Michael Psellos. On Symeon the Metaphrast and On the Miracle at Blachernae: Annotated Translations with Introductions

5. Discourse on the Miracle that Occurred in the Blachernae [Church]

5.1. The court that was constituted [at Blachernae] was not a civil [institution] for investigating matters of civil law, but the place of judgment that resulted from the action of the virginal Mother of God was a mystical and ineffable [institution] for [solving] the problem set before her; [1] the decision it rendered was not human, but the discernment it reached was mystical (201), not a verdict and sentence pronounced by the lips of judges, but a decision and a solution rendered from supernatural signs. She bore her child in an entirely new way (let me say it boldly!) and gave birth to the Word without the presence of man or of pain; it was proper that she also rendered the decree entrusted to her in an entirely new way, decided an ambiguous situation in a quite divine manner, and placed the matter in controversy beyond dispute. The narratives of the poets transport Justice from earth to the heavens and seat [her] in the councils of heaven to prevent all our lives from being deprived of justice and filled with lawlessness. [2] The discourses [belonging to] truth, however, state that the Mother of God descended among us from the very vault of heaven to correct and to better our [earthly] situation or, to put it more correctly, the divine and blessed nature of the Mother of God did not forsake the role allotted to her in heaven and also did not forget the nature she shares [with us]. But just as the Word born in his essence from her came down to earth without forsaking the thrones of his Father [in heaven], and by putting on the whole [nature of] man he imparted salvation to the whole of human nature, in the same way she too imitates her Son to the extent possible and is both completely [in heaven] above and descends completely to us. Because she is united to his nature that cannot be circumscribed in a unity that is transcendent and incomprehensible, she herself necessarily surpasses incomparably the nearness to the divine [enjoyed by] the cherubim and also cannot be circumscribed; in every place she is infinite in both her noetic operations and capacities. [3]

5.2. (202) Her paradoxical [manifestations] occur in great number and in every place; some are apprehensible by the senses and others by the mind, some in physical symbols and others in ineffable thoughts. [They occur] in all cities, among all peoples, in each and every [one], both collectively and singly. For sometimes she descends to us in visions, and sometimes she acts unseen among us, revealing in signs beyond description what cannot be apprehended by the senses. She fills all earth’s boundaries with her own kind favors whenever it is opportune. By no means secondary [in importance] among her great miracles is also the manifestation that now [occurs] paradoxically, which [my] discourse will explain very clearly in due course. As for her identity as guardian and female savior of our people, [4] although no one knows how this is so and what sort of place she now occupies (nor will anyone of us here on earth ever understand, unless some soul transcends all earthly matters and assumes a place and capacity beyond that of the cherubim), nevertheless those of us who express devotion to her in foreshadowings, images, and icons, even in likenesses, one might say, that are unlike [her], [5] we envision her inimitable nature that cannot be replicated. For we are indeed able on occasion to see the sun clearly and glance directly [at it] or, if we have poor eyesight, we observe it [reflected] in water or see the air illuminated [by it], [6] and we judge from such evidence that we see [the sun itself] in some sense. In contrast, no one would see the virgin Mother of God in any place, not in the sky nor in the air, not by looking up nor by gazing upon the basic elements [7] [here] below, but the entities [of nature] [8] everywhere present do not know her, although she is everywhere. [9] (203) When we portray [her] and produce likenesses [of her], we apprehend her as revealed by those likenesses, and especially if we make some such [replica] not by [using] colors but by longing [for her] with inexpressible [fervor] and by [entering into] a close relationship with her through virtues. [10] No one could know the celestial paradigms themselves from the stars modeled upon them unless he could derive some small understanding of archetypes from their likenesses. [11] When we depict the Virgin we simultaneously place our heartfelt emotions in the painting, and we then perceive her outward appearance with our eyes inasmuch as such things can be perceived, while in our souls we receive her imprint through this experience. Thus we grow into an inexpressibly close relationship with her, and she feels an [even] more ineffable sympathetic affection towards humankind. To put it boldly, God has approached and withdrawn in proportion to the purification of our souls and, in turn, in proportion to our disfigurement by the passions; we are like a mirror of the radiance from God, lustrous when we receive it and dull when deprived of it. However, the compassionate nature of the Mother of God, supernatural in her love for mankind, is reflected in all alike, both in those whose souls shine brightly and in those whose minds are still [dull and] muddy. A person could see her with his own eyes insofar as it would be possible to see—not only [someone] among those greatest and loftiest in excellence, but even some simple, insignificant woman who attends upon the Virgin’s icon from the back [of the crowd] and mumbles her hymn incorrectly. [The Virgin] welcomes with approval the most excellent form not of words and phrases but of souls; she finds a close relationship [with us] not in the way one arranges words but in the way one harmoniously conducts oneself. [12]

5.3. Her precincts are many throughout [Constantinople], the Queen of Cities, and all are filled with her divine voice; both those [in] priestly orders and those assigned to these [precincts] speak under her inspiration. In some of these she is portrayed high up in the sanctuary, (204) painted among the angelic powers that guard her, while in others she is represented upon the walls, so those who enter can draw near to [her] and be filled with the glory shining from the [walls]. In some places she is represented on materials that are fundamentally different; on occasion some place her likeness on gold, while some engrave silver. In some places a wooden panel contains a representation of her; she does not reject [Aristotle’s] proximate matter as unworthy. [13] To make a comparison, the Son of [the Virgin] is believed to dwell in every place, and rather above or even beyond everything, that is, in heaven, according to a great number of excellent [sources]; at any rate, we choose to call for his help by immediately raising our hands up to heaven, not because we wish to confine him to that place, but as if to set apart a place that is better for one who is better and to set him apart [14] from the material [world]. In the same way, also the one who bore him is present in a supernatural way and is manifested in each of her divine shrines but is especially acknowledged to dwell at the renowned church in Blachernae, [where] she clearly demonstrates divine signals. [15] Her visitations cannot be circumscribed, however, for some [of these signals are manifested] not at any set time and others within prescribed periods that she does not customarily transgress, unless some inexplicable reason causes her miracle to halt after long periods of time. The [wondrous] miracle and its performance exceed even our capacity to wonder at [them]. And now, to avoid being the sort of person who offers excessive elaborations upon something so well known, [16] I will make a brief comment about this [matter] and cut short the great amount [I could say] about her divine nature.

5.4. Her icon hangs nicely fitted on the right (205) of the church as one enters facing east. [It is] inimitable in form, incomparable in beauty, unrivalled in potency. A veil of intricately woven [fabric] hangs from the icon, and a cluster of images composed of precious materials encircles the [veil]. [17] The area near her is another sanctuary, where all the [things] prescribed for celebrants and celebrations [18] are reverently dedicated to her—all sorts of hymns, prayers of propitiation, offerings appropriate to a sacred place. The ritual celebrated here on the sixth day of the week (i.e. on Friday) after sunset is extraordinary. At that time, everyone leaves the church, not just the crowd of lay people but also any priests and celebrants, [19] and of these not only the ones who are circulating through “the worldly sanctuary” [20] but even any who could pass inside the veil [of the sanctuary] and offer the ineffable [occult] [21] sacrament. What [happens] next? All the entrance gates of the precinct are fastened shut while the crowd stands in the forecourt of the church near the outer entrance. When the officiating priests have completed the regular rituals, it is customary for God’s palace to be opened straightaway. Once it is opened, entrance is granted to those standing in front of the church. They enter with commingled fear and joy, [22] while the drapery surrounding the icon lifts all of a sudden, as if some breath of air gently moved it. What happens is unbelievable to those who do not witness it, but for those who do, [it is] wondrous and an overt descent of the Holy Spirit. The form of the handmaiden of the Lord [23] changes simultaneously with what is accomplished, [24] I think, as it receives her (206) animate [25] visitation, thereby visibly signaling the invisible. In fact, the veil of the Temple [26] was torn for her Son and God when he was hanging upon the cross so that he might either manifest the truth concealed in the marks impressed [by his presence] or summon believers into the inner sanctums [27] and destroy the barrier preventing us from a close relationship with God. In contrast, the holy drapery raises itself for the Mother of God in an ineffable fashion so that she may embrace within herself the crowd that enters as if within some new inner sanctum and refuge that cannot be violated. [28]

5.6. Based on [that miracle] a yet more wondrous [event] occurred. It originated in [the usual miracle], but by its untimely occurrence it manifested a miracle in an [even] more timely way. Whatever was it, then? In general for people, and especially for those in the countryside and in villages, it is highly desirable if one of them can have an extremely abundant [supply of] running water and a mill capable of grinding by [waterpower], so that grain may be easily and conveniently milled at this [mill]. [31] Indeed many have disputed with their rural neighbors over both [water and mill], contending with one another; the courts are filled with dispute[s] about these [matters]. Two parties were caught up in such a controversy not long ago, [specifically] the spatharios [32] and general Leo, surnamed Mandalos, [33] and the party [representing] the monastery Tou Kalliou. [34] Now the mill was located in the district of Thrace and powered by an abundant water [supply]; each of the two parties registered themselves as indisputable owner of the [rights] awarded now to one, now to the other. They had disputed the [particulars] of the case many times. Each party in turn prevailed and suffered defeat, became victor or vanquished, sometimes according to the documents they presented, [35] sometimes pursuing their own claims in a quite persuasive manner and sometimes, you can be sure, taking in exchange [rights of] ownership and usage with a hand able to give lesser or greater [benefits] in each situation and for every judge. [36]

5.8. Thereupon [the general] refused to accept the verdict but resumed his earlier [wrestler’s] grip, as they say. [38] He expressed contempt for the judge’s memorandum of the proceedings [39] as half-favorable to the monks and not completely and fully penalizing them. Multiple assertions on multiple occasions were then made in turn by both [parties], and the details of the judgment were under discussion for some time, but there was not yet agreement on [another] court by those who were still quarrelling after the judge delivered his decision. Both parties, however, eventually came together in a compact against all expectations and constituted a special court for themselves that originated from civil laws but in their case did not take its final form based on civil laws. For they did not set up for themselves a court in which they reached mutual agreement upon someone among the judges—a mid-level judge, or a special judge, or one having some other qualifications, since this is the law, and also [it is the law] not to put full confidence in the [judge’s] sentences, if he should be a special [judge]. Instead [the two parties] made the Mother of God the arbitrator in the case. How? They did not fly up to heaven, for [this] is (209) not possible, nor did they bring her down here [to earth], [40] for this is also outside the realm of possibility, but they staked everything upon the decision of the icon’s miracle. They undertook a bold initiative that was also contrary to the normal timing of the divine sign, and they each chose a scenario for their own side—whether in a just manner or by the monks’ design, I do not know—but they made their choice in this way: that each party would stand together at daybreak in the presence of the icon of her who bore God while holding in their hands the legal documents upon which they were relying for the strength [of their case] and [with which] they were both making storms [of controversy] for one another concerning these [matters]; that they would make this a kind of court that was innovative and reflected the judgment of God, then summon the Virgin in the icon and cry out plaintively [for her] to judge their case with justice and to make a decision by means of the drapery; that if it remained unmoved, the monks would claim victory in the case, but if it was moved, the general would claim the [spoils] of victory and bind [upon his head] another crown [won] against his foes [and] greater than a general’s trophy. After this decision was agreed upon, copies were also made of the written documents regarding the provisions of their agreement, such as is customary in the case of special judges.

