Marina Bazzani

The use and function of Psalms in the Exomologesis and the personal poems of John Geometres

John Geometres, scholar and soldier, was one of the finest poets in 10th century Byzantium; he lived in a troubled historical period, which, nonetheless, saw a remarkably intense intellectual life. 

John wrote hymns, progymnasmata and orations, as well as an extensive production of poems and epigrams in iambic, elegiac and hexameters. Among his poems, which can be divided in different categories depending on their content, I intend to focus on the category of personal poems, εἰς έαυτόν, and, specifically, on his Ἐξομολόγησις. This lengthy poem, quite distinctive within Byzantine production because of its peculiar structure, which blends together autobiographical poetry, elements drawn from ancient hymnography and allusions to the personal poetry of Gregory of Nazianzius, is also deeply influenced by and resonates with the poetic tradition of Psalms.

In this paper I shall examine the presence of quotations from and allusions to the Psalms in the Ἐξομολόγησις to see how the poet fits them within his verses. In particular, I shall consider whether Psalms references are used in contexts similar to their original one, or whether John applies them to completely different and unexpected situations in order to achieve effects of dramatic force, surprise and irony. I hope to be able to show the depth of biblical influence on John’s poetry, as well as some of the interesting linguistic and stylistic features of this extraordinary poet.

Floris Bernard

The Place of the Psalms in Byzantine Historical Consciousness about Metre and Poetry

The main narrative we moderns have about Byzantine literary history emphasizes its links with ancient literature. Hence, Byzantine poetry is habitually seen as a continuation of ancient Greek poetry, with connotations of imitation and even epigonism. But how did Byzantines themselves place their own poetry in historical perspective? For this, we can turn to the many theoretical treatises about metre and poetry in Byzantium, which are still an understudied category of texts. While these mainly focus on the technical aspects of metrology and prosody, there are some testimonies that give an alternative view on the invention of metre. Here, the well-known narrative from Antiquity is replaced by a Christianizing view, in which the Jews are credited with the invention of metre, and in which the psalms are claimed to be a foundational poetry book. This contribution intends to connect these theoretical texts with statements of Byzantine poets themselves about the invention of metre, in order to understand in how far the poetic nature of the psalms was recognized by Byzantine commentators, and in how far the psalms were seen as part of Byzantium’s own poetic tradition. 

Cristina Cocola

The Art of Singing with the Psalms in Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos’ Κατανυκτικά

The primary aim of the present paper is to investigate the influence of the Psalms on the compunctious poems written by Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos (1256-1335). Even though this author is better known for his prose works, such as the Ecclesiastical History, his poetical production still deserves further analysis.

The poetical oeuvre of Xanthopoulos includes five compunctious poems (κατανυκτικά), preserved in one manuscript only: Bodl. Auct. E. 5. 14. (Misc. 079) (early 14 th century). The poems are divided in stanzas, characterised by the presence of alphabetic acrostics. In particular, in poem IX, strophe Ψ, Xanthopoulos attributes to himself the act of biblical ψάλλειν, a verb generally connected to David (vv. 133-134: Ψάλλοντα πρόσδεξαι τῇ ψυχῇ μου/ ψαλμοῖς τε καὶ ὕμνοις καὶ ὠδαῖς ταῖς τοῦ Πνεύματος). Apart from the direct reference to the Psalms, these two verses–and through them, the poem as such–also present other poetical allusions to the Psalter, namely the presence of the first person, the employment of the imperative form to address God, and the reference to one’s own soul.

Starting from this case study, I will demonstrate the actual connection between Xanthopoulos’ catanyctic poetry and the Psalms, by retracing the literary strategies and poetical images that the author drew from the Psalter and employed in his compunctious production.

Barbara Crostini

The Poetry of Prayer: Psalms as a Meeting-Point of Cultures

The eleventh century saw a number of high-quality illuminated editions of the Septuagint Psalter. Such enterprises document the theological reflection on this text, as both visual and textual commentaries provide exegetical material for the understanding of the psalms. This learned approach, resulting in costly luxury books, places the Psalter at the forefront of eleventh-century Byzantine culture. This effort, coupled with sophisticated rephrasing and literary additions in the form of metrical epigrams and running titles, is usually understood as a Christian-Orthodox phenomenon and its parameters apportioned to different milieus of production – whether courtly, monastic, or provincial.

