A Glimmer of Understanding (4th Week, Trinity)

This week, a wonderful thing happened. I attended a graduate lecture on the development of medieval Latin, and I understood it. All of it. I knew all about the historical figures featured – in almost every case, I had read at least some of their cited texts. I was familiar with the proponents of the historical theses being discussed. I had even read every book on the ‘Further Reading’ list on the handout. It was a brilliant moment, the more so as it’s one that hasn’t happened to me all very often here in Oxford.

The key to my sudden leap into comprehension was the fortuitous intersection of my optional module from last term on the Twelfth-Century Renaissance with this particular lecture series’ arrival at the intellectual milieu of the same century.

Actually, ‘series’ is almost too formal: it’s one of those sets of lectures advertised via the Medievalist Booklet, a wonderful little publication sent out at the beginning of every term collating everything vaguely medieval happening in any of the Oxford faculties, from prestigious annual lectures to informal reading groups. Each term, one can rifle through and pick and choose the most useful and interesting.

For these lectures, six or seven of us meet round an old wooden table in the Old Bursar’s Room at All Souls, a cozy little place overlooking the garden, to hear all about prose and poetry, classical models and innovations, and the shifts from lucid prose to tortuous mannerism and back again. The lectures, given by one of All Souls’ postdoctoral fellows, are engaging, comprehensible, and useful: a perfect and all too rare trifecta!

(Not all lectures are so blessed. A seminar the day before which we MSt students had been ‘highly recommended’ to attend turned out to be a three-hour lecture on a topic about which none of us knew anything at all. When dates piled upon dates, and names upon names in a bewildering welter of historispeech, only good manners keep eyes open and heads upright.)

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