Philagathos of Cerami: Greek Culture, Monastic Renewal, and Politics at the Court of Roger II (1130–54) and William I (1154–66)
My summer fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks has made it possible for me to complete the research for my dissertation on the life and works of Philagathos of Cerami. Philagathos was an itinerant preacher in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily during the reigns of Roger II (1130–54) and William I (1154–66). During this time, he authored a substantial collection of homilies for the Sunday readings and the feasts of the liturgical year, the so-called “italo-griechische Homiliar” (A. Ehrhard). Renowned for his distinguished learning, as the epithet ὁ φιλόσοφος testifies, he was also the author of an allegorical interpretation of Heliodorus’s Aethiopica.
I made consistent progress with my writing and completed almost two chapters of my dissertation. First, I framed the theoretical approach of Philagathos’s “ekphrastic” style by situating it against the background of contemporary Byzantine rhetorical practices and literary criticism. Next, I completed the analysis of Philagathos’s contribution to the transmission of Late Antique anti-Christian polemics and I continued the analysis of the sources of the citations that beautify these sermons.
Finally, I thoroughly reanalyzed Philagathos’s allegorical interpretation of Heliodorus’s Aethiopica by placing it within the Byzantine discursive tradition of allegorical interpretation of secular literature in the context of the rediscovery of the genre of the novel in Komnenian Byzantium. By taking into account Byzantine literary structures such as registers of style and genre, I approached the modern dilemma of authorship that vacillates between Philagathos, the distinguished preacher, and Philippos-Philagathos the philosopher and author of a Neoplatonic commentary of Aethiopica. I showed that the decontextualized mapping of the Neoplatonic underpinnings and the labeling of the work as "Neoplatonic" is inaccurate and does not account for Philagathos’s exegetical strategy. I have determined that Philagathos’s interpretation is informed, to an extent that has not been hitherto recognized, by the tradition of mystical interpretation of the Song of Songs. In fact, the alleged "Neoplatonic" elements of the composition are reminiscent of Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on the Song of Songs and the Life of Moses combined with Maximus the Confessor’s exegesis of Numbers that equally permeate Philagathos’s homilies.