In this paper, I would like to open out this discourse to the possibility that the Psalter functioned as a meeting-point of cultures. I examine in particular the attitude of prayer and the eschatological beliefs expressed in some Psalter editions, specifically those of Athos, Dionysiou 65 and Vaticanus graecus 752. I argue that their expression aimed at articulating specific beliefs for the benefit of dialogue between religions, in particular, the Jewish and Muslim faiths. In order to set such dialogue at a high level of refinement, literary ability and theological depth were both required; furthermore, recourse to images was both a way of making the vehicles (the manuscripts themselves) worthy of the level of such exchanges, often taking the form of official embassies, and a strategy for conveying meaning in an alternative and more universal language. The multicultural context of eleventh-century Anatolia was a fertile ground for such exchanges, and I propose that some of these artefacts stemmed from established monastic institutions from that region that were both especially sensitive to, and more directly affected by, the changing balance of power in favour of the Turkish conquerors.

Alessandro De Blasi

“We too will compose psalms”. Gregory of Nazianzus’ Poetry in the Wake of the Psalms

Gregory of Nazianzus’ poetical oeuvre stands out as the first remarkable example of Christian poetry and Psalms played a key role in Gregory’s legitimation of Christian metre. In his letter to Cledonius – almost a treatise against Apollinaris – he rejected the heretic Metaphrasis Psalmorum, and concluded by presenting his own poetry as a new Psaltery (Ep. 101, 73: καὶ ἡμεῖς ψαλμολογήσομεν). More importantly, in his famous poem II 1, 39, On matters of measure (εἰς τὰ ἔμμετρα), probably directed towards his notorious enemy Maximus the Cynic, Gregory of Nazianzus explains the reasons which led him to write poetry. Among them, one is particularly striking and deserves more attention: Gregory’s use of metre is endorsed by the fact that “even in the Scripture there is much in verse” (v. 83). He thus resorts to a well-attested belief among early Church Fathers: according to Eusebius (Praep. Ev. 11, 5, 7), both the Song of Moses (Dt 32) and Ps 118 were already ἔμμετροι ποιήσεις in Hebrew, whereas Jerome regarded as originally iambic the abecedarian Pss 110, 111, 118 and 144 (Ep. 30, 3). As a consequence, it seems no coincidence that Gregory introduces himself as a new David (II 1, 39, 88-89), and his tongue as a divinely inspired kithara (II 1, 34a, 91).

After giving an account of Gregory’s programmatic references and allusions to the Psalms in his Carmina and tracing back his sources, the present contribution will try to establish to what extent Psalms influenced Gregory’s Christian poetry, focusing especially on some formal features of his poems. Is there any connection between Gregory’s choice of the metre and the Hebrew one alleged by the Fathers? Should the occurrence of many acrostic and abecedarian poems in Gregory’s work (e.g. I 2, 30; II 1, 14) be connected to the Psalms as well?

Andrew Faulkner

Authority and Innovation in the Metaphrasis Psalmorum

In a series of case studies, this paper explores how the Metaphrasis Psalmorum engages with its source model, early Christian exegesis, and the classical tradition, negotiating competing claims of canonical authority and poetic innovation. From the mid fourth century, the liturgical use of non-canonical Psalms and books is a concern for early Christians, while Athanasius and others express general concern about the recasting of the Psalms so central to early Christian worship and prayer.  While implicating his paraphrase in the divine authority of the Psalms and following his source model closely in many respects, the paraphrast actively interprets and embellishes the Septuagint Psalms.

Giulia Gerbi

Τίνας ἂν εἴποι λόγους ὁ Δαυίδ. A triptych of ethopoeiae portraying David in Nikephoros Basilakes’s Progymnasmata.

Nikephoros Basilakes, a teacher holding the position of διδάσκαλος τοῦ Ἀποστόλου at the patriarchal school of Constantinople in the 12th century, is well-known as the pioneer of the incorporation of Christian materials into the progymnasmatic form, which was traditionally related to mythological and pagan themes. Although a few Christian progymnasmata can be found also at earlier stages (e.g. the metrical ethopoeiae with biblical theme preserved in P. Bodmer 30, 33 and 35, dating to the 4th-5th century), we owe to Basilakes the first corpus where Christian subjects are consistently treated alongside the pagan ones.

In Basilakes’s corpus we find fourteen ethopoeiae with a fully Christian theme (Eth. 1-13; Eth. 27), six of which are based on the Old Testament. Three of these six progymnasmata (Eth. 4-6) give voice to David and build a coherent triptych portraying him as a troubled man who is forced to flee, in the context of his contrasts with Saul and with his son Absalom.

