Saturday, 7 February 2015

Tim Denecker: Multilingual competence in Cassiodorus' Variae and Institutiones

Multilingual competence - an individual's mastery of various languages - is a recurring theme in the Variae and Institutiones[diuinarum et saecularium litterarum] of Cassiodorus (c.485-c.580). In my paper, I will discuss those passages where Cassiodorus mentions people's multilingual competence and evaluates it. I will focus on the appraisals (1) of Jerome's competence in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (cf. uir trilinguis and Hebraica ueritas); (2) of the bilingual competence (in Latin and Greek) of Boethius, of Cassiodorus' friend Dionysius Exiguus, and of Bellator, Mutianus and Epiphanius, Cassiodorus' specialized translators at the Vivarium; and (3) of the competence in Latin and Ostrogothic (and Greek) of the ambassador Cyprian, of his sons, and of Amalasuintha, daughter of Theodoric and mother of Athalaric.

I will investigate (1) how Cassiodorus' appraisal of people's multilingual competence relates to the contexts in which it is mentioned. Some of these contexts are biblical and scientific translation, theology and exegesis, and political affairs; sometimes, multilingual competence is mentioned merely as a form of cultural capital in laudatory contexts. I will also try to define (2) the religious and socio-cultural restrictions which could be set to a positive appraisal of multilingual competence. Interesting cases in point are the orthodoxy of religious writings being translated, and the multilingual competence of a woman (Amalasuintha). Lastly, I will investigate (3) whether it is possible to discern a different appraisal of multilingual competence in the Variae (537), dating to before Cassiodorus' monastic conversion (540), and the Institutiones, composed afterwards (c.551-562).

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