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Episode 5: The Gift with Prof. Dionysios Stathakopoulos and Dr. Alex M. Feldman

For our December podcast, we were joined by Professor Dionysios Stathakopoulos (University of Cyprus) and Dr. Alex M. Feldman (University of Birmingham), for a discussion of Marcel Mauss's The Gift, which was originally published in 1925 with the title Essai sur le don: Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques (“An essay on the gift: the form and reason of exchange in archaic societies”).

Anna Stavrakopoulou: Welcome to the fifth episode of the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Podcast Series.

I am Anna Stavrakopoulou, the Program Director in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks and we are joined today by Dionysios Stathakopoulos

Dionysios Stathakopoulos: Hello, my name is Dionysios Stathakopoulos.

Anna: and Alex Feldman

Alex Feldman: Hi, I'm Alex Feldman.

Anna: Dionysios Stathakopoulos is assistant professor in Byzantine history at the University of Cyprus. He has written two books, edited three volumes of essays and published some fifty articles and book chapters on the social history of the Byzantine Empire with an emphasis on famine, disease, and epidemics; the practice and practitioners of medicine; as well as poverty, charity, and remembrance. He is currently working on a history of wealth, consumption, and inequality in the late Byzantine period. His Short History of the Byzantine Empire, published by Bloomsbury in 2014, has been translated in Estonian, Modern Greek, Turkish, and Chinese.

And Alex M. Feldman finished his PhD at the University of Birmingham in 2018, where he worked with Archie Dunn and Ruth Macrides. He is currently a Francis Yates postdoctoral fellow at the Warburg Institute at the University of London, where he is finishing the monograph version of his PhD thesis, entitled The Monotheisation of Pontic-Caspian Eurasia, 8th–13th Centuries, which will be published by Edinburgh University Press. This work compares the Judaization, Christianization, and Islamization of Khazaria, Hungary, Rus’, and Volga Bulgaria, respectively, and challenges the standard periodization dividing late antiquity from the early Middle Ages. He is currently preparing his new project, tentatively entitled “Orthodox Mercantilism: Political Economy in the Byzantine Commonwealth, 11th–15th Centuries.”

They will be discussing Marcel Mauss’s The Gift, which was originally published in 1925 with the title Essai sur le don: Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques (“An essay on the gift: the form and reason of exchange in archaic societies”). The essay was later republished in French in 1950 and translated into English several times between 1954 and 2016. The Gift has been very influential among anthropologists, philosophers, political activists, and has had an impact across humanistic and social studies, in general.

They’ll answer questions like: What is a gift, what are the unwritten laws that regulate the exchange of gifts, among individuals across social classes, and how valid are these laws both in the Byzantine era and today?

So today, we will we be discussing The Gift. This famous text The Gift by Marcel Mauss, that Professor Stathakopoulos has selected for our discussion. I would like to ask you, Professor Stathakopoulos, Dionysios if I may, why did you decide to select this classic book in general, in anthropology, in Western knowledge of the last fifty years, let’s say. Why did you select The Gift?

Dionysios: Thank you very much, Anna. This is such a wonderful idea to be asked to talk about a book that is not of our trade, of our field. I was very excited about this prospect. This is a book that I genuinely found made a huge impact in my work. In my thinking, perhaps it hasn’t so far found its place in my written output, but it has completely transformed the way I think.

I came across it many, many years ago. In fact, it was a secondhand kind of knowledge through the work of Professor Michael Borgolte in Berlin who was writing about foundations. In one of his texts, he talked about Marcel Mauss and about The Gift. I have to admit, I hadn’t read it. I picked it up and I really found that it explained so much about the kind of work I was just embarking on which was research on charity and remembrance, on the ties that bind, the wealthy and the not so wealthy in Byzantium.

And Marcel Mauss, who of course, has very little or nothing to do with Byzantium, he touches at some point on Justinianic law. One could say there is a little bit of an overlap there but his work is about something completely different and yet his theory was one that was so clear and so simple. It’s one of those texts that you read, and you think, “Why didn't I think of that? It’s so obvious.” For me it was like a before and after. After that, I kept seeing the ideas of Mauss in pretty much everything I read. You could say, “Oh yes. Well, of course, that’s also something that Marcel Mauss talked about.”

