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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Project description

The Place of the Greek World

In this ongoing project, I chart the evolution of Greek studies in the 16th and 17th centuries, paying special attention to the often implicit assumptions behind the scholarly concern for Greece during this period. This means that I will examine the terms and concepts scholars such as Martinus Crusius, Nicolaus Gerbelius, Wolfgang Lazius, and Johannes Meursius used to interpret the Greek world (e.g. ‘ours’ vs. ‘theirs’, ‘civilised’ vs. ‘barbarian’, ‘ancient’ vs. ‘modern’), and demonstrate what aspects of the Greek world their representations highlight or obscure (e.g. the Ottoman presence in the Greek East or the cultural diversity of the Greek world). Challenging the idea that scholars lost their interest in the Greek world in the two centuries following 1453, it is my hypothesis that, precisely in this period, the perception of Greece changed towards a more ‘spatial’ understanding, in which the emergence of historical geography played a crucial role.

Reinventing the Ancient Greeks

It is a well-known fact that the Byzantines traditionally regarded themselves as Romans. But when, during the 15th century, the greatest part of the Byzantine intelligentsia moved to Italy, they claimed to be the descendants of the ancient Greeks. In my dissertation, I explore why Byzantine scholars in Renaissance Italy changed their traditional self-image as well as how they substantiated their new claims to an ancient heritage. The first part of my dissertation shows that their distinctively Greek self-representation had been prefigured in 15th-century Byzantium and was fuelled by humanist bias and stereotypes in Italy. Whereas Hellenism remained suspect in Byzantium, in Italy ‘being Greek’ could be socially and culturally advantageous. The second part of the dissertation offers four case-studies dealing with the self-representation of, chiefly, Bessarion, George Trapezuntius of Crete, Janus Lascaris, and Giovanni Gemisto. Exploring underexposed sources in Greek, Latin, and Italian, these chapters show how Byzantine scholars in different contexts used notions such as cultural ownership, ethnic kinship, and territoriality to claim that they were the legitimate heirs and descendants of the ancient Greeks. The case-studies also illustrate how (post-)Byzantines could use this claim to advance their political agendas in Italy.

My dissertation has recently been awarded the Van Woudenberg Dissertation Prize and is planned to be published in 2015. Additionally, I published several contributions related to the topic of this project, for example my study of the life and work of Manilio Cabacio Rallo of Sparta with an edition of a selection of his Latin poems (the edition is also available online in the open-access Poeti d’Italia in lingua latina). A short introduction to the Latin literature of the Greek diaspora has recently been published in Brill’s Encyclopedia of the Neo-Latin World (see also publications).

Fascist Latin

Together with my colleague Dr. Bettina Reitz-Joosse (University of Leiden / University of Pennsylvania) we are currently completing an edition and study of a Fascist Latin text composed in the 1930s, written on parchment and immured in the base of the modern marble obelisk at the Foro Mussolini (now the Foro Italico) in Rome. The text appears to be aimed primarily at a potential audience in the remote future. Should the physical remains of fascism and the ruins of the foro Mussolini ever be rediscovered or the obelisk be moved or fall down, the Codex fori Mussolini would offer its readers a carefully constructed version of history: the rise of fascism, the deeds of Mussolini, the history of the Opera Nazionale Balilla and the transport and raising of the obelisk itself. Aside from the text’s historical relevance, our edition will also shed new light on the ideological functions of Latin in Italian fascism.

In addition to an annotated edition with translation of the Codex fori Mussolini, Bettina and I are preparing an overview article about the role and function of Latin in fascist Italy (expected in 2015-16). We wrote a first overview of this unexplored field for Brill’s Encyclopedia of the Neo-Latin World (with Dirk Sacré) as well as an introduction to the topic for a wider public (see also publications).