5.9. When everything was completed—the entrance into the church, the attendance at the icon, the prayer, the tears, and whatever people usually do in such [circumstances]—they stood still because they [both] feared for their own side and considered valid the [Virgin’s] decision [that would be expressed] by the drapery’s movement or failure to move.

5.12. Some of those who opposed [the verdict] (211) interpreted the sign in favor of their cause and regarded the movement [of the drapery] as a ratification and confirmation of the judgment for themselves because the drapery did not move quickly nor did the symbol of its divine possession occur simultaneously with the [general’s] prayer, but [rather] when the general gave over the written judgments in the matter under dispute. This [objection] is insufficient to require a counter argument. For the [two] adversaries did not make an agreement that the movement of the drapery should occur immediately or after a [definite] time. Instead, the general obtained as his lot in the litigation the movement [of the drapery], while the monks assigned to themselves that the drapery remain motionless. Now if at the time [the drapery] had remained still during the whole [process], and the contending parties had parted from one another after already leaving the church, and a considerable length of time had elapsed after that, and then the symbol[ic movement] occurred on the same day or later, [the monks’] right of possession would not be in dispute. For the Virgin who was giving the verdict was allowed to determine the proper time for her to announce it, since not even a civil judge would make a decision and announce it immediately, but after determining his decision he delays his sentence until whatever proper time he might wish. Since she decided to delay the movement for a short time, and those who were contending with one another as parties in the case were still standing in the holy precinct, and the divine decree coincided with the [general’s] distribution of his documents, and the Virgin in making her decision announced her verdict in a quite innovative manner, what reason is there to oppose it? For they [44] had not associated penalties with the timing of the symbol[ic movement], but the Virgin knew the right time for the [drapery to] move.

5.13. “Yes indeed,” say [the monks], “but the [drapery] moved after the surrender of the documents, witnessing as it were to the justice of the surrender.” Someone, even someone just chancing upon [the monks], might say, “But the movement [of the drapery] fell to the lot of the general, and to you its lack of movement. If then it remained still during the entire time, yours [was] the victory. But if (212) it moved, this [victory] is assigned to the side of the general, and, just as you would have won if no movement had occurred, so he has prevailed because it did.” I, however, say the movement of the drapery was not simply an announcement of a verdict, but [an expression] of outright wrath. For the [icon’s] garment was shaken at the very moment when you dared to take the documents. Because of what you quite shamelessly did, the Virgin moved [the drapery], and the symbolic movement represents at once both a sentence favoring the general and a sign of anger against those who already behaved so shamelessly. In this way God is accustomed to sit in judgment and to bring forward His condemnations, not whenever one might wish to transgress, but whenever one might commit or be about to commit the transgression. To Him whom the [divine] mother imitates in loving mankind she likens herself exactly in punishing [mankind]. [45] And the contrast [between love and punishment] is not at all forced, but the logic is both consistent and most true. Thus if someone should not accept the miraculous decree and should not regard what happened with awe but should worry excessively over the miracle, he would all the more be struck by what is opposite [to it]. Just as if someone with weak eyes should dare to stare at the sun where it stands at midday in the season of summer, he would not see [the sun] and would perhaps be deprived of the power of visual perception.

5.14. This [miracle] could bear no comparison with other [miracles], but seems to me more astonishing and more miraculous than the usual [miracle at Blachernae]. For that [usual miracle] is customary, and its exact time is known, and [it has] some sort of cycle that is, so to speak, fixed, like the rising of the sun. This however seems to be some sort of prodigy and an innovative action [occurring] now for the first time and a new manifestation [46] of the Spirit and a visitation of the Mother of God that has newly appeared. For through all past history it has never happened in this way, neither based upon (213) such agreements [between parties] nor regarding such decisions. However, even though the risings of the sun are also a paradox, of course it does not shake the very hearts of observers as entirely miraculous when regularly seen—but we are astonished upon hearing [the story of] when “the sun” stood “over against Gabaon and the moon over against the valley [of Aelon]” after “Joshua son of Naue” received from God leadership of the people of Israel. [47] We consider what happened at the cross of the Lord yet more miraculous than this, when midday stood still, and the sun held the very cardinal point of its zenith, and the moon was in the fourteenth day [of its cycle] and at its nadir and then canceled its [normal] courses to appear above the horizon and darken the sun by slipping in front of it. [48] (I omit mentioning also the prodigy concerning Hezekiah, when the sun traveled backward so that he might be assured that years would be added [to his life]. [49] ) Accordingly, in this case surely a single [occurrence of the miracle] at an unexpected time is more astonishing than its frequent [manifestations] in a defined manner. Who could know if this might be a pattern for future innovations, and, should human courts come to a standstill after encountering disputed matters and failing repeatedly in their purpose, the Virgin would also decide complex investigations by easily managing [judicial] inquiries as well as announcements of verdicts. Thus would our life be without disputes, and a person would be least likely to devote himself to intentional wrongdoing if he faces immediate conviction by divine symbols.

5.15. As for the oracular responses of the ancient Greeks—however many [there might be] at Dodona (214) and at Pythian [Delphi], however many [might] otherwise enjoy a good reputation, and as many as Amphiareus and Amphilochos would deliver in a shrine hidden in the earth—[these] are riddling, oblique, and ambiguous. [50] In addition, “the wooden wall” was contested [regarding its meaning] [51] and “the great empire which Croesus would destroy by crossing the Halys River” was highly disputed regarding its identity and interpreted in two ways. [52] Also, Bacis and the Sibyl did not shoot forth arrow-straight prophecies relevant to the target set out [by the questioner], but their prophecies were dispatched consistent with probable inferences. [53] In contrast, what I might call the oracle of the Virgin dispatches no double meaning as learned persons might do in the problems they formulate [54] nor does [her oracle] contradict itself with riddles, but [she gives her response] in accordance with the agreement someone might choose regarding the movement or lack of movement of the drapery, that is whether it should move immediately or remain in an unmoved state. In Plato’s opinion, the priestesses and prophetesses in their frenzied madness were of greater potency than if they had chosen prudent restraint, and he reiterates this frequently in his dialogue with Gorgias. [55] I however would be half-mad if I considered madness better and superior to prudent restraint, and I would also feel shame if I should ascribe prudent restraint to the Mother of God—if indeed prudent restraint is composure of the soul when the passions have been subdued by her, just as self-control is [composure] (215) of the intellect when it represses the impulses of the soul towards inferiority [56] —in contrast, the Virgin [is] superior to all prudent restraint in surpassing the very summits of the virtues. However, if there should be some oracular sites that are fit for God and of heavenly origin, where the more worthy [supernatural] powers foretell the outcome of events to come and from which and where signs of the future are indicated, the Virgin would possess the best and most truthful [of such oracular sites], from which her earthly altars are also filled with streams of quite divine illumination.

5.16. The ancient Greeks pursued empty and frivolous ends by resorting to their particular kinds of oracles and by preparing telestic rites for them that invested certain statues with divine frenzy so they could respond to inquiries. [57] For either the rite they [celebrated] was only half effective and the oracular site of no effect, or the presiding spirit was quite closely attached to the material world and wandered in the realm of things that will happen in the future. [58] Moreover the whirling motion of Hecate’s [wheel accomplished] by her ox hide thong and [accompanied by] the invocation of the Iynxes [59] are all mere empty words without any effect; even if they should effect something, it [would be] by the action of a malevolent spirit. If however in the opinion of these [ancient Greeks] the more pleasing animals [like] doves and pigeons are filled with divine inspiration, and [if] some bird settles and signals to them by its voice, appearance, or movement what is going to happen, [60] how could the Mother of God not foretell the entire truth to us, (216) especially if a person should fix his hopes upon her and attribute [to her] the decisive point regarding a practical matter as was done in the law case already mentioned. Forget about the daemon of Socrates, then, that prevented [action on the part of] the person it possessed but never promoted [it]. [61] Whatever might this [daemon] be? Was it some echo that cast back [what a person already intended to do]? Or was it some apparition? According to the [system] of [occult] interpretation that we cannot mention, [this] would be the daemon that is assigned to him and watches nearby, which Plato calls the pilot of the mind. [62] The prearranged sign that the Mother of God [used] to promote action is an oracle [63] that is unerring, true, and in existence according to a new way. The statues or rather the idols of the ancient Greeks played games for Chrysanthius and Maximus in the [temple] of Hecate, and the signals they manifested were foreboding; [Maximus], the more daring of the [two] philosophers, attempted in vain to change [the intention of] that which includes everything within its boundaries [64] so as to come close to more favorable appearances [of the omens]. [65] However, among us [Christians] the symbols of the Mother of God are true, and no one would devote attention to changing their appearances or, if he did [try], he would never be able [to do it].

5.17. However, I would be ashamed to compare the nonsense of the ancient Greeks with [oracular matters] that both belong to us and are [much] superior. Did not the shadow of the law have some more forceful overshadowings [of the divine presence]? [66] For there was the oracle of judgment, and stones named “Manifestations” and “Truth,” and the garment worn on the breast called in the Hebrew language Ephod, where (217) these [stones] were inset, [67] indeed, the Propitiatory fitted upon the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies regularly received flashes of revelation that were quite divine in origin, [68] but even these are of lesser significance than the manifestations and overshadowings of the Mother of God. Those provided guidance that was obscure, and they changed into various colors, but the symbol that appeared was not entirely clear in every respect. Here [at the Blachernae Church], however, the movement [of the drapery] for the sake of the truth was a motion that could not be changed, and it was appropriate to the divine in its appearance as well as supernatural in the understanding [it conveyed]. Moreover, it would be a lengthy [task] to relate both how many [actual events] are indicated in [scriptural] figures and how many in truths [revealed by dreams and omens] [69] among us, but especially how many the Mother of God indicates. The [colleagues] of Darius the Mede made their decision concerning kingship according to the whinnying of a horse, [70] and the [companions] of Romulus [made their decision] in founding Rome according to the omens delivered by birds. In the one case, the horse belonging to Darius, son of Hytaspes, whinnied because of the clever contrivance of a groom. In the other case, vultures in support of Romulus flew overhead from the left accompanied by a great clamor; [the left is] the direction where the pole of the axis is elevated. [71] However, in the case of the problem and judicial inquiry under discussion here, neither are birds trusted [to reveal] the truth nor a love-crazed horse [to determine] the leadership of the Persians. Indeed, in the vote of the Mother of God a balance between the arguments of each party both hangs [in suspension] and brings a solution with such brilliant clarity that not even those who lost the case can shamelessly refuse [to accept her decision].

5.19. In this way and from that [astrological] source the daemons give their oracles and proclaim future events to those who inquire. The Virgin, however, who has accepted the rudders of our lives and steers us from [heaven] above, watches over everything but never raises her eyes towards all the [astrological configurations]. She predicts future events because she is closely attached to God in immediate [bonds of] unity, and from that source she draws the truth and power of her pronouncements. Moreover, when our emperor reads of these [matters] in Holy Scripture, he both understands [them] clearly and acts to interpret and expound things that are quite ineffable to those who do not understand. If his keen nature should gain a spark [of inspiration] by trading [in ideas] [75] with me, even so he would himself still graciously give me leave to speak, or I would myself [give] him (219) the basis for his understanding [of an issue]. For this divine[ly inspired] man would take fire from the flames of my [intelligence] to a greater extent than I myself could ignite [him]. As a result, I assure you, he too became all but an eyewitness of the miracle that took place [in Blachernae] and instigated many lines of reasoning about the quite divine [events]; he both marveled at their fulfillment and elaborated upon it in discourses that he did not write down. He then encouraged me [to provide] a more complete explanation in reverent language, as if assigning to some Pericles the public speech that was significant. Now Pericles was pressed to compose his speech for the virgin [goddess Athena] three days [76] before delivering it in public, [77] while I pronounced mine by improvising it on the spot. If my inspiration derived from that source which moved the drapery of the Virgin, this [work of mine] was also from the Mother of God so that miracle might attach upon miracle, the miracle pertaining to my speech upon the miracle of the drapery.

5.20. I mentioned in my remarks right at the beginning of this oration that the investigation [of a disagreement] is [characteristic] of civil subject matter for the laws and the courts, but the means of achieving a just resolution [in the present case] is different, beyond everyday laws and in truth transcending them by means of the supernatural. [78] For while a dispute over a civil matter and strife between contending parties over ownership or usufruct belongs to the everyday business of the courts, bringing an investigation to a judgment on the basis of a decisive point that even the law does not understand, while not contrary to the law, is above the law. If someone should wish to force the argument, he is able to say that there is a decisive point that is entirely legal. For in the law codes there are [chapter] titles on judges and on their jurisdictions as well as on coadjutors and (220) on special judges; [79] the chapters about these are as follows: [80]

Other such chapters [also] fall under the title on special judges. The copies of written documents from both parties clearly indicate that the opposing [parties] in the presence of the One who Bore God chose to have [her] participate in the trial as a special judge, so to speak; the difference in comparison to the special judge as customarily designated under the law [is] that the [law] appoints a man connected with the court or a private person who has been selected as judge by the parties in the trial, [
84] while the general and the monks of the monastery Tou Kalliou did not make an appeal to such a [judge], but to the Mother of God alone. They did not conceive of the decision as [derived] from arguments and laws nor as an oral or written sentence, but they considered that the decisive point and announcement of a verdict in the inquiry would be [something] capable of going either way, [namely] a symbolic movement or lack of movement [by the drapery]. [Thus] a sort of hybrid court exists, partly civil and partly from a higher sphere.

5.21. I would make my decision in the matter as follows. [Let us suppose that] the parties in a dispute made a mockery of reasonable arguments and (221) entrusted the decisive point in an ambiguous [case] to some outrageous activity, [such as] to a game of backgammon or the roll of the dice, to birds’ flight, their cries, their [manner of] alighting, the number of their movements, or to something else of that sort, [or] to [the outcome of] footraces or wrestling matches of certain [athletes]. Alternatively, [suppose they say that] if someone should throw a discus up beyond the clouds and [someone else] should hurl it as far as six miles, [85] one side will win, the other will lose. If, [as I said] these [opposing parties] were to decide together upon a mutually agreeable means of judging in this way and [if] this was to be the special [court constituted] according to their agreement, I myself would not choose their court nor would I count the choice that settled upon these [criteria] as comparable to the agreements that were determined concerning the special judges. Since the one [choice] is something that is superior to that determined according to laws and the other is inferior, I dismiss the one, inasmuch as it is inferior, into [the category of] illegal [actions] but the other, inasmuch as it is superior, I pronounce both legal and superior to the law. [It is] legal because the prearranged signal based on a legally observed phenomenon has been acknowledged by both sides, while [it is] superior to the law because [the two parties] have brought [the case] to its conclusion on the basis of a perception mystically [obtained]. For it is not as if one [choice] is deficient and the other excessive, while justice lies as a mean between them, as in the case of someone taking too little or too much, so that the two extremes must be faulted and the median praised, but just as immaterial light is more luminous than material [light] and preferable to it, while darkness is something entirely opposed [to light], so [in the case] of the special judge, one [choice] is led to an inferior decision that is most strange and contrary to law, as my oration has determined, while the other leads to a superior [decision] that is at once most marvelous and most in compliance with law. If a subordinate [judge] who becomes a special [judge] (222) also confidently passes judgment according to the laws, or even contrary to them on many occasions, would the [Virgin] appear inferior in this case, when she both judged the party in the lawsuit who represented her own place [86] and condemned [them], just because she resolved the inquiry by means of a novel symbolic [action] that was agreed upon by the contending parties? Far from it! If someone does not understand what has happened and how he would form a judgment [about it] in his bewilderment, will this [miraculous event] be insufficient to function as a decisive point? In no way! Why would someone in present or in future generations even dare to convene a court of appeal [87] for the events that have taken place or, because [a special court] might not conform in every respect to the civil law, [why would someone dare] to nullify as contrary to law that which is better and more noble than this [law] or [dare to] refer the decision to [the pagan court of ] the Areopagus? [88] If someone should then opt for a decisive point that is supernatural, he has what he wants here as a shining [example]; if instead he should prefer a sentence under the law, this [example] has both started from the law and the alteration [that resulted] is superior to the law. Now, someone has taken an oath by God, because the law prescribes it or because a judge requires it; there are cases in which he did not obtain a sentence that prevails in a final sense. The law says, when good cause is established and new documents have been discovered, even the oath sworn before the court can be examined in a new trial. [89] Moreover, although every other court’s sentence is subject to appeal, as for the decision of the Mother of God, [rendered] in symbols when the parties in the suit so agreed, it will not be cancelled on the basis of new documents nor referred on appeal. [90] Why? Because there are occasions when civil (223) judges, even if they should reach the pinnacle of legal learning, make errors in their determination, and the one who swears his oath often scorns the Almighty on a selfish impulse and in hope of personal gain. But who in the world would fault the Mother of God when she renders a judgment and discovers the truth, revealing it in a new way? [Who] would dare provide a different verdict?

5.22. But if someone should not be altogether able to refer to a law the procedure undertaken in this situation, [it would be] nothing new, since one would not even move the condictio ex lege with reference to an action limited [to a particular law]. “For this [condictio ex lege] is applicable when legislation introduces a new [sort of] liability and claim without expressly stating by what action it is to be moved.” [91] However, this [citation] is understood as beside [our] main subject and argued as a parallel, while the procedure [in this case] is itself both conducted under law, if you will, and is brought to its conclusion beyond the law. On both counts, the one who obtains what he justly deserved from the all-holy [Virgin] will have a judgment that is beyond question. Now not in all actions is the role of plaintiff assigned solely to one of the opposing parties and the role of defendant to the other. Sometimes both parties have both roles, and the same [parties] are both plaintiffs and defendants, as in the so-called double trials, such as a case between joint heirs [92] either under a will or without a will, which both is and is termed both in rem and in personam, (that is, applied to [claims of ] property and applied to [claims against] a person). [Another instance is] the [case] concerning land boundaries (224) and so forth—but why should we rehearse everything? If the opposing parties should agree with one another regarding the right to speak first in the action, [that is, regarding] who first enters the court (for both could not be plaintiff with equal rights [to speak first]), and [if] they should assign this [role], to which they have a common right, by some symbol or in some other manner, and if someone should obtain this by lot, would he not himself be first to bring his accusation, even though this [role] is not assigned to him by law? Would it not be strange, then, if some chance occurrence should prevail regarding the right to speak first and the agreement by both parties should be counted as law, but in the present inquiry, which adopted a previously determined divine sign and praiseworthy compact, the agreement will have some other [status] in comparison to a chance event? For let “chance” be taken in the more common sense [of the word], even if among the philosophers chance and spontaneity, when enumerated among the causes, possess some distinction [from the others]. [93]

