Workshop on Religious Poetry and Performance at Uppsala University

The end of May was a busy and exciting time for byzantinists in and around Uppsala. From 18-21 May, the university hosted the big conference on spatialities of Byzantine culture (see below), organised by Myrto Veikou and Ingela Nilsson. The conference was followed by a smaller scale workshop on religious poetry and performance in Byzantium, organised by post doc Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen. It took place from 23-24 May at Uppsala University. The close proximity of the conference and the workshop was due to the fact that several scholars were able to participate in both events.

The aim of the workshop was to gather specialists in the fields of theatre and performance studies, musicology, hymnography and hagiography in order to come closer to an understanding of how religious texts were performed in the Byzantine society. The speakers were Spyridon Antonopoulos (City, University of London), Thomas Arentzen (Oslo University), Mary Cunningham (Em. Nottingham University) Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen (Uppsala University), Derek Krueger (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Alexander Lingas (City, University of London), Margaret Mullett (Em. University of Belfast and Dumbarton Oaks), Przemyslaw Marciniak (University of Katowice), Fr. Damaskinos Olkinuora (University of Eastern Finland), Christian Troelsgård (University of Copenhagen), Julie Van Pelt (University of Ghent) and Andrew Walker White (Stratford University).

Besides the speakers, the workshop was visited by among others Helena Bodin (University of Stockholm) and Stig Frøyshov (University of Oslo). Also participating in the workshop was the choir Psaltikon (http://www.psaltikon.org/about-psaltikon/). The choir performed a concert at the end of the workshop with hymns transcribed from medieval manuscripts.

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Przemyslaw Marciniak (Katowice) presenting on Byzantium as a ”performative society”

Although it is difficult to determine exactly how hymns and hagiographical texts were performed, the workshop offered several perspectives on the performance. Przemyslaw Marciniak gave a broader view on Byzantium as a ”performative society”, and Andrew White took the participants back to a classroom in medieval Byzantium to reflect on how commentaries on tragedies (scholia) actually contain performance indications. Julie Van Pelt and Christian Troelsgård both focused on hagiography, Van Pelt especially on performances by cross-dressers, and Troelsgård on how hymnographers turned hagiography into short hymns for the saint’s feast day. Thomas Arentzen explored the quite erotic texts for Holy Week in 6th century Constantinople, whereas Margaret Mullett looked closer at the resurrection narrative in the 12th century Christos Paschon. In different ways, Alexander Lingas, Derek Krueger, and Spyridon Antonopoulos looked at various ways in which Byzantine clerics and manuscripts gave instructions for singers. Finally, Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen introduced to his post doc project on performance and participation in Byzantine liturgy and focused on the pun as oral performance in the kontakia of Romanos the Melodist.

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Andrew White teaches how to pronounce certain words with passion and emotion according to the Byzantine scholiasts

As mentioned earlier, the workshop concluded with a concert sung by the choir Psaltikon. The choir is founded by Spyridon Antonopoulos who is also the director of the choir, which has its base in Boston. For the concert, he had transcribed several medieval hymns, among them a stanza from a kontakion of Romanos the Melodist. The repertoire also included hymns for the festal season, that is hymns from Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost. The concert took place in the magnificent Anatomical Theatre at Museum Gustavianum. Both the singers and the audience were surprised by the amazing ambience in the theatre – the voices intermingled and the overtones blended perfectly. The choir also gave concerts the following days in Stockholm and Copenhagen, thanks to a donation from the Carlsberg Foundation in Denmark.

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The choir Psaltikon singing in the Anatomical Theatre in Gustavianum. Clockwise from right: Alexander Lingas, Fr. Damaskinos Olkinuora, Dimos Papatzalakis, Spyridon Antonopoulos, Vasileios Lioutas, Haralambos Hamos and Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen (photo: Myrto Veikou)

All in all, the workshop on religious poetry and performance in Byzantium was an important step towards getting a deeper understanding of different kinds of performances and their contexts. It also provided the foundation for a continued scholarly dialogue. All of this was made possible thanks to a generous grant from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (http://www.rj.se/).

Uffe Holmsgaard Eriksen

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