MICHAEL PSELLOS or PSELLUS (Greek : Μιχαήλ Ψελλός, Mikhaēl Psellos) was a Byzantine Greek monk, writer, philosopher, politician and historian. He was born in 1017 or 1018, and is believed to have died in 1078, although it has also been maintained that he remained alive until 1096.
* 1 Biography and political career * 2 Chronographia * 3 Other works * 4 Personality * 5 Pseudo-Psellos * 6 References in literature * 7 Editions * 8 See also * 9 References * 10 Further reading * 11 External links
BIOGRAPHY AND POLITICAL CAREER
The main source of information about Psellos' life comes from his own
works, which contain extensive autobiographical passages. Michael
Psellos was probably born in
Towards the end of Monomachos' reign, Psellos found himself under
political pressure for some reason and finally decided to leave the
court, entering the Olympus monastery on Mount Olympus in
1054. After Monomachos' death, however, he was soon recalled to court
by his successor, Empress Theodora (reigned 1055–1056). Throughout
the following years, he remained active in politics, serving as a
high-ranking political advisor to several successive emperors. He
played a decisive political role in the transition of power from
Michael VI to
Isaac I Komnenos in 1057; then from Isaac Komnenos to
Constantine X Doukas (1059); and then again from
Romanos IV Diogenes
Michael VII Doukas (1071). As Psellos had served as Michael's
personal teacher during the reign of Michael's father Constantine, and
as he had played an important role in helping Michael gain power
against his adversary and stepfather Romanos, Psellos probably
entertained hopes of an even more influential position as a teacher
and advisor under him. However, Michael seems to have been less
inclined towards protecting Psellos and after the mid-1070s there is
no more information about any role played by Psellos at court. As his
own autobiographic accounts cease at this point, there is little
reliable information about his later years. Some scholars believe that
Psellos had to retreat into a monastery again at some time during the
1070s. Following a remark by Psellos' fellow historian Joannes
Zonaras , it is believed by most scholars that Psellos died soon after
the fall of
Michael VII in 1078, although some scholars have also
proposed later dates. What is known is that Theophylaktos of Bulgaria
wrote a letter to Psellos's brother comforting him on the death of his
brother saying that, "Your brother has not died, but has departed to
Rulers of the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. Based on Chronographia
Probably Psellos' best known and most accessible work is the Chronographia. It is a history of the Byzantine emperors during the century leading up to Psellos' own time. It covers the reigns of fourteen emperors and empresses, beginning with the almost 50-year-long reign of Basil II, the "Bulgar-Slayer" (976–1025), and ending some time during the reign of Michael VII Doukas (1071–1078). It is structured mainly as a series of biographies. Unlike most other historiographical works of the period, it places much more emphasis on the description of characters than on details of political and military events. It also includes very extensive autobiographical elements about Psellos' political and intellectual development, and it gives far greater weight to those periods when Psellos held an active position in politics (especially the reign of Constantine IX), giving the whole work almost the character of political memoirs. It is believed to have been written in two parts. The first covers the emperors up to Isaac I Komnenos. The second, which has a much more strongly apologetic tone, is in large parts an encomium on Psellus' current protectors, the emperors of the Doukas dynasty.
Psellos left many other writings:
* "Historia syntomos", a shorter, didactic historical text in the
form of a world chronicle.
* A large number of scientific, philosophical and religious
treatises. One well-known example of these is De Operatione Daemonum,
a classification of demons . He wrote or compiled an important work on
philosophy, the De omnifaria doctrina. Other works deal with topics
such as astronomy , medicine , music , jurisprudence , physics , and
* Various didactic poems on topics such as grammar and rhetorics .
* Three Epitaphioi or funeral orations over the patriarchs Michael
Keroularios , Constantine III Leichoudes and John Xiphilinos .