5.23. My earnest endeavor in my oration is this, [to establish] that neither did the opposing parties reach an outrageous agreement in resolving their inquiry according to the behavior of the Mother of God’s holy drapery nor does the miracle that took place prevail to any lesser degree than a judicial opinion and sentence. Those who lost the case moreover would have no basis for an objection. For in apportioning the sign, they did not assign to the general the symbol that would be his on fair terms, but to him they allotted what was unlikely or what most seldom [occurred], while to themselves they gave, as I might say, what has no value as a symbol. For the movement of the drapery is [characteristic] of a miracle, while its lack of movement is [characteristic] of its natural state, and the natural state is more [likely to occur] than a wondrous (225) [event]. How then could they claim that the divine signal is not consistent with law? “But you,” someone might say to them, “when the prayer took place and the miracle had yet to occur, you had [already] congratulated yourselves as the winners on the basis of the present situation. How then did you lay claim to [victory in] the case with all your might when the miracle had not taken place, then later when [it] did take place, will you again on fair terms make the same claim? Nevertheless, you obviously lost the case both according to the compact you agreed to yourselves and according to the Virgin’s decisive point; a person would have his tongue entirely cut out [94] if he opposed the miracle and reckoned the excess of his power [equivalent to] the deficiency of his own persuasive argumentation—as I will say, to avoid calling it “idle talk.” [95]

5.24. The arguments in my oration have proven that if someone should not only choose to drag us down but should also force [us] from the more heavenly [point of view] into the more mundane one and compel [us] to struggle about the laws, in these [matters] we are not inferior to those who try to oppose us. I, however, shall return to the primary decisive point of my oration, and I both add miracle to miracle, and I would never willingly release my hold upon the wonders belonging to the Mother of God nor retreat from them. But who in the world would not marvel upon hearing of the sequence of miracles [occurring] in this way and the succession of supernatural symbols? The general prevailed in the contest both by virtue of the legal and of the miraculous, and the protoproedros [96] John of the Xeros family, who received from the emperor the first position of the service in his ranking, [97] awarded to [the general] the legal documents. Thus [the judgment] was awarded to him both by the authority of the Virgin and by the power of the emperor. Indeed, the general did not depart without paying proper respect to the Virgin from whom he had received a favorable judgment; with the documents he had been given in hand, he approaches the Mother of God, draws near to her icon, and throws himself to the ground in acknowledgment of her every favor. She then, (226) who miraculously decided the case, [even] more miraculously seals anew her verdict. And [what was] the seal? Yet again the covering of her icon is raised, and the holy veil is lifted up; as in the case of the periodos and the kyklos, [98] which start and end with the same [word], the matter she examined comes full circle so that it will be bonded together most securely by two miracles, each like the other.

5.25. My oration, like a runner that races up and doubles back in a quite new [kind of] race course, [99] also now engages with divine [matters], then in turn with material substances observable to the senses, and chooses to discuss something yet more sublime and to investigate the possible cause of such divine signs. In fact, often prints of unseen feet or hands are fixed in the ground, and shapes of living beings become visible, like those belonging to the sacred meteors somewhere long ago [100] and [like] scorched marks around stones; certain icons and statues stream with liquid as if perspiring, [101] and movements without a perceptible cause become visible around such things. Also, certain sounds are heard, some from [thin] air, some from wells, some from other [sorts of] springs, and other, stranger things of this sort fall upon the senses. But the truest cause of these [phenomena] God in fact would know and anyone who approaches the nature of the divine; what we then have learned from the more esoteric branch of philosophy, if we could say [this] with modesty, will be sufficient for our audience. Let this first be agreed: [102] some beings are precisely that, “truly beings,” both divine and supernatural, while others are inferior to them; their abasement descends even to sense perception (227) and to matter itself, and their bodies here [on earth] receive certain reflections and disclosures of the superior things, for the inferior partake of the superior. Moreover, the divine is similar to itself and not at all subject to change, while everything under the moon is both composed of dissimilar elements and subject to change, and to the degree that the descent [of the divine] proceeds, the change makes its mark. The worse also receives its illuminations from the better, not in the way those [divine beings] possess [illumination] but in the way these [worse ones] are capable [of receiving it]. [103] Divinity then is unmoved, but wherever illumination might advance from those [divine beings] to the [material] body, this [body] is moved, for it does not receive reflection and disclosure without being subject to change, nor can it. The creating force is also without form, while that which is susceptible to change receives some sort of form and transformation. Colors [104] are also the symbols of things to come, for the whites [symbolize] the brilliance of future events, while the blacks [belong to] the obscure and indefinite, and the [colors] that are between these are worse to the degree they are darker, better to the degree they are lighter, and mixed at the midpoint; an example [is] grey, which participates equally in the extremes of [black and white]. The scorched marks indicate some more violent movement to come and the worst sort of reversal [in fortune]; mysterious handprints [are evidence] of the touch of a superior nature, but footprints, of a sudden movement in future events. Upon experiencing reflection and disclosure of the divine, air and water produce a [sound] discordant to its hearers because they would not be able to experience [the divine] without being subject to change. Also the poet says, “Loudly did the oaken axle creak,” not because the superior [nature], being subject to change, was “burdened” with matter, but because matter in its normal state received reflection and disclosure. [105] (228)


[ back ] 1. Psellos adopts terminology (‘setting forth a problem’ τοῦ προτεθέντος προβλήματος) used by Aristotle to introduce his logical treatise Topics (100a19).

[ back ] 2. According to Hesiod, Justice dwells on earth until she is treated disrespectfully; she then sits with her father Zeus in heaven and reports the offense, leaving him to exact punishment (Works and Days lines 256–262). For related references, see the commentary by West 1978:221.

[ back ] 3. The linkage ‘noetic operations and capacities’ (ταῖς νοεραῖς ἐνεργείαις τε καὶ δυνάμεσι) is distinctive to the anonymous sixth-century mystical author ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite; see his essay On Divine Names, 144 line 7, 156 line 16, and 195 line 8.

[ back ] 4. Psellos applies the epithet σώτειρα to the Virgin Mary, using a classical term for the divine female guardian or τυχή of a city. Byzantines believed that the Empire and the city of Constantinople were under the special protection of the Virgin, whose icon was taken onto the city walls at times of attack (ODB s.v. “Virgin Mary—Theological Perspectives,” and s.v. “Virgin Hodegetria”).

[ back ] 5. Psellos applies the same phrase ‘unlike likeness’ or ‘dissimilar similarity’ (ἀνόμοιος ὁμοιότης) to religious images also in his Theological Oration 45, line 86 (ed. Gautier 1989). It is found frequently in ps.-Dionysius who borrows it from Syrianus and Proclus. The concept is that “Symbols serve as analogies not in the sense that they bear similarity to the thing, but rather because they bear images of the divine paradigms, which may themselves be dissimilar” (see Wear and Dillon 2007:85 with n. 3).

[ back ] 6. Psellos borrows this metaphor from Iamblichus’ Life of Pythagoras (15.67.1–5 ed. Deubner/Klein 1975). In the following discussion he develops the idea of the close relationship between the Virgin and mankind using the Platonic term ‘sympathy’ (line 68 συμπαθεία) and the Stoic term ‘affinity’ (lines 60, 66 οἰκείωσις) as he approaches an explanation of the oracular use of her icon (cf. Ierodiakonou 2006:109–110 and 116).

[ back ] 7. The stoicheia were presumably earth, fire, water, and air (cf. Plato Timaeus 31b–32b).

[ back ] 8. Aristotle employs the term αἱ φύσεις for natural ‘entities’ such as “fire and earth” in Metaphysics 987a17 and in his fragmentary Protrepticus fr. 36.1 (see also Iamblichus in his Protrepticus 39.5, ed. Pistelli 1888); Psellos also reflects this sense of αἱ φύσεις in Poemata 24.200 (ed. Westerink 1992).

[ back ] 9. In the classical world indications of future events and of the will of the gods were interpreted from natural phenomena such as earthquakes, eclipses, thunder, or exceptional animal behavior (cf. OCD s.v. “Portents”). Psellos denies the reliability of such procedures if applied to the Virgin.

[ back ] 10. Psellos commends devotion to the Virgin by emulating her moral qualities also in his Epistle 124; ed. Kurtz and Drexl 1941 II:148.6–23. This letter is discussed and translated by Browning and Cutler 1992:26–27.

[ back ] 11. Psellos recalls the Platonic theory of “Forms,” the true realities of things (ἰδέαι) and their visible manifestations (εἴδεα) by using the terms ‘likenesses’ (εἰκάσματα) and ‘archetypes’ (ἀρχέτυποι) here and also in his Theological Oration 90, lines 43–44 (ed. Gautier 1989); this terminology is particular to Psellos. The locus classicus for “Forms” is of course Plato’s Myth of the Cave (Republic 507a–521b, esp. 507b–508d).

[ back ] 12. I have benefited from Charles Barber’s translation and discussion of this difficult passage; see Barber 2007:88–90.

[ back ] 13. Psellos apparently expects his audience to appreciate and admire his application to theology of the Aristotelian contention that a form finds its particular realization in ‘proximate matter’ (ἐσχάτη ὕλη). Aristotle illustrates this concept with the example of a bronze (‘proximate matter’) triangle (‘form’) in Metaphysics 1040b18; see also Metaphysics 1035b30.

[ back ] 14. Psellos delights in word play, juxtaposing here two words sharing the same etymological root, ἐξ–αιροῦντες (‘reserving, setting apart’) and ἀφ–αίρεμα (‘something reserved, set apart’).

[ back ] 15. This large basilica in the north-western quarter of Constantinople, built by Justinian in the early sixth century and described by Procopius (Buildings I 3.3), resembled both Qalb Loze in Northern Syria and St. Sophia in Thessalonika; see Papadopoulos 1928:107–110. See also Moutafov 2008.

[ back ] 16. For the translation of this phrase, see Papaioannou 2001:183n36.

[ back ] 17. A sheer protective curtain (καταπέτασμα, πέπλος, or ἐγχείριον), often of costly silk decorated with embroidered or woven figures, frequently hung in front of an icon; see Nunn 1986:76–83. Such a curtain, drawn up to reveal the icon it covered, appears in two images of the fourteenth century; see Evans 2004:153–155, figures 77 and 78.

[ back ] 18. Stratis Papaioannou suggests that the phrase τοῖϛ τελοῦσι καὶ τελουμένοιϛ can also be taken in its pagan and Neoplatonic sense, ‘initiators and initiates’.

[ back ] 19. Psellos apparently distinguishes two categories of clergy with the virtually synonymous Greek words θύται (translated here as ‘priests’) and τελεσταί (‘celebrants’). τελεσταί is favored by Proclus to designate pagan priests.

[ back ] 20. Psellos uses terminology drawn from Hebrews 9.1 to describe the sections of the church open to lay people as ‘the worldly sanctuary’ (τὸ ἅγιον κοσμικόν).

[ back ] 21. Psellos describes the holy sacrament using τελετή, a word with pagan and Neoplatonic connotations; he may be distinguishing priests from deacons, who “circulate” among the laity.

[ back ] 22. Psellos paraphrases the reaction of the women who found Christ’s tomb empty (Matthew 28.8).

[ back ] 23. See Luke 1.38.

[ back ] 24. Pentcheva 2010:188–190 sees in τῷ τελουμένῳ a reference to the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic transformation (‘transubstantiation’) here and in lines 329–330.

[ back ] 25. The meaning of the Greek term ἔμψυχος, which I have translated here as ‘animate’, is the subject of lively scholarly discussion; see, for example Barber 2007:80–98.

[ back ] 26. See Matthew 27.51 = Mark 15.38 = Luke 23.45.

[ back ] 27. Psellos combines and paraphrases Hebrews 6.19 and Ephesians 2.14.

[ back ] 28. I have benefited from other translations of this important passage. See Grumel 1931:136–137; Belting 1994:511–512; Papaioannnou 2001:184–86; Pentcheva 2000:46–47; Barber 2007:80–89.

[ back ] 29. In this passage Psellos uses vocabulary particular to learned astronomers (ἐκλειπτικῶν συνδέσμων, ‘ecliptic conjunctions’, ἐπισκότισις ‘darkening’, σχῆμα ‘astronomical position’, ἐπέχεται ‘halts’, and the related noun ἐποχή ‘positioning of a celestial body’, which occurs also at line 108), clearly including himself among them; for similar passages, see his De omnifaria doctrina 128.4 (ed. Westerink 1948) and Epitaphius encomiasticus in patriarchem Michaelem Cerularium 312.13 (ed. Sathas IV 1874).

[ back ] 30. Psellos regularly maintains the importance of differentiating between genuine miracles and the unexpected events that occur according to the natural processes described by (pagan) Greek philosophers; see Kaldellis 2007:202–206.

[ back ] 31. Since watermills represented a form of light industry that could significantly improve the local economy of a region, they were regulated by complex legislation affecting various parties involved in their ownership and operation as early as the seventh–ninth centuries in the Farmer’s Law. By Psellos’ time simple horizontal mills that required little water were built and operated not only by large landowners but also by peasants and small monasteries; disputes over the use of water for mills vs. for crop irrigation were not uncommon. See Harvey 1989:130–134. For a valuable study of the role of mills in the Byzantine economy, see Laiou and Simon 1992/2013:645–666 or 23–42.

[ back ] 32. In this period, powerful persons held the purely honorary title “spatharios” that carried no duties, although it originally designated a member of the imperial bodyguard (see ODB s.v. “Spatharios”).

[ back ] 33. Although the general Leo Mandalos does not seem to be mentioned in any other source, I am grateful to John Nesbitt for bringing to my attention two early eleventh-century seals of Leon Mantoules (an alternative spelling of the surname Mandalos?), whose rank and profession are not identified (see Laurent 1952:230–231, nos. 456 and 457.

[ back ] 34. This Constantinopolitan monastery, identified variously as τοῦ Καλέως, τοῦ Καλλίου, and τοῦ Καυλέα, was closely linked with St. Antony Kauleas, the ninth-century patriarch buried at the monastery who had lived there both as monk and as abbot; its power and influence continued into the mid-fifteenth century, when its abbot accompanied the emperor and the patriarch to the Council of Florence (see Laurent 1965:80–81). For the biography of Antony Kauleas, his patriarchal seal, and his image on the seal of the monastery and in the Menologion of Basil II (Vat. Gr. 1613), see Cotsonis and Nesbitt 2004. I am grateful to Alice-Mary Talbot for identifying this reference to the monastery and to John Nesbitt for the relevant bibliography.

[ back ] 35. The Peira, an eleventh-century collection of secular judicial rulings, provides a valuable if limited insight into judicial proceedings in the Byzantine provinces. Written evidence in one case consisted of a previous agreement between the peasants and a monastery involved in a land dispute, a report from the epoptes (the official responsible for recording boundaries in land sales), an imperial chrysobull issued to the monastery, and a document specifying the inexact report of the epoptes. See Morris 1986.

[ back ] 36. Before rendering a decision, the judge in a case typically sought advice in writing from respected local figures and officials versed in the particulars of a dispute. Bribery under such a system was not uncommon. See Morris 1986:138–140.

[ back ] 37. In Psellos’ time the title dishypatos (literally, ‘twice-consul’) was held by judges as well as by provincial and imperial bureaucrats assigned fiscal and archival responsibilities; see ODB s.v. “dishypatos.” The collection of lead seals preserved at Dumbarton Oaks includes a seal of Gabriel Tzirithon dated to 1084; see Nesbitt and Oikonomides 1991 I:158, no. 71.11. On this seal, Tzirithon is identified as the judge (κριτής) of the Thracian theme (θέμα); although the theme was originally a territorial unit under a general with both civil and military power, by the eleventh century a civil governor (κριτής) assumed many of the functions formerly assigned to a general (see ODB s.v. “theme”).

[ back ] 38. The metaphor of the wrestler’s grip applied to the line of argumentation taken by a participant in a dispute originates in Plato’s Phaedrus 236 b9–c1: “Now, my friend, you have given me a fair hold; for you certainly must speak as best you can …” (trans. H. N. Fowler, Loeb 1938:441), Περὶ μὲν τούτου, ὦ φίλε, εἰς τὰς ὁμοίας λαβὰς ἐλήλυθας. ῥητέον μὲν γάρ σοι παντὸς μᾶλλον οὕτως ὅπως οἷός τε εἶ … Psellos recognized that this expression came from the language of ancient sport when he used it in his Funeral Oration on the Patriarch John Xiphilinos 436.16: “He then indicated nothing further [of his opinions] but turned back again and resumed the same grips, just as ancient wrestlers were accustomed to do,” τότε μὲν οὐδὲν πλέον ἐπεσημήνατο, ἀλλ’ αὖθις μεταβεβλήκει καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς αὐτὰς ἐπανεληλύθει λαβὰς ὥσπερ εἰώθεσαν πάλαι οἱ προσπαλαίοντες (ed. Sathas IV 1874). As Herrmann 1995:99 observes, “… in fifth- and fourth-century Greece the language of rhetoric and discussion in the widest sense seems to have been abounding in metaphorical expressions taken from fighting and contesting, two areas of the Greek language which show a considerable overlap in terminology anyway.”

[ back ] 39. The legal opinion or official memorandum (ὑπόμνημα) was prepared by one of the judges to summarize the arguments presented in a case for discussion by the other judges, who then dated, signed and sealed the document; the final decision with a brief justification (σημείωμα) was composed on the basis of the official memorandum (Oikonomides 1986:177). Two such memoranda attributed to Psellos survive; see Dennis (ed.) 1994:143–155 and 160–168. For a translation of the first, see Jenkins 2006:147–156.

[ back ] 40. Psellos refers to John 3.13 and to Romans 10.6.

[ back ] 41. Psellos uses a popular idiomatic expression explained by the tenth-century Souda lexicon as ‘the black pebble, the one that gives sentence against a person, while the white [one] gives sentence in his favor,’ Ψῆφος μέλαινα· ἡ καταδικάζουσα· λευκὴ δὲ ἡ δικαιοῦσα (ed. Adler IV 845.24–25, §85). Using pebbles to vote in a capital trial is an ancient practice referred to frequently in both Greek and Latin literature as early as the fifth century BCE (see Aeschylus Eumenides 674–753). In the first century CE the Roman authors Ovid (Metamorphoses XV 42–45) and Pliny (Epistles I 2.5) and the Greek author Plutarch refer to the white pebble for acquittal and the black one for condemnation. Plutarch’s memorable formulation became proverbial in Byzantium; his Alcibiades states that he would not trust his homeland with his life, “nor even my mother, for fear that she would unwittingly cast the black pebble instead of the white [one],” περὶ δὲ τῆς ἐμῆς ψυχῆς οὐδὲ τῇ μητρί, μήπως ἀγνοήσασα τὴν μέλαιναν ἀντὶ τῆς λευκῆς ἐπενέγκῃ ψῆφον (Plutarch Alcibiades 22.2).

[ back ] 42. Psellos refers to the annunciation narrative as it occurs in Luke 1.26–36.

[ back ] 43. Until this point in the narrative, Psellos has referred to the πέπλος (‘drapery’) of the icon or to its καταπέτασμα (‘veil’), but here he uses a word specific to clothing, ἔνδυμα (‘garment’) and at line 655 the general term περιβόλαιον (‘wrap, covering’).

[ back ] 44. Reading αὐτοῖς for the manuscript’s αὐτοί.

[ back ] 45. Gregory of Nazianzus links God’s simultaneous love and punishment of mankind (φιλανθρωπία, τιμωρία); see Oration 38 In theophania 12.29–30 (ed. Moreschini 1990 = Migne PG 36 324.51) and Oration 45 In sanctum pascha Migne PG 36 633.16. This linkage reflects the sense of Hebrews 12.6, “For whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (ὃν γὰρ ἀγαπᾷ κύριος παιδεύει, μαστιγοῖ δὲ πάντα υἱὸν ὃν παραδέχεται = Proverbs 3.12). See also Proverbs 13.24 and Revelation 3.19.

[ back ] 46. I have followed Cotsonis 1994:225 in translating ἔμφασις as ‘manifestation.’

[ back ] 47. After designating Joshua as Moses’ successor God granted his request to stop the sun and the moon in their courses for a day so that the Israelites could destroy the Amorite army at Gibeon. See Joshua 1.1–2 and 10.12–13; translation after Brenton 1851.

