The so-called Letter of Aristeas is a Hellenistic text recounting the events that led to the realisation of the Septuagint, that is, the translation of the Jewish Bible into Greek. This fictional epistle, supposedly penned by an Alexandrian Jew living at the court of Ptolemy II Philadelphos, was widely read and soon became the subject of several rewritings by later Christian and non-Christian authors. In most of these texts, the Letter’s characteristic blend of biblical and ‘Homeric’ elements is downplayed (or even ignored) to the advantage of other motifs, such as the demonstration of the translation’s providential nature.
My presentation focuses on one such rewriting, namely the so-called paraphrase of the Letter of Aristeas penned by Isaac Komnenos Porphyrogennetos (1093–after 1152), third son of Emperor Alexios I and brother of Emperor John II. Isaac’s ‘paraphrase’ was likely authored in conjunction with the commission of the Seraglio Octateuch (Topkapi Sarayi cod. gr. 8), a lavishly illuminated manuscript whose first folia still preserve Isaac’s text. My aim is to show that, differently from most retellings of the legend of the Septuagint, Isaac’s version of the story explores the full symbolic potential of the overlap between Homeric and Biblical motifs. Isaac seems to be especially interested in their implications for the figure of Ptolemy. Indeed, his ‘paraphrase’ is informed not only by the Letter itself, but also by other traditions revolving around Ptolemy and the Library of Alexandria, which enjoyed wide circulation in the learned circles of twelfth-century Byzantium. Thus, the rewriting of a Hellenistic text allows Isaac to engage with contemporary intellectual trends, while further developing – and advertising – his self-presentation as a learned ruler.
Byzanzforschung in Mainz & Frankfurt
Die Vortragsreihe wird vom Leibniz-WissenschaftsCampus – Byzanz zwischen Orient und Okzident – Mainz/Frankfurt getragen, einer seit 2011 bestehenden Kooperation zwischen dem Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseum und der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, die 2019 um die Goethe-Universität Frankfurt und das Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte erweitert wurde. Ziel ist es, in enger interdisziplinärer Zusammenarbeit Forschungen zum Byzantinischen Reich, seiner Geschichte, Kultur, Kunst und materiellen Hinterlassenschaft durchzuführen und den wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs zu fördern. Die Vortragsreihe beleuchtet aktuelle Forschungsfragen und richtet sich sowohl an Fachleute wie auch die breite Öffentlichkeit.