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PhD defence: Elisabetta Barili

CML PhD Elisabetta Barili will be defending her PhD thesis "Building Rhetorical Self-Awareness through Hermogenes: John Tzetzes’ Commentary on Peri ideôn logou". The thesis has been accepted by The Faculty of Humanities at the University of Southern Denmark for public defence on Tuesday 21 February at 2:00 PM CET.

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All are welcome to join either in person (room o95 at the University of Southern Denmark) or online. No registration is required.

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Summary of the thesis

In twelfth-century Constantinople the scholar John Tzetzes (ca. 1110–1180) composed an extensive commentary in fifteen-syllable verse on the so-called corpus Hermogenianum, a group of handbooks from the Graeco-Roman times used in rhetorical training throughout centuries (i.e. Apththonios’ Progymnasmata, and Hermogenes’ and Pseudo-Hermogenes’On IssuesOn InventionOn FormsOn Method of Force). Tzetzes’ Commentary is still far from being fully edited. Only few verses of this rather overlooked text were published in the nineteenth century. And yet, this remarkable commentary offers first-hand insights in twelfth-century rhetorical and educational practices and is preserved by an even more remarkable manuscript: the ms. Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Vossianus Graecus Q1, an “authorized” copy, containing autograph glosses in the hand of Tzetzes himself.

By relying on the good condition of this manuscript and its closeness to the author, the present dissertation offers the first modern critical edition of Tzetzes’ Commentary on the Hermogenean treatise Περὶ ἰδεῶν λόγου (On Forms), that is the fourth piece of the corpus, a key text in rhetorical education. Within the so-called enkyklios paideia, the treatise On Forms, with its consistent system of specific stylistic features, provided orators and writers alike the building blocks to find their own distinctive voice and became a reference text for discussions of rhetoric and style up to the Renaissance.

Besides providing the first critical edition of Tzetzes’ Commentary, this thesis also offers an edition of the autograph glosses written by Tzetzes in the marginal and interlinear spaces of the Vossianus on the folia containing its exegesis on On Forms. The edition is also accompanied by a facing English translation – the first translation into any language of this text – followed by notes of comment.

This thesis aims to offer access to (mostly) unedited material, thus promoting a better understanding of the reception of Hermogenes’ rhetorical theory in twelfth-century Constantinople. Moreover, by considering Tzetzes’ exegesis on On Forms the present dissertation highlights the impact of this treatise on the construction and definition of his own authorial voice. The theory elaborated in On Forms encouraged and promoted authorial agency through, on the one hand, the emulation of the exemplary style of ancient authors, and, on the other, rhetorical notions helping highlight the peculiar character of the speaker, in tune with the audience and the orator’s authorial intentions. A carefully curated and rhetorically crafted authorial voice was an exceptionally important means toward success in Tzetzes’ times, as social advancement within the political and ecclesiastical system was facilitated by mastering the arts of discourse and public performance. Therefore, as I argue, it is essential to look at Tzetzes’ Commentary to fully understand his attitude toward rhetoric.

Engaging with Hermogenes also helped Tzetzes to define his own self-positioning into the competitive Constantinopolitan literary market. He used the Commentary to assert his authorial presence within the text. Even more importantly, Tzetzes shaped the compositional strategy of his work by following the very Hermogenean rhetorical techniques he was commenting upon. Not only did his glosses deal at length with Hermogenes’ theoretical system, the Commentary itself took the form of demonstrations of Hermogenean rules. Beyond the traditional definitions and explanations characterizing the commentary genre, Tzetzes implicitly organizes his didactic interpretations following Hermogenes’ theoretical precepts: while explaining the use of short cola to produce rapidity, for instance, he also employs short cola to clarify this aspect.

Furthermore, by commenting on Hermogenes Tzetzes inserted himself among a series of renowned middle Byzantine intellectuals who had taken upon themselves the same task. He also went a step further by showing harsh criticism against Hermogenes, undisputedly considered the master of the art. By pointing out the inconsistencies and deficiencies he found in Hermogenes’ treatise, Tzetzes intended to differentiate his exegetical and rhetorical method from that of his predecessors to show the novelty of his approach and hence attract students and patrons.

This dissertation ultimately offers novel textual material that exceptionally takes contemporary readers into the workshop of a key twelfth-century Constantinopolitan author. It thus provides new evidence on the way texts were materially produced, circulated, and consumed in the capital at the time. In so doing it also advances our understanding of how foundational concepts, such as authority, authorship, and originality, were developed through rhetorical theory.

Editing was completed: 21.02.2023