[ back ] 48. The eclipse that occurred during the crucifixion of Christ is described in Luke 23.44. Psellos’ specific reference to the “fourteenth day of the moon” as the date of the Jewish Passover reflects ancient Hebrew practices as discussed by Sozomen Ecclesiastical History VII 18.

[ back ] 49. God caused the sun to turn back upon its course in order to ratify his promise that Hezekiah’s lifespan would be increased by fifteen years; see Isaiah 38.5–8.

[ back ] 50. Eusebius (Praeparatio evangelica X 4.7) specifies these same ancient deities as particularly prolific in delivering oracles—Apollo at Pythian Delphi and at Claros in Ionia, Zeus at Dodona, Amphiareus at Oropos and Amphilochos at Cilician Mallos and in Akarnania. All four oracles relied upon an altered state of human consciousness to convey their messages. In Delphi and at Dodona priestesses went into a mantic trance to deliver the god’s words (see Plato Phaedrus 244b), while Amphiareus and Amphilochos appeared in visions or in dreams to suppliants at their shrines (see Clement of Alexandria Protrepticus 2.11.2 and Lucian Philopseudes 38.2).

[ back ] 51. Herodotus (Histories VII 140–44) describes how the Athenians sent a delegation to consult the Delphic oracle regarding Xerxes’ imminent invasion of Greece. The oracle’s cryptic advice to seek safety behind the wooden wall prompted a debate at Athens; should the population barricade themselves on the Acropolis behind a wooden palisade, or should they trust the wooden hulls of the navy to defend them? The latter interpretation prevailed and resulted in the stunning Athenian victory over the Persian fleet at Salamis.

[ back ] 52. Psellos refers to the famous oracle of Apollo in which the god did not specify to the Lydian king Croesus whether invading Persia by crossing the Halys River would result in the fall of the Persian or of the Lydian Empire; for the full story, see Herodotus Histories I 53–55, 90–91. Psellos slightly varies the wording of a frequently quoted formulation of this oracle, ‘By crossing the Halys, Croesus would destroy a great kingdom’ (Κροῖσος Ἅλυν διαβὰς μεγάλην ἀρχὴν καταλύσει) that first occurred in Empedocles (Fr. 25, line 14) and also appears in Aristotle (Rhetoric 140a39) and his commentators Ammonios and Elias as well as in the writings of Diodoros of Sicily, Eusebios, Malalas, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, et al.

[ back ] 53. “Bacis” and “Sibyl” referred not to individual historical/ mythological figures but rather to a category of divinely inspired persons who uttered prophecies (see Aristotle Problemata 954a36); the ancient scholion to Aristophanes Birds 962.1 identifies three prophets at different locations called “Bacis” and three called “Sibyl.” Plutarch attaches to these prophets the proverbial label ‘good guesser’ (ὁ εἰκάζων καλῶς, see Plutarch On the Delphic Oracle 399A4–7), a skepticism reflected by Psellos when he declares that they depended for their prophecies upon Aristotle’s ‘probable inferences,’ (οἱ ἔνδοξοι συλλογισμοί, see Aristotle Sophistical Refutations 170a40, Topics 161b35, etc.).

[ back ] 54. Psellos may be referring obliquely here to the series of judges and courts that had failed to render a consistent decision in the legal case he has described.

[ back ] 55. Psellos has apparently confused Plato’s Gorgias with his Phaedrus here; Plato Phaedrus 244a–d contains his fulsome endorsement of manic prophecy.

[ back ] 56. Psellos recalls Aristotle On Virtues and Vices 1250a6–10 and 1250b11–14, where ‘prudent restraint’ (σωφροσύνη) and ‘self-control’ (ἐγκράτεια) are both described as curbing the desire for base pleasures.

[ back ] 57. Psellos here introduces the dangerous subject of occult practices with an appropriate tone of Christian disdain. He had himself thoroughly studied the now fragmentary Chaldean Oracles, basic to the Neoplatonic doctrines supporting magical rites that were emphatically condemned by the Church. For Psellos’ attitude towards magic, see Duffy 1995:83–90. Psellos’ vocabulary in this passage recalls that of the Oracles, i.e. ‘telestic’ or ‘mystical’ (Oracles 110, 136 and 196) and ‘speak in a divine frenzy’ (Oracle 194); citations are to Majercik 1989).

[ back ] 58. The Neoplatonic hierarchy of deities included at the lowest level a triad of divine spirits mediating between the highest gods and the human, material world. Majercik 1989:1–49 provides a lucid discussion of this complex system; for these Lesser Beings, see Majercik 1989:8–11. Note that Psellos does not deny the existence of such divinities.

[ back ] 59. Hecate was one of the three chief deities in the Neoplatonic system (Majercik 1989:7). Chaldean ritual used the whirling motion (στροφάλιγξ, Oracles 12, 49, and 87) of Hecate’s magical wheel (στρόφαλος) activated by a leather strap to imitate the ceaseless motion of the heavens and to attract for prophetic purposes the lesser spirits called Iynxes (Majercik 1989: 29–30). Psellos gives a detailed description of Hecate’s strophalos (see Philosophica minora II [ed. O’Meara 1988] Opusculum 38 lines 17–24).

[ back ] 60. Psellos describes in some detail the process of augury, or determining the will of the gods by the cries and behavior of various birds, in Philosophica minora I (ed. Duffy 1992) Opusculum 33 lines 33–56.

[ back ] 61. See Plato Apology 31d2–4.

[ back ] 62. Psellos paraphrases Plato’s famous definition of the mind (νόος) as the pilot (κυβερνήτης) of the soul (ψυχή)— see Plato Phaedrus 247c7—and follows the terminology of Proclus (In Platonis Alcibiadem 1, section 77, lines 9–11 ed. Westerink 1954).

[ back ] 63. It is notoriously difficult to translate λόγος, which I have taken to mean ‘oracle’ here. This sense occurs in Plato (e.g. Phaedrus 274b, Apology 20e) and in a fragment of the Chaldean Oracles quoted by Psellos (Oracle 90).

[ back ] 64. Psellos defines the supreme deity as ‘the boundary of everything’ (τὸ θεῖον ὅρος ἐστὶ τοῦ παντός; see Philosophica minora II, Opusculum 47, line 10).

[ back ] 65. Psellos conflates two episodes from Eunapius Lives of the Sophists concerning the fourth-century CE philosophers Maximus and Chrysanthius, both practitioners of magical arts, who were greatly respected by the youthful Emperor Julian. In the first episode set in the temple of Hecate at Ephesus, Maximus magically induced the goddess’s statue to smile and the torches she held to burst into flame (Eunapius Lives of the Sophists, 44, lines 10–22 ed. Giangrande 1956); in the second episode, Maximus and Chrysanthius were summoned to Constantinople by Julian. Before responding, they consulted the gods and received unfavorable omens. At this, Maximus declared it the duty of learned men to contest with the gods until they granted favorable omens (Eunapius Lives of the Sophists 47, lines 10–27). Maximus eventually suffered extreme torture at the hands of Julian’s successors (Eunapius Lives of the Sophists 51.19–52) and was slaughtered (Eunapius Lives of the Sophists, 55.6–20).

[ back ] 66. Paul speaks of “the law having the shadow of good things to come” in Hebrews 10.1.

[ back ] 67. The Ephod of the High Priest Aaron was an elaborately embroidered garment with a sack-like breastplate containing two stones called Urim and Thummim, or ‘Manifestation’ and ‘Truth’, which were used as an oracle of judgment to provide God’s answers to questions posed to him. Exodus 28.6–30 provides a detailed description of the Ephod; Psellos quotes the vocabulary from verse 26. Because Psellos refers to the oracular stones as ‘inset’ (τετύπωται), he may have confused them with the two precious stones set on the shoulder straps of the Ephod (Exodus 28.9–12). Consultation of the oracular stones is mentioned in Scripture (for example Numbers 27.21) without explaining the process used in consulting them. The seventh-century monk Anastasius of Sinai speculated that the High Priest put on the Ephod, held the breastplate in his hands, and formulated a “yes-or-no” question while peering into the breastplate. God indicated affirmation and assent by causing one of the stones to flash (Quaestiones 40, Migne PG 89 585A–B).

[ back ] 68. The Propitiatory or Mercy Seat (ἱλαστήριον) set upon the Ark (τῷ κιβωτῷ was the site of God’s pronouncements for Israel, Exodus 25.21–22).

[ back ] 69. Cf. LSJ s.v. ἀλήθεια I. 4

[ back ] 70. Herodotus explains how Darius prevailed in a contest arranged by the claimants to the throne of Persia. Since all agreed that the rider of the first horse to whinny after dawn on the following day would be king, the groom of Darius bred his horse the previous night on a spot where the contestants would pass so that the next day the horse whinnied at the spot and won Darius the throne (Herodotus Histories, III 83–86).

[ back ] 71. Psellos conflates two incidents from the Roman Antiquities by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. The twins Romulus and Remus agreed to determine which of them should be the founder and namesake of their city according to the flight of auspicious birds; Remus was first to see six vultures flying from the right, but Romulus saw twelve vultures and claimed victory (see Roman Antiquities I 86.2–4). After Remus died in the ensuing battle among the brothers’ followers, Romulus received divine confirmation of his position as founder of Rome when lightning appeared favorably “on the left,” explained by Dionysius as north, the direction of the pole’s inclination when the viewer faces east (see Roman Antiquities II 5.1–4). Psellos adopts Dionysius’ vocabulary for ‘the pole of the axis is elevated’ (μετεωρίζεται … ὁ τοῦ ἄξονος πόλος, section 3).

[ back ] 72. Reading τέξεσθαι for the mss. τέξασθαι.

[ back ] 73. Interpreting this cryptic oracle requires understanding a double entendre; in modern astrological terminology, “The moon was entering [the house of] Venus (=Aphrodite).” Additionally puzzling is the adjective ‘chaste’ (ἅγνην), usually applied to Artemis, the maiden goddess of the moon, but here referring to the sex-goddess Aphrodite. Psellos quotes this oracle from Porphyry as it now survives in Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica VI 1.2.3–8.

