Book review: Anthony Kaldellis’ “A cabinet of Byzantine curiosities”

Anthony Kaldellis, A cabinet of Byzantine curiosities: strange tales and surprising facts from history’s most orthodox empire, Oxford University Press (2017). Available from: Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk.

Oxford University Press (USA) emailed and asked me to review this little volume.  I agreed at once.  We need more easy-to-read collections of anecdotes and wit from antiquity, and something of the kind for the Byzantine empire can only be a good thing.  I believe Dr Kaldellis has written two preceding volumes on Roman and Greek curiosities, but I have not seen these.

Such a book is aimed at the educated general reader.  Possibly I am the ideal reader for such a book.  For I collect books of anecdotes, and humour anyway, so I am familiar with the genre; and, although I am not a professional scholar, I do love tales of antiquity, and I am even interested in some parts of Byzantine history.  So… what did I make of it?

The volume is a small hardback, with a quite magnificent cover designed by Brady McNamara.  In fact this photograph from OUP’s website does not do it justice!

The standard of book manufacture is high – no surprise from OUP.  There are internal photographs inline, taken from manuscripts, in monochrome.  These are not a success, and look very murky.  The idea is very sound; but the images should have been reproduced in colour.  As it is, the eye skips over them.

Dr Kaldellis has assembled some 200 pages of anecdotes, taken from sources mainstream and otherwise.  He gives the source in almost every case, and one can only respect the breadth of reading that is involved, particularly in hagiographical literature.  Translations are his own, and he wisely advises the reader that he has paraphrased where need be to bring out the point for the general reader.  In a book of this kind, intended for entertainment, this is entirely right and proper.

As is usual in these kinds of collections, the material is organised by topic.  A table of contents would be helpful here.  Curiously it starts with marriage and the family; then “unorthodox sex” (!?); animals; food and dining; eunuchs; medical practice;… and so on.  The ordering of this material seemed unusual to me.  Usually such volumes open with military anecdotes, scholarship, and so on, wandering into more domestic items later.  Stuff about the vices of the Byzantines should certainly have been banished to deeper inside the book.

Failing to follow the traditional (!?) order rather undermined the author’s hope to neutralise the picture of the Byzantines as a bunch of decadent back-stabbing effeminate cowardly treacherous superstitious scumbags.  In fact the content left me with precisely that impression.  For instance the negative anecdotes about Byzantine saints, although deeply valuable to me, reinforced the impression of credulous superstition.  Other anecdotes made clear how the Byzantines preferred bribery and treachery to courage, which reinforced the stereotype of weakness and backstabbing.  So here the author fails in his objective.

But this does not weaken the usefulness of the book to me, and probably to others.  I don’t object to the old stereotype in any way.  What the book gives me is solid interesting information from primary sources, that might perhaps not easily be gathered in so compact a form.  For instance how many of us know that St Simeon the Stylite developed an abcess on his foot which dripped stinking pus all down his pillar?  The charlatanry of the monks is well brought out.

And of course such books are rarely read from cover to cover.  Maybe doing so is rather a mistake.  Indeed Dr K. wisely suggests that this is the sort of book to read on the toilet.  Nor is he wrong.  Open it anywhere, read a bit, learn a bit, smile a bit – that is what such books are for.

One decision will strike the reader at once.  The author has decided, unusually, to give nearly all names as a transcription from Greek.  So “Konstantinos” appears all over the place, instead of Constantine (with the absurd result that on one page we have Constantine I facing Konstantinos V!); Ioannes rather than John; and even Isaccios Komnenos for Isaac Comnenus.  This habit, creeping in among some academics, is deplorable.  It achieves nothing, since all of us know what is meant.  It places a barrier in the way of the general reader.  It (again!) vitiates the author’s purpose, to suggest that the medieval Greeks were the Roman successors, when the names are so utterly odd and un-Roman.  This was a mistake, and OUP should have prevented this.  Many ordinary people can empathise with the brave death of Constantine XI, going out in 1453 to die fighting in the streets as the Turks breached the walls of Constantinople.  Nobody cares a bit about a king called Konstantinos XI, whoever he might have been.  I suspect that Dr. K. is not to blame, but these sorts of games, which tend to exclude the ordinary folk, are a form of elitism.

I learned a great deal from the book.  Again and again I found myself drawn, wanting to put down the volume and go and look up the original source.  (In some cases, of course, I remembered the original, and I didn’t detect any significant lack of reliability).

This is not a joke book either.  But the stories are interesting enough.  Anyone interested in Byzantium will find useful stuff in here, relatively easily absorbed.  So I think I can recommend the book, although I would definitely argue against reading it from the front.  Read it on the toilet, read it in bits here and there.  Because of the contents, I cannot recommend it as a gift for the monk in your life, however; which is a shame, since the Most Orthodox Empire is a subject that would otherwise appeal to many of them.

UPDATE: Added links to Amazon with my tag on.

Post-antique / Byzantine references to Matthew 27:25

Two kind correspondents have sent me the results of a search of the TLG for references to wording found in Matt.27:25.  I have used these (different!) outputs, to supplement my blog post on ancient references, which hitherto ends with Procopius of Gaza.  This has added a few extra items: the big finds are a bunch of references to Cyril of Alexandria, about whom there was nothing in BiblIndex; and a couple of odd references.  The results of the TLG search are not comprehensive either.  In many cases BiblIndex had additional results for an author.  So clearly both must be used.

But there are further authors right through the Byzantine period.  Now these lie outside the scope of my original enquiry, which itself is proving larger than I had thought! I may or may not do anything with these later writers, in the way of examining them or translating them. But here is a list anyway.  Note that when the TLG refers to “Volume nn, page mm, line xx” it seems to mean the Patrologia Graeca vol. nn, column mm, line xx.

    *    *    *    *

THEODORUS STUDITES Scr. Eccl. et Theol. Μεγάλη κατήχησις {2714.007} Catechesis 29 page 205 line 17: σταύρωσον αὐτόν”, τῶν Ἰουδαίων τὰς ἐξαιτήσεις, τῶν λεγόντων “τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν”, τὴν κατ’

HESYCHIUS Scr. Eccl. Commentarius brevis {2797.004} Psalm 54 section 16 line 3: ἠπείλησεν ὁ λόγος· αὐτοὶ γὰρ ᾐτήσαντο λέγοντες· τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.

HESYCHIUS Scr. Eccl. Commentarius brevis {2797.004} Psalm 57 section 11 line 8: ἁμαρτωλοῦ λαοῦ, τοῦ εἰπόντος· τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.

HESYCHIUS Scr. Eccl. Commentarius brevis {2797.004} Psalm 128 section 4 line 3: τὴν ἰσχὺν ὁ Χριστός, ἡνίκα εἶπαν· τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.

Pseudo-CAESARIUS Phil. et Rhet. Quaestiones et responsiones {2868.001} Chapter 112 line 38: σταύρωσον αὐτόν, τοῦ μὲν ἀπονιψαμένου τῆς κυριοκτονίας τὸ αἷμα, τῶν δὲ ἀντισπασαμένων τὴν ἐκεῖθεν κατάκρισιν βοῇ· τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν· ὅπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀξιεράστως φαμέν, οὐ τῇ αὐτῇ ἐκείνοις διαθέσει· ἐκεῖνοι γὰρ ὡς βροτὸν

MAXIMUS CONFESSOR Theol. Quaestiones ad Thalassium {2892.001} Section 64 line 531: προλαβόντες ηὔξαντο καθ’ ἑαυτῶν, εἰπόντες· τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ (530) ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν. Σαφῶς γὰρ μετὰ τὴν ἀνάστασιν καὶ τὴν ἀνάληψιν τοῦ σωτῆρος πνεῦμα καύ-

CONSTITUTIONES APOSTOLORUM Eccl. Constitutiones apostolorum (fort. compilatore Juliano Ariano) {2894.001} Book 5 chapter 19 line 22: τοῦ δικαίου τούτου, ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε», ὁ δὲ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπεβόησεν· «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.» Καὶ Πιλάτου εἰπόντος· «Τὸν βασιλέα ὑμῶν σταυρώσω;» αὐτοὶ

LEONTIUS Scr. Eccl. In sanctam parasceven (homilia 7) {2914.008} Line 58: καὶ ἀντὶ κειμηλίων ἀκάνθινον στέφανον πλέκοντας, καὶ τολμηρῶς βοῶντας· Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν. Διὰ ταῦτα βουλευομένου τοῦ πατρὸς ἐξαλεῖψαι

EVANGELIUM NICODEMI Apocryph. et Evangel. Recensiones Μ 1 et Μ 2 {2976.001} Chapter 8 section 2,3 recension m1-m2 line 11: Εἶπον οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι· Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.

