Instruction by Question and Answer: The Case of Late Antique and Byzantine Erotapokriseis

Yannis Papadoyannakis, University of Birmingham

In this contribution I would like to discuss and problematize the literary process of instruction by question and answer. This process is integral to a very little-studied body of literature, that of the question-and-answer or otherwise known as erotapokriseis in late antiquity but also to the literary form of dialogue. Despite its enormous popularity in late antiquity there is—with few exceptions [1] —no recent, systematic discussion of this literature and more importantly of the literary process that informs it. To say nothing of the fact that some important texts have neither been properly edited much less translated into any modern language. This is all the more surprising since in the late antique and Byzantine literature the question and answer collections became one of the most preferred means of organizing and imparting knowledge in a number of such fields as: medicine [2] , grammar, philosophy, theology, law. [3] What has been only partly appreciated is the sustained usage of this literary form up until the present day. [4] My aim is not to provide an overview but to raise some new questions and to suggest some new possible lines of future research on this very rich body of literature. In doing so I will draw selectively from different collections in order to illustrate my points.

I. Format

The literature of erotapokriseis in late antiquity developed from its classical predecessors and was to have an extremely broad use and long afterlife. Otherwise known as problemata, zetemata, luseis, apora (aporiai) the question and answer literature has a long and important pedigree. One of the first and most famous attestations is the Ps. Aristotelian Problemata. [5] Similar collections have been attributed to Democritus, Theophrastus, Chrysippus. [6] In late antiquity Porphyry’s Quaestiones Homericae, and Summeikta Zetemata and Damascius’ Aporiai kai lyseis peri ton proton archon point to the continued importance of this form. Not unlike their predecessors erotapokriseis in late antiquity and Byzantium were based on and built around a number of problems, (zetemata, aporiai) of the most diverse nature. [7]

It is worth stressing at the outset that this literature needs to be understood both in terms of form, process [8] and content as well as in the context of the practices of the philosophical schools but also the culture of conversation, debate, and disputation. [9] As a process it is operative across a wide range of literary forms (epistles, lectures or dialexeis, treatises, manuals, dialogues etc.) and allows us —without deemphasizing the particularity of each of these literary forms—to get a better perspective on both this process and literature.

So far as the dialogical form is concerned, it has been remarked that ‘In late antiquity, the dialogue form was seen as a suitable vehicle for carrying out the wars of sectarian rivalry among Christians and was put to use in apologetic and polemical efforts as well as in prophylactic and catechetical exercises—sometimes if only to breathe some life into tiresome, pedantic patristic florilegia of proof-texts’. [10] Other scholars have advanced the term Gebrauchsliteratur or instrumental texts. [11] While this may describe well a certain aspect of some texts it does not do justice to a set of other texts and it runs the risk of rendering them mere instruments. This could prevent us from considering the multiple and diverse contexts that these texts conjure up and from within which they arose as well as their performative aspect. But this is a point to which I will return.

The literary form allows for considerable variation in application. A number of collections and dialogues reflect different stages in instruction ranging from rudimentary (such as grammars cast in the form of question and answer or manuals of surgery, military treatises, etc) to highly technical ones by Maximus the Confessor, Ioannes Italos etc. But we also have to acknowledge collections that defy such an easy distinction.

II. Setting

As a literary form and process it sprang from and was used in the schoolroom of the philosophers. It was more broadly used in late antiquity. In the Vita Plotini, Porphyry ‘spent three days asking Plotinus how the soul is present to the body, he [Plotinus] kept explaining, causing a certain newcomer called Thaumasius to say that he wanted to hear him laying down principles with reference to texts and would not put up with Porphyry’s responses and inquiries. But Plotinus says, “If we do not resolve Porphyry’s difficulties when he questions us, we shall not have anything that we can put straight into the text”’. [12]

The literary form of erotapokriseis was adopted and adapted at a fairly early stage by Christians. Origen and Eusebius—to name but a few—made extensive use of this form. [13] The loose structure and the add-on nature of this literary form account, in part, for the diverse material that they include. Ps. Justin’s Quaestiones et responsiones ad orthodoxos (hereafter QRO) is a case in point. [14] In contrast to earlier collections, the QRO are concerned not with the continuous exposition of a single text, but with relatively short and self-contained sections of argument which need to be put in their context in ancient discussions generally.

