Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.09.34

Staffan Wahlgren (ed.), Symeonis Magistri et Logothetae Chronicon. Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae. Series Berolinensis, Vol. XLIV/1.   Berlin and New York:  Walter de Gruyter, 2006.  Pp. 431.  ISBN 10: 3-11-018557-1.  ISBN 13: 978-3-11-018557-7.  €168.00.  

Reviewed by Thomas M. Banchich, Canisius College, Buffalo, New York (
Word count: 1595 words

This review concentrates on aspects of Staffan Wahlgren's edition of Redaction A of the Chronicle of Symeon that the reviewer thinks are of special interest to classicists and Spätantikers. Byzantinists will have their own additional, distinct concerns. Almost thirty years ago Herbert Hunger (Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner [Munich 1978] I, p. 357) noted both the need for and the formidable difficulties attendant on the production of a critical edition of the text generally known among Byzantinists, so far as it is known at all, as the Logothetenchronik. The initial volume of Wahlgren's projected two-volume work is a giant step toward filling this gap.

Caveat lector. It is nearly impossible to describe the Logothetenchronik without representing certain elements important to its understanding as factual when they are, in fact, fundamentally hypothetical. With that warning in mind, the manuscripts of the Logothetenchronik collectively yield in the standard form of the Byzantine chronicle an account of events from creation to the death in 948 of the emperor Romanus I Lecapenus. The whole, in turn, seems to rest on a tripartite foundation: an epitome which treated from creation to Justinian II (d. 711); a continuation of that epitome up to 842, shortly after the death of the emperor Theophilus; and another continuation -- the content of this the work of Symeon himself and perhaps composed in three installments -- up to 948. But, to complicate matters, the numerous Greek manuscripts and Slavonic translation of the creation to 948 chronicle reveal two distinguishable versions of the complete text: Redaction A (sometimes termed the Urtext and edited in the volume here reviewed) and Redaction B (a post-948 modification of A, an edition of which will appear in Wahlgren's future Volume II). Much of the debate about the scope and termini post et ante quos of these Redactions, along with various aspects of their interrelationship, depends on a broad array of passages which might or might not be interpolations. All told and apart from material from authors whose works closely parallel the Logothetenchronik (e.g., the Chronicle of George the Monk, a.k.a. George Harmatolos, which covers from creation to 842), over 50 manuscripts contribute to the resultant mess, or, if one is an optimist, its solution. Given this state of affairs, and as a result of other factors, the formulation of rival theories of authorship should come as no surprise: the names most commonly and in various permutations associated with the Logothetenchronik being Symeon Magister, Symeon the Logothete, and Pseudo-Symeon. The chronology of the publication of modern editions of various portions of the Logothetenchronik, based as all have been on a very small selection of the manuscript witnesses (on which see Wahlgren, pp. 132-133), along with the gradual recognition in the course of the publication of those editions that the manuscripts employed were portions of a single work, has further muddied the waters. Thus, the Paris Corpus of Byzantine historians (1685, reprinted in 1729 as the Vienna Corpus) mirrored Ms. Parisinus gr. 1708 in printing under the name Symeon Magister and Logothete the Logothetenchronik's account of the years 842-948. Immanuel Bekker, following the same manuscript, included the Logothete as the unnamed continuator of George the Monk/Harmatolos in what has for too long has been the standard collection of Byzantine historical texts, the Bonn Corpus (1838, reprinted in Migne, Patrologia Graeca 109.824-984). But the Paris Corpus and, subsequently, the Vienna Corpus, following Mss. Parisinus gr. 854 and 1711, had already published the Logothetenchronik's treatment of events from the reign of Leo the Armenian (813-820) to 948 under the name Leo Grammaticus. Bekker, in turn, in 1842, included this, along with the period from creation to Leo as given in those manuscripts under [Leo Grammaticus], in another volume of the Bonn Corpus, whence, again and as Leo Grammaticus, it migrated to the Patrologia Graeca (108.1037-1164). However, in the interval between 1729 and 1842, the Logothetenchronik portion of Parisinus gr. 854 which covers from creation to the very beginning of the reign of Leo the Armenian had appeared as an Anonymi Chronographia in the second volume of John Cramer's Anecdota Graeca e codicibus Manuscriptis Bibliothecae Regiae Parisiensis (1839), pp. 243-381.

