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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

Learning, literature, science, and art


The Original Greek New Testament
Page 2

Many members of the imperial families, Palaeologus and Cantacuzene, were distinguished for their learning. Michael VIII was the author of some essays in favor of union and some canons dedicated to important martyrs; he has also left his interesting autobiography, the manuscript of which was found at the Synodal Library of Moscow, and he founded a grammar school at Constantinople. Andronicus the Elder admired letters and art and was a patron of scholars and artists. Some scholars assume that his protection developed the artistic atmosphere which produced such remarkable monuments of art as the mosaics of the monastery Chora (present-day mosque Qahriye-Jami) at Constantinople.

Manuel II was particularly renowned for his education and literary talent. A fine theologian, an authority in the classics, a skillful dialectian, and an excellent stylist, he left many writings: a treatise on the Procession of the Holy Ghost, an attack against Islam, a number of orations on various subjects, the Description of spring on a regal woven curtain, in a rather jocose style, and, finally, a large collection of important letters to many prominent men of his epoch, written either during his forced stay at the Turkish court or on his journey through western Europe. Altogether there exist about 109 essays and letters from the pen of Manuel. But from the point of view of literary activity, the first place among the emperors must be attributed to John VI Cantacuzene, who after his forced abdication ended his days as a monk under the name of Ioasaph and devoted the time of his solitude to scientific work and literature. His chief literary work is the Histories, in four books, or, perhaps, Memoirs, which covers the period from 1320 to 1356 and makes some references to later periods. The author announced in the introduction that he would write nothing but the truth, but he deviated, perhaps unconsciously, from his intention, in dealing with the events in which he took part. He endeavored to free himself from blame and to praise himself and his friends and partisans; at the same time he tried to abase, ridicule, and blacken his adversaries. Cantacuzene was the only Byzantine Emperor, to write detailed memoirs and, in spite of his prejudiced statements, they constitute a rich mine of very important information on the troubled history of the fourteenth century in the Balkan peninsula, and on the Slavs and the geography of the Balkan regions in particular. Cantacuzene also wrote some theological essays of which the greater part are not yet published. Examples of these are the polemic essays against Barlaam, the Jews, and the Muhammedans. John Cantacuzene transmitted his literary interests to his son Matthew who, after his father's fall, was also forced to take refuge in the cowl. He wrote some theological and rhetorical treatises.

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