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Metaphrasis in Byzantine Hagiography before Symeon Metaphrastes

Daria Resh, Brown University, Summer Fellow 2014

The aim of this project was to begin work on my PhD dissertation about Byzantine experiments with the rhetorical rewriting of saints’ lives during the ninth and tenth centuries, a process that culminated in Symeon Metaphrastes’ monumental Menologion of the late tenth century. The nature of these earlier metaphrastic experiments and their relation to Symeon Metaphrastes’ project, as well as the extent of Metaphrastes’ dependence on them, are the questions lying at the heart of my research. By investigating this rarely studied and partially unpublished group of texts, I hope to trace the genesis of Symeon Metaphrastes’ endeavor and to clarify the many dimensions of the practice of metaphrasis in Byzantine literature.

During my stay at Dumbarton Oaks, I finalized my dissertation prospectus and conducted research for the first chapter of the dissertation, which examines the term and notion of metaphrasis in several Byzantine sources, including the Progymnasmata of Theon, medieval commentaries on the Hermogenic corpus, the De figuris of Georgios Choiroboskos, and the Suda lexicon. My preliminary conclusion is that, until the eleventh century, Byzantine rhetorical theory does not respond to the contemporary production of metaphrasis in hagiography and that, in later centuries, metaphrasis becomes identified with the work of Symeon Metaphrastes, evidently ignoring the preceding tradition. Thus, the existing Byzantine definitions of metaphrasis either converge it with the relevant school exercise in paraphrasing, thus following a late antique tradition, or emphasize stylistic improvement as its principal or single feature. Such emphasis is natural for Byzantine rhetoricians who would pay attention primarily to the aspects relevant for their own subject—namely, rhetorical style. In turn, these Byzantine definitions of metaphrasis have influenced (but, to some extent, also misguided) the modern understanding of this phenomenon as a primarily rhetorical practice. The metaphrastic movement before Metaphrastes, however, resists this somewhat simplifying definition.