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§ 149. Michael Psellus.


I. Michael Psellus: Opera, in Migne, Patrol. Gr., Tom. CXXII., col. 477–1358. His Hist. Byzant. et alia opuscula, ed. by Constantin Sathas. Paris, 1874.

II. Leo Allatius: Diatriba de Psellis, in Migne, l.c., col. 477–536. Ceillier, XIII. 335–337.


Michael Psellus, the third of the five of that name mentioned by Allatius, was born of a consular and patrician family in Constantinople about 1020. He took naturally to study, and denied himself the amusements and recreations of youth in order that he might make all the more rapid progress. Having completed his studies at Athens, he returned to Constantinople, and was appointed chief professor of philosophy. Constantine Monomachus invited him to his court, and entrusted him with secular business. He then turned his attention from philosophy and rhetoric to theology, physics, medicine, mathematics, astronomy and military science. In short, he explored the entire domain of knowledge, and as his memory was tenacious, he was able to retain everything he studied. “It has been said that in him human nature yielded up its inmost powers in order that he might ward off the downfall of Greek learning.”943943    Gass in Herzog,2s. v. xii. 340. He was made the tutor of Michael Ducas, the future emperor, who when he came to the throne retained him in his councils. Psellus, of course, took the Greek position upon the Filioque question, and thwarted the movement of Peter, bishop of Anagni, to establish peace between the Greek and Latin churches. When Michael Ducas was deposed (1078), he was deprived of his professorship, and so he retired to a monastery, where he died. The last mention of him is made in 1105.

Psellus was a prolific author, but many of his writings are unprinted, and many are lost.944944    See lists in Allatius, Diatriba, in Migne, CXXII. col. 498-532. Of the theological works which have been printed the most important are:

(1) Exposition of the Song of Songs,945945    Ἑρμηνεία κατὰ παράφρασιν τοῦ ᾄσματος τῶν ᾀσμάτων. Ibid. col. 537-685. a paraphrase in verse with a commentary and excerpts from Gregory of Nyssa, Nilus, and Maximus.

(2) A Learned Miscellany,946946    Διδασκαλία παντοδαπή. Ibid. col. 688-784. in 157 paragraphs, in which nearly everything is treated of, from the relations of the persons of the Trinity to the rise of the Nile and the changes of the weather. It is one of those prodigies of learning which really indicate the comparative ignorance of the past, and are now mere curiosities.

(3) The Operations of Demons,947947    Περὶἐνεργαίαςδαιμόνων. Ibid. col. 820-876. an attack, in the form of a dialogue, upon the Euchites, whom he charges with revolting and disgusting crimes, under the prompting of demons. But he passes on to discuss the subject more broadly and resting on the testimony of a certain monk who had actually seen demons he teaches their perpetual activity in human affairs; that they can propagate their species; and go anywhere at will under either a male or female form. From them come diseases and innumerable woes. The book is very curious, and has permanent value as a contribution to the demonology of the Middle Ages.

Twelve letters of Psellus have been printed.948948    Ἐπιστολαί. Ibid. col. 1161-1185. His panegyric upon Simeon Metaphrastes has already been mentioned.949949    See p. 642. He wrote a criticism of the eloquence of Gregory the Theologian, Basil, and Chrysostom,950950    Χαρακτήρες. Migne, CXXII. col. 901-908. and celebrated these Fathers also in verse.951951    Ibid. col. 908-910.

Besides certain legal and philosophical treatises he wrote a poem on Doctrine,952952    Περι ̀δόγματος. Ibid. col. 812-817. and a metrical Synopsis of Law.953953    Σύνοψις τῶν νόμων. Ibid. col. 925-974.



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