Greek in late antique Gaul

Grieks in Laat-Antiek Gallië
Start - End 
2020 - 2021 (ongoing)



This project aims to trace and understand the place of Greek in education and literary culture in Gaul in the Late Roman and Early Medieval periods (ca. A.D. 300 – 700). This postdoctoral research has been prompted by questions that arose during my PhD. When examining the role of Greek in late-antique schools I found that the current methodology for gauging knowledge of Greek among late Latin authors, championed by Pierre Courcelle in his Les lettres grecques en occident (1948), bases a Latin author’s knowledge of Greek on their direct references to the Greek literary canon. Using this approach consistently indicates that there was little knowledge of Greek among Late Latin authors. This is problematic because evidence from contemporary sources, such as the fourth-century teacher and politician Ausonius, often contradicts these results. There are few direct references to Greek literature in Ausonius’ work, yet he was able to translate Greek poetry, compose poems in Greek, and include Greek language, forms, and word play in his Latin poetry. Not only does this illustrate his competence in Greek, but more importantly, it suggests that he also expected his readers to understand his puns and messages. Clearly our current approach is flawed, and a reassessment of our assumptions about Greek in the late Latin West is needed.

This project corrects previous assumptions about the breakdown of knowledge of Greek in Gaul and sheds light on the continuing connections between East and West both before and after the “fall” of Rome. What did ‘knowing Greek’ mean to late antique westerners and what role did Greek play in their literary and intellectual endeavours?