The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, January 29, 2015

More Byzantine sources in Theophanes?

I'm going back over the primary sources for Byzantine history. I didn't ever get to read Dmitri Afinogenov, “Conflated Accounts in Theophanes’ Exposition of the History of Byzantium in the Seventh Century”, ed. Denis Searby, Ewa Balicka Witakiwska, and Johan Heldt, Δῶρον ῥοδοποίκιλον (Uppsala University, 2012), 31-40. I wish I had, because it is of interest to what I've been doing (2012-5) for that Amorium anecdote. So I shall approach this essay here obliquely.

The first "review" (we'll get to why the quotes) I found was an excerpt from Florin Leonte's coverage of Δῶρον overall, writing from Central European University, Budapest at the Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.05.49:

D. Afinogenov discusses the sources of two passages in Theophanes' History: the naval battle of Phoenix (655) and the beginning of the Arab conquest of Syria and Palestine (approximately 675). Afinogenov makes a comparison with George the Monk to solve some of the riddles posed by Theophanes' compilation techniques. The author concludes that the sections of Theophanes' history dedicated to the Arab conquest and the reign of Constans used four major sources: a pamphlet, oriental chronicles, a homily by Anastasios of Sinai, and a treatise on the origins of Islam.

Leonte has delivered here an abstract; a book-report, at least pertinent to this essay. Leonte was called here to the BMCR to deliver a critique. It is not the job of a reviewer to give yet another abstract of the subject's work. Personally I blame Bryn Mawr's editors for not calling Leonte on this laziness. But since I couldn't find the author's or editor's real abstract, I cannot complain all THAT much.

Fortunately I have additionally found such a critique, of at least its take on the Phoenix anecdote. Its author is... you guessed it... Maria Conterno, from La “descrizione dei tempi” all’alba dell’espansione islamica (2014), 51 n. 31. I have taken the liberty of Google-translating this footnote from the Italian. I have also broken it out into paragraphs and simplified some of its clauses. For the base account in Theophanes, the Turtledove translation has it at page 45. I'll be going back over my translation as time allows.

Dmitry Afinogenov ... observes that the detail of the exchange of clothes, absent from the Syriac chronicles, is inserted by Theophanes inconclusively in the dynamics of the action. George the Monk presents a story exactly the same (George, Chronicon, 716-7) but which does not end with the emperor's salvation by the son of Boukinator: in his chronicle he says that, after the battle, the emperor is made aware of a conspiracy, sets his clothes onto a friend to wear, and returns to Constantinople on a boat at night; the friend remains defiantly on the ship and is found by the conspirators, who mistake him for the Emperor and kill him.

Afinogenov argues that Theophanes has joined the account of the eastern source to the source of George the Monk, inconsistently inserting into the former the detail of the clothing-exchange taken from the latter. The scholar [Afinogenov] has missed, however, that the inconsistency of his source is also present in the Syriac chronicles, where it is said that the enemies exchanged the son of Boukinator for the emperor, with no explanation of the motive.

It is obvious that there must have been some difficulties in the original story. This is confirmed also by Agapios, who omits entirely the final intervention of the son of Boukinator, thus presenting a finale closer to that of George the Monk. [Agapios] says just that the emperor himself nearly drowned and was saved only after many Romans were killed, a passage that sounds equally inconclusive.

To hypothesize the fusion of two sources in Theophanes does not resolve the problem. It is more likely that there existed some inconsistency at or difficulty of reading of the finale for a single account at base, which finale was placed as best various users could place it. If so it is George the Monk who has merged the story of the conspiracy with Theophanes' account, inventing [the conspiracy] or taking it from another source.

Translating stuff from various languages I don't speak, or need to speak, into English isn't my day-job. In what you've read above, I have done as much as I figured I needed to do to get the sense of things. Based on what little I've understood of this, I'll take for granted Conterno's corrective against Afinogenov's logic. And because I haven't understood much of this book natively, I've read little of it; and I have read a good deal less of Afinogenov's article - which is to say, nothing first-hand. All that said... I believe I can still offer a critique, of the pericope I have at hand - of Conterno's footnote.

Dr. Afinogenov has been trying to get scholars to re-examine the text(s) of George the Monk for over a decade now. This, precisely because George might have some altra fonte (or fonti) not, perhaps, wholly transmitted to us in Theophanes and in the Syrian chronicles (and we'll throw in Nikephoros). I cannot see where Dr. Conterno has delivered a debunking of George here.

And circling back to Teofane: if George had his extra sources (Trajan?) then so, much more, must Theophanes have had his own sources, before George (Trajan?). If Afinogenov takes away anything from this footnote of this book, it's not "don't bother"; it's "hone your argument".

posted by Zimri on 17:48 | link | 0 comments

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