Congratulations to our recent PhD students!

Congratulations to our recent PhD students who defended in the last months:

Leah Faibisoff: “Chancery Officials and the Business of Communal Administration in Republican Florence: Ventura and Niccolò Monachi, Chancellors of Florence (1340-48/1348-75)”

This dissertation studies the chancery of the Florentine Republic by examining the administrative offices which constituted the institution and some of the notary- administrators who held principal positions within the chancery. The scholarship on Florentine government often presupposes to the existence of some kind of permanent bureaucratic workforce that rendered stability to the city’s system of amateur, short-term political office. My dissertation instead suggests that the susceptibility to change in Florentine government extended also to its administrative organisation. It can be found at the level of institutional dynamics but it was also experienced by chancery officials themselves who continually had to negotiate between forces of instability and stability in the performance of their duties and in their attitudes towards their work.
The first half of this dissertation considers the institutional dynamics of impermanence within the chancery through an examination and description of the three main offices of the institution during the republican period: the notary of the priors, the notary of legislation, and the chancellor. The main contention of this section is that within the institution of the chancery there was an apparent tension between the semi-permanent, rationalizing force of a very few administrative agents and the impermanent destabilizing force of hundreds of administrative agents who cycled through the chancery. The second half of the dissertation then turns to look in detail at the lives and careers of two long-serving chancellors, Ventura Monachi (chancellor, 1340-1348) and his son Niccolò Monachi (chancellor, 1348-1375). In his lyric poetry, Ventura negotiates the incessant forces of unpredictability as both a notary-administrator and chancellor, while Niccolò’s book of Ricordanze demonstrates how even a notary-administrator who operated as a semi-permanent official was vulnerable to the shifting political sands of the Florentine commune.
This study contributes a new set of insights and perspectives to our understanding of the institution of the Florentine chancery through an examination of the relationship between socio-political dynamics and institutional form; the formation of an administrative habitus as evidenced by the exchange of symbolic capital in municipal poetry and communal art; and, the everyday functionality of an institution structurally based on a persistent tension between stability and instability.
Alexander Fleck: “The Narrative and Descriptive Influence of Latin Hagiography on Beowulf”The search for sources of elements in Beowulf has provided significant insight into the poem’s literary context, thematic makeup, and historical setting. While much value has been derived from identifying Norse and Old English analogues, less attention has been paid to Latin texts. If we accept that the Beowulf-poet was literate, Latinate, and possibly monastic, the influence of Latin literature—particularly hagiography—emerges as a distinct probability.

This dissertation suggests that the influence of hagiography manifests itself in similarities of narrative and description, and examines two common depictions found in both saints’ lives and Beowulf: sea journeys and the hostile wilderness. Through schematizing these scenes, it establishes a set of conventions underlying their depiction and compares them to their analogous scenes in Beowulf.

The voyages of seafaring saints can typically be articulated into overarching narrative components comprising a call to action, a commission and blessing, a procession to the shore and boarding, a voyage aboard ship, an arrival sequence, disembarking, and an onshore meeting, each component featuring remarkably durable elements. Beowulf’s two sea journeys echo the structural components of these vitae closely, and their corresponding elements tend to reflect those alignments found in hagiography.

Though less tied to narrative structure, sacred hermits’ wilderness homes typically depict a robust complement of primary elements: trees, water, mountainous stone, a route, hostile wildlife, fables about the region, negative descriptors, and fabricated space. Readers of Beowulf will be familiar with these elements as they appear throughout Hrothgar’s description of Grendel’s mere and its subsequent appearance in the text.

From these observations, it appears that the Beowulf-poet was incorporating the narrative and descriptive tendencies conventional to Latin hagiography into the Old English poem in spite of divergent subject-matter. These findings serve to reinforce the value of examining the Latinate literary culture of Anglo-Saxon England and its influence on Beowulf. Some compelling analogues within specific vitae suggest that further inquiry into their individual influence on the poem will be rewarded. However, this dissertation most clearly demonstrates the continuing value of seeking sources for elements of Beowulf in the wider conventions of hagiography.

