Elizabeth A. Fisher, Michael Psellos On Symeon the Metaphrast and On the Miracle at Blachernae
1. Introducing Michael Psellos
2. Introduction to the Encomion of His Excellency Symeon the Metaphrast
3. Encomion of his Excellency Symeon the Metaphrast
4. Introduction to the Discourse on the Miracle That Occurred in the Blachernae [Church]
5. Discourse on the Miracle that Occurred in the Blachernae [Church]
3. Encomion of his Excellency Symeon the Metaphrast 
3.1. In proposing to praise Symeon, great in his conduct and in his discourse,  [and to praise] his reputation and his success, bright and widely proclaimed throughout all the world, I do not know what words to use about him nor what to say of all [that I could] in order to present an adequate panegyric. For [he was] a man not only adorned with discourse and possessed of an intellect most adept at creating ideas and a tongue like the flow of the Nile—[though] not periodically nor at great intervals, but daily increasing by thousands of cubits and issuing in a flood at the most appropriate moment—but [he was] also [a man] ennobled in the admixture of his character,  in his assemblage of all virtues, and in providing a pattern for those who wish to emulate a great man’s prudent way of life.
3.2. Constantinople blossomed with the life of this famous man in due season, as one might say, the foremost (270) city [bringing forth] the foremost man, the fairest of cities [bringing forth] the guardian fairest to speak of. By giving him the gift of bearing him as her child and by honoring him with such an origin, she received in return from him the [privilege of] bringing forth such a one, who would suffice alone [and in himself] to give in return the fairest award to that [fairest] of cities. And because of that man her previous honor increased, becoming most magnificent; in times past she surpassed the other cities by as much beauty and greatness as a place in paradise [surpassed them] in extent and circumference. Subsequently, because of him and by [virtue of] the blossoming of his newborn virtues, she exceeded the other cities, so that even if [beauty and greatness] in adornment had not been her lot from the beginning, [even if ] she had not been fortunate in [her] great founder [Constantine], this wondrous offspring of hers would have been enough for her when she was compared with [the other] quite important [cities ].
3.3. His excellence, incomparable in all respects, was also without rival then, even from the very moment of his birth, so to speak, and from [the time when] his full head of hair grew; [he was] like the whelps of lions, who show immediately their proud expression and the (271) fullness of their manes.  Indeed, the flowers of his intelligence blossomed, his mind took deep root and his intellect sparkled quite marvelously. Now in others, these qualities would be sufficient for them to be [considered] perfect, but in his case they were obviously the preliminary outline of a perfect nature. Just as some trees grow in accord with their nature with hardly any need of a cultivating hand and increase even more in beauty and size if they are watered a little; Symeon’s nature was some such thing, straightaway advancing swiftly and straight up. Thus without any training he spoke with an orator’s skill, while the depths of his soul produced philosophical concepts in abundance. When he examined carefully the discourses of the philosophers and gained from that study first principles as starting points for finding what he sought,  he emerged suddenly, elevated on high and discovering the Sun from its rays or, so to speak, from the Sun he gazed at its rays. In the former case by means of a syllogistic argument he inferred the primary [cause] from its secondary [effects] and in the latter case he drew as a syllogistic conclusion [effects] secondary in nature from their primary causes. 
3.4. [Symeon] knew that man’s nature in its perfected state is adorned with these two things: that which comes from his intellect and that which flows from his tongue. [He recognized] that some of those wise men [who went] before us perfected the intellect through philosophy, while others refined their speech through rhetoric. With the exception of one or two, the rest showed an inclination towards one or the other of the two categories. For some, the tongue flooded like a river through constant dialectical argument, while for others (272) the elevated contents of their own thoughts provided a [compelling] herald’s summons, so that the latter group was all but devoid of speech and the former group lacked the higher [form of] intelligence. Symeon was midway between the two and became an agent to bond together those who until then stood at variance. And as if suspending his speech from the mooring cable of his intellect while stationing his intellect upon his words, he used rhetorical skill to guide  his [knowledge of] philosophy into a more pragmatic function plainer [to understand], at the same time elevating his rhetorical skill by means of philosophy and commingling the two [disciplines] each with the other by [using] the attractions particular to each one. In a manner of speaking, he gave his intellect a voice and his tongue intelligence. Indeed, he presented philosophy with the [power of] persuasion that expressed moral character and practiced rhetoric with a mental profundity [characteristic] of philosophy. Because he accommodated himself equally to the two sorts [of discipline], neither did philosophers despise [Symeon’s] political subjects, upon seeing that they had a philosophical hue, nor did rhetoricians, mollified by [Symeon’s] rhetorical practices, feel vexed at [his philosophical] knowledge.
3.5. Accordingly, to all the cities he seemed to be some sort of beacon kindled from Byzantium, like a torch raised on high. In truth, the site [of Constantinople] was like some heavenly realm, sparkling with every sort of discourse. Through this one torchbearer, [the city] illuminated the entire inhabited world and in addition to her own luster cast a glittering light with another’s (273) radiance as well. [What was] yet more amazing and what would cause one to admire [Symeon] more was [the following]. While most people consider education as the basis for becoming rich—not in order to come into possession of [morally] better things, but to luxuriate in vanities through attending to these [matters]—[in contrast] Symeon possessed noble birth, had acquired a good name from his family, and reveled in extensive wealth and in the things because of which one might avoid learning. [Nevertheless Symeon] used the resources [gained] from worldly good fortune to study philosophy. Thereupon he emulated neither the more disengaged of those who practice philosophy nor the more pretentious of the rhetoricians. For the former group, stunned by philosophy’s rays as if by boundless radiance, immediately squeeze their eyes shut and neither advance virtue into practical action, nor employ its principles with a truly noble spirit, nor assume the leadership of cities, nor take into public life what they have learned and present [it] to the general population; instead, like a harvest without fruit, they cultivate long beards  and assume sullen expressions. Then some of them run through the center of town and needlessly indulge in unrestrained public speech,  while others live in barrels where they have shut themselves up,  others (274) spend their whole lives examining [topics] through questions and answers,  and yet others conduct inquiries concerning natural science by contributing to [everyday] life useless [presentations of ] contradictory arguments and wordy disputations.  The majority of rhetoricians undergo this same experience by claiming the sensible art [of rhetoric] as a basis for [exercises in] silliness, even when it is necessary to determine and expedite what is beneficial to cities; some of them devise their own, others use stock plausible inventions  to add a tragic touch to life. 
3.6. Symeon, however, was not like this—far from it! He did not adopt a different [style of] dress, nor compromise in any way his truly noble spirit, nor embarrass his family with any sort of silly novelties, nor offer a model of political subjects only to remodel it,  nor otherwise play the part of a [disreputable] sophist. Instead he employed his hereditary affection for honorable conduct as most useful raw material for accomplishing what is good and straightaway took the excellence [derived] from his studies as the basis both for true nobility of spirit and for brilliance. For as a special favorite of the emperors he was entrusted with the most honored assignments of all; [Symeon] received a position close to the imperial throne because of his keen intelligence and, due to his natural aptitude, also [held] an administrative post in government supervising public affairs. He initially (275) received an appointment to the imperial chancery, privy to confidential resolutions and working with [imperial] advisors. When his trustworthy character in these [duties] made him well known, he undertook responsibilities in external affairs in addition to his duties in the palace, with the result that it was he who conveyed to the emperor messages from outsiders and [relayed] imperial [communications] to outsiders as well. He was, so to speak, the administration’s precise [communications] link. 
3.7. The sun in [the course of] its orbit sometimes [looks] upon others and sometimes upon us. In contrast Symeon was himself wholly attentive both to the emperor and to public affairs. Indeed, as our discourse described him earlier, he [was] multifaceted in nature, capable of formulating plans in advance and of accomplishing [them]. [He was able] to drive the barbarians farther from the territory belonging to the [heirs of the] Roman [Empire], to prevail against them either through military expeditions or by means of artifice, to bring other countries into subjection,  and to adopt a ready stance regarding requirements of the moment for the matter at hand. [He] altered his behavior when it was necessary, devised new conduct when it was beneficial, and remained consistent whenever this seemed good. Moreover, the man was not devoid of graces, (276) but both his tongue and his wit were ready with suitable repartee in every endeavor. Although he was truly noble in dress, in demeanor, and even in the way he walked, he altered his behavior to [fit] the situation; because he was charming and agreeable, he immediately attracted everyone with his smile. His [helping] hand was generous because two [attributes], his wealth and his inclination, extended it. His hand was [always] outstretched and open, and whoever wished drew liberally upon his [wealth] as if it flowed from a river. Such were the [qualities] of this great man, and he also took part in activities that typically assist our [Christian] faith, as was appropriate. They were—  but why should I not make more perfect use [of this kind] of narrative and promote [Symeon’s] greatest achievement into a prominent position? Since I have [now] provided my narrative with a brief preliminary statement, I proceed to [my] chief purpose. 
