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7-08-2015, 20:10

Sermons and orations

Besides the idealised lifestyles of hagiography,27 sermons provided the Byzantines with guidelines for praying, living in this world, and enduring. Some, composed by church fathers such as Gregory Nazianzen, became elements in the liturgy, read out during services, while others from antiquity remained familiar to the Byzantines.28 New sermons continued to be composed in Attic style and kept, and a few of those designed for special occasions or recounting specific events have been translated.29 A translation has yet to be made of the sermons written and delivered by Leo VI, who approached his pastoral duties as ruler with high-minded diligence. But a full exegesis of their form and contents is available.30 Leo’s sermons were delivered before his court, the setting for the delivery or performance of many of the Byzantine elite’s literary creations. The sermons, orations and verse-poems furnished a steady, solemn, usually upbeat note to proceedings. Some were written for recurrent religious festivals. Others marked state occasions or recent events, and orations could be more or less unsolicited, currying favour or – more especially during the later empire – advocating a policy, seeking to persuade. Only a tiny proportion of these presentations survives – and not necessarily in the form in which they were first delivered. The little that has been translated into English tends to celebrate specific recent events, for example, the rededication of St Sophia in 562; the building of a palace bathhouse for Leo VI; the treaty with Bulgaria in 927; orManuel II Palaiologos’ funeral oration on his brother, Theodore.31 Nine orations of Arethas, some after-dinner speeches, others solemnly welcoming the arrival of relics in Constantinople, have been edited with English summaries.32 And a career-making speech in praise of Nicaea delivered before Andronikos II by the young Theodore Metochites in 1290 has been translated, together with one composed by a future Nicaean emperor, Theodore II Laskaris (1254–58).33 One of court oratory’s functions was to review current affairs and the recent past, accentuating the positive and setting ups-and-downs within the empire’s long history and manifest destiny. It is no accident that some men of letters prominent as speech-writers and -givers at court also composed for the historical record, notably Michael Psellos, Eustathios of Thessaloniki and Niketas Choniates. Unfortunately their orations lack English translations, unlike their histories of reigns or events of their own times.