19 February 2009

St Photius the Magus?


In the fascinating book, Scribes & Scholars, by L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, there is a very interesting aside about St Photius: ‘Jealousy and spite gave rise to a tradition that, rather like Faust, he achieved his knowledge by making a bargain with a Jewish magician, giving up his Christian faith in return for success, learning, and riches’ (Scribes & Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek & Latin Literature, 2nd ed. [Oxford: Clarendon, 1974], p. 55). It is a tradition repeated, though likely not without irony, by Milorad Pavić under the entry for ‘Cyril’ in his novel, Dictionary of the Khazars: A lexicon novel (Male Edition), trans. Christina Pribićević-Zorić (NY: Vintage, 1989), pp. 60-1:

Another of Constantine’s [St Cyril’s] instructors, the famous philosopher and later Patriarch Photius, who taught him grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, and philosophy, was called the Christian Aristotle and, along with Leo the Mathematician, helped to launch the humanistic renaissance in which the Byzantine world once again considered itself a descendant of ancient Hellenic lineage. Photius practiced hermetic and proscribed sciences, astrology and magic; the Byzantine emperor called him ‘Khazar face’, and there was a legend circulating at court that in his youth Photius had sold his soul to a Hebrew sorcerer.

In his ‘Life of St Photios’, Fr Justin (Popovich) has a brief footnote that also refers to this. He connects it with the classicism of Leo and St Photius (‘The Life of St Photios’, trans. Ronald Wertz, On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, by St Photius the Great, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery [NY: Studion, 1983], p. 37, n. 14):

In the course of the ninth century, certain intellectual circles in Constantinople were greatly influenced by classical literature and were often critical of Christian writings. Those who were particularly enamored of classical antiquity were often accused of sorcery because of their use of astrology, and even St Photios was falsely accused by an adversary of having renounced Christ so that he could surpass all men in wisdom.

I have not seen the primary sources that refer to this, or else I would of course post them, but I thought it would be interesting at least to compare these three references. I would also like to post some observations I've made in my thesis on St Photius's reading of 'fiction' in the Bibliotheca, but it may take some time to get them properly prepared for a blog post. I'm quite certain I can't do it today!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you have any more information concerning the icon in this post. Thanks

Joseph

aaronandbrighid said...

Joseph> Unfortunately, I paid no attention at all to the page it came from but simply saved it to my hard drive. I believe it was a Google image search for St Photius in Greek that yielded it. I'll try again and see if I can find it.

aaronandbrighid said...

Okay, I found the site it came from. It's in Bulgarian, which I don't really read, but I know enough to see that there's no caption and doesn't seem to be any explanation of the icon's provenance. If you like, you can try to find the contact info for the site administrator and e-mail them. Or I've got a friend who knows Bulgarian rather well and can maybe figure it out. Anyway, here's the URL: http://www.pravoslavieto.com/life/02.06_sv_Fotij.htm

aaronandbrighid said...

Well, I looked again, and discovered that if I moved the mouse over the image, a window popped up informing me in Bulgarian that the icon was a fragment of a 'Bulgarian icon-triptych, kept at the National Ecclesiastical History-Archaeological Museum'.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information. I appreciate you looking into this.

Joseph