Being one of the first adaptations of the quaestiones in Greek Christian literature and having survived under the name of the second century AD apologist Justin, the Quaestiones et responsiones ad orthodoxos is a collection of 161 questions and answers (thus in the longer recension) and it deals with a wide range of issues. Each question and answer is numbered and forms an independent unit, linked to its nearest questions by some common theme: eschatology, cosmology, demonology, magic etc. A few questions are well known objections that ultimately go back to Celsus, Porphyry and Julian. [15] Following Origen’s and Eusebius’ literary precedent, a good deal of Ps. Justin’s erotapokriseis aim at refuting these criticisms and accusations using the rhetorical method of anaskeue and kataskeue. [16] On account of this, there is a strong apologetic dimension in these questions and answers directed not only against pagans but also against heterodox Christians and Jews. [17]

But interwoven with this, is a strong didacticism that is based on the desire to probe deeper into a particular text or problem. At times the answers to the questions read like exercises in tackling difficult and not always easily solvable questions, a feature that ties them to their philosophical and philological predecessors. In doing so the resolution of problemata involves the use of several exegetical methods.

Many indications imply a pedagogical process. This is obvious not only from the requests of the inquirers to the teacher (δίδαξον/teach us, διασαφήνισον/ clarify etc.) but also from the answers that are given. In Q. 159 for instance the response to the question is: ‘This question is unbecoming of either a Christian or of a Greek [i.e. pagan]. […] One must not construct an inquiry from things that are agreed upon but from disputed issues’. [18] In tune with the pedagogical and didactic aims of the erotapokriseis, are also what look like rules that guide the inquiry and define its limits. [19]

In several collections such as Ps. Justin’s and Ps. Caesarios’ the answers take the form of longer disquisitions. An interesting feature of these collections is that the rich dialogical elements and the free association and interpretation of the scripture but also the solutions offered to various other aporiai imitate the actual performance of the teacher. This is a pervasive and calculated move. The kind of language employed is meant to create the feel of the classroom for the reader even if we are dealing with written collections of these aporiai. [20]

The performative aspect and the interaction between master and disciple become more explicit in the erotapokriseis of Ps. Caesarios, a collection 218 questions and answers from the 550’s on the most diverse topics attributed pseudonymously to the brother of Gregory Nazianzen, Caesarios in the fourth century. [21] According to the preface these questions were asked by several persons and answered by Caesarios in the conversations of four consecutive days while he was teaching in Constantinople. The individual inquiries are not always ascribed to each of the several persons mentioned in the title who inquire, are steered through different arguments, interrupt or ask follow-up questions or ask for further elaboration.

The painstaking scholarship of the editor of the work Rudolf Riedinger has shown that the text is a compilation that was put together in the first half of the sixth century AD. [22] Apart from the specific questions that interlocutors are made to pose, they remain otherwise undeveloped dramatis personae. In fact, it is fair to assume that the anonymous author has blended his own concerns and inquiries— but also other contemporary ones—with those of the dramatis personae of his dialogues. The text gives some indications of the setting of this dialogue which is meant to come across as taking place in a classroom-monastery.

All four dialogues are punctuated by the interaction between a teacher/MASTER and a circle of students/DISCIPLES. From the very beginning of the work the inquirer is asking the teacher to provide them with sound instruction in various kephalaia of the Bible lest they are misled by the fools. [23] The inquirers need to be edified and strengthened in their belief. The dramatic setting and characters that the anonymous author employs to deliver his answers form part of the apparatus he employs to recast, reformat and re-organize and impart knowledge.

Answers to and discussion of inquiries then, is the main means of presenting his ideas. The work is permeated by a miscellanism of an encyclopedic scope and nature manifested in the meteorological, cosmological, astrological, medical lore presented in short reading units on display. Few examples will suffice: One question (92) [24] inquires into the origin of the sun, the moon, the stars and their essence whereas another (Q. 89) [25] inquires into the number of heavens and the nature of the firmament (Q. 91). [26] Other questions deal with such issues as the shape of heaven (spherical or flat?), such natural phenomena as the course/trajectory of the sun and how this affects the daylight during the summer and the winter (Q. 97 and 99). [27] The author does not refrain from attempts to explain earthquakes (Q. 102) [28] or to dismiss the influence of the stars in human life (Q. 106). [29]

It has become clear by now that by making use of this literary form and process, the authors of these collections set themselves in a long-standing didactic tradition. Even if this instruction is apologetically motivated and oriented it nevertheless becomes of broader relevance and extends to more general areas of broader significance and application. The fact that the authors of the collections come across as the purveyor of the solutions or answers brings about a “personalizing” of knowledge. In other words even when the authors are mediator/intermediary of knowledge by virtue of the fact that they are drawing tacitly on other authorities, the implied role of the master/teacher encourages discipleship on the part of the inquirer (and the reader of the collection) who come to share the teachers’ insights and positions. In the case of Ps. Justin the persona of the teacher remains less developed but other collections such as the one by Anastasios of Sinai or Michael Glykas afford us perhaps a fuller picture of the teacher at work.

