- Epic romance, whose setting is the Byzantine-Arab frontier, written in the second half of the 11th century (or in the 12th century). The poem derives from a previous oral tradition (ninth or 10th century in date) about a legendary hero named Basil who is subsequently called Digenes Akritas. Digenes means "born of two peoples," for in the poem Basil's father is said to have been an Arab emir (q.v.), and his mother the daughter of a Byzantine general of the Doukas family. An akritas (q.v.) was an inhabitant of the eastern frontier (that included Cappadocia [q.v] and the region between Samosata and Melitene [qq.v.]). Much of the story concerns Basil's exploits along this frontier. In the poem his fame reaches the emperor (q.v.), who rides to the Euphrates River (q.v.) to honor him. Some of Digenes's foes have been identified as leaders of the heretical Paulicians (q.v.). Emir Monsour, for example, his father in the tale, must refer to the real-life Omar of Melitene, an ally of the Paulicians. In the description of Digenes's palace (including its ceilings covered in glittering mosaic with scenes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, from the life ofAlexander the Great, and from the Old Testament), one gains an understanding of how splendid were the residences of wealthy landowners (the dynatoi) in Asia Minor (qq.v.). When the poem was written (during the half century or so after the Seljuk [q.v.] victory at Mantzikert [q.v.]) such families had already left the eastern frontier for more secure surroundings at the Byzantine court in Constantinople (q.v.). Thus, the poem can be viewed as a romantic retrospective of the recent past.
Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . John H. Rosser .
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