Selected Papers from the XV Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference
Vita Basilii: The Power of Rhythm in Constructing the Narrative Landscape of Imperial Propaganda
The work entitled Ἱστορικὴ διήγησις τοῦ βίου καὶ τῶν πράξεων Βασιλείου τοῦ ἀοιδίμου βασιλέως, or commonly known as Vita Basilii (VB), is generally accepted as an encomium of the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, Basil I, rather than a biography.1 Written by the emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos himself or under his close supervision, the text portrays Basil as an example of virtue and juxtaposes him with his predecessor, Michael III, whom the Constantinian environment blackens in ← 179 | 180 → order to justify Basil’s usurpation of power. VB corresponds to the basic characteristics and fixed formulas of the formal encomium of an emperor, as they were analysed by late-antique scholars and particularly by Pseudo-Menander during the third century.2 Within this framework, Jenkins observes that all the elements distinctive of a royal encomium are to be identified in the appropriate order in VB.3 Agapitos specifies how the work is structured in thematic sections. He suggests that Basil’s accession to the throne as sole emperor constitutes the basic structural axis and thus the key point which divides the work into two extensive parts.4 Quite recently Mango, introducing the new edition of the text by Ševčenko and referring to the Chronographia of Genesios, notes that ‘Genesios, as also VB (but not in exactly the same order), adopts a thematic not a chronological arrangement’.5 Although the text may not be primarily organised according to the chronological sequence of events, the narrator of VB, the agent recording the events, builds up his narrative from a temporal perspective in terms of narrative rhythm, as...
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