The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity
by: William A. Therivel, PhD
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-Gifted and Talented
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-Western Medicine's Origins
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-High Creativity Unmasked
-Studying Power
-Studying National Characters
-Studying National Creativity
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The low creativity of the Byzantine civilization is discussed in
Therivel's GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity.

Byzantium's Creativity?

The Low Creativity and High Unity of Power of the Byzantine Civilization

The above is the title of chapter 14 of volume 1 of William A. Therivel's The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity (G stands for genetic endowment, A for assistances of youth, M for misfortunes of youth, DP for division of power, UP for unity of power). For an introduction to the GAM part of the theory click "Introduction to GAM"; for an introduction to the DP part click on "Introduction to DP".
In this website, the reader is also offered a shortcut: The GAM/DP Synopsis and an expanded version, The GAM/DP Summary of volumes 1 through 4.

Hereafter I report a few pages of this chapter 14:

Comparing and Contrasting East and West
     I have already briefly discussed, in the preceding two chapters, the low creativity and high unity of power of the Byzantine civilization (A.D. 330-1453) and contrasted these features with what happened in the West. Yet because the Byzantine case is so close to us and the two civilizations so similar on several key points, their difference in creativity and type of power deserves a separate chapter.
     Starting with the similarities, William McNeill remarked that "it was the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian inheritance, however attenuated during the Dark Age, that provided the fundamental frame for the elaboration of high medieval and modern [Western] European civilization" (1963, p. 539). Without a doubt, Byzantium had this same "Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian inheritance," and in even larger doses. Moreover, since some of the greatest gifts that Byzantium gave to the West were a mastery of the Greek language and a trove--and love--of classical texts, how far better placed were the Byzantines, who enjoyed these same riches directly and since a longer time. Similarly, the Byzantines were as advanced, or even more, in their Christian religiosity, in profound theological studies, and in widely practiced mysticism.
     However, anticipating what follows, could it be that the Byzantine Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian inheritance was too strong, casting too large a shadow? Or could it be that the low creativity of Byzantium was due to the heavy weight of the unity of power, once that the emperors--from Constantine onwards--had achieved full unity of power over both state and religion? As done previously, I will first look at the results (a low level of creativity), and then search for a possible key cause.

Low creativity
     H. W. Haussig, in his A History of the Byzantine Civilization, summarized the situation: "The Byzantines preserved the cultural heritage of ancient Greece but scarcely developed it further" (1971, p. 381). This was true in particular for science and medicine, discussed in the preceding chapters, and for literature, as discussed hereafter.

     This is the area that saddens all lovers of the Byzantine civilization and forces them to build excuses, as did Cyril Mango in his Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries: "It would be unfair to judge Byzantine literature by the criterion of the aesthetic pleasures it affords to the modern reader. . . . We appreciate originality, while they prized the cliché; we are impatient of rhetoric, while they were passionately fond of it; we value concision, while they were naturally inclined to elaboration and verbiage" (1980, p. 234).
     Others were equally saddened, like Romilly Jenkins, but avoided the excuses: "Poetry disappeared, and what passed for it was no more than rhetorical versification, at best ornate and insipid, at worst a detestable jargon. All originality, all freshness, all emotion was stifled" (1966, p. 385). Similarly, Marshall and Mavrogordato wrote: "Byzantine literature as a whole is not a great literature; few would study it for pleasure unless they were already interested in the culture of the East Roman Empire" (1949, p. 221).
     Combining description with explanation, Robert Byron said, in his The Byzantine Achievement, that "while in literature, save for such scattered exceptions as the hunting epic of Digenis Akritas, the creative powers of the Byzantine were negatived by an excessive appreciation of the past; while in thought, the access to both Hellenic philosophy and Aramean theology, a combination unknown to contemporary Europe, seemed for the most part so amply sufficient as to render superfluous any addition to the beliefs of successive last generations; and while in science the wisdom of the ancient world was conserved and utilized for everyday purposes, rather than increased; in art and architecture, the Byzantines, for those who measure the value of human activity in terms of the divine quest, took strides of incalculable importance, not only in the light of their actual productions, but in their relationship to the whole cultural advance of Europe" (1929, p. 62).
     But, why was there such an excessive appreciation of the past? Why were there so few efforts to add to philosophy and science? Could it be that the only way to avoid antagonizing the emperor and his people was not to say anything new, not only anything that could smell of criticism but anything unknown to the great man that could force him to admit that others had power, even if only intellectual power? The only way to survive and be creative, therefore, was, as noted in chapter12, to stay firmly "in art and architecture [especially in praise of the emperor or on conventional religious subjects]; in forms of religious piety, the liturgy, and ecclesiastical literature; in aspects of philology" (Geanakoplos, 1976, p. 93), or, referring to Robert Byron, to limit one's activity to the "divine quest."
     Yet there was a rhetorical and literary field in which one could be creative, with no limitations, that of the imperial panegyrics. "The orator was to recall the emperor's place of origin, his birth, his parents, his education and physical appearance, his deeds in peace and war; he was to portray him as a shining example of the virtues, especially wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation. He should stress his philanthropy and piety. Within this framework, of course, a great many variations were possible" (Dennis, 1997, p. 133).
     Not surprisingly, "the modern reader, perhaps is most struck by the extreme, almost sickening flattery in these orations, which reminds one of the personality cult accorded to certain dictators in this century . . . . One wonders how the person so honored could sit and listen without feeling some embarrassment " (ib. p. 134). No! The emperors seldom felt embarrassment and most often liked these orations, inviting the best speakers back to give yet another speech. The trouble was not only the emperor, but also the many others in the Empire who "firmly believed that, whatever they might think about the individual, the position of the emperor was sacred and worthy of all praise" (p.134). In societies so insular, for so many centuries, it is difficult to determine, later, whether the insularity is caused downward from the supremo to the subjects or upward from them to the supremo: they are all prisoners of insular scripts, and any change can only come from outside.

Arts and Architecture
     In the arts too, the lovers of Byzantium are on the defensive:

In the first place, Byzantine art, like Byzantine literature, was undeniably very conservative. Since it evolved at a slow pace, the dating of its oeuvre is seldom an easy matter, especially in view of the fact that the great majority of objects and buildings bear no dates. Secondly, Byzantine art was anonymous and impersonal. In the art of western Europe, at any rate since the late Middle Ages, individual personalities attract much of our attention, so that the history of European art does not concern itself merely with the evolution of forms: it is also the story of persons who lived known lives, who introduced innovations, who expressed their opinion on art, who exerted an influence on other known artists. Nothing of the kind applied to Byzantine art. (Mango, 1980, p. 256-57)

     Michael Grant took a different approach, after conceding the poverty of literary creativity: "Byzantine literature as a whole is not great literature; although there were a good many poets, notably in Egypt. . . . So the literature of the period is mostly, as literature, second rate and unoriginal: the educated public of both empires [East and West in the fifth-century A.D.], who were quite numerous, expressed themselves through architecture and, to some extent, visual art, rather than thorough writings" (1998, p. 77). But how many educated persons could design new buildings, mosaics, and interior decoration and thereby express themselves creatively? How many could be creative in the contemplation of somebody else's architectural works? And, even so, how many new ideas, feelings, and problems can one express and discuss through architecture? Contrary to Michael Grant, I do not see creativity in architecture as a substitute for creativity in literature. Lack of creativity in literature is, for me, the clearest indicator of a severe case of insular ethnopsychology.
     And even in architecture there was not so much really new created by the Byzantines. In discussing the plan of the famous church of St. Sophia in Constantinople, completed in 537, Charles Diehl wrote: "There was doubtless nothing new in such a plan. St. Sophia is related to the type of building, familiar in Asia Minor since the fifth century, known as the domed basilica. But in virtue of its great size, harmony of lines, boldness of conception, and constructive skill, it appears none the less a true creation" (1949, p. 167). To Emperor Justinian, the basilica was the fulfillment of his dream, and on the day of its inauguration he is reported to have exclaimed, in a transport of enthusiasm: "Thanks be to God who has found me worthy to complete so great a work and to surpass even thee, O Solomon!" (Rice, 1962, p. 76). St. Sophia, therefore, seems to partake of the main characteristic of every major architectural work fostered by the unity of power: it was huge--like the Pyramids and the Colosseum--and it was bigger than what had been constructed before.

