The Oration on St John of Damascus by Constantine Akropolites (BHG 885) and its source (BHG 884): a spatial reading
The chapter provides a spatial reading of the two hagiographies of John of Damascus as a liminal figure between the Roman Empire and the Arab East: the Oration by the Palaiologan hagiographer Constantine Akropolites and its immediate source, the Jerusalem Life composed by John III, Patriarch of Antioch, at the turn of the eleventh century. Although the biographies are structured along the same lines, the imaginary maps of the Mediterranean drawn by the two writers are nothing alike. The imperialistic mental geography of the Jerusalem Life tallies up with its dating to the period of reconquest under Basil II: the Roman emperor rules over the oikoumenē and the Arabs depicted as disparate groups of barbarians cannot challenge his authority; the political borders are not set once and for all and Damascus can become Roman once again. By contrast, Akropolites develops in a proto-nationalistic vein a theory of Roman self-identification abroad and conceptualises the “Roman East” where John was born as a lost paradise, but eventually takes a pessimistic view on its reconquest and encourages his readership to think beyond spatial notions by making John achieve holiness through complete disappearance from the physical map.