3.8. Distinguished indeed were the brave struggles of the martyrs against their enemies, whom they combated both overtly and covertly. Surely it is so! Their confrontational speech [was] brilliant and their convictions invincible—and [there was] their sacrifice of the [normal] conditions of life, their neglect of their natural [human needs], their loss of amputated limbs, and (277) finally their contempt for life. The ascetic life is no less lustrous than these [deeds]. For also in the [ascetic] life there is mortification of the flesh,  and [true] enjoyment [consists] in refusing to enjoy what one ought not enjoy; [in the ascetic life there is] rejection of the world, a bodily flight up to God, and resistance both to natural passions and to the worldly [temptations] flowing from evil spirits. For that very reason, both [the martyrs’ and the ascetics’] styles of life, while glorious in the past, are also [glorious] again. However, until recently the way they lived on earth, or rather our recounting of their lives, was not recognized as brilliant, although accurate accounts of the [facts] of their martyrdom and of their ascetic practices are indeed preserved in the secret books that the angels will read out for the multitudes at the Restitution [of all things].  Moreover, before [the time of] the remarkable man [Symeon] those who wrote of [the saints’] deeds here on earth by no means approximated their nobility of spirit. Instead, in some cases they gave erroneous reports of their [deeds], while in other cases, because they were incapable of an appropriate presentation, they described their virtue as rude and paltry by failing to demonstrate nobility of thought,  or to employ attractive adornments of diction, or to describe accurately either the ferocity of [the saints’] persecutors or their shrewdness in answering when they gave [Christian] witness. [These earlier writers] also presented an adulterated version of the ascetics’ practices by describing their earnest efforts without any artistry and seemingly with whatever [words] came to mind. (278)
3.9. For that reason, some had no patience for reading the annals [of their deeds] [because they were so] crude[ly written], while others considered the accounts objects of derision.  Their awkward composition, incoherence of thought, and mediocre style were harsh to the ear and repulsed rather than attracted [an audience]. Because of the authors [who wrote about them], we habitually satirized the marvelous struggles and monumental victories of the servants of Christ. Although everyone complained loudly about the situation, those who had the ability to replace these [writings] with better [ones] lacked the will [to do it], and those who had the will lacked the ability—some because of timidity of spirit, others because the enterprise was all engrossing, and one man’s lifetime would not be sufficient for it all. The marvelous Symeon did not feel the same as those who were stricken [by these difficulties]. He joined them as far as finding fault with the [accounts that were] written, then went farther and had the confidence for a daring project—or, rather, he succeeded in an undertaking where no one else had. For this reason, Symeon gained a reputation that was quite conspicuous among those held everywhere in high repute. He also dedicated to God the most beautiful things of all [when] he beautified and adorned the [spiritual] struggles and contests of the martyrs and the self-control and patient endurance of the ascetics;  (279) because he offered devotion identical [to that of the martyrs and ascetics], he received in return gratitude from everyone.
3.10. For what could anyone compare with such an immense undertaking? What sort of compendium of ancient Greek lore, or geodesy of the entire earth?  Were the accomplishments of the Persians and their predecessors the Babylonians as many? Were the later achievements in quite manly fashion by Alexander of Macedonia as great? These [accomplishments] are distinguished, especially [as recorded] by those who publish books of history in elegant language. While many are eager to read these books for the sake of [the skill with which] their authors composed them, the literary accounts which this noble man [Symeon] constructed for the martyrs and the ascetics demonstrate amplification appropriate to discourse and have a two-fold objective—both [to inspire] imitation of their [skillful] composition and [to encourage] imprinting of the self with saintly morality in the best way possible. I, however, might mention a third [consideration], not inferior to these [other two], but both more to the point and more elevating: [namely], that the literary commemoration of the saints is the final chapter of the works that confirm the Gospel message. The fact that (280) [Symeon] chose such subject matter for his writing is a most accurate testimonial to his sagacity; that he employed such content of thought and diction, at once understandable and sublime, plausible, truthful and natural, is also certain proof of his own wisdom and most of all an indication, one might suppose, [that he] attuned his usage [of words] to [particular ] occasions and audiences. 
