chapter  11
Paul Magdalino Generic subversion? The political ideology of urban myth and apocalyptic prophecy
Pages 14

No forum on political subversion in Byzantium would be complete without consideration of those genres of Byzantine literature that presented a less than glowing picture of imperial power and authority. These were the genres – and I use the word without qualification or apology – of historiography (chronicles and biographical histories), patriography (stories about the origins of Constantinople and its monuments) and apocalypse (prophetic narratives of the sequence of future events up to and including the end of time). Though clearly separate and distinct, all three genres were connected by a common pool of concerns, motifs and historical facts, and all are equally deserving of attention for the negative elements in their portrayal of rulers and their reigns. But history writing must await separate treatment, since it stands apart in several ways.1 Much more of it survives. It was far more complex and diverse in form, style and content; it was more influenced by learned rhetoric, especially the rhetoric of praise and blame, and much biographical narrative is notoriously panegyrical. Most importantly, historians were constrained by their genre to at least make a show of sticking to the facts and giving a balanced assessment. The authors of patriographic and apocalyptic literature, who were almost without exception anonymous or pseudonymous, faced no such constraints. Their brief was not to record real or even realistic events. They were out to construct an imaginaire of a mythical urban past and a climactic future of cosmic convulsion, in which their liberty to invent narratives from their stock of characters and motifs was limited only by their agenda in writing. The question to be considered here is, to what extent was that agenda political and ideological, and to what extent was the resultant image of imperial power supportive or subversive of imperial authority? In

other words, was ideological subversion a built-in feature of the patriographic and apocalyptic genres?