was ich vergessen habe [zu sagen]: Ihm [sc. Romanos
Diogenes] war verborgen geblieben, dass der Sultan in eigener Person … bei seinem Heer war.“).
Da die Herausgeber des Textes nicht verstanden haben, dass es sich bei ὃ δέ με διέλαθεν um die
Ebene des Erzählers und nicht des Erzählten handelt, hat Renauld (gefolgt von Impellizzeri) vor

διέλαθεν ein <οὐ> konjiziert, und alle Übersetzer (mit der einzigen Ausnahme von Ljubarskij,
richtig verstanden hatte die Stelle auch Sykutris) haben übersetzt im Sinne von „was mir nicht,
wohl aber ihm entgangen war“, und Eva De Vries-van der Velden hat dann ausführlich über Psellos‘
angebliche Teilnahme am Desaster von Mantzikert gehandelt.
Die orale Produktion des Textes durch den Autor Psellos korrespondiert mit den weitgehend
mündlichen Quellen, auf welche Psellos dort zurückgreift, wo er nicht ohnehin selbst als Augen- und
Ohrenzeuge seine eigene Quelle ist. Psellos ist wie in der Antike Herodot, Thukydides, Xenophon,
Polybios und andere sowie in Frühbyzanz Prokop ein oraler Historiker, der sich fast ausschließlich
auf sein eigenes Erleben und auf mündliche Quellen stützt. Er ist damit der erste byzantinische
Historiker, der dies nach Prokop tut; nach Psellos ist es wieder fast die Regel, von Nikephoros
Bryennios bis hin zu Dukas und Kritobulos von Imbros.
Psellos selbst wird nicht müde, auf seine mündlichen Gewährsleute hinzuweisen. Meistens
geschieht das durch generelle Angaben wie ὡς ὁ λόγος ἔχει (über den Charakter Basileios‘ II.), λόγος
ἐστὶν (über die Gründe für den vorzeitigen Tod Romanos‘ III.), ὡς ὁ τῶν πολλῶν λόγος (über die
Liebschaften Romanos‘ III.), φασὶ γοῦν οἱ καὶ τἄλλα πρὸς τοῦτο συνείροντες (über die Ermordung
Romanos‘ III.), φασὶ γοῦν τινὲς τῶν μὴ πάνυ πρὸς τὸ ἐκείνου γένος εὐμενῶς ἐχόντων (über Michael
IV., er sei den Einflüsterungen von Zauberern gefolgt), φασὶ γοῦν (über die jugendlichen Kräfte des
Monomachos), ἀκούομεν (über die Schönheit des jugendlichen Monomachos), ὡς δὲ ἐγὼ πολλῶν
ἤκουσα (über die tapfere Taten des Romanos Diogenes bei Mantzikert) und Ähnliches. An nicht
wenigen Stellen benennt Psellos seine Gewährsleute auch konkret: So habe ihm, dem πατὴρ τοῦ
λόγου, der bulgarische Prinz Alusianos selbst erzählt, dass Psellos ihm in Konstantinopel mehrfach
begegnet sei, ihn aber in seiner Verkleidung nicht erkannt habe. Von der pathetischen Klagerede
der von Michael V. verbannten Zoe hätten ihm später die Leute berichtet, die damit beauftragt
waren, sie auf die Insel Prinkipos zu bringen. Für die Liebesaffäre zwischen Zoe und dem späteren
Kaiser Michael IV. konnte sich Psellos, wie er sagt, auf die Informationen eines im Palast ein- und
ausgehenden Mannes stützen, der die ganze Geschichte kannte und ihm, Psellos, den Stoff für
seine Darstellung geliefert habe (ἅπασαν τῆς βασιλίδος τὴν ἐρωτικὴν εἰδότος ὑπόθεσιν κἀμοὶ τὰς
ἀφορμὰς τῆς ἱστορίας διδόντος).
Nur an einer einzigen Stelle erwähnt Psellos schriftliche Quellen, dort nämlich, wo es um die
Jugendzeit Basileios‘ II. geht: ὡς δὲ ἐγὼ τῶν ἀρχαιολογούντων περὶ αὐτὸν ξυγγραφέων ἤκουσα. Für
den späteren Basileios konnte er dann bereits wieder auf die mündlichen Einschätzungen seines
Charakters derjenigen zurückgreifen, ὅσοι τῶν καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς τεθέανται τὸν βασιλέα Βασίλειον. Zu
Beginn des dritten Buches, wo mit der Herrschaft Romanos‘ III. Psellos‘ persönliche Kenntnis einsetzt,
spricht er rückblickend auf Basileios II. und Konstantin VIII. nicht speziell von schriftlichen Quellen,
sondern nur davon, dass er Romanos skizziert, ohne sich auf Dritte zu stützen, während er sich für
seine Ausführungen über dessen beide Vorgänger auf fremde Quellen stützen musste (περὶ ἐκείνων
μὲν ἐξ ἑτέρων τὰς ἀφορμὰς εἰληφὼς εἴρηκα· τοῦτον δὲ αὐτὸς ὑπογράφω, οὐ παρ᾽ ἑτέρων μεμαθηκώς).
Falls es ein vom Redaktor später entferntes Anfangskapitel mit dem Tod des Ioannes Tzimiskes
gegeben hat, wofür vieles spricht, kommen auch dafür schriftliche Quellen in Frage, natürlich in
erster Linie Leon Diakonos, möglicherweise (aber nicht zwingend) gab es auch eine schriftliche
Quelle für den Feldzug Romanos‘ III. gegen Aleppo.

Überhaupt nicht auf irgendwelche Quellen, weder mündlicher noch schriftlicher Art (obwohl
alle Übersetzer es so verstanden haben), bezieht sich Psellos‘ Bemerkung zu Beginn von II 2: τοῦτον
τὸν ἄνδρα (sc. Konstantin VIII.) ὑπογράφων ὁ λόγος τοιοῦτον δηλοῖ. Hier bezeichnet ὁ λόγος,
wie an vielen anderen Stellen der Chronographia ebenfalls, den Logos (die Rede, das Werk) des
Autors Psellos, welcher ein Bild des Kaisers skizziert. ὑπογράφων ist natürlich auf λόγος bezogenes
Partizip, nicht etwa nach Meinung Treadgolds (291 n. 97) ein genetivus pluralis, der dann die
„writers“ meinen könnte, die hier als Quellen für Konstantins Chrakter genannt würden.
Eine mündliche Quelle, die bis in die Lebenszeit Basileios‘ II. zurückreicht, ist auch Isaak
Komnenos. Am Abend vor der krisenhaften Zuspitzung seiner Krankheit, so berichtet Psellos (VII
76), schien es Isaak besser zu gehen, er war in euphorischer Stimmung, erzählte viel und unterhielt
diejenigen, die bei ihm waren, mit Bonmots, die er sicherlich nicht selbst (geboren ca. 1007) aus
dem Mund von Basileios gehört hatte, sondern seinerseits aus mündlicher Tradition kannte. Zu
diesen ἀποφθέγματα des Basileios, die von Isaak erzählt wurden, gehörte eventuell auch das, was er,
wie auch von Skylitzes bestätigt, gesagt haben soll, als man den Rebellen Bardas Skleros nach dessen
Kapitulation, vom Alter gebeugt und auf beiden Seiten gestützt, vor ihn führte (I 27): „Sieh da, den
ich gefürchtet hatte, der kommt auf fremde Hände gestützt schutzflehend zu mir.“
Andere solcher Apophthegmata hat Psellos selbst gesammelt; von Konstantin X. Dukas hat er
einen ganzen Cluster überliefert (VII 121).
Mündlichkeit, die sich in der Chronographia als Dialog präsentiert, hat Psellos hingegen,
sofern er nicht selbst als Dialogpartner oder Ohrenzeuge beteiligt war, aus der geschilderten
Situation heraus erfunden. Ein Charakteristikum dieses historischen Werkes besteht ja darin, dass
in ihm die großen Reden, besonders die Feldherrnreden in der Tradition des Thukydides, fehlen.
Farbe und Unmittelbarkeit gewinnt die Darstellung wie die seines literarischen Vorbildes Plutarch
durch die Apophthegmata und eben die Dialoge, die Psellos auch dort einfügt, wo sie ihm keine
fremde Quelle übermitteln konnte, wie z.B. die lange und lebhafte geheime Unterredung zwischen
dem Orphanotrophos Ioannes und seinem Bruder, Kaiser Michael IV. (IV 20-22). Hier konnte es
schlechterdings keinen Ohrenzeugen geben, und doch gibt Psellos das Gespräch so lebendig wieder,
als sei er selbst dabeigewesen.