We have to say, this is a very small book. It was first published in 1923, ’24 as an article. It’s about 150 printed pages. It’s something that I think anybody could and should read in a few days. And as I hope we will discuss today, it’s very, very profitable.

Anna: Yes. Well, thank you very much. We might want to ask also Alex to tell us when he encountered the book or was it for the sake of the podcast or had you read it before? Alex, what is your connection to The Gift?

Alex: I admit I had not read it until last week. However, I encountered much of it in my undergraduate sociology-anthropology classes. It was a lot like what Dionysios says. It’s so obvious and brilliant, without really trying to be brilliant, that when I first encountered it, it was presented in a way that is almost like a classic that nobody reads because everybody has cited it already.

Dionysios: I feel as Alex said, one might be a bit embarrassed because for many people, this is such a foundational book that they will claim, well, does anybody need to tell us about what it is. I feel that there might be enough people listening who have not read it and who might appreciate getting a little sense of what this is about. This is a book of what we now would call anthropology. It’s a foundational text from the very early stages of anthropology.

It’s not an anthropology of the field, that is, Marcel Mauss did not travel to distant places to visit distant tribes and observe them. It’s an anthropology from his desk, let’s just say, but he was a very widely read man. He studied various societies mostly in Polynesia and Melanesia. He tried to look at how these societies had different concepts about what we would call The Gift. Of course, he encountered quite complex phenomena, but after a lot of analysis which happens in the first chapters of the book, he could identify certain formulas, certain rules, or even laws. This is the genius part of the book that these laws that he observed in the tribes of Polynesia and Melanesia and also North America, as you will see, they apply to, I think, all of the societies that we are studying, including the Byzantine.

He talks about something that we all know, we’re all very familiar. Somebody offers something to someone else. Of course, the idea that the gift is something noble, something that is given out of magnanimity, a sense of an open heart and so on. What Mauss manages to show is that this is really not the case. This is a complex set of rituals that has three movements. The first movement is of course the person who gives something, the second movement is a person who receives it, and the third and perhaps the most important of the three moves is the absolute need to reciprocate.

This ends in being not just about somebody giving somebody else an object, say, but about constructing a way in which society, the social landscape, is structured. A person gives a gift. He has to give that gift because, of course, for example, he is wealthy. He is powerful. He wants to show these attributes. Of course, by giving a gift, often a substantial gift, an important, expensive gift, he also puts that other person in a sense of inferiority. It’s a humiliation, receiving a very important gift.

The recipient of the gift must accept it. Otherwise, of course the honor of the giver would be hurt and that might lead even to violence. A refusal to accept it would signal a fear of having to reciprocate the gift, and thus also becoming smaller, less important. The fact that the gift has to be reciprocated and often with a kind of interest (you must give back something that is larger, more expensive, more important), leads to an endless cycle.

In this cycle, I think we can see a way of social ties being constructed and maintained. At the same time, this is a movement that, although it has an economic aspect, it is something that has nothing to do with, say, the market. It’s not about supply and demand. It’s about something very, very different in what Mauss called a “total social phenomenon.” Something that has a legal and economic, a religious, and aesthetic side, and that we can see throughout, I think, human history. I’d like to think that there is something that if I say to Anna, she will instantly recognize it, as we’re both Greek.

Namely, something that we definitely grew up with—this notion that in Greece is called υποχρέωση (obligation), the obligation. If somebody ever gives you something, whatever that may be, you are obliged. You are obligated. And until you return that—the ideal is that you have to return it. If you’ve been invited out to dinner, it has to be an even more lavish dinner. If you’ve received a book, you have to give back, perhaps, two books. You have to return that obligation in an amplified form.

I think those of us perhaps from somewhat less industrialized societies can recognize what Mauss describes in Melanesia very, very easily. As you were saying, it seems so obvious and yet, it instantly provides a system with which one can understand and start to interpret various motivations and actions that we see in the respective societies that we study, in our case, the Byzantine. We can come back to that in a moment.

