Epistolary codes: socio-rhetorical strategies in Byzantine letters of the tenth to twelfth centuries

01 January 2022 → 31 December 2025
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Literatures in Greek
    • Medieval literature
    • Sociology of literary texts
Epistolography Allusion Communication
Project description

This project intends to understand better how Greek medieval letters had a concrete function in society, and were at the same time crafted as highly sophisticated rhetorical works of art. For this, it will use the concept of “epistolary codes”. This implies that letter exchange required its own conventions, in gestures as well as in language. Until now, these conventions in letters were taken as just imitation of commonplaces (topoi), a scholarly attitude that severely underestimated how dynamic they were, and ignored their dependence on concrete social relationships and services. Initiating a relationship, maintaining it, asking for a service, filing a complaint, or submitting a petition: all these actions required their own textual strategies in letters. Allusions and forms of humor are an important focus: the project will investigate how subtle or playful references to ancient texts or stories, or irreverent mockery, were used to create bonds, and to indirectly transmit messages that could not be expressed directly because of social constraints. The project will thus offer the tools to read the intertextuality and rhetorical strategies in these letters as tools of communication, and parts of the social engine of the inner workings of the Byzantine empire.