From Adam to Tsar’ Kosmos.

Cosmopolitanism in Byzantine Tradition

  • Helena Bodin Stockholm University


Setting out from the short dialogue in which the Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope was asked “Where are you from?” and he replied “I am a citizen of the world [ὃ κοσμοπολίτης; a cosmopolitan]”, the purpose of this article is to explore cosmopolitanism from Byzantine and Constantinopolitan perspectives. The intention is toreflect on the significance of cosmopolitanism for world-making in European historical literature by considering it within the framework of various languages, most importantly Greek. Inspired by Lettevall and Petrov (2014), and Robbins and Horta (2017), cosmopolitanisms are discussed in the plural as a controversial concept that encompasses both unity and plurality. Textual examples from the first centuries adpresent Homer, Adam and Moses, as citizens of the world. Later, in the twelfth century, Orthodox Christian monks are in contrast instead called citizens of heaven (οὐρανοπολίται; ouranopolitans), and at around the same time, the Constantinopolitan writer John Tzetzes records in a unique text the multilingual soundscape of the cosmopolitan city. Furthermore, the Byzantine tradition of Orthodox Christian hymnography, homilies, and iconography is explored. The selected examples concern the celebration of Pentecost as the multilingual event which unites and enlightens kosmos(κόσμος), in contrast to the confusion of tongues in Babel. It is concluded that cosmopolitanism, like the notion of Byzantinism (Bodin 2016), functions as a bordering concept that simultaneously unites and separates semiospheres (Lotman 1990) in the times and spaces in which it operates, oscillating between a homogenising (monolingual) and a heterogenising (multilingual) mode.