If we assume that the Pope's use of Manuel's "Dialogue with Persian" is not the result of scholarly incompetence regarding things Byzantine on the part of the Pope's advisors and speech writers, then it is a (mis)reading of the past in light of the present and an example of how one can take a historical source completely out of context and employ it for the purposes of one's own rhetoric.I for one think it's very important that the Pope's speech be scrutinized. This isn't a learned pope's fleeting pedantic allusion to a learned emperor. It's actually quite a significant clue as to the part the Vatican will play in the coming "debate" on Civilization, which Tony Blair has, in a sense, inaugurated with his polished oratory.
Manuel II was an intellectual emperor; he left a whole body of work, generally written in highly rhetorical style and classicizing language. The "Dialogue with a Persian" belongs to an established literary genre of Christian-Muslim polemic that came into existence soon after the rise of Islam. The format of the dialogue is supposed to help communicate complicated thoughts in a simple manner. Such polemical disputes between representatives of the two religions were frequent in the 14th century, not only in literary form, as imaginary works of fiction, but also in reality.
The "Dialogue with a Persian" is a Christian's (=Byzantine's) dialogue with a Turk. "Persian" is how Byzantine sources in classicizing language tend to call the Turks, a fact that the Pope's speech neglects to clarify. The "holy war" Manuel discusses in the dialogue is essentially the war (whether holy or unholy) that the Turks waged successfully towards the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, as a result devouring his empire.
As hostage to the Turks, Manuel had been forced to participate on the Turkish side in the siege against Byzantine Philadelphia and witness its fall. He resided in Thessaloniki (the second largest city of the empire at the time) during the time of its siege and capture by the Turks. He spent a few years in Paris trying to secure military aid (trips away from their territories were extremely unusual for Byzantine emperors, therefore this is indicative of Manuel's desperation); at the same time his capital was besieged by Bayezid, and the Ottomans would have taken it, had it not been for Timur Lenk who defeated them in Ankara. Manuel's surviving letters show him a witness to increased Islamization and Turkification in the territories that he continued to lose to the Turks.
Authoring the "Dialogue with the Persian" is also a call to the Christian flock (Manuel's own conquered subjects) not to convert; under the circumstances, the ideological purpose of the "Dialogue" could not have been aggressive, only defensive.
I will let the readers of your blog draw their own conclusions regarding the reasons why the Pope did not clarify the identity of the "Persian" or the "Dialogue's" context and what he was trying to achieve by not doing so.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Berkeley's Byzantinist on Benedict's Blunder
The Pope claims he was just quoting. But Berkeley's Prof. Maria Mavroudi has very kindly provided us with some historical context and glossed a few of Palaeologus' words: