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Nectar and IllusionNature in Byzantine Art and Literature$
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Henry Maguire

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199766604

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199766604.001.0001

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Nature and Rhetoric

Nature and Rhetoric

(p.48) 2 Nature and Rhetoric
Nectar and Illusion

Henry Maguire

Oxford University Press

Before iconoclasm, the natural world was celebrated in the many sermons and commentaries devoted to the Hexaemeron, in which the marvels of the created world conveyed, by analogy, the greatness of the Creator. Frequently, these compositions incorporated self-contained ekphraseis of particularly noteworthy elements of creation. But early Byzantine writers could also criticize the world of nature as fleeting and evanescent. In church art during the early Byzantine period, we can find, as in literature, displays of the elements of creation, such as its rivers and creatures. But these motifs also had their critics, as evidenced by a letter written by Nilus of Sinai to Olympiodorus, which rejected this kind of decoration as distracting to the faithful. As in the early period, the post-iconoclastic view of nature was ambivalent, except that now the denigration of nature carried more weight than it had before. The great series of commentaries on the Hexaemeron dwindled. Both in their literature and in their art, Byzantines of the Middle Ages found ways to put nature securely in a subordinate position.

Keywords:   Hexaemeron, creation, Olympiodorus, Middle Ages, ekphraseis, Nilus of Sinai

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