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Wonders of Knowledge. Narrative and Temporal Structures in Roman Mirabilia Writings

15.10.2021 | 11:00 - 17:00

Hybrider Studientag, organisiert vom Teilprojekt B07 „Die Anekdote als Medium des Wissenstransfers“, unter der Leitung von Prof. Dr. Melanie Möller

This study day aims to investigate the role of different miniature narrative devices in Latin miscellany and mirabilia writings (such as Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia or Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae); a comparison with genuinely scientific and epistemic texts, but, nonetheless, highly anecdotal compendia of knowledge (such as Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia) shall complement our investigation. The core objective is to broaden the perspective of our first research project which mainly dealt with the application of the anecdote in Latin philosophical, rhetorical, historical and biographical writings and its epistemological impact. Moving to a still larger corpus of Latin texts, questions of movement and change of knowledge throughout different corpora come into play.

Guided by our collaborative research center’s crucial questions on how processes of restructuration and re-contextualization of texts influence the transfer of knowledge, we want to ask how especially this transfer can be described in terms of temporalities and how narrative structures and different microgenres relate to the ‘velocity’ of this transfer. Can we speak of particularly accelerating or decelerating epistemic forms and forms which are even strategically implemented in order to stop movements of knowledge? Are these forms also constitutive of the ‘speed’ of the text they are part of? Here, besides rhetorical and narrative features of texts the interconnection of text and reception will be of great concern; to what extent the readers’ perception is governed by changes of ‘velocity’? Can we, on the contrary, also detect tendencies towards stabilization of knowledge or is stabilization itself another mode of acceleration or deceleration? What about anecdotes, for instance, which happily wander around literature from Antiquity through the Middle Ages up to the Early Modern Period? Do these ‘wandering’ or ‘travelling anecdotes’ and networks of similar narrative devices contribute to a consolidation or rather to an everlasting challenge of knowledge?

What about the generic issues of these devices? Whereas recent scholarship tends to mix them up and lack further distinction, we want to follow the assumption that Latin authors are conscious of a range of distinct miniature narrative forms (such as exemplum, chreia apophthegma, facetiae or the anecdote, even if this term comes into being only in modern times). Those generic distinctions are essential especially when talking about Valerius Maximus: Are all his tales about Memorable Doings and Sayings to be considered exempla or are they rather conceived of as similar, yet different narrative forms? Might he also have considered the heading memorabile as a definite form of its own right?

A comparable proposal could be put forward concerning the mirabile: At first glance the Latin and Greek corpuses of paradoxography and miscellany seem to make use of the concept in terms of content, i.e. of miraculous facts of the world. Yet we want to suggest that these wonders of knowledge require wondrous forms. But how do these entities relate to each other precisely? It may be true that miracles by virtue of their extra-ordinariness and tendency towards excess and oddity (cf. ‘para’-dox) have a certain touch of seductiveness and, thus, become captivating and – also epistemically – convincing, but due to the very same extra-ordinariness the credibility of knowledge itself is at stake. Perhaps especially by means of a tradition of conventional forms such ‘para’-normal contents are counterbalanced successfully, hence the truth claims of wonderous knowledge.

Starting from these premises, we want to work on exemplary close readings from several ‘mirabilia texts’ paying particular attention on the different features and miniature forms of the texts and on how these apply to knowledge transfer. In the end, the phenomena of the texts discussed might bring about a veritable theory of the paradox and wonderful in the respective Roman writings.


11:15–11:30    Introduction

11:30–13:00    Key note by Prof. Dr. Rebecca Langlands (University of Exeter)

Lunch break

14:00–15:00    Readings from Valerius Maximus (Matthias Grandl, FU Berlin)

15:00–16:00    Readings from Aulus Gellius (Prof. Dr. Melanie Möller, FU Berlin)

16:00–17:00    Readings from Valerius Maximus and Vitruvius (Dr. Daniel Wendt, Köln)

With small breaks after each session

Weitere Informationen

For further information and in order to register, please, contact magrandl@zedat.fu-berlin.de.