By Charalambos Dendrinos
Paper given at the conference Unlocking the Potential of Texts: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Medieval Greek at the University of Cambridge (2006)
Introduction: Between October 1414 and March 1415 Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, on his way to Constantinople from the Peloponnese, visited Thessalonike. There he attended state matters and met old friends, among them his spiritual fathers hieromonks David and Damianos of Vatopedi. About a year later Manuel sent two letters addressed to both friends, together with a lengthy composition. In the first wellknown letter, which has been edited twice in the past, Manuel analysed the situation he faced in the Morea and explained the reasons for the delay in sending the work to them as he had promised. The second letter, so far unpublished, which Manuel wrote by way of introduction to his composition, recalls the incident of his previous meeting with David and Damianos in Thessalonike.
“So, when you entered my room”, he writes, “you were asked to be seated, and as you found me still writing this work, which I am now sending you, you looked at it and asked me what was it all about, and why, as it seemed, was I wrapping it up in great hurry … I did not answer, but I stretched my right hand and gave you the book … As soon as you took it, you unfolded it quickly. It looked like an outline, and not a complete work … Time not permitting, you only went through some parts of it without reading them carefully — for this is something people do who can afford leisure time”. The Emperor then goes on to describe his friends’ positive response and suggestion that “it is not right to leave it half-finished, just like an aborted foetus”. Therefore, despite his own reservations in the face of possible negative reviews, Manuel decided to persevere with it and bring it to completion.