• Classicizing Visions of Constantinople after 1204: Niketas Choniates' De Signis

    Foteini Spingou (see profile)
    Byzantine Studies, Classical Tradition, Medieval Mediterranean, Medieval Studies
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    The article focuses on one of the most famous accounts of the events of 1204: the De Signis by Niketas Choniates. It demonstrates how Choniates constructed a (semi)fictional account of the assaults against the Byzantine culture and identity through a constellation of symbols and passages drawn from the Greek Classics. The article comprises three sections. In Section 1 (“The De Signis in the LO Version of the Diegesis”, pp. 183–191), I look at the evidence offered by the manuscript record. I argue that (a) The De Signis is a literary appendix to one of the books of a particular version of Niketas Choniates’ History (the LO) and (b) that the LO version represents an unfinished project that Choniates purported to dedicate to the Byzantine emperor. Section 2 (“The De Signis as a Description of the City of Constantine”, pp. 191–204) focuses on the literary evidence from the De Signis. It reveals the narrative choices and strategies employed by Choniates aimed to create a memory landscape comprehensible only to his educated peers. Section 3 (“The Beauty of Helen of Troy”, pp. 204–217) offers a close reading of the crescendo of the account, the ekphrasis of the statue of Helen of Troy. By establishing a close parallel to Isocrates’ Encomium on Helen, it is argued that the statue stands for the beauty of the intellectual life and culture of Constantinople and Choniates’ plea for unity against the ‘illiterate barbarians’ to his fellow literati. The article closes with an appreciation of Choniates’ groundbreaking classicism.
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