In many collections, the themes overlap. But it would be a mistake to assume that they are of less interest because of this. Even in the case where aporiai or zetemata (and at times their solutions) are borrowed from older tracts and commentaries, catenae etc., it is not only interesting to see how these are “re-solved” but also how the texts are recast and transmitted. [30] Viewed in this light these collections can allow us to see how the texts circulated and the uses that they were put to.

If instruction is the primary concern for these texts it takes the form of a dispensation of knowledge that does not preclude a skilful use of hermeneutical principles, [31] even if the parameters of the debate and of the imparted instruction have changed. In fact question and answer literature becomes a literature where some authors may feel more at ease to speculate and at times innovate.

Another telling indication of the setting where the same process of instruction by question and answer is employed, we find in the dialogue Ammonios by Zacharias the Rhetor that dates from the early sixth century AD. [32] In the preface to the dialogue Zacharias writes that he has composed this dialogue at the request of some who wanted to see certain of Ammonios’ pagan philosophical tenets refuted. The term that Zacharias uses for his reply to the objections is λύσεις/lyseis. Other terms reminiscent of the instruction by question-and-answer model, recur throughout the dialogue. [33] Ammonios is a document of the highest importance for a number of reasons. Both the literary process and form as well as the content throw an interesting light on Ps. Justin’s Quaestiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos and alert us to a potentially similar setting for this work. There is a striking overlap in the range of concerns that are addressed in these works (demonology, resurrection, eschatology, cosmology, theodicy).

Rather than aiming to ‘breathe some life into tiresome, pedantic patristic florilegia of proof-texts’ we have to see the erotapokriseis and dialogue literature as a “discursive matrix” [34] intimately associated with—but not confined to—the rhetorical exercises and the schoolroom. As such it allows the discussion of a broad array of questions which are given different degrees of focus.

III. Catechesis?

Many scholars have referred to these collections as catecheses on account of the fact that they impart knowledge. But we have to ask more questions and probe deeper. Our knowledge of catechesis is limited, but—if anything—these collections allow us to see this process as longer than we have assumed. The literature of the erotapokriseis addressed a constant need for instruction in the Bible but also on a number of other issues. This accounts for the appeal of this form and its longevity. For instance in the period of Ps. Justin’s QRO, we know very little about the way that the large numbers of recently converted Christians (in the fourth, and fifth centuries) were instructed to the new faith [35] or how the successive generations of Christians were instructed in religious—but also numerous other—matters.

Judging from the variety of the questions asked, the persistence of these questions—questions on related themes were asked until the end of the Byzantine empire and beyond—and the variety of ways in which they are discussed in the erotapokriseis but also from the didactic aims of these collections, we have to ask whether Hirzel’s judgment about dialogues is fair. Is it ‘rohes Dogmatismus (raw Dogmatism)’ [36] or intense speculation and scrutiny—to be sure within carefully delimited parameters—about fundamental tenets of Christianity? We are not in a position yet to fully assess this and any definitive conclusions have to wait, pending more detailed studies. But acknowledging this catechetical aim of some of these collections and studying these with the diligence and the care that they deserve will change our idea of catechesis. For, contrary to a tendency to keep the religious and the secular apart, we find these two interwoven in these collections.

IV. Erotapokriseis and Dialogues

The process of instruction by question and answer is of course operative in the form of the dialogues. It is worth paying attention to Zacharias’ preface to Ammonios that serves as a reflection and comment on the enterprise. Zacharias refers to some student who began to advance his teacher’s Greek [viz. pagan] objections to some about the world. The students then, conveyed these [objections] (antitheseis) to Zacharias and once they heard the solutions they requested that they be committed to writing. [37]

