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Toward a Sociology of Paideia, ca. 800–1350: Manuscripts, Mimesis, Ethos

Niels Gaul, Central European University, Fellow 2014–2015, Spring

My project aims to examine the sociohistorical framework and political function of Byzantine paideia from around 800 to the late Byzantine period. It started from the observation that, in the one hundred years following iconoclasm, possession of paideia gradually shifted from a first-tier senatorial-versus-imperial clique to what may be provisionally dubbed a second-tier elite, frequently of provincial or middling-class roots and surprisingly stable. While the first part of my book project traces this stratum to the end of empire, a second part explores the consequences this shift entailed, in three respects: the changing normative canon of ancient texts; the ethics and performance of paideia in relation to elite subjectivity; and the implications of performative mimesis on poleis and politeia from the Komnenian into the Palaiologan periods.

My spring term fellowship has allowed significant progress on this project. It gave me the opportunity to study in depth the writings of some early middle Byzantine authors, especially Theodore the Stoudite and Photios, with an additional constant flow of important insights being provided by this year’s wonderful group of fellows and visiting scholars. For the later middle Byzantine period, I have put particular emphasis on John Mauropous, Michael Psellos, and Michael Italikos. Last but not least, I have also arrived at a detailed history of the social practice of the (rhetorical) theatron from late antiquity through the Palaiologan period. On a personal note, this was the second time that a term at Dumbarton Oaks has brought a real change for me: while a junior fellow in 2004–2005, I was interviewed for the Dilts-Lyell Senior Research Fellowship in Greek Palaeography at Lincoln College, Oxford. This time, coming from Central European University, Budapest, I was interviewed for the inaugural A. G. Leventis Chair in Byzantine Studies at the University of Edinburgh. For this alone, I shall always hold Dumbarton Oaks in very special regard.