Dr. Tristan Schmidt

Project titel: Animal imagery in the political discourse of the Byzantine imperial court from the late 11th to early 13th century

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Johannes Pahlitzsch, Prof. Dr. Sabine Obermaier

Dissertation project:

Animal imagery is a stylistic device often used in Byzantine court literature for characterizing persons and attribution of meaning. Unsurprisingly, it was the emperors, being the focus of courtly writing, who were frequently described in this manner.

The emperor and his role were first of all a focus of interest in texts belonging to the spheres of rhetoric and historiography as well as in chronicles, of which an impressive amount has been transmitted from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth century, in other words, the periods of the Comnenoi, Angeloi, and Lascarids.

The animal imagery employed in our sources not only referred to animal behaviour as observed in reality, but the animals' behaviour was associated with interpretations that had developed over a long time. This system provided a reservoir of signs familiar to authors, orators and their audiences alike, a system shaped and affected by several contemporary discourses as well as by older traditions.

I will try to analyse how this animal imagery was used within the framework of the discourse regarding emperor and empire at the Byzantine court from the Comnenian to the early Lascarid periods. In addition, I will examine which contemporary 'areas of knowledge' the reference-texts used came from and which traditions played a role in the varying use of animal imagery. Finally, my study should answer the question which functions the examined animal imagery had with regard to the formation and communication of imperial ideology.

The focus of my study will be courtly literature. In order to investigate context and origins of the imagery employed there I will also examine texts representing contemporary 'common knowledge' about animals and what the animals in question stood for. These sources will include for instance texts with a zoological and theological content, passages from the bible, classical and contemporary epic poetry, fables etc. They form the intellectual background of my principal sources. Relevant pictorial representations and other material sources will also be drawn on.

The dissertation project was completed in October 2017.

The dissertation was published as Schmidt, T., "Politische Tierbildlichkeit in Byzanz - Spätes 11. bis frühes 13. Jahrhundert" (Mainzer Veröffentlichungen zur Byzantinistik, 16), Wiesbaden, 2020.