THe Literature and Culture of Byzantium


Instructor: K. Kapparis
Office: 135 Dauer Hall


Of all empires come and gone the Byzantine Empire has been one of the longest-lived political structures in human history. For over a millennium Byzantium remained a light of civilization and culture in a world that had receded into the Middle Ages. The Byzantines continued the heritage of Ancient Greece and Rome, increased it with many brilliant achievements of their own, and influenced dramatically the history, culture and formation of ethnic identities of many eastern European nations. The Literature of Byzantium is a vast collection of very diverse materials: from lofty theological texts to obscene tales, and from original works of the highest standards to endlessly tedious rhetorical exhibitions. Byzantine literature has it all and promises never to stop surprising its readers with unexpected discoveries. In this class we will read representative samples of the major genres, acquire an overall view of Medieval Greek literature and culture, and explore the influences of Byzantium on the Modern Greek cultural identity. The course touches upon a great diversity of fields and disciplines, and since there is no language requirement it is suitable for students with an interest in Christian Literature and Church History, Medieval and Modern European History, and Greek Literature and Culture through the centuries. And it is fun to study this amazing and mystic world.


W1-2. Overview of the Byzantine Empire
Overview of the Literature and culture of Byzantium
Powerpoint Presentation

Early Christian Literature and Byzantine Oratory

W3. St. Basil of Caesaria
The Creation of he World: Extracts from the Hexameron
Online Translation (Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
Main Points (MS Word Document)

Early Christianity Powerpoint

W4. St. John Chrysostom
Three Speeches on the Power of Demons

Online Translation (Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

John Chrysostom Powerpoint

Byzantine Historiography

W5: Procopius of Caesaria
The Reign of Justinian and The Secret History

Online Translation (Medieval Sourcebook)
Procopius Powerpoint


  • 8. Character and Appearance of Justinian
    9. How Theodora, Most Depraved of All Courtesans, Won His Love
    10. How Justinian Created a New Law Permitting Him to Marry a Courtesan
    12. Proving That Justinian and Theodora Were Actually Fiends in Human Form
    13. Perceptive Affability and Piety of a Tyrant
    29 Other Incidents Revealing Him as a Liar and a Hypocrite

W6. Michael Psellos
Chronographia: The Character and Reign of Basil II
Online Translation (Medieval Sourcebook)

Powerpoint on Basil II

W7. Anna Komnene
Alexiad: Extracts from the Crusades
Powerful women in the Byzantine court

Online Translation: (Medieval Sourcebook).


W8: John Malalas (Guest Lecturer)
Chronographia: Extracts on the successors of Alexander the Great, and popular fiction
Online Translation (Attalus, Greek Chronicles)

W9. (Historiography Continued) Emperor Constantine VII, Porphyrogenetos
Ceremonies of the Byzantine Court: The Coronation Ceremony
Online Translation and Introduction (Paul Stephenson)

The Coronation Ceremony (MS Word)


W10: Online Midterm Test (NOVEMBER 1)



W11: The Lives and Martyrdom of Women Saints
Online Translation (ed. Alice-Mary Talbot)


W12: Romanos Melodos
The Canticle (Kontakion): Early Religious Poetry

Online Translation (by Michael Covington)
Online Article by Derek Krueger

Acathist Hymn (Pseudepigraphon)

W13: The Canon as the Apex of Religious Poetry and Music
Extracts from Andreas of Crete, Cosmas Melodist and John Damaskene

The Ritual of Holy Friday (by the Rev. Alkiviadis Calivas)
The Great Canon of Andrew of Crete (Text in the website of the Greek Orthodox Archidiocese of Australia)
John Damaskene: Easter Sunday Canon (Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
Cosmas Melodist: Christmas Day Canon (Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

W14: Women Hymnographers in the Byzantine Era
Kassiane: The hymn of the repenting prostitute
Women Hymnographers (article by Diane Touliatos-Miliotis)

Byzantine Music Samples (Wonderful collection in the website of the Church of Greece)

W15: Acritic Epic
Vernacular Heroic Poetry at the beginning of the Second Millennium.

W16: Final Test


Course Manual:

Karl Krumbacher The History of Byzantine Literature: from Justinian to the end of the Eastern Roman Empire (527-1453) (2nd ed. Munich: Beck, 1897), Introductory sections translated by David Jenkins and David Bachrach, Copyright: University of Notre Dame 2001. Online link:
Online translations are also available for most of the texts included in the syllabus.


2 class exams (x 30 %) = 60 %
Class participation and 2 five minute long class Presentations = 40 %