This article discusses the biblical story of the Old Testament hero Samson in order to exemplify the various modes of biblical discourse in medieval Latinate culture. Whether in prose or verse, the medieval writers dedicated their efforts to finding the meaning of creation and to establishing how the human relates to the divine. A few representative works illustrate the multifaceted role that the Bible played in the medieval literary imagination. The various modes of expression discussed show unequivocally that understanding and explaining the message of the sacred page was the defining feature of the literary discourse. The variety of approaches to the Scripture exhibited by the writers demonstrates that their relationship to the truth and mystery of the Bible was not dogmatic and uniform; rather, it was an impetus for intellectual curiosity and an inspiration for literary creativity. The text of the Bible opened many doors of understanding and showed a multitude of paths to enlightenment. Sacred Scripture, albeit inerrant, did not imply one meaning for the thinkers. They did not approach the text of the Bible mechanically. Sacred Scripture was their point of departure but also their font of inspiration.
In the course of its millennial history, much changed in the world around Byzantium. The Roman Empire from which Byzantium emerged as the true successor state was gradually pulled to pieces in late antiquity, a process of disaggregation which was but fleetingly reversed in the reign of Justinian in the sixth century. Byzantium proper — the reduced medieval state — was fashioned in the seventh century, when the explosive force of Islam blasted both established empires in west Eurasia, the Persian as well as the Roman, out of existence. For all the pragmatism shown in two centuries of comfortable existence, Byzantium never relinquished claims which were solidly founded in a well-remembered historical past. The behaviour of its neighbours cannot be understood unless they are placed in Constantinople's force-field. Yet more important, Byzantium itself cannot be understood, if, in retrospect, it is subjected to ideological castration. For the ultimate rationale of its existence was its Christian imperial mission. That conviction, widely shared in a thoroughly Orthodox society, was the shaping influence on its foreign policy.
More often than not in the course of its long history, Byzantium found itself in a defensive posture and its most dangerous enemies were Asiatics: Persians, Arabs, and various peoples of the steppe such as the Huns and the Turks. The ‘education’ of the Slavs calls for a more nuanced judgement. It means in effect the spread of Byzantine Christianity from the ninth century onwards to encompass the Bulgarians, Serbs, Russians, and (in part) Romanians, thus forming what Dimitri Obolensky has called the Byzantine Commonwealth, an ideological, not a political grouping, united by a common religion and the acknowledgement of Constantinople as its spiritual centre. Byzantium cannot be equated with Greece, nor is there any evidence that the Byzantine Empire pursued the diffusion of Greek language as a matter of conscious policy. That spoken Greek has survived, even as a minority language, may be considered, however, as one of Byzantium's positive contributions. This article considers Byzantium's role in world history.
This article focuses on the problematics of a medieval Latin canon and medieval Latin literary history, emphasising the idea of “minor literature” that Deleuze and Guattari reference in their subtitle. Given the dominance of the classical, one might well say that medieval Latin literature does not need to have either its own literary history or canon. Medieval Latin would then be appropriately treated as a mere phase of Latin literary history. It depends on a canon of auctores. Yet among the challenges of mapping medieval Latin literary history and its canon, it can be noted that there is no new and complete set of medieval Latin auctores or masters. Medieval Latinity is a literary culture content to have inherited the great majority of its masters and, further, one that, while affording the role of auctor supremacy, understands literary culture as involving a much more collective sense of authoring, including all the other functions involved or implicated in the processes of copying, annotating, and commenting.
Thomas E. Burman
Medieval European scholars often found themselves worrying over the reliability of their Latin texts. As Latin sought to establish itself in the Mediterranean basin as a language of learning and sophistication alongside the more prestigious Greek and Arabic languages, and eventually against the rapidly developing European vernaculars, more and more texts from those languages were, almost necessarily, translated into Latin and absorbed into the canon of works at the core of Latin education. Medieval Latin civilization continued to be dependent on the Greeks and would later become profoundly reliant on Arab civilization. But while the Arabic-to-Latin translation movement would, indeed, have never existed without the confi dent, ambitious, and—literally—expansive culture of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance. The simultaneous overpowering and giving in to Greek and Arab culture in the twelfth-century translation movement was, therefore, profoundly transformative, its conquering surrender issuing in strikingly new cultural forms. This transforming potential of translation can be seen in many ways in the Latin Middle Ages.
