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7-08-2015, 20:11

letters, poems and lampoons

To some extent, then, the non-specialist is quite well served, and translated letter-collections or poems of major figures or government employees occasionally supplement the forementioned narratives. Letters collected for publication were partly intended to show their authors’ membership of the politico-religious elite and their familiarity with both the scriptures and classical lore. But their stylised qualities and contrived archaisms do not necessarily void them of straightforward historical content. This is especially so with the collected letters of the patriarchs Nicholas I Mystikos (901–7, 912–25) and Athanasios I (1289–93, 1303–9) and of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, while other writers such as Leo of Synada, John Mauropous and Gregory Akindynos disclose something of the goings-on in the imperial-ecclesiastical complex.38 One ‘statesman by day, scholar by night’, the grand logothete Theodore Metochites, sought consolation for loss of effective power through his Poems ‘to himself ’.39 There are no worthy successors to Procopius’ Secret history,40 but the pomp and pieties of court provided an arena for political differences, personal rivalries were keen, and undercurrents of criticism and satire flowed on. The currents occasionally surface, as in Psellos’ penportraits in Fourteen Byzantine rulers, where Psellos states that all emperors’ actions are ‘a patchwork of bad and good’, and proceeds to lampoon emperors such as Constantine IX whom his orations had praised to the skies.41 Former emperors’ foibles and misdeeds were fair game after a change of dynasty, asMichael III’s (842–67) posthumous reputation attests (see below, pp. 292, 295–6). And whole dynasties of emperors are castigated by iconodule writers such as Patriarch Nikephoros and Theophanes the Confessor.