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Walter Berschin  

Early Byzantine Italy and the  Maritime Lands of the West

 From: Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages. From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa . Translated by Jerold C. Frakes. Revised and expanded edition. The Catholic University of America Press, http://cuapress.cua.edu/  


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1. The "Byzantine" Era of the Papacy and Italy

The deep caesura between "antiquity" and "the Middle Ages" in Italy was brought about not by the substitution of the Gothic monarchy for the Western Roman Empire, but rather by the Byzantine succession to Gothic dominion and by the invasion of the Langobards in an Italy which had been again brought under Byzantine rule only shortly before (568). The ancient character of Rome fell into decay; the city "verpuppte sich zugleich und verklösterte sich auf seltsame Weise" ("retired into its shell at the same time and became monasticized in αη unusual manner"; Gregorovius).  

The last Goths were defeated by Byzantines on Mt.Vesuvius in 553, but Constantinople had already exercised great influence in Italy long before that -in Rome since 537. The catalogue-like Liber Pontificalis, which had been kept by the papal administration since the beginning of the sixth century, described the changeover from Gothic to Byzantine rule in a scene of impressive perspicuity:1  

He [Belisarius] sent for the holy Pope Silverius to come to him in the Pincio Palace and had all the clergy detained at the second and third curtain. Silverius entered the inner chamber with Vigilius alone [his successor, chosen by Constantinople], where the Patricia, Antonina, lay on a couch, and the Patrician, Belisarius, sat at her feet. And as Antonina saw him, she said to him: "Tell me, sir Pope Silverius, what have we done to you and the Romans, that you wish to deliver us into the hands of the Goths?" While she still spoke, John, the subdeacon of the flrst district, came in, took the pallium from his neck, and led him into another chamber; he undressed him, clothed him in a monk's habit, and had him led away. Then, seeing him to be a monk already, Xystus, the subdeacon of the sixth district, came forth and announced to the clergy that the lord pope had been deposed and made a monk. When they heard this, they all fled.  

Everything that Westerners both admired and abhorred for centuries as "Byzantine" is contained in this scene: Caesaro-papism, court intrigue, rule by females and eunuchs, theatrical politics, and calculated ceremony. Liudprand of Cremona, as ambassador of Otto the Great, wrote his colorful commentary on this topic in the tenth century.  

Pope Vigilius (537-55), the first of the bishops of Rome appointed by Constantinople, suffered a fate scarcely better than that of his predecessor, Silverius, who had been friendly to the Goths. When he withheld assent to Justinian's "Three-Chapter Edict," in which the emperor sought a doctrinal compromise with the "Monophysites" who remained in the empire, he was brought to the imperial capital (545~47) at the order of the empress Theodora. Α council summoned by Justinian to Constantinople in 553, which is designated the fifth ecumenical and second Constantinopolitan council, discussed the "Three Chapters"; Vigilius followed the council's debate from nearby Chalcedon, to which he had been able to escape from Constantinople. Vigilius knew no Greek, but some members of his retinue were proficient in both languages, as, for instance, Rusticus, the pope's nephew, who was occupied with conciliar acts long after the council of 553, and who, in the Akoimetan monastery in Constantinople, reedited the Latin Acts of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) according to Greek copies.2  

It characterizes the new era that Pope Pelagius Ι (555-61), Emperor Justinian's appointee as successor to Vigilius, was the first bishop in the ancient Western capital to know Greek since the transition from Greek to Latin as the liturgical language. It is not without significance that he dedicated himself to the translation of ascetico-mystical aphoristic literature of Eastern monasticism. He thus continued the great work whose foundation had been laid by Athanasius in his bios of Anthony, the father of monasticism, and whose foundation walls had been raised by Jerome with his three vitae of monastic fathers, and by Rufinus with his Historia monachorum. Ιn Rome, the first well-known author to work with hagiographic material was Dionysius Exiguus, in the early sixth century; by the middle of the century, the leading ecclesiastical circles were at last working intensively with monastic literature. While Pelagius was deacon, i.e., at the time when he was playing an important role beside and against Pope Vigilius, he translated a series of Verba seniorum3 (Adhortationes sanctorum patrum); the translation was completed by John, a subdeacon, who later as John ΙΙΙ became Pelagius' successor in the highest ecclesiastical office in the West.4 Thus the construction of the Vitas patrum gradually drew to a close; in the Latin West, the work was regarded as a treasure house of spiritual instruction and exemplary biography for a thousand years.  

With his Dialogi, Pope Gregory Ι, the Great (590-604), produced the Latin complement to the Eastern lives of the fathers: henceforth Italy and the entire Latin West had its Vitae patrum italicorum. Soon they also became famous in the East as a continuation of the ancient monastic fathers which was itself worthy of study. Gregory was consciously a Latin who had little interest in or knowledge of Greek, despite his service for several years as papal apocrisarius in Constantinople; the vocation of the consul dei was an eminently Roman one.5 Ιn the middle of the "Byzantine era of the papacy," he won Britannia for the orbis latinus and thus took the first and most important step toward a new ecclesiastical Roman Empire of the Middle Ages.  