* A funeral oration for his mother, including a large amount of
* Several panegyrics , persuasive speeches (including works against
Psellos was universally educated and had a reputation for being one
of the most learned men of his time. He prided himself on having
single-handedly reintroduced to Byzantine scholarship a serious study
of ancient philosophy, especially of
As mentioned above, serious questions were raised during Psellos' lifetime concerning his religious beliefs. For example, according to Byzantinist Anthony Kaldellis, "In 1054 he was accused by his erstwhile friend, the future Patriarch John Xiphilinos, of forsaking Christ to follow Plato." Even stronger doubts arose concerning Psellos' student, John Italos , who succeeded Psellos as Chief of the Philosophers. Italos was publicly accused of teaching such "Hellenizing" ideas as metempsychosis and the eternity of the world . Italos faced such accusations twice, and both times he confessed and recanted.
It was once thought that there was another Byzantine writer of the
same name, MICHAEL PSELLOS THE ELDER (now also called PSEUDO-PSELLOS),
who lived on the island of
Andros in the 9th century, and who was a
pupil of Photius and teacher of emperor
Leo VI the Wise
The term "Pseudo-Psellos" is also used in modern scholarship to describe the authorship of several later works that are believed to have been falsely ascribed to Psellos in Byzantine times.
REFERENCES IN LITERATURE
In the gloss of Samuel Taylor Coleridge 's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner , there is a reference to "the Platonic Constantinopolitan, Michael Psellus" as an authority on "the invisible inhabitants of this planet, neither departed souls nor angels".
The British poet Christopher Middleton includes a poem about Psellus in his 1986 collection, Two Horse Wagon Going By , 'Mezzomephistophelean Scholion'.
Psellos appears also in
Compendium mathematicum, 1647
* Psellus, Michael (1647). Compendium mathematicum (in Latin). Lugd. Batav: Bonaventura Elzevier, Abraham Elzevier. Retrieved 2015-06-19. * Chronographie ou histoire d'un siècle de Byzance (976–1077). Ed. Émile Renauld. 2 vols. Paris 1926/28. . * Imperatori di Bisanzio (Cronografia). Ed. Salvatore Impellizzeri. 2 vols. Vicenza 1984. * Chronographia, ed. E. R. A. Sewter. London 1953. . * Vidas de los emperadores des Bizancio (Cronografia). Ed. Juan Signes Codoñer. Madrid 2005 . * Autobiografia (Encomio per la madre. Ed. Ugo Criscuolo. Naples 1989. * De omnifaria doctrina. Ed. Leendert G. Westerink. Utrecht 1948. * De operatione daemonum. Ed. Jean-François Boissonade . Nürnberg 1838, reprint Amsterdam 1964. * De operatione daemonum. Tr. Marcus Collision. Sydney 1843. Full online text * '"Éloge inédit du lecteur Jean Kroustoulas." Ed. Paul Gautier. Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici, n.s. 17–19 (27–29), 1980–1982: 119–147. * Epistola a Giovanni Xifilino. Ed. Ugo Criscuolo. Naples 1990. * Epistola a Michele Kerulario. Ed. Ugo Criscuolo. Naples 1990. * Historia Syntomos. Ed. Willem J. Aerts. Berlin 1990. * Orationes hagiographicae. Ed. Elizabeth A. Fisher. Stuttgart/Leipzig 1994. * Orationes panegyricae. Ed. George T. Dennis. Stuttgart/Leipzig 1994. * Oratoria minora. Ed. Antony R. Littlewood. Leipzig 1984. * Orazione in memoria di Constantino Lichudi. Ed. Ugo Criscuolo. Messina 1983. * Philosophica minora I. Ed. John M. Duffy. Stuttgart/Leipzig 1992. * Philosophica minora II. Ed. Dominic J. O'Meara. Leipzig 1989. * Poemata. Ed. Leendert G. Westerink. Stuttgart/Leipzig 1992. * Scripta minora magnam partem adhuc inedita. 2 vols. Ed. Eduard Kurtz, Franz Drexl. Milan 1936/41. * Essays on Euripides and George of Pisidia and on Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius. Ed. Andrew R. Dyck. Wien 1989. * Theologica I. Ed. Paul Gautier. Leipzig 1989. * Theologica II. Ed. Leendert G. Westerink, John M. Duffy. München/Leipzig 2002.