This triptych is a fertile ground for the investigation of Basilakes’s treatment of Biblical sources and in particular of the Old Testament and the Psalms (traditionally ascribed to king David as a poet). David’s story closely follows the Biblical text and is developed following mainly I Kings and Judges, with whom the ethopoeiae seem to have a strong bound.

This paper aims to analyse Basilakes’s ethopoeiae in order to outline how the figure of David and his ethos are sketched and to investigate which sources Basilakes’s texts are related to and how the author treats the Biblical material integrating it in the progymnasmatic genre, with particular attention to the Psalms.

Antonia Giannouli

David and the Book of Psalms in Byzantine Hymnography

The present paper deals with the impact of the Psalms on the two main hymn forms of the Byzantine hymnography: the kontakion and the kanon. After a typological approach of quotations from or allusions to the Psalms, with regard to the theme of the hymn, the analysis will focus on special aspects of their influence (e.g. on catanyctic hymns).

Anna Gioffreda

Reworking Psalms: Manuel Philes ́ Metaphrasis

Manuel Philes’ Metaphrasis of the Psalms is the reworking of the biblical Psalms in Byzantine political verses: Philes turned 98 of the 150 Psalms into almost 3600 politikoi stichoi.

The objective of my current research is to provide the first complete critical edition of this Philes ́ work, which was only partially edited by Günter Stickler in 1992.

By focusing on a selection of the metaphrased Psalms by Philes, this paper aims to demonstrate the rhetorical and linguistic devices employed by the author to recast the original text into a different literary form. How did Philes manage to turn long poems of semitic tradition into Byzantine fifteen-syllable verses?

The comparison between a few of Philes ́ verses and the source text of the Psalms sheds light on Philes ́ working method. In the composition of the Metaphrasis, he uses different devices, intervening on the source text by altering its lexicon (substituting some words with synonyms or periphrases), and its morphological and syntactical structure. He was mainly keen on finding alternative forms, as in the case of the aorist and the perfect tense, which in his understanding were basically interchangeable. He also introduced many participle clauses, thus giving the text a hypotactic architecture that cannot actually be found in the model.

It is worth noting that these lexical and syntactic variations appear as the result of Philes ́ attempt to fill the fifteen-syllable verse. Indeed Philes ́ Metaphrasis distances itself from the source text only as much as it is required for respecting metrical rules.

In my presentation, I shall attempt to categorize Philes’s way of metaphrasing the Psalms. This is still a work in progress; yet this systematic analysis of Philes’ metaphrastic style will provide valuable insights on the way Philes worked as a poet as well as on his literary tastes.

Christian Høgel

God’s dwelling place: Greek rewritings of Psalms 25 and 26

Psalms 25 and 26 were with their expressions of God’s house and dwelling place often taken together in Byzantine readings. Depending on how ‘house’ and ‘dwelling’ were expressed in various rewritings and interpretations, man’s place in the world could find shifting possibilities. The enormous echo of liturgic performances and more or less individual readings gave the Psalms a particular textual habitat in a world of Scripture, in which rewriting is both needed in exegesis and questionable in terms of possibly supplanting the text.

Thomas Kuhn-Treichel

The Psalms as a justification for Christian poetry: from Gregory of Nazianzus to the Metaphrasis Psalmorum

It is well known that the Old Testament Psalms shaped the development of Christian poetry from the very beginning, examples being the Magnificat and the Benedictus. What is less well known is how the Psalms influenced classicising Christian poetry in late antiquity. This paper will present two Greek authors explicitly referring to the Psalms as a justification for their poetry. In his programmatic poem Εἰς τὰ ἔμμετρα, Gregory of Nazianzus lists four reasons for his writing poetry before adding in an apologetic tone that ‘in Scripture, too, much is written in verse, as the wise men of the Hebrew tribe say‘ (πλὴν ἴσθι πολλὰ καὶ Γραφαῖς μετρούμενα, / ὡς οἱ σοφοὶ λέγουσιν Ἑβραίων γένους carm. Ps.-Apolinarius, in the preface to his Metaphrasis Psalmorum, discusses the issue more broadly, sketching a veritable theory of translation (recently studied by Andrew Faulkner): As the Septuagint translation of the Psalms destroyed the ‘grace of metres’ (χάριν … μέτρων, praef. 19) and made the Greeks despise the Jewish-Christian poetic tradition (οὐ πάμπαν ἐθάμβεον, praef. 23), he feels obliged to put the Psalms into verse again in order to revive the legacy of biblical poetry in the Greek world. This paper will discuss the development from Gregory of Nazianzus to the Metaphrasis Psalmorum: While Gregory aims to show that poetry is not objectionable, the Metaphrasis reverses the problem, arguing that in the case of the Psalms the prose translation is to be blamed while poetry is the only appropriate medium. My paper will relate the different attitudes to the development of Christianity and Christian poetry from the 4th to the 5th century, aiming to show how the Psalms and Christian poetry became part of the struggle for cultural authority.

