Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Byzantine Art of Persuasion (Part IV)

Not on earth nor in the sky

Story says that in the year of 986 Prince Vladimir of Kiev was visited by missionaries from various parts of the medieval world. First who came was the Bulgarian delegation from the middle Volga who recommended Islam, then Pope's envoys trying to religiously subjugate multiple Russian people, who inhabited large areas, to papal curia, then Khazar missionaries who recommended Judaism, and, finally, a redundant sage, envoy of the Byzantine emperor. With haughty contempt and ostentatious arrogance, this Greek "philosopher" mocked the other competitors. At first he spoke with rough and unmeasured way of Muhammad, and then, he confidently revoke dogmatic teachings of Rome as well as Jews. In response to Vladimir's theological questions, this proud Byzantine smatterer gave a speech of nearly five thousand words. However, halting Russian prince, even after this adept and oratory brilliant speech remained somewhat cautious. Since it was a very important national issue, Prince Vladimir sent emissaries to all the above-mentioned religious destinations.

Finally, the odds went to Byzantine "proposal." This time the brilliant rhetoric of the Roman negotiator was, with the best way, supported by unsurpassed Byzantine art to, in Constantinople, the "Empress City" as Byzantine writers called it with grace, in the most important temple of Capital, in the magnificent Hagia Sophia, serve Divine Liturgy to confused visitors from the north. The question is whether the doubts recorded in Russian source really existed, or, it was just a need to subordinate the facts to an exciting plot that somehow had to maintain tension and suspense by telling of how the Russians made difficult and historic decision.

The words of the Russian chronicle say distinctly: "And we have come to the Greek country, and they took us to a place where they worship their God, and we did not know whether we are in heaven or on earth; because the earth there is no such sight and such beauty and we do not know how to describe it. We know that there is a God among men and their service is prettier than in all other countries. "

And, finally, evidence of barbarian fascination with Byzantine persuasion skills brings Theodore Metochites. I am telling you about famous Byzantine-Serbian negotiations from 1299, important for the events and the balance of power in the Balkans at the turn of the 13th the 14th century. The good thing is that we possess the so-called "Ministerial letter" which is confidential report that a Byzantine negotiator Theodore Metochites sent to Constantinople within his last of his five trips to Serbia during 1298/1299. It is reasonable to assume that this interesting writ was compiled in the first half of April in the year of 1299 when long and difficult negotiations between Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (1282-1328) and Serbian King Milutin (1282-1321) where completed.

It is necessary to emphasize that this is a unique source, a text which, apparently, was sent to Nicephorus Chumnus, then mesazon, that is the "first minister" of the Byzantine Empire, who was at the time Metochites superior officer. Hence the text of this confidential writ overgrows usual official reports which are characterized with routine drafting, arid and established lexicon, but also and the redundancy of any imagination. Before us, therefore, we have educated writing with which a young intellectual - Theodore Metochites was then only thirty years old, and was at the beginning of a great scientific and statesmen career – is trying to impress the older, respected and already famous colleague. Therefore, this "talk" of two wise men should be viewed as a kind of clash of intellects, conflict between two scientific vanities, and spiritual contest in which the younger is trying hard to fascinate the older one. Leaving aside colorful and exciting events from his travel to Serbia during one of the coldest winters in the period of the Middle Ages, and extensive diplomatic "wrestling" between Byzantine and Serbian negotiators, I bring you just one assessment that Theodore Metochites is telling at the very end of his "Ministerial letter". He notes: "Because, question is if someone can win in everything just with words and not be defeated by evil, and if the suffering will not manage those who use only words, and relying only on them. In every matter, namely, every word is certainly just a shadow of a true act. And this is especially so with the barbarians and limited people who do not easily relinquish to words, especially with such plots, intrigues and wickedness, and moreover because they think that we use words most skillfully, better then them and the others, and that we use them to rule, persuade, and turn everything anyway we want. "

With regard to the presented it’s not surprising that the Byzantines in the Middle Ages were considered as shifty people. To tell the truth, the Byzantines themselves have thought of other nations as shifty. At the same time, of course, we should not lose sight of the well-known fact that people notion of each other - both then and now! – were often burdened with not only the whole set of prejudices, but also and with various forms of simplification. However, it is not without interest to mention the famous Byzantine principle of "oikonomia", which implies allowed deviation from strict adherence to church rules under irregular circumstances and for honorable goals. In other words, it’s about special Byzantine willingness to interpret the law arbitrarily, in accordance with political or personal intentions. At the same time, it is necessary to remind that "oikonomia" was raised to one of the most essential principles of political thought in the Byzantine Empire.

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