Anna: It’s very interesting that we have a Greek scholar, an international Greek scholar, but you are Greek and an American scholar, and also an international American scholar discussing The Gift, and since Dionysios mentioned, you gave some broad parameters about what the gift means in contemporary Greek society, I was wondering, Alex, if you could tell us a little bit about the American perspective of The Gift in American society now, before we go to Byzantium?

Alex: Well, first of all, I haven’t properly lived in America since 2012 for very long, last time I was there was last year for several months, but even before the COVID pandemic, the socioeconomic ramifications of, shall we say, rampant individualism, which I think we’re all quite familiar with, burgeoning, of course, since the 1980s, has really reached a point where the kinds of implications that Marcel Mauss makes in his conclusion, you almost can’t tell the difference, whether he’s talking about the 1920s or the 2010s and the kinds of socio-economic decay discussed by sociologists like Chris Hedges, for example, or the late David Graeber or even Thomas Piketty.

What they talk about in these kinds of postindustrial Western democracies that everybody can see what’s going on—they may disagree, we may all disagree about exactly the underlying cause—but we all know there’s a disease. Of course, Marcel Mauss, his uncle, was the great Émile Durkheim, who talked about a very social disease. When enough people are scraping the barrel to get by and trying to climb up just a handful of ladders in patronage networks and potlatch networks, he called this anomie, social anomie. It was, of course, around long before today, long before the 19th, early 20th centuries, long before Émile Durkheim wrote about it. That’s why when we think about the work of Durkheim, the work of his nephew, the great Marcel Mauss, we’re not just of course, talking about COVID-19, we’re talking about what COVID-19 shows us about the society that we live in.

Dionysios: I can definitely see this in my own research on the late Byzantine period where things in Byzantium were not looking that well, socially, economically certainly, especially not for the many—is that, of course, the tensions that arise when the balance is broken. There is this wonderful text by Alexios Makrembolites, the Dialogue Between the Rich and the Poor, a 14th-century text, and there’s an instance where the poor are saying to the rich, “Well, you know back in the day”—they mean, I guess, the Komnenian period—“the rich were creating charities and hospitals and orphanages and none of us were hungry, and you could not hear the cries of the poor all around.”

Then the rich say, “Yes, but these were other times, we owned the whole world back then; now we have so little, and the little that we have, we’re not going to share with you, because then our children will become like you.” Understanding that this idea of the threefold notion is not just something that we impose on our sources, but it's something that contemporary people understood in a way, understood that whatever they were receiving, they were also giving something back and that this was important, that they had something important to offer those wealthy patrons, and that this wasn’t a market transaction, but it was something much deeper than that.

I certainly believe that by engaging in this gift economy, in this threefold movement, the whole of society is structured in a way that perhaps can avert some of the anomie—at least some of the times.

Anna: Okay. Would you translate this anomie as lawlessness? What would be a rendition, an English rendition of this anomie for the sake of our listeners?

Alex: When it’s discussed in English, we discuss it as anomie, typically. I’ve also heard it discussed as social malaise, immiseration.

Dionysios: I think that it’s not so much a lawlessness in that this could exist in a state where laws are functioning, but it’s the kind of, if I’m allowed to say it this way, as if the social contract that we often talk about is broken, as if something is misaligned. It’s that kind of thing.

Alex: If I may, it’s lawless in the same way Jean Valjean is lawless.

Anna: I got you. I hear you.

Alex: It’s the exact same disease that Marcel Mauss really gets at the heart of when, for example, in his conclusion (and also that the great Mary Douglas makes very, very forcefully in her introduction to his work), when she talks about how the real argument is not between the laissez-faire neoliberalists versus the communists, it’s really between the continental, socioeconomic thought led by French scholars such as Durkheim, who calls it anomie. Like a real apocalypse which, of course, we all know means the lifting of the veil, that’s what we can see with the pandemic which, of course, shows the kind of rampant, unfettered individualism, what this does to a whole society over the course of time that has completely forgotten about the give and the take of traditional human nature.

