Byzantine Novel: Characteristics and Genres

The Byzantine novel Is a genre of Spanish literary narrative written in prose and developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the Byzantine narrative one tends to imitate to the old Greek authors exponents of the ancient Greek novel, particularly to Heliodoro de Émesa .

The outline of the Byzantine novel is almost always the same: two young men promise each other eternal love and must overcome serious obstacles in order to see their union crystallized.

Byzantine Novel: Characteristics and Genres

The first Spanish Byzantine novel was written by Alonso Nuñez de Reinoso and bears by name Clareo and Florisea . It was published in 1552 and is largely a translation of the novel by the Greek poet Achilles called Tacitus Leucipa and Clitofonte.

The Pilgrim in his homeland Of Lope de Vega, was one of the most popular novels of this genre.

Ancient Greek novel

The ancient Greek novel is the starting point or of which the Byzantine novel is served. Five of them have survived completely since antiquity, these are: Adventures of Quaires and Calirroe de Caritón (Mid-1st century), Adventures of Leucipa and Clitofonte of Achilles Tacitus (Beginning of the second century) Dafnis and Cloe de Longo (2nd century), Ephesian of Xenophon of Ephesus (Late second century) and Ethiopian Also known as Heliodoro's Theaclas and Cariclea (3rd century).

But there are also many fragments preserved in papyri or in quotations and abstracts of Photius, an ecumenical patriarch of the ninth century.

The plots of these stories are usually relatively conventional, that is, involve the heterosexual desire of a beautiful and virtuous young couple who goes through difficulties until finally they meet again and have a happy ending.

However, some of these works show more sophistication in the handling of narrative, character and intersexuality.

These authors had a great influence in the later centuries thanks in part to the translations made by the French writer and translator Jacques Amyot . Due to the transcriptions he made on these works, they were rediscovered in early modern Europe and played an influential role in the formation of the modern novel, in particular of the romance genre.

Byzantine Literature

The Spanish Byzantine novel is inscribed within what is known as Byzantine literature; This is also known as Greek literature of the Middle Ages, either written within the space of the Byzantine Empire or outside its borders and is part of the so-called second period in the history of Greek literature. Byzantine literature and modern Greek literature that began in the eleventh century have features that make them indistinguishable.

Under the Comenius dynasty, the Byzantine writers of Constantinople of the twelfth century reintroduced the ancient Greek romantic literature imitating its form and time but Christianizing its content.

It is for this reason that Byzantine stories are traditional in their structure (with complex twists of events taking place in the ancient Mediterranean, including ancient gods and beliefs) but they are also very medieval, clearly belonging to the time of the Crusades as they reflect the Customs and beliefs of that time.

A gap of eight centuries, separates the last work of surviving romance from late antiquity and the first of the medieval era.


Byzantine literature can be classified into five groups: The first three include representatives of this type of literature that continues with the ancient traditions: historians, chroniclers, encyclopedists, essayists and writers of secular poetry. The other two include: ecclesiastical and theological literature and popular poetry.


The classic literary tradition, as we have said before, was the one that established the standards for the historians of the Byzantine period, the way in which the themes and the style of composition were handled. These works are concrete and lack passion or enthusiasm. Fiery patriotism or personal convictions seldom become evident.

They are diplomatic historians, experts in the use of historical sources. Almost always, they are people who stood out in the public life like Joannes Cinnamus, Nicetas Acominatus or Georgius Phrantzes.

The Byzantine historians come to represent then, the social flower and of the intellectuality of those times that it resembled them enough with its Greek predecessors. Herodotus, Xenophon, Polybius, among others, became his role models.

Many times the Byzantines chose a classical writer to imitate their method and style, however, most took as a guide to more than one author, which became a peculiar style of mosaic that was well characteristic in Byzantine literature.


Unlike the historical works, Byzantine chronicles were intended for the general public, hence the difference in origin, development and diffusion, as well as in their character, method and style.

While the roots of the chronicles have not been satisfactorily tracked, their comparatively late appearance (6th century) and the suppression of the Hellenistic tradition, they locate their origin as quite recent.

The chronicle literature is originally alien to Greek civilization. The first composition of this style could have been made by Syrians with little education and the first alleged prototype" Chronography "Of Sextus Julius Africanus, points to an Eastern Christian source.

It is possible to place at the height of the Byzantine chronicle during the ninth century of our era, to later decline abruptly.

The chroniclers contributed to spread Byzantine culture towards the Slavs, Magyars and Turks. They are considered of utmost importance for comparative linguistics, since their diction and popular language reveals the poor education both of the author and of the audience to which the work is directed.

Encyclopedists and Essayists

The spirit of the ancient erudition was awakened in the Byzantine Empire before that in the West and was initiated by theologians and not by lay people, which is why this type of writings always had a scholastic spirit.

Byzantine literature likewise tasted antiquity and the Middle Ages. The interest in ancient Greek literature was expressed in Constantinople at the end of the ninth century.

Already for the twelfth century, begins a period in which a series of original writings but imitating the old models revive the Alexandrian essay and rhetorical literature. Many writers of this time, are shown with a vigorous originality.

The humanism of the ninth and tenth centuries maintained a religious tone as well as a hostile attitude toward the West. However between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, many authors seek to break with orthodox classicism in order to achieve a true humanism. This made them the precursors of the Italian Renaissance.

Secular Poetry

Poetry also had its prototypes, the Byzantines did not write lyrical or dramatic poems. Unlike prose, they did not follow the classic Attic period, they did not imitate Pindar or Sophocles.

They imitated the literature of the Alexandrian period, wrote romances, panegíricos, epigramas, satires and didactic poetry following the models of Heliodoro, Aquiles Tacio, Asclepiades among others.

The temperament of the Byzantine poets is much more similar to that of the Alexandrian writers and only a new type evolved independently: The poem of begging whose main exponent is Theodore Promodo.

For many historians, this type of harrowing poetry is of great value, as they recreate the life of the street at that time.

The epigram was the only secular poetry that had a renaissance in Byzantine literature, this was at the time when ecclesiastical poetry had its maximum perfection (6th and 7th centuries). This is then considered as the period of greatest flourishing in Byzantine erudite poetry.

In the twelfth century its decline coincided with the rise of popular poetry and the most popular genres were satire, parody, begging poem and erotic romance.

Byzantine Novel

The ancient Greek novel was imitated to create a new genre known as Romance novel or Byzantine novel.

Four writers of the twelfth century were their greatest exponents: Eustacio Macrembolita, Theodore Promodo, Constantine Manasses and Niketas Eugenians whose works exist today. These are Hysimine and Hysimines , Rodanthe and Dosikles, Aristandros and Kallithéa and Drosilla and Charikles.

Ecclesiastical and Theological Literature

The first flowering of Byzantine ecclesiastical literature is Hellenistic and forms part of an Eastern spirit. This period falls in the fourth century and is associated with the names of the Greek Fathers of Alexandria, Palestine, Jerusalem, Cyrene and Cappadocia.

His works that cover the whole field of ecclesiastical literature, dogmas, exegesis and homilies, become canonical throughout the Byzantine period. Only three kinds of ecclesiastical literature that had not been developed in the fourth century exhibited independent growth. These were the ecclesiastical poetry of the sixth century, the popular life of the seventh-century saints and the mystical writings of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

One of the most important representatives of this literary genre is John of Damascus, who, according to the Byzantines, is the most important writer of canons. He used the model to Gregory of Nazianzus, even reintroducing the principle of quantity in ecclesiastical poetry.

By the eleventh century, the decline of the study of Greek hymns and hymns and the revival of pagan humanism began. Later, Michael Psellus began parodying church hymns, which became a practice that was rooted in popular culture. The didactic poems thus took this form without being considered as blasphemous.

Popular Poetry

The capture of Constantinople and the establishment of Latin kingdoms in 1204 displaced or supplanted aristocratic and ecclesiastical controls over the taste and styles of literature. In response to these new influences, Byzantine popular literature moved in different directions.

One of them was the erotic poetry and its refinement. This was due to the influence of the love poetry introduced by the Frankish knights in the thirteenth century. The Byzantines then imitated and adapted the romantic and legendary material that these Westerners brought.

Italian influences led to the revival of the drama. He also revived heroic poetry, though imparted with a deeper romantic tint. The result was a complete uprising of the popular ideals and an extension of the horizon as the aesthetic tendencies were eroded.

All this became a complete reconstruction of the types of Byzantine literature. Of all varieties of artistic poetry, only survived the romance that became more serious and expanded even more.

From this material, abundant types of new poems emerged, along with stories of love and heroism, popular love letters and even modern drama emerged.

The Spanish Byzantine Novel

In Spain, the Byzantine novel had its height between the XVI and XVII centuries, being in many cases, translations of the ancient Greek novels. Such is the case of the Spanish novelist Alonso Nuñez de Reinoso With his work History of the loves of Clareo and Florisea 1552.

It is remarkable that the author finds his inspiration in Leucipa and Clitofonte Of the Greek writer and poet Achilles Tacitus. Through this work, Nuñez de Reinoso had a great influence on Miguel de Cervantes at the time of writing The works of Persiles and Sigismunda, northern history .

The theme to be addressed in the Byzantine novel is always the same: love of youth, the inevitable separation of lovers, adventures, captivity, travel, exotic cultures and far away places, so that in the end the couple will meet again and crystallize their love.

The pilgrim in his homeland Which he wrote of Lope de Vega in 1604, is one of the most famous writings of the Byzantine novel in Spanish.

Other popular novels of this genre are: The entertaining trip By Agustín Rojas (1603), Marcos de Obregón By Vicente Espinel (1618), Pilgrim history and examples By Gonzalo de Céspedes and Meneses (1623) and the aforementioned The works of Persiles and Sigismunda, northern history By Miguel de Cervantes (1617).


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  2. New Advent . (S.f.). Retrieved on January 15, 2017.
  3. Spanish Books . (S.f.). Retrieved on January 14, 2017, from Classicspanishbooks.
  4. Wikipedia . (S.f.). Retrieved on January 14, 2017, by Byzantine Literature.
  5. Wikipedia . (S.f.). Retrieved on January 14, 2017, by Byzantine Novel.
  6. Wikipedia . (S.f.). Retrieved on January 15, 2017, by Eustathios Makrembolites.
  7. Wikipedia . (S.f.). Retrieved on January 15, 2017, from Spanish Renaissance Literature.

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