Current projects

Beyond the Garden: An Ecocritical Approach to Early Byzantine Christianity (Swedish Research Council)

Thomas Arentzen

We live in the midst of an evolving ecological crisis, in what is often dubbed the Anthropocene. The future of the world as we know it depends to a large degree on how we in our times are able to respond to the challenges caused by humans. The American ecocritic Lawrence Buell has pointed out that the “environmental crisis involves a crisis of the imagination the amelioration of which depends on finding better ways of imaging nature and humanity’s relation to it.” The crisis is part of the human constitution; it comprises a crisis of thought. Beyond the Garden attempts to let historical thoughts challenge modern thinking and modern imagination.
Acknowledges the severity of human ecological exploitation, the project explores the historical roots of the Anthropocene in Byzantine Christianity. It has sometimes been claimed that the current misuse of the material world has its ideological foundation in the Christian religion. Certain historians have claimed that the Christian religion itself is the source of the ecological problem. Lynn White Jr. famously remarked some decades ago that “to a Christian a tree can be no more than a physical fact,” implying that it has no agency or spirit. To what degree does this hold true, and to what degree is it a projection of modern Cartesian notions about Christianity and human beings?
The garden was a potent image to the Byzantines and a valuable place. Gardens represented beauty and order, pleasure and delight. The primeval couple, Adam and Eve, had been planted into the first garden, a place where all species lived harmoniously together. To the early Christian, this represented a foundational idea about humans and their natural environment.
Beyond the Garden reconsiders early Christianity in relation to its natural surroundings – especially trees – as expressed in literary texts. Mythologically speaking, the Christians had left their Garden of Eden and found themselves in the ambivalent landscapes beyond its fences. What kind of relationships did the Byzantines deem fit between themselves and animals outside paradise? How might they imagine the interaction between themselves and things around them?

The Miracles of the Virgin Mary: Medieval narratives trough Time and Space

Ewa Balicka-Witakowska

The project, initiated in 2016, focuses on collections of highly popular religious tales about the miraculous deeds of the Virgin Mary. The whole corpus consists of a great number of collections and scattered material, but if you trace the corpus back to the origins it appears there is a nucleus containing roughly twenty legends. This nucleus is usually dated to 12th-century France and Spain at the time of an epidemic of ergotism. The stories gained increasing popularity and spread, in Latin or vernacular, through the whole of Europe. Eventually Byzantium and the post-Byzantine Greek-speaking world, which had its own tradition of Marian miracle tales, also came to know this Western tradition. Mainly through Greek translations the tales found their way to the Slavic world and the Christian Orient. Everywhere they were enriched by new, wondrous episodes, usually connected to important places of the local Marian cult. As a result, the collections of the miracles appear in most European and several Oriental languages and there are collections gathering some four hundred tales. Alongside the texts, pictorial versions of the narratives were developed according to various artistic canons. Statues and pictures (icons) of Mary, in their turn, gave rise to new pious tales, thereby augmenting the existing repertory of miracles.
The whole corpus of Marian miracle tales represents a very complex linguistic, historical and anthropological research material and set of problems which can be approached from several points of view. Of particular interest are enquiries of: the origin, transmissions, disseminations and reception of the tales; the adaptations of the stories to the local circumstances (and in consequence the variations of the same story in the various language versions); the origin of the collections mixing Western and Eastern stories; classification of topoi in the tales; miracle stories retold in poetic form; excerpts of tales inserted into sermons and legendaries; the influences of the beliefs, devotional practices, theological discourses and religious works on the contents of the miracles texts; the socio-religious ground and need for the creation of “archetypical” miracles; cultural function of the narratives.
Subjects as those listed above and several others have been presented and discussed at a series of international conferences and workshops. So far, four meetings have been organised: in Uppsala, Maynooth (Ireland), Rennes, and Bucharest (for the two latter proceedings have been published or will be). The fifth conference will take place in the spring of 2022 at the University of Turin. Further information about the project, its development and the participants can be found on the project’s website.
Also, the framework of a multi-lingual database for comparative studies of the texts with references to already existing similar entities has been created, hosted by Uppsala University and since the beginning of 2021 open for interested scholars here (login/password: guest/guest). A similar research tool for pictorial material is planned.

