Herakleios or Herakles? Panegyric and Pathopoeia in George of Pisidia’s Heraklias
Arousing and allaying the passions of the Byzantine court were the hallmark of the imperial panegyrist. The genre of panegyric poetry known as the basilikos logos, an imperial oration in prose presented to the Emperor on festal events such as Epiphany, was the favoured rhetoric of George of Pisidia. His Heraklias extols Emperor Herakleios’ wondrous deeds, likening them to those of Herakles — a synkrisis (comparison) that was de rigueur at the Herakleian court. Like the quintessential Greek hero, Herakleios has journeyed to the very gates of Hades. But he has done far more than defeat Kerberos, slay the dragon and overcome the hydra. Instead of simply reviving Alkestis, he has restored the entire inhabited world. In a blend of mythological, biblical and historical imagery, the Emperor rivals Orpheus, Noah and Alexander in his godlike feats.
Whilst it is not possible to entirely reconstruct the performance of this text in its original setting — including aspects such as the speaker’s costume, gestures and intonation — Mellas will investigate how George of Pisidia sought to affect the emotions of his audience by examining the textualisation of passion in the Heraklias. How did he weave together the incredible, the historical and the theological, based on a shared cultural knowledge, to engender or mediate emotion? Although the genre itself and its setting will be considered, the text’s vivid illustrations of Herakleios as analogous to Herakles and other personages, with its appeal to visual imagination, will be analysed. After all, George of Pisidia’s ideological construction of Herakleios as the earthly incarnation of the divine monarchy, as the first Basileus of Byzantium, was built on the cornerstone of pathopoeia.