- Psellos, Michael
- Historian, premier intellectual and writer of his time, courtier and advisor to several 11th-century emperors (q.v.). Michael VII (q.v.) was his pupil. Whatever one thinks of his character (which was necessarily chameleon-like to have survived so long as a courtier) his active participation from 1042-1078 in the affairs of state gave him an extraordinary understanding of court life. His Chronographia, covering the years 976-1078, is a work, which, like the Alexiad of Anna Komnene (q.v.), has profoundly shaped modern understanding of 11th-century Byzantium (q.v.). The understanding of human behavior displayed in the Chronographia is profound. Indeed, some ofthe portraits he draws, e.g., of imperial personalities like Zoe and Constantine IX (qq.v.), are unforgettable. Together these portraits form an explanation of the 11th-century decline that focuses on the failure of imperial leadership after Basil II's (q.v.) death in 1025. Psellos's letters contain vivid description and exploration of psychological motivation (e.g., regarding the nature of friendship). The impact of his learning on contemporaries was great, combining as it did theology and philosophy (qq.v.), including Neoplatonism (q.v.), the study of which he revived. He was enormously curious about everything, including things occult. He and his circle of friends, who included patriarch John VIII Xiphilinos (qq.v.) and Constantine Leichoudes, created a vibrant intellectual atmosphere in mid-11th century Constantinople (q.v.). Psellos may have died around 1082, the year John Italos (q.v.) was tried for heresy (q.v.).
Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . John H. Rosser .