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John Geometres: An Edition, Translation and Commentary of his Poems in Hexameter and Elegiac

Emilie van Opstall, University of Amsterdam, Summer Fellow 2004/05

Soldier and poet in the second half of 10th–century Constantinople, John Geometres writes in the tradition of the Macedonian Renaissance, which found its inspiration in Antiquity, but also shows signs of a new era in which Hellenistic form and Christian ideas merge. In 1841, J.A. Cramer published Geometres' poems for the first time.J. A. Cramer, Appendix ad excerpta poetica: codex 352 suppl., Anecdota Graeca e Codd. Manuscriptis Bibliothecae regiae Parisiensis, vol. Ⅳ (Oxford, 1841, repr. Hildesheim, 1967), 265–352. His edition is based on a single manuscript (the 13th–century Paris. suppl. gr. 352) and contains an amazing number of inaccuracies. Nonetheless, subsequent editors of Geometres' poems have used this edition without consulting the manuscripts themselves. The poems certainly deserve a better fate, for Geometres is a key figure in the history of Byzantine poetry, as has been observed time and again. I am preparing a new edition of his poems composed in hexameter and elegiacs with a (French) translation and commentary. This will enable not only scholars of Byzantine literature, but of Byzantine history and art as well, to arrive at a better formed judgement of Geometres and the cultural history of his time.

The summer at Dumbarton Oaks provided a unique opportunity to write the commentary on a series of poems in relation to their (art) historical context. Not only the extremely rich library, which provides easy access to art historical studies (sometimes not found elsewhere), but also the advice of the scholars present was very helpful, especially in the field of iconography.

To conclude, I will give a brief example of an epigram:

Parqe/ne, pambasi/leia, teo\j do/moj ou)rano/j e)stin,
e)/mbhj tw=n xqoni/wn prw=ta fe/rwn qala/mwn
ou(=toj e)kei= s' a)na/gei. Su\ de\ qh/kaj, Parqe/ne, gh=qen
a)/ntugoj ou)rani/hj h)eri/hn kli/maka.

Vierge, reine absolue, le ciel est ton palais;
toutefois, te prenant d'abord de tes demeures terrestres,
celui-ci t'emmène là-haut. Mais toi, Vierge, tu as placé depuis la terre
une échelle aérienne qui traverse la voûte céleste.

In this poem, an unidentified person (ou(=toj, a demonstrative pronoun) is taking (a)na/gei, present tense) the Virgin to the sky (e)kei=, a deictic adverb). The language used seems to refer to an icon representing the Koimesis, when Christ brings the soul of the Virgin to the heavens (Cf. illustration, Icon with the Koimesis, ivory, late 10th century, from H.C. Evans and W.D. Wixom [edd.], The Glory of Byzantium, Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era A.D. 843–1261 [New York, 1997], 155.). Even though the poet emphasizes the contrast between heaven and earth, he concludes with the comforting idea that the Virgin remains a ladder, an intermediary, between God and man.

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