I think that there are some important things afoot in the Late Antique and Byzantine blogging community. Not only is the Byzantine Studies Association of North America looking to enhance its web presence, but the venerable David Pettegrew appears to have made a serious commitment to blogging his ongoing research on all things Corinthian. Check out his blog here.
Most recently, his blog has featured translations of Niketas Ooryphas dragging his fleet over the Isthmus in the 9th century. Apparently he was an admiral in the Byzantine navy who was tasked with the suppressing the Arab navy that had held Crete since the 820s. David took the time to translate the text from Theophanes Continuatus that describes the dragging of Niketas’ navy over the Isthmus and, few days later, supplemented this translation with translations of related texts from Kedrenos and Skylitzes.
I’ll offer three random observations on these texts:
1. Baptism and the Flesh. At the conclusion of all three texts Niketas tortures apostate Christians captured from the Cretan fleet by flaying them alive or by dipping them in kettles of boiling pitch. Niketas explained the former punished by “saying that this skin that was separated from them was not their own.” The latter had obvious parallels with Christian practices of immersion. In both cases the spiritual rite of baptism was completely inverted and positioned as a physical ritual.
2. Nostaligia in 9th century in Greece. Niketas actions fit into a larger pattern of nostalgic behavior in 9th century Greece. By dragging his fleet across the Isthmus, Niketas re-enacted the heroic deeds of earlier admirals. In this way, they remind me, broadly, of the work of Paul of Monemvasia which looked back to traditions of the desert fathers to edify residents of his Peloponnesian city. They also remind me of the deeds of another Niketas who wrote the Life of Theoktiste of Lesbos blending the Early Christian story of Mary of Egypt with references to Homer, Thucydides, as well as the Early Christian Church Fathers.
3. Blogged Translations. David and I have talked a bunch about blogging lately, and our conversations have focused on the idea that our jobs as academic is to create and disseminating knowledge. Blogs (as short hand for any online, self-published, environment) make it easy to distribute texts that fall awkwardly at the margins of traditional academic correspondence. Translations are a perfect example of these kinds of texts that are not substantial or analytical enough to fit into a peer review publication, but nevertheless play a key role in the study of Ancient and Medieval society. David’s blog is a great example of how a scholar can disseminate knowledge that might otherwise be lost in a peer-reviewed, final publication.