EVANGELIUM NICODEMI Apocryph. et Evangel. Recensio Μ 3 {2976.002} Chapter 8 section 2,3 line 11: Εἶπον οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι· (10) Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.

Georgius CEDRENUS Chronogr. Compendium historiarum {3018.001}Volume 1 page 382 line 17: λείαν δυσσεβῶς ἐπισπασάμενοι, κράζοντες “οὐκ ἔχομεν βασιλέα εἰ μὴ Καίσαρα” καὶ “τὸ αἷμα Χριστοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.” διὸ καὶ μέχρι τῆς συντελείας τὴν εἰς τὰ ἔθνη

GEORGIUS Monachus Chronogr. Chronicon (lib. 1-4) {3043.001} Page 313 line 24: νων, τὸ μὲν αἷμα, ἵνα Ἰουδαίους ἐλέγξῃ εἰπόντας· τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν, τὸ δὲ ὕδωρ, ἵνα τοῦ Πιλάτου κατηγορήσῃ, ὅτι λαβὼν ὕδωρ καὶ νιψάμενος (25)

GEORGIUS Monachus Chronogr. Chronicon breve (lib. 1-6) (redactio recentior) {3043.002} Volume 110 page 373 line 44: μάρτυρες τῶν κυριοκτόνων, τὸ μὲν αἷμα ἵνα Ἰουδαίους ἐλέγξῃ εἰπόντας· «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν·» τὸ δὲ ὕδωρ, ἵνα τοῦ (45)

GEORGIUS Monachus Chronogr. Chronicon breve (lib. 1-6) (redactio recentior) {3043.002} Volume 110 page 456 line 44: σάμενοι, κράζοντες· «Οὐκ ἔχομεν βασιλέα εἰ μὴ Καίσαρα,» καί· «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν,» διὸ μέχρι τῆς συντελείας τὴν (45)

Michael GLYCAS Astrol. et Hist. Quaestiones in sacram scripturam (Cap. 3-40) {3047.006} Chapter 24 page 277 line 8: ἀθῴου αἵματος ἐμφορεῖσθαι—εἰ μὴ γὰρ τοῦτο ἦν, οὐκ ἂν ἔλεγον «τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν»—παθεῖν αὐτὸν εἰ καὶ ἑκουσίως ἠνάγκασε. Παθεῖν δὲ λέγομεν ἑκουσίως

Michael ITALICUS Epist. et Rhet. Epistulae {3081.001} Epistle 35 page 216 line 10: καὶ ἀγχοῦ κειμένην· δηλοῖ γὰρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα πολλάκις καὶ τὸν φόνον αὐτόν, ὥσπερ ἡ φωνὴ τῶν ἀλαστόρων ἐκείνων ἔχει καὶ θεοκτόνων· τὸ αἷμα   (10) αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν. Οὐ γὰρ αὐτὴν τὴν χύσιν τοῦ αἵματος ἐθέλει δηλοῦν ἡ λέξις, ἀλλὰ τὸ τοῦ φόνου μῦσος καθάπαξ καὶ τὸν ἀπὸ τῆς

NICOLAUS HYDRUNTINUS Theol. Disputatio contra Judaeos {3103.003}Page 76 line 16: θείαν γραφήν, ἀλλ’ ἀναντιρρήτως περὶ τοῦ κυρίως ἀθῴου φησίν, περὶ οὗ   (15)
ἐκραύγαζον οἱ πατέρες ὑμῶν· «τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν».

