Byzantine Vernacular Erotics: A Mini Symposium

Byzantine Vernacular Erotics: A Mini Symposium lead image

Byzantine Vernacular Erotics: A Mini Symposium, University of Cyprus, January 21, 2015, 7:30–9:30 pm


“Words filled with tears”: Amorous discourse as lamentation in the Palaiologan romances
Panagiotis A. Agapitos, University of Cyprus

The paper examines a particular way in which feelings of love are expressed in the Palaiologan romances, starting with The Tale of Livistros and Rodamne (c. 1240–1260) and going to The Tale of Achilles (middle of the 14th c.). This manner of expression is clothed by the systematic use of a vocabulary and imagery of lamentation that incorporates into these highly artful poetic narratives a discourse deriving from folk poetry. These amorous moirologia, as they are sometimes called by the narrators or even the characters, are not direct quotations of actual folk laments or songs as folklorists in the early 20th century believed. These “laments” are a way of presenting amorous feelings to Byzantine listeners or readers (initially within an aristocratic courtly milieu, later also within a bourgeois environment) in a manner attuned to their contemporary and specific socio-cultural context, yet structurally keeping to the conventions set by the “hellenizing” novels of the Komnenian age. These folk-like songs reflect a new type of poetic and emotional sensibility in late Byzantium, partly in response to Old French romance as it was available in the 13th century (orally, at least), partly in response to a growing interest in “folk subjects” as attested by the collections of vernacular proverbs and popular lore. For certain, the “folkloric” character of these encased songs cannot be taken as an indicator for the (Early) Modern Greek character of the narrative poems.

Between (wo)men: homosocial desire in the “War of Troy”
Stavroula Constantinou, University of Cyprus

In the present paper, the concept of homosociality, as developed by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in her pioneering work Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), is employed in order to provide reading of the anonymous War of Troy (fourteenth century), which celebrates male ethics and ideologies. As the masculine romance par excellence of the Paleologan period, the War of Troy can be better understood only if its male worlds are taken into consideration. Despite their minor presence in the epic poem in question, female worlds are also discussed in the framework of this paper, since they offer a key to understanding the male ethos of the text. Sedgwick’s concept proves particularly useful here, since it refers to “social bonds between persons of the same sex,” and it is applied to such activities as “male bonding”, which may be characterized, by “intense homophobia, fear and hatred of homosexuality”. In addition, male bonding in the War of Troy, as well as in the texts examined by Kosofsky, reveals also an ideology about men’s superiority to women. In examining the homosocial communities of the War of Troy and their characteristics, this paper will show the key character of homosocial politics and desire both in shaping the text’s plot and comprehending its poetics.

Eros the Executioner: the issue of female initiation in the “Tale of Livistros and Rodamne” and in the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili”
Efthymia Priki, University of Cyprus

The first part of the Tale of Livistros and Rodamne and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili explore how the male protagonists, Livistros and Poliphilo respectively, undergo a process of initiation in the mysteries of love preparing them for their union with the women they desire, while there are analogous processes for the female protagonists, Rodamne and Polia. Dreams provide the necessary ritual spaces where these initiation processes can be accomplished, but they also perform a mediating function in the relationship of the protagonist couples. Intriguingly, the dreams and visions of women in these two literary works and especially the women’s relationship with the dream lord, Eros/Cupid, differ significantly from those of their male counterparts, making us question whether we can really define these processes as initiations or whether we should interpret  hem in a different way. This paper attempts to elucidate this issue through a close reading of the relevant passages and juxtaposition between male and female dreaming experiences and through a comparison of the initiation processes in the two texts.