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Luisa Andriollo

Aristocracy and Literary Production in the 10th


Century
1 Introduction
During the 9th and 10th centuries some Byzantine aristocratic lineages succeeded in
obtaining the highest civil and military offices: they gained economic power, social
prestige, political weight and came closer to the imperial throne. The rise of these
aristocratic families is a well-known historical and social phenomenon.
This paper aims to ascertain whether the emergence of these new groups left any
trace in literary production. Can we trace a specifically aristocratic-inspired literature
in 10th century Byzantium one intended to strengthen the memory and the prestige
of certain families? And if the answer is in the positive, to what extent were traditional literary forms used to promote the image of emerging interest groups, and construct new social and cultural models? Finally, as the aristocratic ideology seems
to maintain some provincial and local traits, do literary works also show the same
features?
In order to answer such questions I will provide examples of aristocratic writing
belonging to different literary genres, so as to shed new light on their audience and
purposes. I will first and foremost address the personality and the literary work of
John Gemetrs, contextualizing his production against the background of contemporary historiography and letter-writing.
As pointed out by Herbert Hunger and further highlighted by Marc
Lauxtermann, the Byzantines on the whole preferred contemporary subjects.
This holds true even if the literary forms used by Byzantine authors were characterized to a variable extent by imitation and re-employment of ancient models. John
Gemetrs work offers an interesting example of how traditional motifs were at-

On this topic, see especially Jean-Claude Cheynet, Pouvoir et contestations Byzance (9631210)
(Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1990), 32136; Id., Laristocratie byzantine (VIIIe-XIIIe sicle),
Journal des Savants (2000): 281322 (repr. as The Byzantine aristocracy (8th-13th centuries), In The
Byzantine Aristocracy and its Military Function, Variorum Collected Studies Series 859 [AldershotBurlington: Ashgate 2006], I).
Herbert Hunger, On the Imitation () of Antiquity in Byzantine Literature, DOP 2324
(19691970): 1738.
Marc D. Lauxtermann, Byzantine Poetry from Pisides to Geometres: Texts and Contexts, Wiener
Byzantinistische Studien 24.1, vol. 1 (Vienna: Verlag der sterreicher Akademie der Wissenschaften
2003), 11823.
Ed. John Anthony Cramer, Anecdota graeca e codd. manuscriptis bibliothecae regiae parisiensis,
vol. 4 (Oxford: e Typographeo Academico, 1841), 265388; Emilie M. van Opstall, Jean Gomtre.
Pomes en hexameters et en distiques lgiaques, The Medieval Mediterranean 75 (Leiden: Brill, 2008).

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tuned to the new historical and social circumstances. What is more, Johns writings
help us better understand the role and the position of a poet in 10th -century Byzantium. Historical reality makes its way into his work in the form of both autobiographical references and allusions to contemporary facts and persons.

2 John Gemetrs as a court poet


The only information about Johns life on which we can rely is to be found in his own
work, a circumstance that makes any biographical reconstruction risky. However,
three epitaphs inform us that Johns father was a ready servant ( )
of the emperor: he served in Asia, where he died, and his body was finally brought
back to Constantinople by his two sons, of whom John was the younger. As a son of
an imperial officer and a member of a well-established Constantinopolitan family,
John received a good education and he had apparently both a military and a literary
career, as we shall see later. Other references to contemporary figures or emperors
allow us to date his activity to the second half of the 10th century: we have poems
dedicated to Theodore Dekapolits, who was patrikios and kuaistr under Constantine VII and magistros under Rmanos II, to Nikphoros Phkas, John I Tzimisks,
the parakoimomenos Basil Lakapnos and Grgoria, Bardas Sklros mother; in
other texts he also refers to contemporary events, as the civil (986989) and the Bulgarian wars at the beginning of Basil IIs reign. In what follows I will analyze a few
passages of his poems in order to single out and interpret references to contemporary
events and to the authors social position, as well as his ideology and poetics.

On the work and life of John Geometres see also: Herbert Hunger, Die hochsprachliche profane
Literatur der Byzantiner, vol. 2, Philologie, Profandichtung, Musik, Mathematik und Astronomie, Naturwissenschaften, Medizin, Kriegswissenschaft, Rechtsliteratur, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft
12.5.2, Byzantinisches Handbuch 5.2 (Munich: Beck, 1978), 169; Alexander Kazhdan, with Lee F. Sherry
and Christine Angelidi, A History of Byzantine Literature (650850), Research Series 2 (Athens:
[], , 1999), 24972.
Different hypotheses about Johns biography are presented and discussed by Kazhdan, A History,
24950.
1517 van Opstall (pp. 280,1321; 280,2225; 280,2629 Cramer).
96 van Opstall (pp. 297,28298,12 Cramer).
Poems in elegiac couplets: 61 (p. 290,113 Cramer), 80 (p. 295,821 Cramer) and 147 van Opstall
(pp. 305,24 306,2 Cramer). Poems in dodecasyllables: p. 266,20267,21 (erroneously considered by
the editor to be dedicated to Nikephoros I, see Cramer, p. 266, no a); 283,1526; 305,13 Cramer. See
Marc D. Lauxtermann, John Geometres: Poet and Soldier, Byzantion 68 (1998): 367, n. 48.
References in Lauxtermann, ibid.: p. 267,22269,19 Cramer (but the editor erroneously identifies this
emperor John with John Staurakios, Nikphoros Is son, see Cramer, Anecdota, 267, no d); p. 286,48
Cramer.
Pp. 276,3278,20 et 308,1309,13 Cramer (see Lauxtermann, Poet and Soldier, 37378).
P. 266,119 Cramer.
Pp. 271,31273,29; 282,2127; 282,28283,8; 322,11325,16; 274,15275,3 Cramer; 90 van Opstall (p.
296,2125 Cramer) and 91 van Opstall (p. 296,2629 Cramer).

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Let us first turn our attention to one of three fictive epitaphs that John devoted to the
emperor Nikphoros Phkas. These texts belong among the few examples of imperial epitaphs bequeathed to us by manuscript tradition. They are written in elegiac
couplets and revolve around the rhetorical figure of ethopoiia: the dead emperor
speaks and addresses the reader, according to a well-established narrative and rhetorical strategy. But, if in purely rhetorical ethopoiiai Christian or contemporary topics were the exception, in the case of epitaphs, and especially in imperial epitaphs, we come across actual historical figures and events. Furthermore, in
contrast with the majority of first-person epitaphs, usually entailing a confession
of sins and a statement of repentance, Johns poem features a solemn and eulogistic
tone, as it is to be expected from a poem devoted to the emperor. The text is filled
with a number of references to epos and tragedy. The style is thus attuned to Nikephoros fate, which can be regarded as both heroic and tragic.

