Category Archives: Conferences

2014 Kalamazoo Registration is Up

The online registration for the 49th annual International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University is open. This year’s Congress will be held May 8-11 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Great conference which I always enjoy though I wasn’t able to make it last year and it’s questionable if I’ll get there this year, though I have hopes.

If anyone wants way more information than you probably want to read, you can check out my Kalamazoo page for recruitment posts, tips, and summaries from the past three times I’ve attended. Wonderful event and a lot of fun. I encourage you to attend if you can.

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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Conferences


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A Few Kalamazoo Thoughts

I’m recently back from a conference in DC which confirms what I’d strongly suspected; that I will not be attending Kalamazoo this year. I’ve made the last four in a row, a personal record, and hopefully I’ll make it in 2014. Booksellers, don’t go into mourning or anything, I’m still buying, just not in that kind of bulk quantity.

I had time to visit the Holocaust Museum and then Gettysburg on my way back but neither of those are remotely medieval. Instead, for those of you attending Kalamazoo for the first time, I’ll point you to my pre-2012 post which includes some tips and links to more comprehensive, earlier comments. As usual, there are a couple of significant edits. First, Wi-Fi was available in most of the dorm rooms last year and the snack bar in Schneider was open through Saturday. Not to say that the selection is great but you can ingest calories.

Of course if you want to read more than you could ever want, there’s my main Kalamazoo page which has quite a few posts covering the last three years.

Hopefully I’ll get back to more regular posting soon but no promises. Things are a bit crazy right now, though it’s a good sort of crazy.


Posted by on April 27, 2013 in Conferences


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2013 Congress Registration Up and Book Buying II

I really must update my Book Buying Posts. I’ve made way more than two of these but didn’t decide to number them until recently.

In any case, the first part of this post is to mention that the online registration for the 2013 International Congress on Medieval Studies to be held May 9-12 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is now open. And yes, I was almost weepy when I saw this. Chances are good I won’t make it this year. I won’t know for sure until April and my attendance is possible, but unlikely. Still, I’ve had a run of 4 years straight, the best I’ve done since I started attending back in 2001.

In order to make this up to myself I just bought six books from an Oxford University Press Sale. Only one of those was something I’d previously wishlisted but I bought all of them at 50% or 65% off. Not bad.

Here’s the list:

  • Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs by Vasiliki Limberis (this was my wishlisted book)
  • Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium by Bart D. Ehrman
  • Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire by Eric Orlin
  • The Stabilization of Rabbinic Culture, 100 C.E. – 350 C.E.: Texts on Education and Their Late Antique Context by Marc Hirshman
  • The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy by Paul F. Bradshaw
  • Perfect Martyr: The Stoning of Stephen and the Construction of Christian Identity by Shelly Matthews

My version of comfort food.


Posted by on February 3, 2013 in Books, Conferences


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2013 Kalamazoo Schedule Now Online

For those who want to get an early look, the Schedule for the 2013 International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University is available online.

Unfortunately, chances are very good that I won’t be able to make it this year because of a project I’m working on. Then again, I’ve made it four years running, a personal best since I’ve been attending. And I really do have enough books.


Posted by on January 18, 2013 in Conferences


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Kalamazoo Page Update and a Now Familiar Problem With Books

I just updated my Kalamazoo Page to add all of my 2012 posts under one roof.

I also bought a couple more books on 1st-century Christianity. This stuff’s interesting. I’m gonna have to work at tearing myself away from it. I have half a dozen or so volumes on this and you’d think that would be enough but evidently it isn’t.

In order to remind myself of what I’m really into, I have an idea for a post about Visigothic Churches, based on a Journal of Early Christian Studies article. But I overdid it shoveling snow the other day so it’ll have to wait a bit while I spend most of today lying down with a heating pad on my back. Getting old sucks, but it beats the alternative.


Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Books, Conferences


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Kalamazoo 2012, the Final Day: Goths and Old Food Nicely Presented

Sunday at Kalamazoo was another dark, semi-drizzly day. Lots of people use this for a travel day but I’m fortunate since I live relatively nearby and can make Sunday sessions. These are often some of the best (this year is a good example of that) and I very much recommend it to those attending, if you can make it work. I have occasionally skipped the final session, as I did last year to get an early start or if I run into someone who needs a ride to the airport and doesn’t have one, but usually I stick around to the end. One other last-day benefit, which I haven’t taken advantage of in a while, are the book discounts.

In any case, after loading all my stuff (I think it was only two trips to the car this year) I headed back to Valley II for Session 520: Sixth-Century Italy: Representing the Gothic War. The first paper was by Brian Swain, a Phd candidate from The Ohio State University, “‘A modern-Day Empire Worthy of a Tragedy': Jordane’s Commentary on the Gothic War of Justinian.” This was something of a revisionist paper, which was fine by me. Recent scholarly opinion has come to view Jordanes as promoting an aggressive Roman/Byzantine policy toward the Goths and he is considered pro-Roman and anti-Goth (though I have read articles where Jordanes is considered to be arguing in favor of the legitimacy of Gothic rule in order to view the war as a legitimate effort by Justinian to battle Those Evil Arians and Defend Orthodox Christianity). Swain believes that Jordanes should not be viewed as pro or anti anyone – that he is more nuanced, particularly when you consider his Romana Breviarium along with the Getica. He provided a fairly detailed review of Jordanes where at various points in the two works he praises Justinian, casts doubt over Byzantine claims to dominion over the Goths, calls for the war to end through an agreement with the Goths, blames Justinian for its length and closes with a commentary on the ineptness of Roman rulers which could be interpreted as criticizing Justinian. I haven’t read the Getica in some time. Clearly I need to and also get my hands on the Romana Breviarium (if I don’t have it here already). I enjoyed this paper though it will take my reading the two sources to figure out whether I agree with it or not.