Unity of Power
     The Byzantine civilization is different from most other civilizations for having been ruled under the unity of power since the very beginning. In other words, Byzantium began when emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and began ruling over it, combining the power of the state and the power of religion. In the words of Jenkins (1966), with the reign of Constantine the Great (324-37) "the religion of Christ was grafted, with startling ingenuity but not everywhere with absolute harmony, on the existing imperial idea. . . . The old dogma of the unity of the world beneath the elect of Jupiter. . . . was, for practical purpose, modified by the simple substitution of Jesus for Jove. The younger, more mystical Divinity replaced the older and more effete, with an increase in imperial authority and prestige. . . . Anyone who disagreed. . . . was God's enemy as well as Rome's. [The Byzantines always referred to themselves as Romans, except late in the history when they took up the old name of Hellenes.]

     Anyone who refused to submit to the Roman scepter was automatically a rebel, a disturber of God's Peace, in short, a warmonger, to be dealt with righteously as God has dealt with Lucifer-Satan" (p. 5). That "grafting" went smoothly because it did not imply changes of the power structure: "Since the political authority had descended in a virtually unbroken line from the time of the Caesars, the Eastern Church had developed within the protective custody of the state, and it accepted the role played by the emperor in church affairs very early" (H. White, 1966, p. xiii).

Few rulers in the world have been more powerful than the Emperor of Byzantium. Few states, even in the Middle Ages, have had a more absolute conception of monarchical authority. . . . 'Who should be capable of solving the riddles of the law and revealing them to men,' says Justinian, 'if not he who alone has the right to make the law?' By definition, the imperial function conferred upon him who assumed it absolute power and infallible authority" (Diehl, 1957, pp. 28-9).

     "[The emperor] was the ultimate authority in the Empire. He could appoint and dismiss all ministers at his will; he had complete financial control; legislation was in his hands alone; he was commander-in-chief of all Imperial forces. He was, moreover, head of the Church, High Priest of the Empire" (Runciman, 1956, p. 51).
     "The emperor was, of course, emperor 'by the Grace of God.' More than this, God's grace made him 'holy,' 'divine'; the 'sun on earth.' He was 'equal to the Apostles,' the 'God-resembling Emperor,' and 'a god on earth.' These were not merely high-flown ceremonial phrases; they reflected the very real Byzantine belief that it was possible for God to choose as his instrument a man whose powers then became divine powers. . . . The Byzantine emperor was a Christ-figure; he was not merely the vicar or viceregent of Christ, ruling in his name, but the true imitation or mimesis of Christ--a living image.. . . " (D. A. Miller, 1966, p. 34-36).
     It followed that "the powers of the Orthodox Christian Church, as an influence on the workings of the state, were limited formally to participation in the ceremonies which raised a man to the imperial office. Even in this instance--in the ceremony of coronation--the presence of the patriarch does not seem to have been absolutely necessary. . . . The patriarch, who was by definition a creature of the emperor, only provided the technical approval of the Christian Church organization. God, not the patriarch, chose and anointed the emperor" (pp. 31-32).
     Specifically, the emperor "ruled the Church as he ruled the State, nominating bishops for election, consecrating them, and, if they proved insufficiently amenable to his will, dismissing them. He legislated in religious as in secular matters, summoning ecclesiastical councils, guiding their debates, confirming their canons, and carrying their resolutions into effect; and those who rebelled against the imperial will rebelled against God Himself. He drafted rules for ecclesiastical discipline and did not hesitate to fix dogmas" (Diehl, 1957, p. 33).
     In consequence, "the Byzantine rulers never became involved in anything resembling the Investiture Controversy in the medieval Western Empire--in any clash of church and state--because the emperor had been from the first much more than merely a political figure" (D. A. Miller, 1966, p. 35). Here, the unity of power is as strong as that of the later pharaohs, and with the same negative impact on creativity. Here, the "never anything resembling the Investiture Controversy" points to the most vital difference between Eastern and Western Christendom, between the West and other civilizations.

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