14 April 2012

Reflecting on the Byzantine era

I read the epilogue to John Julius Norwich's work, A Short History of Byzantium, with interest.  He reflects on the empire's 1123 years and comments on its strengths:  illiteracy was virtually unknown in the middle and upper classes;   it preserved much of the heritage of Greek and Roman antiquity during dark centuries in the West when lights of learning were almost extinguished; and of course it produced some great art, restricted though it may have been to mainly religious subjects.  

He singles out the deesis in the south gallery of St Sophia and the Anastasis in the parecclesion of St Saviour in Chora as being amongst the masterpieces (thanks to Bill, the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora was already on my "to visit" list).

The Anastasis

Lord Norwich  notes that it has been maintained that the greatness of Byzantium lay in the "Triple Fusion":  that of a Roman body, a Greek mind and an oriental, mystical soul.  Nevertheless, the Byzantines were human, and their follies were many, as were their sins, but he suggests that it is inappropriate to condemn them to obscurity which they have to some extent suffered.

He concludes, in relation to the fall on Constantinople: "That is why five and a half centuries later, throughout the Greek world, Tuesday is still believed to be the unluckiest day of the week;  why the Turkish flag still depicts not a crescent but waning moon, reminding us that the moon was in its last quarter when Constantinople finally fell; and why, excepting only the Great Church of St Sophia itself, it is the Land Walls - broken, battered, but still marching from sea to sea - that stand as the city's grandest and most tragic monument."

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