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The Papacy and the Spread of Greek Learning in the Medieval West

Réka Forrai, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, Fellow 2010–2011

The aim of my project was to investigate the papacy’s role in spreading Greek culture to the Latin West from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries, from the reign of Gregory the Great to Boniface VIII. Specifically, I looked at the cultural policies of the medieval papacy and their effect on the formation of Greek textual canons in the West. I was primarily concerned with censorship and the creation of canons. The medieval papacy took an active role in filtering both pagan science and eastern religiosity, whether the Aristotelian canon, ancient medical corpora, ecclesiastical historiography, hagiography, or theological documents. Texts were used strategically to build a cultural identity: appropriation of items of the Greek legacy via translation is governed by a rivalry with Byzantium. Claiming the role of mediator between Latin and Greek culture also reflects an anxiety for cultural control over Latin literary production. Translations served as spiritual weapons not only against the East, but also in competition with Western politico-cultural entities, such as the royal courts of Europe. Translation is a strategic site from which institutions can control the impact of other cultures on their own and can implicitly shape the cultural identity of their community. The canonization of a body of texts limits contact between cultures to the segment desired by the regularizing institution. Unsurprisingly, the earliest occurrences of papal censorship concern translations. As Greek culture was perceived as both authoritative and threatening at the same time, patronage as a way of control was of primary interest for the papacy.