"With Emily Thornbury: Dark Age Classicisms" at Kalamazoo 2016

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Harvard Department of English Medieval Colloquium

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When Petrarch first likened the close of the Middle Ages to "the end of darkness and the night of error"—as contrasted, of course, with the "dawn of the true light" of Humanism—he could hardly have imagined the influence his characterization would soon acquire. Designations of the medium aevum as a "dark age" resound through nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historiography, and with these designations flourish a series of assumptions about the early Middle Ages in particular—that they were divorced from Classical learning and culture, and that they were a regressive and ignorant time. Thanks to important work by, among others, Martin Irvine, Alastair Minnis, and Michael Lapidge, we now recognize great continuities between Classical and Anglo-Saxon letters and culture, but much work remains to be done on the manner in which early English writers encountered, and appropriated, their classical pasts.

This panel explores one aspect of the classical in early England by focusing on what we term "dark age classicisms"— a phrase that connotes the early English reception or adaptation of the classical, on the one hand, and the idea of the "classic" in Anglo-Saxon England, on the other. To what extent, we ask, does pre-Conquest poetry refract or reject classical notions of aesthetic order and disorder, essence and ornament? Were certain works within the Old English canon considered to be "classics" in their time? Can works of poetry that describe times held at a remove from their present—such as Beowulf, or the Wanderer—be said to "classicize" their subject matter? And what influence do material survivals from the Greco-Roman past—in the form of books, objets d'art, ruins, and so forth—exercise upon the imaginations of the people who "recovered" them from loss, or obscurity, or darkness?

We welcome papers that engage with any aspect of the intersection between classical past and English present from the Roman withdrawal to the arrival of the Normans in the eleventh century.

Nota bene: This is a blind review panel. Emily Thornbury has agreed to present a paper, but a committee will select the other papers by a process of double blind review of the submitted abstracts. Abstracts from graduate students and junior scholars, particularly those in contingent faculty roles, are especially encouraged.

All questions, abstract submissions, and required information should be sent to Helen Cushman at helencushman@fas.harvard.edu by the congress deadline (September 15th).

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