§1st session (week 2 Tuesday 3rd May), 16:30-17:30 UK time

Victoria Downey (Durham)

'Vergilium cecinisse loquar pia munera Christi': Virgil, Proba, and Early Christian Scripture Beyond the Bible


The re-appropriation of Classical form and genre by Christian authors in late antiquity is often seen as a means of endowing Christian texts with authority by placing them alongside the works of the accepted Classical canon. However, authorisation through association with the Classical canon is not the only way in which Classical genres endowed Christian texts with an authoritative voice. The composition of biblical epics gave late antique authors the ability to compose texts that were able to speak with scriptural authority after the closing of the biblical canon.

In this paper I shall argue that the use of the classical epic genre (and more specifically the intertextual nature of the epyllion) endowed early biblical epics with scriptural authority. I shall use Faltonia Betitia Proba's Cento Vergilianus as a case study in order to discuss the way in which the epic genre allowed early Christian authors to place themselves alongside their biblical predecessors, and how this means of appropriating authority allowed biblical epics to hold a scriptural status despite their location outside of the biblical canon. By doing so, I shall demonstrate how the literature of early Christianity participated in a surprisingly flexible world of authoritative scriptural texts.

§2nd session (week 3, Tuesday 10th May) 16:30-17:30 UK time

Julie Chan (Oxford)

The Origin and Adaptation of the Tang Tale Du Zichun 杜子春


Returned from his pilgrimage, Xuanzang completed his travelogue Great Tang Records on the Western Regions. Scholars have attributed the origin of a Tang tale Du Zichun to Pool of the hero, an Indian legend found in his travelogue. The Tang tale was written by Li Fuyan, and it gained great success across time and space. Under its influence, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke wrote a faithful adaptation, Toshishun. While previous scholarship offers valuable interpretations of these stories’ endings, this paper re-examines the literary interactions among the Tang tale, its Indian origin, and Japanese adaptation. Compared to the sketchy account of Pool of the hero, the narratives of Du Zichun and

Toshishun are more elaborate and share multiple essential elements: an alchemist asked the protagonist to remain silent in a meditative journey, and the protagonist suffered from ordeals and reincarnated during the journey. This paper argues the course of the journey in Du Zichun and Toshishun is a confluence of Buddhist and Daoist conceptualizations of trial and transcendence. It further discusses these two

stories’ textual strategies of assimilating the Indian legend into a new literary environment in East Asia. On the other hand, the intercultural textual interaction sheds light on gender issues regarding the protagonists’ meditative journeys. Innovatively, the main character of Du Zichun experienced a gender switch in his reincarnation. However, Akutagawa notably removed the plot of gender switch from his adaptation. The comparative reading reveals how gender switch might alter the ulterior motive of these stories.

§3rd session (week 6, Tuesday 31st May) 16:30-17:30 UK time

Bogdan Draghici (Oxford) 

'All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full': Medieval Orthodoxies in contact

In 1171, “the eloquent doctor and the star of his generation”, Dionysius Bar Ṣalībī laid down his pen for the last time. One of the last Syriac representatives of the late antique Greek intellectual tradition – seemingly untouched by the discourse methods of Islamic philosophy and theology – Bar Ṣalībī produced an impressive corpus ranging from poetry to philosophical commentaries and theological treatises. During a period of increased cultural interactions with numerous neighbouring cultures, in an area of intense trade, Bar Ṣalībī develops a conservative, defensive, and inward-looking narrative.

Touching upon the topic of the importance of later polemical and heresiological treatises, my paper focuses on the unedited and untranslated treatise Against the Chalcedonians. Whilst this polemical text contains a wealth of information on matters Christological, liturgical, and socio-historical, I will primarily focus on Bar Ṣalībī’s development of a religious ethnology which aims to legitimize his own ethno-religious community against the Greek Chalcedonians and in relation to the image of a unified Miaphysite oikumene. In so doing, I will bring into discussion the author’s aims, relevance, and some methodological aspects primarily relating to New Philology.

§4th session  (week 7, Wednesday 8th June) 16:30-17:30 UK time

Trude Dijkstra (Warburg)

The 'Lettres Chinoises' (1739) of Jean-Baptise de Boyer

By the first half of the eighteenth century, European knowledge about China had become increasingly separated from first-hand source materials. The country came to embody either an exotic paradise or a centre of idolatry and human evil. Sinophilia, whereby China was presented as a mysterious and exotic world of enlightened despotism and sensual pleasures, typified by the dispassionate, inscrutable and morally superior mandarin, existed alongside a sinophobia directed at either Jesuit missionaries or the Chinese themselves.  This talk focuses on the first serialized edition of the Lettres Chinoises of Jean-Baptise de Boyer, marquis d’Argens', published by Pierre Paupie in The Hague in 1739 and considers its discussion of Chinese religion and philosophy, specifically its views on Confucius and those ‘literati’ following his teachings. The talk also examines how the material form of the epistolary journal shaped representations of China and how d’Argens held up a Chinese mirror for his European readers to reflect upon their own culture and society.  The Lettres Chinoises belongs to a literary genre of letters written by fictitious foreign travellers, in this case a Chinese visitor who expressed his opinions about his new life in Europe in letters to correspondent in Beijing, Moscow, Isfahan and Nagasaki. Indebted to such works as Giovanni-Paolo Marana’s L’esploratore turco (1684), Montesquieu's Lettres persanes (1721) and David Frassman’s Reisdende Chineser (1721-33), d’Argens’ five volumes were meant both to glamorize exotic foreigners and to satirize contemporary European social and religious customs. It did so in a genre that had only recently came into being, which combined a flexible epistolary structure with the format of established learned journals.