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The Homilies of Philagathos of Cerami: Byzantine Culture at the Court of King Roger II and William I

Mircea Duluș, Central European University, Budapest, Summer Fellow 2013

The summer fellowship enabled me to complete the research for my dissertation on the oeuvre and the life of Philagathos of Cerami. Philagathos was an itinerant preacher in the Norman kingdom of Sicily during the reigns of Roger II (1130–1154) and William I (1154–1166); he was the author of a substantial collection of homilies for the Sunday readings and the feasts of the liturgical year, the so-called italo-griechische Homiliar (A. Ehrhard). Renowned for his distinguished learning, as the epithet ὁ φιλόσοφος testifies, he was also the author of an allegorical interpretation of Heliodoros’s Aethiopika. During the fellowship, I framed the theoretical approach of Philagathos’s “ekphrastic” style by situating it against the background of contemporary Byzantine rhetorical practices and literary criticism. I completed the analysis of Philagathos’s contribution to the transmission of Late Antique anti-Christian polemics, and I continued the analysis of the sources of the citations that beautify these sermons. Finally, I thoroughly reanalyzed Philagathos’s allegorical interpretation of Heliodoros’s Aethiopika by placing it within the Byzantine discursive tradition of allegorical interpretation of secular literature in the context of the rediscovery of the genre of the novel in Komnenian Byzantium. By taking into account Byzantine literary structures such as registers of style and genre, I surmount the modern dilemma of authorship that vacillates between Philagathos the distinguished preacher and Philippos-Philagathos the philosopher and the author of a Neoplatonic commentary on the Aethiopika. I showed that the decontextualized mapping of the Neoplatonic underpinnings, constantly retained in the scholarship, and the labeling of the work as “Neoplatonic” is inaccurate and does not account for Philagathos’s exegetical strategy. I have been able to determine that Philagathos’s interpretation is informed to an extent that has not been hitherto ascertained by the tradition of mystical interpretation of the Song of Songs. In fact, the alleged “Neoplatonic” elements of the composition are reminiscent of Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on the Song of Songs and the Life of Moses combined with Maximos the Confessor’s exegesis of numbers that equally permeate Philagathos’s homilies.