Psellos’s funeral Encomium: the great mother is dead

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In eleventh-century Constantinople, the leading intellectual Michael Psellos wrote an encomium for his dead mother. At the literal and interpretive center of Psellos’s Encomium is the story of a prostitute. It’s an allegory for the deathly effects of socially devaluing men’s heterosexuality. Under gynocentrism, one must praise the great mother. In his inner wisdom, Psellos came to bury the gynocentrism that so many honorable scholars have championed. “Father, father, you savior, I’m through.”

Michael Psellos’s sister befriended a prostitute. Many men, including noble men, paid this women for having sex with her. Men paying for sex indicates the extent to which Byzantine society wasn’t adequately providing men with sexual fulfillment. Acting to further men’s sexual disadvantage relative to women, Psellos’s sister sought to make this woman unavailable to men at any price. Psellos recounted:

My sister censured her often, reproaching her licentiousness and condemning her obscene behavior, and finally ordered her to go and live far away. [1]

The woman, who persisted in prostitution, responded:

But if I renounce prostitution, where then will I obtain the necessities of life?

A central ideological tenet of gynocentrism is that women work as prostitutes, or get married, only because they lack any other good alternatives for gaining the necessities of life. Acknowledging that women delight in having sex with men undermines women’s high price to men. With deep irony, Psellos recalled his sister’s response to the prostitute’s mendacious claim:

Replying abruptly and without hesitation, that girl so ardent in her love for the good or, rather, so philosophical in nature, swore awful oaths that she would furnish her not only with necessities but also with superfluous luxuries. This persuaded her and the two were reconciled: the one no longer showed herself even to the eyes of men and entirely renounced her former haunts and habits, while the other shared with her all those things of which she had need: shelter, cloths, food, and, if she desired it, even luxury. Then she gave thanks that she had rescued from poverty a soul that had become a victim of the beast. [2]

Acclaim for saving women from having sex with men spurred the development of modern social science and remains a cherished goal of today’s college sex police. Learned, rhetorically savvy, and worldly, Psellos undoubtedly understood what his sister was doing.

Psellos’s sister’s approach to prostitution engendered delusion. Did working as a prostitute entitle a woman to live in luxury? Few could believe that:

many women of the family became jealous and blamed “the savioress” for preferring an outsider {the prostitute} over her own kin. [3]

Psellos’s sister paid no attention to such criticism. She also didn’t pay attention to the behavior of the woman she had saved from prostitution. She probably enjoyed thinking about her actions as a matter of abstract morality, independent of the real living conditions of those nearest to her and the real personality of the person she sought to save.

Psellos’s sister was pregnant when she sought to reform the prostitute. After some time, she went into difficult labor to deliver the child. A midwife helped her to manage her contractions and applied lubricant to her vagina (perhaps she had a narrow vagina). The apparently reformed prostitute assisted greatly in the delivery chamber. Psello’s sister appreciated her more than the midwife. That aroused the midwife’s envy. She said:

It’s her fault your labor is difficult. For it is not permitted for pregnant women to help those in labor. This is the law of the woman’s chamber. [4]

Psello’s sister was astonished. “And which one of you here is pregnant?” she uncomprehendingly asked. The midwife pointed to the apparently reformed prostitute, pulled up her frock, and exposed her swelling belly. The apparently reformed prostitute had secretly reverted to prostitution. She evidently wasn’t prostituting herself to obtain necessities of life or even luxuries. She probably enjoyed having sex with men.

Psellos’s sister lacked humane integrity. She was suffering intensely on the way to what normally would be a joyous conclusion to a pregnancy. Yet she responded swiftly and decisively to the revelation that the apparently reformed prostitute was pregnant:

At that point my sister came close to breathing her last and, forgetting all about her labor-pains, let her soul be torn apart by unspeakable pains upon this revelation. But she did not thereby deviate from the noble precept and ordered that woman to flee immediately to the ends of the earth. [5]

The text doesn’t clearly specify which woman (“that woman”) Psellos’s sister ordered to flee.[6] The context makes clear that Psellos’s sister strongly opposed women engaging in prostitution. Moreover, the prostitute that Psellos’s sister befriended and supported in turn deceived her. Psellos’s sister understandably would be furious with that woman’s action. At the same time, exposing out of envy a friend’s deception while one is amid physical and emotional turmoil is despicable. Psellos’s sister understandably would be furious with her midwife. She ordered only one of those woman to leave immediately and forever. Psellos’s sister acted as a harsh, arbitrary, merciless woman.