,
,
A ,

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[To the lord emperor Nikphoros Phkas
During six years I held the reins of the holy people / and for so many years I put in chains the
great Scythians Ares, / I wholly pulled down the Assyrian and the Phoenician cities, / I subjugated the invincible Tarsos; / I cleansed the islands and drove off the barbarian spear / (from)
the vast Crete, (from) the famous Cyprus, / East and West shrank back before my threats, / and
(so did) the bliss-giving Nile and the rocky Libya. / And I fall in the middle of the palace, I didnt
escape / the hands of a woman, oh wretched for my weakness! / I had a City, I had an army, I
even had a double wall within, / but, indeed, nothing is weaker than human beings.]

The first eight verses recall Nikphoros Phkas military achievements with epics accents: the victorious fight against the Bulgarians, whose great Ares the emperor put

61 van Opstall (p. 290,113 Cramer). There are two more first-person epigrams devoted to Nikephoros II: 80 and 147 van Opstall (pp. 295,821 and 305,24306,2 Cramer).
Hunger, On the Imitation, 21.
61 van Opstall (p. 290,113 Cramer). All the translations, when not otherwise indicated, are mine.

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Luisa Andriollo

in chains, thus imitating the Giant Ephialtes, with a personification of war thereby
placing Nikephoros on a superhuman, almost titanic dimension; the submission of
eastern Arab cities (the Assyrian and the Phoenician cities and the invincible Tarsos); the recapture of Crete and Cyprus and the victories against the Fatimides, to
which John alludes by mentioning the Nile river and Libya. In this section the authors main models are Gregory of Nazianzos, (echoed almost verbatim in the poems
first verse and inspiring a later passage) and Homer. The latter is Johns mythological source (the image of Ares in chains) and provides the model for many morphological and lexical elements ( v. 2 ; , v. 6 ; , v. 7 ; , v.
8), as we can expect from such an eulogistic and heroic context.
The references to Homer and Gregory of Nazianzos, whose autobiographical and
gnomic poems represented an important model for many middle- and late-Byzantine
authors, are not surprising per se. However, the coexistence of the two models within the same text, as well as the incipit of the poem, echoing an epitaph in honor of
Basil of Caesarea, are noteworthy. The stylistic register and the literary models selected by John are consistent with his ideal of virtue, combining military bravery, secular
wisdom and Christian piety. As we shall see, such an ideal also seems to be in tune

Homerus, Ilias 5,38591: , , / A,


/ /
, / , , /
/ , [So suffered Ares, when Otus and
mighty Ephialtes, the sons of Aloeus, bound him in cruel bonds, and in a brazen jar he lay bound for
thirteen months; and then would Ares, insatiate of war, have perished, had not the stepmother of the
sons of Aloeus, the beauteous Eeriboea, brought tidings unto Hermes; and he stole forth Ares, that
was now sore distressed, for his grievous bonds were overpowering him: trans. Augustus T. Murray,
The Iliad, vol. 1, Loeb Classical Library (London-Cambridge, Mass.: William Heinemann-Harvard
University Press, 1971), 22223].
In 960961, when he was still domestic of the Scholai, Nikphoros Phkas led the reconquest of
Crete. In 962 the conquest of Cilicia began: Adana fell in 964, Mopsuestia and Tarsus fell in 965; in the
same year Cyprus was annexed. In 969 the Byzantine forces took Antioch, while Alep surrendered,
thus becoming a tribute-paying client state of Byzantium. If it is true that the Fatimides could not stop
the Byzantines in the East and in the eastern Mediterranean, John seems to exaggerate Nikphoros
successes in the West: the expedition against the African Arabs settled in Sicily led in 964 by
Nikphoros nephew Manuel ended in a failure. In 967, the refusal to pay the tribute to the Bulgarians
and the capture of a few fortresses on the Bulgarian frontier caused a military crisis and opened the
way to Bulgaria to the Svyatoslav Rus. On the military achievements of Nikphoros Phkas see Mark
Whittow, The Making of Orthodox Byzantium, 6001025 (Houndmills-London: Macmillan, 1996), 325
34; Jean-Claude Cheynet, ed., Le monde byzantin, vol. 2, LEmpire byzantin (6411204) (Paris: Presses
Universitaires de France, 2006), 3234.
Cf. Anthologia Palatina VIII 10,3 (ed. Pierre Waltz, Anthologie grecque. Premire partie: anthologie
palatine, vol. 6, Livre VIII, Collection des universits de France. Srie grecque 99 [Paris: Les Belles
Lettres, 1960], 37), epitaph in honor of Saint Basil of Caesarea: .
V. 7: , see Gregorius Nazianzenus, Carmina I 2,1,129 and II 1,1,97 (PG 37:532
and 977).
Cf. Hunger, Die hochsprachliche, 159.

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with Nikphoros Phkas self-promoted public image. Nikphoros is often portrayed


as both a successful general and an ascetic. Historiography would further reinforce
such a self-representation after the emperors murder. Moreover, the literary references in the first lines indirectly prepare, I argue, the transition to the last four lines
of the epitaph, where the author evokes the emperors death, as well as the ephemeral nature of human glory and life.
The epigrams last part entails a sharp change of perspective: instead of the large
borders of the empire we find the double wall built by Nikphoros II all around the
imperial palace. The victorious emperor does not fall on the battlefield, fighting
against barbarian enemies, but in his own palace, at the hand of a woman. Such
a shift resonates with epic and tragedy, as testified by the verb (v. 10),
used in Odyssey 2,38384, where Odysseus introduces his account of the Greek warriors murdered by their wives upon returning home from Troy. The poem ends with a
moral reflection on human weakness, in tune with the penitential tone usually characterizing first person epitaphs. The final gnom is taken (almost) word by word from
Gregory of Nazianzos, who in turn was inspired by a famous Homeric line, often
quoted in rhetorical and literary texts.
As for the poems historical content, John Gemetrs glosses over the role played
by John I Tzimisks in Nikphoros Phkas murder: the whole responsibility for this
crime is ascribed to a woman, the empress Theophan, who is not mentioned by
name either. Apparently, John Gemetrs career continued to flourish after Nikphoros IIs death, as shown by the poems he devoted to the new emperor. He also
wrote a long first-person epitaph in dodecasyllables for John I, giving voice to
the emperor himself. In both imperial epitaphs such a strategy can be construed, I
argue, as a way to keep a distance from the dead emperor. Here, by having Tzimisks

Cf. Rosemary Morris, The Two Faces of Nikephoros Phokas, BMGS 12 (1988), 83115. On the
ideal of warrior and ascetic piety embodied by Nikphoros II, and especially on his relationship with
Athanasios of Athos, see the article by Angeliki Laiou, The General and the Saint: Michael Maleinos
and Nikephoros Phocas, In Eupsychia. Mlanges offerts Hlne Ahrweiler (Paris: Publications de la
Sorbonne, 1998), 399412.
Carmina I 2,15,42 (PG 37:769): .
Odyssea 18,130: [nothing feebler does earth nurture
than man: trans. Augustus T. Murray, The Odyssey, vol. 2, Loeb Classical Library (London-Cambridge,
Mass.: Heinmann-Harvard University Press, 1966), 20607]. See van Opstall, Jean Gomtre, 211, n. to
verse 12.
Pp. 267,22269,19 Cramer.

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as a persona loquens, John can both praise and judge the emperor without getting
personally involved. In so doing he also can justify his further career at the imperial
court:

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[Funerary verses to the lord and emperor John

Me, born from a noble father, / offspring of (his) root, young branch full of force, / by far I surpassed my parents in courage: / I wasnt a child yet, and I hurled lightening with the arms / in
the middle of the barbarians land, because of my souls bravery. / I wasnt a horseman yet, but
at the same time I excelled in valour. / The reddish bloom of the first beard didnt shade my
cheeks yet, but I filled the earth with my trophies, all (the land) / through which the Euphrates
flows in circle, and that the Tigris surrounds. / Chabdan shuddered just (at the sight of) my
hands. / The Arab prepared his horse to the flight. / I first taught the race of the Ausones /
to keep steady before the glancing light of the swords, / before the helmets and the faces of
the enemies in battle. () / As long as I had the right (hand of God) protecting me / from
above, I was the bravest, I flourished, I dominated, / I spent in service of the empire almost
every (day) / that the rising sun enlightens. / But after the desire for the tyranny, the worst
thing in life, seized me, oh ill counsel]

In the last lines the text takes the form of a confession, with the emperor begging God
to forgive him for his sins. And yet, this holds true only for the second part of the
Pp. 267,27268,8; p. 268,1823 Cramer.

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poem, which follows the lines quoted above. Here the deceased ruler evokes his
desire for the tyranny, the ill counsel pushing him to soak his hand in blood
and to seize the imperial scepter, as well as the regret which he felt ever after. By contrast, in the first 31 lines the deceased emperor, after addressing an imaginary
passer-by ( ), recalls propria voce his noble origins, his illustrious career
and his military success, following the blueprint of the enkmion as well as that of
the basilikos logos.
Thus, John Gemetrs career as a court poet began around the fifties of the 10th
century under Nikphoros Phkas, continued under John Tzimisks, and further
flourished during Basil Lakapnos regency, for whom John also probably composed
a few poems, as shown by Marc Lauxtermann. In spite of his conspicuous appreciation for Nikphoros Phkas, John did not hesitate to write verses for his successor
and murderer. In a further poem, for example, Gemetrs has John Tzimisks utter
a short epigram arguably concerning some wreaths hanging from the right hand of a
sacred effigy, possibly an icon or a statue, or else a reliquary. If we are to believe the
text, the ritual object represented the holy hand of Christ, according an iconographic
scheme attested also on John Tzimisks coins and seals. By describing John Tzimisks as protected by Christs right hand both in this epigram and in the epitaph
, Gemetrs supported the emperors efforts to wipe away, as it were, the crime
thanks to which he had gained the throne. Indeed, the official propaganda depicted
the new emperor as a ruler blessed by the Theotokos and appointed by the manus
Dei, just as he is depicted on imperial seals. John Gemetrs obliged, adapting to

Pp. 268,22269,19 Cramer.


P. 267,2326 Cramer (this passage immediately precedes the lines quoted and translated above):
, , , / ,/
, . / [Stopping here a bit, o
stranger, and looking at the grave with your sorrow-loving eye / do cry for the mortal lot, seeing my
destiny, and pour warm tears on me, who lie here].
The two genres were codified by Menander Rhetor between the 3rd and the 4th century. See Donald
A. Russel and Nigel G. Wilson, Menander Rhetor (Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1981), xi-xlvi and
7695.
The relevant texts are pp. 276,3278,20 Cramer (lengthy ekphrasis of a suburban palace) and
pp. 308,1309,13 Cramer (praise of an anonymous individual identifiable with the parakoimomenos):
see Lauxtermann, Poet and Soldier, 37378.
P. 286,48 Cramer.
We know other similar objects of this kind, such as the reliquary of Saint John the Forerunners
right arm, in Pharos church, or the one of Saint Stephens arm, preserved in the eponymous chapel in
the imperial palace: see Ioli Kalavrezou, Helping Hands for the Empire: Imperial Ceremonies and the
Cult of Relics at Byzantine Court, In Byzantine Court Culture from 829 to 1204, ed. Henry Maguire
(Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1997), 5379.
On Tzimisks imperial seals and coins see : George Zacos and Alexander Veglery, Byzantine Lead
Seals, vol. 1, part 1 (Basel: Verlag J. J. Augustin, 1972), no 74; John Nesbitt, Catalogue of Byzantine Seals
at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art, vol. 6, Emperors, Patriarchs of Constantinople,
Addenda [Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2009], no 66,1 ; Philip

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the social transformations and political instability of the time, which made any kind
of permanent patronage impossible. To put it in Marc Lauxtermanns words:
Before the year 1000 () the emperor was officially, and often also in practice, the main source
from which power emanated; but even the emperor depended on the support of different factions at court. These factions changed all the time. There were not stable political pressure
groups, but temporary coalitions of various individuals seeking (with the backing of their relatives) to protect their own interests.

In this context of continuous power struggle court intellectuals tried to define their
own position: dependent on imperial favour for future advancement and always exposed to political reverses, they were ready to support the strongest faction, in order
to ensure their careers longevity and success.

