54th International Congress on Medieval Studies

Conference Date: May 9, 2019–May 12, 2019 Location: Medieval Institute Western Michigan University Kalamazoo, MI 49008 United States Session Title: Byzantine Responses to Minorities: The Case of the Physically Impaired (Session 16) Session Date: May 9, 2019 (10:00 AM - 11:30 AM)


Anna Lampadaridi (British Academy/University of Oxford)

Defining Physical Impairment in Byzantium: The Case of Italo-Greek Hagiography

Lives of saints, Passions of martyrs, collections of miracles, translations of relics and edifying stories are a substantial part of the medieval cultural legacy. These sources offer a non-official version of history but can also be read as pieces of literature, as they recount legendary tales with literary motifs going back to the ancient novelistic tradition. They therefore constitute an important source for perceptions of sickness and health in Byzantium, especially in the case of persons with disfigurement or disability. Hagiographical material gives us a glimpse into the living conditions as well as the possibilities for integration into society open to these individuals. Miraculous accounts offer a description of their condition and emphasize the final cure, while denouncing the failure of physicians and making manifest the healing powers of the saint. As Stephanos Efthymiadis has recently pointed out (2016), even if the pride of place is given to those bearing the marks of what might be called extreme disfigurement, disability was not confined to conditions that were obvious and visible.

In this paper I will focus on Italo-Greek saint’s Lives and collections of miracles, ranging between the 8th and the 12th century and concerning saints of Sicily and Southern Italy. This literary production, in some way marginal and peripheral itself, basically consists of novel-like hagiographies and monastic Lives that allow us to take a look into cultural attitudes towards physical impairment, legendary or not, beyond the centre of the Byzantine Empire.

Georgios Makris (Princeton University)

Co-organizer and chair

Maroula Perisanidi (University of Leeds)


Is Your Priest Missing a Thumb? Byzantine and Anglo-Norman Canonical Views on Disability

In 1146, a priest from the diocese of Salisbury became the subject of a letter exchange between Pope Eugenius III and Bishop Jocelin. The question was whether he should be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist, given that a robber had cut off two of his fingers and half of his palm. The answer was negative: such a priest would not be able to safely elevate the host, and his deformity would cause a scandal. This case brings up two of the main considerations we encounter in both Western and Byzantine canon law when it comes to whether disabled men could obtain and retain the priesthood: questions of practicality and ritual purity. Both legal bodies had to respond to the strict Old Testamentary purity rules that placed high value on bodily integrity, as well as to negotiate what they considered to be an incapacitating impairment. In this paper, I will investigate these questions, juxtaposing Byzantine and Anglo-Norman canonical attitudes, and taking into account broader societal differences, such as the Byzantine acceptance of eunuch priests, and the implications of a married or celibate priesthood for the care of disabled clerics.

Shaun Tougher (Cardiff University)

The Invisible Woman? The Case of Eudokia the Macedonian

This paper provides an historical perspective on the place of, and attitudes to, the physically impaired in the middle Byzantine period. It takes as its initial focus a specific case study, that of Eudokia the Macedonian. The Macedonian Dynasty was one of the longest-lived dynasties in Byzantine history. It was established by Basil I in 867 and lasted until the death of his great-great-great granddaughter Theodora in 1056. In the final decades of the Macedonian dynasty power was famously exercised by and through the sisters Zoe and Theodora, but they also had another sister, Eudokia (named after the wife of Basil, Eudokia Ingerina). Eudokia was the eldest daughter of Constantine VIII and thus when he died in 1028 in theory it was she who held precedence over her sisters (Constantine had no sons), but we are told by Michael Psellos (Chronographia 2.5) that in her childhood Eudokia had suffered from an illness which had affected her appearance, and she had become a nun of her own volition when her father was still alive. Eudokia thus provides an excellent example of a Byzantine who was physically impaired by illness, and who was perhaps treated differently because of it or perhaps chose to isolate herself because of it. The paper will flesh out what we know about Eudokia and her life. It will also use her example to attempt to explore other cases of the physically impaired at this time and of social attitudes towards them, drawing on other historiographical material.