Eine einzige große Rede ist Gegenstand der Erzählung in der Chronographia, die große
Gesandtschaftsrede, die Psellos selbst als Abgesandter Kaiser Michaels VI. Stratiotikos vor dem
Usurpator Isaak Komnenos und dessen Garden im Feldherrnzelt Isaaks in Kleinasien gehalten hat
(VII 26-31). Diese Rede aber gibt Psellos nicht als zusammenhängenden Wortlaut wieder; er gibt
vor, wegen des tumultartigen Lärms, der sich an vielen Stellen seiner Ausführungen erhoben hatte,
sich nicht mehr an die genauen Sätze und Formulierungen erinnern zu können. Daher referiert er
einzelne Stellen, teils in indirekter, teils in direkter Rede, kommentiert diese mit dem technischen
Vokabular der Rhetoriklehre, berichtet über die Reaktionen der Umstehenden und führt die
lebhaften Dialogpartien zwischen ihnen und ihm sowie zwischen dem Kaiser und ihm an. Die Rede
ist auf diese Weise in viele kürzere Einzelpartien aufgespalten und somit dem allgemeinen Duktus
der Erzähleinheiten innerhalb der Chronographia angepasst.
In allen solchen Erzähleinheiten, die Psellos selbst an vielen Stellen διήγησις bzw. διήγημα
nennt (ebenso gebraucht er oft das Verbum διηγοῦμαι) dominiert die mündliche Situation, und
das wird auch dadurch deutlich, dass er seine Rezipienten niemals als ἀναγνῶσται, sondern als

ἀκροαταί apostrophiert, so z.B. VI 170: Dort leitet Psellos die Erzählung von einem Prozess gegen
einen Beamten wegen Unterschlagung von Geldern, die einen lebhaften Dialog zwischen dem
Angeklagten und Kaiser Konstantin IX. enthält, mit folger Bemerkung ein: „Doch will ich als Beleg
für diese schöne Eigenschaft von ihm (sc. des Kaisers) dem geneigten Hörer (τοῖς φιληκόοις) auch
eine kleine Geschichte erzählen.“ Auch an anderen Stellen spricht Psellos in der Chronographia von
der φιλήκοος ἀκοή seiner Rezipienten (VI 21), von den τῶν πολλῶν ἀκοαί, denen er seine Erzählung
anvertraut (VI 175), und das oft gebrauchte Verbum ἀναγινώσκω bedeutet in der Vorstellung des
Autors, dass der Leser durch lautes Lesen die akustische Gestalt des Textes wiederherstellt. Dass
Psellos, als er sein Werk diktierte, sich vorgestellt hat, dass seine zukünftigen Leser dem von seinem
Schreiber fixierten Text wieder mündliches Leben geben würde, ist selbstverständlich.
Für uns ist diese mündliche Praxis weitgehend verloren, aber nicht ganz, wissen wir doch
ziemlich genau, wie die griechischen Schriftzeichen der byzantinischen Zeit in Laute umzusetzen
sind, und für den Satzrhythmus haben wir zumindest für die Zeit ab dem 9. Jahrhundert die
Vorgaben der Akzentuierung und der Interpunktion, vorausgesetzt sie finden so, wie sie überliefert
sind, auch Eingang in unsere modernen Editionen.
Die Chronographia des Michael Psellos ist in besonderem Maße der zeitgeschichtliche
Vermittlungspunkt zwischen der Oralität der Quellen einerseits und der Auralität des rezipierenden
Publikums andererseits. Die fast auschließlich mündlichen Quellen sind durch das Diktat des
Autors zu einem λόγος verarbeitet, der durch den oder die Schreiber mit Hilfe von Buchstaben,
Akzenten und Interpunktionszeichen festgehalten wurde, damit er als akustischer Akt wiederbelebt
und wahrgenommen werden kann, gleichgültig ob sich das im sozialen Kontext eines θέατρον
abspielt, oder ob die Stimme des Lesers nur an die eigenen Ohren dringt.