RESEARCH GROUP: Ancient Values and Emotions

Eric Cullhed

The research group Ancient Values and Emotions gathers scholars working on topics at the intersection of the affective sciences and ancient history or philology. The main objective of the group is to accumulate the interdisciplinary expertise necessary for philologists and historians of all ancient cultures to engage successfully and creatively with research on values and emotions in philosophy, psychology and the social sciences. Participants pursue projects within the following four areas of interest:
  • Conceptual history. Historical research involving analysis of specific evaluative and emotional terms, concepts and categories in ancient texts.
  • The Language of evaluation. Analysis of appraisal/evaluation/stance or expressions of emotion on all levels of linguistic description in ancient languages.
  • Rhetoric, poetics and narratology. How and why values and emotions are represented, expressed or evoked in ancient texts
  • History of value- and emotion theorization. Reconstruction, exegesis, evaluation and contextualization of ancient theories about value or emotion (or specific values or emotions)
We promote collaborative research, provide a forum for discussion, and encourage and support the development of new projects. If you are interested in learning more about our activities, please contact Eric Cullhed.

Eustathius’ Commentary on the Odyssey

Eric Cullhed
The aim of this project – a collaboration with S. Douglas Olson (University of Minnesota) – is to produce a new critical edition and English translation of the Byzantine scholar and rhetorician Eustathius of Thessalonica’s Commentary on the Odyssey, composed during the latter half of the twelfth century CE. The Commentary collects material from a wide range of different sources which explain or expand on words, phrases and ideas in the Homeric epic. Original notes are blended with extracts from earlier commentators, especially the Homeric scholia. The text is an important source for fragments of otherwise lost works of ancient literature, for the history of exegesis and lexicography, and for Byzantine cultural history. The preface and the commentary on books one through four are now available. Two further books will be added annually. The expected date of completion is 2030.


Being Moved

Eric Cullhed
The aim of this project is to bring a historical perspective to an ongoing debate in the affective sciences on the definition of ‘being moved’ as a distinct emotion type. I have formulated and old-new account (the “extended attachment” theory of being moved (see the article) which I am currently developing further. 

Archaic Shades of Beauty

Eric Cullhed
The aim of this project is to provide analyses of underrated thick aesthetic concepts in Archaic Greek texts, and to develop a theoretical framework for this kind of work. The first study, on the adjective ἀταλός applied to dancing, is forthcoming (“The Dipylon Oinochoê and Ancient Greek Dance Aesthetics”, Classical Quarterly 71:1 [2021]). 

The Life of St. Nicholas of Stoudios (BHG 1365)

Johan Heldt

The subject of this PhD thesis is a critical edition (with an English translation and notes) of the Life of St. Nicholas of Stoudios (BHG 1365). Nicholas lived 793–868 and his Life was probably written in the early 10th century by a monk at the Stoudios monastery in Constantinople.

The didactic world of Symeon Seth’s Stephanites kai Ichnelates: Retracing Arabic and Old Indian wisdom in the Byzantine Empire

Lilli Hölzlhammer

This doctoral project aims to uncover the scholastic interest that has led to the adaptation of the Pañcatantra via the Arabic Kalīla wa-Dimna into the Byzantine Stephanites kai Ichnelates. It also has the goal of discovering its most likely Arabic predecessors. By focusing on its didactic narrative strategies with an analysis of the full Greek text it will be possible to demonstrate how the narrative complexity of the text translates into its ability to absorb the knowledge and values of different cultures. Furthermore, it will be possible to discuss the hybridity of the text that bears resemblance to a collection of fables as well as to a mirror of princes.

