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A Literary, Linguistic and Historical Analysis of the Poems of Manuel Philes

Marina Bazzani, Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford, Fellow 2008/09

These months at Dumbarton Oaks have enabled me to work on the large corpus of poetry of the Byzantine author Manuel Philes (ca. 1270–1330s). I have focused on his historical, personal and occasional poems, while leaving aside epigrams on works of art and religious subjects. I spent the first term of my fellowship reading and translating the poems; this has allowed me to gain a good understanding of Philes' way of composing verses, his use of language, images and puns, as well as to observe how his style and tone may vary according to the recipients' status. During the second term, I have carried out a content and style analysis of several occasional poems composed to request gifts of various kinds (hats, clothes, food). The close reading and the breakdown of the text have revealed the presence of extremely interesting material in these poems, and have shown how the author is always proceeding on multiple levels of thought in his compositions. This is often achieved through a subtle and sophisticated use of language and images, either by employing the same words in different contexts or by loading them with a different nuance in meaning, thus creating clever and unexpected turns of ideas; such detailed analysis of the text has helped understand the important role rhetorical skills play in Philes' verses. This project has greatly benefited from the excellent library, the online resources and the stimulating environment at Dumbarton Oaks; I have been able to collect extensive material that I intend to use in the future to explore other aspects of Philes' poetry, such as the way the poet presents himself in his poems, his relation with contemporary intellectuals and his dedicatees, and the depiction of society his poetic texts convey. These texts are not only of interest in their own right, but they also offer key tools to gain a deeper comprehension of Byzantium and its society in the Palaeologan era.

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