The reception of Aristotle in Byzantium: the first critical edition of George Pachymeres' Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

This project seeks to compose the first-ever critical edition of the influential Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics by the distinguished Byzantine scholar George Pachymeres (1242-ca. 1310). The edition will be accompanied by an English translation, extensive introduction and indexes at the end, and will be published in an open-access environment, freely available to both specialist and lay audience for use in many contexts. The proposed edition has been commissioned for publication by De Gruyter (series: 'Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina' = CAGB) and is part of a comprehensive editorial venture, which will make available a large number of unedited Byzantine commentaries on Aristotle's works, eventually contributing to the reception of the Aristotelian tradition in Byzantium and the development of Aristotelian studies more broadly.

The project is of significant academic impact. A reliable text for Pachymeres' Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics is imperative for a wider reassessment of late Byzantine philosophy, as it will emphasise the original contributions made by scholars in this period. At the same time it will establish and help to consolidate the as yet unknown importance of the Late Byzantine period (1261-1453) as an age of considerable philosophical engagement with Aristotle. The edition and translation will throw light on contemporary educational practices by exploring the extent to which Aristotelian commentaries acted as didactic manuals. Relatedly, it will raise the need for an all-encompassing study of late Byzantine education, a topic that is still little explored and poorly understood. Furthermore, it will stimulate further research on the connections between Byzantine philosophy and Western theology and philosophy, and make us reflect on the transfer of knowledge with Arabic philosophy too. The project will help to refine our understanding of Aristotle's reception in Christian religious thought, and thus will tackle the heated question of how pagan (i.e. ancient Greek) philosophy was more or less easily incorporated into the Christian scholarly community of the later centuries of Byzantium. Last but not least, this study is intended to act as a seed project for the investigation of the undervalued topic of the function of Late Byzantine ethics both as a theoretical discipline and as a practical source of advice on how the good life was expected to be led in Constantinople and other significant parts of the Byzantine Empire.

Apart from the edition and translation, this project will publish an edited volume arising from an international conference organised by the research team. The volume will be the first comprehensive study of Byzantine ethical works produced from the 10th to the 15th century and will bear the title 'Ethical works in Byzantium: continuities and transformations'. The project's findings will be communicated to the interested public via its interactive online portal, through which users may contribute their insights into the editorial process and especially some fascinating diagrams featuring in the margins of the manuscripts. Another form of public engagement will be a showcase of sample Greek manuscripts from the rich repositories of the Special Collections of the University of Glasgow Library, which will be targeted at pupils from local schools. This is envisaged as an educational introduction to medieval manuscript culture.

The project illuminates a momentous period of Byzantine literary culture. More generally, it will therefore help to revisit the issue of how Byzantine studies are seen in the wider fields of intellectual and cultural history today.

Planned Impact

(1) Portal of the Project and Online Edition and Translation
The project will make its findings directly available to specialists and the general public through an online portal, which will create a virtual community of open dialogue between the project team and the audience. From an early stage general information will be posted about the project's aims and significance, including regular updates on the progress of the editorial process. At the end of the project, we aim to make available online a) the Greek original with links to its three apparatuses, b) the English translation of the text with hyperlinks for the explication of key terms and names, c) an extensive Introduction and Bibliography.
The users of our portal will be actively engaged in what we do and will contribute their own perspectives on our project: a) our site's blog and, via this, social media such as Facebook and Twitter will enable interested users to contact the project team to ask for clarifications on the project and make suggestions. b) Digital images of the main manuscript will be uploaded (permission will be obtained and costs justified) and users will be invited to transcribe bits using an on-screen keyboard as a learning exercise. This is a methodology with proven success, as it has been employed in the context of the Ancient Lives project for the edition of the fragments of the Oxyrhynchus papyri (AHRC-funded). c) Even more interestingly, the public will be encouraged to offer their reflections on the branch-diagrams found in the margins of some manuscript folios. Such diagrams were used as mnemonic devices in the classrooms of late antique Alexandria uninterruptedly throughout the medieval period, and they were meant to compartmentalise philosophical knowledge through visualisation of terms making them easier for students to remember. Apart from transcribing the headings of the diagrams, it would be fascinating to see how these diagrams are translated by the 21st-century audience and what impact they may have especially on users that have no prior familiarity with Greek philosophy. That might work as a good case study, which will help us to see how effective diagrams in late antiquity and Byzantium were as didactic tools for beginners, especially in view of the extensive use of 'concept mapping' or 'conceptual diagrams' as successful pedagogical techniques of learning in higher education nowadays.
(2) School Outreach
Another form of public engagement will be the organisation of a schools day, which will include two stages: a) a showcase of sample philosophical and scientific manuscripts at the Special Collections of the University of Glasgow Library, which will reveal to pupils from local schools the hidden treasures of manuscripts (scribes, writing materials, exciting illuminations etc). This will function as an educational introduction to medieval manuscript culture and the transmission of ancient texts. In my capacity as the organiser of the Annual Schools Day in Classics (aimed at the dissemination of Greek and Latin works to pupils), I have already had discussions with local teachers and pupils who have expressed an ardent interest in the Manuscripts Schools Day. b) Following the showcase, pupils will be divided into small groups and will be asked to carry out certain activities relating to the most interesting textual and visual aspects of manuscripts. This will be a workshop that will help them digest the material they will have received, enhancing their abilities to work with manuscripts and conceptualise their distinctive features.
(3) Public talk and article in Blogs
A public talk at the Hellenic Centre at London will explain in lay terms the importance of Aristotle in Byzantine philosophy and culture. I aim to prepare a short online article addressed to the wider public in which to stress the significance of publishing Aristotelian commentaries from the Byzantine period for 'Ancient History et Cetera' (http://etc.ancient.eu)

Publications

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