Retracing connections: Byzantine Storyworlds in Greek, Arabic, Georgian, and Old Slavonic (c. 950 – c. 1100) (RJ)

Ingela Nilsson

Retracing connections is a long-term international, interdisciplinary research programme funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and administered by Uppsala University, in collaboration with the the University of Southern Denmark, the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, the Swedish Institute at Athens. Through the work on narrative materials in four medieval languages, the programme will produce new methodological and technical tools, as well as editions and databases to help scholars approach stories that traveled between premodern languages and cultures.
During the long eleventh century (c. 950–c. 1100 CE), a host of core narratives that form the substructure of what we know today as Christian Orthodox culture were established in the ‘Byzantine’ world. Some were old stories that were systematically codified or rewritten, others were newly created or imported from other traditions. They concerned saints and commoners, heroes and devils, intellectuals and lunatics, in recognizably social settings or in various landscapes of fantasy. These storyworlds cut across secular and religious lines, involved verbal and pictorial arts, encompassed a variety of communities, from aristocratic settings to the common church-goer and school pupil. Most significantly, these storyworlds occasioned intense translation activity, from and into the languages of Byzantine or Byzantinizing Christians: Greek, Arabic, Georgian, and Old Slavonic.
By bringing together a diverse group of researchers and producing studies, presentations, and editions in printed and virtual media we hope to revive, preserve, and present to modern audiences this largely forgotten, but influential cultural production as an entangled unity. We combine different methodologies and perspectives (storytelling and modern narratology, the study of translation and rewriting, and the study of medieval book, writing, and performance cultures) as well as focus simultaneously on the four main relevant traditions (in Greek, Arabic, Georgian, and Old Slavonic).
Prof. Ingela Nilsson focuses on the core problems of the narratological team: the definition and understanding of cross-cultural and cross-lingustic story-worlds & the significance of linguistic code-switching in relation to narratological techniques. She is responsible for the narratological commentary to the Greek version of the Life of Theodore of Edessa. For the sake of clarity, the commentary departs from the Greek version, The comparative aspects are studied in collaboration with other participants in the programme working on the respective languages.

A literary study of Christos Paschon (12th c.)

Terése Nilsson

The aim of this PhD project is to examine Christos Paschon, ‘The Suffering Christ’, in the manuscript tradition unanimously attributed to Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 330–c. 390), but nowadays considered to be of a much later date, probably composed in the twelfth century. The work has been referred to both as an Euripidean cento, with approximately one third of the amount of text borrowed from various tragedies of the ancient playwright, and as a Christian drama, telling the story of the arrest, death, entombment and resurrection of Christ. No full-length literary study has been made of the 2600 verses, written in the Byzantine dodecasyllables, a verse form consisting of twelve syllables and sprung from the iambic trimetre used in ancient tragedy. Therefore, an analysis of both structure and content of Christos Paschon will be carried out, in the hope of answering questions concerning what kind of text it is (tragedy? cento? both? something else?), and, as a consequence, also shed more light on which period such a work could have been written in.

Arche, kratos and the Greek understanding of power

Fredrik Sixtensson

This dissertation work focuses on the words arche and kratos. Both words are used by the Greeks as general terms for political rule, a fact which is reflected in derived words that are familiar even in our times, such as monarchia, demokratia, aristokratia etc. The aim of the project is to find out how these words have become political terms, and what functional differences are at hand between the words. By understanding these words, which become central in the Greek political language, we may learn something about how the Greeks understood political power.
The project covers the earliest Greek (in practice, this amounts to Homeric times, when we have the first textual instances of the words) up until the end of the Classical era. This demarcation is due to the fact that the words are more interesting and dynamic before the political language is “disciplined”, so to speak, and becomes technical, which arguably is the case at the end of the Classical era. Because of this, Greek political theories are not of primary interest, since theoretical constructions do not necessarily say much about how the common Greek understood political power. Instead, the thesis builds on a linguistic, functionalist perspective, which puts priority on a more every-day and less theoretical use of language.

