A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities

A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities : Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from History's Most Orthodox Empire

4.05 (69 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author) 

Free delivery worldwide

Available. Dispatched from the UK in 2 business days
When will my order arrive?


Weird, decadent, degenerate, racially mixed, superstitious, theocratic, effeminate, and even hyper-literate, Byzantium has long been regarded by many as one big curiosity. According to Voltaire, it represented "a worthless collection of miracles, a disgrace for the human mind" for Hegel it was "a disgusting picture of imbecility."

A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities will reinforce these old prejudices, while also stimulating a deeper interest among readers in one of history's most interesting civilizations. Many of the zanier tales and trivia that are collected here revolve around the political and religious life of Byzantium. Thus, stories of saints, relics, and their miracles-from the hilarious to the revolting-abound. Byzantine bureaucracy (whence the adjective "Byzantine"), court scandals, and elaborate
penal code are world famous. And what would Byzantium be without its eunuchs, whose ambiguous gender produced odd and risible outcomes in different contexts? The book also contains sections on daily life that are equally eye-opening, including food (from aphrodisiacs to fermented fish sauce), games such as polo
and acrobatics, and obnoxious views of foreigners and others (e.g. Germans, Catholics, Arabs, dwarves). But lest we overlook Byzantium's more honorable contributions to civilization, also included are some of the marvels of Byzantine science and technology, from the military (flamethrowers and hand grenades) to the theatrical ("elevator" thrones, roaring mechanical lions) and medical (catheters and cures, some bizarre). This vast assortment of historical anomaly and absurdity sheds vital light
on one of history's most obscure and orthodox empires.
show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 248 pages
  • 149 x 211 x 19mm | 386g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0190625945
  • 9780190625948
  • 187,322

Table of contents

Byzantine emperors
Erotic epigrams
Food and dining
Foreigners, minorities, and others
Heretics, theology, and scandal
Latins, Franks, and Germans
Marriage, family, and divorce
Medical practice
Science and technology
Southerners, easterners, and northerners
Unorthodox sex
show more

Review quote

"If the Holy Spirit was not ashamed to tell this story, how much less should we place it under a shadow." --John Chrysostom, Homily on the Gospel of Matthew

"I rarely ever finish, or even read, books, but I finished this one!" --Anonymous

"Pray for the author, pray for him, for he is wretched and unworthy." (ms. colophon)

"If I had to burn all other books, I would keep Plato's Timaeus and this one." --Proklos, from Marinos' Life of Proklos

"Not even the most philosophic, the most piercing, the most curious intellect has, or can ever have, a more exalted object." --Gregory of Nazianzos, patriarch of Constantinople and saint, Oration on Saint Athanasios of Alexandria

"All the wasteful expenses of mortals and their luxurious fare are poured out here without any of their previous charm. Too late a man realizes that he has spent gold on what was nothing but dust." --Agathias, Epigram on the public latrines

"This book is crammed full of childish and implausible things, it is badly written, false, and idiotic. He tells absurd and infantile stories about the resurrection of dead men and cows. His tales are, moreover, contradictory to each other, impious, and irreligious. If you were to call it the source and mother of all heresy, you would not be far from the truth." --Photios, Ten Thousand Books
show more

About Anthony Kaldellis

Anthony Kaldellis is Professor of Greek and Latin at The Ohio State University. Author of The Christian Parthenon: Classicism and Pilgrimage in Byzantine Athens (CUP 2009) and Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition (CUP, 2007), among numerous others (including two in progress with OUP).
show more

Rating details

69 ratings
4.05 out of 5 stars
5 30% (21)
4 48% (33)
3 19% (13)
2 3% (2)
1 0% (0)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X