This selective use of the complex manuscript tradition of the Logothetenchronik, uneven scholarship, and the chronology of its publication in various venues subsequently led a series of eminent practitioners of Quellenforschung to see behind these editions other Byzantine texts, and a range of fragmentary authors of what has come to be known as the Leoquelle, the existence of which, once demonstrated in a series of early Byzantinische Zeitschrift articles by Edwin Patzig and others, inspired successive attempts at attribution of authorship (e.g., Virius Nicomachus Flavianus, championed by François Paschoud and Bruno Bleckmann in the face of opposition from Timothy Barnes, Richard Burgess, and -- soon and decisively -- Alan Cameron). Whatever his identity, the author of this Leoquelle, it is held, is the source behind most of our extant literary accounts in the genre of history of the third and fourth centuries A.D. Wahlgren's excellent Prolegomena (pp. 3-137) fairly states the strengths and weaknesses of rival theories about the authorship and composition of the Logothetenchronik, where appropriate recognizing that certain difficulties are insoluble at least until the completion of his second volume and the production of better editions of authors such as George the Monk, Michael Glycas, and George Cedrenus, and that some problems will prove intractable even then. Sensibly, though he notes questions of sources and parallels (pp. 118-120), he opts to avoid the debate about the so-called Leoquelle.

For the establishment of his text of Redaction A, Wahlgren has examined every manuscript himself either through autopsy or Lesegerät. These witnesses lend themselves perfectly to the stemmatic method most associated with Karl Lachmann, Wahlgren's employment of which is a tour de force. Three impressive apparatuses complement the resultant text: one listing close parallels; a second giving the manuscripts upon which specific divisions of his text depend; a third detailing variant readings, conjectures, corrections, and the like. By my count, in around four hundred places, Walhgren has identified particular textual problems and offered his own solutions (see pp. 96-111). For classicists uninterested in most or all of the content of the Logothetenchronik, Wahlgren's philological virtuosity alone merits their attention.

Those BMCR readers interested in the content of the Logothetenchronik will likely be scholars of Late Antiquity and of its historiography. The former will find little in the Logothetenchronik unique to that source. And there is the rub. For most members of this group know full well the important role parallels between the Logothetenchronik and other texts have played in modern attempts to sort out the complex interrelationships between many of our extant and fragmentary literary sources for Roman history from the mid third through fourth centuries A.D. Since Quellenkritik typically depends on the study of such parallels, the identification of interpolations from chronologically later texts into manuscripts of chronologically earlier authors or the abbreviation of texts in manuscripts of authors who very clearly represent the same source tradition or between whom some direct or indirect relationship is reasonably evident, can destroy existing hypotheses and lay a new foundation for fundamentally altered reconstructions of the source traditions from which our literary evidence for much of a diachronic reconstruction of late antique historiography derives. Close parallels become the result of interpolation; the fuller parallel, of scribal expansion; the more barebones parallel, of scribal abbreviation. All these variables would be impossible to judge without editions of the quality of Wahlgren's.

Several other features enhance that quality: there are indices of proper names, an Index verborum Byzantinorum (words which pertain to Byzantine matters, classical words with notably different Byzantine meanings, and words found only in Byzantine authors), an Index graecitatis (noteworthy instances of grammar and syntax), an Index locorum, and three reproductions of pages from manuscripts (Cod. Ambrosianus gr. D34 sup., Cod. Monacensis gr. 218, and Cod. Parisinus gr. 1711). I noted but a single slip, an incorrect bibliographical entry that clearly resulted from Wahlgren's wish to cite a forthcoming article (p. 135, where the reference for Dmitri Afinogenov's article should be to Revue des Études Byzantines 62 (2004), pp. 239-246.

Of course, comparison of passages from Wahlgren's edition of Symeon with passages from editions of other authors would be severely compromised if those editions were as flawed as those of the pre-Wahlgren Logothetenchronik. Happily, a string of recent and forthcoming scholarship is reducing this danger and, in the process, the value of each edition involved has increased exponentially. So, joining Wahlgren's Chronicon in de Gruyter's Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae is Johannes Thurn's impressive edition of John Malalas (2000) and, in the de Gruyter series Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, Umberto Roberto's edition and translation into Italian of the fragments of John of Antioch (2005, reviewed by Alan Cameron, BMCR 2006.07.37). The first critical edition of Theodore Scutariotes' Chronica is to appear in November 2007, again under the auspices of de Gruyter. A modern edition of George Cedrenus and, at least, a careful reevaluation of the manuscript tradition of George the Monk remain desiderata. Of course, the appearance of these texts alone will not provide clear and easy solutions to the debates noticed above; their publication will, however, permit the formulation of much more secure hypotheses and, in consequence, the easier identification of those that are unsustainable.

Wahlgren's exemplary Symeonis Magistri at Logothetae Chronicon, then, comes at a moment when the intersection of Philology and History seems poised to produce exciting opportunities for research and to shed fresh light on our picture of Late Antiquity.

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