Next up was Jonathan J. Arnold presenting, “Manly Goths, Effeminate Romans.” Last year he gave a cool paper on Theoderic’s moustache. This year his topic was bit bit weightier (except when you look at the underlying theme of the prior year’s which was that of people over analyzing sources to sometimes find stuff that isn’t there). He opened with a quote from Walter Goffart’s Narrators of Barbarian History (I have this but haven’t read it yet) where Goffart uses a quote to demonstrate that Romans were portrayed as masculine, Goths as feminine/effeminate. Arnold believes that the quote Goffart uses supports this however if you examine Italian/Gothic sources, the reverse characterization is largely true. I’ll offer several examples (I have over a page of notes so I won’t give all of them). Ennodius has an epigram on Boethius where Boethius and the Romans are depicted as weenies (sorry – this is how I jotted it down in my notes) and Theoderic is described in a panegyric as warlike, a military victor, and has rescued Italy which has become weak and womanly under the Romans. Theoderic is masculine, strong and a manly man, including a speech to his mother where he is depicted as stating this outright. Through Theoderic a female Rome will be renewed, rescued by the masculine and warlike Goths. Cassiodorus celebrates Theoderic and the Goths as manly. The Goths are Italy’s defenders, trained as men of the God Mars. While there are a few good Roman men, overall Rome is militarily weak. Amalasuintha is depicted as a manly Goth who happens to be a woman and is contrasted with Galla Placidia who is too gentle and weakened Rome through peace. In contrast, in Jordanes’ Getica Amalasuintha is despised as weak and the manly Romans are victorious over the effeminate Goths. This was a very good paper with a lot of information.

I have another page-and-a-half of notes for the next paper by Tina Sessa of The Ohio State University, “Perceptions of War and Decline in Sixth-Century Italy.” Sessa was concerned with how the Christianization of Europe impacted viewpoints of war and how war impacted the evolution of Christianity. She stated that war cannot just be looked at in the context of attitudes but that impacts such as the loss of life and property and interactions of different societies must be considered. She used Gelasius’ depictions of the War between Odoacer and Theoderic in 489-93 to consider the war’s impacts. Based on Gelasius, barbarian violence was harmful, regardless of who was responsible. Churches were negatively impacted, including those in the south which really weren’t involved in the war. Among the Pope’s activities in response to war, he radically reduced the requirements for one to become a bishop due to need and a shortage of qualified clerics. He wrote to Palladius telling him to restore a deposed bishop, Stephanus, as his deformity was caused by war. She closed by discussing methodological issues in trying to figure out how to separate the rhetoric of war from the reality of war’s impacts on ecclesiastical life. My apologies for the weak summary. I recall this as being a very good paper but I’m afraid I haven’t done justice to it. And this was a very strong session overall. I don’t know if it was my absolute favorite but it ranks up there.

As did Session 571: Diet, Dining and Everyday Life: The Uses of Ceramics in the Third-to-Ninth-Century World. This session was a treasure. I’d decided earlier that due to my fascination with peasants I’d go to this over the final session on the Ostrogoths. I very nearly reconsidered considering the quality of the previous session but I ended up sticking to my plan and was glad I did, though I have 5 pages of notes for three papers which will make summarizing this a bit difficult. There were a few common points for all three papers; residual evidence of food is extremely rare, enough so as to make it nearly useless; faunal evidence (remnants from animals) can be unreliable for a variety of reasons including decomposition rates of different remains and scavengers, however it is often necessary to rely on it while recognizing the limitations and; pictorial and textual evidence often presents an idealized version of life. Also, none of the papers covered anything later than the seventh century.

Andrea Achi from the New York University Institute of Fine Arts opened with, “And How did They Eat: An Investigation of Food Storage, Processing, and Consumption Patterns in a Late Antique Household.” She gave a detailed description of a portion of the Dakhla, Egypt archaeological site, in particular evidence for food storage, preparation and consumption in an elite household, headed by one Serenos. On the site they found a large storage room filled with small bowls of varying sizes. They also found platters for shared, family style dining. Cooking pots were of fairly uniform size however cooking bowls were more varied. They did not find any large serving platters leading to the thought that these may have been made of more valuable materials than the locally produced ceramics. A couple of interesting notes were that as bones showed no evidence of burning, meat was probably either boiled or braised. There was an absence of extensive ovens in the home leading researchers to believe that the home may not have been used for cooking, just for reheating. However they do not know where the food was prepared. Possibly there were communal ovens which have not been found or they may have used a second floor of the house, which has now been destroyed. Beyond that, these folks ate well, produced their ceramics locally, except for amphorae, and weren’t too particular about what they did with bones. And if I ever read much on Late Antique Egypt I need to find a copy of Roger Bagnall, ed., The Kellis Agricultural Account Book.

More artifacts were in store when Elizabeth de Ridder Raubolt of the University of Missouri-Columbia presented, “Art and Artifact at the Late Antique Communal Meal.” I really enjoyed this one. She used a combination of archaeological and textual evidence to discuss how meals were conducted in the 4th through 6th centuries. Meals were taken reclining on a large, curved couch with a center table accessible to all diners where each person could see and speak to the others. There was a hierarchy of diners with the most important placed at either end. Large platters seem to have been important in elite dining however ceramics came to be more frequently used as time went on and it has been argued that African Red Slip (ARS) platters may have replaced silver in Christian households. Later in the period ARS becomes less common, being found only in the larger sizes, not used for smaller bowls, indicating possible problems with supply. Good paper and she used a lot of images to illustrate her points.

