Hellenic Philosophy in
Byzantium and the Lonely
Mission of Michael Psellos
In one of his books Cyril Mango makes the interesting observation that for the two centuries between 843 and c.1050 no additions were made to the Synodikon of Orthodoxy1 The Synodikon, a major liturgical manifesto of the Byzantine Church, was first promulgated at the end of the iconoclasm controversy, one of the most serious cultural upheavals of the Middle Ages. ‘The Triumph of Orthodoxy’, as the outcome is known, celebrated originally in the church of Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople, in 843, some years later became established as an annual feast falling on the first Sunday of Lent. The celebration consisted of a solemn procession and liturgical service which included a reading of anathemas against heretics and enemies of true doctrine. By the second half of the eleventh century certain versions of the Synodikon began to feature condemnations of contemporary ‘enemies of the truth’. The most interesting instance is Michael Psellos’ former student, John Italos who became the unfortunate target of no less than twelve citations in the anathemas of the year 1082.2 Whatever the precise merits of the case, which is still a matter of some dispute, the proclaimed root of the charges against Italos was his dealings with ancient, that is, in Byzantine terminology, ‘Hellenic’ philosophy.
With Mango’s observation as a suggestive backdrop, let us enquire briefly into the status and life of philosophy in Byzantium, giving particular attention to the two hundred years between 843 and the appearance of Michael Psellos on the scene as a maturing philosopher, let’s say in the 1040s.
1 Mango (1980: 102). See also Magdalino (1993: 383–4).
2 A notorious event in Byzantine cultural history and often described. The text of the anathemas is in Gouillard (1967: 57–61; commentary 188–202). For a succinct recent account, with relevant references, see Agapitos (1998: 184–7).