We see the reformatting of problems/zetemata into scholarly talking points albeit in a dramatized form. Do these dialogues allow us to imagine a similar setting for and a process from which at least Ps. Justin’s QRO developed or were employed namely the philosophical/theological schooling? Photius, whose Amphilochia is a collection of more than 300 questions with their answers, some cast into dialogue form, provides us with another interesting comment about his use of dialogue in the discussion of zetemata: ‘And since in such inquiries for arguments the dialogue mode is more suitable, because the investigation of the subject is rendered more subtle by the continuous alternation of the opposing views [antitheseis], I too must undertake such a form of reasoning, having first asked the divine Word to reveal to me the spirit of truth in these matters and to grant that my reasoning may render the unfolding of it perspicuous. Accordingly, let the persona championing the teaching of the Fathers be signified by the letter A and the one employing the recourses of the opposition and putting forward the opposing views for the purpose of overturning the argument be indicated by the introductory letter B.’ [38]

V. Organization of Knowledge

From the discussion above, it has become apparent that the process of instruction by question and answer was used not only to refute but also to convey knowledge organized in various degrees of complexity. On account of this it is worth asking how this didacticism affects and is affected by the wider phenomenon of the organization of different types of knowledge in late antiquity and Byzantium as in many cases later collections compile and recompile questions (aporiai) giving different answers adding, modifying or giving new answers.

Scholars have remarked on the general tendency to reduce knowledge to smaller bits in order to make its assimilation easier. [39] It would be worth looking into this process in order to discover the criteria by which this happens especially in cases where these microtexts usually are the result of compilation and draw on a larger body of literature and knowledge. For example, a good case has been made recently about the way in which Aristotelian meteorological knowledge was recast and reformatted in the form of erotapokriseis in the eleventh century by such authors as Michael Psellos, Symeon Seth, and Eustratios of Nicea. [40]

As a result, this literature holds out one more possibility for us to consider. As ‘discursive matrix’ [41] that has been applied not only to different fields of knowledge but also across the centuries it is interesting to see how—if at all—this develops over time. Does it generate new knowledge? [42] What does it mean to impart knowledge in this ‘dialogized’, ‘multivoiced’ form? What does this tell us about the notion of truth that is sought?

As a flexible means of organizing knowledge these collections reflect the varied stages of their compilation but also contemporary concerns as well as the way in which these collections develop over time. The authors of these collections were not only interested in transmitting knowledge but also in adapting the texts to the demands of a particular time and place in relation to reading, interpretation and understanding. The fact that the texts have been abstracted from their literary context does not prevent the quaestiones from being incomparable guides to the intellectual environment within which they were compiled as well as a unique source for religious, social history. [43]

Considered in this light they can help us to understand how knowledge was preserved and transmitted, and enriched, but also updated and reinterpreted.

In the course of time there is an increasing—explicit or implicit—reliance on authorities [e.g. Ps. Caesarios, Photios, Glykas] in order either to support the interpreter’s point of view or to help him explore the implications of an argument but this phenomenon needs to be studied further. Is it merely an anthologizing deference to the authority of the ancient sources? As a result of this it is worth studying both the way in which these collections were put together since we are dealing with collections but also the way in which they were circulated, enriched and used long after their production.

Furthermore we can only profit from asking how different kinds of knowledge in these collections are appropriated, and controlled, condensed or expanded, accumulated and synthesized, centralized or dispersed. [44] What are the mechanisms and criteria for the accumulation, distribution, and storage of knowledge in these collections, arranged in various ways (alphabetical, thematic order etc.)? What is the precise relationship of these collections with the original texts (homilies, catenae, doxographies, anthologies, commentaries)? What of the audience? The mixed nature of these questions defies a neat distinction between “high” or “low” versions of the questions. Furthermore for some of these texts it has been suggested that their setting is monastic. [45] If so, we have to rethink both the kind of schooling that was available at these monasteries and whether such schooling was imparted only in this setting or we have to assume a wider circulation.

VI. Conclusion

The late antique and Byzantine question and answer literature clearly developed from the classical literary form and preserved many of its features. However there are shifts in emphasis and in use and at times changes. As a result some collections are at times noticeably distinct from their predecessors.

While in many cases avowedly apologetic, this literary form also reflects an aspect of instruction and paideia that deserves more attention than is conventionally given. For it offers us a way of exploring the modalities of instruction in late antiquity and Byzantium not easily recoverable from other sources. On top of providing historians with a rich body of literature to work on, further study of question and answer literature enables us to move from more recognizable, established and well studied ways of instruction acquired from commentaries, treatises etc. to literary forms that employ the question and answer process to achieve the same ends.