Image of the Last Supper from the Rossano(6th century Italy) Gospels. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Note Judas reaching for food, his eyes cast down while the others all show reverence towards Christ.

The final paper of this session and, for me, the 47th Congress, was “Pots and Pantries: Correlating Cooking Ware with Dining Habits in Visigothic Spain by Scott de Brestian of Central Michigan University. I have a ton of notes for this one however he covered two primary themes for the period from the end of Roman rule to the early 7th century. One was whether the type of cooking ware used is a good indicator of what was eaten and the other was what changes in cooking ware could tell us about society. He mainly looked at two types of ceramics; casseroles, which were broad, flat, two-handled baking trays and; ollas which were large cooking pots which could be suspended by the neck over a fire and were used for slow cooking and for boiling meat. Traditionally ollas have been linked with eating pork while casseroles to eating sheep and goat. In the interior of Spain very few casseroles were found, almost all ollas, with a couple of exceptions. However faunal evidence indicates that while pigs were a substantial portion of the diet, they ate more sheep and goat. In addition, in Sainte-Blaise in Southern Gaul, ollas comprised 26% of 5th-6th century finds and 40% in the 7th century but faunal evidence indicates no significant dietary change. Brestian believes there is little evidence that looking at the types of pots used is a valid way of determining what was eaten.

Another area he covered was ceramic quality. About 50% of early 5th century cookware was improved Terragona. This declined to 15-20% by the 7th century. Over time, the use of African Red Slip pottery also declined. These were replaced by locally produced imitations. This decline shows a loss of wealth and also a decline in competition. The wealthy had fewer competitors and it took less of a display to demonstrate their status. Where previously elites possessed the entire range of high status vessels, now they used a selection. The one exception to this seems to be the Visigothic kings who had all vessels, demonstrating that elite dining rituals were now something expected of the king, not all elites. Another good paper accompanied by a lot of images which I haven’t captured adequately, and a very good session.

In place of a K’zoo summary post, I’ll throw in a quick paragraph here. I had a good time and went to some really good sessions. The accommodations continue to improve, especially with Wi-fi in most rooms. I was also more social than the previous year which was nice. As of now I’ve made four of these in a row, a record for me. Unfortunately, I’d say the odds are against my being able to attend next year. I think I’ll have a big May conflict and will probably take a year off. That’s OK, it’s not like I’m about to run out of books any time soon. Look for my 2012 posts to make it to my Kalamazoo page in the near future.


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Saturday at Kalamazoo: Monks and Goths

Following breakfast Saturday morning I headed back to the exhibit area and spent an hour or so at Powell’s, finishing up my book purchasing. Then I headed for Schneider and Session 376, Contexts of Early Medieval Monasticism I: Architectural Concepts. Before I begin I want to mention that the organizers had put together a booklet which included abstracts of all three Contexts of Early Medieval Monasticism Sessions. Even though I only went to one of these, it provided me with some information which may prove useful once I finish my Early Christianity Reading.

First up was Gregor Kalas from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville presenting, “The Residences of Carolingian Abbots and the Afterlife of the Late Antique Villa.” This was a really interesting paper. Kalas opened with a discussion of the Plan of St. Gall showing how the Abbot was expected to live in his own house, not communally. This was supported by the Aachen synod of 817 where Benedict of Aniane amended the Benedictine Rule to have some separation from the community. This separation mimics the villa plan where the owner and his family live in a residence separated from the rest of the estate. Farfa and San Vincenzo al Volturno are examples of monasteries which were formerly villas. The Plan of St. Gall, with its private residence for the Abbot and a private route to the basilica seems to have been modeled after villa construction. Ultimately, Kalas believes that Late Antique villas provided models for monastery plans and that by the 9th century an abbot’s residence could be considered a less luxurious villa. An interesting factoid (to me anyway) was his discussion of Farfa where in the 8th century the abbot lived as something of a recluse but by the 9th century they became increasingly worldly, which he attributes to the evolving relationship with the Carolingian rulers where the monastery became subject to greater royal control and a reduced Papal influence. Good paper and I’m hoping what he talked about is published someplace so I can get a closer look at his evidence.

Kirsten Ataoguz of Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne (IPFW for those of us in Indiana and yes, other than in basketball Purdue and IU collaborate a LOT!) followed with, “Overlapping Contexts of the Last Judgement at the Monastery of Saint John in Müstair, Switzerland.” Now I have a page-and-a-half of notes for this one. Even so, I have a feeling this summary will suffer as much from temporal distance as any because she showed a lot of really cool images which I can’t precisely recall – oh, for an eidetic memory. Müstair is one of several 9th century churches in the Alps with a similar image of the Last Judgement. This image tells a story (in looking for images in Müstair, the Last Judgement is just a piece, though an essential one, of the frescoes in the church) showing Christ as judge. He is depicted as the gatekeeper to an apostolic city (a local apostle, Vigilius, is among those shown) and with his right hand up and left hand down shows that he will choose between the saved and damned. These images, prominently displayed in the church, are for the benefit of the laity, not the monks. Ataoguz discussed how this type of story-telling differed from very literal eastern representations. Due to the prevalence of similar images in local 9th century churches she believes it is very possible that this type of representation originated in the region. Another very good paper.

Saint John Monastery in Mustair, Switzerland

Monastery of Saint John in Mustair, Switzerland. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The final paper was by Annika Rulkens from the University van Amsterdam, “Monastic or Not? The Architecture of Rural Churches in Ninth-Century Hessen.” This was a comparative examination of the architecture of churches to support her thesis that smaller churches should be considered monastic. She believes that smaller satellite churches of Fulda and Sturm, built from the mid-eighth through mid-ninth century were modeled after the larger Abbey churches. These churches were built with the approval of the mother house and while she does not believe they were directed to use similar architecture, they chose to do so. Again, lots of images used for this paper which I don’t recall well enough to describe here.

For lunch I had the opportunity to sample the marvelous cuisine in Schneider (said menu choices consisted of pre-wrapped sandwiches – still better than past years and it provided calories) and chatted with The Cranky Professor (TCP) and ADM. Actually, ADM was working for the most part but I had a lot of fun with TCP. I had sort of a theme for the week I went with which was pretty much, “The way I do my job is very different from you,” With an emphasis on the fact that Purdue does not expect me to know how to write – we have a communications department which edits everything we put together. At the time I was in the middle of putting together a fairly short publication which seemed to be taking forever to finish (seriously – I took maybe 12 hours to write the draft, which was 95% of the end product). I’m pretty good at laughing at myself and TCP was willing to join in. I’m in the middle of a 150-page agrosecurity project right now and I dread how long that one will take.

I went Goth for the rest of the day, starting with Session 429, Early Medieval Europe II. Louis Shwartz, a Phd candidate from the University of Toronto opened with, “What Rome Owes to the Lombards: Devotion to Saint Michael in Early Medieval Italy and the Riddle of Castel Sant’Angelo.” Michelle Ziegler has already covered this paper nicely and I don’t have much to add. In talking about why Saint Michael came to be associated with Sant’Angelo he discusses mentions of him in Paul the Deacon and believes that ultimately Saint Michael’s association with the church likely dates from Cunibert who was King from 688-700 and Liutprand who succeeded him. Cunibert was a strong promoter of Saint Michael and when Liutprand allied himself with the Papacy and converted the Lombards, this association was solidified. Good paper and be sure to read Michelle’s more detailed summary.

Erica Buchberger, a Phd student from the University of Oxford followed with, “Gothic Identity in Spain Before and After the Arab Conquest.” She believes (and I agree with her) that people identifying themselves as Goths disappeared fairly quickly after the Arab Conquests. I regret that I didn’t write down the specific sources she used however she argued that examples of people identifying themselves as Gothic is hard to find after the end of the 7th century. In narratives, Goths disappear as an entity after 754 and afterwards people may say that they were of Gothic descent but they did not identify themselves as Goths. She believes this may have been a sign of loyalty; that they were true to their heritage but loyal to their Arab rulers. However she did say that in the North Gothic identity lasted longer and can be found up to 883 in a chronicle (again, I apologize for not noting which one).

The final paper was by Helen Foxhall Forbes of the University of Leicester, “Suicides and the Damned in Anglo-Saxon England.” I recall this being a very interesting paper though it was as much about damnation overall as about the attitude toward suicides. However it is interesting that A-S sources almost never mentioned contemporary suicides but instead focused on those taking place in the past and that suicide is not mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon law codes. Aelfric speaks strongly against suicide and one of the Vercelli Homilies states that “Jews, heathens and suicides” won’t be saved. According to the Old English Penitential and the OE Handbook the body of a suicide cannot be sung over or buried in consecrated ground. In contrast, the Blickling Homily states that a murderer can be saved and there was an Old English belief that even an executed criminal could be saved. Aelfric disapproves of priests fighting and says that one killed in battle will not be prayed for but may be buried in consecrated ground and that he will be judged by God. Good stuff in this one.

Following this I headed to Valley II and Session 461, Sixth-Century Italy I: Representing the Ostrogothic Kingdom. I was very pleased to see the sessions on the Ostrogoths this year, in particular that they were organized by Deborah Deliyannis of Indiana University. I decided I was a fan of hers after reading Ravenna in Late Antiquity last year.

The first scheduled speaker didn’t arrive so Shane Bjornlie of Claremont McKenna College started things off with “Princeps Illiteraturs: The Political Polemic of the Gothic War and Sources for Theoderic the Great.” This paper discussed how Theoderic was portrayed after his death, primarily during the Gothic War. It was a detailed examination of the sources which, while unsurprising in content, was quite interesting and informative. As might be expected, sources such as Ennodius and Cassiodorus portrayed him as a successful ruler of a Roman province while sources associated with Justinian’s court such as Procopius and Marcellinus Comes depicted him as an illegitimate barbarian. The Anonymous Valesianus describes Theoderic’s death as being the same as Arius’ with his bowels bursting as he was relieving himself. While there wasn’t anything particularly revolutionary here, I enjoyed it because of how many sources were covered, including later ones such as Gregory the Great, Fredegar and Paul the Deacon.

Another paper dealing extensively with sources and Theoderic followed as Christine Radtke of The University zu Kõln presented, “Theoderic the Great: Auctor Civilitas, Pius Princeps, Virtuous King.” With the help of a very useful handout she covered the various ways in which Theoderic was portrayed as a legitimate Roman ruler. These included Ennodius’ Panegyricus where he is praised in a fairly standard way as a successor of the Roman Emperors. On the Senigallia Medallion (the only certain image we have of Theoderic) he is titled as Rex and Princeps, titles by which he would have wanted to be known. In Cassiodorus’ Variae, each letter shows a different aspect of Theoderic as ruler and as a whole they stress his civilitas and depict him as someone highly engaged with the past to legitimize his rule and portray him as a Gothic ruler interested in peaceful cooperation between Romans and Goths. I don’t think there was anything new, different or surprising in either of these papers but I appreciated both of them for their examination of the sources.