Konstantinos Melidis – Maria Ypsilanti

Greek and Latin Paraphrases of the Psalms 2 and 136 (137). Pseudo-Apollinarius and Paulinus of Nola: a Comparative Study

In the fragmented and fluid world of late antiquity, which was witnessing on all sides the destruction of the old traditions (pagan antiquity) and the quest for new socio-political and religious foundations (particularly through Christianity), rhetorical theory provided a more solid base than many other areas on intellectual life. Over the past few decades, it has been acknowledged that rhetorical theory had a particularly important influence on the Greek and Latin biblical epics that were a feature of the intellectual sphere of late antiquity.

The Metaphrasis Psalmorum, one of the two Greek Biblical epics that have survived down to us, embedded within the corpus of Apollinarius of Laodicea, is a 5th c. poetic paraphrase of the prose text of the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Psalms (David’s Book). Strikingly, Pseudo-Apollinarius, which adopts a verbum e verbo logic in his translation, decided to use the artificial Homeric idiom and dactylic hexameters, in order better to render the lost melodious character of the Vorlage (Protheoria, v. 15-19). We are also fortunate to have a group of Latin Scriptural versified paraphrases (Carmina 6-9) composed by Paulinus, bishop of Nola (4th c.), a Christian convert familiar with versifying prose texts from his secular studies (Suetonius’ De regibus). 

This paper offers a comparative examination of the Greek and Paulinus’ paraphrases of Psalms 2 and 136 (137) with a particular emphasis on the rhetorical devices and figures (skhemata/figurae) adopted by their authors, and thus with regard to the rhetorical theories on the paraphrastic techniques as explained by the ancient rhetoric literature. This comparison reveals that their choices correspond directly to the aims of each paraphrase and the audience (learned or wider) to which they are addressed. Despite both paraphrasts’ conscious effort to stick closely to the original, a good number of passages in their translation present some peculiarities, whether additions (αὔξησις/amplificatio) or omissions (παράλειψις/omissio) or even clarifications (προσδιασάφησις) of the text of Psalms. Paulinus, meanwhile, creates a new type of scholarly Christian poetry that allows him to turn the Psalms into a familiar poetic form, characterised by lengthy religious exegetical and explanatory openings (interpretatio). Thus, unlike the Greek paraphrast, he seems to propose a model of synthetic poetics that could serve to unite both the ancient (rhetorical schemes, epic metre) and the new (Christian divine truths) elements. 

The purpose of this contribution is not merely to locate and enumerate the rhetorical schemes used by the two authors in their effort to convey the divine message of the original, but also to highlight the literary function of these figurae in the poetic text, by which the original is improved stylistically (aemulatio) through elevated language (ornatio, μίμησις ἀρχαίων). Comparing the two versions, Greek and Latin, will allow us to appreciate the variety of forms assumed by the Old Testament Biblical epic in this era of religious and poetic syncretism. 

Ugo Carlo Luigi Mondini

Voicing Political Relief through Psalms. Manuel II Palaiologos and the Battle of Ankara

After the defeat of Bayezid I against Temur at Ankara, Manuel II Palaiologos composed a short prose in which Temur reproaches the captured Sultan, and a psalm. Although the two texts have drawn Barker’s attention, he merely lists some quotes from the Psalter and ends up stating a supposed ineffectiveness of late Byzantine authors in reproducing biblical style.

This approach is inadequate. Together with a handful of contemporary witnesses, Manuel’s works seem to be the most vivid reactions to the unforeseen Turkish defeat and definitely prove the spreading of re-interpretation of the events between 1391 and 1402 through the lents of the Bible. If the reproach against Bayezid can be identified with a specific genre, a composition ἐν εἴδει ψαλμοῦ turns out to be rather uncommon in Byzantine literature. Psalms had been metaphrased for centuries, but the author has decided to accurately reproduce psalmodic style.

But how does a Byzantine author create a psalm? The rhythmical features of the text and its content will be outlined. The psalmodic quotes already listed by Barker will be reconsidered in order to properly understand the tools used by the author. The psalm will be analysed on the basis of the Byzantine rhetorical production, which Manuel proves to know and to handle with skill, and through a comparison with other coeval witnesses.

