Faculty Research Seminar: Knowledge Unlimited: Intellectual Curiosity and Innovation in Byzantium
Byzantine epistemic discourse inherited the Peripatetic premise according to which the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake was in accordance with human nature. It also appropriated, however, the Stoic, and later Christian, concern with the intensification and excessiveness of knowledge acquisition and their respective ethical implications. As a result, the philosophical education in Byzantium embraced a polymathic ideal, namely, it included all disciplines of the trivium and quadrivium and culminated in the study of metaphysics and theology. At the same
time, learned discourses of knowledge associated the latter with the pursuit of virtue and, thus, designated legitimate and illegitimate fields of study (notably, magic, astrology, and divination fall in the latter category). Thus, intellectual curiosity could be construed as the philosophers’ vice, exhibited in the strife after questionable, foreign and/or excessive knowledge. At the same time, however, inquisitiveness was also posited as a fundamental characteristic of the philosopher’s mind and, together with the love for learning, regarded as a prerequisite for achieving the polymathic ideal. The present talk discusses Byzantine learned attitudes to the acquisition of knowledge, from the eleventh century onwards, and focuses, in particular, on the
employment of the notions of curiosity (polypragmosynē), love for learning (philomatheia), and polymathy (polymatheia) in literary, scientific, and philosophical texts. The inquiry explores how Byzantine philosophers constructed their social personae while employing concepts of polymathy and curiosity and, in addition, examines their claims, or disclaimers, with respect to innovation.
Divna Manolova (PhD in Medieval Studies, Central European University), visiting professor of the Medieval Studies Department, is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at University of Bucharest where she is working on her dissertation monograph, provisionally entitled Polymathy and Intellectual Curiosity in Byzantine Discourses of Science and Philosophy (13th–15th Centuries). In her research Manolova studies the history of Byzantine science and philosophy, as well as medieval theories of friendship and letter-writing as friendship literature. Manolova carried out her research at Central European University, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations, Brown University’s Department of Classics, New
Europe College and the Vatican Apostolic Library.