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Open Class: Literature and Learning at the End of the Byzantine Empire

Baukje teaching
Wednesday, November 22, 2023, 1:30 pm – 2:15 pm

The new Department of Historical Studies is inviting prospective students who want to get a taste of studying at CEU to join one (or more) of our courses. Each class will be livestreamed, and guests will have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion, as well as asking any questions. For the full list of Open Classes, please click here

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The Byzantium between Worlds: Literature and Learning under the Palaiologan Emperors and Beyond course explores the world of literature and learning during the last centuries of the Byzantine Empire, from the reconquest of Constantinople by Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261 to the city’s fall to the Ottomans in 1453 and the reign of Sultan Mehmed II (1451–1481). The intricate political entanglements between Byzantines, Ottomans, and Latins during this period went hand in hand with cultural interactions that left their mark on the different literatures of the time. By concentrating on major literary genres such as imperial oratory and epistolography, by studying the oeuvre of leading Byzantine intellectuals, and by analyzing key texts of the time, this course explores a period of great cultural flourishing against the background of political tumult and territorial fragmentation. Specific themes to be addressed include: the (social) importance attached to learning and literature; connections between literature and politics; the new interest in Latin in Byzantium and in Greek in Italy; the rise of the Ottomans and its impact on Byzantine literature; intellectual attitudes towards ecclesiastical debates of the time. The syllabus includes the latest scholarship in the field to familiarize students with recent trends and critical approaches in the study of Late Byzantium. Each tutorial takes a closer look at a selected primary source (in English) to delve deeper into the theme of each session.  

This open session will explore the world of literature and learning at the end of empire by focusing on two prominent intellectuals of the time. Through the case study of the theologian, poet, and orator John Eugenikos, who participated in the Council of Ferrara–Florence as a strident opponent of the Union of the Churches, we will explore how literature and politics are intertwined in Eugenikos’ pursuit of his political ambitions.

Mandatory reading:

  • Nathanael Aschenbrenner and Krystina Kubina, ‘Word as Bond in an Age of Division: John Eugenikos as Orator, Partisan, and Poet’, Speculum 97.4 (2022) 1101–1143. 

Optional reading:

  • Ivan Mariano, ‘The Council and Negotiations with the Greeks’, in A Companion to the Council of Basel, ed. Michiel Decaluwe, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Gerald Christianson (Leiden/Boston 2017) 310–339 [for the historical background to the Council of Ferrara-Florence]
  • Krystina Kubina, ‘Tuning the Pen: Poetry Writing and Patronage Networks around the End of the Byzantine Empire’, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 47.1 (2023) 18–36 [for the reactions of other poet-literati to the changing political circumstances]


Participating prospective students will be sent the reading and the zoom link a week in advance of the class.