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December 24, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments


I have been reading Judith Herrin’s Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire off and on over the last two and a half months, mostly on since finishing Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War a few days ago. (And soon it might be off again, since maybe, just maybe, I’ll be getting the new biography of V.S. Naipaul that I discussed in an earlier post as a present tomorrow. Then again, given the difficulty FedEx is having getting packages to us, it may be a while before I see the Naipaul book.)

I found out about Byzantium from Glen Bowersock’s review in the New York Review of Books in September. I’m about one-third of the way through it now, in the midst of a chapter on iconoclasm, and I’m learning a lot. The book isn’t a straight history. Rather, it moves back and forth across time while examining different facets of Byzantine history and culture, such as icons, the law, Christian theology, government, war, and architecture. One can hardly help making connections on every page with our own culture and politics. But how could it be otherwise? After all, we’re talking about a millennium of history, including the evolution of Christianity, the rise of Islam, and developments from France and Spain across the Mediterranean to the Arabian peninsula and beyond, all centered of course on Constantinople.

We have three I’s we’re supposed to travel to: Ireland, Italy, and Israel. We’ll have to add a fourth: Istanbul.

Categories: Books, Culture, History
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