A rhetoric for the empire: education, politics and speech-making in the Byzantine Millennium

Name of applicant

Aglae Pizzone


Associate Professor


University of Southern Denmark


DKK 4,221,000



Type of grant

Semper Ardens: Accelerate


Rhetoric and politics, rhetoric and ethics, rhetoric, and truth: since ancient Greece the difficult relationship between these concepts has kept busy many a thinker. This project explores how the culture of the Byzantine Empire (527-1453), one of the major political players in medieval Europe, creatively navigated these notions by engaging with the so-called Corpus Hermogenianum, that is a set of rhetorical treatises bequeathed under the name of the rhetor Hermogenes (2nd-3rd c. CE). Byzantine teachers and masters of speech used Hermogenes as a conceptual springboard to resolve the thorny issue of the ethics of performance - private and public. The question, pressing in a culture paradoxically thorn between highly formalized ritual practices and a prescriptive hatred for display, has not lost its topicality.


Oddly enough the virtual fora in which me move and interact daily have made the very pre-modern notion of performance central again. And even if at first sight rhetorical elaboration is at odd with the imperative of identity-shaping self-expression, the offer of courses teaching how to creatively write our Selves, our traumas or even our own vulnerability seem to say otherwise. The questions that haunted the Byzantines are equally pressing today: is it possible to "style" and "perform" spontaneity both as a private and a political act? And if we do so, are we ethically reprehensible? Looking at the answers provided one thousand years ago by intellectuals and thinkers living in a vastly different culture can turn out surprisingly useful to navigate the shifting ethical values of our post-truth world.


This project will make available a series of sources elaborating on the corpus Hermogenianum currently preserved only in manuscript form. To this end, it will provide both critical editions and translations of texts, which, while little known today, shaped the mindset of generations of users in the Greek speaking East during the Middle Ages. Their content, outlining a philosophy of language, will change our perception of medieval intellectual history, offering fresh insights in the way the Byzantines successfully outlined the rules for an ethically sustainable performance of truth.

Back to listing page