Mount Athos, the autonomous international "monastic republic" of the Eastern Church, is a locus of cross-border piety and diplomacy, manuscript exchange and translation, and thus a microcosm of the pan-European processes that concern this volume. Athonite literary production at the outset of our period is conditioned, first, by the victories of the hesychasm of Gregory Palamas at Constantinopolitan church councils (1341, 1347, 1351) and its secular patrons in the Byzantine Civil War (1341-47); and second, by the schism between Serbia and Byzantium following the crowning of Stefan Dušan (1331-55) as emperor in 1346, the year after Serbian authority is established over Athos. If the first events provide a unifying framework for the great renewal of Greek and Slavic monastic letters, the second may encourage a degree of literary and scholarly autonomy on the part of the Serbs on Athos. The end of our period is marked by the expansion of the Ottomans into Europe, emblematized by the battles of Marica (1371) and Kosovo (1389): an eschatological mood, encouraged by the proliferation of hesychasm, begins to be felt in literature written well beyond the Holy Mountain. Recovered by the Byzantines after the Serbian defeat in 1371, Athos is occupied by the Turks in 1387 and again from 1393 to 1403, finally becoming an Ottoman tributary in 1430.
This chapter will focus on literary and musical compositions associated with two of the greatest Athonite cenobitic houses, the Greek Megisti Lavra and the Serbian Hilandar; more space will be devoted to the latter, due to its remarkable productivity. Moreover, insofar as Serbian literature of this period is largely displaced to Hilandar — whether texts are written, edited, or simply copied and deposited there — parts of this chapter will double as a Serbian "itinerary," albeit one that always returns to the Holy Mountain.
Hesychast spirituality centers on the struggle against the passions and the acquisition of continuous noetic prayer, the reward of which is theôria, the vision of God (described as the "Taborite light" of the Transfiguration). Gregory of Sinai introduces the authoritative form of hesychasm to early 14th-c. Athos, where it becomes popular among solitaries. Gregory Palamas assimilates it during his time at Athonite hermitages (ca. 1316-25 and 1331-40), systematizing it in treatises ranging from the artless Hagioretic Tome (1340) to the theologically sophisticated Triads (1338-41) against the Italo-Greek scholar Barlaam of Calabria. Once declared Orthodox in Constantinople (and as communal life declines on Athos), Palamist hesychasm becomes the dominant model of spirituality at Athonite cenobia. Libraries and scriptoria are mostly conservative (Fonkich), but earlier authorities are sought out and compiled into new volumes that promote Palamism, e.g., at Philotheou (Allison) and Hilandar (Bogdanović). By far the greatest innovations are to be found in music: at Lavra, the composer and theoretician John Koukouzelês, "the Maïstor" († ca. 1340 or 1360), is one of the fathers of kalophonic chant, an art of soaring beauty that requires outstanding virtuosity to perform. With Koukouzelês, hesychast contemplation joins psalmody to set off the "musical revolution" of the Byzantine 14th c. (so Alexander Lingas, whose Cappella Romana performs kalophonic chant around the world).
Most Athonite monks are poorly educated, and their learned representatives argue for the supremacy of grace over reasoning. Yet hesychasm may encourage study: for Gregory of Sinai, inquiry is "not to be rejected," and even for Palamas the world is a mirror of God. At the end of the 1330s a monk of Hilandar, possibly Grigorije of Koriša, arranges into a book a group of Lives of Serbian Kings and Archbishops written by his master, Danilo II, abbot of Hilandar from 1306 to 1311 and archbishop of Serbia from 1324 to his death in 1337. Danilo's student brings the work up to date, adding several lives, including those of the emperor-to-be, Stefan Dušan, and his teacher; further continuators expand and edit it after 1375. The book is not ordered by the typikon (that is, it is not meant for communal reading in the refectory), but chronologically: its lives are arranged into two linear "tales" of princes of the state and church. The Lives of Serbian Kings and Archbishops is thus innovative for Orthodox monastic literature: an integral monographic codex, consisting of narrative compositions following fixed editorial protocols (Radojičić, and cf. Lenhoff's work on the Muscovite Stepennaja kniga), and meant for historical study. Even if the book represents "a withdrawing from hagiography proper and a moving toward secular biography" (Birnbaum), it nonetheless functions in a monastic context: the study of its "parallel lives," which continues throughout the 14th c., may be thought to have some spiritual-pedagogical (or "psychagogical") value for its reader.
In the third quarter of the 14th c., a circle of elite hesychast Slavs (Serbs and Bulgarians, bilingual in Greek and thoroughly well educated at Byzantine schools), at or in the vicinity of Hilandar, Lavra, and Panteleimon, adapt classicizing Greek forms — epigram and epistle, two literary genres cultivated by Byzantine intellectuals — into Slavic, and translate important theological and academic texts. Kyr Siluan, an Athonite celebrated for his rhetorical skill, writes metrically correct and graceful epigrams to SS. Sava and Simeon at the head of their synaxarion lives. Upon emigrating in the 1360s, probably to Zeta (Montenegro), Siluan corresponds with a spiritual student on Athos: his letters, compiled into a formulary, follow the conventions of the Byzantine friendly epistle (filikê epistolê). They make reference to other members of his former Athonite circle: Kyr Romylos, the Bulgarian student of Gregory the Sinaite, and Kyr Isaija, the Serbian abbot of Panteleimon in the 1350s and a diplomat who helps to reconcile the Serbian and Byzantine churches in 1375. On Athos in 1371, apparently as part of a scholarly team that translates Palamas, Barlaam, and the encyclopedic Fount of Knowledge of John of Damascus (and writes the first Slavic grammar), Isaija renders the works of the Christian Neoplatonist Dionysios into Slavic. Many of these writings will be copied across Slavia Orthodoxa, to promote learning as far away as northern Muscovy.
The "martyrdom" of Prince Lazar at Kosovo (1389) and the transformation of Serbia into an Ottoman vassal lead to a loss of equilibrium in Serbian literature: the state is elevated to its Platonic idea. Patriarch Danilo III (ca. 1390-1400), who founds the cult of Lazar, is the first to interpret the end of political autonomy as the triumph of the "heavenly kingdom" over the "earthly" one, a thesis that will be echoed in the epic songs of the Kosovo Cycle. If the works attributed to Danilo are rhetorically well formed, the laments of the nun Jefimija (Jelena, the widow of John Uglješa who fell at Marica in 1371) are well formed in other ways: they are exquisitely crafted "material texts," one inscribed on an enkolpion icon donated to Hilandar, another woven into a curtain for its main church's royal doors. Epigrams in a literal sense, they are not verse — although they are often so described — but rhythmic prose. The writings of Lazar's heir, the despot Stefan Lazarević (1389-1427), represent at once the victory of scholarly-hesychast concerns over the secular, and the apotheosis of the state: in the attribution to his translation of a Byzantine volume of prophecies, Stefan is named "Emperor of the Serbs and surrounding lands, and moreover Rhetorician." His acrostic Love Letter (Slovo ljubve) of 1409, perhaps written to his brother and rival Vuk, is a Platonizing meditation on the divine name "Love," which overflows to God's creatures and returns them to him.