Victoria Moul


Associate Professor (Reader) in Early Modern English & Latin, UCL (joint appointment between department of Greek & Latin and department of English); currently on a BA Mid-Career Fellowship
University College London

Victoria Moul works primarily upon the Latin/vernacular bilingualism of early modern literary culture, especially in relation to poetry. She is trained both as a classicist (BA Oxford) and as an early modernist (MPhil and PhD Cambridge) and has held positions in both Classics and English departments during her career. She holds a joint appointment at UCL, teaching both Classics (language and literature) and English modules. She is currently a BA Mid-Career Fellow, and recently completed a very large research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, surveying for the first time post-medieval (’neo-‘) Latin poetry in English manuscript sources. She has published widely on topics in Latin literature, classical reception, early modern English poetry and early modern Latin, including Jonson, Horace and the Classical Tradition (CUP, 2006); The Cambridge Guide to Neo-Latin Literature (CUP, 2017) and A Literary History of Latin & English Poetry: Bilingual Verse Culture in Early Modern England (CUP, 2022).

As soon as I heard about RELICS I was interested in being involved as its aims and methodology fit so closely with my own: studying the very neglected Latin as well as the English dimension of early modern English literary culture immediately refocuses your perception in a much more Europe-facing regard. Latin was, naturally, the international language, in a period in which any knowledge of English vernacular language or literature outside the British Isles was very rare. Any author seeking an international profile naturally wrote in Latin or sought to have their work translated into Latin, and English literary culture was soaked in Latin literary influences from across Europe — much more so than of any single other vernacular. This aspect, however, has been almost entirely neglected, even “written out” of most scholarship on early modern English literature, and is almost entirely unreflected in how we teach and train even advanced graduate students. Secondly, understanding how readers and authors of the period were formed is impossible without serious study of educational practices, an area in which I have found my large-scale work surveying manuscript material particularly revealing, so the emphasis RELICS has placed upon the role of schooling seemed to me particularly important. Last, though far from least, I was struck by the network’s use of the term “cosmopolitanism”. As many readers will know, this has been an important theoretical term in the work, among others, of the Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock. My academic ‘hobby’, since the start of my graduate work, has been the study of Sanskrit and especially of Sanskrit poetry. Sanskrit is a difficult language with a highly complex and sophisticated literary tradition, and it took many years to gain a reasonable mastery of it; moreover, it is (in my experience) taught entirely differently from the traditional Anglophone “classics” approach. While as an undergraduate in “classics” I was not required to read any Latin or Greek later than that of Juvenal — and indeed, my requests to take unusual options in, for instance, medieval Latin literature and philosophy were met at times with outright mockery and dissuasion — by contrast the entire sweep of Sanskrit literary history, from Vedic hymns through to poetry and drama of (in Western terms) the early modern period, are taught essentially as one: all equally part of “Sanskrit literature”. Over years, this tacit contrast in perspectives became increasingly central to my sense of what is wrong with how we think about Latin literature. Early modern poets and readers alike did not think of the psalm paraphrases of George Buchanan, the novels of John Barclay or the lyric verse of Casimir Sarbiewski — three particularly influential Latin works of the period with enormous readerships right across Europe — as something called “neo”-Latin: they understood them just as important contemporary or near contemporary examples of Latin literature, in conversation of course with classical texts (such as Horace or the Greek novel) but also with late antique, medieval and humanist literature (such as the hymns of Prudentius, medieval Latin songs and the dialogues of Erasmus). Even where the study of so-called “classical reception” has thought seriously about early modernity it has much too often assumed that the “classics” of early modernity, the reference texts, are those (and only those) familiar to a modern classics undergraduate. So by a roundabout route, my eccentric obsession with Sanskrit poetry and grammar has had a shaping influence on my understanding of what we should be doing and how we should be thinking as Latinists, especially if we want to understand early modern Latinity on its own terms. I remain enduringly grateful to my doctoral supervisor who politely pretended not to know that I spent almost all my time in the Sanskrit, rather than Classics or English departments!

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