Performing learned Latinity in the Levant (twelfth–thirteenth centuries)

Activity: Talks and presentationsConference presentations


Focusing on the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Latin East, this paper examines the social and cultural factors that combined to create an environment wherein richly illuminated manuscripts of classicizing learning were commissioned and produced. Firstly, I argue that the Latin East functioned for patrons—both European and Levantine—as a gateway to a learned past; over the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a tradition became established in the Latin East of what I call the “performance” of the past by authors and patrons, both of which groups sought to achieve social status by a learned connection with a venerable past. In the second place, I argue that the unique cultural conditions of the Latin East—and of the city of Antioch in particular—made it especially conducive to the kind of intellectual innovation implied by manuscripts such as the illuminated manuscript of John of Antioch’s groundbreaking translation of Ciceronian rhetorical texts. While these two features—the learned performance of the past and intellectual innovation driven by cross-cultural interaction—were not the only factors at play, they highlight some neglected cultural facets of the Latin East that help to explain these complex developments. I conclude by asking how an examination of classicizing learning in the Latin East specifically helps us to develop conceptual tools for deepening our understanding of the relationship between learning, social status, and power across medieval cultures more generally. My findings are the result of forthcoming research, in the form of a monograph on the Latin culture of the twelfth-century Levant, as well as of a new project, still in the early stages, on the translation culture of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Latin East.
Period12. Dec 2019
Event titleClassicising Learning, Performance, and Power: Eurasian Perspectives from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburgh, United Kingdom


  • Crusades
  • Latin East
  • Rhetoric
  • Manuscript culture
  • Classical Tradition
  • Translation