Not that there’s one human nature, of course, there’s many, many versions of it, I’m sure we can all agree. But the brilliance of Marcel Mauss’s Essai sur le don is that he shows that this is in fact, a universal basic economy, that is neither solely individual nor entirely collective; it is both and neither simultaneously.

Anna: I guess in a magical way, this text almost one hundred years later, is very meaningful given the situation now, and there have been many comparisons anyway, because there was a 1918 pandemic and now we have a 2020 pandemic, there have been many, many discussions about the parallels, so it’s very interesting. My question was, you said you haven’t been in America since 2012 but you grew up there, isn’t it? You are a product of this society. What is a gift for you? Is it something exactly the way Dionysios described it? Something that you have to reciprocate, something that you accept and forget that you even got it, for you and the society in which you were raised?

Alex: I think the concept of υποχρέωση (obligation), which roughly you could translate into English as reciprocity, is kind of taken for granted, right? Somebody gives you a birthday present here, here you go, here’s a copy of Walt Whitman’s selected verse, here’s a chocolate cake, here’s a bottle of whiskey. The trick is, of course remembering when—writing down who gave you want, keeping it in your little book, and then giving them something more valuable, let's say in a kind of Sheldon Cooper kind of way from that show, The Big Bang Theory, the way he writes all this stuff down, keeps it in his head it, gives it back, “But you gave me this. I need to give you something else, this is terrible that you gave me this.” Of course, it explains patronage, which we have in America.

What he doesn’t talk about and what we do talk about in America is the concept of paying it forward and this is, I think, a very big part of Marcel Mauss’s legacy. Perhaps it’s not directly what he talked about, but he does leave this sort of negative space around the concept of paying it forward. Somebody pulled you up, somebody pulled somebody else up, somebody pulled me up, somebody didn't pull somebody else up. How many people did not get pulled up and may never get pulled up? There is a concept of paying it forward, which is why somebody pulls somebody up because of course, the whole concept of bootstraps, which is what I grew up with— even in the 19th century, it was common knowledge that that was nonsense until, of course, Horatio Alger and Ayn Rand and all that.

Anna: It’s again, a very elaborate answer. If I understand you correctly, there aren’t that many differences between Greek and American society based on what you just said.

Alex: No, it’s just that I think Greek society has a few less oligarchs.

Anna: Okay, I guess so, yes, the sizes are different, of course, we’re a tiny country, so we cannot make any comparisons. Then maybe we can start talking about The Gift in Byzantium from your experience and expertise.

Dionysios: When I read the book, I instantly found that it explained for me some of the things that I was reading and trying to understand how, like, what Alex had patronage, and especially charity, which is what I was looking at, at the time functioned. Once you start to look at the texts that we have on charity, for example, something that of course, Dumbarton Oaks was very, very important in establishing the study of the research on the typika, the monastic foundation documents. Having them all together, you could study them all in one piece, and that made things really, really easier.

Once you start looking at the typika, which are of course, usually written or ghostwritten by very wealthy, important people, sometimes even the emperors or the imperial family themselves, about how they wanted one of their foundations to function. Some of these foundations, of course, also included charitable donations or that could be food distributed at the gate of the monastery, and some monasteries also had charitable institutions like hospitals or old people’s homes or houses for lepers or orphans and so on—incorporated into their grounds.

We start there in looking at these texts, to see the kind of things that Marcel Mauss was describing. I mean, if we look at the language that is employed, it is very often coined in ways that suggest receiving and giving: “I give to God, this monastery that I may receive salvation, mercy.” Often, of course, you wonder, okay, so the people who went into a hospital, that was sponsored by the emperor, like the Pantokrator, what could they offer? If he was giving that in order to get something back, as Marcel Mauss is suggesting, what could the poor and the sick offer him, who had everything? Of course, yes, there are two things. One is that this gift is asymmetric, there’s asymmetry, they can never give back as much as they receive.

Of course, if we follow Mauss’s reasoning, that means that they instantly become smaller, they become clients; they are not at the same level. The other thing is that they have something to offer, which was something very much sought after. They can offer mediation: the poor, the sick, the needy, are in Christian terms, of course, ideal mediators before Christ. The emperor is, if I may put it very, very roughly buying salvation by offering food, care, shelter, and receiving the prayers of the poor in return. Of course, lest we think how can you control that? How can you control what people pray for?

