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The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium.

Edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan, editor-in-chief. NY and Oxford OUP. Three volumes. 200.00[pounds].

This is a remarkable, indeed overwhelming, piece of scholarship. In three volumes, of 2,232 pages (approximately two million words) in all, it is the achievement of 127 scholars from 17 countries, and was completed in just over seven years. Dr. Kazhdan and his editors were as good as disciplinarians as they were scholars. Their secret was that the book was conceived and largely bred in the Byzantine Library at Dumbarton Oaks, and that they had the financial support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and also of the Mellon Foundation, the Getty Trust and the Kress Foundation. Thanks to this generosity, scholars could be released from teaching or administrative duties; and their universities could be adequately compensated for their absence. Moreover, the unity of the work owes much to the editorial device whereby individual experts undertook responsibility for writing, surveying and/or editing |clusters' of articles -- and there are in all some five thousand essays. The OUP, moreover, has done an excellent job, even if the general reader might wish for more maps and illustrations than are provided here. But homo byzantinus will be happy, the more so in that, alongside all the 82 Byzantine emperors in their thirteen dynasties, and a rich selection of saints and patriarchs, writers, places and concepts, are fascinating pieces on food and diet and human emotions, and on birds and bees and Byzantine body language. Each entry is buttressed by brief bibliographies. This is a rich cornucopia.

As Rome and Italy were over-run by barbarians, Constantinople, founded as a Christian city and to testify to a Christian victory, became and long remained a new Rome, but a Rome permeated, not only by the Christian faith and imagery but by the literature and thought of Greece. However, just as Rome was imperilled by Goths and Vandals, so Constantinople and its eastern dominion in Asia Minor had also to withstand incursions: of the Arabs as invaders and/or as pirates in the seventh and eighth centuries; of the Seljuks in the eleventh century, who at Manzikert in 1017 destroyed the Byzantine armies and took over the rich granary of Anatolia; and from the next century almost to its fall in 1453, the Byzantine world was over-run by the Crusaders, nominally there as Christian allies, but in fact seeking booty and territory. Ironically, the Venetians and Genoese grew fat on Byzantine rather than infidel wealth, as did the Knights Hospitallers in Rhodes and Malta. It was the first Rome, and its satellite Kingdoms in the Levant, that left the second so weakened that it could not resist the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II -- when in 1453 they stormed the walls of Constantinople. What little help came from Venice and from the Pope, came too late.

Churches and monastic ruins, frescoes and icons, people and patriarchs are all faithfully and fully recorded here: Constantinople and notably its Hagia Sophia lovingly so; Mistra in the Peloponnesos, where the last Palaeologus was invested four years before his death as the city fell; Ochrid on its lake in Macedonia -- to name only some of those still treasured. We have recently had a bitter and ugly reminder of the threat to some of these treasures, and of the line between Christian and Orthodox, between Latin and Cyrillic. As the book was being printed Serbs, helped by some Montenegrans, were bombarding Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia. For the line between Latinised and Germanised Croats in the |West' and Orthodox Serbia and Bosnia in the |East', is where the worlds of the two Romes also met and sometimes clashed a thousand years ago.
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Author:Wright, Esmond
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:620
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