3 Literary production and aristocratic warrior culture


Conforming to contemporary social mutations and to shifts in the balance of power,
John Gemetrs gave voice to the military ideology and warrior culture of 10th-century emerging aristocracy, turning it into a dignified literary product. In this respect the
two imperial epitaphs quoted above are exemplary. Marc Lauxtermann connects the
funerary epigram for Nikphoros Phkas to the epitaph for Basil II quoted by
Pachymers and to an epigraphic fragment possibly coming from the epitaph engraved on John Tzimisks tomb. According to Lauxtermann these texts share the
same emphasis on military valour, the location a private burial site for at least
two of them and a common source, a lost epitaph inscribed on Rmanos Lakapnos tomb at Myrelaion. However possible, such a reconstruction is not the only one
imaginable. Besides the Myrelaion epitaph, which to my knowledge, is never mentioned by the sources, not even indirectly, there is further evidence substantiating
the links between John Gemetrs imperial epitaphs and 10th -century aristocratic
and warrior culture. Contemporary chronicles, as well as the iconographic patterns
of private and imperial seals, point to the very same cultural background.
Indeed, as shown by the fundamental studies of Alexander Kazhdan and Athanasios Markopoulos, the chronicles written in the court milieu under the patronage of
Constantine VII especially the various versions of the so called chronicle of the
Logothets and the chronicle of Theophans Continuatus were rearranged and ex-

Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore
Collection, vol. 3, Leo III to Nikephoros III, 7171071 (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Center for
Byzantine Studies, 1973), plate XLII, nos 16c. Cf. also Luisa Andriollo, Les Kourkouas (IXeXIe
sicle), Studies in Byzantine Sigillography 11 (2012), 7576.
Lauxtermann, Byzantine Poetry, 36.
Lauxtermann, Byzantine Poetry, 23637.
Lauxtermann, ibid., 240.

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Aristocracy and Literary Production in the 10th Century

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tended during the reign of Nikphoros Phkas and afterwards. Therefore, we can
reasonably suppose that these and other texts (such as the history of Leo the Deacon)
composed or reworked at a time when eastern aristocratic families were highly influential testify to the ideology of these social groups. It is highly likely that such texts
convey the self-representation of aristocratic families and reflect the social and political conflicts of their time. Thus, if we compare a few passages from the chronicle
of Theophans Continuatus with the imperial epitaphs penned down by John Gemetrs, similarities in content, register and textual structure emerge quite clearly.
First, by comparing John Tzimisks epitaph with a passage Theophans Continuatus devotes to the future emperor Nikphoros Phkas, we observe that both texts
contain a praise of the heros strategic skills: this is a traditional military quality
whose appreciation in 10th-century Byzantium is also attested in military treatises.
Both figures are told to have taught Romans soldiers how to keep steady before
the enemies; they both fought the impious Chambdan (that is Aleps emir Saif adDawla), leaving the enemies astonished and terrified by their bravery:
A
,
,

A .

,
() ,
.
[A man who distinguished himself and displayed his excellence in many different battles; and,
after arraying the army with his very sweet and flattering words, he moved against the Agaren
enemy, so that the whole army was of good courage and even though in a foreign land they felt
like at home. And they didnt hide, nor guzzled neither turned back, as was usual to them, but
they all advanced sharply against the enemies, fenced around by the shields and defended by
the spears, destroying the Agarens by storm. And you should have seen the terror and the astonishment of those watching the victorious Nikphoros while smashing and driving away the impious ranks, troops and regiments [] of Chambdan, and the fortune of the brave conqueror, astonishing and gaining great glory at the eyes of those who saw it. () And, after he
came back to the loyal Constantine, he was judged by him worthy of the honours gained in ancient times by the Roman generals.]

Alexander Kazhdan, Chronika Simeona Logofeta, Vizantitijskij Vremennik 15 (1959), 12543;


Athanasios Markopoulos, Sur les deux versions de la Chronographie de Symon Logothte, BZ 76
(1983), 27984 ; Id., Byzantine History Writing at the end of the First Millennium, In Byzantium in
the Year 1000, The Medieval Mediterranean 45, ed. Paul Magdalino [Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2003], 183
97.
Theophanes Continuatus, Chrononographia VI 41 (ed. Immanuel Bekker, Theophanes Continuatus,
Ioannes Cameniata, Symeon Magister, Georgius Monachus, Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae
[Bonn: Weber, 1838], 45960).

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On the other hand the funerary epigram in honour of John I Tzimisks also shows
some analogies with the encomium for John Kourkouas, the emperors great-uncle,
written by Theophans Continuatus. This emerges quite clearly from the textual
structure: following the classical model, both Theophans and John praise their
heroes noble birth and their military achievements, thanks to which the empires
borders were extended as far as the Tigris and the Euphrates:
A , .
. ()
A
, ,
.

() , . ,
.
.
[He was of Armenian origins, from the village of Dokeia Darbidoun, and his father wasnt an
obscure individual, but a very rich palatine, son of John, the domestic of the Hikanatoi. They
say that he was educated in the Scriptures by his relative Christopher, the metropolitan of Gangrai. () He seized many Agaren cities and fortresses, villages and castles and lands, and he doubled Romanias territory, which was previously shut in by the enemies of the Christian faith [lit.
Christ-deniers] between the kastron of Charsianon and the Hypseles and Halys rivers. But the
domestic of the Scholai John, loyal and zealous to the autocrat Rmanos, enlarged the Roman
frontiers to the Euphrates and to the Tigris, and he brought gifts and presents to Romania ()
And you should have seen the vigilant John Kourkouas facing the enemy ranks, giving orders,
exhorting and persuading the Romans, and you could have equated him to a second Trajan or
Belisarius, and have called him this way. And if you compare this man to them, you will find that
Kourkouas prowess and feats are greater. Those who want to learn magnificently John Kourkouas deeds will find them collected in eight books, written by the prtospatharios and judge
Manuel.]

Not only do Theophans Continuators celebrate the heroic deeds of the Phkas and
of the Kourkouas, what is more they devote several lines to praising the Argyroi,

Theophanes Continuatus, Chronographia VI 4041, pp. 42628 Bekker. Cf. also Iohannes Scylitzes, Synopsis Historiarum, 32 (ed. Hans Thurn, Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae. Series Berolinensis 5 [Berlin-New York: de
Gruyter, 1973], 230).
See the passages concerning Nikphoros Phkas the Elder: Chronographia V 71 and VI 10, pp. 313
and 360 Bekker; Leo Phkas: Chronographia VI 45, p. 462, Bekker; Theophilos Kourkouas: Chronographia VI 42, p. 428 Bekker; John Tzimisks and Rmanos Kourkouas: Chronographia VI 42, pp. 428
29 Bekker.