Samuel Klumpenhouwer: “The Summa de penitencia of John of Kent: Study and Critical Edition”

This dissertation presents for the first time a critical edition of John of Kent’s Summa de penitencia and an accompanying study of the text. The Summa is a thirteenth century manual for confessors, informing them of the canon law of the Church and advising them on how to properly hear confessions. The dissertation has four introductory chapters before offering the edited text. The first chapter explains the contribution this critical edition will make to the scholarly community. The second chapter offers a general view of the scholastic milieu and pastoral reforms of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It likewise examines the genre of pastoralia, within which the Summa may be included. The third chapter offers all the known biographical details of John of Kent, including several newly discovered details that are discussed here for the first time. It also details the circumstances in which the Summa was written. The fourth chapter is an introduction to the edition itself. The codicological descriptions of the five extant manuscripts are here offered, as well as my stemmatic hypothesis, editorial choices and formatting decisions. The remainder of the dissertation is the critical edition of the Summa, which John of Kent divided into three books. The first book primarily addresses clerical issues, such as excommunication, simony and certain sacraments. The second book primarily addresses lay issues, such as marriage, tithes and oaths. The final book is a fictional priest/penitent dialogue, where the penitent is depicted confessing various matters in the confessional, with the priest responding appropriately.

Benjamin Wheaton: “Venantius Fortunatus and Christian Theology at the End of the Sixth Century in Gaul”

The writings of the poet Venantius Fortunatus are a major historical source for the study of Gallic society in the sixth century CE. The amount of Christian doctrine treated in these writings is considerable, and provides a fascinating perspective on late sixth-century Gallic theological thought and how it fit into broader Christian discussions of doctrine across the Mediterranean world. This approach to studying Fortunatus’ writings is different from previous scholarship on the poet, and in addition to shedding light on Gallic society’s approach to doctrinal issues will also serve to illumine Fortunatus’ own capacity for theological discourse. Part 1 of this thesis explores his two extant sermons, one on the Apostle’s Creed (The Expositio symboli) and the other on the Lord’s Prayer (The Expositio orationis dominicae). The Expositio symboli of Fortunatus, when considered in the context of both the text from which it was adapted, Rufinus of Aquileia’s fifth-century Expositio symboli, and other sermons on the same subject from the fifth and sixth centuries, showcases his skill at shaping and transmitting Christian doctrine. The Expositio dominicae orationis also does this, but has the additional facet of containing a strong polemic against semi-Pelagianism. It becomes clear from this polemic that Fortunatus held to a strongly Augustinian doctrine of the freedom of the will. Part 2 of this thesis looks at Fortunatus’ interaction with the Christological controversies of the sixth century, centring around the Three Chapters schism fomented by the decisions of the Second Council of Constantinople held in 553. Fortunatus’ writings that touch on the subject display a careful attitude towards the schism that sought to reconcile the two sides. Venantius Fortunatus shows himself to be adept at doctrinal exposition amidst a late sixth-century Gallic church that retained a vibrant interest in these matters.

Nicholas Wheeler: “Perjury and False Witness in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages”

This dissertation investigates changing perceptions of perjury and false witness in the late antique and early medieval world. Focusing on primary sources from the Latin-speaking, western Roman empire and former empire, approximately between the late third and seventh centuries CE, this thesis proposes that perjury and false witness were transformed into criminal behaviours, grave sins, and canonical offences in Latin legal and religious writings of the period. Chapter 1, ‘Introduction: The Problem of Perjury’s Criminalization’, calls attention to anomalies in the history and historiography of the oath. Although the oath has been well studied, oath violations have not; moreover, important sources for medieval culture – Roman law and the Christian New Testament – were largely silent on the subject of perjury. For classicists in particular, perjury was not a crime, while oath violations remained largely peripheral to early Christian ethical discussions. Chapter 2, ‘Criminalization: Perjury and False Witness in Late Roman Law’, begins to explain how this situation changed by documenting early possible instances of penalization for perjury. Diverse sources such as Christian martyr acts, provincial law manuals, and select imperial and post-imperial legislation suggest that numerous cases of perjury were criminalized in practice. Chapter 3, ‘Peccatization: Perjury and False Witness in Latin Patristic Literature’, investigates analogous developments in the Latin Christian church. Chapter 4, ‘An Early Medieval Case Study: Perjury and False Witness in the Visigothic Church and Kingdom’, studies the effects of these developments on one early medieval society. A concluding chapter suggests a class-based dimension to these changes; interrogates the nature of perjury; and proposes further avenues for research. Conceived as a thesis in the history of law and religion, this dissertation doubles as an investigation of a prominent feature of late antique and early medieval culture.