I hope to have shown that an approach to this body of literature based upon the considerations that I have outlined above will enhance our understanding and appreciation of these works and will create a new way of looking at this literature.

Combined with other forms of evidence it will illuminate both the various processes of schooling and—on a broader level—the way knowledge was organized and imparted. As a result of this it is not easy to dissociate this literature from the dynamic engagements between teacher and student or preacher and audience and the dialogical pedagogy that this implies. But more importantly through this literature we catch a glimpse of something more elusive but which almost certainly happened/took place at the time: the inquiry, the disputation, the instruction and the social realities around them.

Works Cited

Bardy, Gustave. ‘La littérature patristique des “Quaestiones et responsiones” sur l’Ecriture Sainte’, Revue Biblique 41 (1932): 210–236; 341–369; 515–537; 42 (1933): 14–30; 211–229; 328–352.

Blair, Ann. ‘The Problemata as a Natural Philosophical Genre’, in A. Grafton and N. Siraisi (eds), Natural Particulars: Nature and Disciplines in Renaissance Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: 1999), 171–204.

Cameron, Averil. ‘Dispute Poems and Dialogues in the Ancient and Mediaeval Near East’, in G.J. Reinink and H.L.J. Vanstiphout (eds), Dispute Poems and Dialogues in the Ancient and Mediaeval Near East: Forms and Types of Literary Debates in Semitic and Related Literatures (Leuven: 1991), 91–108.

———. ‘Texts as Weapons: Polemic in the Byzantine Dark Ages’, in A.K. Bowman and G. Woolf (eds), Literacy and Power in the Ancient World (Cambridge: 1994), 198–215.

Colonna, Maria Minniti. Ammonio/Zacaria Scolastico (Napoli: 1973).

Congourdeau, Marie-Hélène. ‘L’animation de l’embryon humain chez Maxime le Confesseur’, Nouvelle Revue Théologique 111 (1989): 693–709.

Daly, Lloyd W. and Walther Suchier. Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti Philosophi, Illinois Studies in Language and Literature 24.1–2 (Urbana, IL: 1939).

D’Anna, Alberto. Sulla resurrezione: Discorso cristiano del II secolo (Brescia: 2001).

Dörrie, Heinrich and Hermann Dörries. ‘Erotapokriseis’, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 6 (1966): 342–370. Edwards, Mark. Neoplatonic Saints: The Lives of Plotinus and Proclus by Their Students (Liverpool: 2000).

Garton, Ch. and L.G. Westerink. On Predestined Terms of Life (Buffalo: 1979).

Garzya, Antonio. ‘Testi letterari d’uso strumentale’, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 31.1 (1981): 263–287.

———. ‘Appunti sulle erotapokriseis’, Vetera Christianorum 29 (1992): 305–314.

Giard, Luce and Christian Jacob (eds), Des Alexandries (2 vols, Paris, 2001-2003).

Haldon, John. ‘The Works of Anastasius of Sinai: A Key Source for the History of Seventh-Century East Mediterranean Society and Belief ’, in Averil Cameron and Lawrence I. Conrad (eds), The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East: Papers of the First Workshop on Late Antiquity and Early Islam (Princeton: 1992), 107–147.

Harakas, Stanley S. The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers (Minneapolis, Minn.: 1987).

Heinrici, Georg C.F. Griechisch-Byzantinische Gesprächsbücher und Verwandtes aus Sammelhandschriften (Leipzig: 1911).

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Hirzel, Rudolf. Der Dialog, ein literarhistorischer Versuch (2 vols, Leipzig: 1895).

Hörandner, W. ‘Erotapokriseis’, Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik 2 (1994): 1417– 1419.

Hunger, Herbert. ‘Erotapokriseis’, Lexikon des Mittelalters 3 (1986): 2183–2184.

Ieraci Bio, Anna Maria. ‘L’ ἘΡΩΤΑΠΟΚΡΙΣΙΣ nella letteratura medica’, in C. Moreschini (ed.), Esegesi, parafrasi e compilazione in età tardoantica: atti del terzo Convegno dell’Associazione di studi tardoantichi (Napoli: 1995), 187–207.

Jacob, Christian. ‘La bibliothèque et le livre. Formes de l’encyclopédisme alexandrine’, Diogenes 178, vol. 45:2, summer (1997): 64-85.

———. ‘Questions sur les questions: archéologie d’une pratique intellectuelle et d’une forme discursive’, in Annelie Volgers and Claudio Zamagni (eds), Erotapokriseis: Early Christian Question and Answer Literature in Context (Louvain: 2004), 25–54.