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Aristocracy and Literary Production in the 10th Century

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notably Eustathios and Leo. In all of these passages, as in the two presented above,
we can note some striking details: first of all, the authors display a high, almost epic
register, and a number of images and lexical elements are repeated as if they were
formulaic ( ; references to the force of the heros hand, to his eloquence
in exhorting the army, to the fear his sight inspires to the enemies). Second, we
find the reference to and the comparison with ancient generals, belonging to the glorious Roman past or to early Byzantine times. Such references usually serve the purpose of reaffirming the excellence of the praised subject. Finally, the emphasis is laid
on the impiety of the Arabs enemies as well as on the religious character of the war:
Byzantine warriors fight with Gods help to defend the Christians and the empire.
Such an ideology was supported by the emperor Nikphoros Phkas in the first
place. As the sources show, he proposed to celebrate the soldiers fallen while fighting against the Muslims as if they were martyrs. The synod and the Patriarch eventually rejected the proposal. And yet, both the emperors attitude and the texts hitherto analyzed reflect the ongoing Christianization of traditional military virtues that
became complete during the 10th century. Such a phenomenon ensued from the rise
of many provincial lineages, mainly coming from Asia Minor, to the highest ranks of
society. Their representatives made brilliant careers thanks to their victories against
the Arabs, gaining wealth and power. An austere piety, characterized by a strong ascetic attitude, as well as by a warrior ethos, was typical of many prominent families
belonging to 10th-century military aristocracy, such as the Phkas and the Kourkouas.
Such an ideological construction aimed to strengthen the success and the prestige of
the relevant families, and was often associated with the cult of family saints, patronage of existing religious institutions or relationships with clergymen distinguished by
their ascetic virtue, their knowledge of the Scriptures and their prophetic skills.

Chronographia VI 22 and 27 respectively, pp. 36869 and 374 Bekker.


The notion of just or holy war in Byzantium has been long discussed by scholars, and
literature on this topic is very extensive: see, among others, Patrick Viscuso, Christian Participation
in Warfare: A Byzantine View, In Peace and War in Byzantium: Essays in Honor of George T. Dennis,
eds. Timothy S. Miller and John Nesbitt (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press,
1995), 3340; Athna Kolia-Dermitzak, .
, 10 (Athens: . .
, 1991); Georges T. Dennis, Defenders of the Christian People: Holy War in Byzantium,
In The Crusades from the perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, eds. Angeliki E. Laiou and
Roy Parviz Mottahedeh (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2001),
3139; Angeliki E. Laiou, The Just War of Eastern Christian and the Holy War of the Crusaders, In
The Ethics of War: Shared Problems in Different Traditions, eds. Richard Sorabji and David Rodin
(Aldershot-Burlington: Ashgate, 2006), 3043; Jean-Claude Cheynet, Lgitimer la guerre Byzance,
Mlanges de lUniversit St.-Joseph 62 (2009), 23351.
See Iohannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum, 18, pp. 27475 Thurn.
On aristrocratic piety, family cults and family saints, see: Laiou, The General and the Saint;
Sophie Mtivier, Aristocrate, et saint: le cas dEudokimos, In Les rseaux familiaux. Antiquit
Tardive et Moyen ge, Monographies Centre dhistoire et civilisation de Byzance 37, ed. Batrice
Caseaw (Paris: Association du Centre dhistoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2012), 95 112.

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This cultural change is also connected to the increasing popularity of military


saints, such as Dmtrios or the two Theodores, Tirn and Stratelats. In the 11th century they are often represented on seals belonging to military officers. John Gemetrs too devoted a few epigrams to Dmtrios and the Theodores, possibly designed
to complement icons with an apotropaic function. Not only do these short texts
point to the contemporary cultural and religious atmosphere, they also are in tune
with the artistic fashion of the time, which was appreciated and shared by John Gemetrs.
Thus, in the poems that we have considered, John Gemetrs voices the ideology
of the military aristocracy, just as contemporary chronicles do in a number of passages. As we have seen, chronicles include textual portions characterized by peculiar
stylistic traits and a distinctive content. Such passages have a peculiar tone of
their own, grandiloquent and eulogistic. Moreover, in their effort to celebrate aristocratic families and/or individuals, they also show a textual structure akin to traditional enkmia. Standing out from and marking a break in the continuum of the
chronicle narrative, these passages may point to earlier, external material
incorporated into the text by the author-compilers. As such, they may testify to a aristocratic literary production that left scarce a trace behind. Such a production might
have included treatises, chronicles, or poems designed to recount and celebrate the
glorious deeds of famous family members. Texts of this sort could have served as a
source for both Theophans Continuatus and John Gemetrs. The epitaphs engraved
on aristocratic tombs studied by Lauxtermann may well be part of this production,
just like works such as the De Velitatione, a military treatise composed in the Phkas
circle that testifies to the strategic successes achieved by the akritic guerrilla and by
the officers based in the far eastern parts of the Empire. About a century later, a text
like Kekaumenos Stratgikon continues the genre of family memoires, providing valuable information about military strategy, aristocratic mentality and lifestyle, and social networks in the provinces.

Jean-Claude Cheynet, Le culte de Saint Thodore chez les officiers de larme dOrient, In Id.,
La socit byzantine. Lapport des sceaux, vol. 1 (Paris: Association des amis du Centre dhistoire et
civilisation de Byzance, 2008), 30721.
Epigrams on Saint Demetrius: 58, 62 and 63 van Opstall (pp. 289,911; 290,1416; 290,1718
Cramer); epigrams on Saint Theodore: 67 and 68 van Opstall (pp. 292,18 and 292,818 Cramer).
Lauxtermann sharply analyzes the epitaphs of a Bardas, who died while serving as a military
officer in Crete, and of Katakaln, stratgos of Thessaloniki: Byzantine Poetry, 22527.
Gilbert Dagron and Haralambie Mihaescu, Le trait sur la guerilla de lempereur Nicphore Phocas
(963969) (Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1986).
Maria Dora Spadaro, Cecaumeno. Raccomandazioni e consigli di un galantuomo (Alessandria:
Edizioni dellOrso, 1998). For some important remarks concerning content, style and literary background of Kekaumenos text see Bernard in this collection (pp. 46 47) as well as Paul Lemerle,
Prolgomnes une dition critique et commente des Conseils et Rcits de Kkaumnos, Mmoires
de lAcadmie Royale de Belgique 54, fasc. 1 (Brussels: Acadmie Royale de Belgique/Koninklijke
Academie van Belgi, 1960); Charlotte Rouech, The Literary Background of Kekaumenos, In Li-

