Contacts with Greek Culture in the Middle Ages

Description of activities, leadership, contact information

Description of Activity

The loss of the knowledge of Greek in Late Antiquity and its re-appropriation in the Renaissance is a commonplace in the periodization of Western European history. Greek culture came to Western Europe via the Roman classics, via late antique translations of biblical, theological, and Aristotelian writings, or via Arabic intermediaries, but supposedly could not be accessed directly, due to a lack of linguistic competency. This remains a popular perception despite the fact that it has long been challenged in various ways.

Greek words transited to Western languages via late Vulgar Latin and Church Latin. Several Greek-speaking regions were under Western rule for longer or shorter time periods: southern Italy and Sicily, Cyprus, even Byzantium itself after the 4th Crusade. We know about Greek-Latin contacts in Montecassino and about the use of Greek in Norman administration, about translations written for the court of Frederick II and those by William of Moerbeke, as well as the early attempts at translating Homer; we are aware of saints’ legends traveling from the East to the West and of French romances being translated into Greek.

However, much remains to be understood:

  • How much Greek did crusaders, diplomats, and merchants learn?
  • How much truth lies behind the claims of some vernacular poets to have used Greek sources?
  • How much exchange was there at a popular level?

Medieval Constantinople was a meeting point for East and West for over a millennium: interactions with Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, and other traditions are essential not only as a means for the transmission of knowledge from Central Asia to Europe (and vice-versa) but also for making sense of the remarkably rich and diverse literature, art, and culture that emerges from the ever-smaller territory actually controlled by Byzantium. Within Byzantine studies, there is increasing interest in questions of Byzantine self-presentation and how Byzantium was perceived by others.

The aim of this discussion group is twofold:

  1. We will familiarize ourselves with existing work and with the problems attached to the questions outlined above, in order to lay the groundwork for a future interdisciplinary and international project.
  2. We will raise awareness of, and interest in, the role of Byzantium between late antiquity and early modernity, hoping to offer some compensation for an obvious lacuna in the premodern hub that is the University of Toronto.




Faculty, University of Toronto

  • Peter Bing, FAS Classics
  • Regina Höschele, FAS Classics
  • Jeannie Miller, FAS Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations
  • Cillian O’Hogan, FAS Medieval Studies
  • Martin Revermann, UTM Historical Studies
  • Jill Ross, FAS Comparative Literature and Medieval Studies

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto

  • Flávia Vasconcellos Amaral, FAS Classics 

Professional Staff, University of Toronto

  • Timothy Perry, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
  • Linda Safran, Research Fellow, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies

Graduate Students, University of Toronto

  • Alessia Berardi, Medieval Studies
  • Vittorio Bottini, Classics
  • Deanna Brook’s, Medieval Studies
  • Sean Karnani-Stewart, Medieval Studies
  • Daniela Maldonado, Spanish & Portuguese
  • Mary Maschio, Medieval Studies, Administrative Manager for this group
  • Reagan Patrick, Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations