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Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 20, 1979

4.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

E. R. A. Sewter was a well-known Byzantine scholar and the editor of Greece and Rome. His translation of The Alexiad of Anna Comnena is still published in Penguin Classics. He died in 1976.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised ed. edition (December 20, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441697
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was first hooked on Byzantine history after picking up a copy of John Julius Norwich's abridged History of Byzantium. This led to an abiding interest in the second half of the Roman Empire.
Psellus' turn of phrase and genuine storytelling ability make this book a pleasure to read. I only regret I cannot read it in its original Greek, for I think it would be even better. Despite the bias against his female compatriots (only to be expected in that era) Psellus remains fresh, authoritative, winning, and as balanced as can be expected. I love the Penguin editions of classic works- I rarely buy anything else- and my copy of the Chronographia is already dog-eared and underlined.
In short, I truly recomment this edition for any serious or leisurely student of Byzantium. Psellus gives us a window into a sorely misunderstood time and age- as well as being able to tell a ripping good story when the mood takes him.
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Format: Paperback
I completely recommend Michael Psellus to anyone who wants to understand a bit more about the Byzantines and this very harsh period of time in their history. Psellus is fun to read, his commentaries are often humorous, and he seems genuinely interested in preserving this period of time as more of a memoir that tries to place together the good and the bad aspects of life. Before his commentary on Constantine IX, he notes that the position of historian, just as the position of emperor, is a very complex one -- you can try your hardest to do it as accurately as possible, but, in the end, one realizes that most people are complex and cannot be quantified in words or even pages, particularly via using the words of other subjective humans. The reviewer at the bottom concerns himself with Western pipedreams; Psellus' (or Psellos') account is a memoir from events that happened in his life, it is *not* a play-by-play logbook.
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Format: Paperback
I am not an expert on Byzantine history, but I'm not ignorant of it either. For such a one as myself, this book offers an enjoyable insight into what life was like at that time, in that place, and I must say that it was one of the most dynamic and interesting societies ever to exist. As for the author himself, his style was wholly unlike the stuffy, dull writings to be found among his Western contemporaries. It's informative, to the point, and even (gasp) mildly humorous at times. Buy it.
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Format: Paperback
Fine edition of an oft forgotten (but indeed important) opus in Byzantine literature and history. The author, Michael Psellus (1018-1078 A.D.), born of an aristocratic family, was a pupil of John Mauropous (Archbishop of Euchaita), became Professor of Rhetoric and then, after being introduced to the court by Michael V, rose to be a first hand spectator of the rise and demise of several emperors, having occupied the posts of Secretary of State, Prime Minister and Grand Chamberlain. This explains why this is a valuable memoir of a contemporary witness to Byzantine life and the workings of the imperial court, under several rulers, from the reign of Basil II (976-1025) to the reign of Michael VII (1071-1078). Originally published as the first whole translation in English of Psellus work in 1953, under the title The Cronographia of Michael Psellus , this revised edition is a wonderful tool for those interested in Byzantine history. The scarce or relative interest that occurred in the field of Byzantine literature until a century ago, compared to the classical period, comprehensive of Greek and Roman history up to the reign of Justinian, has been surpassed due to the fine work of several modern scholars. But it has been clearly noticed that in addition to the well known classical works of Procopius, Menander Protector and Leo Diaconos, this opus by Psellus is unsurpassed or unique for the study of the period covered by the author. Indeed, he was in a position to fully comprehend the events that occurred at the death of Basil II (who ruled for more than 40 years, crushed rebellions, rescued the Empire's army, finances and pride ) in 1078, and the particular decadence that ensued in the following generations due to the unworthiness of the following rulers.Read more ›
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Michael Psellus' Chronographia, written in the 11th Century, gives the modern reader a glimpse into the court and personal lives of fourteen Byzantine rulers. Psellus served as a court advisor and resident intellectual to several of these rulers and had direct contact with most of his subjects, which makes this book a valuable first-person account from an obscure period of Medieval history. However, Psellus' account is oftentimes less a historical narrative than a piece of deliberate disinformation, as the editor often points out in footnotes. The Byzantine Empire was beginning to decline in the period of the author's narrative and his account often seems designed to conceal or distort his own role in this phase. While the author appears as a fairly sympathetic and intellectual character early in his narrative, by the time he rose to the rank of senior advisor he was clearly corrupted and he admits in the final chapters that he was rewarded financially for his overly flattering portrayals of Emperor Michael VII. At one point, the author admits that "I have passed over in this work many facts worthy of mention" in order to satisfy his benefactors. Thus, read Psellus to gain insight into certain aspects of the Byzantine mindset, but be aware that this is a "tainted history" in which the author's primary loyalty is to his own self-promotion and avarice, not the truth.

Psellus' narrative begins with the 49 year-reign of the Emperor Basil II, whose hard work brought the Byzantine Empire to the pinnacle of its strength, with secure borders and a full treasury. Although Psellus was only a child when Basil's reign came to an end, he bases this part of the narrative on contemporary secondary sources and it seems fairly objective.
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