Telling Tales Out of School

Latin Education and European Literary Production

At an early stage in its history, Latin went from a vernacular language to the most pervasive and enduring cosmopolitan language in European history. Latin did not only function as the language for international diplomacy, but, more importantly, it also served as the Church’s liturgical language all over Europe and gave form to an intellectual climate that stimulated an extensive literary production. Literature written in Latin, from Roman Antiquity over the long Middle Ages to the early modern period, preserved and renewed literary and aesthetic standards. It laid the foundation for a European literature (and culture), which crossed national boundaries. Not surprisingly, ‘Great Authors’ such as Dante, Rimbaud, etc. that are now mainly known for their works in vernacular languages, also wrote several works in Latin.

In the development of this intellectual climate and literature, Latin education was a driving force. Latin education, as it took shape in Classical Antiquity, combined technical matters (morphology, prosody, metric, syntax,…) with broader ways of thinking such as rhetoric, literature, philosophy and theology. Hence, being educated in Latin always meant an initiation into a social, intellectual and literary elite. Most authors, even the ones who only wrote in vernacular languages, followed a Latin educational program and had a reading audience in mind that shared the same background.

The main focus of this conference will be the dynamic interaction between European literary production and Latin education as its undercurrent. At the two extremes, this relation can, on the one hand, be defined as one in which education only functioned as a transmitter of knowledge and literary attitudes; on the other hand, education can also be seen as a full part of the intellectual environment in which literary techniques, values and texts were not only transferred, but also evaluated and (re-)created. From the latter perspective, Latin literature and education were involved in a constant negotiation about (changing) aesthetic, social and historical elements. This conference seeks to cover the entire Latinitas from the institutionalization of Latin education, as embodied by Quintilian, to the end of Latin as a primary language of schooling in modern times.