The Metochites Project

Research project
Active research
Project period
1993 - 2023
Project owner
Institutionen för språk och litteraturer

Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation and the Swedish Research Council

Short description

Karin Hult, researcher and professor emerita, is working on a new edition of the Semeioseis gnomikai (”Sententious notes”), a collection of 120 essays by the Byzantine statesman and scholar Theodore Metochites, 1270–1332. This is the first critical edition of the text, replacing the 1821 edition by C. G. Müller & Th. Kiessling, which was based on a late and inferior manuscript.
The project began in 1993 as a collaboration between the University of Gothenburg and the University of Cyprus, Nicosia.

The new edition is based on two early 14th-century manuscripts, in Paris and Venice respectively, and a 16th-century copy of the Venice manuscript kept in Escorial, Madrid. The edition is accompanied by an English translation, notes and indexes. This important work of the Palaeologan era has never been translated before, not even into Latin. A complete list of the essays of the Semeioseis gnomikai is found at the bottom of this page. For Metochites’ life and works see

The edition will appear in four volumes:

  1. Volume l, 2002: Theodore Metochites On Ancient Authors and Philosophy (essays 1–26 & 71)
  2. Volume ll, 2016: Theodore Metochites On the Human Condition and the Decline of Rome (essays 27–60)
  3. Volume lll, 2017: essays 61–70 & 72–81, edited by Staffan Wahlgren, Trondheim
  4. Volume lV - forthcoming publication

The pinax (table of contents) of Theodore Metochites’ Semeioseis gnomikai

(translation revised October 2016)

1.    Proem, where it is also pointed out that it is no longer possible to say anything

2.    On memory, and that it is necessary

3.    On the obscurity of the writings of Aristotle

4.    That everybody suffers from intellectual vanity

5.    On Aristotle’s intellectual vanity also regarding mathematics

6.    That all men like what they are accustomed to

7.    On the respect of all wise men towards Pythagoras, and on mathematics

8.    That usually all wise men are ironic and witty, especially Plato and Socrates

9.    That it is impossible to express one’s thoughts

10.  That all wise men were disrespectful towards their predecessors, and on Plato and Aristotle

11.  On Aristotle and his fame in natural science and logic

12.  Further on Aristotle and his natural science and logic

13.  On Plato and the mathematical part of wisdom, and especially on harmonics

14.  That the science of mathematics was not fully developed from the beginning                                                                                       

15.  On Josephus

16.  On Philo                                                                                         

17.  That all who were educated in Egypt write in a rather harsh style

18.  On Synesius

19.  On Dio

20.  On Xenophon                                                                                

21.  On Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Hermogenes’ book On the Method of Force

22.  On the lack of dissension in the science of mathematics

23.  On the uncertainty in natural science

24.  That Plato always uses the dialogue form because of his war against rhetoric

25.  That Aristotle decided to study rhetoric because of his opposition to Plato

26.  That a simple and unadorned language is typical of philosophy

27.   Lament on human life

28.   On the saying It is impossible to find anyone living a life free of sorrows, on the changes occurring in life, and on the experien­ces of the author himself

29.   On the inconstancy of all things human

30.   On human beings’ ignorance of what is best

31.   That those who are in the body do not have a perfect apprehen­sion of reality, and an example of this taken from those who are not completely drunk

32.   That people take pleasure in that to which they are accustomed over time

33.   That many people are displeased with any kind of life according to long-standing habit

34.   That some ignorant and stupid people lead no less pleasant lives than the educated, and think no less highly of themselves

35.   That many people, because of self-love, brag vulgarly about their modest achievements

36.   That some people are grateful even in humble circumstances (with mention of the Emperor)

37.   Lament on the decline of Rome and the reversal of her great prosperity

38.   Lament on how badly the people of the Eastern Roman Empire are faring

39.   Further lament on the same subject, and that one cannot com­pare the situation there with other parts of the Roman Em­pire

40.   Further lament on the same subject, and that monastic life was better there than anywhere else

41.   That human beings tend to long for the past and to remember it most fondly

42.   That it is extremely pleasant for human beings to behold Crea­­tion

43.   That it is very pleasant to behold the sky and the heavenly bodies

44.   That the sea is a very pleasant sight

45.   That those who combine cheerfulness and solemnity may be compared to the sight of the sea in calm

46.   That many people long for a life of inactivity

47.   That most people are eager to be involved in public affairs

48.   That most things are difficult and painful for those whose life is full of activity, even if they seem prosperous

49.   That some people turn away from an active life because of small-mindedness, not because of rational decision, and that this certainly is not commendable

50.   That it is equally possible for those who are doing well in differ­ent societies, both in very high positions and in more humble ones, to be content and consider themselves prosperous

51.   That the body and that which appertains to it is a great hindrance to the soul in its proper intellectual activity

52.   On the self-love present in all human beings, and that they all strive to appear to be more than they are

53.   That it is difficult to explain why some people are fortunate in life from beginning to end, whereas others fare conversely

54.   That people often contradict not only each other but also them­selves

55.   That unerring and unbiased judgements rarely exist in human beings

56.   That it is always possible, no matter how one is faring, to raise oneself by reasonable mental edification to the level of great success

57.   That some people feign a philosophical attitude and disdain for those who are fortunate and prosperous in life, because they themselves have failed to obtain some advantage and are envi­ous

58.   Whether it is better for man to be born or not born, and that it is better to be born

59.   That people often talk about themselves

60.   That it is doubtful whether people experience any serenity at all in their thoughts

61.   That the Sceptics’ opposition to the claim that anything can be understood is not totally without reason, and that Plato and Socrates laid the foundations for the Sceptics opinion

62.   On those who become engaged in public matters by accident, some because of their meddlesome and base character, some because of ignorance and since they have not foreseen Fate

63.   On hope, and that this in some way is a most helpful device for men, but that sometimes it is despicable and causes extreme indignation

64.   That it is most pleasant to people to live among their own and as they are accustomed—if they can live reasonably well and enjoy some respect

65.   That it often happens that people are made victims of their own judgement and decisions and so perish by their own condemnation

66.   That some men are quick to trust Providence because of that which seems rightly to befall the good and bad, and, in turn, to distrust Providence when the opposite happens

67.   That it often happens that ill fortune, no less unexpected than hard to bear, strangely and very swiftly follows upon the greatest accomplishment and success

68.   That there is no agreement whatsoever among men

69.   That men are subject to their passions to a high degree, and that they for this reason do not see clearly

70.   That the mathematical and geometrical kind of philosophy is highly useful in life, and especially for engineering

71.   On Plutarch

72.   Reflections on the maxim “live hidden”

73.   Whether it constitutes an obstacle to the Christian way of life to live in the midst of the many and to be engaged in much worldly business

74.   That it is easier to keep the rules of the Christian religion if one is not engaged in much worldly business

75.   That it is possible also for those who are engaged in public activities to live well and in accordance with virtue and the laws of religion

76.   Whether those who are eager and anxious to lead a virtuous life should marry or not

77.   That a politician in every way should strive for peace

78.   That a politician should also prepare for war

79.   That one should not desist from acting because of mishaps and the fact that one often fares badly

80.   That most or almost all philosophers have spent their time talking only, and have not been of any use in practical politics

81.   That almost all Greek philosophers have avoided politics and public matters

82.  That a king must devote himself mainly to obtaining funds for his administration

83.  That a king must not devote himself entirely to making money and spend all his efforts on this

84.  That a politician must devote himself blamelessly to afflu­ence and wealth

85.  That it is not proper to devote oneself entirely to getting rich

86.  That nearly all men are conquered by love of wealth

87.  Reflection on the instability of human affairs, with examples

88.  Reflection on the use of the rational faculty, with examples

89.  Reflection on perception and the supremacy of the mind, with ex­amples

90.  Reflection on an intellectual life, with examples

91.  Reflection on how created nature suffers reversal in the material world, with examples

92.  That, as it seems, the monarchical rule of the Emperor Au­gus­tus and the great Constantine came into being for the unhin­dered [ex­pansion] of the Christian faith

93.  Brief note that everything concerning the Greeks has been pre­served for us in memory and writing, both the greatest things and those worthy of a passing mention

94.  That it is useful for those who are being educated to retire and de­sist from action, with examples

95.  Reflection on the mind and the use of the senses, with ex­amples

96.  On democracy

97.  On aristocracy

98.  On monarchy

99.  On the constitution of Athens

100.  On the constitution of Sparta

101.  That not only the Greeks but also many other peoples prac­tised democracy

102.  That virtually all peoples in Asia did not practise democ­racy from the beginning, but were governed by despots

103.  That Cyrene in Libya was a Greek city from the beginning

104.  On Carthage and its constitution

105.  More on Carthage and how the city perished precisely be­cause of its great achievements

106.  On Rome, and how from small beginnings it became such a strong and great power

107.  On Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, and how he was chosen king opportunely at that time

108.  How Rome, from a humble beginning, after the wars with Pyr­rhus and Carthage became a great power, with ambitions nearly of world domination

109.  That it seems that Rome became the greatest Empire in the world with the help of Divine Providence, in order to aid the spread of the redeeming Christian faith

110.  On the Scythians

111.  That it is useful for intellectuals to study history

112.  On the instability of human affairs and lack of continuity till the end, with examples

113.  On the Greeks, and that in the beginning they were famous not because of the magnitude of their deeds or fortune, but because of the refinement of their nature and character, and the nobility of their thought

114.  How opportunely Epaminondas and Pelopidas, two brave men and excellent military commanders, arose in their pa­ternal city at the same time

115.  Investigation into the instability and changeability of human af­fairs, and that especially the life of Alcibiades is an illus­tration of this, and similarly that of Demetrius called Poliorcetes, and fur­ther Eumenes

116.  On the instability of luck, with examples

117.  Reflection, with examples, on how some people change from great deeds and great fortune to inactivity or doing humbly

118.  That the loss of what has been carefully acquired is not un­painful or easy

119.  That there does not exist among human beings any happi­ness in life that is from beginning to end unmixed with pain, and that one must face reversals of great fortune

120.  That many people are truly ignorant of how to handle [that which befalls them in] life, with examples