A generic experiment of Ioannes Phokas: imaginary guide and dialogical appropriation of Palestine in the Brief ekphrasis of the Holy Land
The Brief ekphrasis of the Holy Land ascribed to a certain Ioannes Phokas is a very unusual piece of literature because, unlike other ekphraseis, it deals with a journey. Since the Byzantines did not develop universally accepted rules for writing about pilgrimages, Phokas’ text (like any other rare example of what might be called Byzantine “travel” literature) is a generic experiment but, as we argue, an involuntary one. Having drawn Phokas’ cultural profile, we provide a close literary reading of the text contextualizing it against the backdrop of the ekphrastic tradition and contemporary “travel” literature (Manasses’ Hodoiporikon). Firstly, Phokas’ text is read as a verbal map of the Holy Land and a latent dialogical ekphrasis, a form that resonates with the policy of cultural reappropriation of the region pursued by Emperor Manuel I. Secondly, reading the same text as an imaginary guide, we analyze the way Phokas writes himself and his reader into the narrative and suppresses the details of the factual journey making his text future- instead of past-oriented.