Following this session I headed back to the exhibit area to pick up my book purchases. I’ve gotten better at this over the years and now I rarely leave one behind. It was interesting to find that several publishers are aware of this blog and one person told me that she appreciated my book reviews, particularly when it was one of theirs. Possessing a book from Brill and folks recognizing me all in the same day? That put me in happy camper mode, a good attitude to have when I went to the Pseudo Society Session, had a sub and some beer for dinner (I’d had enough pizza for one week the previous evening) and laughed for a couple of hours. As always, I don’t report on Pseudo, mainly because you have to be there to appreciate it but all of the “papers” were good though I don’t think any make my Hall of Fame.

That was enough for me as I skipped the dance, as I do every year, and made it to bed fairly early, only rarely being woken up by the late partying which went on in the courtyard outside my window. Probably didn’t hurt that it was cold enough that said window was closed.


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Friday at Kalamazoo Part II

I left off with my last Kalamazoo Session Post about five months ago. I intend to finish these which will be an interesting experience. A couple of weeks ago I gave an agrosecurity presentation for a bunch of university types. I was able to go back to past programs I’d been to over the previous 5 years, look at my notes and instantly figure out what they meant. I’m less confident about being able to similarly decipher my Kalamazoo notes a few months later but I intend to give it a shot. I imagine there will be a few papers I won’t be able to figure out and will ignore and others where all I’ll be able to give are a few key concepts without an overall theme. So picking things up from 11:30 Friday morning …

After the morning session I took advantage of the two hours before the next in the same building and made my one foray into last year’s antisocial behavior by grabbing a chair to make some calls and make sure the program I’d strung back together with duct tape for the following week was still in one piece. Following this I grabbed a bite, ran into Cullen Chandler and proceeded to Session 282, Late Antiquity II: Christian and Pagan Culture in Late Antiquity.

First up was Doug Jarvis of Carleton University. Doug (I can call him Doug because we chatted for ten minutes or so before the session started) is a Law History student which gave him a bit of a different perspective in his paper, “The Politics of Empire and Desire in Late Roman Antiquity: A Post-sexual Revolution Era Reading of St. Augustine’s Confessions.”

My notes for this are sparse and I won’t editorialize so this will be a brief list of some key concepts. He approached this topic from the basis of two historical shifts; the modern sexual revolution and a late Roman change in faith combined with the disintegration of Roman family structures. Augustine’s conversion story was a reaction in response to failures of the Romano-Pagan society. In joining the Church an individual found him or herself with immediate value while as a member of society one’s best hope was to become a friend of the Emperor. Lust and the response to it was prominent in The Confessions. My notes related to sexuality are rather thin however I do have that a theme of The Confessions is that sexual desire is the basis of original sin and that Carleton argued that Augustine’s discussion of his personal issues were a response to the contemporary political situation. Bleh – really poor synopsis there. Sorry folks but keep reading, the rest of this post is better. I recall that Carleton faced tougher questioning, more aggressively challenging, than I’m accustomed to at Kalamazoo but I don’t remember the specifics.

Craig Gibson from the University of Iowa followed with “Art and Rhetorical Education in the Late Antique Greek East.” He looked at how education was evolving during this period to focus on the artist and art as having a responsibility to teach morality. He opened with a focus on the Progymnasmata which was a handbook of writing exercises Libanius put together to use in his school and which later became widely disseminated. Libanius emphasizes that the artist will struggle with passion and must take care that this will not destroy his capacity to create. The artist cannot escape passion, particularly love, but must be transformed to be able to create meaningful images (Gibson had a handout which emphasized visual images but Libanius must have also meant written representations). Pseudo-Nicolaus, a student of Libanius whose writings are believed to make up part of Progymnasmata, adds morality into his writings. He depicts Hera as lawfully married, a preferred status to the unlawful seeking after pleasure which existed previously. In order to honor Hera, she must be depicted as lawfully married. Ps-Nicolaus also discussed modesty, describing Athena as possessing womanly modesty however, as one breast is often exposed, she is also engaged in a battle with lust, which must constantly be guarded against. Gibson believes that this (and a couple other examples he used, such as Choricius) shows a new understanding of the role of art. The artist has become a public figure with a responsibility to perform art in such a way as to benefit their community, morally as well as by providing beauty or inspiration.

The next paper continued to focus on art. Simon Zuenelli, a Phd candidate from Leopold-Franzen University in Innsbruck, presented on, “The Dionysiaca of Nonnos as a Typical Poem of Late Antiquity.” The main purpose of this paper was rehabilitation. The Dionysiaca has a very negative reputation these days. Zuelli admitted that there are some grammatical errors however he feels it qualitatively fits in quite well with other Late Antique poetry. This poem is very digressive however this is fairly standard for poetry of this time and should not be used as a criticism.

The final paper was my favorite of the session. Robert Winn from Northwestern College in Iowa gave, “On Avarice: Eusebius of Emesa and John Chrysostom.” The primary question this paper tried to answer was, Did Eusebius’ On Avarice influence Chrysostom’s later denunciations of greed in his sermons? Winn proceeded to examine this by taking a close look at Eusebius. He denounces his audience. For Eusebius, Christians are greedy but don’t have any idea that they are wrong. He tells them that wealth causes war and divides families. Christians believe they can bribe God through offerings using money they’ve stolen from others. People are selling their souls and are willing to sell the truth. Redemption is possible however and people can achieve this by following models. These include Christ, John the Baptist, Martyrs, and the Apostles. For Eusebius, modern Christians are the Apostles’ successors, should they choose to behave in such a manner. Chrysostom uses many of Eusebius’ themes in some of his sermons, including that wealth causes war and greed results in violence. Chrysostom echoes Eusebius’ descriptions of those to model good behavior on, particularly John the Baptist. Winn believes it is possible that Chrysostom’s inspiration may have been Origen but thinks it much more likely that it was Eusebius. Really good paper and I suppose I should mention that I marked in my notes to look for Winn’s book which you can find on Amazon. I’ve wishlisted, but have not purchased it – one of the benefits of being too busy to read much on history has been that my book purchases have gone way down over the past few months though I expect that will change before too long.

I had debated what session to go to for the 3:30 session and chose wrong. Instead of heading to the third Society for Late Antiquity Session I decided to go to Session 327: Networks of Travel and Communication in the Early Middle Ages. I’ve mentioned before that a few months after hip replacement, when I really had to hustle to walk somewhere the hip started to bother me pretty significantly. So I decided that rather than walk from Bernhard to Schneider I’d take the shuttle. Well, the shuttle didn’t show up outside Bernhard until it was about time for the next session to begin so I walked in late. I’m a stickler for punctuality. One of my peeves I guess. It is a very rare meeting where I’m not on site 15 minutes or more ahead of time – the only exception is when it’s in my building. So I was very unhappy that I walked in 10 minutes late, which was not helped by the fact that the door was locked and someone had to get up and let me in. And when I walked in late I didn’t walk in on Andrew Gillett talking about, “Making Networks: Strategies of Communication for Western Embassies to the Imperial Court in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries” which was the reason I chose this session. And no, this change was not in the Congress Corrigenda.

However two speakers were there and their papers were pretty good. Although I walked in late, I enjoyed “Reconstructing Networks of Travel and Communication in Early Medieval Ireland” by Rebecca Wall Forrestal of Trinity College at the University of Dublin. She used some nice visuals to help describe archaeological evidence for local networks. When I entered she was discussing textual evidence from the Life of Bridget. Based on this, regional rulers were responsible for road maintenance. They were subject to fairly strict requirements detailing what a particular road should be able to do and instructions for building. A big issues is that while placenames may be used to indicate where roads may have been, it’s difficult to use names to date them. She provided a more detailed examination of County Waterford which includes the Blackwater Valley. As a summary, mills generally served as a community center, churches were generally located close to roads and ringforts were also fairly close. Several long distance roads (20-50 km) have been identified but they have not been able to solidly establish dates for them. While towns/villages have not been identified, they have found that many homes on farms were built fairly close to each other. She suspects there were many local trackways which archaeology hasn’t been able to find. The overall impression she had of the area is that it was a series of interlocked clusters of homes and communities.

Matthew Harpster from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M gave a very interesting paper on, “Maritime Connectivity and Regionalism in the Mediterranean.” Harpster related what recent finds in the Mediterranean revealed about naval trade networks. By analyzing the origin of materials found in shipwrecks they are able to re-construct trade linkages. What he found was that trade by sea was regional. Materials originating in the East tended to be found in the East while materials originating from the West were found in the Western Mediterranean (his East-West boundary was the Italian peninsula). He contrasted this with the fact that a great deal of eastern amphorae are found in the west along land routes. I regret that I did not write down the dates which his finds covered. Good paper (actually he gave a presentation – not sure it was a paper) and a good session even though I showed up late and didn’t hear what I’d hoped to.

Following this session I headed back to Valley and the books. I worked my way through the rest of the exhibit by the time it closed, except for Powell’s. I debated grabbing something to eat and decided to drive up to Fetzer instead. They have a bunch of social events there in the evenings, complete with a cash bar so I thought I’d grab a beer (ended up having two) while I waited for the Projects in Digital Medieval Studies poster session. I ran into Guy Halsall on my way in and chatted with him for a few minutes. Then after I sat down I talked to a woman from Kalamazoo who home schools her kids and brings them to the Congress every year which I thought was very cool. Unfortunately, the session itself was a disappointment. It was designed for all digitally oriented sessions from Congress to have displays at and when I showed up there were only three, though a couple were pretty interesting.

I headed back to the dorm, planning to clean up a bit and then call some people and find out if anyone was as late for dinner as I was, or at least thinking of going out where there was food. Near the entrance to the dorm I heard some grad students lamenting that they hadn’t gotten to Bilbo’s. I told them that I wouldn’t take them there (figured there’d be no tables by that time on a Friday) but I’d pick up a pizza if they wanted. So I ran up there (was surprised to see that there were empty tables after all), ate with the grad students for a bit and then headed for bed.

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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Conferences


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Friday at Kalamazoo Part I: Jerome and Virgil

NOTE: As I’m sitting at over 2000 words after reporting on the first session, I’m going to split my Friday Kalamazoo report in half. One day I really must learn discipline.

Friday dawned cool and sunny, continuing the excellent weather which largely lasted for the entire Congress. And I’d caught up on my sleep which was great. My room this year overlooked the interior Valley III courtyard so I occasionally was woken up by the sound of folks enjoying a wine social but I’ve also been next to the elevator before or had a room right over an entrance. I’ll take this, thank you very much.

After breakfast I made my way (surprise!) to the exhibit area and worked my way through the booths which I hadn’t yet visited. Generally by this time I would have pretty much completed my shopping but for some reason I was a bit slower this year. Part of it was I kept running into people to talk to which was cool. I was also a bit more selective than last year. Seems strange that it would take longer to buy fewer books but it did. Still, by the end of the morning I’d made it through all but the sellers on one side outside of the main exhibit area (for attendees, the section including Powell’s).

Then I rode the shuttle to Bernhard for Session 230, Late Antiquity I: Christianity and Culture in Western Late Antiquity. This session was one I was looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint though I ended up taking useful notes for only 3 of the 4 papers. In fact, in re-reading this, in some ways this is a lousy session report as I seem unable to keep from interjecting my own thoughts rather than just recounting the papers. I’m leaving it anyway; this is what happens when people give good papers about things I’m interested in.

This was the session which largely consisted of “topics I’m going to get to very soon.” The first paper was no exception as the Saturnalia sits on my bookshelf in the stack of things I’m going to read in the near future. For a brief summary for those less familiar with the period, the Saturnalia, authored by Macrobius around 430, is a fictional dialogue between prominent late Roman Pagans from the later 4th century on a variety of subjects. One of those subjects is Virgil and this was discussed by Eric Hutchinson of Hillsdale College in, “Literature and/as Religion: Christianity and the Reception of Virgil in Saturnalia I.”

The use of Virgil (and other classical authors) by Christians seems to have become a significant issue by the 5th century. The account by Jerome of his dream of being rejected from Heaven due to his love for Pagan Classics is probably the most famous example of Christian denunciation of ancient literature. 1 Despite this, numerous Late Antique Christians display substantial knowledge of pagan literature. Hutchinson explored an aspect of this in this paper. He opened with the basic premise I stated above; that there was an issue with how Virgil would be used by Christians. He states that Macrobius was likely a nominal Christian and that the audience for the Saturnalia would have been nominal Christians. The dialogues may have been important in helping to frame Virgil within the context of 5th century literary culture.

The principals in the dialogue over the use of Virgil are Evangelus and my old buddy Symmachus. Hutchinson provided a handout to help the audience track the discussion. Evangelus argues that Virgil is simply a poet, nothing more, and that to call him a philosopher is a gross exaggeration. Symmachus responds by calling the poem sacred and says that learned men should study it to discover its hidden truths. Hutchinson believes this fits nicely in the debate over the use of pagan literature in the fifth century. I’m looking forward to reading more on this in the future and this paper helped to define the discussion a bit. 2

Next up was Angela Kinney, currently working on the Vulgate Bible Project at Dumbarton Oaks. In fact, Volume IV of that series, for which Angela was the Editor, was released the day after K’zoo. Now if Dumbarton Oaks would just get a booth for the Exhibit Hall. Of course this would leave me poorer. Two years ago Angela gave a very good paper on hagiography I mention this merely to point out that at the time I was doing a lot of my own dead holy people reading and this year she moved into early Christianity which I happen to be reading quite a bit about at the moment. I found this to be very considerate. :)

More seriously, Angela’s paper was titled, “Virgilian Fama as Christian Courier in Jerome’s Epistles.” In this paper she explored Jerome’s portrayal of rumor in his letters and his Vulgate. She opened with a seriously cool image by J. Paul Weber, Das Gerücht, which shows rumor in the form of humanoid creatures coalescing as a mass into a serpent. Nice imagery for this paper as it’s tough to find positive portrayals of serpents in Christian literature.

Weber's Das Gerucht
Das Gerücht, Image from the J. Paul Weber Museum

Jerome uses two terms to describe unverified news; fama and rúmor. My Latin is too weak to discuss this with any real certainty however based on my reading of my dictionaries the two terms seem nearly interchangeable however Jerome uses them very differently. 3 Angela provided multiple examples showing that for Jerome, fama is used positively, rúmor negatively. Jerome’s Vulgate includes 12 instances of fama and it is always used positively while his uses of rúmor are always negative. Fama is used with Jesus’ coming or going and in Ruth 1:19 and is more along the lines of report or word, not an unsubstantiated rumor. Fama has legitimacy, rúmor does not.

Angela also provided examples from Jerome’s epistles. Unfortunately, I don’t have all of his letters in Latin however examples she gave were from CXXX.6 when news of Demetrius’ virginity spread through the world. I do have letter LXXVII in Latin and in LXXVII.11, word of Fabiola’s death is spread by, “Et iam fama volans, tanti praenuntia luctus” bringing crowds to her funeral to praise her. This is a quote from Virgil where fama is the Roman Goddess of Rumor. 4 Interestingly, in the same letter at LXXVII.8 Jerome uses rumor to describe the crowd’s belief that barbarians were about to attack Jerusalem.

This paper really interested me. Jerome is an interesting fellow all on his own and someone I’m not as familiar with as Augustine. Here he seems to be trying to use language to portray sanctified rumor in a different way from the reports which had no religious meaning. There are some implications here for Jerome’s use of language which I probably only halfway perceive. And despite his prior account in letter XXII of his dream, he was quite willing to use classical literature to make a point. This was a good, well presented paper with a clear focus. I enjoyed it.

More Jerome was in store in the form of a paper by Amy Oh of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, “Vigilantius, Jerome, and Biblical Exegesis.” The focus of this paper is over a piece of the conflict between Jerome and Vigilantius. Oh began by providing an overview of this, explaining how initially we find Jerome and Vigilantius friends, or at least friendly when the latter carries a letter of Jerome’s to Paulinus of Nola. This soon changed. Vigilantius apparently accused Jerome of Origenism and Jerome struck back, firmly at first and then really hard.

One particular aspect of this involved a story from the Book of Daniel where a stone is cut from a mountain without hands and strikes a statue, destroying it. This story had often been interpreted as a sign of Christ’s virgin birth where the stone is Christ, the mountain is God, the statue is the Devil (or the barrier to Heaven) and the stone being cut without hands signifies the virgin birth. However Vigilantius, according to Jerome, stated that the mountain was the Devil.

Vigilantius’ interpretation had some precedent. Oh provided a useful handout which showed that Ambrose called mountains the Devil’s kingdom and that Origen believes Zechariah describes the Devil as a mountain. However for Jerome, Vigilantius’ made a huge error as the mountain should be God the Father Almighty, not the Devil.

Oh discussed the possible reasons for this harsh response. She believes that as Jerome had only recently rejected Origen he may have been sensitive to this accusation. For myself, and I mentioned this to her after her paper, I wonder if Jerome may have sensed some dualism in Vigilantius’ interpretation. I’m not up enough on the evolution of Manichaeism and other dualist sects to be definitive about this however even then they believed in a good spiritual portion of the world and an evil matter portion of the world. Would Jerome have sensed this in Vigilantius’ story? Or maybe he was just mad, particularly as he had previously recommended him to Paulinus. Whatever the case, it helped give us one of Jerome’s more well-known (and abusive) pieces a few years later, the Contra Vigilantium. Another good paper and it pointed out some specifics of the Jerome-Vigilantius conflict I hadn’t thought about before.

I took very few notes for the final paper so I’ll leave it alone. In looking at my notes I have a feeling I was so psyched about the prior two papers that I was expanding on them rather than paying attention to what I should have. At least there are a bunch of boxes, circles and arrows in my notes, which I usually don’t do until when I review things later.

So even though I didn’t pay proper attention to one of the papers, I thought this was a very good session. I enjoyed it, learned quite a bit, and after returning home I started flipping through my Vulgate and reading quite a bit of Virgil and Jerome.

NOTE 2: I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out images in WordPress, mainly that when I post an image I’m getting the full image, not a thumbnail. I’ve looked through the settings and help topics and am coming up blank. Is this a theme thing or am I just missing something? Any help with this would be appreciated. If necessary I can write the img src thumbnail-link-to-large-image html code (which I used to know how to do and can probably figure out again) but that seems clunky.

1 See Jerome, Ep. XXII.30. One of the things I’m interested in finding out more about is how influential this dream account was. It gets repeated quite a bit, but the classics keep being used and IIRC, Jerome even quotes from them after he wrote this letter. (A re-reading of Jerome’s Letters is in my “to do in the near future” list.)

2 I think it’s important to note for those a bit newer to this topic that Macrobius was writing a half-century after the protagonists in his dialogue were active. The Saturnalia should not be considered to represent how these individuals actually behaved/spoke but how Macrobius believes it is reasonable for them to have spoken when faced with the issues he presents them. I expect at some point to post something on Late Antique Christian use of Latin Literature once I’ve read more on it. It’s a very interesting topic, not just that this literature was used but why, for example, Virgil largely replaced Homer in the “epic poem” category. This is part of the reason I’ve kept my comments brief for this paper.

3 I’m basing this statement on a perusal of dictionaries, not my, ahem, fluency in the language. I happen to have 16 books on Latin, including 7 dictionaries. Definitions for Fama and rúmor have in common hearsay, common talk, general opinion and rumor. My two Cassell’s (one published in 1959, the other in 1977) both include tradition and report while the older includes intelligence in the definition for Fama. My Smith’s Smaller Latin-English Dictionary (1968) also includes report and tradition. Rúmor is almost exclusively unverified opinion though Smith’s does include reputation. Interestingly, the definitions for rúmor and fama are nearly identical in my Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin by Stelten (1995) with both definitions including report, fame and rumor while fama includes reputation and rúmor includes hearsay and popular opinion. It appears that some uses may have used fama as Jerome does but more commonly it and rúmor are synonymous. They seem split on whether it should be spelled rūmor or rúmor. I’m going with the latter because the page I pulled it from said that rūmor may not be visible in some browsers.

4 I have the Loeb edition of Jerome’s letters which translates this to, “Flying Rumour heralding such woe.” The quote comes from Virgil’s Aeneid XI.139.


Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Conferences, Religion


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Maybe This is Why There Were Pirates

I don’t want to make fun of anyone because if you want to dress as a pirate, why shouldn’t you? There have always been a few folks dressed in an interesting manner at Kalamazoo and while I can’t recall ever giving it much thought I’ve pretty much figured they were doing so because what they were wearing added something to a paper or presentation they were giving. Heck, I happen to wear a giant belt buckle much of the time as a holdover from my days in rodeo and as a horse trainer, though my wearing it all the time at this year’s Congress was more a factor of my leaving in a hurry and forgetting to throw something less obtrusive in my bag.

However maybe there’s another explanation. Check out this article from a Detroit CBS affiliate titled Hobbit Alert: Michigan College Hosts Medieval Fair. I saw that and about spit up water all over my keyboard.

I was happy to see that they also referenced Game of Thrones.

There’s no real harm in this if it gets more people there, unless folks didn’t get what they were expecting. But I’d say the article fails to capture the flavor of Congress.


Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Conferences, Humor and Games


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