Johnson, Allan E. ‘Rhetorical Criticism in Eusebius’ Gospel Questions’, Studia Patristica 18.1 (1989): 33–39.

Lim, Richard. ‘Theodoret of Cyrus and Speakers in Greek Dialogues’, Journal of Hellenic Studies 111 (1991): 181–182.

———. Public Disputation, Power, and Social Order in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: 1995).

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Munitiz, Joseph. ‘Anastasios of Sinai: Speaking and Writing to the People of God’, in M.B. Cunningham and P. Allen (eds), Preacher and Audience: Studies in Early Christian and Byzantine Homiletics (Leiden: 1998), 227–245.

———. ‘In the Steps of Anastasius of Sinai: Later Traces of His Erotapokriseis’, in B. Janssens, B. Roosen and P. Van Deun (eds), Philomathestatos: Studies in Greek Patristic and Byzantine Texts Presented to Jacques Noret for His Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Leuven: 2005), 435–454.

Odorico, Paolo. ‘La cultura della συλλογή: 1) Il cosidetto enciclopedismo bizantino; 2) Le tavole del sapere di Giovanni Damasceno’, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 83 (1990): 1–21.

Otto, J.C.T. Corpus apologetarum Christianorum saeculi secundi (3 vols, Ienae: 1876– 1881).

Papadopoulos-Kerameus, A. [Theodoret of Cyrrhus:] Ad quaestiones cuiusdam Aegyptii episcopi responsioni, Subsidia Byzantina 13 (St. Petersburg: 1895; reprint Leipzig: 1976).

Perrone, Lorenzo. ‘Sulla preistoria delle “quaestiones” nelle letteratura patristica. Presupposti e sviluppi del genere letterario fino al IV sec’, Annali di Storia dell’ Esegesi 8.2 (1991): 485–505.

———. ‘De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus’, ‘De diversis quaestionibus ad Simplicianum’ di Agostino D’Ippona (Roma: 1996).

Piccione, Rosa Maria. ‘“Scegliere, raccogliere, e ordinare”. Letteratura di raccolta e trasmissione del sapere’, Humanitas 58.1 (2003): 44–63.

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———. ‘Akoimeten’, Theologische-Realenzyklopädie 2 (1978): 148–153.

———. Die Erotapokriseis (Berlin: 1989).

Rinaldi, Giancarlo. ‘Tracce di controversie tra pagani e cristiani nella letteratura patristica delle “quaestiones et responsiones’’’, Annali di Storia della Esegesi 6 (1989): 99–124.

Sharples, Robert. Alexander of Aphrodisias: Supplement to On the Soul (London, 2004).

Snyder, Gregory. Teachers and Texts in the Ancient World: Philosophers, Jews, and Christians (London: 2000).

Τελέλης, Ιωάννης. ‘Οι λόγιοι του 11ου αιώνα και ο αριστοτελισμός: Η περίπτωση των “Μετεωρολογικών”’ in Βασιλική Βλυσίδου (ed.), Η αυτοκρατορία σε κρίση; Το Βυζάντιο τον 11ο αιώνα (1025–1081) (Αθήνα: 2003), 425–442.

Thillet, Pierre. ‘La pédagogie de Plotin’, in Claudia Giuffrida and Mario Mazza (eds), Le Trasformazioni della cultura nella Tarda Antichità: atti del convegno tenuto a Catania, Università degli studi, 27 sett.–2 ott. 1982 (2 vols, Catania: 1985), vol. 1, 205–217.

Volgers, Annelie and Claudio Zamagni (eds), Erotapokriseis: Early Christian Question and Answer Literature in Context (Louvain: 2004).

Westerink, L.G. and B. Laourdas. Photii Patriarchae Constantinopolitani Epistulae et Amphilochia (6 vols, Leipzig: 1983–1988). [‘De vitae termino’ = Amphilochia II 149, 66–75]

Zamagni, Claudio. ‘Une introduction méthodologique à la littérature patristique des questions et réponses: le cas d’Eusèbe de Césarée’, in Annelie Volgers and Claudio Zamagni (eds), Erotapokriseis: Early Christian Question and Answer Literature in Context (Louvain: 2004), 1-24.


