Stephanos Efthymiadis

Prof., PhD Open University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus

Redeeming the Genre’s Remnants: Some Beneficial Tales Written in the Last Centuries of Byzantium

  • Summary/Abstract

    By virtue of their simple and direct message which conformed to their language, style and concise manner of expression, narrationes animae utiles were one of the most popular readings (or hearings) in Byzantium, at least in monastic circles or among monastic-friendly audiences. With the coming of the Byzantine Middle Ages, as with other literary genres which sprang up and gained momentum in late antiquity, the writing of new edifying stories was to suffer a significant decline. The loss of the eastern provinces and the shrinkage of the empire in the seventh century had both a qualitative and quantitative effect on a genre that seems to have had an intrinsic and integral cultural link to the world of the monastic desert. Unlike other kinds of monastic or Christian literature, however, beneficial tales did not cease to inspire Byzantine writers. Regardless of the provenance and social milieu of their authors, the basic aim was to denounce lack of spiritual discernment and cast serious doubt on a ‘simulated holiness’ claimed on the basis of extraordinary personal feats. The spirit of religious polemic and denunciation of hypocrisy which was prominent in late antique beneficial tales somehow took an ‘inward’ direction, reminding Christian audiences to keep a watchful eye not on the enemies of their faith, but, whether openly or discreetly, on ‘insiders’ deceitful extremities’. In fact, those significant Byzantine writers who from the twelfth through the fifteenth century refreshed or protracted an interest in the writing of beneficial tales did no more than add a few paragraphs to the chapter of ‘Byzantine religious skepticism’ entitled ‘saint-making called into question’

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