Surprises from the Past?
The impact of modern discoveries of ancient and medieval texts
Medieval Symposium 2013, SDU Odense, 11-12 November
Monday, November 11
9:00-9:30 Registration and coffee
9:30-11:30 Lars Boje Mortensen
Imre Galambos (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge)
The discovery of the Buddhist cave library of Dunhuang
SESSION I: CLASSICS
Lyndsay Coo (Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Bristol)
'Sophoclean papyri: the impact of twentieth-century discoveries'
11:30-12:00 Coffee break
12:00-13:30 Marcel Lysgaard Lech (Department of History, SDU)
The discovery of Menander
Justin Stover (Department of Classics, Harvard University)
The De pluribus Platonis libris compendiosa expositio: A New Work by Apuleius?
SESSION II: HISTORY
15:00-16:00 Beatrice del Bo (Bocconi University, Milan)
Les archives de Francesco di Marco Datini di Prato: une découverte à redécouvrir et son impact sur l'historiographie
16:30-18:00 Lars Boje Mortensen (Centre for Medieval Literature, SDU)
Fleshing out the author - 20th century discoveries of 12th century authors (Eystein Erlendsson and William of Tyre)
Forgetting and Remembering the Chronique de Normandie and Geste de France
19:00 Conference Dinner at Nyborg Castle
Tuesday, November 12
SESSION III: THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY
9:30-11:30 Gábor Kósa (ELTE University, Budapest)
Major discoveries of Manichaean materials during the past century
Lorenzo Perrone (Department of Classical and Medieval Philology, University of Bologna)
The newly discovered homilies of Origen
12:00-13:30 Adrienne Hamy
Universite Paris Diderot-Paris 7, EPHE, ENS
Juan Gil of Zamora in Silesia and Moravia
Medieval Studies Department, Central European University, Budapest
The Summulae logicales: Petrus Hispanus or Michael Psellus?
SESSION IV: LITERATURE
15:00-16:30 Helen F. Leslie
(Research Group for Medieval Philology, University of Bergen)
Runic Revaluations and the Bryggen (Bergen) Finds
From Rome to Cape Town and Back with a Vengeance: The Legendarium of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere and Canaparius' Vita S. Adalberti [BHL 37]
17:00-18:30 Elizabeth Tyler
Department of English and Related Literature, University of York
'In no way inferior to...the Trojan king': Rethinking the Literary Culture of the Anglo-Saxon Court on the Eve of the Conquest: Two new discoveries: the alternate version of Encomium Emmae Reginae (Royal Library, Copenhagen) and a missing poem from the Vita Edwardi Regis
The Lost Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise
The impact of modern discoveries of ancient and medieval texts
Surprise presents a fundamental problem for any historical hermeneutics. The reading of past
texts, both documentary and literary, adds unexpected features to the landscape we already know
and, ideally, pushes us to look in entirely new directions. At the same time, our scholarly
understanding of – and investment in – certain fields very often works to the opposite effect: we
tend to make the apparently surprising features conform to the view we already know and want
to have confirmed. In historical, philological and literary studies of Antiquity and the Middle
Ages, moreover, texts hold a significance often disproportionate to their contemporary impact
and are mostly contained within well-studied corpora; therefore our preconceived notions and
tools of navigation are already formed by a field that has defined which texts are important and has
often taken almost all of them into consideration. Thus, we are caught in a circle which tends to
diminish the returns of our hermeneutical surprises, and we find it difficult to bring in criteria
from outside the circle of established texts and textbooks. As a result, we too often gloss over or
marginalize new discoveries rather than allow the resilience of these texts to shake the
ground/foundations of our disciplines and canons, very often formed to meet the needs of the
In the field of ancient and medieval text-based scholarship, the unexpected
surfacing of unknown texts in the middle of established scholarly fields provides an interesting test
case for the issue of the resistance of disciplinary canons to the challenges posed by new
discoveries. The interaction between a sudden new voice from the distant past and a field of study
can be observed here in a pristine state as the recent find had played no role in defining the canon
or canonical questions in the field.
In the Symposium Surprises from the Past? we will focus on single new texts or new parts or versions of texts as well as finds of whole libraries which created entirely new (and very surprising!) scholarly fields. Contributions which focus on marginalized or practically forgotten texts will also be welcome. All papers should address some of these common questions:
• What were the finding circumstances and the initial reactions?
• Which field(s) of study was the text relevant for?
• What were the prevailing conditions in the field(s) for this to count as a find (or not)
• In the longer term, was the text canonized or dismissed as uninteresting?
• Can we assess the role of chance vs more meaningful historical processes in the forgetting and
reappearing of this text?
• Was there a discrepancy between the finder's enthusiasm and the reaction of the mainstream in
• Were there different receptions of the text by historians, philologists and other fields (historians
of literature / religion / philosophy etc)?
• Did the find lead to any disciplinary soul-searching about the representativity of the old set of
canonized texts / sources?
• Are there examples of canonical texts that only just survived and which could prompt useful
counterfactual refelction? What would the field have looked like without them?
• Does it make sense to talk of textual 'resilience' in a given case? No matter what we want the
text to say, does it stay strange, uncooperative or contradictory?
• Why does it always seem to make a big difference if a discovered text is anonymous or written
by a known author?
By having a series of papers across ancient and medieval studies and across disciplines we aim not
only to gather exciting find stories, but also to ask ourselves some recurring hard questions about
surprises, conformity, representativity, and canonicity in our text-based disciplines.
The Symposium forms part of the theme of the Canonisation at the Centre for Medieval
Literature (SDU Odense and York)