[ back ] 1. See for instance the discussion by Perrone, 1991: 485–505; Perrone, 1991, ‘Il genere delle “Quaestiones et responsiones” nella letteratura cristiana antica fino ad Agostino’, in Perrone, 1996: 11–44. The most recent and thorough treatment of a number of issues related to this literature is found in various contributions in the collective volume by Annelie Volgers and Claudio Zamagni, 2004. The book contains the proceedings of a conference held in Utrecht and has a number of interesting contributions that go some way towards remedying this deficiency. However some of the older studies that will be mentioned below remain still relevant and useful. For other late antique question-and-answer collections see the work of Robert Sharples on the question-and-answer collections of Alexander of Aphrodisias and on the way that they relate to the preceding philosophical tradition as well as to the rest of the corpus of Alexander writings. Sharples, 2004, with bibliography.

[ back ] 2. Ieraci Bio, 1995: 187–207.

[ back ] 3. 3 For overviews of this literature see Bardy, 1932: 210–236; 341–369; 515–537; 42 1933: 14–30; 211–229; 328–352. See also Heinrici, 1911. Some broader perspective can be gained from the following entries: Dörrie,1966: 342–370; Hörandner, 1994: 1417–1419; and Hunger, 1986: 2183–2184. For a recent discussion of the form in collections from the classical period and their reception in the West, Blair, 1999: 171–204. While the term ‘genre’ may apply to the literature that Blair discusses, to speak of a ‘genre’ when referring to late antique and Byzantine collections of questions and answers is to overdetermine the degree to which these collections follow a well-defined set of features. I prefer the term literary form with the understanding that it allows for more fluidity in the way that this literature was perceived by the ancient authors.

[ back ] 4. Such a very common feature as the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section on any website or brochure as a concept goes ultimately back to the ancient question and answer literature. See also such modern collections as Harakas, 1987 that are based on the same literary form of erotapokriseis and employ the same process of instruction by question and answer.

[ back ] 5. Blair, 1999: 171–714.

[ back ] 6. See Jacob, 2004: 25–54.

[ back ] 7. Heinrici—one of the first scholars to attempt to map out the dense hinterland of this rich literature—remarked: ‛Darin aber besteht der eigentümlicher Reiz dieser Schriften, dass Gelehrtes und Volkstümliches, Sage und wissenschaftliche Tradition in Ihnen frei verbunden sei.’ In Heinrici, 1909: 18.

[ back ] 8. On this see also the remarks by Zamagni, 2004: 1-24, esp. p. 3.

[ back ] 9. See Cameron, 1991: 91–108 and Cameron 1994: 198–215. For the centrality of debate and disputation in late antiquity see also Lim, 1995.

[ back ] 10. Lim, 1991: 181–182.

[ back ] 11. Garzya, 1981: 263–287; Garzya, 1992: 305–314.

[ back ] 12. Plotini, 1951–1973: 13, 10–17. Translation by Edwards, 2000: 23–24. For a perceptive discussion of erotapokriseis as an intellectual practice see Jacob, 2004: 25–54. Also for a discussion of the processes of schooling in the ancient world see Snyder, 2000. Thillet, 1985: 205–217; 212–215.

[ back ] 13. Bardy refers to the use of the form by Marcion in his Antitheses and Appelles in his article ‘La littérature patristique des “Quaestiones et responsiones” sur l’Ecriture Sainte”, 1932: 217–224.

[ back ] 14. The editions available are: Otto, 1876–1881: 1–246 as a pseudonymous work of Justin the Martyr. The other edition, which is attributed falsely to Theodoret, is by A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, 1976 and is based on a more complete manuscript.

[ back ] 15. See Bardy, 1989: 99–124.

[ back ] 16. A point well made by Johnson, 1989: 33–39.

[ back ] 17. Bardy, 1933; Cameron, 1994; Cameron, 1991.

[ back ] 18. ‘ Ἀπόκρισις: Αὕτη ἡ ἐρώτησις οὒτε χριστιανῷ ταιριάζει, οὒτε Ἓλληνι· [...] οὐ χρὴ δὲ ἐκ τῶν ὁμολογουμένων κατασκευάζειν τὴν ἀπορίαν, ἀλλ’ ἐκ τῶν ἀμφιβόλων.’ Q. 159, 7–11 (Papadopoulos, 1975: 146.)

[ back ] 19. See for example Papadopoulos, Q. 161, 9–11, p. 147.

[ back ] 20. This compels us to consider the question of the relation of QRO or Ps. Caesarios to any spoken performance and that of the place of delivery. Both have to remain open. Joseph Munitiz has suggested that in the case of Anastasios of Sinai some of the responses may have been read aloud in the church Munitiz, 1998: 227–245, esp. p. 235.