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We can also infer the existence of some sort of family epic and historiography,
otherwise attested for the 10th century. It is well possible that such production,
with its peculiar stylistic features and literary structures, left some traces in contemporary chronicles. Formulaic traits and stereotypical descriptions of heroic
individuals that are occasionally to be found in the chronicles could derive from popular production whose existence is granted by a scholium to Arethas of Caesarea. The
text refers to Paphlagonian bards who, having composed I do not know which
songs about the adventures of famous heroes, go from door to door to sing them
and collect money. On the other hand, family historiography possibly employed
a higher register and more elaborated rhetoric forms, such as the basilikoi logoi.
Thus, after praising the achievements of John Kourkouas, the Continuators of Theophans explicitly refer to a historical work in eight books, concerning the feats of
John and composed by the prtospatharios and judge Manuel.
We are left wondering about the precise nature and contents of these works: did
they give voice to a popular and provincial milieu like the songs of the akritic cycle a
century later? Do they testify to the willingness of the aristocratic families to provide
their members with a heroic model, an ideal self-image? Likewise, it would be interesting to have more information about the identity of the authors involved in such a
production, about their education and cultural background, as well as their degree of
integration into the military and provincial aristocracy that they celebrated. Unfortunately, for lack of better evidence, we can just assume the provincial character of aristocratic and family literature, while we are left assessing the influence of aristocratic warrior culture only through its Constantinopolitan expressions.

4 John Gemetrs self-assertiveness and


his ideal of virtue
The work and figure of John Gemetrs, I argue, belong precisely to the high Constantinopolitan culture. John himself provides us with such a self-representation.
Johns authorial presence, his self-assertiveness, as Marc Lauxtermann labels

teracy, Education and Manuscript Transmission in Byzantium and Beyond, The Medieval Mediterranean 42, eds. Catherine Holmes and Judith Waring (Leiden-Boston-Cologne: Brill, 2002), 11138; Ead.,
The Rhetoric of Kekaumenos, In Rhetoric in Byzantium, Publications of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies 11, ed. Elizabeth Jeffreys (Aldershot-Burlington: Ashgate, 2003), 2337.
Ayant fabriqu je ne sais quelles chansons traitant des aventures des hros fameux, (ils) vont les
chanter de maison en maison pour ramasser des sous: the text is presented in Henri Grgoire, Lge
hroque de Byzance, In Id., Autour de lpope byzantine, Variorum Collected Studies Series 40
(London: Variorum Reprints, 1975), VII, 385. See also Hans-Georg Beck, Geschichte der byzantinischen
Volksliteratur, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft 12.2.3, Byzantinisches Handbuch 2.3 (Munich:
Beck, 1971), 5051.

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it, seems to emerge clearly in the poems, in spite of the traps set for the reader by
the poetic I.
As we have seen, John was the younger son of an imperial official and he too
apparently had a military career in the service of the emperor. In the poems he
often refers to his participation in expeditions and battles, and takes great pride
in his military valour:

.
[Im sent to expeditions, to bloodshed and horrible fights,
to the terrible and furious mouths, to the wild tribes.]
, ,
.
[much I endured and I spilt my blood, often
fighting in the first rank of our troops at war.]

Furthermore, in a manuscript John bears the title of prtospatharios, and thanks to


another text we know that he was the proud owner of a beautiful oikos with a garden
at the Mesomphalos, a neighbourhood in the centre of Constantinople. We do not
know if he inherited this property from his parents or if he obtained it as a reward for
his services. Be that as it may, evidence suggests that he belonged to the elite of the
imperial officers, just like many members of other powerful families. And yet, unlike
many 10th-century successful aristocrats, John Gemetrs did not claim provincial
origins: his family appears to have been steadily established in the capital, while
Asia, where the poets father died, is described as far from homeland, far
from the family. Therefore, it must be in Constantinople that John attended school
and had his education. He devoted some poems to his professor Nikphoros, who
might have been Nikphoros Ertikos, geometry professor at the imperial school created by Constantine VII. This fact could explain also Johns nickname, Gemetrs.
Many other texts offer significant glimpses into Johns education, testifying to an
original model of wisdom that merges Greek paideia and Christian thought. As pre-

Lauxtermann, Byzantine Poetry, 3738.


65,2526 van Opstall (p. 291,1819 Cramer).
P. 318,910 Cramer.
Bodl. Barocc. 25.
See: Anthony R. Littlewood, The Progymnasmata of Ioannes Gemetrs (Amsterdam: Hakkert,
1972), 311; Lauxtermann, Poet and Soldier, 359 and n. 12.
In another short poem John celebrates the generosity and magnanimity of Nikphoros Phkas,
who possibly favored Johns career (p. 305,13 Cramer): /
[The right hand of our lord Nikephoros / is like (the river) Paktolos flowing
with gold]. See Lauxtermann, Byzantine Poetry, 35.
16,3 van Opstall (p. 280,24 Cramer): .
15,4 van Opstall (p. 280,17 Cramer): .

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dictable, Gregory of Nazianzos plays a preeminent role among Johns models. John
wrote several poems in his honor. However, John also expresses his admiration
for pagan intellectuals, such as the neoplatonists Iamblichos and Porphyrios, Aristotles commentator Simplicius, and the ancient philosophers Archytas of Taranto,
Plato and Aristotle, among others.
In an untitled poem John praises the glory of God through a priamel which
looks back to Gregory of Nazianzos and, via his mediation, to archaic poetry and Sappho in particular.
, , , ,
, ,
, , , ,
.
, ,
, .
[For some people a wife, children, friends, an high throne / (are) the pleasure of life, a golden
delight; / a crowd of slaves, palaces, sacred woods, the rulers acquaintance, / (this is) what they
cherish in their thoughts and words. / But for me God alone is the sun, the infinite good, / the
unfaltering hope, the whole pleasure of life.]

In texts like this John acknowledge the supreme value of God and of the Christian
faith; he also wrote religious and penitential poems, sometimes intended for collective performances. And yet, Christian contents are expressed in literary forms filled
with classical echoes, as far as language, meter and classical references are concerned. John Gemetrs uses the inherited literary language, complete with Homeric
echoes and references to ancient authors, adapting it to the reality of his time, to contemporary fashion, beliefs and values, and also to his own needs. Thus, as these features suggest, John Gemetrs appears to be completely integrated into the 10th- and
11th-century Constantinopolitan culture, into the Byzantine humanism described
by Paul Lemerle. In his poems John often gives voice to the renewed relation between lhllenisme chrtien, par dfinition parachev et imperfectible comme la
Rvlation qui le fonde, et lhllenisme profane, dont on reconnat quil la prpar

See, for example, 22 van Opstall (281,1315 Cramer).


