At the Intersection of History and Literature: Reading and Thinking with Theodore II Laskaris
Тhe paper aims to raise a series of questions for our symposium derived from my long engagement with the oeuvre of the thirteenth-century author and emperor Theodore II Laskaris. While writing a multilayered historical biography of Laskaris (2019) and producing a commented English translation of his works (forthcoming), I have been in the privileged yet difficult position to work at the intersection of Byzantine history and literature. The intersection is particularly tangled in the case of this versatile and creative author, who was also a powerful political figure. The entanglement pertains to the history of Byzantine literature itself: the curious history of scholarly neglect of Laskaris based on traditional assumptions about learned authors in Byzantium. Investigating some of these assumptions, as they have been applied to Laskaris, serves as a point of entry into broader questions about linguistic register and generic taxonomy, literary tradition and innovation, individuality and self-representation. In the process of interrogating these questions through examples drawn from Laskaris’ texts, we can identify a range of possible modern approaches, all valid and justifiable, to his literary and philosophical works. A tension that I have found particularly difficult to avoid or resolve is that between viewing Laskaris as an exceptional author (and a lonely political figure) and as a representative of broader literary (and political) tendencies of his time. This tension is, in my opinion, unavoidable and is one of the most fascinating aspects of our own modern endeavors, both as historians and as literary scholars, to negotiate and strike a balance among diachronic, synchronic, and comparative approaches to medieval texts and their contexts.
Mit Unterstützung des Gutenberg Forschungskollegs Mainz.