Byzantine Literature

Stemming from its rich history, the Byzantine Empire is known to have a wealth of cultural influence from a great many peoples regarding a great many aspects of their society. Their religion, their art and architecture, and their literature all derive from various cultural origins, notably the Greeks and Romans upon whom much of their civilization is founded. However, there are also significant amounts of Christian influences and even influences from Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor that permeate cultural and artistic endeavors within the Byzantine cultural sphere.

Perpetuating itself in Byzantine literature, Greek influence was most prominent as it outpaced the use of Latin throughout the empire as Christianity spread from its inception in the 3rd century AD. By the time it had become relevant again, the use of ancient Greek as rhetoric within Byzantine literature had divided itself from the common medieval Greek vernacular that saw widespread use in day-to-day, interpersonal conversations. This appeared due primarily to the educational system that employed and resulted in literary values similar to those of the ancient Greeks, and this was reflected within the genres of literature that came out of authors within the empire: prominently within lyric poetry and drama. This sort of writing would eventually expand into newly-created genres such as romantic fiction, despite a historical upheaval of the Byzantine empire’s educational system in the 7th to 9th centuries where focusing upon classicizing literature had no longer become the priority next to maintaining the empire’s existence altogether.

Originally, the Byzantine empire had been established as an extension of the Roman empire. It would even later become known by many as the Eastern Roman Empire. These were the origins of Byzantine as well as its literature, basing its language on then widely used Latin until Christianity became more prominent a religion within society.  Latin has eventually excused altogether in Constantinople for Greek rhetoric that combined with Christian thought and belief. This origin can be traced back to Alexandria and the areas within Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor where many Greek cities were founded. Within these cities, the wealth of both tangible and intellectual property flourished, surpassing even the cities within Greece itself. Many of these citizens would later become integrated into the Byzantine empire, and thus their influence from culture-rich areas within the regarded Orient was deeply recognized.

The use of Greco-Christian literary style was widespread, not only in the artistic and lyrical community. Chroniclers and historians adopted the general style of classical writing, often modeling their own rhetoric after one or even several Greek predecessors. Authors of essays and encyclopedias within the Byzantine culture were said to originate from “lay theologians” which contributed to the scholarly, antiquated method of writing. Even spanning over several centuries, often regarded between the 6th and 12th centuries, pervaded several distinct genres of secular poetry. All of which seemed to draw their origins from Alexandrian influence mentioned earlier as the speculative birthplace of Greco-Christian values. Theological writing, of course, derive from Hellenistic and Oriental influences that also contributed to the thriving of Greco-Christian thought and to the Byzantine empire as a whole,

In the early 13th century, however, as influences from the West permeated into the Byzantine empire, the judgment of popular literature gradually shifted. Frankish and Italian methods altered the ideals of poetry, emphasizing romantic and idyllic themes of popular poetry over rationalistic, literary poetry.