The Festival of Imagined Worlds

On the 9th of February, Bianca and I (Sharon) went to Oxford to represent the Society for Neo-Latin Studies (SNLS) at the Iris Festival of Imagined Worlds, which was taking place at Cheney School. The festival started at 3 pm and we arrived at 1 to set up. There were various worlds in different rooms, such as Harry Potter World, Tolkien World and C.S. Lewis World. Some of the stalls in a room were related to the imagined world it was named after, others had some other link to the theme. Our stall was in C.S. Lewis World, which was based in the library.

At our stall, we explained to visitors a bit about what neo-Latin is, with a short, interactive powerpoint presentation. Starting with the multiple-choice question “Who do you think spoke Latin?” which had as possible answers ‘Queen Elizabeth I’, ‘William Shakespeare’ and ‘Isaac Newton’, we told them a little bit about the importance of Latin in the 16th and 17th centuries; explaining its role as the international language and the standard language of education from when a child began school at age 8 right up until they left university.

The imagined worlds that could be discovered at our stall were, of course, also neo-Latin ones: Thomas More’s famous Utopia (1516) and Ludvig Holberg’s Klimii iter subterraneum (1741). Because of More’s novel, the word ‘utopia’ is now used to refer to a perfect society.

Bianca on our stall

The adventures of Holberg’s hero reminded many of the visitors of Gulliver’s Travels. Children could have a go at writing some Latin with a quill, just like pupils in the 16th and 17th centuries did. There were some images from manuscripts as inspiration!

Having a go at writing with a quill.

There were hundreds of people attending the festival and it was a very enjoyable afternoon. So many people were interested to find out about neo-Latin: children (ranging from the very young up to A-level students), parents, grandparents and other stallholders, as well as academics from related and different fields. Many people were familiar with Thomas More’s Utopia, but unaware that it was originally written in Latin. The quill activity proved very popular too: everyone wanted to have a go! Even the children who were shy or too impatient to talk about Latin in the early modern period were telling each other about the stand where you can write with feathers and ink, and there was often a bit of a queue!

About the project: types of manuscript 1 – presentation manuscripts

In the survey phase of our project we are trying to get a sense of the range of types of neo-Latin poetry in English manuscript sources which survive from the early modern period (c. 1550-1700) and the sorts of context in which they are found. In practice, this means that we are looking at a huge range of types of manuscript: throughout this period you find neo-Latin poetry in all sorts of source, from large and beautiful, sometimes illustrated, scribal presentation manuscripts to the most personal and ephemeral material – sometimes literally scraps of paper on which someone has scrawled an epigram. In this series of posts I want to give a sense of the range of this material, starting today with presentation manuscripts. I am very grateful to the British Library ( for giving permission for us to use images of their collection to illustrate what we are doing.

Presentation volumes of Latin verse were often offered as gifts to noblemen, the monarch or visiting dignitaries. Some of these collections are the gift of an individual; many of them are presented by an institution (such as a school or college) and represent the work of many individuals, who are often (though not always) named.

BL Royal MS Royal 12 A VII, f9r

This first image is of BL Royal MS Royal 12 A VII, f9r (this means the ‘recto’ or ‘right side’ of the ninth folio). This is the beginning of an interesting pastoral poem commemorating the death of Henry VIII and the accession of Edward VI. Henry VIII died in 1547 so this is technically just outside the boundaries of our survey, and is therefore one of the oldest precisely datable manuscripts that we have included. This particular volume is by a fairly well-known poet, the Frenchman Nicolas Denisot. Not many of the works we are studying are by authors with their own wikipedia entry, but Denisot has one in both English and French:

Continue reading “About the project: types of manuscript 1 – presentation manuscripts”

Meet the team – Raffaella

Raffaella Colombo is the newest member of our research team and the second PhD student funded by the project. Here is what she has to say about what her first few weeks have been like:

I’m the newest entry in the team. I joined Victoria, Bianca and Sharon at the beginning of January to work on the project as a PhD student. Before coming to London, I studied in Pavia (Italy) and I was a fellow student of Collegio Ghislieri ( ). I got my BA in Classics and then a MA in Modern Philology, thus combining two of my greatest academic interests, Latin literature and its reception in Italian modern and contemporary culture. So, as well as the other team members, I have an interdisciplinary background and I’m passionate about many different aspects of Classical Latin and Neo-Latin culture, including didactic poetry, animal studies and meta-poetical discourse. I studied Neo-Latin poetry for the first time while working on my MA dissertation on Giovanni Pascoli’s Latin poetry (late 19th century) and I’m now discovering a completely new world, working with the English manuscripts from the early-modern period.