Joannes VI CANTACUZENUS Epist., Math. et Theol. Contra sectam Mahometicam apologiae IV {3169.005} Hypothesis-apology 2 section 5line 603: “Ἀθῶός εἰμι ἐγὼ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ δικαίου τούτου· ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε.” Οἱ δὲ εἶπον· “Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.”   Τότε παρέδωκε τὸν Ἰησοῦν τοῖς στρατιώταις, ἵνα σταυρωθῇ. Οἱ δὲ παρα-

SCRIPTA ANONYMA ADVERSUS JUDAEOS Hist. Dissertatio contra Judaeos {3186.008} Chapter 7 line 476: τέκνοις ἀναμιμνήσκοντος· καὶ γὰρ εἰρήκεισαν ἐκεῖνοι τῷ   (475) Πιλάτῳ κατ’ ἐκεῖνο καιροῦ τὴν Ἰουδαίαν διέποντι· Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν. Ἐπεὶ οὖν ἡ ἐπὶ τῷ αἵματι τοῦ Χριστοῦ κατάκρισις ἐνδικωτάτη τῶν Ἰουδαίων

SCRIPTA ANONYMA ADVERSUS JUDAEOS Hist. Dissertatio contra Judaeos {3186.008} Chapter 8 line 678: παραδοῦναι Πιλάτῳ καὶ φάναι πρὸς αὐτὸν πάντα τὸν τῶν Ἰουδαίων λαὸν Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν, καὶ μετέπειτα δ’ αὖ ἐκδύσαι τὸν ἱματισμὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ

THEOPHANES III Theol. De lumine Thaborio orationes i-v {3272.002}Oration 4 line 1127: κῶν λύθρων καὶ μιασμάτων, ἀλλ’ ἐκεῖνοι μὴ ὅτι γε τῆς ἁφῆς ἐκείνης ἀπώναντο καὶ τοῦ ῥαντισμοῦ, ἀλλὰ τοῖς τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ εἰποῦσιν «ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν» ὁμοίως εἰσπραχθήσονται δίκας. Ὡσαύτως καὶ ὁ Ἰούδας, τὸν θεῖον ἄρτον δεξάμενος,

PHOTIUS Lexicogr., Scr. Eccl. et Theol. Epistulae et Amphilochia{4040.009} Epistle-Amphilocia Amph epistle 307 line 29: καὶ ὁρμῇ μιαιφόνῳ προενηνεγμένα, πέρας δὲ προφητικὸν εἰληφότα· ὡς τὸ ‘τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν’· καὶ γὰρ ἐπέπεσεν αὐτοῖς ἔσχατον ἡ τῶν αἱμάτων ἔκχυσις καὶ ὁ διὰ ξίφους φόνος. καὶ ‘ἐὰν ἀφῶμεν

CATENAE (Novum Testamentum) Caten. Catena in Matthaeum (catena integra) (e cod. Paris. Coislin. gr. 23) {4102.001} Page 233 line 29: δὲ οὐ μόνον ἑαυτοῖς οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα εἵλκυσαν τὴν ἀρὰν εἰπόντες, “τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα “ἡμῶν,” διὰ τὴν πολλὴν αὐτῶν παραπληξίαν, ἀλλ’ ὅμως ὁ φιλάν-

CATENAE (Novum Testamentum) Caten. Catena in Acta (catena Andreae) (e cod. Oxon. coll. nov. 58) {4102.008} Page 35 line 20: εἶπε, καὶ οὐ περὶ τῆς πλευρᾶς· αἷμα δὲ λέγω, ὃ ἐξέχεαν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, καὶ καθ’ ἑαυτῶν ἐπεσπάσαντο λέγοντες, “τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’  “ἡμᾶς καὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν·” καὶ μετὰ τὸ ἀνελεῖν ἀρνοῦνται· ἀεὶ γὰρ ἡ κακία καθ’ ἑαυτῆς ὁρίζουσα μετανοεῖ, καὶ ἀνακαλεῖται τὰς

CATENAE (Novum Testamentum) Caten. Catena in Acta (catena Andreae) (e cod. Oxon. coll. nov. 58) {4102.008} Page 35 line 23: γὰρ ἡ κακία καθ’ ἑαυτῆς ὁρίζουσα μετανοεῖ, καὶ ἀνακαλεῖται τὰς ἰδίας φωνάς· οἱ εἰπόντες “τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς,” λέγουσι τοῖς  Ἀποστόλοις “τί βούλεσθε ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς ἐπαγαγεῖν τὸ αἷμα τοῦ ἀν-