Under Gregory's successors, Rome became "more Byzantine" than before, especially as a result of the Greek monasteries in Rome, which became places of refuge for orthodox Greek monasticism during the Monothelitic dispute of the seventh century and the iconoclastic conflict of the eighth and early ninth century. Ιn addition, the Arabs in the Eastern Mediterranean, advancing under the banners of Mohammed, drove Christians from the Levant to Rome. Theodore of Tarsus, one of the most famous Greeks in seventh-century Rome, may well have come to Rome as a refugee, for his Cilician homeland fell to the Arabs in 645. The monastery of St. Anastasius ad aquas Salvias, in the southern district of Rome, between S.Ρaulο Fuori le Mura and the catacombs of the Via Appia, is the oldest Greek monastery in Rome.

Today it is the monastery of SS. Vincentius and Anastasius, near Tre Fontane. The sources of the history of the monastery until A.D. 1000 are assembled in clear order by Ferrari, Early Roman Monasteries, pp. 33 f. See also Michel, Ostkirchliche Studien 1 (1952), 41 f., and J.-Μ. Sansterre, Les moines grecs et orientaux à Rome aux époques byzantines et carolingiennes (Brussels 1983)  Ι, 13 ff. The monastery seems to have initially been occupied by Cilician monks. Theodore of Tarsus in Cilicia, sent from Rome in 668 to be archbishop of Canterbury, possibly came from the monastery of St. Anastasius; in any case, one could thus explain the uncommon interest which one of Theodore's "student's students" ("Enkel- Schüler"), the Venerable Bede, showed for the Passio S. Anastasii Persae, the patron of the Greek monastery in Rome: "... librum uitae et passionis sancti Αnastasii male de Greco translatum et peius a quodam imperito emendatum, prout potui, ad sensum correxi" ("Το the best of my abilities, Ι corrected for meaning. the book of the life and passion of St. Anastasius, which was poorly translated from Greek and even less favorably emended by an unskilled [editor]") -thus Bede wrote in the list of his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (V 24). The Persian Anastasius became a martyr in 628 under Chosroes ΙΙ. It is possible that Bede's edition of the Passio S. Anastasii Persae is still extant among the numerous versions of the Latin text tradition; cf. C.Vircillo Franklin and Ρ. Meyvaert, "Has Bede's Version of the Passio S . Anastasii Come Down to Us in BHL 408?" ΑΒ 100 (1982), 373-400.

The Greek monastery in Rome is first attested to in the Acts of the Lateran Synod of 649, where Monothelitism (which had the support of the emperor) was debated, with Pope Martin presiding (649-53; d. 655 in exile at Chersonesus in the Crimea). This last great christological controversy of the early Christian period was intellectually borne by the Greeks in Rome, led by Maximus the Confessor (d.662); the Greek monks not only collected evidence for the debate, but also, according to Rudolf Riedinger, composed the speeches of the council fathers, which were then translated from Greek into Latin. Thus the synodal acts came into being even before the synod as a kind of "Textbuch austauschbarer Rollen"6 ("libretto of interchangeable roles")-a strange historical situation in which the genre of conciliar acts came close to dramatic literature. Pope Martin Ι, during whose reign the Lateran Synod of 649 took place, knew no Greek; his predecessor, Theodore I (642-649), under whom preparations for the synod were made, was, however, a Palestinian Greek.7 After Theodore Ι, numerous other Greeks or Greek-speaking Sicilians mounted the cathedra Petri up to the middle of the eighth century. At the end of the seventh century there was a lengthy sequence of such Greek popes: Conon (686-87), Sergius Ι (687-701), John VI (701-5), John VII (705-7), Sisinnius (708), Constantine Ι (708-15).8 The most important among them was no doubt the Syrian Sergius, "who was born in Palermo, whose family came from the vicinity of Antioch" (Liber Pontificalis), and who, because of his refusal to acknowledge the ecumenical validity of Eastern ecclesiastical customs, only just escaped the fate of Vigilius and Martin Ι;9 he did, nevertheless, enrich the Western Church with very important elements of Greek piety.

