Michael Psellos

Michael Psellos (medium Greek Μιχαήλ Ψελλός, * 1017/18 in Constantinople Opel; † around 1078 ) was a Byzantine polymath and historian. To distinguish it from the Byzantine Emperor Michael II Psellos (reigned 820-829 ), he is also known as Michael Psellus the Younger.


Michael ( real name Konstantinos, Michael was the name he took as a monk ) Psellos ( lisp of Greek ψελλίζειν psellizein, the etymological relationship has not been established, also called " the Lispler " ) came from a middle-class family, the paternal some patrician and consuls had asked, but was not particularly well off. His mother Theodota to which Psellos wrote a eulogy was wise, virtuous, and cared very much about his upbringing. Read at the age of nine years and he pointed Homer. Psellos his father should have been similar, handsome and " slim as a cypress tree ." He was educated in Constantinople Opel. After money was used to provide his sisters with a dowry, the family could not pay for his education longer, and Psellus took a job as a clerk of a judge in Philadelphia. After the sudden death of his sisters, he returned to Constantinople Opel. His teacher was John Mauropous, who later became Archbishop of Euchaita. Through the mediation of his fellow students Konstantinos Lichoudis, a minister of Emperor Michael V., he came as secretary to the imperial court, where he quickly made ​​a career, in 1041 writer at the imperial court in Constantinople Opel, in 1043 private secretary to Emperor Constantine IX. , He later became judges. Under Constantine IX. Monomachos he was one of the most influential personalities of the empire. Among other things, he was State Secretary, Lord Chamberlain and Privy Council. He played a role as kingmaker ( and destroyer ) at the accession of Constantine X Ducas, Romanus IV Diogenes and Michael VII Parapinakes.

Under Constantine IX. He retired with his friend John Xiphilinos from the farm and entered the famous monastery on the Mons Olympus in Bithynia a ( Chronographia CXCI - CCIII ), but had no real vocation for the spiritual life. The successor of Constantine, Empress Theodora III. (1055-1056) called him back to the court, where he held important public offices under it and the following emperors. He worked as a consultant by Emperor Isaac I Komnenos, he moved in 1059 to resign. He was also in the following years on the farm, worked as an educator and do well in the overthrow of Emperor Romanos IV played a key role. Although he had the Dukas dynasty kept the faith, he was pushed to the sidelines of Michael VII. After his school friend Konstantinos Lichoudis became patriarch in 1059, he had Psellos due to neglect his spiritual vows in the monastery of Narsou hold on the western edge of the city. It is even thought that Psellos wrote the Chronographia to make Lichudes again inclined. After the abdication of Michael VII in January 1078 nothing has been handed down over his fate. Under Nikephoros III. Botaniatos he breathed his lonely and died in disgrace, his daughter Styliane, his teacher Nicetas and most of his friends how Konstantinos Lichudis, Konstantinos Dukas and John Xiphilin were already in front of him.

Intellectual life

As a private teacher, he was highly regarded by his students and was considered an intellectual. He was certified exceptionally good knowledge of the ancient authors.

He became professor of rhetoric at The University of Konstantin Opel and professor of philosophy at the restored Academy. In the reorganization of the University of Constantinople Opel 1045, he played an important role.

Michael Psellos was highly educated and left behind an extensive corpus of works. He is still regarded as one of the most important Byzantine historian.


Psellos was a great admirer of classical antiquity and a supporter of the Neo-Platonic philosophy. He had knowledge of poetry, rhetoric, history and geography, law, philosophy and theology, mathematics, and natural history. There was no branch of knowledge of his time in which he had acquired no name. Among his literary models are Demosthenes, Isocrates, Aristotle, Thucydides, Plato, Plutarch, Lysias, and Gregory of Nazianzus mentioned.

Friends and contemporaries

  • Konstantinos Lichoudis was a student of John Mauropous, later minister to the Emperor Michael V. and Patriarch of Constantinople Opel ( 1059-1063 ).
  • John Xiphilinos, another student of John Annes Mauropous and fellow student of Psellus, was head of the Faculty of Law, University of Constantine Opel, then abbot of a monastery in Anatolia and finally Patriarch of Constantinople Opel.
  • The Patriarch Michael I Kerularius, against Psellus, after he was arrested in 1058 on the orders of Isaac I Komnenos, the indictment wrote.

Judgment of posterity

Karl Krumbacher laments his servile character and the lack of scruples in the choice of means. Alfred Rambaud praises his patriotism, but criticizes its lack of political stability. His English publisher Edgar Robert Ashton Sewter thinks he's vain, scheming and dishonest, but patriotic, warm-hearted loyal, courageous and a believer. John Julius Norwich calls him " unsympathetic, but in spite of everything fascinating ."


Not all works of authorship of Psellos is secured. Authors such as Allatius go from three to four authors whose works are known under this name. Other distinguish a Psellus the Elder, who was active at the beginning of the 9th century, and a Psellus the younger ones in the 11th century.

He wrote in the Koine, Byzantine literary language of his time. She was the language of the learned and imitated in much the grammar and vocabulary of classical Greek after. His language is lively and artistic, but often unclear and sometimes difficult to interpret. He is regarded as difficult to translate.


The Chronographia, his major work, focused on the Byzantine history from the accession of Basil II 976 up to the Nikephoros III. Botaniates 1077th It is thus continuing the historical work of Leon Diakonos and is written primarily as imperial history. Psellos attention is especially true the farm and the local intrigue. The Chronographia is partly written highly subjective, yet written very much alive. The first part, from Basil II to the Government of Isaac Comnenus, was probably written 1059-1053, perhaps at the suggestion of his friend Konstantinos Lichudis. For the Byzantine Middle Ages was his history Chronographia as a prime example of living literature, which is full of cynical and humorous places.

The work was preserved in a single manuscript ( Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Grec 1712), a beautiful copy in small letters on parchment of the 12th century. Some words are very corrupt. The first modern edition of the work was carried out in 1874 by C.-N. Sathas ( Bibliotheca Graeca medii aevi IV, 3-299 ) without a critical apparatus, a second edition by J.-B. Bury published in 1899 in London. This work was under the title Histoire d'un siècle Chronographie ou de Byzance (976-1077) by Émile Renauld translated into French ( 2 volumes, Paris, 1926-28, Collection Byzantine. Parallel edition in French and Greek). The English translation of ERA Sewter (London 1953) is also available online (see links).

Other works

Psellos ' other works include a wide range of issues: In addition to several hundred extant letters he occupied himself with philosophy, medicine, theology and other fields, in works that were mostly written for the classroom.

  • De doctrina omnifaria
  • De operatione daemonum (Edited by Boissonade, Nuremberg 1838)
  • Seven eulogies, among other things, his mother Theodata, his daughter Styliane, his teacher Niketias, his friend John Xiphilinos and the Metropolitan of Ephesus, Nicephorus.
  • Panegyric poems on Konstantinos Monomachos and John of Euchaita
  • Poem about grammar ( Boissonade, Anecdota Graeca III, Paris 1831, 300-228 ).
  • About 500 letters


  • Willem J. Aerts (eds.): Michaelis Pselli Historia Syntomos. De Gruyter, Berlin and New York 1990 ( Corpus Historiae Fontium Byzantinae, Ser. Berolinahaus, vol. 30), limited preview on Google Book Search
  • In preparation: Diether Roderich Reinsch (Eds.), Chronographia, De Gruyter, Berlin, ( Corpus Historiae Fontium Byzantinae )