The desire of Psellos’s sister to save a woman from men produced her death. When she attempted to reform the woman prostitute, Psellos’s sister was in “the prime beauty of her youth.” Yet soon after these events she died:

a terrible sickness had infected my sister’s internal organs and her liver quickly began to fester within and then became swollen. Her entire body was consumed by inner fire and her nature finally succumbed, given way before the more powerful forces. While the wasting disease had not yet exhausted her strength, she died with her body still in full bloom and good condition. [7]

Her sickness was a common sickness under gynocentrism. She had contempt for men’s sexuality. She didn’t appreciate the joy that men and women give to each other with their incarnated beings.

Michael Psellos himself appreciated bodily beauty and human sexuality. Describing a beautiful girl, Psellos explained:

It was not possible for one gazing upon her to be devoid of enchantment, as the surpassing extent of her beauty drove the pleasure deep down into one. [8]

Driving pleasure deep down into a person might be imagined as men’s sexual work. But Psellos, with an astute sense of gender reciprocity, figured the girl as the pleasure driver. At the same time, he forthrightly recognized men’s distinctive sexual vulnerability:

Her thighs widened out on either side, inferior in no way to the statue of Aphrodite of Knidos, with which, the myths say, a certain man fell in love and embraced sexually, so taken was he by the beauty of the statue. As for her legs and the harmony of her knees, the former were adorned by smoothness, the latter provided perfect dexterity in movement. Nor were her ankles devoid of grace, for those too were white and, like a flash of lightening, struck the man who saw them and knocked him out. [9]

Women’s natural beauty is enough to bring men to their knees. Psellos observed that the prostitute whom his sister attempted to reform “would paint herself up in the manner of the courtesans and enchant the many with her artificial beauty.”[10] That description shouldn’t be interpreted literally to disparage female bodily beauty or even artificial beauty. Psellos himself delighted in gazing upon an adorned woman, and he figured his rhetoric as adornment:

I once saw a bride in her bridal chamber, stunning and brilliantly adorned with cosmetic beauty. On the first day, she was adorned with a purple garment, a golden band, a shoulder-strap blooming in manifold ornamentation, and a breast-band made of shiny magnetic metal. After gazing at her for a while I became filled with her visible beauties. Yet on the second day, she changed her adornment and put on a golden embroidered garment and thus captured me again. She did the same on the third and the fourth day. Her beauty was irresistible.

Caesar, I too have discursive earrings and intelligible necklaces, ornaments for my neck and chest. If you are satisfied with gold, I will lay naked some part made of shiny magnetic metal. If you are filled with that too, I have sapphires, hyacinths, or other stones, in varieties of both colour and power. As it seems, neither will you ever quench your desire nor will I ever lack beauty and display. [11]

Psellos appreciated men’s desire for beautiful women. Women prostitutes were prevalent in twelfth-century Constantinople.[12] Psellos almost surely didn’t oppose women offering to men sex for money. In seeking advancement in Byzantine gynocentric society, he also was politically astute enough not to advocate for gender equality in sexual opportunity, nor to speak out about the need to improve men’s sexual welfare.

Psellos almost surely didn’t intend for sophisticated readers to interpret literally his story of his sister befriending a prostitute. He wrote in his Chronographia:

Scattered all over the city {Constantinople} was a vast multitude of harlots, and without attempting to turn them from their trade by argument — that class of woman is deaf anyway to all advice that would save them, — without even trying to curb their activities by force, lest he should earn the reputation of violence, he {Byzantine Emperor Michael IV Paphlagon} built in the Queen of Cities {Constantinople} a place of refuge to house them, an edifice of enormous size and very great beauty. Then, in the stentorian notes of the public herald, he issued a proclamation: all women who trafficked in their beauty, provided they were willing to renounce their trade and live in luxury were to find sanctuary in this building: they were to change their own clothes for the habit of nuns, and all fear of poverty would be banished from their lives for ever, for all things, unsown, without labour of hands, would spring forth for their use. Thereupon a great swarm of prostitutes descended upon this refuge, relying on the emperor’s proclamation, and changed both their garments and their manner of life, a youthful band enrolled in the service of God, as soldiers of virtue. [13]

Did Michael IV Paphlagon actually follow the prostitute-reforming path of Psellos’s sister? Unlike the latter, an emperor’s proclamation and a new building in Constantinople would have been widely known. Psellos most probably fabricated the story of his sister’s action in parallel to the official act of Michael IV. In describing the latter’s act, Psellos commented parenthetically “that class of woman {prostitutes} is deaf anyway to all advice that would save them” and then described the women in their new refuge as “soldiers of virtue.” That characterization seems intended to be understood ironically.[14] Its irony provides Psellos’s inner view of his sister’s attempt to reform a prostitute through providing her with a luxurious life.

The death of Psellos’s sister is the death of his great mother. Psellos claimed that Nature modeled his sister “on the image of my mother.” Moreover, just before recounting the brief story of his sister befriending the prostitute, Psellos declared at length the identity of his mother and his sister:

she {Psellos’s sister} grew up to resemble her mother, just as though she had detached those two aspects away from her, namely body and soul, and preserved the similarity in both respects. Hence she prevailed over every other woman in these respects, except of course her mother. For she was in no way different from her and thus victory was attainable for each through the other. When my mother seemed to prevail, my sister would carry off the victory, wereas when my sister was seen to be better than the others, it was my mother who received the beauty-prize. To such a degree were they similar that the only difference between them was a numerical one. For if someone happened to see only one of them, he could be led astray into thinking that it was the other, whereas if he saw both, he would not immediately be able to discern their exact relationship. So profound and complete was the similarity between them! [15]

Foreshadowing his sister giving birth and dying in the bloom of her youth, Psellos further added:

For it was in the bloom of life that my mother had given birth to her and thus was only a few years older. Hence, she did not differ from her offspring in the bloom of beauty and as a result they were differentiated from each other in no way.

Psellos described his sister during her birth labor summarily expelling a woman from her life as action adhering to “the noble precept.” That ironically characterized precept is a metonym for his mother’s death-dealing Christian asceticism.

Reflecting women’s dominance in holding custody of children and in educating children, Psellos’s mother determined his education. She told him that she had a dream in which appeared a revered church father — one of the three Holy Hierarchs — the early fifth-century Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom. Chrysostom instructed her to fill her son with learning. He told her that he would be her son’s tutor and instructor. Psellos claimed that he learned from someone other than his mother that she had another dream. In that dream, an unnamed woman-spirit instructed her to fill her son with the knowledge of literature. The unnamed woman-spirit plausibly was Lady Philosophy.[16] Psellos would have imagined her teaching him much like Lady Philosophy taught Boethius. Lady Philosophy offered the philosophy of a woman lover. The dream that Psellos didn’t hear from his mother is the telling dream of his life.

Psellos’s mother herself sought not to have sex with her husband. Psellos explained:

she desired to be separated from the world and to draw near to God, but it was not possible for her to act in this way since her husband was still alive and he also believed that a divorce from her was equivalent to an apostasy from God. … She prayed, both day and night, for the most part in secret and undetected, that she might attain the monastic life and seek the state that is devoid of passions. [17]

A wife seeking to be devoid of passions doesn’t make for a passionate marital relationship. To make matters worse, she sought to make herself look repulsive in the eyes of most men:

For she had long loved the rags made of woven hair and the belt of the solitary and this was for her the chief object of meditation and philosophy: to cut her hair to the very root, make her body rough, her knees hard with calluses, to harden her fingers, and to live purely in the presence of the pure God. [18]

Psellos’s mother apparently starved herself to death in her spiritual quest. Her pure God is a different God from the Jesus who ate with government bureaucrats and sinners and who spit into mud and dabbed the mud onto a man’s eyes to cure him of blindness.[19] Psellos’s mother lacked the wisdom of a young woman like the prostitute that Psellos’s sister befriended.

Beneath his strategic self-representations, Michael Psellos didn’t actually worship the god of his great mother. He despised the unworldly monastic life that his mother sought for herself and him:

the rod is heavy: {we are} not to touch anything, nor grumble, nor attend a theatron, nor view a hunt, nor accompany the javelin-throwers and archers, but remain at home — or, rather, not at home, but somewhere else — and kneel, and callus the knees, and turn our fingers to stone…. Summer fruit is sweet, but you shall not taste it; the draught of the spring is pleasant, but you shall not drink it; the meadow is in full flower, but you shall not approach it; the theatron is a pleasant pastime, but you shall not view it; hunting is delightful, but you shall not see the leaping hares and the pursuing dog, nor anything that enchants your soul. I fear that those who make the laws will take the earth from us, and forbid us to breathe the air. [20]

Those who make the laws have almost always been a few elite men. Just as Mary controlled Jesus’s attention at the cross, elite men legislators make laws to serve women. Men’s bodies are seized under law to fight wars, men are required under law to work to work to provide money to women and children, and opportunities for men to get together in men-only groups are severely restricted.

Psellos’s mother’s death-dealing Christian asceticism is a metonym for gynocentric oppression of men. In Psellos’s Encomium for his mother, the great mother devalues men’s humanity. Psellos shrewdly treated this effect with apophasis:

Now whatever my relatives wished for me when I was born, for instance that I would never cry, not even in the most pressing demands of nature; that I would never accept another woman’s breast but only that of my mother; and that I would recognize her as my mother through intuition and not habit, as well as all the other things about which there is no need to say anything, these, then, I leave to the women’s chambers. [21]

The inner meaning of Psellos’s Encomium for his mother is linked to gynocentrism, just as is his rhetorical strategy of irony, indirection, and allusion.[22] Psellos’s great mother died. Apparently forced into a monastery as a result of political tensions some years after her death, Psellos then issued his Encomium for his mother.[23] That action testifies to living under gynocentrism.

No irrational, childish jingle, Psellos’s funeral encomium for the great mother was a sophisticated perlocutionary act. In its inner wisdom, the Encomium urged that gynocentrism be buried and men be allowed to live successfully as fully masculine men. The intent of Psellos’s perlocutionary act sadly hasn’t been realized to this day.[24]

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[1] Michael Psellos, Encomium for his mother 14(a), from Greek trans. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 74. The subsequent quote is from id.

Walker has provided an alternate English translation. Both Walker’s and Kaldellis’s translations are based on Ugo Criscuolo’s 1989 critical edition of the Greek text. Walker observed of the Encomium:

Another feature of the text, which I already have suggested, is its studied use of ambiguity, or of statements than can be taken in multiple or opposite senses, which often cannot be rendered in translation. … I do not think this or any translation of Psellos’ Encomium of His Mother can be absolutely definitive, given its complexities and subtleties. I offer mine, then, as one way of reading the text, one that I hope rhetoricians in particular will find useful, while I look forward to the day when there will be additional and better translations

Walker (2005) pp. 243-4. The translations above I’ve chosen to be most accessible to a non-specialist reader and most faithful to the context in the Encomium as I understand it.

Psellos’s work deserves much more attention than it has received. Kaldellis rightly declared:

Psellos deserves to be brought to the forefront of medieval and European intellectual history, where, despite long neglect he rightfully belongs. … Court orator, professor of philosophy, historian, advisor to the emperors of eleventh-century Byzantium, Michael Psellos is still one of the best kept secrets in European history.

Kaldellis (2006b) pp. 228, 233.

[2] Id. However, for the final sentence I’ve used the translation from Walker (2005) p. 264. Kaldellis’s translation for that sentence is:

She now rejoiced for having saved a soul from being devoured by the wicked beast.

