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The Seven Sages of Rome Revisited. What a medieval bestseller can tell us about power, wisdom and gender

Oxford Byzantine historian Ida Toth has won a prestigious Einstein BUA/Oxford Visiting Fellowship. Together with Jutta Eming from the Freie Universität Berlin she will look at one of the most widely distributed pre-modern collections of stories to offer unique insights into the human past, cultural diversity, and intercultural communication.

News from Jan 16, 2024

Their joint project, ‘The Seven Sages of Rome Revisited: Striving for an Alternative Literary History’ is a collaborative and comparative philological, literary, and cultural analysis to reassess and redefine the traditional approach to one of the most popular and least studied works of pre-modern world literature. 

The Seven Sages of Rome is one of the most influential works of the Middle Ages. This pre-modern global bestseller generated a vast amount of primary material in over thirty languages and with hundreds of manuscripts and early printed editions. Eming and Toth are particularly interested in looking how central themes – wisdom, power, gender – shift and change as these stories cross national and cultural boundaries. 

One of the many versions of the Seven Sages of Rome is set at the court of the emperor Pontiatus. His son, Diocletian, is tempted by his stepmother, the queen but rebuffs her. She accuses him of attempting to rape her and tells stories to get her husband to exact vengeance. Diocletian’s life is saved by seven wise men who in turn are telling stories portraying the wickedness of women to discredit the stepmother. These stories were so popular that nearly every European country had its own translation.

 

Ida Toth is University Research Lecturer in Medieval Latin, Byzantine Greek and Byzantine Epigraphy at Wolfson College, University of Oxford

Jutta Eming is the Director of the Institute of German and Dutch Languages and Literatures at Freie Universität Berlin

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