The Byzantine Module in the Instanbul course was a very interesting look into the history of Istanbul. There was a lot that Professor Kite taught us in his course but the best part in my opinion about this class and this Module in particular was the freedom to choose exactly what facets of the culture we wanted to research in particular. There were two papers (Ekphrasis Paper, and Connections Paper), as well as a group presentation which really allowed the selection of a broader range of aspects of the culture.
The purpose of my Byzantine Ekphrasis paper was to express the experience of an aesthetic object of work or art in the Byzantine Empire. After learning that a very significant artifact of Byzantine culture was their patriarchal basilicas, I decided to focus my lens on a particular basilica of great importance, the Hagia Sophia. For my Byzantine Ekphrasis paper, I really tried to delve deeper than most research has on this artifact in order to show how the Hagia Sophia is understood in each mind, body and spirit context of Byzantine experience. In the mind context, the key point made was the illusion that the structure provided to those who walked inside. In these patriarchal basilicas, your breath can easily be taken away as it feels like the building grows in a surreal nature due to the domed and arched structure. To look up at the “crown” of the Hagia Sophia, which is a great 180 feet from the floor, would be an incredible experience to say the least.
In the spirit context, the key point made in my paper is the fact that the Hagia Sophia is literally where people of Constantinople went to worship Christianity. With this said, their religion was practiced in this building and it only enhanced the spiritual perception of this structure to the community. In the body context, the key point made in my paper was that the people of Constantinople were able to understand the feeling of being closer to Christianity just by being in the Hagia Sophia. Everything from the aesthetics to the openness and even the echoing acoustics from the high ceilings hints toward something bigger. This feeling must have been a contributing factor to the luring properties of the Hagia SOphia and other patriarchal basilicas alike.
For the group presentation, we chose to focus on another very important aspect of Byzantine culture, the Food! My group and I talked about the cuisine that the people of Constantinople enjoyed to eat. The highlights of their cuisine seemed to wines, cheeses, seafood, and bread. Looking into the methods of cooking that the community used primarily, research showed that boiling was the most common form of cooking. There were lots of street vendors as well as “cavernas” (restaurants). It was interesting to compare the ways of food to cultures today and to look at the possibility of global influence. The famine, which resulted in a major population drop was also talked about. As a discussion question, our group proposed the scenario of Vermont experience an extreme cold that killed off crops and livestock, then asked if a famine would result. We came to the conclusion as a class that in today’s matured world we have many other forms of food to stay eating.
For my Byzantine Connections Paper, I decided to delve deeper into the artifact of food in Byzantine culture in order to draw connections between how the Byzantine food culture functioned, and how our food culture functions today in America. The first piece of evidence in this correlation that I chose to draw was the common theme of “grocery shops”. With grocery shops being very abundant in the Byzantine era, there is definitely room for comparison to American food culture as we rely on grocery shops today in America to get our food. With eating out being another huge part of Byzantine cuisine, it is yet another line to connect these two distant cultures. A third evidential topic was the eating schedule in the Byzantine era. The people who could afford it would eat three times a day, just as we do today in America. Though it may be a stretch, it is astonishing to think that an aspect of a culture existing many years ago may have helped to shape the way the American food culture works today.
I really enjoyed the Byzantine Module this semester in Istanbul.