An Image of the East

It is a cliché among Byzantinists that too few people in the world, especially in the West, know anything about Byzantium, so there is no doubt that more works of “popular synthesis” that make this Christian successor to the Roman Empire in the East accessible to a broader audience are greatly needed.  Colin Wells sets out to provide one with Sailing From Byzantium, his overview of the rich legacy of Byzantium to the Latin West and the Islamic and Slavic worlds.  Wells has studied with the great Byzantinist Speros Vryonis and has a more or less solid grasp of the sweep of Byzantine history.  As a general introduction to the Byzantine inheritance that might inspire the general reader to learn more, Wells’ book is mostly acceptable, but, on a number of important topics, his explanations and descriptions are not always reliable or entirely accurate.  Most importantly, on vitally significant religious questions, Wells shows that he is not interested in taking the sages of Byzantium standing in God’s holy light as the “singing-masters” of his soul.  This alienation from the Byzantine religious imagination that interwove rational discourse, rhetoric, and spirituality severely undermines some of his statements about the nature of the phenomena he is describing.

Wells has divided the book into three sections, one for each neighboring “civilization” Byzantium...

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