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Optics and Aesthetics in Theodoros Metochites

Sergei Mariev, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, Summer Fellow 2010/11

The project Optics and aesthetics in Theodoros Metochites analyzes the references to the theories of visual perception which are found in the texts of Theodoros Metochites. In particular it focuses on the attempts of this author to describe the experience of beauty by making explicit use of the theories of visual perception.

In order to catalogue the passages of the text which contain references to the theories of visual perception, all the writings of Theodoros Metochites had to be reexamined. The examination revealed not only a significant number of these passages in the Semeioseis and in his Poems, but also in his commentaries on Aristotle (unedited for the most part; MSS and the Latin translation by Hervetus from the 16th century were used).

In an attempt to evaluate the knowledge of Metochites against the scientific background of his time, an attempt was made first to assess the extent of knowledge of optical theories in Metochites' time, and then in the larger context of Byzantine civilization.

The examination of Metochites' intellectual background demonstrated that the intellectual elite of his time was aware of antique optical theories; several detailed discussions on the subject were translated and analyzed (notoriously by Nikephoros Choumnos, the passage is inedited and had to be examined from the MS of the Westerink collection in the Library of Dumbarton Oaks).

The evaluation of the extent of knowledge of the visual theories in Byzantium has revealed several channels through which these theories were transmitted: Patristic tradition, esp. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Nemesius, Theodoret and some others; Medical tradition (Oribasios, Alexander of Tralles, Aetius of Amida, Paul of Aegina, Meletios the Monk, Leo the Physician Theophanes Chryssobalantes, Symeon Seth and others); Neoplatonic tradition (Michael Psellos); commentaries on Aristotle of various dates.

Finally, the evaluation of the theoretical discourse on the subject (especially Archéologie de la vision by Gerard Simon and Visuality before and beyond the Renaissance by Robert Nelson) were used to make the newly discovered historical facts relevant to ongoing research on visuality and aesthetics in the Middle Ages and in Byzantium.

The work will lead to a seminar on the Reception of Visual Theories in Byzantium which I will conduct at the University of Munich in the Winter 2010/11; the findings will be presented and discussed at the national conference of the German Society of the Byzantine Studies in Leipzig in February 2011; an article on this subject will be offered for consideration for publication in Dumbarton Oaks Papers.

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