Byzantine Philosophy

In this series we tackle the third of three parallel traditions which unfolded in the "medieval" period: philosophy in the Christian East. The main focus is on philosophy in Greek, produced above all in the capital of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople. We look at efforts to preserve and expound the Hellenic intellectual inheritance, and the debates that ensued as some thinkers were deemed to embrace pagan learning too eagerly. We also explore the philosophical interest of other aspects of Byzantine life like iconoclasm, religious movements such as Hesychasm, political theories, history writing, and women in positions of power. Attention is however also paid to other realms of Eastern Christianity, with traditions of writing in Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian. This series also features interviews with Katerina Ierodiakonou, Andrew Louth, Dominic O'Meara, Oliver Primavesi, and Michele Trizio.

Further Reading

• L.G. Benakis, Byzantine Philosophy: An Introductory Approach (Saarbrücken: 2017).

• B. Bydén and K. Ierodiakonou, “Greek philosophy”, in J. Marenbon (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Philosophy (Oxford: 2012), 29–57.

• B. Bydén and K. Ierodiakonou (eds), The Many Faces of Byzantine Philosophy (Athens: 2012).

• M. Cacouros and M.-H. Congourdeau (eds), Philosophies et Sciences à Byzance de 1204 à 1453 (Leuven: 2006).

• L. James (ed.), A Companion to Byzantium, ed. Liz James (Chichester: 2010).

• E. Jeffreys et al. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies (Oxford: 2008).

• A. Kaldellis and N. Siniossoglou (eds), The Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium (Cambridge: 2017).

• A.P. Kazdan (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (New York: 1991).

S. Lazaris, A Companion to Byzantine Science (Leiden: 2020).

• F. Lauritzen and S. Klitenic Wear (eds), The Byzantine Platonists: 284-1453 (Washington DC: 2021).

• K. Ierodiakonou (ed.), Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources (Oxford: 2002).

• K. Ierodiakonou and D. O’Meara “Byzantine philosophy,” in E. Jeffreys et al. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies (Oxford: 2008), 711–20.

• G. Kapriev, Philosophie in Byzanz (Würzburg: 2005).

• M. Knežvić (ed.), The Ways of Byzantine Philosophy (Alhambra CA: 2015).

• B. Tatakis, Byzantine Philosophy, trans. N.J. Moutafakis (Indianapolis: 2003).

• A. Rigo (ed.), Byzantine Theology and its Philosophical Background (Turnhout: 2011).

• K. Viglas, "A Historical Outline of Byzantine Philosophy and its Basic Subjects," Res Cogitans (2006), 73-105.

• N. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium (London: 1983).

Online bibliography at Fordham.

Stanford Encyclopedia: Byzantine Philosophy

International Network for Byzantine Philosophy, an online forum for work by experts in the field.

"Webography" on Byzantine Philosophy with links to internet resources

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rss feed link
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Episodes 301 - 327: Byzantine Philosophy

301. The Empire Strikes Back: Introduction to Byzantine Philosophy

Posted on 19 May 2018

We begin to look at the third tradition of medieval philosophy, in which the heritage of classical antiquity is preserved and debated by the Byzantines.

15 comments
302. On the Eastern Front: Philosophy in Syriac and Armenian

Posted on 3 June 2018

Eastern Christian philosophy outside of Constantinople, focusing on translation and exegesis in the languages of Syriac and Armenian.

8 comments
303. Don’t Picture This: Iconoclasm

Posted on 17 June 2018

Is it idolatry to venerate an icon of a saint, or of Christ? The dispute leads the Byzantines to ponder the relation between an image and its object.

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304. Behind Enemy Lines: John of Damascus

Posted on 1 July 2018

John of Damascus helps to shape the Byzantine understanding of humankind and the veneration of images, despite living in Islamic territory.

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305. Andrew Louth on John of Damascus

Posted on 15 July 2018

Peter is joined by Andrew Louth for a discussion of John of Damascus and his theological use of philosophy.

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306. Collectors’ Items: Photius and Byzantine Compilations

Posted on 29 July 2018

Photius, “the inventor of the book review,” and other Byzantine scholars who preserved ancient learning.

4 comments
307. Consul of the Philosophers: Michael Psellos

Posted on 9 September 2018

Michael Psellos and his attitude towards pagan philosophy and the political life.