Well, if we look, for example at the one of my favorite typika, the typikon of the monastery of Kosmosoteira in Thrace, and there, Isaac Komnenos, a very troubled individual, who probably had a very strong sense of his own personal guilt and sinfulness; he offers quite a lot. He has a hospital and his are the largest donations to the poor that we have on record, so a hundred poor would be asked to come and receive a lavish meal, even a warm meal. Then after that, of course, that’s what the Typikon tells us, they must form a circle and then they have to get up and say forty times, “Lord have mercy on his behalf,” and then they can go home.

Then once you start recognizing this, you see it everywhere. There’s always stipulation, so the sick of the Pantokrator [hospital], those at least that can get up they have to perform also a kind of procession within the grounds and pray, “God bless the founders.” We start to see the asymmetry, on the one hand of this gift, and the reciprocity. It becomes so obvious that it instantly, that’s why I was talking about a revelation, because it instantly makes perfect sense, why all these things are happening.

Obviously, we don’t want to be too cynical. I’m sure that there was a lot of very noble motivation behind many of these foundations. Once you start realizing that there are other ways to look at this, at least to look at it as well, then the piety can be a baseline, so we can all agree that they all were pious, and they all wanted to please God, but at the same time, of course, there was much more to this transaction than just something that was offered without any kind of hope, or desire for something to be reciprocated to be returned. That was my take on how Marcel Mauss, for example, can help us understand our texts.

Anna: Yes, thank you very much. Alex, you said that you encountered the book much more recently than Dionysios. If you would like to tell us a little bit on what you're working on, and then this stance if possibly illumination, or any clarification, clarity, that the book might have offered you on the things you’re familiar with in your research.

Alex: Thank you. Dionysios and I, as we’ve been discussing the book, we share most of the same ideas, the same approaches of historical materialism, not necessarily doctrinaire Marxist, by no means. Neither of us, I would say, derive from that category. But in order to understand the socio-economic forces at play in Byzantium, I think it is certainly necessary to understand how the social structure essentially functioned, not just on a century-to-century basis, but also on a week-to-week basis.

I certainly agree with Dionysios that understanding it from the position of Marcel Mauss's Gift in terms of patronage support, Christian charity, this was just as true I think, when studying charitable institutions, established by various families, and their typika, for example, in late Byzantium, the 13th-, 14th-, 15th-century Balkans, as much as it was in 19th-century Russia or early 20th-century Russia. Yes, I think there’s a direct line from one to the other.

In that regard, perhaps the direction that I follow this, the implications that I follow it, are perhaps slightly more schematic, I really don’t want to say schematic, but I think it really comes down to—on a metaphysical level, yes, it’s certainly about charity, and on a hard-nosed economic level, I think it comes down to zero-sum thinking. Because whether we are Byzantines, or we are Russians or Romans or Greeks, or Americans, or perhaps even Malaysians, or Chinese, or Indians, it doesn’t really matter where we’re from.

I think that the merits to the idea of Mauss’s Gift and his potlatch societies—these societies of gift-giving and reciprocity through prayer and thanks—developed into something of the feudalist economies where noblesse oblige essentially preserved the social status quo while ensuring the appearance that its preservation was merited due to the value, perhaps metaphysical, perhaps just concrete socioeconomic, gifts and homage it perpetuated. This is what we typically—sociologists call competitive altruism, in comparison to the ossification of social structures that are ultimately perpetuated.

In this way, we can basically see that even today that in the 21st century, the modern world has essentially become something of a global potlatch village.

Anna: What are you working on? What is your research on?

Alex: The name of my PhD thesis was “Ethnicity and Statehood in Pontic-Caspian Eurasia from the 8th to the 13th Centuries: Contributing to a Reassessment.” I examined Khazaria, Rus’, Samanids’, Saffarids’— dynasties—Piasts, Árpáds, and of course, the Rjurikids, from the 8th to the 13th century—the Pechenegs, the Cumans —and textual and archaeological materials (numismatics, sigillography, et cetera, et cetera), in addition to Byzantine sources, of course, during that period.

