Inspired by Istanbul Research Institute’s exhibition at Pera Museum titled “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture, we invited artists, authors, and musicians to converse with researchers of Byzantine history on how they have engaged with Byzantine history in their works. We explore the unearthly ways of appropriating Byzantine culture in unlikely mediums and genres, showing novel ways of engagement with Byzantine heritage in popular culture.
1- On A Memory Called Empire: Arkady Martine and Ingela Nilsson converse on the Hugo Award winning novel and its Byzantine inspirations.
Two Byzantinist colleagues reunite to discuss Arkady Martine’s 2020 Hugo winner space opera A Memory Called Empire, and its allusions to Byzantine culture.
Ingela Nilsson is the former director of the Swedish Institute in Istanbul. She is also a professor in Greek and Byzantine Studies at Uppsala University. Her research interests lie in the narrative traditions between the Ancient and Byzantine worlds, historiography, and fictional writings in Byzantium, as well as the reception of Byzantium in post-Byzantine Europe. Her most recent book is titled Writer and Occasion in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The Authorial Voice of Constantine Manasses
Arkady Martine is the pen name of Dr. AnnaLinden Weller that she adopts in her speculative fiction writing. As AnnaLinden Weller, she is a historian of the Byzantine Empire and a city planner. She actually did her postdoctoral research at Uppsala University where she worked with Ingela Nilsson. Arkady Martine published short fiction in many prominent speculative fiction magazines. She won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2020 with her debut novel A Memory Called Empire. Her second novel, a sequel to her first, A Desolation Called Peaceis published in 2021.
2- On Rotting Christ: Sakis Tolis, Jeremy J. Swist and Nikos Tragakis converse on the legendary band’s engagement with history
Jeremy J. Swist hosts Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ and Nikos Tragakis. They venture into the appropriation of history in Greek metal scene, especially by Rotting Christ.
Jeremy J. Swist is a lecturer in the department of Classics at Brandeis University. His research interests lie in Imperial Greek and Roman historiography and rhetoric, Reception of Greece, Rome, and Byzantium in Heavy Metal Music among other things. He has given talks and published articles on the classical reception in heavy metal in various academic conferences and journals. His latest article, “Headbanging to Byzantium: The Reception of the Byzantine Empire in Heavy Metal Music,” appeared in the exhibition catalogue of “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture. Jeremy is a prolific writer, and you can read his non-academic but still very insightful pieces at his blog Heavy Metal Classicist.
Nikos Tragakis is the vocalist of the band Exarsis, and a deputy editor and writer for Metal Hammer Greece.
Sakis Tolis, the founder and the frontman of Rotting Christ, which is a Greek black metal band founded by Sakis and his brother Themis back in 1987. The band has 13 full-length albums. With mythology-themed lyrics, and with music incorporating various folkloric elements, Rotting Christ creates his own myth in the metal scene. In 2018, Sakis and Dayal Patterson co-authored the story of the band: Non Serviam: The Official Story of Rotting Christ, named after their song Non Serviam.
3- On Ambergris: Jeff VanderMeer and Emir Alışık converse on multiple award-winning trilogy and Byzantine allusions of the city of Ambergris.
Nebula and World Fantasy Awards winning author Jeff VanderMeer is interviewed by Emir Alışık on the Byzantine parallels in Ambergris cycle, and the appropriation of history in fantasy settings.
Emir Alışık is the curator of “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture exhibition in the Pera Museum. He is currently the project manager at the Istanbul Research Institute Byzantine Studies Department and a PhD candidate at the Istanbul University Art History Department. His research interests lie in the reception of late Byzantine thought in the Italian Renaissance art, and speculative fiction’s engagements with Byzantine history. His latest article “Towards an Unearthly Byzantium: Mapping Out Topoi of Byzantinisms in Speculative Fiction” appears in “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture exhibition catalogue.
Jeff VanderMeer is an acclaimed novelist and editor, a pioneer of the New Weird. Among many of his nominations, he is a recipient of Nebula, Shirley Jackson, and World Fantasy awards both as a fiction writer and as co-editor with Ann VanderMeer of tomes such as The Weird, New Weird, Big Book of Classical Fantasy, and Big Book of Modern Fantasy. His award-winning novel Annihilation was adapted into a movie in 2018 by the director Alex Garland. His fiction has been the topic of numerous academic research articles, and books by respected academic publishers. The Ambergris Cycle has been re-released in a single volume by MCD books in 2020. His most recent novel is Hummingbird Salamander.
4- On Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Rohan Harris and Roland Betancourt converse on the Wonder Woman’s encounter with the Byzantine style murals.
Rohan Harris and Roland Betancourt goes deep into the eerie mural scene in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021), discussing it in the context of late Byzantine art.
Roland Betancourt is a professor of Byzantine Art in the Art History department, Visual Studies program director, and affiliate faculty at the Religious Studies of UC Irvine. His latest book Performing the Gospels in Byzantium: Sight, Sound, and Space in the Divine Liturgy has just come out from Cambridge University Press, only a year after his Byzantine Intersectionality from Princeton University Press. Roland contributed to the exhibition catalog of “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture with a piece titled “Neon Byzantium: Aesthetics without Iconography in Las Vegas”.
Rohan Harris is a scenic artist. He worked for the sets of giant and prized movies and TV shows such as Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, King Arthur, and Macbeth. He turned these productions that we all admire into believable medieval settings. His more recent work is Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). The 2017 movie was re-released with Zack Snyder’s cut in 2021. This latter version brought us an almost three-minute-long scene where we can spectate the otherworldly room decorated with the scenes of Darkseid’s first attack on Earth.