Panagiotis Agapitos was born in Athens in 1959. He received his M.A. in Byzantine Studies and Musicology from the University of Munich, and his Ph.D. in Byzantine Literature from Harvard University. Since 1992 he has taught Byzantine Literature at the University of Cyprus.
He has published two books on the Byzantine romances of love, the first critical edition of the thirteenth-century vernacular romance Livistros and Rhodamne, as well as a series of articles on interpretative approaches to Byzantine literature, the theory of rhetoric and literary genres in Byzantium, the history of manuscripts and the editorial problems of Medieval Greek texts.
The Byzantine mystery novel The Ebony Lute is his first novel, first published in Greece in July 2003 to great critical and public acclaim. Several reviews and two inteviews appeared in the major Greek and Cypriot newspapers, while the book was in Greek best-seller list for three months.


Diether Reinsch, Professor of Byzantine Studies at the Freie Universitat Berlin, is not only one of Germany's leading Byzantinists, but also a successful translator of Byzantine historical texts (published by Du Mont, De Gruyter and Styria). In his person the Ebony Lute finds combined the professional specialist on Byzantium, the cultivated reader and the sensitive connoiseur of both German and Greek.


A BYZANTINE MYSTERY NOVEL (592 pages, 17.5X12 cm.)

The subtitle ("A Byzantine Mystery Novel") describes the book fairly accurately, since it would be misleading to call it simply a crime novel in historical dress. It is much more: a fully developed historical novel that plays in an exactly drawn and well researched setting, while, at the same time, breathing life into this historical framework through a concrete literary form; it is the story of how a series of murders was solved by someone who is anything else but a detective; and, finally, it is also the story of this detective despite himself, a complex personality that moves in the ambience of Byzantine-Arab relations and between the worlds of politics, crime, poetry and love.
The novel's plot develops over six days in May of 832, during the third year of the reign of Emperor Theophilos. In the first half of the ninth century the Iconoclasm controversy divided Byzantine society for the second time. The State and its Church condemned the veneration of icons as idolatrous, while monastic circles adhered to their veneration as being orthodox. Meanwhile, the continuous raids of the Arabs in Anatolia were causing great problems to the eastern provinces.

In these circumstances, Emperor Theophilos sends chief secretary Leo, head of the imperial chancellery, as ambassador to Caliph al-Mamun in Bagdad in order to negotiate peace in the East. The ambassador and his retinue arrive in Cappadocian Caesarea (modern-day Kayseri in Turkey), the last station before the border. Under a seemingly calm surface, the town is in turmoil. Arab spies are preparing a revolt, dissident monks are encouraging the idolotrous veneration of icons and ruthless procurers are abducting young women for the slave-markets of Syria. The military commander seems to have lost control of the town. When the brutally murdered body of the town judge's thirteen-year-old daughter is found outside the castle walls, the commander is forced to ask for the ambassador's help.
Until this moment chief secretary Leo has lived the quiet life of a civil servant. Unmarried, somewhat remote, he reads love romances and plays music on an ebony lute of Arab craftsmanship. Now, amidst the barracks, taverns and whorehouses of Caesarea, Leo must solve crimes for the first time and is forced to confront himself and his past.

Panagiotis Agapitos has succeeded in reconstructing this Byzantine world in a most dramatic manner. Together with the novel's characters, the reader sees Caesarea, walks through the town, listens to its sound, tastes the food and absorbs the smell of its neighbourhoods. Substantial research into the Byzantine and Arab historical and archaeological sources lies behind the novel. The invention of the protagonist Leo, of the complicated criminal case and of the political-ecclesiastical intrigue, combined with a narrative technique culled from medieval and contemporary practice, invite the reader to plunge deep into this near-eastern medieval society, without ever giving the impression that this is a history lecture in book form. For the interested reader an epilogue and a glossary of terms provide further information on the historical and social ambience of the time.
The mixture of historical novel, crime novel and love romance is quite innovative, much more so since there has been no such experiment in the case of Byzantium. By means of an elegant but not affected style and through various literary devices, the author conveys to the modern reader a tangible feeling of Byzantine mentality. It should be underlined that The Ebony Lute substantially revises the preconceived image of Byzantium firmly rooted in the contemporary public's horizon of expectations, a fact which (as has been the case in Greece over the past year) should raise the interest in the book

Translated into German from the Greek by Diether Reinsch