3.11. Now to say something on this point and turn my argument in a more discursive direction—I am well aware that the works of [Symeon] are not given much serious attention by those who amplify their own speech more in the manner of the sophists, much less by those who spend their time in learned pursuits or in serious scientific inquiry; [they claim] that there is no notable mixture of styles  in his works, no obvious rhetorical figures in his discourses, no posing and solving of a problem in natural science, no geometrical proofs using technical terminology, no philosophical contents of thought to elevate the subject matter. Those learned individuals want everything written for exhibition, not for beneficial moral improvement. I, however, claim that [Symeon’s] works lack none of these [qualities]. Since in his view their utility is not as a sort of showpiece, he does not pack them (281) with every example of every sort [of learning] right from their prologues. Instead, where his subject matter gives him an occasion he uses [the techniques of] discourse to the extent necessary, then returns to the objective he set for himself. For his discourse does not give attention to sophistic argumentation and forensic elegance, nor to a systematic treatment and observation of nature, nor indeed to the consideration of geometry or the even more esoteric discipline involving numbers. [Symeon] does not direct his attention to the movement of the heavens nor to [the question of] how the fixed portion of the universe relates to the planets, [which wander]; symphonic and homophonic chords are of no concern to him, nor were emmelic chords  [that occur] in addition to these. Therefore, he dismisses these [matters] as esoteric and makes use of them in some places when appropriate, but consistently holds to the truth and to an honest narrative. Although he knows many levels of speech, he uses the [one] that suits both a scholarly and a general audience alike, and he satisfied both groups at once. For with rhythmical [ornamentation] and with the beauty of his diction he attracted the learned listener and thoroughly entranced him in nets of [rhetorical] delights,  while he won over his (282) popular audience with the clarity and freshness [of his diction]. He captivated both by being concise and persuasive.
3.12. To avoid speaking less than the truth by disguising it, [I should mention that] I know many rhetorical styles of discourse that are better [than Symeon’s]—I mean, [styles] belonging to more polished rhetoricians and [to] those who are beyond [the ability] of the majority to imitate with their resounding [mastery of] accent and rhythm  —but I do not know anyone among them all who fit his type of style more exactly to the works he elected to compose. But even if one of those individuals, extraordinary for his writing style and his [capacity for] reflection, had chosen such a project, in this respect he might have made the discourse more elaborate—but I do not mean more appropriate and more congenial to every audience. For the prologues to [Symeon’s] discourses straightaway engage with [their] subject matter, and he proceeds in short order to declare his intention for the work clearly; in some [of his essays], he summarizes the overall purpose of the discourse from the beginning, divides [it] up in parts, and adapts it to individual characters and circumstances. In all of them, [he maintains] the same rhetorical complexion in his discourse and a quality of expression that is consistent,  although he varies the delineation of characters subtly and, I might add, artfully. He does not alter the facts for the sake of his art, but in each case he interprets the particularity of the facts as they happened (283) and [the particularity] of the individuals [involved]. He fixes his attention upon the older works as his models and does not deviate from them in order to avoid the appearance of creating something that is different from his original and [to avoid] violating it. He completely transforms the type of style without altering the substance [of the original], but he corrects what was amiss in its forms [of expression]; he does not invent the contents but he alters the manner of diction. His discourse is not confused or troubled by encountering irregularities in the narrative and deviations from its purpose; indeed, like the best of captains, when his ship is awash [in the sea], he stands unperturbed at the tiller, plying it with utmost skill.
3.13. There are [points] in his discourses where he even provides a geographical description of the homelands of [the saints] he is praising. He divides the entire earth into segments and focuses upon one of the sections, then clearly states something about its rivers and explains their sources in terms of natural features as well as [making some observations] about the advantageous physical setting of cities,  and [about] the [local] climate and harmonious [variation of ] seasons, even if those who are in fact ill-disposed to hear [such things] do not listen to what he says. He makes use of words in a variety of ways, sometimes in a manner quite fit for a rhetorical contest and sometimes more mildly.  Who would dispute with him over the charm of his narratives taken as a whole? Or over their composition? Or over the cadences of their rhythms? Or over the smooth adaptation of each successive [part] to all [the others]? I at any rate wish to contend on his behalf that he is not [pointlessly] verbose; (284) I find that his discourses do not lack this [sort of] charm, but where they possess a [quality of] excess, in that abundance [of words there is] yet dignity and organization. He sets a martyr’s constancy and an ascetic’s endurance as two courses [of action] for himself and runs in both races not with the swiftness of his feet but with the agility of his thinking. Especially by running the ascetic’s [race on] the double course he outdoes himself in vigor and becomes yet more fit for the competition.  [Symeon] certainly delights my ear when his discourse ascends a mountain or descends into a cave, sets one of his ascetic subjects beneath a pine or oak tree,  and imagines him eating plants and drinking from springs. For he adorns such narratives with locutions blooming with beauty and with colorful rose gardens of rhetorical figures. He presents the everyday events of the time as something the audience can picture rather than [simply] as something [the saint] did.  I, therefore, admire [Symeon] for the beauty and grace [of his language] no less than for the usefulness of his subject matter; although I have written many [works] on many [subjects], my writings would not stimulate [in others] such a desire to rival and imitate [them].  [My writings] will perhaps seem (285) very desirable to men of letters, [who] will admire them because of their diction and their varied [rhetorical] figures. The majority of people, however, will scorn [my works] because [most people] do not have any interest in [philosophical] inquiries and inexpressibly [profound] thoughts.
