[St. Pachomius Library]

Robert Byron

XX Century
A well-to-do British travel-writer and art critic, one of the famous literary circle known as the "Bright Young Things", Robert Byron devoted much of his short life to fighting the traditional Western prejudice against "Byzantium". At a time when both mediæval and modern Greek culture were routinely dismissed as "degenerate", Byron argued that Byzantine art surpassed not only its classical antecedents but in fact nearly all Western art before the XX Century. His remarkable cultural history The Byzantine Achievement (1929) was intended as an answer to Gibbon's Decline and Fall, and, from its publication on, the tide of scholarly opinion indeed began to turn, however slowly. Unfortunately, to the extent that Byron is remembered today it is not for his deep exploration of Eastern Christian spirituality (which stopped short, however, of conversion to Orthodoxy), nor for his magnificently illustrated account of Mt. Athos (The Station), but (such is the strength of Western "Orientalism") for his Afghan travelogue The Road to Oxiana --- and, of course, for his membership in a brilliant and decadent social set.

Norman Hugh Redington