The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Let us beware of Dr Kaldellis bearing, well, anything

The Byzantine historian Anthony Kaldellis now has a book out: The Byzantine Republic. I've already learnt to be wary of this guy due to his underinformed review of another text relevant to his field. I had - at the time - concluded that it wasn't entirely his fault.

Last week, I think it was, I found out about his new book and went to Google Books for excerpts. There I found in the conclusion (p. 200),

Byzantium has played the role of "the absolutist Orthodox Christian empire" in the western imagination for so long that it is hard to think of it as anything else. No small dose of Orientalism has been poured into this recipe.

So here we go again. Where Hoyland inveighs against "Islamophobia", here Kaldellis resurrects the Orientalism bugbear as if it were still cool to call one's predecessors a pack of racists. Not to mention what he implies of potential critics; so when I read stuff like this, I have to assume that an element of projection is at work.

Kaldellis happens to be a Greek. Is he a nationalist? That is fine with me; I'm a nationalist, a nationalist of several Western nations in fact. Is he a (small-r) republican? On this much we'll disagree; monarchy is inevitable, and at times the Byzantines could have used more of it.

My work acknowledges my positions where they matter. It also tries to keep out the namecalling; this or that essay will surely say that (say) Angelika Neuwirth might here and there be wrong, but it won't call her a "dhimmi" or whatever other slurs get used on our side of the aisle (I save that for the blog). So what's Kaldellis's book hiding?

I'm done caring. At least, unlike with Hoyland, I didn't have to buy Kaldellis's book first.

DISCLOSURE: I do say some things about the nature of that the absolutist Orthodox Christian empire especially in House of War. I don't say much about it in "the sequel", Throne of Glass; I say a little more in various essays, like "In Ranks". In that massive "Logothete" translation, I let Symeon speak for himself.

I've generally portrayed this empire as an officially-Monothelete entity that heroically took down the Sasanian entity, and then bumbled around until Constantine IV got its sh!t back together and fended off Mu'awiya. There was, yes, some brutality involved; and some bigotry too, mainly against Jews. Full-on tyranny wasn't as much an issue... until Constantine's teenager Justinian II took over. And you'll notice that that kiddo got his metaphorical pimply arse handed to him - and then, more literally, his pimply nostrils. Later on iconoclasm happened, of which I'm not a fan either, but I also know that it happened in Yazid II's caliphate too.

The Romania hasn't been my focus. I've been treating it according to - get this - its actions, and over a very narrow period. I don't much like any of the players in the 600s-700s game-of-thrones. I figure the whole era as a scarcely-mitigated international disaster and Dark Age, from Phocas to An Lushan. If it wasn't then we'd have better sources and I'd have a different hobby. And if I'm an "Orientalist" for this then feh.

posted by Zimri on 20:54 | link | 0 comments

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