My first weeks in London were full of things to do to settle down in a big city and start a new life. However, I got used to the rhythms quite quickly and I started working enthusiastically at the British Library, helping to complete the survey stage of the project. At the moment, my main job is to tidy up the descriptions of the manuscripts that Victoria, Bianca and Sharon examined in the first few months, but I’m also looking at some new manuscripts and working on their descriptions from the beginning. What I really enjoy is that I discover something new every day! And it’s incredible how many things I’ve learnt in only a month in terms of handling manuscripts, palaeography, literary culture and metrics. One of the biggest challenges I’ve been facing since my very first day is, in fact, the identification of the metrical schemes in which the poems we found are written. We are surprised, as a team, at the metrical variety we’ve been finding: not only “common” hexameters, elegiacs and hendecasyllables, but also pythiambics and archilocheans, alcaics and iambics and apparently original Neo-Latin creations for which we have had to invent some terms of our own!

In the following months I’ll be involved in some of the team’s outreach projects and I’ll travel outside London to visit local archives and libraries where we expect to find more Neo-Latin verse. I will also spend some time in determining more precisely the topic of my PhD dissertation, as at the moment I have only a few general ideas.

Sharon’s visit to Durham

A visit to Durham

On Tuesday the 30th of January, I took a 7 am train to go to Durham. I arrived at about 10:15 and had arranged to visit three different libraries. Fortunately, they were all close together in the centre of town. First, I went to the Palace Green Library, which is the main special collections library of Durham University.

The building in the centre of this picture is the Palace Green Library, you can see how close it is to the Cathedral.

There were some interesting items there, including MS MSP 62, an early 17th century volume with notes on Roman and English history (up to the present time) interspersed with Latin verse on important figures, such as elegiacs entitled De Thomae Cranmeri Archiescopi qui carcere detinebatur palinodia and another poem in elegiacs entitled In effigiem Boneri, carmen.

In the afternoon, I went to the Cathedral Library. I wasn’t sure where to go initially; it turned out I had to go through the cathedral to the cloisters and up a staircase leading from there.

The cloisters, near the staircase to the Monks’ Dormitory.

I then found myself in the fourteenth century Monks’ Dormitory, an impressive room with a very high ceiling with wooden beams, which has part of the cathedral’s ‘Open Treasure’ exhibition in it and also serves as a library. I went to the Barker Reading Room, a small room to the left of this dormitory. Because the cathedral collection contained most of the manuscripts relevant to our project, I returned there the next day. One of the most fascinating pieces there, was in MS Hunter 76, a late 17th century manuscript. It is a macaronic poem (partially in Latin, partially in English) in hexameters, entitled Polemo-Middiana Carmen Macaronicum, usually attributed to William Drummond. It includes words such as ‘lobster’, ‘shippas’ and ‘footus’ and has notes accompanying it on the bottom half of each page. Another manuscript, MS Hunter 27, which dates from the mid-17th century, includes Latin versions of poems by George Herbert, illustrating the close relationship between English and Latin poetry in this period.

After the library closed, and I was about to leave the cathedral, I heard the choir sing. It sounded wonderful, so I decided to stay for Evensong. Afterwards, I had a bite to eat and then went to my accommodation. It was now very windy and cold in Durham and they were forecasting snow for the next day. The snow didn’t fall. Instead, I woke up to an even colder, but beautifully sunny Durham with blue skies

The view from the courtyard to the street.

After a quick breakfast, I headed to 5 The College library, where I had my first appointment of the day. The library is hidden away in a courtyard next to the Cathedral. One of the volumes there, Add. MS 352, contains a long hexameter poem of 1290 lines about John Cosin, Bishop of Durham. There is also a curious play about Latin grammar (Add. MS 248) which includes verse and may have been written by Thomas Rud, who was headmaster of the Cathedral grammar school in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. After I finished up work there, I headed back to the Cathedral library, where I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at more volumes before taking the train back home in the evening.

It was an interesting and enjoyable visit!

Meet the team – Bianca

Dr Bianca Facchini is a full-time post-doctoral researcher on the project for three years (July 2017-June 2020). In this post she introduces herself and her work.

In order to follow my interest in postclassical Latin literature, I’ve also been moving between different disciplinary fields, as well as between different countries. For my BA and MA I studied Classics in Padua (Italy), where I worked on Virgil’s Aeneid and Apuleius’s Metamorphoses in particular, and yet became increasingly fascinated in Latin literature from the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. My final MA thesis was on Albertino Mussato’s De lite inter Naturam et Fortunam (ca. 1327), an unpublished philosophical dialogue which I transcribed from two manuscripts of the 14th and 15th centuries. This was my first-ever experience with Latin literature in manuscript and has led to various follow-up articles, conferences, and to a critical edition of the De lite which should be forthcoming soon.

