Miracle or Magic? The Figure of the 'Magos' in Byzantine Hagiography

01 October 2020 → Ongoing
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Literatures in Greek
    • Medieval literature
    • Narratology
    • Literary history
    • Literary theory
Byzantium Hagiography as literature Magic Miracle and Magic Rhetoric
Project description

What is the difference between magic and miracle? Scholars today believe that it is not possible to reach clear definitions of ‘magic’ and ‘miracle’ capable of answering that question: theoretically, one cannot meaningfully differentiate between the two. However, for Christians of the first centuries and later, the distinction between magic and miracle was crucial. This does not mean they were not sensitive to the fluidity of the spheres of magic and miracle. Rather, they had something to gain from a clear distinction. This project investigates how they made the distinction, how they tried to make it convincing, and why they constructed it. It investigates these questions through the study of the character type of the 'magos' (‘magician’) in Byzantine hagiography (i.e. Christian narratives about holy (wo)men), a promising source that scholars of pre-modern magic have not yet tapped into. Moreover, by taking a literary approach, the project innovates the study of pre-modern magic, which has focused so far on historical aims and methods. Concretely, it will answer the questions above by studying the depiction of confrontations between so-called ‘magoi’ and holy (wo)men in hagiography, to see what kind of image Christians portray of 'magoi' and how they distinguish such figures from the saints. The project aims to show that the portrayal of 'magoi' as impostors and frauds lends the saint religious authority and thereby builds up the identity of the Christian community.