The long processions from the Forum (St. Adriano) to St. Maria Maggiore, οn the four great Eastern feasts of the Blessed Virgin, were introduced in Rome under Sergius Ι: Candelmas (Ypapanti), Annunciation, Assumption (Dormitio), and nativity: "Constituit autem ut diebus Adnuntiationis Domini, Dormitionis et Nativitatis sanctae dei genetricis semperque virginis Mariae ac sancti Symeonis, quod Ypapanti Greci appellant, letania exeat a sancto Hadriano et ad sanctam Mariam populus occurrat" ("It was established that οn the days of the annunciation of the Lord, the assumption and holy birth of the eternal virgin and mother of God, Mary, and St. Simeon's, which is called Ypapanti in Greek, the procession should proceed from St. Adrian's, and the people should advance to St. Mary's"; Duchesne, Liber Pontificαlis, Ι, 376). Cf. Frenaud, "Le culte de Notre Dame dans l'ancienne liturgie latine," in Η. du Manoir, Μαria (Paris 1961), VI, 157-211, esp. p. 184. It is assumed that the translation of several processional antiphons for feasts of the Virgin go back to this period. The pre-Carolingian antiphonary of Mont Blandin (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 10127-10144, CLA, Χ, 1548) clearly indicates that such translations were originally used in a bilingual liturgy; e.g., the famous processional antiphon Αdοrnα thalamum tuum for Candelmas, ed. R. J. Hesbert, Antiphonαrium Missarum Sextuplex (Brussels 1935), p. 38; cf. Wellesz, Eastern Elements, p. 61, and Hesbert, Corpus Antiphonalium, IV, no. 6051.

Chatacosmyso thon ninphona su Sion
Adorna thalamum tuum Sion

coe ipodexe ton basileon Christon

et suscipe regem Christum
aspase thyn Marian
amplectere Mariam

thyn epuranion phylyn

que est celestis porta
authy bastazi thon Basileon thys doxis
ipsa enim portat Regem glorie
nephyli photos yparchy parthenos
novo luminis subsistit Virgo

ferusa en chersin Yon proeosforu
adducens in manibus Filium ante luciferum
on labon Symeon en anchales autu
quem accipiens Symeon in ulnis suis

ekyrixen lais

predicavit populis
despotyn authon ene
Dominum eum esse
Zois ce thanatu
vite et mortis
ce Sothyra tu chosmu
et Salvatore mundi 

[Adorn your bridal chamber, Ο Zion, and receive Christ the King; embrace Maria, who is the gate of Heaven, for it is she who bears the King of glory; the Virgin stands in the freshness of light, bearing forth the Son in her arms into the light, whom Simeon received into his arms and prophesied to the people that he was the Lord of life and death, the Savior of the world. ]

According to the Liber Pontifιcalis, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which celebrated the history of the rood -its legendary discovery by Helena, the mother of Constantine, theft by the Persians in 614 from the Anastasis Basilica, and triumphant return by Emperor Heraclius in 628- was introduced in Rome by Pope Sergius Ι.Ε.Bishop is responsible for the discovery that the bilingual litany for All Saints' Day which, along with a "Missa graeca," is contained in the "AEthelstan Psalter" (London, BL Cotton Galba Α XVIII, saec. ΙΧ and Χ, from Winchester) and several other, chiefly English, manuscripts was produced in Rome during the Papacy of Sergius Ι and came to England from Rome: Liturgica Historica, pp. 140 ff.; Brou, in Sacris Erudiri, Ι, p.170; Bischoff, Mittelalterliche Studien, ΙΙ, 263, n. 92.  

Under Sergius a translation was also made of the acts of the sixth ecumenical council in Constantinople (Constantinople ΙΙΙ, 680-81);10 Pope Leo ΙΙ (682-83), who came from Sicily and whose bilingualism is extolled in the Liber Pontificalis, began the translation during his brief pontificate11 At least the name of one of the translators of that period is known: Bonifatius Consiliarius.12 

Pope Zacharias (741-52), the last of the Greek popes of the seventh and eighth centuries, translated the most famous work of Gregory the Great, the Dialogi, into Greek, whereby Gregory, who so strongly resisted speaking Greek, became known as  ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟC ΔΙΑΛΟΓΟC  to the Greeks.13 With the same pope, the "Byzantine" era of the papacy also came to an end: he made the momentous statement to Pepin, the Frankish majordomo, that "it is better that he who has the power be called king than he who no longer has any royal power," and thus he cleared the path to the throne for the distant parvenu, in whose protection he could then immediately take refuge from the dangerously close Greeks and Lombards. 

The "Chronicon Palatinum" (Cod. Vat. PaL. Lat. 277; CLA, I 91) was written in the eighth

century in Italy (perhaps Rome) by an author who used the Greek chronicle of Johannes Malalas or a Latin epitome of it; T. Mommsen, ed. MGH Auctores antiquissimi (Berlin 1898), XIII, 427 ff.; L.Traube, "Chronicon Palatinum," Vorlesungen und Abhandlungen (Munich 1920), III, 201 ff. 

