FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en SHS

The letter in the Iberic peninsula and in the Latin West: heritages and transformations of a literary genre (IVth-XIth centuries) – Epistola

EPISTOLA. The Letter in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin West. Legacy and Alteration of a Literary Genre (4th-11th c.)

From the Late Empire, the epistolary genre experienced a revival, especially under the influence of Christianity. This literary genre, inherited from Antiquity, diversified and experiences a protean transformation. Although it was the object of many literary studies, it remained undervalued in historical research, especially the Late Antiquity and Middle Ages.

Uniting and stimulating research on epistola in a transdisciplinary and cross-national perspective.

The Latin Iberian Peninsula is characterised by the variety of the correspondence exchanged, substantial contacts with other parts of the Christian West, and issues raised by its cultural originality. These qualities provide an excellent platform for an investigation on epistolary practices.<br />The programme EPISTOLA pursues two goals: firstly, the presentation, edition and translation of various epistolary corpuses which are still relatively unknown, and difficult to access; secondly, a better understanding of the success of the epistolary genre in space, society and time.<br />From a thematic point of view, our research does not deal with the political dimension of the letter, which was already studied, in the broader context of the entire Eastern and Western Middle Ages, in the series of conferences on «Political Epistle« organised by Bruno Dumézil and Laurent Vissière. However, other forms of power will be of interest, including ecclesiastical power, and therefore the relationship between politics and religion.<br />Three main topics guide the research (and each of the three yearly international conferences planned):<br />1/ Style and rhetoric. In a literary perspective, the study of utterance should not be separated from that of enunciation; in short, contents and container have to be analysed together.<br />2/ Transmission and tradition context. The transmission and tradition of letters both testify to their importance. Indeed, they are part of a trade which sometimes is far beyond them. This raises the whole issue of the reception and scope of letters, including their falsification.<br />3/ Epistolary practices. Finally, the letter must be contextualised in its historical environment, in order to acquire a better understanding of epistolary practices in relation to cultural, social, religious and political stakes of the time. The epistola truly is at the crossroads of ancient, pagan and Christian heritage, and of new developments which explain its prodigious growth.<br />

Our work is focused on four main areas, involving the important task of editing epistolary corpuses.
1/ Many of these letters are only known from old editions, sometimes inaccurate and hard to access. Thus, several letter writers from the Visigothic Spain remain poorly understood, even though their letters are primary historical sources.
2/ Epistolary style and rhetorical processes. Following an ancient tradition, free style can express feelings in order to overcome distance. The letter may also develop a particular rhetoric and become an instrument of power and a tool of war. From a stylistic point of view, the letter remains attached to a certain form, inherited from Antiquity, which gave rise to medieval diplomatics.
3/ Transmission and tradition of the letter. The very existence of epistolary exchange depends partly on the context, inasmuch as letters may suffer communication problems. But our knowledge of this correspondence also depends heavily on its conservation. By studying the epistolary tradition, it is possible to uncover the existence of collections or compilations of correspondence. Their analysis allows us to better understand how letters were incorporated and their cultural influence. Finally, study of the manuscript tradition includes the study of possible document falsification.
4/ Epistolary practices. Because of its exchange function, the letter is highly dependent on its context of development and is at the heart of social relations. There are many epistolary practices, and their analysis can be done only through a joint study of the container and the contents. Indeed, the letter does not only disclose issues of power: it is also an actor among them.

This work is organised around thematic seminars: «Isidore« (Poitiers), «Visigothic Epistolography« (Madrid), «The Diplomatic Letter« (Madrid), «Papal Letters« (Erlangen) and «Mozarab and Carolingian Epistolography« (Erlangen). From their own sources, members of these seminars reflect on the definition of their corpuses, the terms of the text editing (objectives, selection of the manuscripts, variants, classification of the letters, etc), the editorial challenges settled by such a protean genre, and the reasons explaining its success.
Thus, these seminars include the preparation of three international conferences set in Poitiers («The epistolary genre: definitions and related genres«), Erlangen («Tradition, transmission and communication«) and Madrid («The Letter in its social environment«).
Finally, all the material necessary to a new edition of the epistolary corpuses, as well as their analysis and, when it is suitable, their translation, is gathered in a database.

EPISTOLA creates essential connections with other research programmes dealing with similar topics. Thus, the ‘Centre d’Etudes sur l’Antiquité Rémanente’ (part of the ‘Equipe d'Accueil 173 CEMA, Centre d'Etudes du Moyen Age’), supervised by Christiane Veyrard-Cosme, is linked to EPISTOLA. Moreover, EPISTOLA is associated with the programme initiated by Bruno Dumézil and Laurent Vissière on «Politic Epistle in the Middle Ages«.

Several publications are planned: a regesta of Papal epistolary documents, 4th c.-711 (planned publisher: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht), five critical editions, some with translation: Letters of Isidore (planned publisher: Les Belles Lettres); Letters of Licinius, Recarred, Quiricus of Barcelona and Ildefonsus of Toledo (planned publisher: Brepols); Epistolae wisigothicae (planned publisher: Le Cerf); Correspondence around the Adoptianist quarrel (planned publisher: Le Cerf) ; an anthology of Papal correspondence of the 11th c. (planned publisher: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft).
The Casa de Velázquez will also publish the proceedings from the three international conferences of Poitiers («The epistolary genre: definitions and related genres«), Erlangen («Tradition, transmission and communication«) and Madrid («The Letter in its social environment«).
Individual research projects developed by members of the thematic seminars will also result in the publication of two monographies, about ‘Letters and canonical collections, 5th-7th c.’ (seminars «Papal Letters« and «The Diplomatic Letter«) and ‘Epistolography and intercultural communication in the Iberian Peninsula (8th-XIth c.)’ (seminar «Mozarab and Carolingian Epistolography«).

Since the Late Roman Empire, epistolary genre had a revival, in particular because of Christianity. This literary genre, inherited from Antiquity, diversified and became a protean genre. If it benefits from numerous literary studies, it remains to grant it all its place in historical research. Besides new editions, we have to do new translations and a vast work of textual criticism and contextualisation of this historical source, so as to understand better its peculiar logics, its big ductility and its political, religious and social importance. It’s a good thing to begin this work with the Iberic peninsula, because of the quality and the variety of its correspondence, its contacts with other western kingdoms and its cultural originality – which sets it apart very sharply from the frankish world. So this French-German project intends to federate and to speed up the works on epistola in a multidisciplinary and transnational approach, gathering mainly German, French and Spanish researchers. These planned studies will concern text’s editions, translations, philological and historical analysis. Three long periods are concerned: a long late Antiquity extended as far as 711 (we pay a special attention to the Visigothic kingdom); the Carolingian period and its adoptianist quarrel; and the break provoked by the Gregorian reformation. Besides the exchanges during research missions, all meetings during theses three years will be French-German. This project will result in the realization of papal letters ‘regesta’, the edition of five corpus of sources (increased by studies), and moreover, the publication of two monographs and of papers delivered during three symposiums.

Project coordination

Thomas DESWARTE (Autre établissement d’enseignement supérieur)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 339,986 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2012 - 36 Months

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