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The Art of Speech. The Episcopal Promotion of the Trivium in Early Medieval Italy

A Newton International Fellowship Project run by Dr Giorgia Vocino

A Newton International Fellowship Project run by Dr Giorgia Vocino

Bishops in early medieval Europe were prominent public office-holders settling disputes, preaching, teaching, negotiating peace and counselling. Perpetuating the classical tradition, the exercise of their functions required eloquence: bishops needed to be masters of speech if they wanted to be listened to, to engage the audience and lead it to accept their arguments.Vocino 1

The Art of Speech project delivers an original, interdisciplinary exploration of the role played by bishops in the promotion of the trivium – grammar, dialectic and rhetoric – necessary for the training of an eloquent speaker. It does so by following an innovative double-layered methodology focusing on written records hinting at the episcopal interest in these disciplines and the evidence offered by manuscripts related to their teaching.

Early medieval northern Italy – a region where the classical tradition of eloquence was successfully maintained – provides the geographical and chronological framework for the project. Italian bishops were particularly held in great esteem by their contemporaries for their mastery of speech, a means they could also use to shift the balance of power in their favour, even when facing major political actors such as emperors and kings in the highly-charged politics of ninth- and tenth-century Italy.

A significant group of Italian ninth- and tenth-century manuscripts used to teach the trivium, which has so far received little attention from cultural historians, forms the core of this research. Bringing together different subjects ranging from the history of ideas to linguistics, the Art of Speech project sheds new light on the promotion and implementation of the training necessary for the exercise of the most crucial duties of bishops: to read correctly, expound and understand Holy Scripture, appropriately channelling its universal message and, through admonition and advice, successfully lead the community of the faithful on the path to salvation.



Image: Scherrer Gustav, Verzeichniss der Handschriften der Stiftsbibliothek von St. Gallen, Halle 1875, S. 318-319.