CATENAE (Novum Testamentum) Caten. Catena in Acta (catena Andreae) (e cod. Oxon. coll. nov. 58) {4102.008} Page 349 line 1: σὶν ἐν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις τῶν πεπιστευκότων· (349)   Τοῦ αὐτοῦ. Αὗται οἱ μυρίαδες, ἐκ τῶν βοησάντων “τὸ αἷμα  “αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν,” ὑπῆρχον· ἀλλ’ ὅμως ὁ φιλάνθρωπος τοσαύτῃ μανίᾳ χρησαμένων, καὶ καθ’ ἑαυτῶν καὶ

CATENAE (Novum Testamentum) Caten. Catena in epistulam Joannis i (catena Andreae) (e cod. Oxon. coll. nov. 58) {4102.043} Page 110 line 10:   Πάλιν καὶ τοῦτο πρὸς Ἰουδαίους ἀποτείνεται τολμήσαντας εἰπεῖν “τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν,” ὡς μὴ  οὔσης ἁμαρτίας σταυρῶσαι Χριστόν. ἐὰν οὖν τοῦτο λέγωμεν,

ACTA MONASTERII THEOTOCI EUERGETAE Acta, Legal. et Theol. Typicon (sub auctore Timotheo secundo conditore) {5326.001} Chapter 12 line 557: κληρονόμος γένοιτο, καὶ τῷ προδότῃ σύγκληρος Ἰούδᾳ, καὶ τοῖς Ἆρον, ἆρον, σταύρωσον αὐτόν, καὶ Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν κραυγάσασι συναρίθμιος, ὅτι τὸ πολλοῖς ἱδρῶσι καὶ κόποις ἐξ ἀγριδίου

TYPICA MONASTICA Hagiogr. Typicon sive regula monasterii Theotoci Heliu Bomon (sub auctore Nicephoro Mystico) {5330.008} Chapter 4 line 31: προδότῃ σύγκληρος Ἰούδᾳ, καὶ τοῖς τὸ „ἆρον, ἆρον, σταύρωσον αὐτόν“,  καὶ „τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν“ κραυγάσασι συναρίθμιος.

TYPICA MONASTICA Hagiogr. Typicon monasterii sancti Mamantis (sub auctore Athanasio Philanthropeno) {5330.013} Chapter 4 line 25: ὀκτὼ ἁγίων πατέρων ὑπόδικος γένηται καὶ τῷ προδότῃ σύγκληρος Ἰούδα καὶ τοῖς τὸ ἆρον ἆρον σταύρωσον αὐτὸν καὶ τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς   (25) καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν κραυγάσασι συναρίθμιος.

TYPICA MONASTICA Constitutio monasterii Prodromi τοῦ Φοβεροῦ (sub auctore Joanne monacho) {5330.015} Chapter 28 page 49 line 10: τὰς χεῖρας εἶπεν· Ἀθῶός εἰμι ἐκ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ δικαίου τούτου· ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε. ὁ δὲ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπεβόησε· Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ   (10) τέκνα ἡμῶν, καὶ οὐκ ἔχομεν βασιλέα, εἰ μὴ Καίσαρα. ἀναστάντος δὲ τοῦ

TYPICA MONASTICA Constitutio monasterii Prodromi τοῦ Φοβεροῦ (sub auctore Joanne monacho) {5330.015} Chapter 33 page 51 line 22: ὀκτὼ ἁγίων θεοφόρων πατέρων κληρονόμος γένοιτο καὶ τῷ προδότῃ σύγκληρος Ἰούδᾳ καὶ τοῖς “Ἆρον, ἆρον, σταύρωσον αὐτὸν καὶ τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν” κεκραγόσι συναρίθμιος· διότι οἱ κατὰ καιροὺς χαριστικάριοι εἰς τὸ μηδὲν ἐποίησαν τὴν τοιαύτην μονήν, μεγάλην καὶ πε