In the second half of the seventh or first half of the eighth century, a monk named Petrus translated the revelations of a Syrian, which are known under the name "Pseudomethodius"; several of the manuscripts of the translation belong to the eighth  (cf. Siegmund, Die: Überlieferung, pp. 172 ff.) According to the editor, E. Sackur (Sibyllinische Texte und Forschungen (Halle 1898], p.56), the text was certainly translated in Gaul, as the "Eigentümlichkeiten des fränkischen Vulrärlateins der Merovingian period")  ("peculiarities of the Frankish Vulgar Latin of the Merovingian period") and "Syrisch-gallisce[r] Verkehr" ("Syro-Gallic intercourse") suggest. But since no Greco-Latin translation or translator can be established for the time period in question, Sackur's conjectures lead to no probable determination of provenance. "Pseudomethodius" became important for the concept of the imperium in the East and West; cf. G. Podskalsky, Byzantinische Reichseschatologie (Munich 1972), pp.54 f. 

The numerous hagiographic translations from Italy are difficult to date, but many seem to go back to the Byzantine era in Italy, such as the oldest translations of the vitae of S.S. Anastasius the Persian, Bonifatius of Tarsus, Eustathius, Adrian and Natalia, Nicholas, Sergius and Bacchus, Theodore; the cult of these saints in Rome serves as a basic point of departure for dating the texts; cf. Siegmund, Die Überlieferung, pp. 226-54, under their names. After the ΛΕΙΜΩΝ of John Moschos, (d. 619)

there were again authors in Rome who wrote in Greek. The vita of the martyrd pope Martin I (d.655) was probably written by a Greek in Rome; but it was not until the ninth century that a Latin translator for the work was to be found (Anastasius Bibliothecarius; see below, Chapter IX). The passion of St. Tatiana seems also to have been a text written by the Greeks of Rome; cf. F. Halkin, "Sainte Tatiana, Légende grecque d'une martyre romaine," AB 89 (1971), 265-309. Ther is a Latin translation of the work which has survived in only a handful of Roman manuscripts (the oldest of which is Rome , Vat. Archivio di S. Pietro A 2, saec. X-XI) -an indication of the Roman origin of the translation? 

Ravenna, the residence of the Exarch from the sixth to the eighth century, must also considered   a site of Greco-Latin translation. In the ninth century, Agnellus of Ravenna speaks of his bilingually educated ancestor Johannicius (Liber pontificalis ecclesiae Ravennatensis, c.146: "Et rogatus a pontifice, ut omnes antiphonas, quas canimus modo dominicis diebus ad crucem sive sanctorum apostolorum aut martirum sive confessorum necnon et virginum, ipse exponeret non solum Latinis eloquiis, sed etiam Grecis verbis, quia in utraque lingua fuit maximus orator" [MGH Scroptores rerum Langobardicarum, p. 373]. L.M. Hartmann, "Johannicius von Ravenna," in Festschrift Theodor Gompertz (Vienna 1902), p. 322, interpreted the passage thus: "Auf Wunsch des Erzbischofs erklärte er die in der Kirche von Ravenna üblichen Antiphonien in lateinischer sowohl wie in griechische Sprache" (At the request of the archbischop he explained in both Latin and Greek the antiphonies common in the church of Ravenna"). But is it not rather a matter of the composition of bilinguals antiphons? 

In addition to the hagiographic material, medical texts may also have been translated in some number in Byzantine Italy. The ΘΕΡΑΠΕΥΤΙΚΑ of Alexander Trallianus (d.605 in Rome), the youngest brother of the architect of Hagia Sophia, were translated into Latin perhaps even during the author's lifetime; Thorndike, History of Μαgic and Experimental Science, Ι, 579-84,. The codex Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana G 108 inf , saec ΙΧ, is a copy of an old medical miscellany manuscript with translations of and commentaries on Hippocrates and Galen, which the "physician Simplicius read, collated, and wrote in Ravenna according to the words of the court physician, Agnellus": "ex vocem [sic] Agnello archiatro, deo iuvante, ego Simplicius medicus legi, contuli et scripsi in Ravenna feliciter"; cf.Beccaria, I Codici di Medicina, no. 92, here p.290.  

The history of Greek studies and translations in Lombard Italy is even more obscure than in Italy's Byzantine period. Yet even here Greek must have been of interest in the eighth century -the knowledge of Greek among the Italo-Lombardic grammarians at Charlemagne's court did not come about by chance. Duke Arichis ΙΙ of Benevento (758-87), friend of Paulus Diaconus, understood how to maintain his duchy between the Greeks and Carolingians, and founded a Sophia church in Benevento on the model of Hagia Sophia, into which he transferred the relics of St. Mercurius (among others) from Aeclanum in 768. The Greek passio of the soldier-saint originally venerated in Cappadocia -"le plus effacé ... dans le glorieuse phalange des saints militaires" ("the most effaced ... in the glorious phalanx of military saints," St. Binon)- circulated in an expanded Latin version under Arichis; the duke may have ordered the translation.14