I did my PhD at the University of California, Berkeley (department of Italian Studies), where I specialized in Latin literature from medieval and Renaissance Italy and on the reception of classical Latin literature in this cultural context. My dissertation, entitled “Re-Reading Lucan: Receptions of the Bellum Civile in Fourtheenth-Century Italy”, focused on how authors such as Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio interpreted and re-used Lucan’s epic poem in their own literary works (I have been writing articles on this as well!). As part of my PhD research, I have spent some months in Munich (LMU, Medieval Latin Institute) and London (King’s College London, Classics department).

At King’s, and in London more generally, I found a remarkable concentration of strengths and resources in the fields of neo-Latin and Reception Studies. I was able to benefit from wonderful libraries, to attend various seminars, reading groups, and stimulating conferences, and to discuss my research with various other neo-Latinists who were working on similar projects. I was thus very glad to remain at King’s for a three-year post-doc which brings together my interests in postclassical Latin and literature in manuscript. Working in a team is also a new wonderful experience. Partly in connection with this post-doc, my current research topics revolve around neo-Latin epic and the relationship between the Italian and British traditions of neo-Latin poetry. King’s is also giving me the welcome chance to engage in outreach projects about which we will write soon!

Meet the team – Sharon

Sharon is one of the PhD students attached to the project. In the first of a series of ‘meet the team’ posts she introduces herself and explains a bit about her background and her role in the project.

I am Sharon van Dijk, one of the PhD students working on the project, and I thought I would briefly introduce myself.

My background is in Classics and English literature. After graduating from University College Roosevelt (University of Utrecht) with a BA in Liberal Arts and Sciences focusing on these subjects, I completed an MSt in Classical Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford. As part of this masters programme, I did a module in classical reception and my dissertation focused on classical reception in (early modern) English pastoral elegies. When I decided to do further research, and apply for a PhD, I discovered the importance of neo-Latin literature in this period.

Continue reading “Meet the team – Sharon”

Our launch event and the place of neo-Latin

It was wonderful to see so many students and colleagues at the launch event for the project last week. This is by its nature an extremely interdisciplinary field and those attending were a real mixture. Sometimes it can feel as if everyone likes the idea of interdisciplinary work but in practice we all get stuck in our separate departments, so it is particularly stimulating to see people assembled from such a range of fields with an interest in early modern Latin.

Both Classics and English were well-represented at the launch alongside other related areas (especially history, comparative literature and early modern studies more broadly). It was also great to see many colleagues there from outside KCL, both elsewhere in London and farther afield: I am particularly grateful to Professor Richard Maber, Emeritus Professor of French at Durham and the editor of the journal The Seventeenth Century, and Professor Yasmin Haskell, Professor of Latin at Bristol and a big name in neo-Latin studies. Both of them are senior members of the advisory board for the project who spoke briefly at the launch about the aims of the project and how it will contribute to their respective fields.

Getting to neo-Latin

People come to later Latin literature from lots of different directions. My own background and academic training is split between Classics and early modern English literature – I did my BA in Classics and my MPhil and PhD in English, and have worked in both kinds of department.

There are no dedicated departments of neo-Latin in the UK, and British Classics departments have been slower to ‘accept’ neo-Latin as part of their remit than departments in, for instance, Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands. This means that in practice British scholars with neo-Latin interests are scattered across a range of departments. It also means that it is quite hard to ‘come to’ neo-Latin as a research area – if no-one in your department works on it, then no-one teaches it; and if no-one is teaching a subject than prospective research students are not exposed to it at the BA or MA level.

Here at King’s I teach what is now sadly I believe the only dedicated MA module in neo-Latin literature in the UK ( – though if anyone is aware of others do please let me know! This is available not only to students on the intercollegiate (KCL, UCL and Royal Holloway) London Classics MA course but also to other students studying for various early modern MA degrees in English and History both at King’s and at UCL. The course also usually has a strong contingent of ‘auditors’, interested participants who are not MA students so cannot take the module for credit – these are often PhD students though sometimes BA students as well. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to teach this module over the last seven years and I am grateful in particular to Professor Gesine Manuwald at UCL who helped with the original module proposal when I had only just arrived at King’s, and co-taught the module with me for several years.

Gesine (as President) and I (as Vice-President) also contribute to the running of the British ‘Society for Neo-Latin Studies’ which, given the scattered nature of our members, takes particular responsibility for and interest in nurturing research students and early career colleagues. We run regular research skills and career-development events. The next will be in Birmingham in March: