BMCR 2021.11.31

Cultural encounter and identity in the Neo-Latin world

, , Cultural encounter and identity in the Neo-Latin world. Analecta romana instituti danici. Supplementa, 54. Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 2020. Pp. 262. ISBN 9788854910331 €32,00.

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

While many Acta that come out of large-scale international conferences are somewhat ramshackle affairs in terms of their content, editing and production, the volume under review can rightly claim to be “much more than a volume of proceedings” to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (7).  Indeed, thanks to the diligent work of the editors and contributors, it tells a coherent, if perhaps not all that surprising story.  As the Introduction states, the core of their argument is that “culture has a special impact when it 1) has a metadiscourse, i.e. a theorization regarding construction and imitation of key manifestations of this culture; 2) the metadiscourse engages many aspects of cultural life; and 3) it is effectively disseminated” (7).  The spread of Renaissance Humanism is used as the test case to prove this theory.  First articulated in Italy, its devotees were from the very beginning highly self-conscious theorizers of the key genres and practices of their movement, which quickly crossed the Alps, eventually reaching the Low Countries and Scandinavia, where it was reforged in the crucible of the Reformation.

In charting this translatio studii from Florence to Finland, the book builds on the various edited volumes that have appeared since the 1990s that unite essays on the individual “national” manifestations of Renaissance Humanism as a pan-European movement.  Appearing soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, these collections are paeans to European cultural and social reunification.  As such, they tend conveniently to dedicate one chapter to each major member state of the EU.[1]  This book admittedly departs from this model in the strict sense in that it focuses less on discrete proto-national humanisms than on the trajectory of the movement from Italy to Scandinavia.  This is perhaps unsurprising given the venue of the original conference at the Danish Institute in Rome.  Another important difference is the structural division according to particular Latin texts or scholarly practices as the authors make their way from the Mediterranean to the Baltic.  Here, the range of genres is vast: from historiography to bucolic and from grammar to inscriptions.  The fourteen essays are then arranged into three main sections, dealing in turn with the direct impact of Italian humanism on scholars to the North, the development of Latin education and style and finally the particular local and especially patriotic applications of humanism in Scandinavia.

While each of the essays makes a contribution to the larger narrative, several stand out for the depth of their scholarship or their treatment of a little-known work of Northern humanism.  For instance, in her chapter on the proliferation of humanist grammars Clementina Marsico treats in turn the first Latin grammars of four major European vernacular languages (French, Castilian, German and English) focusing on the process of grammatization, i.e. how languages were standardized on the model of classical Latin.  This Latinization of vernaculars (or more precisely, the purposeful selection of regional or stylistic variants that were the closest to Latin) was an extension of the humanist project of “purifying” Latin.  Marsico’s wide-ranging discussion of this consistent if somewhat arbitrary approach serves as a timely reminder to scholars of missionary linguistics that the ungainly Latinization of Nahuatl and Konkani happened simultaneously to European languages.

Looking specifically to Scandinavia, Morten Fink-Jensen’s chapter charts the development of humanist education in Denmark both before and after the advent of the Reformation.  Here, he sheds light on the changing textbooks and institutional contexts for the teaching of Latin and Greek culminating in the reinauguration of the University of Copenhagen in 1537 as a collegium trilingue for training Protestant clergy.  Constantly in dialogue with German humanism, the earliest Danish humanists benefitted from a constant stream of visiting scholars and an increasing number of Danes returning from their studies at Europe’s finest universities.  Fink-Jensen’s chapter sets the scene nicely for Karen Skovgaard-Petersen’s essay on Stephanius’ Notae uberiores in Historiam Danicam Saxonis Grammatici (1645), a humanist commentary on Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum (c. 1200 CE), which showed for the first time the text’s debt to both ancient historians and Old Norse sagas.  In other words, this was a fully-fledged commentary of the sort that was increasingly being written not just for classical but also for later texts in the early modern period.  In the same vein, Outi Merisalo shows the widespread enthusiasm in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for writing laudes urbis in the Grand Duchy of Finland, then part of the Kingdom of Sweden.  These built on a long tradition of panegyrics of cities and regions, which was codified in the large number of rhetorical handbooks that circulated in the period.

An attractively produced and carefully edited collection of essays that cohere much more than your average Acta, this volume will provide interesting food for thought for scholars more used to thinking about the transmission of Renaissance Humanism from Italy to England and France.  This said, readers should be careful to interpret the “Neo-Latin World” of the title in a narrow sense.  Just as historians who refer to the “early modern world” frequently mean one European nation state and its newly acquired Atlantic empire, the essays here cover considerable ground, but hardly embrace the full range of contexts in which humanist Latin was used during the Renaissance.   For coverage of what might more reasonably be called the “Neo-Latin world,” readers should refer to Brill’s recent Encyclopaedia of the Neo-Latin World, which contains chapters on Latin America, Asia as well as Eastern Europe.[2] They also should not put too much store in the rather grand theoretical statements of the first few pages of the introduction, as the essays build on, rather than meaningfully change our basic understanding of the European diffusion of Italian humanism.  Nonetheless, those who are interested in post-classical Latin and Renaissance learned culture would do well to pick up this volume, which also features attractive high-quality reproductions of several notable paintings and sketches of the Northern Renaissance.

Authors and titles


Translatio studii: imitation and transformations of Italian humanist culture
Susanna De Beer, Conrad Celtis’s Visions of Rome Relocation, Contestation and Imitation of the Italian Renaissance in German Humanism
Annet den Haan, Sources, pools and runnels: The humanist reception of the Ordinary Gloss and Lyra’s Postils
Marianne Pade, Melanchthon and Thucydides: The reception of the Peloponnesian War in a Reformation context
Trine Arlund Hass, Playing your Part: Bucolic Traditions and Positions in Hans Lauridsen Amerinus’s Ecloga de pacis foedere (1573)
Per Sigurd T. Styve, Renaissance Images of Multiple Temporalities
Lærke Maria Andersen Funder, Meeting expectations and revealing aspirations: Ole Worm and the emergent genre of museum catalogues

Teaching and development of Humanist Latin
Clementina Marsico, Continuity and change in the Neo-Latin grammars of the European vernaculars (French, Castilian, German, and English)
Morten Fink-Jensen, Education, Humanism, and the Reformation in Denmark
Johann Ramminger, The Latin of the German Reformation and the Heritage of Quattrocento Humanism
Camilla Plesner Horster, Humanist Latin for a new purpose: The indication of indirect discourse from Italy to Denmark

Competing Nations
Marc Laureys, Assessing the influence of Biondo Flavio’s historical geography: the case of the Low Countries
Karen Skovgaard-Petersen, Stephanius’s Notæ uberiores in Historiam Danicam Saxonis Grammatici (1645): a humanist commentary on a medieval history of Denmark
Peter Zeeberg, Collections of Latin inscriptions from the milieu around Henrich Rantzau
Outi Merisalo, Urbes antiquissimae: Renaissance influences in descriptions of towns and cities of seventeenth-eighteenth-century Magnus Ducatus Finlandiae


[1] Roy Porter and Mikuláš Teich, The Renaissance in National Context (Cambridge [England] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Albert Rabil, Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988); David Rundle, Humanism in Fifteenth-Century Europe, Medium Aevum Monographs ; New Ser., 30 (Oxford: Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, 2012). 

[2] Philip Ford et al., Brill’s Encyclopaedia of the Neo-Latin World, Renaissance Society of America Texts and Studies Series v. 3 (Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2016).