Byzantine philosophy remains a terra incognita, if compared to the other periods in the history of philosophy. Although the Byzantine philosophers have been often credited with the transmission of the ancient philosophical texts, they have not been extensively studied on their own philosophical merit. According to the established view, the Byzantines were learned scholars who studiously copied the works of ancient philosophers, but they were not original thinkers. During the last couple of decades, however, the interest in Byzantine philosophy has been increasing. In fact, this interest has resulted in the appearance of general surveys of the discipline as a whole as well as of systematic studies of specific topics in Byzantine thought. It is, for instance, indicative that the recent volumes and websites of the Cambridge History of Late Antique Philosophy, the Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy, the Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, the Oxford Handbook of Medieval Philosophy, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, the Encyclopédie philosophique universelle, the Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, and other similar encyclopedias and handbooks have included entries on Byzantine philosophy and on the more well-known Byzantine thinkers.
But does the implicit acknowledgment that among the periods of the history of philosophy a place should also be reserved for the study of Byzantine thought suggest that we are now in a position to draw a more accurate map of this formerly ignored field? It rather seems that, although some of the issues previously raised have been adequately scrutinized, many are still unsettled or controversial; for instance, there have been detailed studies of the Byzantines’ views on the central philosophical problem of universals, but certainly more needs to be done when it comes to their attitude towards the use of logic in theological matters. It also seems that new issues constantly open up and challenge our preconceived ideas about how we are to approach the philosophical writings of Byzantium; for instance, there is a growing interest in finding out how the Byzantine thinkers integrated into their Christian worldview the ethical concepts that they inherited from antiquity, like those of eudaimonia, virtue, justice and friendship.
Ιt is inevitable that further progress in this discipline will be severely hampered unless the works of the Byzantine philosophers are available to be studied and critically assessed. For Byzantine philosophy is still one of the less known periods in the history of philosophy, precisely because there are many central Byzantine philosophical texts that have not been edited or are found in editions that are for the most part inaccessible and do not satisfy even basic scholarly criteria. For instance, Michael Psellos’ and Leo Magentenos’ paraphrases of Aristotle’s De interpretatione and Prior Analytics have not appeared in critical editions, although they contain innovative comments that may be either the Byzantines’ own contribution to the subjects discussed or influenced by lost ancient Aristotelian commentaries. Also, Nikephoros Blemmydes’ introduction to logic and physics, a text which was greatly influential in Byzantium but also repeatedly translated during the Renaissance, is for the time being available only in obsolete editions from the early 17th and late 18th centuries with no critical apparatus.
There is no doubt that, in order for Byzantine philosophy to be properly studied and appreciated, what is foremost needed is a Sourcebook of Byzantine Philosophy, which collects the principal and most representative texts of Byzantine philosophy in an accessible and reliable edition with translation. Our Sourcebook will contain selected Byzantine philosophical texts in the original and in English translations, as well as comments that place these texts in their historical context and provide a philosophical analysis of them. The selected texts will cover the period from the 8th to the 15th century, and some of the authors included will be:
From the philosophical works of these authors we will collect the passages that raise interesting points in the areas of logic, theory of knowledge, metaphysics, natural philosophy, psychology, ethics and politics.
The Byzantines have the reputation of being repetitive and prone to long-winded rhetorical schemes. Our main criteria in choosing the texts included in the Sourcebook will be the presence in them of sound arguments, innovative interpretations of the ancient doctrines and interesting philosophical ideas. In this way, we hope that the Sourcebook will become an indispensable reference work that can initiate more study of Byzantine philosophy and help us to reveal its particular character, which combines the ancient philosophical traditions with the Christian faith of the thinkers in Byzantium.