I came to two major arguments, the first that it wasn’t the nation which converted to the form of monotheism: in Khazaria, Judaism; in Rus’, Byzantine Christianity; in Hungary and Poland, Latin Christianity; in Volga Bulgaria, Islam. It wasn’t the nation which converted to the monotheism, but in fact, it was the ruler, the dynasty, that converted the nation top-down. There was, of course, bottom-up, to a certain extent, until it became top-down. That was not a peaceful transition. That was a quite violent process, and doubly so because the nature of adopting the form of monotheism, whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam (of course, in the case of Khazaria, the Judaism didn't stick around for very long, but in the other cases it did), was that when rulers, when dynasties, adopted a form of monotheism, they also adopted the laws, the sacred law codes, which enabled the dynasty to preserve its wealth in perpetuity, and to essentially fossilize a social hierarchy, which later on we consider almost feudal. I wouldn’t prefer to call it that. That’s what it’s been called by Marxists. It’s overly theoretical. The beauty of Mauss is that he makes it very, very empirical.

Anna: This is wonderful. Thank you very much. What is the second point? You said there are two points, isn't it, Alex?

Alex: Oh, yes. I think I made the two points. The first is about ethnicity. The second is about economics.

Anna: Perfect. Okay. You are working on the north of Byzantium broader area, we could say. Would you say that there were practices or Byzantine customs connected to the Gift and the gift-giving culture that the north of Byzantium countries adopted or were inspired by Byzantine examples, would you say something like that?

Alex: Absolutely. They adopted the same laws. The same laws were just called different words, the Byzantine Nomokanon, became the Kormchaja Kniga from 13th-century Serbian translations. The Eklogē, the 7th-, 8th-century Eklogē, then the Procheiron, the Epanagōgē, in Slavonic translations, became the Zakon Sudnyj Ljudem. And so the same laws governing society basically created the same economic system.

Anna: Did you actually have then foundations, similar situation similar to the ones described by Dionysios—charity foundations offering help or meals or accommodation to poor people for some purpose? Would you give us an example of a gift-giving situation in your sphere of research?

Dionysios: One thing that I would ask Alex because he has been working on a different project now, which is about the concept of mercantilism that we usually associate with a much, much later period. This has implications that one could see how concepts of The Gift or these ideas could be, for example, applied in this idea.

Alex, would you like to give us a way in which these concepts could apply or not—could be negated by the kind of work that you're doing now, which combines ideas of statehood with economic ideas, economic concepts, and how these are applied, and how these are found on the ground, so to say?

Alex: I think that ultimately value, when it’s predicated on a limited access to wealth, whether that’s measured in gold or land, or, in the case of Mauss, in cowrie shells or banana leaves. Because resources are ultimately limited by socially imposed limits to accessing them, we’re left in a situation where laws or customs limiting access to resources ensures the wealth preservation by limited numbers of clans, tribes, or dynasties, and because resources are therefore seen as ultimately finite, we result in zero-sum thinking, what’s a gain for you is a loss for me and vice versa.

At the individual level, this can result in either or both rivalry, or gift mediation—reciprocity, υποχρέωση [obligation]. However, at the level of cities and kingdoms and organized polities, this results in either or both war and diplomacy. So land and gold are perhaps the most essential manifestations of zero-sum thinking. Gold and land are inelastic commodities (finite resources), and since access to land ownership has traditionally been limited, whether we call it feudalism or mercantilism, they are ultimately two sides of the same coin. It’s certainly applicable to Byzantium and the larger Orthodox œcumenē.

The notion of jurisdiction with regard to the foreign and domestic was not, of course, applicable only in Byzantium or the Byzantine economy, but anywhere governed by Byzantine laws, including Bulgaria, Serbia, Rus’, up to the 15th, even later centuries. Of course, all rulers, Byzantine, Latin, Rus’, were constantly seeking precious metals to pay their soldiers and constantly tempted by coin debasement.

I think that Mauss provided a profoundly empirical method for textual and archaeological inquiry, in his case, sociological inquiry. I think that this is also applicable to mercantilism as a whole in terms of the entire Orthodox œcumenē. It's certainly applicable up to the 15th century, if not later.

