Professor David Wallace (University of Pennsylvania)
In November 1414 word went out across western Europe that nations should gather at Konstanz, a German lakeside town, to resolve the papal schism. Since 1378 half of western Europe (including Scotland) had followed a pope of Avignon, whereas the other half (including England) recognized a pope of Rome. Attempts to resolve matters at Pisa in 1409 had made things worse: a new pope was elected, but the two rival incumbents refused to resign. Thousands of literary men thus converged on Konstanz, between the Rhine and the Danube, to sort things out. First they addressed nationhood: what was a nation, and who might speak for it? Their principal working asset was literary language, as crafted in sermons, orations, treatises, chronicles, and diaries. Latin was lingua franca, and there was much eager pursuit of Latin manuscripts in regional libraries, coupled with a new vogue for Greek. There was much downtime at the council, and just as musicians crossed the street to play or sing with foreign nationes, so literati formed study groups or offered to teach classes on literary texts. Jewish townspeople, discreetly, processed their Torah. Poets such as Oswald von Wolkenstein, a Tyrolean knight, found that his multilingualism brought new career opportunities; Italian humanists sought new masters. Jean Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris, found new ways of marketing his writings while yet feeling inferior, as a French author, to Italian humanists. Jerome of Prague, eloquent champion and theorist of his native vernacular, was burned at the stake. Poggio Bracciolini, who recognized Jerome as a kindred spirit, made brilliant archival discoveries because of, not in spite of, this medieval church council. Cardinal Zabarella, a leading light, was found reading a treatise On Wifely Matters. The English at Constance, realizing that nobody cared for their eccentric and belated vernacular, devised new ways of celebrating English culture. Bulgarian aristocrat and philologist Gregory Tsamblak, having served his church from Constantinople to Kiev, and in Serbia, Moldova, and Wallachia, arrived late, in 1418. His hope was that this great gathering of literati, having closed its internal schism, might now repair the schism with the Orthodox East that had opened in 1054. The Council of Constance has chiefly been researched from the perspective of single nations; its true significance for European letters, I shall argue, will best be appreciated through multi-lingual, multinational approaches.
Open to all. No registration required
Part of the Multilingualism and Exchange in the Ancient and Medieval World, Research Group seminar series