Binding the world, withholding life: Poetry Books in the Medieval Mediterranean

Nowadays, established traditions and criteria rule the process of compiling poetry books. But what was the awareness that ruled these processes in the Middle Ages? This is the topic of the workshop. The broad question is what idea of poetry and poetry books can be gleaned from this process. Is gathering just a necessity, or does it conceal a conscious poetic message? If conscious, what role does the physicality of the manuscript play for the poetic unit?

Medieval poetry books can be either multi-authorial anthologies or single-authorial collections, and many are the ways in which those poetic books could have been formed. Poems of different authors could have been selected around a common theme, or with a chronological criterion; authorial collections could be made by authors themselves, their students, or other members of their circle. These books could contain a macrostructure and, therefore, an overarching narrative; they could reflect a specific time of the author’s activity or summarise a life-long production. The way poems were arranged in ‘big containers’ and transmitted directly affected their readership, reception and their current literary status.

From the perspective of literary theory, the arrangement in medieval manuscripts opens an array of crucial questions: the relationship between the single poem and the poetry book, the way – supposedly different – in which long and shorter compositions were treated and the correspondence between its parts. Furthermore, how much was the idea of a single-thematic unit present in the minds of the compilers? Was this book to be read cover to cover, or something to read out or perform with music? And how does the layout of poetry, including the absence of those defining blanks, impact the reader’s experience?

Within this framework, the workshop focuses on the circulation of poems in the medieval Mediterranean, which is used as a case study to explore medieval literature.

The event is part of the activities of the TORCH Network Poetry in the Medieval World.

Date: 31st May 2024

Venue: Exeter College, FitzHugh Auditorium, Walton St, Oxford OX1 2HG and online.

Registration is required for online participation. For details and the registration link, see

Convenors: Ugo Mondini (University of Oxford) and Alberto Ravani (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Speakers: Marisa Galvez (Stanford University), Niels Gaul (The University of Edinburgh), Marlé Hammond (SOAS University of London), Adriano Russo (École française de Rome)


Friday, 31st May 2024

9:45 a.m. Registration
10:15 a.m. Welcoming address
Barney Taylor (Sub-rector, Exeter College)
Marc D. Lauxtermann (Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages)
Ugo Mondini (Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages)
Alberto Ravani (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
10:30 a.m. First Session
Chair: Marina Bazzani (Faculty of Classics)
  Marisa Galvez (Stanford University) – From Chansonniers to Whole-World Poetics: The Poetry Book as a Mode of Worlding
11:15 a.m. Coffee break
11:30 a.m. Adriano Russo (École française de Rome) – Between Chaos and Order: Dynamics of Formation of Medieval Latin Verse Collections
12:15 p.m. Lunch
2:30 p.m. Second Session
Chair: TBD
  Niels Gaul (University of Edinburgh) – Byzantine ‘Poetry Books’: From Embers and Sparks of Classicising Learning to Tokens of Literati Self-Fashioning?
3:15 p.m. Coffee Break
3:30 p.m. Marlé Hammonds (SOAS) – Mapping Verses: Ibn Saʿīd al-Maghribī’s Poetic Geographies
4:15 p.m. Concluding remarks and discussion followed by drinks
  Dinner for the speakers