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The Byzantine Reception of Michael Psellos’s De omnifaria doctrina, as Shown by its Manuscripts

Inmaculada Pérez Martín, CSIC (Madrid), Spain, Summer Fellow 2013/14

The aim of this research was to determine what kind of reader chose to read the De omnifaria doctrina, a bizarre miscellany of general notions on God, the nous, the soul, nature, and matter. My paleographical and codicological study has proved not only that the text reached every corner of Byzantium, from Trebizond and Cyprus to Messina, but also that it encountered different kinds of readers: scholars (like Michael Glykas), abbots (Gerasimos of the Nea Mone in Chios), doctors, members of the ecclesiastical administration, etc.

Pérez Martín 13/14: Fig. 1
Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS III.D.15, f. 16: chapter 106 from De omnifaria doctrina on Fate transmitted in the margin of Stobaeus’s Ekloge. 14th century

The adaptability of the text, which contains 201 short chapters, ensured that many copyists would shape it according to their own intellectual interests. Indeed, the existence of these “personal selections” makes it possible to modify received views about what a Byzantine “scribe” or “copyist” was, since the mechanical transcription of a fixed text that we usually attribute to medieval scribes does not apply in this case.

Some readers expressed their disagreement with the ideas expounded by Psellos in the margins of their books. This conversation between the margin and the central text possibly points to the consideration of Psellos as an “authority” and suggests that this attribute could encourage the transmission of the text. In fact, the comparison of DOD with similar texts such as the Problemata of Aristotle suggests that heading a text with the name of a renowned sage, authentic or not, may have played a major role in its spread.


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Byzantine Studies Fellows, 2013/14