The Siren's song: Senophon's Anabasis in Byzantium

Date
2022-10-24
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Publisher
De Gruyter
Volume
134
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Pages
367 - 393
Language
English
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Abstract

Frequently known as the Attic bee or the Siren’s song, Xenophon and his Anabasis had an enduring influence in the Eastern Roman empire. Whereas a number of popular ancient authors such as Callimachus and Menander lost their canonical status or alternatively lost their cultural influence while remaining canonical (e.g., Thucydides), Xenophon’s Anabasis never ceased to fascinate Byzantine readers as it had their ancient predecessors. Over more than 1000 years while most Westerners were ignorant of the name Xenophon, Xenophon sparked not only the curiosity of Byzantine readers but also their creativity, as they reshaped the ancient text to glorify themselves and even justify some of the first rumblings of Hellenic proto-nationalism in Byzantium’s final years. ‘Where now is the Siren of Xenophon?’ exclaimed the Byzantine rhetor Manuel Holobolos in his panegyric of his emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (1262–1282), summoning the hypnotic and tempting qualities of Xenophon to bewitch his audience.1 Frequently compared in Byzantium to a bee or a Siren’s song, Xenophon had an enduring influence on Byzantine culture throughout the more than 1,000 year period of Roman history, which we conventually designate as Byzantine. This paper explores how and why Xenophon’s Siren song continued to entice Byzantine intellectuals to engage with the Anabasis. Unlike other classical texts such as Callimachus and Menander, whose magic faded and eventually disappeared in Byzantium, or Thucydides, whose use contracted between the seventh and thirteenth centuries, Xenophon’s readership never diminished between antiquity and Byzantium. Throughout Byzantine history, Xenophon sparked not only the curiosity of Byzantine readers but also their creativity, as they reshaped the ancient text to glorify themselves and even justify some of the first rumblings of Hellenic proto-nationalism in Byzantium’s final years.

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Book Title
Xenophon’s Anabasis and its Reception
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Published Version (Please cite this version)