22 van Opstall (p. 281,1314 Cramer).
23 and 24 van Opstall (281,1620 Cramer).
26 van Opstall (282,1620 Cramer).
57 van Opstall (289,18 Cramer).
57,16 van Opstall (289,16 Cramer). Cf. Sappho fr. 16 (ed. Eva Maria Voigt, Sappho et Alcaeus.
Fragmenta [Amsterdam: Athenaeum Polak & van Gennep, 1971], 4243).
Paul Lemerle, Le premier humanisme byzantin. Notes et remarques sur enseignement et culture
Byzance des origines au Xe sicle (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971).

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et parfois mme annonc, et dont il faut par consequent conserver ce qui est
utile.
Moreover, John often describes his own ideal of as a blend of
and . As for wisdom, Johns knowledge seems to consist of a mix of basic philosophical education, advanced rhetoric skills and scientific notions. On the other
hand, the combination of knowledge and courage that he claims to embody seems
to look back to classical models more than to contemporary Christianized military
values. This trait partially distinguishes him from the provinceral aristocratic culture
that we have tried to outline in the previous paragraphs. Even when he admits that
all his qualities have been granted to him by the Holy Virgin, or when he calls upon
the Trinity for his valor to be recognized, one cannot find in Gemetrs self-presentation the ascetic piety admired by contemporary monks and aristocrats, nor the
Christianized warlike attitude emphasized by chronicle writers.

5 Evolutions and continuity in cultural life during the


reign of Basil II
As Marlene van Opstall stresses, Jean est loin de lidal chrtien de lhumilit.
Such an attitude surfaces clearly in the poems where the author complains about
the envy of his fellow citizens. If at the age of eighteen his knowledge of things divine and profane and his magnificent courage had provoked not only admiration but also envy, hostility would arise much more seriously later on, when John became the target of evil tongues, while his fellow citizens laid their hands on his
possessions. In several poems the author refers to his falling out of imperial
favor, which in all likelihood entailed his dismissal from military service. As a consequence, he probably entered the Kyrou monastery, as suggested by the epithet Kyriots, which John is given in some manuscripts, as well as in one of his own

Lemerle, Le premier humanisme, 30405.


These elements surface on several occasions in the work of our author, who declares to be a
follower of the Muses Calliope and Ourania, and who often embellishes his verses with references to
stars, constellations and to the worlds structure: see, for instance, 40, 65, 96 and 255 van Opstall
(pp. 285,35; 290,21291,27; 297,2812 and 329,1315 Cramer).
Cf. for instance, Xenophon on Epaminondas: Hellenica VII 5,8.
280 van Opstall (p. 333,913 Cramer).
65 van Opstall (p. 290,2127 Cramer).
Van Opstall, Jean Gomtre, 2728.
280 van Opstall (p. 333,913 Cramer).
53,79 van Opstall (p. 287,1921 Cramer).
Lauxtermann, Poet and Soldier, 358, n. 10; the relevant manuscripts are: Ambros. E 100 sup., f.
135; Genuensis 32, f. 242; Bodl. Barocc. 25, f. 280.

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Aristocracy and Literary Production in the 10th Century

135

poems. These events date doubtless to Basil IIs autocratic reign, that is to the period after 985. The wicked Pharaoh putting John in a bitter old age, as John himself says in an epigram for Saint Theodore Tirn, might well be Basil. As a matter of
fact, the sources describe Basil II as an unsympathetic and harsh autocrat, acting
against the interests of the powerful families who tried to rob him of the imperial
power. In all likelihood Basil II could hardly appreciate the services of John Gemetrs, a former and enthusiastic supporter of Nikphoros Phkas who had compromised with John I Tzimisks and Basil Lakapnos.
In the poems dating to this later period John Gemetrs appears as a harsh critic
of his own times. The mindset of his contemporaries is contrasted with his own personal model. The latter, he argues, is unfortunately rejected by the rulers and by society at large. A very significant passage reads as follows:
, ,

, , ,
, ,
,
,
, , , , ,
.
()
,

, ,
,
, , ,
, , .
, ,
.
[I was a flourishing garden, charming with all flowers, / I was fraught with the copious fruits of
virtue; / I had easy eloquence, words of wisdom, I had a profound mind, / there was courage in
my heart, there was force in my limbs, / my feet went in the air with light leaps, / my eyes
glanced luminous and penetrating, / effort was sweet to me, in sight of rewards, hunting, knowledge, prayers, / and from my mouth flowed blessings to the Trinity. () / Then the malicious

The epithet Kyriots, used with reference to the author, appears in one of Gemetrs epigrams (p.
297,2 Cramer; cf. Lauxtermann, Poet and Soldier, 358, n. 10). Other texts refer to his monastic ordination or to life in the Kyriou monastery (p. 335,49; p. 305,48 ; 340,2122 Cramer).
68,78 van Opstall (p. 292,1617 Cramer).
The bibliography on Bardas Sklros and Bardas Phkas revolts is very extensive; among others,
see: Werner Seibt, Die Skleroi. Eine prosopographisch-sigillographische Studie (Vienna: Verlag der
sterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1976), 4258; Cheynet, Pouvoir et contestations, 31
34; Catherine Holmes, Basile II and the Governance of the Empire (9761025) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 24098.
Lauxtermann, Poet and Soldier, 36771; van Opstall, Jean Gomtre, 1013.
211,1320 and 2532 van Opstall (pp. 317,2027 and 317,32318,6 Cramer).

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tongues and the presumptuous demon started, / and a great envy flowed from their mouth: /
[they said] that I was the only offshoot of wisdom, I was [the only] bellicose leader / bravely combining wise mind and courage, / but valour was an evil, miserable kin, oh shameful kin, / coward, jealous, enemy of wisdom. / The wise to be weak, or the virile to be enemy of knowledge, /
this is what the new legislators of evil want.]

