90100 - Greek Language and Literature in the Byzantine Age

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

The course aims at providing students with basic linguistic and philological notions, familiarity with fundamental reference tools, and the method to deal with the reading of Greek writings of the 4th-15th centuries. At the end of the course, students will be familiar with the role played by Byzantium in the history of European culture, the main Byzantine texts that have shaped the civilisation of the Orthodox Christian East, and will be aware of the reciprocal literary influences that characterised Byzantine, Arabic, Latin and Slavic civilisations in the Middle Ages. They will also be able to read and understand literary, epigraphic and documentary texts in their original language with the help of modern lexicons and translations.

Course contents

The course will be divided into two parts: A) general; B) monographic, of 30 hours each.


A) The general part will consist of an introduction to the most representative authors, works and trends of Byzantine literature. It will also provide essential notions concerning the grammar, morphology, syntax, and phonetics of the Greek language between the 4th and 15th centuries.


B) The monographic part will be devoted to the following topic: The Deeds of Digenìs. Epic, war and love on the literary frontier between Byzantium and Islam.


In the 12th century, an anonymous author wrote one of the earliest examples of a literary composition in vernacular Greek, probably incorporating folk songs from previous ages. The work has been handed down to us in several editions, of which the most complete is that of Grottaferrata (ms. Z. α. XLIV). It narrates the exploits of an extraordinary warrior born of a Muslim father ― the Emir of Edessa ― and a Christian mother, and for this reason called Digenìs (generated by a 'double lineage'). Against the backdrop of the struggle between Christians and Muslims along the Cappadocian border, the poem offers a series of original insights into the values, mentality and ideals of a militarised society accustomed to life on the frontier. The elements that make up its culture ― heroism, bellicosity, courage, love, vitalism ― are in fact quite different from the aristocratic ethos disseminated by Constantinopolitan literary models. The analysis will focus above all on the second section of the poem, which tells of Digenìs' education and his exploits.



Part A) general

The following essays are required for this part:

― F. Dölger, “La letteratura bizantina”, in J. M. Hussey (a cura), L’impero bizantino, edizione italiana a cura di A. Merola (Storia del mondo medievale, 3/1 = The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV, The Byzantine Empire), trad. it. Milano 1978 (ed. orig. 1966), 207-264.

― A. Rollo, “ ‘Greco medievale’ e ‘greco bizantino’ “, in AION. Annali del Dipartimento di Studi del Mondo Classico e del Mediterraneo Antico. Sezione linguistica” 30 (2008), 429-473.


Part B) monographic

The work will be read and commented in the following edition (which has an Italian translation):

 ― Digenis Akritas, poema epico bizantino, edited by P. Odorico, Florence 1995.


The reading of the following essays is required:

― A. Pertusi, "Tra storia e leggenda: akritai a ghâzi sulla frontiera orientale di Bisanzio", in Actes du XIVe Congrès International des Etudes Byzantines, Bucarest 1974, 232-283.

― N. Oikonomides, "L' épopée de Digénis et la frontière orientale de Byzance au Xe et XIe siècles", in Travaux et Mémoires 7 (1979), 375-397.

― R. Beaton, "Was Digenies Akrites an Oral Poem?", in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 7 (1981), 7-27.

― R. Beaton, D. Ricks (eds), Digenes Akrites. New Approaches to Byzantine Heroic Poetry, Aldershot 1993 (solo gli articoli di R. Beaton e A. Bryer).


N.B. Non-attending students are required to read:

S. Impellizzeri, La letteratura bizantina. Da Costantino a Fozio, Florence 1975.

Teaching methods


The first part of the course is organised as an 'ex-cathedra' lecture; the second, concerning the monographic part, in seminar mode. In both parts, the lecturer will read, translate and comment, together with the students, passages from Greek sources. Students who do not know Greek may participate in the discussion based on the translations. Attendance at the course is highly recommended.

P.S. Foreign students wishing to attend the course must have a knowledge of Italian of at least level B 2.

Assessment methods

Passing the examination requires an oral test of knowledge.

This consists of an assessment of the knowledge of part A) and a discussion of the content of part B) of the course.

The final mark of the examination is determined by the following scores: 15/30 for the general part A) of the course; 15/30 for the monographic part B) of the course.

Teaching tools

 — Translation of sources.

— Distribution of photocopies.

— Power-point presentations.

— Introduction to the use of lexicons (printed and online) and bibliographic research.

Office hours

See the website of Salvatore Cosentino