Alexandrova Tatiana

John of Gaza. Ekphrasis of a cosmic painting

Alexandrova Tatiana (2020) "John of Gaza. Ekphrasis of a cosmic painting ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia III : Filologiia, 2020, vol. 62, pp. 61-90 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturIII202062.61-90


This publication represents a poetic translation into Russian of the poem by John of Gaza (1st half of the 6th century AD) Ekphrasis of the Picture of the Universe. The poem consists of 732 verses and contains a picturesque description of more than 50 allegorical fi gures depicting personalised natural phenomena. It is supposed to be a description of a real mosaic or fresco, which was placed, as the scholiast’s note informs us, in the winter baths. The location of these baths is unknown. Some fi gures find mosaic or fresco analogues, but it has not been established yet what kind of work of art served as a prototype for the Ekphrasis. It could be that there was no original picture and John simply embodied his own view of the Universe, based on late-ancient scientific findings. John is not an opponent of Christianity; he begins his description with a prayer to God, and the Cross is described fi rst among the figures. However, compared with the biblical picture of the world, John’s ideas are signifi cantly diff erent. As a poet, John of Gaza belongs to the school of Nonnus, the dependence on whom is doubtless. In turn, he himself infl uenced Paul the Silentiary and his Ekphrasis of the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, which, if we take into account the poem of John, begins to be perceived as a description of a man-made image of the Universe, imprinted in the Hagia Sophia.


John of Gaza, ekphrasis, ancient cosmology, spherical earth, personifi cation, Paul the Silentiary, Cosmas Indicopleustes, Late Ancient literature, Byzantine literature


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Information about the author

Alexandrova Tatiana

Academic Degree: Candidate of Sciences* in Philology;
Place of work: St. Tikhon’s University for the Humanities; 6/1 Likhov Pereulok, Moscow 127051, Russian Federation;
ORCID: 0000-0002-6963-2263;
Email: tatianaalexandrova@yandex.ru.

*According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011, the degree of Candidate of Sciences (Cand.Sc.) belongs to ISCED level 8 — "doctoral or equivalent", together with PhD, DPhil, D.Lit, D.Sc, LL.D, Doctorate or similar.