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date: 17 January 2021


, c. 810–c. 893 ce
  • Peter Barr Reid Forbes,
  • Robert Browning
  •  and Nigel Wilson


The best of the Byzantine scholars and patriarch of *Constantinople in ce 858–67 and 878–86. ‘At the pressing intreaty of the Caesar (Bardas), the celebrated Photius renounced the freedom of a secular and studious life, ascended the patriarchal throne, and was alternately excommunicated and absolved by the synods of the East and West. By the confession even of priestly hatred, no art or science, except poetry, was foreign to this universal scholar, who was deep in thought, indefatigable in reading, and eloquent in diction’ (Gibbon, ch. 53). His most important work is the Bibliotheca, ‘Library’ (not his title; the alternative Myriobiblion, ‘Ten Thousand Books’, has even less justification), ‘a living monument of erudition and criticism’ (Gibbon, as above). It is a hastily compiled, ill-arranged critical account in 280 chapters of books read by Photius in the absence of his brother, Tarasius, for whose information, and at whose request, the work was composed. There is conflicting evidence about the date of composition. Theology and history predominate; oratory, romance, philosophy, science, medicine, and lexicography also come within its scope. Besides its intrinsic value (the criticisms are often felicitous and acute, both from the literary and the bibliographical point of view), it has a considerable adventitious importance as the best or sole source of our information about many notable lost works; it mentions some sixty non-theological works not now surviving. Poetry is almost entirely neglected; but there is other evidence that Photius had read at least the usual school authors, pace the implication of Gibbon's remark cited above.

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