A Late Byzantine Swan Song: Maximos Neamonites and His Letters

A Late Byzantine Swan Song: Maximos Neamonites and His Letters

By Mihail Mitrea

Master’s Thesis, Central European University, 2011

Abstract: The present thesis has endeavoured to shed more light on the life and activity of the hitherto little-known figure of Maximos Neamonites, a pepaideumenos seemingly active in the first decades of the fourteenth-century Palaiologan Byzantium. The only bits and pieces of data about his life and activity are scattered throughout fourteen hitherto unpublished letters stemming from his quill, extant in the fourteenth-century codex unicus Vaticanus Chisianus R. IV. 12 (gr. 12), ff. 166-172, a miscellaneous Greek manuscript preserved in the Vatican Library. Thus, Maximos Neamonites’ epistulae depict their author as a schoolmaster of primary education active in the second and the third decades of the fourteenth-century Constantinople (fl.1315–1325), true to generic conventions (and the realities of life), eking out a meager income on the basis of his teaching activities, and occasionally lifting his pen to interfere on behalf of others. Heavily reliant on this type of income, the letters portray Neamonites in a constant struggle of either retaining his students or gaining some more. Moreover, he is seen as pursuing his intellectual interests by taking part in the book transmission economy of the age. Apart from all the details concerning his activity as a schoolmaster, the letters, an eikōn of Neamonites’ soul, also speak of his poor health condition and the wretchedness of his existence, that, similar to that of a swan, is drawing near its twilight. The present research represents a first step in giving the swan a voice once again.

Introduction: In the last period of its existence, i.e., the Palaiologan period (c.1261-1453), the Byzantine empire staged an impressive cultural revival. In spite of struggling with political fragility, a shrunken territorial map, and emergent impoverishment, Palaiologan Byzantium nurtured a significant blossoming of learning, which, seen from the perspective of the previous Byzantine cultural revivals, i.e. the Macedonian and Komnenian, has its own uniqueness revealed by a number of noteworthy features. The promoters of this intellectual revival were the members of an educated class comprising court and ecclesiastical officials, “gentlemen scholars,” schoolmasters, and basically everyone who entered the dynamic and competitive “market” (marché) of paideia.

Figures like Maximos Planoudes (c.1250/5–c.1305), Manuel Moschopoulos (fl.1306/7), Demetrios Triklinios (fl.1308–c.1325/1330), Thomas Magistros (c.1280- c.1347/8), Theodore Metochites (1270–1332), Theodore Hyrtakenos (fl.1315/6–1327), George Karbones (fl.1325–1337), Nikephoros Gregoras (c.1292/5–c.1358/61) are but a few of the Byzantine pepaideumenoi active in Palaiologan Byzantium. Testimony to the vibrant atmosphere of these (late) Byzantine learned circles is the voluminous corpus of letters that has come down to us. Mostly active in Constantinople, but also in Thessalonike, Cyprus, etc., and coming from different social strata, late Byzantine literati maintained an incessant correspondence with each other. Among the Palaiologan pepaideumenoi whose correspondence has been preserved one can also place the figure of Maximos Neamonites.

Click here to read this thesis from Central European University

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