Deconstructions and Reconstitutions of the Excerpta Constantiniana

Excerpts versus Fragments: Deconstructions and Reconstitutions of the Excerpta Constantiniana

András Németh

In the tenth century, Constantinople saw an overambitious project that attempted to unify available historical knowledge into a single, comprehensive, multivolume work of history. We call the scarce remains of this project Excerpta Constantiniana. Under the supervision of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII (945–959), a team of Byzantine scholars reshaped dozens of complete historical writings in Greek. They applied the method of excerpting to harmonize and accommodate the overload of immense historical experience to the need of the learned at the imperial court. Since the late sixteenth century, the seismic movement of publishing the remains of the lost antiquity started seeing the EC as a valuable collection of fragments of whole works that have gone forever.

In the framework of the Working Group "The Learned Practices of Canonical Texts," András Németh's research sought to compare these two viewpoints, one deconstructing various historical narratives according to a specific view of history with the other viewing the “excerpts” as parts of the lost individual wholes. Each produced different textual practices that shaped the same textual corpus into slightly different forms. The diachronic overview of this study shows how the deconstruction of historical narratives in Byzantium and their reconstitution since the early modern period depended on changing views of the ideal, alternating attitudes to the canon of historians, the flexible understanding of textual integrity and the combination of textual methods. The contrast between these practices invites the reader to give ancient textual practices more credit and to recognize the limitations of our modern ones.