Revisiting John Chrysostom’s On Eutropius, this paper reviews the textualisation of compunction in the bishop’s writings through the lens of the history of emotions. It will explore the affective stylistics and ecclesiastical setting of this work against the backdrop of compunction’s significance in the broader Chrysostomic corpus. Although texts like John’s letter To Demetrius, On Compunction vividly described the ‘fire of compunction’ and ‘streams of tears’ that continually raged in his recipient’s soul, it was homilies like those he delivered on the occasion of Eutropius’ fall from grace where emotions embedded in a text emerged. Thus we will approach compunction by reconstructing the performative function of a text that embodied, mobilised and enacted it within the affective field of its relationships—preacher, audience and liturgy.
Scholarship has previously examined the importance of compunction in late antique society, especially its links with tears and repentance. However, proposing that compunction was a predominantly Christian emotion inevitably raises questions about the archaeology of this emotion and the different layers of affective experience crystallizing in the tropes used to talk about it. Therefore we will be exploring the interpersonal dimension of emotions in Byzantium by looking at how their textual meaning and theological significance are unveiled within liturgical action. After all, it was through the delivery of his homilies, amidst the drama of human apotheosis and fall without redemption, that Chrysostom enshrined compunction in the emotional lexicon of Christianity and shaped the Byzantine experience of tears.