The Gennadius Library at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (ASCSA) will organize a live webinar featuring University of Ioannina Professor Alexander Alexakis on “Byzantine Intellectuals Having Fun in Justinianic Constantinople,” on Tuesday, February 2, at 7 p.m.
Despite Procopios’ bleak impression of the Justinianic period (first half of the 6th century), the intellectuals of Constantinople seemed to have led vigorous intellectual and social lives. Among them, a certain poet, historian, and lawyer named Agathias has left a testimony to the modus operandi and vivendi of these circles. For part of them, Agathias has presented a scathing outline, describing their “academic” transactions with a great sense of irony and an apparent disdain. “Interestingly, this circle of pretentious ignoramuses has contributed, through their dilettantish preoccupation with philosophy and theology, to the spread of a rumor concerning the erudition of the Persian king Chosroes I (531–579) that persists today,” Alexakis notes.
Another part of them, Agathias’ circle of friends and poets, devoted their social life to luxurious banquets in which they recited their epigrams. These epigrams (to which a sizable part of this webinar is devoted) are short displays of literary connoisseurship that allude to/echo both Greek and Latin authors and poets (such as Callimachus and Catullus). In these epigrams, we glimpse a persistent dedication to Aphrodite and the sufferings (both lamentable and laughable) that love brings.
Alexakis holds a DPhil from Oxford University and has taught at Columbia University and Stockton University in the United States. Since 2004, he has been Professor of Byzantine Philology at the University of Ioannina. He has published extensively on the history of Church Councils, Byzantine Hagiography and Historiography, and other topics in Byzantine Literature. His most recent publication is “Weddings, Funerals, and Imperial Regrets: The Life of Patriarch Euthymios” (Athens 2018, in Greek). He is Byzantine Greek Co-editor of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library and teaches at the Gennadeion and the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Greek Summer Schools.