A conversation with Stratis Papaioannou (University of Crete) about the mismatch between modern ideas of literature (on the one hand) and the texts, conventions, and goals of Byzantine authors (on the other). In what sense are those texts "literature"? Should they be compared to classical texts, modern literature, neither, or both? We talk also about how much of it has survived, and how much might have been lost. The conversation was prompted by the release of Stratis' edited volume,The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Literature (Oxford University Press 2021).
A conversation with Siren Çelik (Marmara University) about the many personas that the emperor Manuel II Palaiologos crafted for himself in his surviving works. In fact, we have more writings from him -- in many genres, and many of a personal nature -- than from any prior Roman emperor. What was he hoping to accomplish and why is he worth reading? The conversation is based on Siren's recent book, Manuel II Palaiologos (1350-1425): A Byzantine Emperor in a Time of Tumult (Cambridge University Press 2021).
A conversation with Alexander Olson (independent scholar, British Columbia, Canada) about the secret lives of olive trees and oak trees in Byzantium. Contrary to what you may think, these were not cultivated consistently in the Mediterranean ecosystem of the Middle Ages; their uses to the human population fluctuated over time, giving the trees a history of their own, albeit one shaped by that of the people around them (and vice versa). The conversation is based on Alex's fascinating book, Environment and Society in Byzantium, 650-1150: Between the Oak and the Olive (Palgrave Macmillan 2020).
A conversation with Oana-Maria Cojocaru (Tempere University, Finland) about the images of Byzantine children in our sources, and the experiences that they would have had, once they made it past infancy. Our discussion forms a nice sequel to that with Christian Laes on childbirth (episode 66), and is based on Oana's recent book Byzantine Childhood: Representations and Experiences of Children in Middle Byzantine Society (Routledge 2022).
A conversation with Filippomaria Pontani (Ca' Foscari University of Venice) on the ways that Byzantine scholars engaged with classical texts, and their place in the transmission and study of classical literature from antiquity to the present. In addition to manuscripts, we talk about commentaries, lexika, and encyclopedias. The conversation is based on the magisterial survey that Filippomaria published recently, 'Scholarship in the Byzantine Empire (529-1453),' in the volume History of Ancient Greek Scholarship from the Beginnings to the End of the Byzantine Age, ed. F. Montanari (Brill 2020).
In a fun romp through some of the foibles, evasions, pretensions, and generally bad habits of scholarship, Tina and I take our fields to task for practices that make our eyes roll. Sure, we've probably been guilty of most of these too! But what better place to vent a bit than a podcast? Dedicated listeners will know Tina (Ohio State University) from episodes 4 and 21; she is a veritable co-host of the show.
A conversation with Christian Laes about one of the most joyous, dangerous, and often tragic, moments of life in antiquity and the Middle Ages: childbirth. We discuss the sad fact of infant mortality, the first days of children who survived, and the difficult choices that families had to make if the mother did not survive, but the child did. What was the emotional and demographic impact of the perils of childbirth? The conversation is based on two of Christian's papers, 'Infants between Biological and Social Birth in Antiquity,' Historia 63 (2014) 364-383; and 'Motherless Infancy in the Roman and the Late Ancient World,' in the volume Missing Mothers: Maternal Absence in Antiquity (Leuven 2021) 15-41.
A conversation with Silvia Ronchey (University of Roma Tre) about the famous philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, who was murdered in the early fifth century by goons working for Cyril, the bishop of the city. Who was she? What traditions gave her a position of social prominence? To what degree may she be considered a feminist icon? The conversation is based on Silvia's book Hypatia: The True Story, issued now in English translation (de Gruyter 2021). At the end we also talk a bit about the film Agora.
A conversation with Michael Grünbart (University of Münster) about the problem of imperial decision-making. Byzantine emperors are often presented to us as perfectly virtuous monarchs favored by God, but can we pull the veil away from this image and understand the difficult conditions under which they had to make decisions that could potentially cost them their throne? Whom did they consult? How and why did they delegate? Did they have experts? Data? When could they avoid making decisions? As someone in academic middle-management, these questions cut close to home!
A conversation with Jack Tannous (Princeton University) about the "simple believers" who made up the majority of the population of Byzantium (as well as the caliphate and just about any premodern monotheistic society). They probably knew little about the minutiae of theology, but what did they know about their faith, and how important was theology for their religious identity? The discussion is based on Jack's recent book The Making of the Medieval Middle East: Religion, Society, and Simple Believers (Princeton University Press, 2018), which highlights the role of religious practice and interpersonal attachments.