[ back ] 21. The critical edition is: Pseudo-Kaisarios, 1989.

[ back ] 22. Riedinger, 1969: 282–300.

[ back ] 23. Pseudo-Kaisarios, 1976: Q. 1, 14–15, p. 9.

[ back ] 24. Pseudo-Kaisarios, 1976: Q. 92, 1–2, p. 71.

[ back ] 25. Pseudo-Kaisarios, 1976: Q. 89, 2–3, p. 69.

[ back ] 26. Pseudo-Kaisarios, 1976: 91, 1–2, p. 70.

[ back ] 27. Pseudo-Kaisarios, 1976: 97, 1–2, p. 74, Q. 99, 1–2, p. 75.

[ back ] 28. Pseudo-Kaisarios, 1976: Q. 102, 1–17, p. 78.

[ back ] 29. Pseudo-Kaisarios, 1976: Q. 106, 1–48, pp. 80–82.

[ back ] 30. For a good example of how the erotapokriseis of Anastasios of Sinai were copied, re-copied, excerpted, adapted and revised by later Byzantine authors until the 15th century AD, see Munitiz, 2005: 435–454. A similar case can be made for other collections of erotapokriseis that had a long and famous career in Byzantium.

[ back ] 31. For a similar didactic tendency that permeates the philosophical commentaries of the time, see Sluiter, ‘Commentaries and the Didactic Tradition’ in Most 1999: 173–205.

[ back ] 32. Zacharias, 1973.

[ back ] 33. Zacharias, 1973: 131c (1137–1139).

[ back ] 34. The term is from Jacob, 2004: 44.

[ back ] 35. For a discussion of this problem in the fourth and fifth centuries, see Markus, 1990: 31–35.

[ back ] 36. Hirzel’s judgment reads as follows: ‛Der dialogische Form, die, bei ihrem ersten Hervortreten in der Geschichte, der Kritik der Meinungen und der Befreiung des Geistes gedient hatte, war in den Katechismen das Gefäss des rohesten Dogmatismus geworden . Daher besiegelt die Katechismenlitteratur das Ende des antiken Dialog’ in Hirzel, 1895: 265 [emphasis mine]. This view still enjoys currency but does not do justice to the fact that late dialogues were adapted to meet distinctly different ends breaking, thus, away from their ancient models even in cases where late antique and Byzantine authors claim that they are following the classical model. Commenting on this phrase Daly rightly remarks that Hirzel’s judgment ‘seems to be conditioned by a predisposition to set up the best of classical Greek dialogues as the perfection, and consider others as deviations or deteriorations therefrom’. Daly goes on to say ‘these dialogues [viz. patristic dialogues] are surely not merely feeble and unsuccessful attempts at imitation of the classical dialogues, for such comparatively well educated and intelligent men as Jerome and Theodoret could certainly have done better than they did, had they had in mind the writing of a classical dialogue’. In the introduction to Daly, 1939: 18.

[ back ] 37. Zacharias, Ammonios, Preface 3–7.

[ back ] 38. Amphilochia II 149, 66–75 (De vitae termino), Westerink 1986: 169. Photius is reproducing here verbatim a passage from Germanos of Constantinople, On Predestined Terms of Life, trans. and ed. Garton, 1979: 7. The translation is by Charles Garton and L. G Westerink with some modifications.

[ back ] 39. Ieraci Bio, 1995: 206. For the organization of knowledge in late antiquity and Byzantium see Odorico, 1990: 1–21. See also the overview by Piccione, 2003: 44–63.

[ back ] 40. See the contribution of Τελέλης, 2003: 425–442.

[ back ] 41. Jacob, 2004: 44.

[ back ] 42. See for instance the way that Maximos the Confessor deals with the problem of the ensoulment of the embryo in his Ambigua in the study by Congourdeau, 1989: 693–709.

[ back ] 43. See for example Haldon, 1992: 107–147. See also Munitiz, 1998: 227–245.

[ back ] 44. On this see the exemplary and inspiring work of Jacob, 1997: 64-85. See also the contributions in Giard, 2001-2003.

[ back ] 45. For instance, the editor of Ps. Caesarios’ erotapokriseis, Rudolf Riedinger, suggests a monastic setting for the compilation of this work and more specifically the monastery of the Akoimētoi in Constantinople. See Riedinger, 1978: 148–153, esp. 151–152.