Time: Usage, Perception, and Interpretation in the Byzantine World
From the life of Basil the First, written to legitimise the Macedonian dynasty, to the use of spolia in religious and lay architecture, and from the development of a textual and visual tradition concerning the Last Judgement to typika strictly organising monastic life, the experience of time, which mobilises the memory of the past, the attention to the present, and hope in the future, takes multiple forms which can be applied to the study of numerous aspects of Byzantine Culture.
Intimately linked to experience, time is first perceptible through the mutations that it operates. Time marked by the alternation of night and day and by the rhythm of the seasons, in addition to ecclesiastical time, punctuated by the religious calendar of Great Feasts, the commemoration of saints, and the rhythm of the liturgy, is significant to all. It constitutes a particularly fruitful topic for the understanding of the reality of women and men in the Byzantine World.
It is in considering time at different scales that we may understand the complexity of this phenomenon. Amongst the qualities of God, that of anarchos raises the question of eternity, difficult to grasp by humankind. In society, the organised succession of events through historical discourse exhibits the linear nature of time, which, depending on the period, is understood as progress or decline in contrast to nature’s cyclical character.
This concept of time, simultaneously cyclical, linear, and eternal, blurs notions of past, present, and future, underlined in literary and artistic expression. The instrumentalisation of the past for practical, theoretical, political, and spiritual reasons underpin the long-term continuity and legitimacy of the empire. Polarised by Creation and the Incarnation, the course of time, in Christian thought, is inevitably oriented towards the end of time and the salvation of humankind. The fear produced by this predetermined future contributed to a rise in eschatological preoccupations, and dictated the development of apotropaic practice with the purpose of protecting individual and collective presents in order to guarantee access to eternal life. As such, the question of the virtuous terrestrial life as preparation for salvation is pertinent to all. Additionally, at an individual level, questions concerning the transformation of the body throughout time and the pathway towards death are also relevant.
These questions guide us in seeing nature and the specificity of time as it was envisioned in Byzantium and in its neighbours. Talks may therefore address the following themes, though the list is not exhaustive: