George Pisides (or THE PISIDIAN), a Byzantine poet, lived in the first half of the seventh century. From his poems we learn he was a Pisidian by birth, and a friend of the Patriarch Sergius and the Emperor Heraclius, who reigned from 610 to 641. He is said to have been a deacon at St. Sophia’s, Constantinople, where he filled the posts of archivist, guardian of the sacred vessels, and referendary. He evidently accompanied Heraclius in the war against the Persians (622), in which campaign the true Cross, which the enemy had captured some years before at Jerusalem, was recovered. His works have been published in the original Greek with a Latin version and are to be found in P.G., XCII, 1160-1754.
About five thousand verses of his poetry, most in trimetric iambics, have come down to us. Some of the poems treat of theology and morals, the others being a chronicle of the wars of his day. They are: (I) “De expeditione Heraclii imperatoris contra Persas, libri tres”,—an account of the Persian war, which shows him to have been an eyewitness of it; (2) “Bellum Avaricum”, descriptive of the defeat of the Avars—a Turkish horde, that attacked Constantinople in 626, and were defeated, during the absence of the emperor and his army; (3) “Heraclius” or “De extremo Chosrose Persarum regis excidio”—written after the death of Chosroes, who was assassinated by his mutinous soldiery at Ctesiphon, in 628; this poem treats mostly of the deeds of the emperor and contains but little concerning Chosroes; it is valued not so much for any literary merit, as for being the principal source for the history of the reign of Heraclius; (4) “In sanctam Jesu Christi, Dei nostri resurrectionem”, in which the poet exhorts Flavius Constantinus to follow in the footsteps of his father, Heraclius; (5) “Hexaemeron“, or “Opus sex dierum seu Mundi opificium”, this is his longest and most elaborate poem and is dedicated to Sergius; (6) “De vanitate vit”; (7) “Contra impium Severum Antiochiae”, written against the Monophysite heresy; (8) “In templum Deipara Constantinopoli, in Blachernissitum”; and finally (9) one piece in prose, “Encomium in S. Anastasium martyrem”. From references in Theophanus, Suidas, and Isaac Tzetzes, we know he wrote other works which have not reached us. George’s verse is considered correct and elegant, but he is sometimes dull and frigid. He was greatly admired by his countrymen in succeeding ages and preferred even to Euripides. But later critics are not so laudatory. Finlay in his History of Greece, I (Oxford, 1877) says, “It would be difficult in the whole range of literature to point to poetry which conveys less information on the subject which he pretends to treat than that of George the Pisidian. In taste and poetical inspiration he is as deficient as in judgment and he displays no trace of any national characteristics.” But to be just we must remember that he was a courtier and wrote with the intention of winning the favor of the emperor and the patriarch. Literature, if we except the production of religious controversy, was practically extinct in Europe and George stands forth as its sole exponent, the only poet of his century.
A. A. MACERLEAN