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Joseph Rhakendytes’ Synopsis of Rhetoric: Translation and Commentary

Jeffrey Walker, University of Texas, Austin, Summer Fellow 2012

Rhakendytes’ Synopsis of Rhetoric, the first part of his encyclopedic summary of the four sciences comprising “all knowledge,” occupies thirty-seven folio pages in its best surviving medieval representative (Codex Marcianus Gr. 529), a text produced by three different hands in the late fourteenth and the early fifteenth century. The aim of this project is to produce an accessible translation and commentary and a series of articles for the use of historians of rhetoric and students of late Byzantine secular culture.

Rhakendytes’ Synopsis has much to show us regarding how the system of rhetorical training inherited from late antiquity was understood and taught, a thousand years later, in the schools of Byzantium. At the same time, it is an index of what that remarkably enduring system was like as a living tradition. Of particular note with Rhakendytes are, first, the elements of the classical Hermogenean system that he omits, reduces, rearranges, and supplements; second, his efforts to assimilate the Hermogenean system to Aristotelian philosophy; and third, his excursions into (and “borrowings” from) other sources and topics. A further and tantalizing question is Rhakendytes’ relation to the fourth Ptochoprodromic poem, the last installment in a series of “political verse” satires in demotic Greek supposedly penned by the eminent twelfth-century man of letters, Theodore Prodromos. While Prodromos is the ostensible speaker (and butt of the satire) in the first three poems, in the fourth we find a different speaker, a poor young monk, who identifies himself as “a young and unlettered rhakendytes” and addresses the emperor (Manuel Komnenos) to complain about his treatment at the monastery, where the superiors live like kings and arrogantly lord it over him and the other low-ranking monks.