Byzantine monastic libraries in the eleventh and twelfth centuries

  • Judith Waring

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines how and why books were being commissioned, produced and circulated in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by and for the monastic communities. Furthermore it is also concerned with who was reading these book and in what way.

Chapter 1 establishes definitions of 'monastic' and 'book culture' and looks forward to the central definition and understanding of what constituted a mediaeval library. ‘Library’ is examined in detail at the close of Chapter 1. Previous work is critically reviewed. 'Book culture' can be examined from a variety of methodological approaches; for example paleographical and codicological. In addition aspects of the wider phenomenon of social and cultural history, in particular literacy and to a much lesser extent education, are considered. This discussion assesses the range of methodologies and highlights how the approaches in this thesis are complementary to or differ from earlier work.

Chapter 2 focuses on the books. Data from the extant mediaeval inventories are examined from a number of perspectives. How information was organised is considered and the vocabulary used to describe not only the texts but also the physical characteristics of the book as object is examined in detail. Furthermore the inventories provide some evidence on how books circulated; donation is one particular factor which is discussed. This chapter concludes by attempting to understand the economic forces behind book production and especially the practicability of the acquisition of the raw material . Within the monastic context this requires a consideration of the monasteries as centre of book production and the need for a (re)definition of Byzantine monastic scriptoria. This is necessary before it is feasible to begin identifying such centres.

Chapter 3 focuses on the readers. Literacy as an aspect of human communication is discussed. Conclusions are then contextualised in a specifically Byzantine historical framework with a consideration of representation of reading in monastic texts. The act of reading is examined as a manifestation of literacy. This includes a review of reading as a physical as well as cognitive process. Reception theory and reader-response criticism are outlined and adapted as a method of approach. The theoretical discussion also encompases a consideration of genre within a Byzantine literary context. This chapter concludes by offering a close reading of two monastic texts ; the Ladder of divine ascent of John Klimako and Katechesis, 340 of Paul of Evergetis . These modem readings employ some approaches arising from the previous theoretical discussions.

Chapter 4 offers conclusions based on Chapters 2 and 3. In general it is possible to identify a monastic book culture, as defined in this thesis, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The primary source material provides evidence that books were being produced and circulated and they clearly had both a cultural and monetary ‘value’. Chapter 3 opened up the debate on what is signified by literacy in Byzantium. Monastic readers were ‘literate’ as understood by the theoretical and interpretative arguments presented. Further work needs to be undertaken to consider a broader chronological framework before any definite trends can be identified. Similarly the monastic context would need to be integrated into the complexity of the wider social, political and economic background of Byzantium. Finally this thesis is a contribution towards the beginnings of an understanding not only of literacy but also of the literary history of Byzantium.

Appendices I-III present data form the extant mediaeval inventories. Introduction to each of the Appendices outline the methodology for the construction and collation of the information. Appendix IV presents the texts of the Ladder of divine ascent and katechesis. 340 which are discussed in Chapter 3. This includes textual and bibliographical details.
Date of AwardJul 1999
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMargaret Mullett (Supervisor)

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