Chronicles as Literature at the Crossroad of Past and Present

In the last days of April, Munich was the venue for a conference devoted to Byzantine historiography, and more specifically to ways of writing it and ways of reading it.

The city of Karl Krumbacher, whose portrait the participants had the opportunity to admire upon registration, seemed like a befitting place to discuss some of the definitions that he (Geschichte der Byzantinischen Literatur, 1891) and Herbert Hunger (Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner, 1978) had once been influential in establishing.

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The convenient location of the hotel in the Schellingstrasse also offered the participants apt time and frequent opportunities to inspect the nearby antiquarian bookshop window of J. Kitzinger

The question of genre in particular turned out to be frequently and often hotly debated. What constitutes a work of history, and how does a proper historiographical work differ from a chronicle, a chronography, or a simple epitome? Talks devoted to problematic or even enigmatic aspects of early works like the Chronikon Paschale (Christian Gastgeber), the history works of John of Antioch (Umberto Roberto), John Malalas (Adam Goldwyn) and George Monachos (Dmitry Afinogenov) mingled with analyses of the later works of Symeon the Logothete (William Adler), George Kedrenos (Roger Scott), Skylitzes Continuatus (Larisa Vilimonovic) and Michael Glycas (Varvara Zharkaya). John Zonaras enjoyed particular attention from both Luisa Andriollo, Sotiria Protogirou and Theofili Kampianaki. Sergei Mariev discussed the overall identity of the Byzantine chronicle, whereas Richard Burgess – who explicitly aimed at “Freeing Byzantine Historiography from the Tyranny of Krumbacher and Hunger” – proposed an exhaustive model for classifying most of them, and Paolo Odorico repeatedly returned to the need to put them back in their historical environment instead of picking them out of it.

Given the last aspect in particular, the Armenian outlook provided by Annalinden Weller and the Late Antique perspective offered by David Westberg were helpful by not only freeing the Byzantine historiography as such from the constraints of modern genres, but by also widening the outlook beyond the Byzantine paradigm. Strangely absent in this concern, except for in the paper of Federico Montinaro, was Theophanes Confessor and his Syrian sources, as was the Patria-collection. The concluding discussion made it clear that comparisons with Western (Latin) and Eastern (Arabic, Persian) historiography could have rendered some interesting results. But perhaps it can become the topic of another conference.

The conference was arranged by Ingela Nilsson (Uppsala) and Sergei Mariev (Munich) and sponsored by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

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