3.14. People do indeed say that [Symeon] did not undertake the project as a hobby nor [simply] set it for himself, except to the extent that he was willing [to do it]. However, fervent appeals from the emperor moved him to undertake this [project] as well as [appeals] from those who valued intelligent discourse. He had his preparations ready at hand and [had] a team of considerable size [composed] both of those who initially took down his dictation stenographically  and of those who subsequently transcribed it [in full]; each group [worked] in support of the other, one producing an initial [text], the other a second [draft]. After them, the final redactors went over the written texts to compare them against the content intended [by Symeon] and to correct whatever [error] might have escaped the notice of those who drafted the texts, because [Symeon] could not possibly review the same [works] repeatedly [himself] due to their great number.  However, although his eagerness for a [good] name was great and his attention [to the project] more than sufficient—or rather, exactly sufficient—for this [task], even so the [harvest of] grain greatly surpassed the seeds sown, and the crop was such as never [before has been seen], even today. As a result, even if [Symeon] had applied himself to accomplish nothing else, and [even if ] his other [achievements] taken together or individually were an insufficient basis for his renown, nevertheless the [fact that he] undertook such a labor and (286) accomplished [it] with such exactitude in addition to [his other achievements is] reason in itself aside from anything else for an encomion [in praise] of the man.
3.15. I at any rate do not consider it appropriate to compare Symeon’s [literary] efforts with the writings of the learned [authors] of classical antiquity. What of it, if some of them composed Panathenaic [orations] and others wrote of the war between the Peloponnesian [allies] and the Athenians at an impressive [level of] diction?  [If] some took up the argument against the rhetors and others [argued] in favor of them?  Among [these authors], extravagant erudition [was] conspicuous and remarkable, but [the capacity] to benefit [others was] puny and weak. I would never choose to match my contender against them, but if I might be indulged, I would place him on an equal [footing] with those who exert their efforts in discoursing about the Gospel and who interpret the [profound] depths of the Word; their goals are the same, and they begin from similar [motives]. If the (287) goal of their undertakings is in both cases the salvation of souls, how do their motivations not stand on equal [footing] one with another and [how would] their writings [not] be measured against the same standard or, to express my [view on the matter, how] will they [not] inherit equal [portions of glory]? How many laurels for excellence would not have crowned this admirable man? Or, rather, how many would not have already adorned him for the [earthly] race he has run towards God and for the choral lyrics he performs  in the presence of those [saints] whose characters and lives here [on earth] he has recorded? He has indeed demonstrated even in his death what sort of life he endeavored to live, for eyewitnesses say that [Symeon] did not resemble one cut down [in life] nor severed [from it], but he rather seemed liberated from some sort of bond as he reached with joyful acceptance towards the angels who conducted [him forward] and in some sense delivered himself into their hands so that he might depart swiftly from his body.
3.16. Such was the manner of his death, and immediately everything filled with a fragrance [that persisted] not just for that moment nor until the third day [after his death], but day after day thereafter, so long as the adornment [of the body] was laid up alone as a treasure in its tomb. The coffin would indeed have remained [thus], spreading its perfume forever, had not certain persons committed such a criminal act as to place another body alongside [Symeon’s]. (288) At the very moment that [the corpse] fell against the great man, the fragrance stopped welling up. [O Symeon,] whom I consider the best and most eloquent of men, this miracle of yours reveals abundantly your purity and holiness after your other [accomplishments] brought [you] to utter perfection in virtue. May you be gracious unto me, if I have not accurately expressed your virtue in its entirety nor apportioned to you the praise and honor [flowing] from all your noble [traits]. Do not regard me in anger for what I have failed to mention, but may you hold me in memory for what I have written, if any memory of [those] here [on earth] exists for the purified souls in God’s image that belong to [those of] you [now in heaven]. 
[ back ] 1. Psellos applies the honorific title κῦρ (which I have rendered as ‘his Excellency’) to his subject, not presuming simply to name him, and adds the epithet traditionally attached to him that identifies his activity in producing elegant paraphrases (‘metaphrases’) of texts originally written in a style unacceptable to the audience. This practice served to elevate humble texts or simplify overly ornate ones.
