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Byzantium’s Reception of Michael Psellos’s De omnifaria doctrina, as Shown by Its Manuscripts

Inmaculada Pérez Martín, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, Madrid, Summer Fellow 2013

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

The adaptability of the text, with its 201 short chapters, foretold that many copyists would shape it according to their own intellectual interests. In fact, commonly held ideas about the Byzantine “scribe” or “copyist” must be clarified in front of copies of these “personal selections,” since the mechanical transcription of a fixed text that we usually attribute to medieval scribes does not apply here. Some readers expressed in the margins of their books their disagreement with the ideas exposed by Psellos. This conversation between the margin and the central text possibly points out to the consideration of Psellos as an “authority” and suggests that this attribute could propel his transmission. In fact, the comparison of De omnifaria doctrina with similar texts, such as the Problemata of Aristotle, suggests that to head a text with the name of a renowned sage, be it realistic or not, may have played a major role in its dissemination.