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Optics and Aesthetics in Theodoros Metochites

Sergei Mariev, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, Summer Fellow 2010

My project analyzes the references to theories of visual perception found in the texts of Theodoros Metochites. In particular, it focuses on this author’s attempts to describe the experience of beauty by making explicit use of theories of visual perception in the Semeioseis, in his Poems, and in his commentaries on Aristotle. To evaluate the knowledge of Metochites against the scientific background of his time, an attempt was made to assess the extent of knowledge of optical theories in Metochites’ time as well as in the larger context of Byzantine civilization. This examination demonstrated that the intellectual elites of his time were aware of antique optical theories; several detailed discussions on the subject were translated and analyzed (notoriously by Nikephoros Choumnos). The evaluation of the extent of knowledge of the visual theories in Byzantium has revealed several channels through which these theories were transmitted: Patristic tradition (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Nemesius, and Theodoret); Medical tradition (Oribasios, Alexander of Tralles, Aetius of Amida, Paul of Aegina, Meletios the Monk, Leo the Physician, Theophanes Chryssobalantes, and Symeon Seth); Neoplatonic tradition (Michael Psellos); and commentaries on Aristotle of various dates. Finally, the evaluation of the theoretical discourse on the subject (especially Archéologie de la vision by Gerard Simon and Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance by Robert Nelson) were used to make the newly discovered historical facts relevant to ongoing research on visuality and aesthetics in the Middle Ages and in Byzantium.