[ back ] 2. Commendation of a man for how he lived and how he spoke (ἐν βίῳ καὶ λόγῳ) originated in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (1127a 24 and 1128b 2) and was adopted by such varied Greek authors as Athanasius the Theologian (fourth century CE), John of Damascus (seventh–eighth century CE), John the Confessor and Theodore the Studite (both eighth–ninth century CE) and Psellos.
[ back ] 3. ‘Admixture of character’ (τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν ἠθῶν κράσιν), i.e. ‘temperament,’ is a phrase favored by the anonymous second-century author of the Art of Rhetoric attributed to Dionysius of Halicarnassus; see Heath 2003:81 and 94. This anonymous author used the phrase four times in chapters ten and eleven; it occurs often in Psellos’ writings.
[ back ] 4. See Aristotle History of Animals 728b27.
[ back ] 5. Psellos uses philosophical terminology to describe Symeon’s study of Aristotelian first principles (ἀρχαί), adopting the language of the second-century CE Aristotelian commentator Alexander by adding, ‘for finding what he sought’ (πρὸς τὴν τῶν ζητουμένων εὕρεσιν; e.g. In Aristotelis Metaphysica commentaria 143.13, 172.11 ed. Haydruck 1891).
[ back ] 6. Psellos uses the language of Aristotelian logic to describe deductive reasoning (i.e., perceiving the existence of a cause from its effects—συλλογιζόμενος) and inductive reasoning (i.e. perceiving from a cause the existence of its effects—συμπεραινόμενος). Aristotle designated these two types of argument deductive and inductive syllogisms (see Prior Analytics 24b18 and 68b15).
[ back ] 7. Psellos displays his vast command of Greek vocabulary with the rare compound word προσεμβιβάζειν (‘guide’), used once and apparently coined by the tenth-century patriarch Nicolaos I Mysticus (Letter 32.307).
[ back ] 8. The well-known literary stereotype of a philosopher included a long beard and often a ragged cloak as well.
[ back ] 9. The phrase ‘unrestrained public speech’ (ἡ ἀκράτος παρρησία) apparently originated with the anonymous author of the Art of Rhetoric (see chapter 11.8.13); perhaps Psellos refers to the famous third-century BCE mathematician Archimedes, who reputedly demonstrated this quality by leaping from his bath and running naked into the streets shouting “Eureka!” after he solved a difficult problem. The Roman author Vitruvius is the earliest surviving source for this popular legend (Vitruvius, De architectura 9 pref. 9–12); I can find no Greek source for it.
[ back ] 10. The famous fourth-century BCE cynic philosopher Diogenes proverbially lived the simple life in a wine cask (CPG I 87.14).
[ back ] 11. Aristotle discusses dialectical argumentation (ἡ διαλεκτικὴ ἐρώτησιϛ) in De interpretatione 20b22–30; Platonic dialogues like Euthyphro exemplify the process.
[ back ] 12. This stereotypical complaint against philosophers makes a famous ancient appearance in Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds, where Socrates conducts a fatuous philosophical inquiry over the broad jumping and singing abilities of fleas (142–168).
[ back ] 13. On plasmata as ‘plausible inventions’ see Krajkewski 1992:40.
[ back ] 14. Byzantine students of rhetoric were taught to use stories from classical mythology or ancient history in constructing a speech; see ODB s.v. “Progymnasmata.”
[ back ] 15. Psellos relishes the wordplay πλάσαϛ / μεταπλάσαϛ and uses it elsewhere in his writings (Encomion to his Mother 28.1774, Chronographia IV 37.5); the phrase originated in Plato’s Timaeus 50a6.
[ back ] 16. Psellos describes Symeon’s rise from chancery clerk to Logothete of the Dromos allusively, in the manner admired by a rhetorically sophisticated audience in Byzantium. Symeon’s position requird him to coordinate all imperial chancery functions, including the collection of political information, arrangements for foreign embassies, and correspondence with foreign governments; see ODB s.v. “Logothetes tou Dromou.” For a discussion of this passage, see Høgel 2002a:67nn30 and 31.
[ back ] 17. This passage is usually interpreted not in terms of Symeon’s key role in diplomacy but rather as a claim by Psellos that Symeon actually participated in military campaigns, which seems very unlikely; for a full discussion of the issue, see Høgel 2002a:67–68 with notes 33 and 34.
[ back ] 18. Psellos implies that he could, if he chose, say more about Symeon’s pious activities, which perhaps involved generous financial contributions.
[ back ] 19. Psellos returns to the terminology of the anonymous Art of Rhetoric to describe his own rhetorical strategy in following his introduction with a preliminary statement to set the subject of the narrative in context (προκατάστασις). See Heath 1995:157.
[ back ] 20. Psellos introduces a medical metaphor by using a rare phrase for ‘consumption of the flesh’ (ἡ δαπάνη τῶν σαρκῶν) found only in the commentary on Hippocrates by the sixth-century writer Stephanus (Commentary on Hippocrates' Prognosticon I 5.37).
[ back ] 21. Psellos alludes to the book of life and the book of second death (see Revelation 20.12–15) that will be opened during the restitution of [all things] foretold by the prophets at the end of time (see Acts 3.21).
[ back ] 22. In the discussion of literary practice that follows, Psellos relies heavily upon the terminology used by the influential third-century CE rhetorician Hermogenes in his treatise On Types of Style (ἰδέαι), organized according to categories explicitly mentioned by Psellos: content of thought (ἐννοία), diction (λέξις), sternness or ferocity (βαρύτης), expansion (περιβολή), sincerity or truth (ἀλήθεια = ἀληθινόν), composition (συνθήκη), and figures (σχήματα = σχηματισμοί). Kustas 1973:13–14 discusses these forms and categories.
[ back ] 23. I. Ševčenko 1981:298–303 cites this passage as an illustration of the “tyranny of high style” among Byzantine writers and readers; he notes Symeon’s key role in elevating the genre of hagiography to an acceptable if not prestigious literary level.
[ back ] 24. Psellos repeats the association of ‘self-control’ (ἐγκρατεία) and ‘patient endurance’ (καρτερία) that originated in Aristotle’s writings (see, for example Nicomachean Ethics 1145b8, 1150b1, 1152a 4) and gained great popularity in Greek literature.
[ back ] 25. Psellos places Symeon in the company of classical authors by mentioning the lost works of two third-century BCE scholars, Cleanthes of Assos, who wrote a compendium of Greek history entitled Archaeology (see Diogenes Laertius VII 174–175), and Eratosthenes of Cyrene, who calculated the circumference of the earth (see ODB s.v. “Eratosthenes”).
[ back ] 26. In Psellos’ time, Symeon’s work was used both at the imperial court and in monastic communities (see Høgel 2002a:150–154). Psellos’ analysis of the significance of Symeon’s stylistic choices uses widely popular Aristotelian terminology contrasting a certain proof (τεκμήριον) with a probable indication (σημεῖον); see Aristotle Prior Analytics 70b.2–4.
[ back ] 27. Hermogenes commends rhetoric ‘with a mixture of styles’ (τῇ μίξει τῶν ἰδεῶν) in his treatise On Types of Style (1.12.227 ed. Rabe 1913). The phrase recurs in the works of his commentators Syrianus (fifth century), John Doxapatres and Joannes Sikeliotes (eleventh century), and Gregorios Pardos (eleventh–twelvth centuries).
[ back ] 28. Psellos uses terminology drawn from ancient musical theory, a branch of mathematics; for an explanation of symphonic chords in harmonic intervals (σύμφωνοι), homophonic notes in unison and chords in octaves (σύμφωνοι), and emmelic chords that do not harmonize (ἐμμελεῖς), see Solomon 2000 I:7. For a discussion of ancient musical theory, see West 1992:218–253.
[ back ] 29. Psellos relished the phrase “nets of [rhetorical] delights,” which he adopted from Longinus’ fragmentary Art of Rhetoric (562.19) and used three times in his work.
[ back ] 30. The first-century BCE literary critic Dionysius of Halicarnassus especially commended Demonsthenes for his use of accent (τόνος) and of rhythm (ῥυθμός); see De Demosthenis dictione 13.48–49 and 50.37.
[ back ] 31. The early eleventh-century rhetorical commentator John Sikeliotes applies the phrase ‘consistent quality of expression’ (μία ποιότης) to rhetorical style in his Commentary on the Forms of Hermogenes (320, line 20, ed. Walz 1834). Psellos mentions John Sikeliotes by name as a scholar whose work he knew (Psellos, Theological Oration 47, line 81 and 102, line 22 [ed. Gautier 1989]).
[ back ] 32. Psellos’ point applies to such passages as Symeon’s remarks about St. Ioannikios (“His fatherland [was] the province of Bithynia and [his] village was called Marykaton, located at the northern portions of [Lake] Apollonias,” Migne PG 116, 37 A10–12) and about Daniel the Stylite (“this blessed [man’s] fatherland, which lay between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is Mesopotamia, which comes by its name naturally,” Migne PG 116, 972 B1–5).
[ back ] 33. Hermogenes notes the importance of a correct and elegant use of words (which he refers to rather obliquely as ‘parts of speech’, τὰ τοῦ λόγου μέρη), especially in order to achieve rhythmical effects (Hermogenes On Types of Style 1.1.147 and 1.12.331 ed. Rabe 1913; translation by Wooten 1987:4 and 65).
[ back ] 34. Psellos compares Symeon’s activities and those of his ascetic subjects to a footrace on a horseshoe-shaped track, adopting a metaphor for Christian life frequent in the New Testament (e.g. Hebrews 12.1–2).
[ back ] 35. Psellos embellishes this bucolic scene with a reference to the mountains and caves of Hebrews 11:38 and the pines and oaks familiar to his audience from Homer’s famous description of the cave of the Cyclops (Odyssey ix 186).
[ back ] 36. Psellos commends Symeon’s ability to link description (ἔκφρασις) of a subject or event with the quality that enabled an audience virtually to perceive it (ἐνάργεια). The four late antique texts of rhetorical exercises (Progymnasmata) regularly used in Byzantine education firmly established this link, repeating a standardized definition of ekphrasis in terms of enargeia (for example, ps.-Hermogenes 16.11–12 ed. Rabe 1913, as well as Theon, Aphthonius, and Nicolaus). This standard definition originated in Aristotle’s remarks about description in Poetics 1455a.22–6 and Rhetoric 1411b.24–25. For further discussion of this topic, see Dubel 1997:252–257 and Webb 1997:229–230.
[ back ] 37. Psellos refers to Hermogenes’ remarks to aspiring rhetors in On Types of Style 1.1.11 ed. Rabe 1913.
[ back ] 38. For other examples of stenography in the middle Byzantine period see Antonopolou 1997:101.
[ back ] 39. In this valuable but rather cryptic passage, Psellos provides an extraordinary insight into Symeon’s scholarly methods and skill in oral composition as well as a reference to the Byzantine use of shorthand stenography. My translation has benefited greatly from the French translation with valuable discussion and notes by Flusin and Paramelle 1984:22–23 and from the English translation by Høgel, 2002a:93–4. This important but difficult passage presents a mixture of technical and general vocabulary to describe a process apparently obvious to Psellos and his audience but puzzling to us. The verb ἐνσημαίνομαι used here is almost certainly a technical term referring to taking shorthand notes from dictation (Flusin and Paramelle 1984:23n11). The sequence suggested by Flusin and Paramelle is dictation by Symeon (perhaps from ‘prepared notes’ παρασκευή, 333), stenographic recording of Symeon’s dictation, full transcription of the shorthand text, and final correction by redactors of any errors made in the process. Particularly vexing is the phrase describing the standard against which the redactors assessed the draft of the metaphrastic version (πρὸς τὴν προκειμένην—ὑποκειμένην in some manuscripts— διωρθώσωνται ἔννοιαν, 338–339), which I interpret as a reference to correction against the shorthand text taken down at Symeon’s dictation (334–335); in contrast, Høgel translates ‘corrected according to its intended meaning’ (presumably that intended by Symeon), and Flusin and Paramelle translate ‘rectifiassent d’après le sens du texte’ which they explicate as ad sensum. The term παρασκευή is also problematic; Flusin and Paramelle translate it ‘preparatifs’, while Høgel interprets it quite generally as ‘facilities at hand’. I am grateful to Denis Sullivan for the opportunity to discuss this passage thoroughly on several occasions.
[ back ] 40. Psellos acknowledges the sophistication of his audience with learned allusions to the ancient Greek orators Isocrates (fourth century BCE) and Aelius Aristides (second century CE), who composed “Panathenaic” orations, and to the late fifth-century historians Thucydides and Xenophon, who recorded the history of the Peloponnesian War.
[ back ] 41. Psellos refers to such classical authors as Antiphon, Lysias, and Demosthenes, whose orations on this controversial profession are now lost, although cited and admired by Byzantine commentators and grammarians; however, orations on this topic by Aelius Aristides (second century CE) and by Libanios (fourth century CE) do survive.
[ back ] 42. Psellos uses vocabulary that suggests to the audience two famous classical competitions, the footraces in panhellenic games and the contest in choral poetry at the Athenian Festival of Dionysos. Victors in both competitions were rewarded with crowns of laurel leaves.
[ back ] 43. I am grateful to Profoessor Ihor Ševčenko for sharing with me his unpublished translation of this difficult text and to Denis Sullivan and Stratis Papaioannou for advice and insights on its many challenges.