The international research group RELICS focuses on the dynamic role of Latin as a European literary and cultural language. Its chronological scope roughly goes from the first century AD until the end of the eighteenth century, with possible extensions up to modern times. Apart from looking at specific tendencies within European literary culture with Latin as a sort of red thread, its members share a concern for theoretical-methodological reflection. Central in this respect is the search for concepts that can capture the broader shifts and impulses within the literary and cultural landscape of Europe. These concepts offer the possibility to open a scientific debate that crosses the boundaries between several research domains which have often been bound to chronological periods, languages or geographical areas.
Some of the central theoretical concepts with which we can think about the role of Latin within a European literary culture are incorporated in the acronym RELICS, which stands for ‘Researchers of European Literary Identity, Cosmopolitanism and the Schools’.
To start with the latter, the research group aims to explore the impact of education on the anchoring of Latin within European literary culture. Schooling in Latin, from its moment of institutionalization in the first century, forms a leitmotiv throughout European history, only losing its omnipresent status in the last two centuries. Many authors, also the ones who only wrote in the vernacular languages, were educated in Latin. This provided them with a standard equipment of knowledge, a background, through and against which they made their own literary creations. RELICS wants to examine, amongst other things, how the actual and metaphorical Latin classroom informed methods of writing and reading literature (both in Latin and the vernaculars), in what ways authors confirmed and emancipated from the norms implied by their education, if and to what extent schooling shaped a sort of ‘cultural memory’ shared by a European intellectual public, etc.
Partly due to this education system, Latin gradually grew throughout the ages into a culture that does without native speakers or country. With a highly-debated term that has especially been used to describe the function of English in our contemporary globalized world, we could say that Latin literary culture reached a ‘cosmopolitan’ status. Apart from discussing what this concept means when applied to characterize a historical literary culture, this research group seeks to ask what such a ‘Latin cosmopolitanism’ looked like, of what elements it consists and what kinds of dynamics within the literary landscape of Europe it generated. With respect to the latter, on the one hand, the focus lies on the interaction between Latin and other cultures, such as Arabic, Hebrew and Greek, that have been labelled as ‘cosmopolitan’. On the other hand, and more prominently, attention is given to the interaction between Latin literary culture as a constant factor and the rapidly emerging literary production in the vernacular languages starting with the early Middle Ages. How did the cosmopolitan literary culture of Latin affect, accelerate and decelerate the rise of literatures within the vernaculars? How did the negation and exchange between the all-embracing Latin culture and the initially smaller but quickly developing vernacular cultures evolve, both on an aesthetic and socio-cultural level?
European Literary Identity
By studying these kinds of interactions, the research group RELICS seeks to reveal the literary nerve system of Europe. Can we formulate a ‘European literary identity’? The latter term and the three elements of which it consists obviously need further definition and even a constant re-definition, depending on what segments of literary Europe we are looking at. Nevertheless, this concept allows us to explore the literary history of Europe in a much more dynamic way than the still dominant nationalistic paradigms have done so far. Latin, a culture without a nation, offers in our view a grip to interpret this history, a thread that wanted to be followed but was itself under continuous cultural negotiation.
To achieve this goal, RELICS intends to bring scholars specialized in different periods, geographical areas and languages together, stimulate the exchange of ideas and transcend the intellectual boundaries that are often imposed by the structures of academic institutions. By doing so, the research group aims to encourage broader theoretical-methodological discussions about the literary history of Europe, both searching for useful concepts to think with and reflecting upon why we, as 21st century scientists, precisely choose to work with these concepts. What is the relationship between our object of investigation and our method of investigation? What can we self-reflectively learn about ourselves as modern scholars by conceptually studying the European literary past?