Medieval Smyrna / İzmir: The Transformation of a City and its Hinterland from Byzantine to Ottoman Times (MESMY)

Myrto Veikou

Dr Myrto Veikou is a Cooperation Partner in a new project investigating the history and archaeology of the hinterland of Izmir in Turkey. The project is led by Prof. Dr. Andreas Külzer, at the Austrian Academy of Science (Institute for Medieval Research, Division of Byzantine Research). It is funded by the FWF (Austrian Science Fund) for a duration of four years (2021–2024).
Smyrna/Izmir, nowadays the third most populated city and a bustling economic center in modern Turkey, is situated in one of the Mediterranean’s most exciting crossroads of cultures littered with remains of ancient sites and monuments of different periods. There is a long tradition of archaeological research on classical, Hellenistic, and early Christian sites of the region; and Smyrna’s significance as an international hub of trade in the late Ottoman Empire have attracted the interest of numerous scholars. Since 2008, the Tabula Imperii Byzantini (TIB) project at the Austrian Academy of Sciences has been focusing on the historical geography of Western Asia Minor in Late Antiquity and Byzantine times and has been gathering the surviving written and material evidence.
The project “Medieval Smyrna/Izmir” probes the question as to how the city of Smyrna and its hinterland developed from its last heydays under Byzantine rule in the 13th century to the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. During this period, the western coastland of Asia Minor underwent not only substantial environmental change but also profound political, cultural, and religious transformations, in the course of which Byzantine-Christian institutions, structures, and elites were gradually superseded by Muslim-Turkish entities and eventually absorbed into the nascent Ottoman Empire. The project examines this multilayered process through an interdisciplinary approach combining historical geography with methods of social and economic history and archaeology. It combines key components of Byzantine-Turkish transformation with broader archaeological questions concerning long-term patterns of settlement and human agency shaping the region’s entire medieval period. These axes of investigation will revolve around five thematic subunits, namely (a) environment, land use, economic practices, (b) political ideology, government, institutions, (c) urban life, (d) suburban and rural life; (e) religious spaces and practices. In this way, the project aspires to achieve a comprehensive reconstruction of transformative processes, which includes both material aspects of living conditions and the symbolic universe of different population groups.
The archaeological research, designed and organized by Myrto Veikou, will document currently existing material evidence of historical habitation, thus promoting future collaborations in the field of Byzantine archaeology in Anatolia. It will be conducted through a broad collaboration of international scholars from Sweden, Turkey, Netherlands and Greece, including a team from the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History of Uppsala University (Prof. Lars Karlsson, Dr Axel Frejman, Görkem Çimen).
The historical research, conducted by Univ. Prof. Dr. Alexander Beihammer (Cooperation Partner, University of Notre Dame, IN) and Dr. Despoina Ariantzi (Scientific Employee, Austrian Academy of Science, Institute for Medieval Research, Division of Byzantine Research) aims to produce a transposable case study of socio-cultural transformation, which will help elucidate similar processes in other parts and periods of the Mediterranean up to modern times.

Spatial quests of a ‘Byzantine Dhāt al-Himma’ in an ‘Arabic Digenis’ – Retracing connections among cross border warriors in epic songs

