Here follow excerpts from an article published at New York Times, about Brownworth’s lectures on Byzantium and the surprising interest in Byzantium worldwide. The newspaper is impressed by the case of a high-school teacher able to attract a large internet audience on the subject, yet that (and more) popular pages on Byzantium are many, which is clearly a hopeful turn. Byzantium embodies the continuity with both ancient Greece and Rome. Today economic development prevents us even from protecting the environment, but such problems are not the most important, in spite of their consequences for our very survival. The Byzantine was not a ‘perfect’ era, as the ancient Greek too was not; many mistakes have been made; yet the important is that, thanks to Orthodoxy, that is the union of ancient Greek (homeric-platonic) philosophy with the Gospel inside which roman law and will to power was measured, Byzantium achieved a balance and union of the various aspects of human life, now fighting with each other in a multiple hybris, dissolving the western and westernised societies precisely as societies, rendering the life of (formerly Christian) peoples empty of meaning and subject to nihilism. I haven’t listened yet to Brownworth’s lectures, but I will, and then perhaps some comments will follow.
In barely 18 months, Mr. Brownworth’s podcast, 12 Byzantine Rulers, has become one of the phenomena of the podcasting world. A survey of 1,200 years of rather abstruse history, starting with Diocletian in 284 and finishing with Constantine XI Palaeologus in 1453, “12 Byzantine Rulers” routinely ranks in the top five educational podcasts on iTunes, and in the top 50 of all podcasts.
“It’s a slightly frightening idea to think there are so many people,” Mr. Brownworth said. “But without question it’s the most exciting part of my professional life. We’re in the middle of a revolution, and I feel incredibly blessed to be part of it.”
While listeners address him in their e-mail messages with the respectful honorific “Professor,” Mr. Brownworth, in fact, holds only a bachelor’s degree in history, from Houghton College in upstate New York. He started teaching at Stony Brook, an independent school, only in 1999, and his initial assignment was in the science department. To the extent that he had any specialty as an undergraduate, it was the Battle of Hastings, a long way from Constantinople.
What Mr. Brownworth always possessed was a sweeping intellectual curiosity about antiquity, which inspired him while he was growing up on Long Island to learn to read hieroglyphics and sound out the Greek inscriptions in the ruins of Herculaneum. He also had a talent for dramatizing himself, whether donning the set of armor owned by family friends or imitating characters from a firefighter to a gorilla in a series of home movies called “Lars’s World.”
Still, Mr. Brownworth had fallen into the passive assumption that between Rome’s fall and the Renaissance there existed nothing but barbarism. It took a casual mention of a Byzantine empress in a book about Charlemagne that he read a few years ago for Mr. Brownworth’s curiosity to be kindled. He followed it into such standard texts as “A History of the Byzantine State” by George Ostrogorsky and “The Fall of Constantinople” by Steven Runciman. On a school trip to Turkey, he walked into the very church where every Byzantine emperor had been crowned.