What I would like to pursue for my next project is something I call, “Orthodox Mercantilism: Political Economy in the Byzantine Commonwealth, from the 11th to the 15th Centuries.”

Dionysios: Thank you. Thank you, Alex. For me, the important thing is to say that this very foundational book is, of course, a canvas in a way, it’s open and has been used in many, many different ways. We don’t know what’s the Orthodox way of using it or not, there’s been a lot of, of course, revision, but as Barbara Rosenwein wrote many, many years ago, in fact all the scholars who came after Mauss, who tried to, well, revise and maybe even counter dispute, part of his ideas, and they might have succeeded in their respective fields, have not actually destroyed or removed the importance of the whole of his concept.

The important thing for me, that’s something that I would like to communicate to our listeners, and that’s where my ideas and Alex’s ideas are very different, as you can see, but they take this as a kind of inspiration, and try to make sense of the evidence that we have by comparing it, contrasting it by using Mauss’s model as a yardstick and then moving forward.

It is true that in western medieval studies, for example, Marcel Mauss is ubiquitous, he’s absolutely everywhere. There are, I don’t want to say, definitely hundreds of books and probably thousands of articles. We can’t sadly say the same for Byzantine studies. It’s mostly art historians like Antony Cutler, Cecily Hilsdale, more recently, who have used Mauss in many and very interesting ways.

I think that for those dealing with Byzantine social history, economic history, or even political history, it would be of great profit to read the text, reflect on its lessons and see if they can apply his ideas to the different area that they’re dealing with. I talked about charity; one could have explored remembrance, memoria, in a very similar way, as has been done in the western medieval work by [Otto Gerhard] Oexle. Michael Borgolte, himself, used Mauss to talk about foundations, including, of course, monasteries, and charitable foundations, throughout all the major religious cultures of the Middle Ages.

I would be very excited to see what other fields, what other topics one could apply Mauss’s theory in. That’s what I would love for this to be, I don’t know, the lesson of today’s podcast, to try to experiment with this idea.

If I may finish with one thing, which is something that Alex, I think, mentioned a lot in his discussions. One of the things that makes Mauss perhaps particularly relevant for our world, our times, is that he wasn’t just a great scholar and a very, very active one at that, but he was also very much politically and socially active.

I think that this resonates with a lot of, especially younger scholars today, who I think rightly feel very passionate about various political projects. I think that Mauss is a great scholar, for today, as Alex was saying, he wrote in the ’20s, but he could be in a way writing now, it’s because he’s very inspiring, because you know that this is a scholar who coupled his research and his knowledge with the quest of what he thought would be a better society. That’s, I think, what makes him, in my mind, my eyes particularly special.

Anna: Thank you. Thank you very much. Alex, would you also like to make any concluding remarks regarding the text or its value for you and your work?

Alex: I can only agree with everything that Dionysios has said, I think that Marcel Mauss’s work is equally applicable for Byzantine studies as it is for, I think, any other time or place throughout the world, throughout history, because it is so fundamentally universal all across the world, or across time, for both economic exchange and for personal and political relationships. And just as it should be and must be applied in Byzantine studies, speaking as Byzantinist, I think it should also be applied everywhere. Thank you.

Anna: Perfect. Thank you, guys. Thank you very much. That was fascinating.

Dionysios: Thank you very much.

Alex: Thank you very much.

Dionysios: It was a fantastic idea and a great opportunity.

Alex: I would say we really appreciate the invitation and certainly, and I want to make this abundantly clear, we both agree 100% with and appreciate so much of Mauss’s ideas, even if we may look and take slightly different approaches and other directions.

Anna: Yes, yes, of course, this is completely desired. This is the purpose because otherwise, we would be hearing the same thing, in a stereophonic way. No, on the contrary, this is exactly how it should be. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Podcast musical theme is from the Concerto in E-Flat “Dumbarton Oaks” by Igor Stravinsky, recorded by the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Slowik, conducting. As always, thank you for joining us, and we hope you join us again in the next episode.