Myrto Veikou

This research is part of the project Retracing Connections that deals with the ‘long eleventh century’ (ca. 950 – ca. 1100 CE). It explores the degree and nature of cultural affinity and intellectual exchange between Byzantines and Muslims, based on the comparative study of two works of different ethnic background yet belonging to similar genres of popular literature (oral songs): the Byzantine poem Digenis Akritis and the Arab Epic of the Holy Warriors. Both works were composed rather later (12th–13th c.) but they seem to have integrated ‘digested’ developments of previous centuries. They have story-worlds stretching across the ‘long eleventh century’ and later periods and they also share the narrative of the border /frontier as a space of interaction between Byzantines and Arabs in the period of military conflict (7th-10th centuries). Their common narrative space has already been considered as a literary feature which can be considered as sign of direct linkages between the creations of the two works. By their genre the two texts also share a strong sense of orality and performativity, in relation to respective cultural features that are common to both the Greek and the Arab pasts. In this project, ‘spatial telling’ is scrutinized as an intercultural device in storytelling and as a feature of the construction of a recognizable Orthodox/Byzantine storyworld during the ‘long eleventh century’. Taking into consideration all aforementioned aspects of the two songs, the analysis of their narrative worlds is used as the main device for their comparative study with the help of combined methodology from narratological and spatial studies.
‘Spatial quests’ contributes to the project’s main thematic objective by investigating: (a) the degree to which ‘spatial’ storytelling was a common medieval ‘language’ shared with mid-eastern cultures or more of a Byzantine-Christian ‘idiosyncrasy’ springing from the classical past; (b) whether the early medieval epic can be included among those secular narratives which constructed a recognizable Orthodox/Byzantine storyworld; (c) the degree to which elements of the Arabic epic tradition were borrowed by the Byzantines in that direction, through cultural interaction. This research also contributes to Retracing Connections’s main methodological objective to bridge narratological, rhetorical, and linguistic aspects of Byzantine culture and develop a new dialogic language for Byzantium in a modern world still fractured into groups (regions and states that claim direct inheritance to Byzantium and others that see themselves only as heirs in more indirect manner). By refining the degree of cultural affinity between two contemporary texts of similar genre, as far as it can be traced through the narration of spatial aspects of their storyworlds, this research elaborates on questions around cultural fusion and identities in medieval Mediterranean literary production and its heirs.

Monks, Monarchs and a Mountain: Byzantine Narratives, Space and Politics in Translation

Milan Vukašinović

First strand of this project focuses on the spatial and narrative practices that shaped the liminal space of Mount Athos, one of the liveliest centres of narrative transfers in the Byzantine world. Looking at the storyworlds constructed in the documents from the Athonite archives and in notable literary narratives produced by these monastic communities or translated/rewritten in their midst, the project explores the qualities of this pluralistic and ‘extraterritorial’ space, while also reconsidering modern historiographical practice and national appropriations of pluralistic spaces and storyworlds. The second strand examines the narrative, spatial and ideological worldmaking in Greek and Slavonic hagiographical traditions, based on the core texts of the research programme Retracing Connections Byzantine Storyworlds in Greek, Arabic, Georgian, and Old Slavonic (c. 950 – c. 1100). It studies the narrative transformations of complex relations between the characters of monks and sovereigns in works including Barlaam and Ioaspah, Life of Saint Theodore of Edessa, Life of Saint Athanassios of Athos and Lives of Saint Sava of Serbia.

Stoisk retorik (Swedish Research Council)

David Westberg

Stoicism, being one of the fundamental philosophical legacies in Western intellectual history, is best known for its contribution to logic, ethical theory, and, partly, its literary criticism. We lack, however, an integral study of Stoic rhetorical theory. The aim of the project Stoic Rhetoric is to explicate the role that Stoic rhetorical theory played, especially within Stoic philosophy itself (c. 300 BC–AD 200) but also with regard to the reception of Stoic rhetoric in later rhetorical theory up to c. 300 AD. The main issues that the project will throw light on are: What role did rhetorical theory play within Stoic philosophy? How did the Stoics handle rhetoric in practice? In what way were subsequent rhetorical traditions informed by Stoic rhetoric? Rhetoric, by the Stoics conceptualised as a sub-species of logic and parallel to dialectic, shares subjects and methods with these branches. How, when, and why are they differentiated? What are the relations of rhetoric to other Stoic theories about human expression, such as musical theory, poetics and linguistics?

Last modified: 2021-04-20