1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tzetzes, John

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TZETZES, JOHN, Byzantine poet and grammarian, flourished at Constantinople during the 12th century A.D. Tzetzes has been described as a perfect specimen of the Byzantine pedant. Excessively vain, he resented any attempt at rivalry, and violently attacked his fellow grammarians. Owing to want of books, he was obliged to trust to his memory; hence he is to be used with caution. But he was a learned man, and deserves gratitude for his efforts to keep up the study of ancient Greek literature. Of his numerous works the most important is the Book of Histories, usually called Chiliades (" thousands ") from the arbitrary division by its first editor (N. Gerbel, 1546) into books each containing 1000 lines (it actually consists of 12,674 lines in " political " verse). It is a collection of literary, historical, theological and antiquarian miscellanies, whose chief value consists in the fact that it to some extent makes up for the loss of works which were accessible to Tzetzes. The whole production suffers from an unnecessary display of learning, the total number of authors quoted being more than 400 (H. Spelthahn, Studien zu den Chiliaden des Johannes Tzetzes, diss., Munich, 1904). The author subsequently brought out a revised edition with marginal notes in prose and verse (ed. T. Kiessling, 1826; on the sources see C. Harder, De J. T. historiarum fontibus quaestiones selectae, diss., Kiel, 1886). The Chiliades is based upon a collection of Letters (ed. T. Pressel, 1851), which has been called an index to the larger work, itself described as a versified commentary on the letters. These letters (107 in number) are addressed partly to fictitious personages, and partly to the great men and women of the writer's time. They contain a considerable amount of biographical details. The Iliaca, an abridgment of and supplement to the Iliad, is divided into three parts—Antehomemica, Homerica, Post-homerica—containing the narrative from the birth of Paris to the return of the Greeks after the fall of Troy, in 1676 hexameters (ed. C. Lehrs and F. Dübner, 1868, in the Didot series, with Hesiod, &c.) The Homeric Allegories, dedicated to the empress Irene, in " political " verse, are two didactic poems in which Homer and the Homeric theology are explained on euphemistic principles (ed. P. Matranga, in his Anecdota graeca, i. 1850). Tzetzes also wrote commentaries on a number of Greek authors, the most important of which is that on the Cassandra or Alexandra of Lycophron (ed. C. G. Müller, 1811), in the production of which his brother Isaac is generally associated with him. Mention may also be made of a dramatic sketch in iambic verse, in which the caprices of fortune and the wretched lot of the learned are described; and of an iambic poem on the death of the emperor Manuel, noticeable for introducing at the beginning of each line the last word of the line preceding it[1] (both in Matranga, An. gr. ii.).

For the other works of Tzetzes see J. A. Fabricius, Bibliotheca graeca (ed. Harles), xi. 228, and C. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byz. Litt. (2nd ed., 1897); monograph by G. Hart, "De Tzetzarum nomine, vitis, scriptis," in Jahn's Jahrbücher für classische Philologie. Supplementband xii. (Leipzig, 1881).
  1. This versification is called kXi^okojtos (/cAijuaf, ladder), a term more commonly applied to a verse in which each word contains one letter more than the one which precedes it.