Episode 177 – Questions VI

Listener questions on houses, slavery, citizenship, vacations and common sayings amongst others.

Period: 913-1025

Download: Questions VI

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One thought on “Episode 177 – Questions VI

  1. JeanDukeofAlecon

    On the subject of aristocratic villas, one version of Digenes Akritas (compiled in the 12th century but still quite relevant, especially since the original sung poem dates from our period) provides a fascinating glimpse into what the lofty palaces of the provincial wealthy might have looked like. The text covers, in the 7th chapter, the retirement of the titular Digenes after a successful career fighting emirs, protecting Romania, and plundering the Saracen lands. Akritas decides to finally settle down, and has a luxurious mansion built on the river Euphrates, which the text describes (no doubt based on an existing model of some kind) in detail:

    “Channelling water from this river,
    he planted another delightful pleasure garden there,
    a remarkable grove, truly a good sight for the eyes.
    There was a wall around the grove, high enough,
    with four sides of smoothed marble.
    Within it waved a festival of plants;
    branches bloomed brilliantly as they vied with each other
    — such was the contest among the trees.

    Beautiful vines were attached on either side,
    reeds grew there reaching upwards,
    fruits hung down while other plants bore flowers on flowers,
    the meadow bloomed brilliantly beneath the trees
    with its many colours, gleaming with flowers,
    sweet-scented narcissus, roses, and myrtles.
    The roses were a purple-tinted ornament to the earth,
    the narcissus reflected in turn the colour of milk,
    the glittering violets were the colour of the sea,
    with its calm ruffled by a light breeze.

    Water flowed abundantly everywhere in the meadow.
    Several kinds of birds lived there;
    some had been subdued and sought food among men,
    but the rest, having won freedom for their wings,
    played as they perched among the tree-tops;
    some birds sang sweetly,
    others were resplendent in the radiance of their wings,
    tame peacocks, parrots, and swans;
    the swans browsed for food in the water,
    the parrots sand in the branches among the trees,
    the peacocks paraded their wings among the flowers
    and reflected the flowers’ colours in their wings.

    In the middle of this marvellous and delightful pleasure garden,
    the noble frontiersman built a delightful house,
    of good size, four-square, of hewn stones,
    with imposing columns and windows in the upper part.

    He decorated all the ceilings with mosaics
    from costly marbles, gleaming in their brilliance.
    He made the floor bright and paved it with stone pieces.
    Inside he made upper rooms with three floors,
    fair in height, with ceilings of many shades
    and cross-shaped halls, extraordinary five-domed chambers
    with glittering marble that sparkled most radiantly.

    The craftsman so beautified his work
    that you might think that what you saw was woven
    out of the precious stones’ bright and multi-formed appearance.
    He paved the floor with onyx
    that had been so highly polished that onlookers thought
    it was water frozen into ice.

    At an angle on both sides he set up
    marvellous dining-chambers, of a good length, with golden ceilings,
    on which he recorded the triumphs of all the illustrious men of valour
    from the past in beautiful mosaics of gold,
    beginning with Samson’s battle against the philistines,
    how — unbelievably — he tore the lion apart with his hands,
    how he carried off the aliens’ gates, bolts and all,
    to the hill when he had been imprisoned,
    his mockery and overthrow of the aliens,
    and finally the complete destruction of the temple,
    that he achieved in days gone by,
    when he destroyed himself together with the aliens.

    In the middle he displayed David, without weapons of any kind,
    holding only a sling in his hand and a stone.
    And next Goliath, huge in stature,
    terrifying in appearance and great in strength,
    defended from head to foot with iron,
    and holding in his hand a javelin like a loom,
    entirely iron in colour through the painters’ art:
    he depicted him and his activities in war —
    Goliath, who had been swiftly struck by a well-aimed stone,
    at once fell wounded to the ground —
    and David, running up and raising his sword,
    and cutting off Goliath’s head and achieving victory;
    then Saul’s envy, the flight of that most gentle man,
    the myriad plots and God’s vengeance.

    He recorded Achilles’ legendary wars,
    the beauty of Agamemnon, the deadly slaughter,
    wise Penelope, the suitors who were slain,
    Odysseus’ marvellous daring against the Cyclops,
    Bellerophon killing the fire-bearing Chimaira,
    the triumphs of Alexander, the defeat of Dareios,
    Kandake’s palace and her wisdom,
    the journey to the Brahmans and then to the Amazons,
    and the rest of the wise Alexander’s achievements
    and a host of other marvellous feats, brave deeds of many kinds;
    Moses’ miracles, the Egyptians’ plagues,
    the Exodus of the Jews, the complaints of the ungrateful,
    God’s wrath, the attendant’s supplication,
    the glorious exploits of Joshua son of Nun.

    All these scenes and many more in the two dining-chambers
    Digenis recorded in gold mosaic,
    which provided boundless pleasure to those who saw them.

    Within the courtyard of the house was a flat area
    of great size in both length and breadth.
    In the middle of this Digenis set up a church, a glorious structure,
    in the name of the martyr Saint Theodore;
    and in it he buried his revered father,
    bringing the body from Cappadocia
    and adorned the tomb, as was fitting, with brilliant stones.”

    The complex described doubtless represents one of the most luxurious which could have been commissioned by a member of the aristocracy of our period, but the basic features — a main building with a large courtyard, a larger, more richly decorated upper floor, and attached gardens, halls, and religious facilities — are likely much more generally representative of the homes of the upper aristocracy. They also represent a clear continuity in styles and forms from classical Roman antiquity, especially striking here as accompanied by mosaic cycles depicting the Iliad, Odyssey, and adventures of Alexander, including a middle Byzantine version of the famous defeat of Darius mosaic in Pompeii.

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