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Greek in the West: The Medieval Papacy and the Western Translation Projects

Réka Forrai, Central European University, Summer Fellow 2008

My research on Greek-Latin medieval translations is a two-sided coin, and the Dumbarton Oaks library offered me an overwhelmingly full coverage of sources and readings (in both traditional and electronic formats) for all issues connected to the Greek side of this coin.

The involvement of the papacy in the translation activities from Greek to Latin throughout the Middle Ages is a bold statement to be thoroughly qualified. The different case studies and their place in the general picture were one of my main concerns at Dumbarton Oaks.

First, I carried out essential background research on the historical context of the phenomenon of papal patronage of translation projects. I have made progress especially in the field of papal-Byzantine relations throughout the centuries, in its many dimensions: political, ecclesiastical, theological, and cultural. I have done readings on the major ecclesiastical and political conflicts, on ecumenical councils, on diplomatic activities, on the impact of crusades on cultural interaction, on mendicant presence in the East, on Greek scholars traveling to the West, and the way all these elements fueled or hindered the unfolding of translation activities.

Second, I have sketched several of my case studies to be presented. I have drafted short profiles of the translators and popes involved. I have investigated the textual history of groups of Greek manuscripts with special relevance to medieval translation projects, such as the manuscripts used by Burgundio of Pisa and William of Moerbeke, but also, in a broader context, the knotty problem of the presence of Greek manuscripts in southern Italy.

By the end of my stay, a preliminary structure of the whole research also took shape. I have worked out a sensible periodization which is meaningful for the organization of my data. I have also tried to address some of the methodologically challenging problems of my project, such as maintaining the coherence of my argument without falling into the error of claiming a continuous and uniform papal policy throughout the period covered.