At the end of the above sentence Kaldellis (2006a) p. 74, n. 80 has “Cf. Ezekiel 34:8.” That biblical verse concerns sheep becoming the prey of wild animals because they have no shepherd. The context in the Encomium seems to me to be more weighted toward worldly concerns (provisions for worldly living). Moreover, men’s heterosexuality has historically been figured as beast-like, particularly wolfish. The translation “being devoured by the wicked beast” is more negatively moralized than “become a victim of the beast.” Anti-men bias in criminalizing seduction in the U.S. and other countries is currently prevalent. That could easily color a translation of an ambiguous twelfth-century Byzantine literary text. I thus have more confidence in the less moralized translation.

[3] Encomium 14(b), adapted from Kaldellis’s and Walker’s translations. Kaldellis’s translation:

she aroused jealousy in many women of the family who accused her, the savior, of preferring a stranger over her own kin.

Kaldellis (2006a) p. 74. Walker’s translation:

several women of her family became jealous and blamed “the savioress” for preferring an outsider to members of the household.

Walker (2005) p. 74. Psellos’s sister’s role seems to me to be best marked with Walker’s quoted, explicitly gendered term. My adaption attempts to convey best the apparent sense of jealousy within a non-nuclear household.

[4] Encomium 14(d), trans. Kaldellis (2005) p. 75. Walker’s translation uses more emotional, punchy language. Kaldellis’s translation seems to me more plausible in context. The subsequent short quote is from id.

[5] Encomium 14(d), trans. Kaldellis (2005) p. 75. For “deviate from the noble precept,” Walker has “deprived of the nobler gain.” Kaldellis’s translation seems to me to bring out a plausible irony.

[6] Walker (2005) p. 201, n. 122.

[7] Encomium 15(a), trans. Kaldellis (2005) pp. 75-6. I’ve slightly modified the last sentence to make it clearer, yet consistent with the sense of Walker’s translation. The phrase “in the prime beauty of her youth” is from 14(d), trans. id. p. 75.

[8] Michael Psellos, Funeral Oration for his daughter Styliane, who died before the age of mariage 6, trans. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 120.

[9] Funeral Oration for his daughter Styliane 26, trans. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 126. Papaioannou commented:

Psellos’ detailed description of Styliane’s bodily beauty, which interests us, is the longest such description in Psellos’ funerary texts and comparable Byzantine writing. … What is clear is that the rhetor Psellos is willing to explore and appropriate the valency of bodily female appearance to its maximum. He eroticizes the presentation of his own daughter’s virginal body — the intimacy of kinship, we should note, allowed such liberty according to Byzantine rhetorical convention — and, at the same time, he displays his own rhetorical skill, exhibiting his ekphrastic discourse as the perfect mirror of his daughter’s body.

Papaioannou (2013) pp. 220-1.

[10] Encomium 14(a), trans. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 74. The Greek translated as “in the manner of courtesans” is ἔζη ἑταιρικῶς (“was living hetaira-like”). Walker (2005) p. 201, n. 117. A hetaira normally had a long-term relationship with her sex customers.

[11] Psellos, Letter 7, trans. Papaioannou (2011) p. 48. To make the translation more accessible, I’ve replaced the unusual English term “electron” with “shiny magnetic metal.”

Psellos’s also had a sense of his own physical beauty. He regarded himself as less beautiful than his sister. Encomium 13(a), with Kaldellis and Walker’s translations of the relevant text differing significantly. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 72, Walker (2005) p. 262. In Constantinople nearly a century later, Theodore Prodromos in his novel Rhodanthe and Dosikles audaciously asserted the men and women have equal intrinsic bodily beauty.

[12] Garland stated:

prostitution, too, was simply a fact of life in the capital. Seldom mentioned in our sources, it was clearly accepted as a normal social phenomenon in Constantinople and doubtless provided a large proportion of the female company that amused Andronikos I and Isaac II in their revels.

Garland (1996) p. 20. Byzantine emperors commonly had mistresses:

of the twenty-one Byzantine emperors who ruled between 976 and 1204, only eight are not assigned mistresses or described as voluptuaries in the sources … two, Manuel and Andronikos, had illegitimate children specifically named and documented in the sources … of the seven members of the Palaiologue dynasty between 1259 and 1425 who ruled as sole emperor, all are instanced as having mistresses or illegitimate children, and, in general, both, and similar claims can be made for the Laskarid and Epirote dynasties during the period of the Latin empire (1204-1261).

