The Hellenistic Origins of Byzantine Literature

An integral part of this training, as systematized in the Hellenistic Age, was the so-called anaskeue and kataskeue of the same proposition. The former, says Aphthonius, is the refutation of a position, the latter its vindication. What then was likely to be the result of being daily instructed, during several of the most impres-sionable years of youth, in an art which consisted in defending, with equal readiness and facility, first a proposition and then its precise opposite? The reputation of the Byzantine for trickery and instability was one which he early acquired in the West and never subsequently lost; and we can scarcely doubt that for this unenviable estimation the rhetorical training must bear a sub-stantial share of responsibility.  […] to us, a letter is a message accompanied by an expression of personal regard; a Byzantine letter is an impersonal rhetorical flourish, which either contains no message at all, or, if it does, the message is couched in so obscure and allusive a fashion as to be nearly unintelligible. In most cases, the message itself was communicated orally by the bearer, or komistes; and the written text was one of a thousand variations on the theme: «You are absent, but no distance can sunder those who are united in spirit.»


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