This article explains the current questions and future prospects of medieval Latin literature. Three areas that are arguably of particular importance for medieval Latin literature's further development include: sustained sociolinguistic attention to the fact of Latinity's status as an alienated mode of expression whose artificiality is itself the basis of its flexibility; attention to the awareness specific texts demonstrate of their relation to a metropolitan centre of cultural authority from which the norms of this artificiality are disseminated; and a rigorous critique of the binary by which Latinity and vernacularity are articulated as a stable and mutually exclusive opposition—a critique that necessarily incorporates the legacy of deconstruction but which also must engage postmodern translation theory on issues of intertextual and interlinguistic exchange and the cultural work effected by the act of translation. Latinity as a tool for the focalization of culture is crucial as well to English hagiography of the decades just after the Norman Conquest and the installation of Lanfranc of Bec as Archbishop.
Sylvia Parsons and David Townsend
The pervasively male authorship and audience of medieval Latin literary culture powerfully naturalizes an ideology that allows the relativity of the tradition's gendered constructions to masquerade as given and unexceptionable. This article explores the ways that intertextual and reflexive constructions of authority and textuality both enable and circumscribe medieval Latin authors as they develop and critique models of gender. Implicit and explicit metacritical self-understandings of textuality are addressed through Benedictine texts: the dramas and narrative poems of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, the Waltharius, Reginald of Canterbury's Vita Sancti Malchi, and the lyrics of Baudri of Bourgeuil. The rhetoric of gender as deployed in medieval Latin reflects and shapes extratextual realities. At a prior level, it depends upon a system of palimpsested, specifically textual cultural markers bounded within the constraints of quintessentially Latinate expectations of diction and genre. Prior to the syntagmatic relations of text to social environment lay the paradigmatic requirements of gender as dictated by ubiquitous classical and patristic models, and as expressed not merely in the specifics of a male or female character's representation but in the very constraints of generic expectation.
Medieval thought leaves some of its richest records in glosses and commentaries on authoritative texts. To know how medieval thinkers viewed their treasured inheritance of ancient philosophy and literature, or how they imbued their students with a love for the liberal arts, or how they studied sacred Scripture, the best access is often through their expositions of the texts that they read, taught, and copied. The present article highlights this field under the following topics: terminologies, formats, and character of gloss and commentary; the nature of large freestanding commentaries and examples of secular learned and literary texts that supported this particular form of critical approach; and interactions between text and commentary which gave rise to important theoretical understandings, including authorial intention and the interpretive control of the commentator. To illustrate the procedures of the twelfth-century glossator, there is no better example than the practice of William of Conches in his influential glosses on Boethius's Consolatio Philosophiae.
Ronald G. Witt
The defining goal of humanism was to recapture in the writings the beauty of the poetry and prose of antiquity. The humanists articulated for the first time in European history the modern ethic in which the life of lay people had at least equal value to that of clerics in God's sight. This article expounds substantial continuities between fourteenth-century humanism and its medieval antecedents in literary culture, continuities that belie representations of the humanist movement as a categorical break with the medieval past. They created the secondary school curriculum focused on ancient Greek and Roman authors that dominated Western European education down to the twentieth century. The philological techniques and hermeneutical methods the humanists developed proved fundamental to the wave of religious reform movements that swept over the subcontinent in the sixteenth century. The ancient geographical and astronomical works that it made available provided vital spurs for the exploration of the earth. Finally, the humanists' highly developed sense of historical perspective helped Europeans gain control of the past by conceiving of it as a time-differentiated series of social, political, economic, religious, and intellectual changes, and also, by objectifying the present with a view to the reform of society and politics.
This article explores the medieval Latinity from a conceptual perspective. It suggests two possible lines of enquiry. The first is sociolinguistic, which leads to a study of the ideological and cultural functions of Latinity in the medieval West that might feature subjects such as Latinity's identification with learning and the clerisy, association with ethical habitus and the transcendent, and practical role in the slow societal transition “from memory to written record.” A sociolinguistic enquiry into medieval Latin, in other words, is bound up with the study of western pedagogy and learning on the one hand, and intellectual and institutional history on the other: linked areas of study long of central interest to medievalists. The second avenue, which is metalinguistic, focuses less on the functions of Latinity, moral or practical, than on the language's associations and meanings: on what Latinitas signified in the western Middle Ages, both in itself and, especially, in its relation to other languages.