Francesco Lovino (Università degli Studi di Padova)
The Illustrations of Michael Glycas’ Βίβλος χρονική in the Marcianus gr. 402

Le vingtcinq septembre douze cent soixante-quatre, au petit jour, le duc d’Auge se pointa sur le sommet du donjon de son château pour y considérer, un tantinet soit peu, la situation historique. Elle était plutôt floue.
R. Queneau. Les fleurs bleus

The epistolary exchange between Frederick II and the exiled emperor of Nicaea John III Doukas Vatatzes [21], in which the Stupor mundi declared his admiration for the Greeks, can be considered the only actual form of official relationship ever existed between the Occident and Byzantium in the first half of the 13th c. This cordial friendship evolved into a strong alliance in 1244, when Vatatzes married Costance II Hohenstaufen, Frederick’s illegitimate daughter. It was probably on this occasion that the χαρτοφύλαξ [9, p. 164] George of Gallipoli composed a poem celebrating the visit of John III, «Ῥωμαίων κράτος / Κομνηνοπανσέβαστε» [24, p. 165], to Gal- lipoli: the last few verses show inexplicable distress, a deep feeling of melancholy and nostalgia for the ancient homeland of the Greek communities that for centuries had been living isolated in Terra d’Otranto.
Less than fifty years later the situation in Southern Italy changed drastically: the Hohenstaufen dynasty lost its sovereign status following the battle of Benevento (1266), when Charles of Anjou defeated the son of Frederick II Manfred and became King of Sicily. Although Charles’ political choices were focused from the very start on the latinisation of the Greek minorities in order to hamper their fight against Caesaropapism and the Pope — which had been the main goals of the alliance between Frederick and Vatatzes [22] — the last decades of the 13th c. mark a cultural renaissance for the Hydruntine region, in particular as far as the production of Greek manuscripts is concerned. Jacob traces the reasons behind this “en relation avec le retour de la stabilité politique sous la dynastie angevine et avec le rétablissement de l’empire byzantin sous les Paléologues, sans sous-estimer par ailleurs les effets bénéfiques qu’a pu engendrer l’union des Églises au Concile de Lyon de 1274” [18, p. 61‒62]. Nevertheless this statement offers a potentially different interpre- tation: besides the Palaeologan renaissance, the Anjou policy and even more the reunification of the two Churches could have generated certain patriotic, nationalistic reactions. In fact, quoting the definition of acculturation given by Alphonse Dupront in 19651, the relationship between the Greek and Latin cultures in Apulia was not always a dialogue, but rather a careful, suspicious coexistence. During the Anjou kingdom this mutual distrust escalated to the level of ethnic resistance [7] by the Greek community.
Proof of this hidden hostility can be found in the Marcianus gr. 402, a manuscript on paper stored in Venice and, according to its colophon, dated back to the year 6798 of the Byzantine era (A.D. 1290). A part from the handwriting itself, which is in minuscule characters with the calligraphic characteristics of the so-called late Otranto style, clearly influenced by the Fettaungenstil and enriched with baroque and fluttery ligatures [19, p. 275‒276], all the elements of this manuscript reveal a close bound with Constantinople and the city’s cultural atmosphere and taste. The copied text is the Βίβλος χρονική [23] by Michael Glycas2, written in the second half of the 12 c. and almost unknown outside the capital. Glycas’ work covers the events from the Creation until the death of emperor Alexios I Comnenus in 1118, dividing facts in approximately four sections using the Genesis, the Gospels and — last — Byzantine historiography as sources. The aim of the author was to build a pedagogical work, using history as didactical exempla for the youth. Such intention was also supported by the use of illustrations: the vivacity of the scenes freely arranged along the margins of the folios, their expressive taste and the meticulous relationship between images and text are all elements that contribute to creating an educational manuscript for the reader. Although we cannot completely rule out the theory according to which Glycas drew inspira- tion and skills for his own work from a pre-existing illustrated model [15, p. 51], as proposed for the Madrid Skylitzes [16] and the Historia Alexandri Magni preserved at the Hellenic Institute in Venice [30], the illustrations are strictly connected with the Hydruntine region: from the very first folios the manuscript is populated with multiple images of animals referring to popular
traditions in Southern Italy.
Besides the biblical excerpts, Glycas’ main source was the Physiologus [1] and the same could be suggested for the manuscript’s artistic model. Multiple examples can be brought in support of such connection: from the manuscript cod. E 16 sup. stored at the Ambrosiana Library in Milan, but produced in the middle of the 11th c. in a monastic scriptorium of Apulia [4; 6] — to the mosaic floors in the Cathedral of Otranto and in Trani, both created by Pantaleon3 in the second half of the 12th c. Even George of Gallipoli composed a short poem dedicated to a carved portal located in the Cathedral of Gallipoli, adorned with “ <...> τὸν ὑπέρτατον ἐν τοῖς ὀρνέοις / αὖθις δὲ τοὺς προὔχοντας ἐν θηρσὶν ὅλοις”4. The influence that manuscripts from the Benedictine scriptoria and in particular the codex of Rabanus Maurus’ De rerum naturis (Cassinensis 132, Library of the Abbey of Monte Cassino) might have had on Glycas’ work, is a matter of debate among those who accept5  such theory and those who reject it [22, p. 308]. On the other hand, it is essential to point out that the Glycas manuscript includes elements from a series of images certainly renowned in Salento: the opposite-facing fish at f. 22v has the same elongated shape and rounded eyes as the fish images in the Cathedral of Otranto, a characteristic which also recalls the fish in the miniature of the Apidochelone, the Whale, in the Ambrosian Physiologus (f. 20v). The two crabs on the subsequent folio are the offsprings of Cancer, pictured in the circle of the month of Iulius in the cathedral’s central nave. The gryphon, drawn in pen on the endpaper (f. 222r), is a typical mark of the Salento scriptoria.
Following the structure of the Βίβλος χρονική, the second part of the Marcianus gr. 402 narrates events from the Fall of Adam and Eve to the Empire of Caesar, whereas the third part proceeds from the life of Christ to the age of Constantine the Great. The fourth section completes the timeline through the history of the Byzantine empire up to the beginning of the 12th c. The illustrations in the manuscript, which at this stage have lost the zoological nature of the images of the first folios, gain an increasingly expressive taste, a naïve desire to built images with a strong emotional impact, as seen in Cain killing Abel (Fig. 78). Employing only the same dark-brown ink used for the text together with the vermillion red used for the initials, the artist portrays the murder: Cain is portrayed still holding in his bloody hand the stone, the weapon used for the crime, while Abel lies on the ground, his head smashed. From afar, Christ observes the scene, blessing both the victim and the slayer. Not less dramatic is the Crucifixion (f. 151r), unusually arranged within the text6 precisely underneath the words «θεέ μου, θεέ μου, ἵνα τί με ἐγκατέλιπες;»7. The scenographic effect is supported by a composition of great emotional power: Christ is almost dead, his head leaning heavily on his shoulders, blood flowing from his hand and chest. Two soldiers are standing next to the cross: while the one on the right side is still scoffing at Christ, pointing at his unarmed body with a crude grin, the second soldier seems to have lost his scornful expression. Many might interpret this detail as an element potentially aimed at recalling the link between the guard’s gaze and the few verses composed in the first half of the 13th c. by Nicola Nettario, egoumeno of the monastery of San Nicola di Casole, who dedi- cated these few lines to Longinus, the guard who recognised the Divine Nature of Christ shortly after the execution: “Λογγῖνε τί δρᾷς, τί βλέπον ἐξεπλάγης; / Μέγα τὸ θαῦμα καὶ παράδοξον βλέπω· / τίς ἐστιν εἰς ὃν ἐξεκέντησας, λέγε. / Θεὸς πέφυκεν οὗτος ἀληθῶς ἴδε”8.
Beyond other images of religious theme, such as the Ark of Noah (f. 91v) or the Hospitality of Abraham (f. 96r), special attention should be drawn to the representation of the Mandylion (f. 208r), repeatedly illustrated in Byzantine illumination during the 11th and 12th cc.9, but which can very rarely be found in Southern Italy [13, p. 187]. Its presence reveals once more the connection with Constantinople, even if the immediate source can be found in Salento: the closest example to Glycas’ Mandylion is indeed the Blessing Christ portrayed in the Crypt of Saint Margaret in Mottola, on the Ionian coast of Italy, dating back probably a few years before the making of the Marcianus gr. 402 [14, p. 255 and fig. 211]. The image was never completed, and nowadays it survives only as a preparatory drawing, but even in this different medium the model seems to be identical: the same double-pointed beard, the same red cheeks, the same frizzy hair, the same gaze staring to the left, the same sideways nimbus. Because of its incomplete nature, a comparison could be made also with regard to the choice of colour, which is vermillion both in the drawing and in Glycas illustration.
At first glance, the choice of historical illustrations in the Glycas manuscript seems even more peculiar. Far from the richness of the generous illustrative cycle of the Skylitzes manuscript, only four secular images populate these pages: the portrait of Constantine the Great inserted in an ini- tial/capital ‘O’ (f. 167r), the emperor Basil I and the patriarch of Constantinople Photius (Fig. 79, f.197v), the assassination attempt to Leo VI the Wise (f. 198r), and the massacre of Romans in Celesyria (f. 207r). Among these, the three figures of Basil, Photius and Leo — all pictured in the inferior margin of the subsequent two sheets — gain a deep meaning within the context of his- tory of Otranto, showing a hidden but strong connection with the Hydruntine κοινή.
We hereby ought to provide some explanation in support of such apparently obscure connection. The documentary resources available on the bishopric of Otranto present a gap of almost a century, from Bishop Marcus in 879 to Pietrus, who occupied the see in 956 [10, p. 262]. Focusing on Marcus, his documented presence during the Pseudo-Synodus Photiana [20, p. 373D] summoned by Basil I in November 879, legitimates the reinstatement of Photius as patriarch of Constantinople.
In addition to this arguably weak connection, further proof of such relationship can be retrieved from the image of Leo VI the Wise, hereby portrayed laying on the ground, eyes barely open, the candelabrum that cushioned him from the blow on the floor beside him. A splash of blood connects the wounded emperor to the place of the crime, the Constantinopolitan monastery of Saint Mocius where every year the procession of the Mid-Pentecost, celebrated on Wednesday of the fourth week after Easter, used to end. The historical sources10, among which is Glycas himself [23, p.544], tell us that once recovered Leo the Wise decided to remove Saint Mocius from the itinerary of the imperial processions, de facto damaging the image of the monastery and sentencing it to economic decline. Such negative, humiliating status was overturned by the monk οἰκόνομος of the monastery, who managed to persuade the emperor that the attempt had been foreseen even in the Book of Psalms and ventured to predict that Leo would live for another ten years11. The name of the monk was Marcus, and alongside his monastic cursus honorum he was also a poet, hym- nographer. His four odes, which went on to complete the τετραῴδιον and are still recited during the celebrations of the Bright Saturday [8, p. 186‒190; 26, p. 301‒315], earned Marcus the epithet μελῳδός12. Thus far the relationship between this second Marcus and the Terra d’Otranto remains obscure. However, starting with Theodore Prodromos in the 12th c., Marcus was referred to as Hydruntine Marcus, or Marcus ‘bishop of Otranto’ [8, p. 191], in exactly the same years (901‒907) when Otranto achieved the status of autocephalous bishopric [11, p. 273].
The meaning of the simultaneous presence of Basil I, Photius and Leo VI the Wise appears now clear. Alongside images that immediately seem familiar, perhaps even classical or traditional to an audience from Salento, on these two pages we can appreciate the author’s deep commitment to recall what can be seen to a certain extent as a Golden Age of Otranto, a time when the town had a privileged relationship with Constantinople, its bishops were accustomed to the Byzantine court, and its Greek culture was threatened by hostile occupation. It is worth appreciating that probably not even the author of the Marcianus gr. 402 himself recognized the existence of two distinct bishops of Otranto with the same name Marcus, although he did draw a connection that psychoanalysis would refer to as a transfert: two different characters were merged into one, unique Marcus of Otranto. Marcus the bishop, the poet, even the prophet: a sort of Übermensch entrusted with the last hopes to guide an ethnic resistance in the fight against the apparently irreversible effects of the latinisation launched by the Anjou on Salento.



  1. “Deux cultures sont en présence. C’est leur interréaction — tout ce que dit le prefixe ad — qui est l’accultura- tion” [12, p. 8].
  2. Glycas has been identified with Michael Sikidites, secretary at the court of Manuel I and then flunked in disfavor because of his participation in the Styppeiotes’ conspiracy in 1159 [2, p. 654].
  3. Discovered in 1959, the mosaic pavement of Trani presents narrow compositional and stylistic affinities with the one in Otranto [5, p. 492]. Furthermore there was a mosaic pavement also in Lecce, destroyed soon after its discovery in 1876 without before any description or drawing was done [27, p. 229].
  4.   “(...) the most excellent among the birds / and then the most outstanding among all the animals” [24, p. 173].
  5. Cavallo recognizes in the Montecassino illumination the source both for the Ambrosian Phylologus and the mosaic pavement of Otranto [6, p. 180].
  6. The same arrangement stands in a Lectionary of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection (cod. 1, f. 145r), realized in Constantinople during the 11th c.; see Illuminated Greek manuscripts from American collections [17, p. 134‒137, No 35].
  7. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Gospel of Mark, XV, 34).
  8. “Longinus, what are you doing? What are you looking so shocked? Great and extraordinary is the miracle I see: tell who is the one who you pierced. He is really God: look” [24, p. 78‒79].
  9. For example, the Vaticanus Rossianus 251 and the Cod. 35 conserved in the Patriarchal Library of Alexandria [29, p. 229, fig. 251].
  10. For a thorough statement of the sources [8, p. 185].
  11. Indeed, Leo VI died on 11th May 912, the day of the tenth anniversary of the failed attempt [28, p. 214].
  12. The epithet was firstly used by Eustathius of Thessalonica, who together with this introduced also an ecclesiastic role, μακαριώτατος [25, p. 336].


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