Id. p. 47. Royal women, of course, also participated in extra-marital affairs. Id. p. 48.

Papaioannou declared, “Christian constraints imposed strict economies on narrative expressions of bodily eros from late antiquity onwards.” Papaioannou (2011) p. 43. That’s ridiculous. The best remedy for such misunderstanding is reading Boccaccio.

[13] Michael Psellos, Chronographia 4.36, from Greek trans. Sewter (1953) pp. 73-4. Sewter’s translation “contains many mistakes, and occasionally even directly contradicts the meaning of the original.” Kaldellis (1999) p. 22. But the important aspects of the quoted passage are correctly translated. Id. p. 88.

The dating of the Encomium relative to the Chronographia isn’t well established. Psellos indicated that his history would finish with the end of the reign of Iaac Komnenos in 1059. Chronographia 7.51, trans. Sewter (1953) p. 234. Other evidence indicates that he wrote the Chronographia through to that point before 1063. Kaldellis (1999) p. 11. Along with Ugo Criscuolo, the editor of the critical edition, Kaldellis dated the Encomium to 1054-1055. He dated the relevant section of the Chronographia to “about a decade after the Encomium.” Kaldellis (2006a) p. 31, Kaldellis (2006b) pp. 224-5,  Kaldellis (2007) p. 195. Walker, however, suggested that the Encomium may have been written some time between 1059 and 1064. Walker (2005) p. 49, 64-6. The exact chronological relation doesn’t matter to the above analysis.

As in generally the case, regulation of sexuality in Byzantium emphasized the welfare of women relative to men. For example, the Latin Emperor Baldwin I (1204-5) enacted regular proclamations of sexual regulation:

twice a week in the evening he had a herald proclaim that no one who slept within the palace was to have sexual intercourse with any woman who was not his legal wife.

Choniates, Annals, from Greek trans. Magoulias (1984) p. 328, cited in Garland (1996) p. 7. Under this proclamation, women were free to sleep with men who were not their husbands.

[14] Kaldellis interpreted that comment as sarcastic:

This “army” was exempt from fighting battles. Their new “virtue” was really “luxury” provided by the State.

Kaldellis (1999), p. 88.

[15] Encomium 13(b), trans. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 73. The subsequent quote is from id. On Nature modeling his sister on the image of her mother, 4(c) trans. id. p. 58.

[16] The relevant text is Encomium 5. Regarding the identity of the indistinctly seen woman, Walker stated:

A reasonable guess is “Lady Rhetoric” or “Lady Philosophy (both were fused in Psellos’ rhetorical-philosophical ideal), or perhaps the “spirit” of classical paideia

Walker (2004), p. 78. Kaldellis characterized Walker’s suggestion as plausible. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 61, n. 45.

[17] Encomium 11(b), trans. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 70. The subsequent quote is from id.

[18] Encomium 11(b), trans. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 70. Men tend to find relatively attractive women with long hair. In the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Paul counseled Thecla not to cut her hair. Apuleius, Golden Ass 2.8 makes extravagant claims about the importance of a woman’s long hair to her beauty.

[19] On Psellos’s mother starving herself, Encomium 21-22. Walker commented, “it sounds like anorexia.” Walker (2004) p. 88. Anorexia is much more common today. Anorexia today, however, is typically associated with anxiety about worldly perceptions of one’s body and frustration about one’s scope of personal agency.

On Jesus’s behavior, Matthew 9:10, Mark 2:13-7, John 9:1-7.

[20] Michael Psellos, Letter 242, trans. Walker (2004) p. 71.

[21] Encomium 5(a), trans. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 59. Most scholars today are even more cautious in talking about gynocentrism.

[22] These rhetorical tactics are enumerated in Walker (2005) p. 240 and analyzed extensively in Walker (2004). Kaldellis (1999) analyzed Psellos’s Chronographia with similar understanding of his rhetoric. Neither recognized gynocentrism in Byzantium or in the modern U.S. and other countries. For extensive study of the ancient practice of figured speech, Howell (2016).

[23] On Psellos’s situation at the time of his writing the Encomium, Walker (2004) pp. 64-75, Kaldellis (2006a) pp. 31-6. Walker stated:

It is clear that Psellos’ encomium is not {literally} a funeral oration, and has been composed well after the events described. He describes Theodota’s funeral as an event in the past, and describes her parents as having been present and still quite vigorous at the time (24), while elsewhere describing them as having passed away (2). Their passing would have been sometime (years?) after Theodota’s death and funeral, and sometime (years?) before the composition of the encomium.

Walker (2004) p. 65. Walker guesses that Psellos’s mother Theodota died “sometime in the 1040s or early 1050s.” Id. Kaldellis stated that Psellos’s  mother’s death probably wasn’t recent relative to the Encominum. Kaldellis (2006a) p. 35. The Encomium “was probably written long after her death.” Kaldellis (2007) p. 196.

[24] Kaldellis observed that Psellos’s Encomium “ought to have been intensively and extensively studied,” but it hasn’t been. Kaldellis (2006b) pp. 227-8. In the little study that has occurred, scholars haven’t recognized its sophisticated treatment of gynocentrism. That’s the feature of the Encomium most relevant to life today in high-income, democratic countries.

Walker, in his extended treatment of the Encomium, only superficially addressed the central story of Psellos’s sister befriending the prostitute. With respect to that story, Walker concluded:

The structure of Psellos’ narrative makes it seem that her death {Psellos’s sister’s death} resulted not simply from the medical complications of childbirth, but also and perhaps more fundamentally from a broken heart. The episode is presented, in short, as a bittersweet, tragic tale of the consequences of Christian “philosophy” not balanced by the practical, worldly phronêsis of secular knowledge and experience; and, as such, it is a prelude to what will happen to Psellos’ parents.

Walker (2005) p. 84. Walker treated the story only in its locally interconnected surface narrative, ignored the distinctive identification of sister and mother, overlooked the negative characterization of all three women in the story, and didn’t recognized the story’s position in the global figurative problem of the Encomium and Byzantine gynocentrism.

[image] Sylvia Plath postage stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service. Works of U.S. government agencies are generally in the public domain in the U.S. The stamp incorporates a photograph of Sylvia Plath made by Rollie McKenna in 1959. That source photograph is held in the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography. Plath is a highly acclaimed and influential poet. Among her most famous works is a poem entitled “Daddy.”


Garland, Lynda. 1996. “‘How Different, How Very Different from the Home Life of Our Own Dear Queen,’ Sexual Morality at the Late Byzantine Court with Especial Reference to the 11th and 12th Centuries.” Byzantine Studies / Études Byzantines 1–2: 1–62.

Howell, Justin P. 2016. The Pharisees and Figured Speech in Luke-Acts. Ph.D. Thesis. Faculty of the Divinity School. University of Chicago.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 1999. The Argument of Psellos’ Chronographia. Leiden: Brill.

Kaldellis, Anthony, ed. and trans. 2006a. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters: the Byzantine family of Michael Psellos. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 2006b. “Thoughts on the Future of Psellos-Studies, with Attention to his Mother’s Encomium.” Ch. 11 (pp. 217-233) in Barber, Charles, and David Jenkins, eds. Reading Michael Psellos. Leiden: Brill.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 2007. Hellenism in Byzantium: the transformations of Greek identity and the reception of the classical tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Magoulias, Harry J. trans. 1984. Nicetas Choniates. O city of Byzantium: annals of Niketas Choniatēs. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Papaioannou, Stratis. 2011. “Michael Psellos on friendship and love: erotic discourse in eleventh-century Constantinople.” Early Medieval Europe. 19(1): 43-61.

Papaioannou, Stratis. 2013. Michael Psellos: rhetoric and authorship in Byzantium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sewter, E. R. A., trans. 1953. The Chronographia of Michael Psellus. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Walker, Jeffrey. 2004. “These Things I Have Not Betrayed: Michael Psellos’ Encomium of His Mother as a Defense of Rhetoric.” Rhetorica. 22 (1): 49-101.

Walker, Jeffrey. 2005. “Michael Psellos: the Encomium of his Mother.” Advances in the History of Rhetoric. 8(1): 239-313.

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