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Title: Sleep and sleeplessness in Byzantium
Author: Barkas, Nikolaos
Awarding Body: Queen's University Belfast
Current Institution: Queen's University Belfast
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis sets out that 'sleep-deprivation' cannot be used as synonym for 'vigil' and 'sleep abstinence', Sleep-deprivation, when partial, needs to be defined in relation to a sleep optimum against which is measured the amount of sleep the individual gets per 24 hours. Considering the varying lengths of vigil and the fact that the Byzantines slept habitually throughout the night, it is obvious that while vigil and sleep-abstinence might refer to any amount of sleep-loss. sleep deprivation refers only to the loss of necessary sleep. The thesis argues for the need to combine sleep medicine with textual research; the flrst provides a definition of the sleep optimum; the second the amount of sleep the Byzantines might have got. Then, it is possible to discern between practices which are different as to their length, fortitude, motives, aims and consequences. Following the definitions, a chapter on the mechanics of sleep establishes from the evidence the sleep optimum to be 7 hours per 24-hour period. The research then focuses on the practice of sleeploss in the Bible and Hellenism. I argue that both cultures practised sleep-abstinence; however their motives were different as they had opposing views on sleep. The reasons for sleep-abstinence among the Byzantines are presented next, and an explanation is given on how those might have led to sleep-deprivation. I recognise that the Byzantines were heirs to both the Biblical and Hellenic cultures, but I insist that their practice of both sleep-abstinence and sleep-deprivation was firmly rooted in the Bible. The monastic vigil is presented after this, and I determine how fervently sleep-loss was practised by establishing its difficulty, evaluating the methods used to achieve it, and scrutinising the accounts of sleepless saints. Sleep-deprivation appears more common among solitaries and lavriotes rather than coenobires. In this section, I also investigate possible pathological causes of sleep-deprivation. The vigil of the laity is dealt with in the last two chapters. The first examines vigils at home. It rejects the Ekirch-Wehr theory, according to which in pre-industrial times people had a nantral break in their sleep at midnight The theory purports that the church vigil simply colonised the period of wakefulness, so there was no sleep-abstinence. It is proven in this thesis that the breaking of sleep was artificial, an implementation of the Christian command to watch and pray at night. The last chapter presents vigils at church. While the Byzantines did not distinguish between private and public forms of piety, they preferred public vigils for reasons unconnected with theology. It was mostly during the church vigils that the Byzantine laity practised sleep-abstinence and occasionally either slumbered or became sleep-deprived. The thesis concludes that the Byzantines, inspired by the Bible, practised both sleep-deprivation and sleep-abstinence. Sleep-deprivation was sometimes consciously pursued, at other times it was the result of environmental, physical, or even pathological factors. Sleep-deprivation was a sign of religious fervour par excellence, but this did not diminish the value of sleep-abstinence, which for the Byzantines was a time of thanksgiving and repentance, of approaching God, fighting demons, and avoiding retribution.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available