It is not by chance that an emperor decides to write a psalm on a specific event. Turkish defeat inflamed Constantinopolitans after years of famine, as they felt again protected by the Lord, but many still feared an attack by Temur. In this historical context, once back to the City, Manuel picked up David’s lyre and praised God as the rightful emperor of the Chosen People.

Alberto Ravani

Πολλάκις πολλοῖς καὶ διαφόροις τρόποις. Themes and purpose of Euthymius Zigabenus’ Commentary on the Psalms

The Commentary on the Psalms is one of the exegetical works written by Euthymius Zigabenus, a monk who lived between 11th and 12th century and worked at the court of emperor Alexios I Komnenos. As Anna Komnene writes (XV 9), «he had a great reputation as a grammarian, was not unversed in rhetoric and had an unrivalled knowledge of dogma». All his works, including the famous Dogmatic Panoply, still lack a modern critical edition, and, so far, few attempts have been made to tackle the huge Commentary on the Psalms. However, the impressive number of manuscripts that carry this work underlines the importance it had for the understanding and the reception of the Psalter in the Komnenian age.
In the conclusion of the Commentary’s prologue, Zigabenus says that he will analyse the psalms not «only in terms of history, prophecy, allegory or ethical teachings, but often in many and different ways» and, as Conley already pointed out, Zigabernus’ Commentary «is unusual in paying so much attention to grammar and rhetorical question». But it is still to be uncovered what the themes of this work are and for whom it was written for. This paper addresses these issues analysing the prologue that serves both as an introduction to the Psalter and as a programmatic statement; attention is also placed on the context of the work: was the author influenced by the revival of platonic philosophy or by the renewed interest in allegory that both took between 11th and 12th century?
The first remarks of this paper would be one of the first study on text, context and ideological premises of this commentary, thus enhancing the knowledge of 12th century scholarship on poetry and psalms.

Rachele Ricceri

Striking the Psalm-Inspired Lyre: the Poetry of Byzantine Psalter Epigrams

Among the works that in the manuscript tradition accompany the text of the Greek psalms, a peculiar place is occupied by book epigrams, or metrical paratexts on the Psalter. Being pieces of poetry themselves, these short compositions tie in with the poetic character of the psalms and are a fascinating case study to investigate the features of the psalms that were chiefly highlighted by Byzantine scribes and compilers.

This paper aims at analyzing the literary qualities of Psalter epigrams, which precede or follow the biblical text in dozens of Byzantine Psalter books. In this group of texts a number of recurrent topoi and motifs are to be found. Psalter epigrams often contain a praise of David, portrayed as the archetype of Christian poet. Moreover, these epigrams emphasize the character of psalmody as a performative exercise.

The present paper attempts to retrace some of the sources that inspired the production of Psalter epigrams, whose language and themes are remarkably recognizable. On the one hand, I will try to understand to which extent the text of the psalms constitutes a valuable antecedent to the composition of Psalter epigrams. On the other hand,  I will analyse the feature of Psalter epigrams in light of the broader theoretical framework of biblical and Byzantine poetry.

Michael Zellmann-Rohrer

Ritual Poetry: The Reception of the Psalms in Byzantine Magic

As a complement to the reception of the Psalms in Christian liturgy and hymnography, this paper considers the extension of their original ritual function in a different direction: the less well known, private sphere of magic and popular ritual, and in particular, the vernacular poetry of incantations. Based on a tradition of dedicated treatises, whose study has just begun, individual Psalms or verses thereof were selected by the principle of analogy and recommended for goals beyond the devotional uses recommended by the Church, such as gaining success in love affairs (e.g. Ps. 41 [42]) and destroying personal enemies (e.g. Ps. 73 [74]), and with ritual apparatus such as dissolving written text in water for the preparation of an efficacious liquid. In addition, Psalms whole and in part were integrated into larger incantations, as part of a diverse and opportunistic mixture of motifs, such as narrative episodes constructed ad hoc on the basis of characters from scripture and hagiography. Sources begin with the sixth-century medical author Aetius of Amida and some late ancient agricultural and veterinary compendia, the Geoponica and Hippiatrica, expanded and widely read in turn in the Middle Byzantine and later periods, and continue via a large corpus of mostly anonymous medical and ritual recipes throughout Byzantium and beyond. The reception of the Psalms in this respect may share a common ancestor with a parallel medieval Jewish tradition, reflected for example in the Cairo Geniza, which probably lies in late antiquity.