John Gemetrs complaints seem to be confirmed by a famous passage in Psellos


Chronography, where the author describes the anti-intellectual attitude of Basil II,
who paid no attention to men of learning; on the contrary, he affected utter scorn
towards the learned folk, I mean. According to Psellos, in order to administrate
and control his empire the emperor sought the support of men who did not distinguish themselves for wisdom, nor for their noble birth, neither for their literary
education. However, Michael Psellos himself remarks that, in in spite of the emperors attitude, no small crop of orators and philosophers sprang up in those
times. In fact, if we look at other sources dating to Basils II time, we get a
more nuanced, and perhaps balanced, picture. Among Basils closest collaborators
we find a learned general like Nikphoros Ouranos. In his correspondence Ouranos
refers to contemporary literary production as well as to reading and writing practices
of his own times. In a letter he asks the prtospatharios and judge Peter to send him
the Atticist, a rhetorical work by Dionysos of Halicarnassus now lost. Such a request reveals interest in rhetoric, atticism and imitation of the ancient models, in
contrast (at least at first sight) with the simple and unaffected style that, according
to Psellos, was appreciated by Basil II and used by the imperial chancellery. Nikphoros Ouranos letters, on the contrary, are filled with references to the classical
past and myths, in accordance with specifically epistolographic topoi. One of his
correspondents, Leo metropolitan of Synada shows in his letters a good knowledge

Chronographia I 29,1214 (ed. mile Renauld, Chronographie ou histoire dun sicle de Byzance
(9761077), vol. 1, Srie Byzantine [Paris: Les Belles Lettres 1926], 18):
, , , .
Chronographia I 30,79, p. 19 Renauld: , ,
.
Chronographia I 29,1617, p. 18 Renauld:
.
Epistula V 22 (ed. Jean Darrouzs, pistoliers byzantins du Xe sicle, Archives de lOrient chrtien 6
[Paris: Institut franais dtudes byzantines, 1960], 22728).
Psellus, Chronographia I 30,1317, p. 19 Renauld:
[] , .
See for instance, Epistula V 35 and 47, pp. 23435 and 24547 Darrouzs. On epistolographic
conventional motives see: Hunger, On the imitation, 2829; Margaret Mullett, The Classical Tradition in the Byzantine Letter, In Byzantium and the Classical Tradition, eds. Margaret Mullett and
Roger Scott (Birmingham: Centre for Byzantine Studies, 1981), 7593 (repr. in Ead. Letters, Literacy
and Literature in Byzantium, Variorum Collected Studies Series 889 [Aldershot-Burlington: Ashgate,
2007], II).

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of classical authors (among others Diogenes Laertius, Plutarch, the tragic poets),
and explicitly admits his immoderate passion for profane literature and, on the
other hand, his lack of interest in religious texts.
What is more, Nikphoros Ouranos had a lively and sometimes witty correspondence with others learned men and clergymen, such as his lieutenant Philtos
Synadnos, Niktas, metropolitan of Amaseia, and Nicholas, metropolitan of
Neocaesarea; to the latter he also asked to compose a work on the saints of the
year, maybe a versified calendar or a mnologium, according to the model set by
the work of Symen Metaphrasts, completed at the end of the 10th century. Nikphoros Ouranos himself composed a Life of Saint Symen the Stylite and, after
Symen Metaphrasts death, he wrote a poem in his honour. In addition, Nikphoros Ouranos is the author of a military treatise, the Taktikon. The genre had a
long tradition: the emperor Leo VI as well as the Phkas had tried their hands on
it in the previous century. Seen from this perspective, the cultural and spiritual atmosphere of the time was fully in tune with the previous period: at the end of the 10th
century we still find some learned men among the imperial officers, combining classical education with the practice of literary genres that were more in the fashion. In
particular, a keen interest can be noticed in the production of religious and hagiographical literature, which seems to have been encouraged by the emperor Basil
II. The basileus commissioned two beautiful illumined manuscripts, the Venice Psalter and the so-called Menologium of Basil II, now in the Vatican library. In the miniatures of the Venice Psalter the emperor chose to be represented wearing his armour,
surrounded by military saints, both following and enhancing a current fashion, in
continuity with the warrior Christian culture promoted by his predecessors.
Without delving into a detailed discussion about the cultural life under Basil IIs
reign, a subject that has been already tackled in several studies and would deserve
much more space, we may say that the reign of Basil did not mark a sharp cultural
break. The examples we have considered show that peculiar features emerged in Byzantine culture between the second half of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century: the emphasis on military bravery and on ascetic and austere religious feelings

See, for instance, the allusions and references quoted ad Epistula III 32, 35 and 51 (pp. 191, 193 and
203 Darrouzs).
Epistula III 31, p. 18890 Darrouzs.
Epistula V 18 and 21 respectively, pp. 22526 and 227 Darrouzs.
Silvio G. Mercati, Versi di Niceforo Uranos in morte di Simeone Matafraste, AnBoll 68 (1950),
12634.
Alphonse Dain, La Tactique de Nicphore Ouranos, Srie Byzantine (Paris: Les Belles Lettres,
1937); Barbara Crostini, The Emperor Basil IIs Cultural Life, Byzantion 66 (1996), 6667.
Crostini, The Emperor Basil IIs, 6768.
See, for instance, Barbara Crostinis article (The Emperor Basil IIs), or Marc Lauxtermann,
Byzantine Poetry and the Paradox of Basil IIs Reign, In Byzantium in the Year 1000, The Medieval
Mediterranean 45, ed. Paul Magdalino (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2003), 199216.

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merged with secular culture and classical tradition, crucial to literary and rhetorical
education, especially among the Constantinopolitan elites.
As we have seen, the strong emphasis on bravery, on the Christianization of military virtues, and on a severe, charismatic spirituality reflects the taste of the emerging provincial and military aristocracy. During the 10th century members of these provincial groups try to assert themselves at the centre of the empire, looking for
legitimization and social recognition at the imperial court and among the Constantinopolitan elites. Thus, aristocratic values find new expression in the classicizing
forms of Byzantine highbrow literature, leaving back an echo that eventually reached
us. Authors like John Gemetrs resort to traditional language and classical models
by adapting them to the new social actors and their needs, in a continuous effort to
re-negotiate the past. In a context of political instability and radical social transformations authors like Gemetrs also try to secure their own position and career,
showing a stronger self-assertiveness and emphasizing their identity and merits.
At the same time, though, they also demonstrate a rather flexible, almost opportunist
attitude towards the ruling emperors and the powerful aristocratic lineages for which
they compose their work. The aristocratic values, first asserted in the aftermath of the
social and political success of some families coming from the eastern provinces, were
thus assimilated into Constantinopolitan court culture. This trend continues under
Basil II, even if the emperor, by a political choice and/or because of personal
taste, did not favour the production of encomiastic literature. This is why Basil is
strikingly absent from contemporary literary works. He also promoted some renewal
within the court elite; such a turnover of the courtly elite brought upon the emperor
the criticism of the excluded intellectuals, such as John Gemetrs. Johns complaints seem therefore to be motivated by personal resentment rather than by a cultural and spiritual decline.

Lauxtermann, Byzantine Poetry, 121.

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