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308. Dominic O'Meara on Michael Psellos

Posted on 23 September 2018

Dominic O'Meara speaks to Peter about Michael Psellos, focusing especially on his political philosophy.

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309. Hooked on Classics: Italos and the Debate over Pagan Learning

Posted on 7 October 2018

The trial of John Italos and other signs of Byzantine disquiet with the pagan philosophical tradition.

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310. Purple Prose: Byzantine Political Philosophy

Posted on 21 October 2018

Byzantine political thought from the time of Justinian down to the Palaiologos dynasty wrestles with the nature and scope of imperial power.

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311. The Elements of Style: Rhetoric in Byzantium

Posted on 4 November 2018

Psellos and other experts in rhetoric explore how this art of persuasion relates to philosophy.

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312. Past Masters: Byzantine Historiography

Posted on 17 November 2018

The larger meaning of history in the chronicles written by Michael Psellos, Michael Attaleiates, Anna Komnene, and Niketas Choniates.

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313. Queen of the Sciences: Anna Komnene and her Circle

Posted on 2 December 2018

Princess Anna Komnene makes good use of her political retirement by writing her Alexiad and gathering a circle of scholars to write commentaries on Aristotle.

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314. Katerina Ierodiakonou on Byzantine Commentaries

Posted on 16 December 2018

Katerina Ierodiakonou discusses Byzantine commentators on Aristotle, including Michael of Ephesus.

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315. Wiser Than Men: Gender in Byzantium

Posted on 30 December 2018

The role of women in Byzantine society and the complex attitudes surrounding eunuchs: did they make up a “third gender”?

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316. Just Measures: Law, Money, and War in Byzantium

Posted on 13 January 2019

Legal and economic thought in Byzantium: the sources of the law’s authority, the relation of church and civil law, just price, and just war.

1 comments
317. Made by Hand: Byzantine Manuscripts

Posted on 27 January 2019

Without handwritten copies produced by Byzantine scribes, we would know almost nothing about ancient philosophy. How and why were they made?

9 comments
318. Oliver Primavesi on Greek Manuscripts

Posted on 10 February 2019

Oliver Primavesi tells us how Greek manuscripts are used to establish the text of authors like Aristotle.

Prof Primavesi runs the Munich School of Ancient Philosophy together with Christof Rapp and Peter Adamson.

12 comments
319. Georgia on My Mind: Petritsi and the Proclus Revival

Posted on 24 February 2019

The Neoplatonist Proclus gets mixed reviews from Christians, as Nicholas of Methone refutes him but the Georgian philosopher Ioane Petritsi helps to revive his thought.

3 comments
320. People of the South: Byzantium and Islam

Posted on 10 March 2019

Intellectual exchange between Christians and Muslims, and the later flowering of Syriac literature including the philosopher Bar Hebraeus.

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321. Judith Herrin on Byzantium and Islam

Posted on 24 March 2019

Historian Judith Herrin joins us to talk about competition and mutual influence between Islam and Byzantium.

5 comments
322. Do the Math: Science in the Palaiologan Renaissance

Posted on 7 April 2019

Mathematics and the sciences in Byzantium, focusing on scholars of the Palaiologan period like Blemmydes and Metochites.

9 comments
323. Through His Works You Shall Know Him: Palamas and Hesychasm

Posted on 21 April 2019

Gregory Palamas and the controversy over his teaching that we can go beyond human reason by grasping God through his activities or “energies”.

7 comments
324. United We Fall: Latin Philosophy in Byzantium

Posted on 5 May 2019

Thomas Aquinas finds avid readers among Byzantines at the twilight of empire, and is used by both sides of the Hesychast controversy.

2 comments
325. Platonic Love: Gemistos Plethon

Posted on 19 May 2019

Was Gemistos Plethon, the last great thinker of the Byzantine tradition, a secret pagan or just a Christian with an unusual enthusiasm for Platonism?

8 comments
326. Istanbul (Not Constantinople): the Later Orthodox Tradition

Posted on 2 June 2019

When the Byzantine empire ended in 1453, philosophy in Greek did not end with it. In this episode we bring the story up to the 20th century.

8 comments
327. Michele Trizio on Byzantine and Latin Medieval Philosophy

Posted on 16 June 2019

The series on Byzantium concludes as guest Michele Trizio discusses the mutual influence of Byzantium and Latin Christendom.

6 comments