Mirrors for Princes: genuine Byzantine genre or academic construct?

Title: Mirrors for Princes: genuine Byzantine genre or academic construct?
Source document: Graeco-Latina Brunensia. 2017, vol. 22, iss. 1, pp. 5-16
  • ISSN
    1803-7402 (print)
    2336-4424 (online)
Type: Article
License: Not specified license
The term 'Mirrors for Princes' occurs in commonly used handbooks of Byzantine literature (H. Hunger). It denotes highly elaborated advisory works addressed to noble young men or even future emperors to instruct them on certain aspects of human conduct and on how to reign. This term, mentioned for the first time by Godfrey of Viterbo in the 12th century and imported by modern scholars from the literature of the western Middle Ages into the Byzantine milieu, was never used by the Byzantines themselves. Not only the foreign origin of the term, but also significant differences among particular writings classified as 'Mirrors for Princes' with respect to their literary form, language register, style, content, or purpose have made recent scholars question the application of this genre to Byzantine literature. Three main attitudes or approaches have arisen: the complete rejection of the term (P. Odorico); a search for new criteria enabling a more reasonable genre taxonomy (M. Mullett, Ch. Roueché, S. Papaioannou); and the formation of sub-categories within this genre to create more homogenous groups of literary works (G. Prinzing, D. Angelov). The presented paper pursues two main aims. The first is to describe the development of the application of the genre 'Mirrors for Princes' to Byzantine literature in modern scientific works; the second, after defining recent general trends in scholarly approaches to Byzantine literature, is to judge the impact of these approaches on the criteria of genre taxonomy with respect to this particular genre.
  • A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the Oxford University Byzantine Society's 18th International Graduate Conference entitled Trends and Turning-Points: Constructing the Late Antique and Byzantine World (c. 300 – c. 1500).
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