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CALL. 20.03.2020: [PANEL 3] Translation and the limits of Greek-Latin bilingualism in Late Antiquity






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Bilingualism between Latin and Greek sits at odds with the major scholarly re-evaluations of Late Antiquity that characterize this period as an age of cultural, political and religious transformations, as opposed to an era of decline and fall. Being expert utraque lingua ‘in both languages [i.e. Latin and Greek]’, had been an integral part of Roman intellectual culture and identity since the late Republic; but, according to conventional interpretation, by the end of the fourth century CE, the decline of Greek education in the west (evidenced by the rise in Latin translations of Greek texts, especially by Christians), and the relegation of Latin to the language of law and the bureaucracy in the East, were inescapable signs of cultural decline. By the fifth century, a linguistic divide reinforced the political division of the empire between east and west, Greek and Latin (Millar, 2006; Riché, 1976; Jones, 1964; Marrou, 1948). When bilingualism in Late Antiquity has recently been studied more positively, it has been often been from a multilingual perspective, between Latin or Greek and other languages of the Mediterranean world, Coptic, Syriac, or Punic (Rigolio 2019; Mullen and James, 2012; Adams, Janse, and Swain, 2002).

In the absence of any sustained study of Greek-Latin bilingualism and translation practice in the late antique period, this panel seeks to examine the function and prevalence of Greek-Latin bilingualism and to explore the connections between language communities and intellectual cultures across the empire from the Tetrarchy to the reign of Justinian. Particularly it wishes to question the assumed negative correlation between a decline in bilingualism and a rise in translation, and to do so from the perspective both of Latin in a Greek context and Greek in Latin.

Proposals are sought for papers that approach the topic from a wide range of perspectives: not just linguistic but literary, codicological, legal, political or historical. Papers that address one or more of the following questions would be especially welcome:

· How regionalized or uniform were changes in educational practices in Greek and Latin language-learning? How did these change between the fourth and sixth centuries?

· What counts as ‘being bilingual’ in Late Antiquity?

· What effect did the increase in the imperial bureaucracy in the fourth century have upon the extent of the knowledge and use of Latin in the east?

· As bilingualism became rarer, to what extent did it become a sought-after skill? Did any new opportunities present themselves for someone expert utraque lingua? How did such opportunities affect normal power relations, e.g. between a monolingual emperor or governor and a bilingual advisor?

· What were the motivations for translation, and why were certain works deemed necessary for translation and others not?

· How were newly translated texts received by other (monolingual) authors, and to what extent did they inspire subsequent compositions?

· To what extent did linguistic translation also entail cultural translation between Greek and Latin, east and west, or vice versa (cf. Jerome’s statement that in translating Eusebius’ Chronicle he also added western events omitted by the eastern Eusebius)?

· How closely implicated was a decline in bilingualism with societal problems, e.g. doctrinal conflicts between Christians, or problems of legal interpretation and practice?

· How do Greek texts composed in the West, or Latin texts composed in the East affect our picture of changing levels of bilingualism or expectations of their initial audiences’ linguistic skills?

· How was scribal practice affected by changes in bilingualism?

· To what extent does evidence for bilingualism or translation in the epigraphic and material record align with that of literary texts? We welcome proposals for papers of 35 minutes. Please submit an abstract of approximately 400 words and a proposed title by March 20, 2020. Paper may be in either English or French. Please include your institutional affiliation in your email. Submissions and questions can be directed to either Alison John ( or Alan Ross (

Confirmed speakers:​

Eleanor Dickey (University of Reading)

Adam Gitner (Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften)

Bruno Rochette (Université de Liège)

Alison John (Universiteit Gent)

Alan Ross (Columbia University)

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