[ back ] 74. Psellos again quotes Porphyry (see Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica VI 2.1.2–3).

[ back ] 75. Elaborating upon a Greek pun impossible to convey in English (ἐμπύρευμα: ‘spark, inspiration’/ ἐμπόρευμα: ‘merchandise, traffic,’ lines 468–469), Psellos develops an extended metaphor of ideas kindled in the emperor by discussions with Psellos (lines 471–473).

[ back ] 76. Apparently a reference to Thucydides History II 34.2: “Having set up a tent, they put into it the bones of the dead three days before the funeral.”

[ back ] 77. Psellos somewhat inaccurately recalls Thucydides’ famous account of Pericles’ Funeral Oration, which was delivered at the state commemoration of war dead celebrated by Athens, city of the virgin goddess Athena (cf. Thucydides History II 34.1 and 6). I am grateful to Stratis Papaioannou for recognizing this reference as specifically to Pericles’ Funeral Oration.

[ back ] 78. My translation of the following section in which Psellos speaks as a lawyer has benefited immeasurably from discussions among the participants in Alice-Mary Talbot’s Greek reading group at Dumbarton Oaks (2007–2008), especially Diether Roderich Reinsch, Denis Sullivan, and Michael McGann.

[ back ] 79. For a discussion of courts and judges in Byzantium, see Macrides 1994. Macrides describes the three categories of judges mentioned by Psellos: the seven magistrates who served as ‘competent’ judges having jurisdiction, i.e. being ‘competent’ (πρόσφοροι or κύριοι) to hear a case and two types termed ‘subordinate’ (χαμαιδικασταί). The ‘coadjutors’ (σύμπονοι, Psellos’ πάρεδροι) were attached to the courts of the competent judges and had no independent jurisdiction but were well informed in the relevant laws, while the ‘special’ (αἱρετοί) judges were temporarily designated by a competent judge to hear a particular case (Macrides 1994:120–121).

[ back ] 80. Psellos quotes the opening sentence wholly or in part from the chapter (κεφάλαιον) of the title (ἐπίγραμμα) of the law he wishes to cite; because his audience is expected to understand the full import of each citation, I have supplied additional text in the footnotes when it is necessary for understanding his reference. Basilika refers to the ninth-century codification of law under the Emperor Leo VI; the Ecloga Basilicorum is a twelfth-century commentary on parts of it (see ODB s.v. “Basilika” and “Ecloga Basilicorum”). For a Latin translation of the Basilika, see C. G. E. Heimbach, Basilicorum Libri LX, vol. I (Leipzig 1843); online at (http://www.ledonline.it/rivistadirittoromano/basilici.html ).

[ back ] 81. Psellos slightly misquotes the text of the law, substituting the adjective προσφόρῳ (‘fitting, suitable’) for κυρίῳ (‘competent’).

[ back ] 82. The text of the law continues, “and has pledged to decide the matter under contention by voting …” καὶ ἐπαγγειλάμενος ψήφῳ τεμεῖν τὸ φιλονεικούμενον …

[ back ] 83. The twelfth-century legal textbook the Ecloga Basilicorum expatiates upon this cryptic sentence with an example: “If the special judge once gives his final judgment and makes his decision that ‘Peter appeared to me to owe 100 nomismata to Paul, and I judge that he give this [money] to Paul,’ he cannot thereafter either change or correct his verdict, even should he perhaps be mistaken, and gave his sentence when he ought not judge against Peter but in his favor. For having once given a judgment, he ceases to be a judge and can no longer cast a vote,” Ὁ αἱρετὸς δικαστής, ἐὰν φθάσῃ δοῦναι ἀπόφασιν τελείαν καὶ διορίσηται, ὅτι “ἐφάνη μοι χρεωστῶν Πέτρος τῷ Παύλῳ ρʹ νομίσματα καὶ ἀποφαίνομαι τοῦτον δοῦναι ταῦτα τῷ Παύλῳ” οὐ δύναται ἔκτοτε τὴν οἰκείαν ψῆφον ἢ ἐναλλάξαι ἢ διορθῶσαι, κἂν ἴσως ἐπλανήθη καὶ μὴ ὀφείλων καταδικάσαι τὸν Πέτρον, ἀλλα δικαιῶσαι κατέκρινε· δοὺς γὰρ ἅπαξ ἀπόφασιν ἐπαύθη εἶναι δικαστὴς καὶ οὐκέτι δύναται διαγινώσκειν (Ecloga Basilicorum 72.20 lines 1–7).

[ back ] 84. Only a competent judge who had jurisdiction over a particular case could appoint a special judge to preside in his stead; he often turned to a one of the assistant judges in his own court (σύμπονοι); see Macrides 1994:120–121.

[ back ] 85. Psellos speaks facetiously in gross exaggerations, using classical terminology for distance; “fifty stades” = ca. six miles, since one stade = 607 feet or an eighth of a mile.

[ back ] 86. The monastery Τοῦ Καλλίου was dedicated to the Virgin; see Janin 1969:40.

[ back ] 87. The right of access to a court of appeal (τὸ ἐφετικὸν δικαστήριον) is described in the Novellae of Justinian (460, lines 17–20, ed. Schöll and Kroll 1895); the sixth-century Novellae constitutiones of Athanasius (3.4, 162 line 1, ed. Simon and Troianos 1989) refers to the appeals courts at Constantinople as having jurisdiction over all cases involving persons under special jurisdictions—military, ecclesiastical, noble, etc. For a description of these special jurisdictions, see Macrides 1994:117–122.

[ back ] 88. Psellos alludes ironically to the ancient Athenian court of appeal in cases of homicide, wounding and arson; see OCD s.v. “Areopagus.”

[ back ] 89. Psellos paraphrases Basilika–3, which describes the role of the judge in assessing a fine when the plaintiff asserts that he has suffered financial harm by the actions of his opponent. “Only the judge can invite an oath before the court, and it is in [the judge’s power] to move [the oath] and to fix the amount of the claim. He is also able even after the oath [has been taken] to lessen [the fine on] the defendant wholly or in part for good cause or if new evidence has later been discovered.” Μόνος ὁ δικαστὴς ἐπάγει τὸν ἔνδικον ὅρκον, καὶ ἐν αὐτῷ ἐστιν ἐπαγαγεῖν αὐτὸν καὶ ταξατεῦσαι· δύναται δὲ καὶ μετὰ τὸν ὅρκον ἐκ μεγάλης αἰτίας ἢ ἀποδείξεων ὕστερον εὑρεθεισῶν ἐν μέρει ἢ εἰς τὸ παντελὲς κουφίσαι τὸν ἐναγόμενον. [ back ] Psellos’ contemporary the historian and legal writer Michael Attaleiates elaborates upon the general application of the oath before the court (ἔνδικον ὅρκον) in his Work on the Laws, or Epitome for Lawyers (Πόνημα νομικὸν ἤτοι σύνοψις πραγματική) 14.59–64: “On the oath before the court. The oath before the court is like this: Whenever someone is convicted of having committed forcible seizure of property or entry into a house or theft or unjust injury, then the party [affected] swears ‘So much injury I have suffered and [so much] have I lost as a result of the attack from him by force, theft, or shameless injury,’ and he receives this [amount] from his opponent, but not without due examination does he receive all that he swore to, but with a judicial determination of the amount. For the judge decides…” Περὶ ἐνδίκου ὅρκου. Ὁ ἔνδικος ὅρκος τοιοῦτος ἐστίν. Ὅταν τις ἀπελεγχθῇ βιαίαν ἁρπαγὴν ποιησάμενος πραγμάτων ἢ ἐπέλευσιν κατὰ οἰκίας τινός, ἢ κλοπὴν ἢ ζημίαν ἄδικον, τότε ὀμνύει ὁ ἀντίδικος, ὅτι τόσα ἐζημιώθην καὶ ἀπώλεσα ἐν τῇ γενομένῃ κατ’ αὐτοῦ ἐπιθέσει ἢ βίᾳ ἢ κλοπῇ ἢ ἀναισχύντῳ ζημίᾳ, καὶ ἀπολαμβάνει ταῦτα εἰς τὸ ἁπλοῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀντιδίκου· πλὴν οὐκ ἀβασανίστως πάντα, ὅσα ὀμόσει, λαμβάνει, ἀλλὰ μετὰ ταξατίωνος. Ὁρίζει γὰρ ὁ δικαστὴς …

[ back ] 90. I have substituted a period for the question mark in the text.

[ back ] 91. In this passage ‘action’ is used in the technical sense of a legal proceeding established for the judging and enforcing of a claim. Psellos quotes this sentence from his own essay, “Concerning the Disposition of Actions” (Περὶ τῆς τῶν ἀγωγῶν διαιρέσεως in Weiss 1973:288–291, quotation from lines 102–104). The sentence is preceded by a definition, “There is also a condictio ex lege; this is a claim which does not fall under a particular category of action, but is defined under a law,” ἔστι καὶ κονδικτ(ίκιος) ἐξ λέγε τουτέστιν ἀπαίτησις μὴ ἔχουσα ἴδιον ἀγωγῆς ὄνομα, ἀλλ’ ἐκ νόμου ὁριζομένη (Weiss 1973:288 lines 102–104).

[ back ] 92. Such trials are mentioned in the scholia to the Basilika 8.2.15, explaining cases involving two heirs as regulated in Basilika 42.2.1.

[ back ] 93. Psellos refers to Aristotle’s discussion of the causes (τὰ αἴτια) in the Physics where he enumerates four (final, material, efficient, and formal, Physics II 3), then notes that chance (ἡ τύχη) and spontaneity (τὸ αὐτόματον) are sometimes considered causes but must be distinguished from the others; see Aristotle Physics II 4–6, esp. 195b32–196a16. The vocabulary used here by Psellos reflects that of the Aristotelian commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias, who speaks of ‘the distinction of causes’ (ἡ τῶν αἰτίων δεικνυμένη διαίρεσις) as quoted by Eusebius (Praeparatio evangelica VI 9.3 line 3). The sixth-century Aristotelian commentators John Philoponos and Simplicius also note the distinction shared by chance and spontaneity.

[ back ] 94. Psellos may be speaking metaphorically. However, it is not uncommon to see references to corporal punishment appropriate to a crime that was imposed without the sanction of a specific law; anyone whose speech might threaten the regime was punished by removal of the tongue. Theophanes records four such instances in the seventh and eighth centuries, most famously in the cases of the Empress Martina (Chronicle 341 line 25, ed. De Boor) and of the Emperor Justinian II (Chronicle 369 line 26; see also 351 line 20 and 380 line 27). Although the law specified removal of the tongue in the case of proven perjury (“… once he is discovered, let the perjurer lose his tongue,” ἐπίορκος δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα ἀποδεικνύμενος, γλωσσοκοπείσθω, Ecloga Basilicorum 17.2 line 3), the punishment was usually imposed solely at a judge’s discretion. The practice found scriptural justification in Matthew 5.29–30 “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out,” and “If thy right hand offend thee, cut if off” (KJV). For a discussion of corporal punishment in Byzantium, see Sinogowitz 1956:19–21 and 36.

[ back ] 95. That is, the monks think they should win on the basis of political influence rather than persuasive logic. Psellos gives this hypothetical critic of the monks’ position a scriptural tone in his concluding sentence; πιθανολογία (‘enticing words’ KJV, which I have translated as ‘persuasive argumentation’) occurs in Colossians 2.4, and ματαιολογία (‘vain jangling’ KJV) in I Timothy 1.6.

[ back ] 96. The title protoproedros describes an official who was pre-eminent in his particular branch of civil or ecclesiastical service; it was awarded quite widely in the eleventh century. In this context it apparently designates a civil ‘chief judge’ (see ODB s.v. “Proedros”).

[ back ] 97. The Xeros family attained prominence in civil service during the eleventh century, especially as judges; Psellos corresponded with a member of this family who served as judge in the Thrakesian theme of western Anatolia (see ODB s.v. Xeros). Seibt 1978:291–292 discusses the career and the surviving lead seals of the “John Xeros” mentioned by Psellos here, noting that a designation ‘foremost of the service in his ranking’ (πρῶτος τῆς διακονίας ἐν τῇ πρεσβείᾳ) conveyed great honor upon the recipient but had no political significance. Psellos evidently attempts to explain the significance of “protoproedros” with the phrase τὰ πρῶτα τῆς ἐν τῇ πρεσβείᾳ διακονίας, line 645. I am grateful to John Nesbitt for an enlightening discussion of this passage.

[ back ] 98. The rhetorical figure of the kyklos (ring composition) can be applied to a periodos (sentence) or to an entire narrative, according to Hermogenes’ influential rhetorical text, On Invention 4.8 (see Kennedy 2005:172–174).

[ back ] 99. Psellos continues the imagery implied by the etymological sense of the word periodos (περί /peri: ‘around’ + ὅδος /hodos: ‘way’, ‘track’) by comparing the structure of his oration to a racecourse.

[ back ] 100. According to the fifth-century neo-Platonist Damascius, a lion accompanied a flaming sphere (the baitylos) when it appeared in the middle of the night to a man mysteriously summoned to the temple of Athena near Emesa (Syria); upon being questioned, the lion explained the divine origin of the baitylos and left the man to be its servant (see Damascius Vita Isidori §203, 274–276, ed. Zintzen 1967). For a brief discussion of sacred stones in antiquity, see Faraone 1992:5. Faraone notes that Philo of Byblos described baityloi as ‘animated stones’ in a section of his Phoenician History as preserved in Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica I 10.23 lines 4–5: … ἐπενόησεν θεὸς Οὐρανὸς βαιτύλια, λίθους ἐμψύχους μηχανησάμενος, … “the god Ouranos further invented baetyls, by devising stones endowed with life.” Text and translation from Attridge and Oden 1981:52–53.

[ back ] 101. Classical authors, especially those of the Roman period, not uncommonly mention sweating statues as a divine portent; see, for example, Theophrastus On Plants 5.9.8, Apollonios of Rhodes Argonautica IV 1284–1285, Diodoros Bibliotheca historica XVII 10.4, Appian Civil War II 36 and IV 4, Plutarch Life of Alexander 14.8–9, and Life of Camillus 6.3, etc. I am grateful to Denis Sullivan for these references.

[ back ] 102. In translating lines 676–689, I have benefited from the translation and discussion in Papaioannou 2001:186–187, who elucidates the sense of the Neoplatonic terminology drawn by Psellos from Proclus’ commentaries on Plato’s Parmenides and Timaeus.

[ back ] 103. Psellos paraphrases the statement of Proclus “And in fact each thing participates in the better things to the extent of its natural capacity, but not as those [better things truly] are,” καὶ γὰρ ἕκαστον, ὡς πέφυκεν, οὕτω μετέχει τῶν κρειττόνων, ἀλλ’ οὐχ ὡς ἐκεῖνα ἔστιν, The Elements of Theology 173.5–6. For a discussion of this passage in relation to Psellos’ understanding of the process of human vision, see Barber 2007:90.

[ back ] 104. In translating lines 689–694, I have benefited from the translation and discussion by Barber 2007:85. For a different interpretation of χρῶμα in this passage as a reference to brightness or intensity rather that to hue, see Pentcheva 2010:189. For the spiritual significance of color in Byzantine theology, see James 2003.

[ back ] 105. Psellos quotes and paraphrases Iliad V 838–839: “Loudly did the oaken axle creak beneath its burden, for it bare a dread goddess and a peerless warrior” (Trans. Samuel Butler), μέγα δ’ ἔβραχε φήγινος ἄξων βριθοσύνῃ· δεινὴν γὰρ ἄγεν θεὸν ἄνδρά τ’ ἄριστον.

[ back ] 106. I am grateful to Börje Bydén for illuminating suggestions on translating the following complex Neoplatonic passage.

[ back ] 107. In his Accusation against the Patriarch Kerularios, Psellos uses similar Neoplatonic reasoning to explain the process by which divine possession affected the Delphic oracle and sometimes drove her out of her senses (ed. Kurtz and Drexl 1941 I:248 17–30). The two passages share some vocabulary: ‘evocation of God’ (θεαγωγία), ‘be inspired’, ‘inspiration’ (ἐπιπνέηται, ἐπίπνοια), ‘discursive thought’ (διάνοια), and ‘(not) being conscious’ ([ἀ]παρακολουθ–).

[ back ] 108. Psellos mentions here three of the five faculties of the soul (δυνάμεις τῆς ψυχῆς) that are enumerated in a poem attributed to him: “Every soul has by nature five faculties: intellect, perception, discursive thought, judgment, and imagination,” ψυχὴ γὰρ πᾶσα πέφυκε δυνάμεις ἔχειν πέντε,/ νοῦν, αἴσθησιν, διάνοιαν, δόξαν καὶ φαντασίαν Poemata 54 141–142 ed. Westerink 1992). This is a traditional list found in late antique commentators such as John Philoponos, John of Damascus, Olympiodoros, Elias, and David.

[ back ] 109. For the sense of ἀπαρακολουθήτως … πρὸς ἑαυτὸν, see Plotinus, Enneads I 4.5 μηδ’ ἑαυτῷ παρακολουθοῖ ‘suspends consciousness’.

[ back ] 110. Psellos adopts a phrase from Plato’s Meno here (ὥσπερ αὐχμός τις τῆς σοφίας γέγονεν 70c4) and uses it again in a similar context in one of his orations on miscellaneous subjects (“So great a dearth of wisdom existed during our lifetime,” τοσοῦτος γὰρ αὐχμὸς σοφίας ἐπὶ τοῦ καθ’ ἡμᾶς βίου ἐγένετο Oratoria minora 24.61 ed. Littlewood 1985).

[ back ] 111. In three of his poems (Poemata 1, 53, and 54 ed. Westerink 1992) and in his essay “On the Psalms,” Psellos discusses the various meanings assigned to the Hebrew word Selah, termed in Greek τὸ διάψαλμα. In Poem 1, 269–292 he notes that some interpret the word as signifying a change in rhythm, in harmonic type, in melody, etc. and himself favors a Neoplatonic interpretation, bolstering his argument by citing Gregory of Nyssa.

[ back ] 112. In suggesting that he could use the principles of Aristotelian logic to analyze this case, Psellos reflects the vocabulary of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics 75a42–b2 and 76a13–14 (ἀξιώματα: ‘axioms’; γένος: ‘genus’; καθ’ αὑτὰ τὰ πάθη: ‘the essential attributes;’ ὑποκειμένοις: ‘underlying [things]’ or subjecta in Latin).

[ back ] 113. Psellos adopts and adapts a phrase from the essay of Gregory of Nazianzus On his Father’s Silence (‘… striking thought with thought and examining action with action,’ … λογισμῷ λογισμὸν πλήσσων, καὶ πράξει πρᾶξιν εὐθύνων Migne PG 35 945.3); he uses this same phrase again in his essay On “Lord, Have Mercy” (Theological Oration 13, line 90 ed. Gautier 1989).

[ back ] 114. An indiction was a cycle of fifteen years, each running from September to August, regularly used to mark a date in Byzantium even though it was not precise, since the indiction cycles were never marked in a sequence (see ODB s.v. “Indiction”).

[ back ] 115. Psellos uses terminology occurring in Hermogenes’ text On Types of Style (2.10) that divides ‘practical oratory’ (λόγος πολιτικός) into three types, ‘deliberative’ (συμβουλευτικός), ‘judicial’ (δικανικός), and ‘panegyric’ (πανηγυρικός). For a discussion of Hermogenes’ views on the panegyric, see Wooten 1987:138–140. Psellos apparently uses the technical term ‘official memorandum’ (ὑπόμνημα) to describe the form and content of his oration but not its function; for a similar use of the term in his writings, see Jenkins 2006:139–140.

[ back ] 116. 6583 (͵ϛφπγʹ in the manuscripts) is 1075 CE in modern notation, a designation also supplied in the margin of the chief manuscript; in Psellos’ time, the year was reckoned from the creation of the world dated to 5508 BCE (see ODB s.v. Chronology). Since the Byzantine year began in September, this oration was delivered sometime in late July or August.