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23.08.13 Yolles, Making the East Latin

23.08.13 Yolles, Making the East Latin

Inspired by historians such as Adrian Boas, Benjamin Kedar, Charles Burnett, and Jaroslav Folda who reexamined long-held assumptions about cultural contacts in the Middle East, several recent books by Laura Morreale and Nicholas Paul, Uri Zvi Shachar, Jonathan Rubin, and now Julian Yolles have sought to shift the emphasis away from treating the Levant as a proto-colonial intellectual and cultural backwater to recharacterizing what European contemporaries called Outremer as an important locus for cultural exchange and the synergistic creation of new forms of Latin and vernacular literature and artistic production. As these scholars have noted, the arrival of a host of crusaders, many originating from northern Europe, into the Mediterranean and the resulting establishment of the “crusader states” forced “settlers and their descendants” to construct “a shared identity, often in response to and in opposition to other Levantine communities,” partly via “the creation of a Latin literary tradition” (3). The unique contribution of Yolles’ work lies in his emphasis on Latin as an adopted hallmark of identity. He therefore focuses on a crucial formative period (1099-1187) before French and other vernaculars engaged in creative experimentation as literary languages in the thirteenth century on the “peripheries of the Francophone world” (3, 6, 12), and before the rise of the mendicant orders and the systematic encroachment of Latin crusaders and settlers into regions formerly in the direct possession of the Byzantine empire (14-15).

Yolles convincingly demonstrates that, as a unifying written and secondarily acquired language for cultures with varying spoken vernaculars, Latin became key to establishing a common identity as “Latin” Christians Outremer, a function it had already served in Europe for centuries (3), and that Arabic served in other regions of the world. Dialogic exchanges between western European and Levantine artistic traditions also generated a “coherent Latin literary tradition that both drew on and resisted” European and Levantine cultures and religions (11, 13). European settlers had to rationalize the choice of Latin as a unifying language employed in diverse contexts (commerce, administration, law, governance, worship) to speak to portions of the Levantine populace and create “literary communities” (4-5, 9). This creative process was driven internally by authorial strategies but also externally by “textual traditions, social and political circumstances, and institutional networks” (14), resulting in the creation of “a distinctive and coherent Latin literary tradition,” as authors who spoke different European vernaculars employed various literary, cultural, and religious components of “Latin tell narratives about themselves, their institutions...their place in the Levant and their relation to the rest of the Latin world” (10, 13). Specific chapters speak to the origins of Levantine Latin literature in the aftermath of the First Crusade; the works of Fulcher of Chartres and William of Tyre; identity formation in communities of regular canons; and Antioch’s role as an intellectual entrepȏt. A useful appendix follows the modus operandi of Jonathan Rubin in categorizing texts (including histories, poems, liturgy, hagiography, sermons, pilgrim guides, polemical works, and treatises on the history, geography, and religions of Holy Land) according to the likelihood of their composition in the Latin east (227-238); both Yolles’ and Rubin’s catalogs will eventually be subsumed by the European Research Council funded GRAPH EAST project coordinated by E. Ingrand Varenne (227 n1).

Although Yolles stresses the creation of a “Levantine Latinity,” his opening chapter on the sheer variety of linguistic forms Outremer acknowledges that while European settlers invested in an infrastructure to support education in Latin by means of schools, libraries, patronage, and manuscript production, hybridity was also key in certain contexts, including manuscript production (32). For example, some Latin rulers chose to employ Greek or Arabic inscriptions on their coins, perhaps because coinage circulated both within and between cultures, whereas liturgies, seals, and laws, because they represented a fragile Latinate identity and authority, were written almost exclusively in Latin even when drawing on Byzantine and Muslim customs (17-18, 20-21). This delicate dance between tradition and innovation extended to the genres in which Levantine Latin survives: more straightforward prose narratives are joined by category-defying pieces such as hybrid prose-poems (12). Moreover, Yolles finds that although Latin Levantine writing bears some similarities to Norman Sicily and other “frontier” societies in terms of some of the identity-building strategies used (such as hagiography and polemic), the Latin East, particularly cultural nodes such as Jerusalem, Acre, and Antioch, was central rather than peripheral due to its religious significance and proximity to Byzantine, Fatimid, and Abbasid cultural, religious, and political centers (45).

Participants in what became known as the First Crusade therefore felt the need to process and commemorate its undeniable results through the creation of “a new literary culture” (47). Among the first generation of these writers, Fulcher of Chartres appears to have drawn upon a sizable library when drafting a new history of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. His work combined the genres of royal chronicle and history of a chosen people to present the polyglot crusaders as a unified “people” forged from many (similar to the Israelite tribes of the Old Testament), and King Baldwin as Joshua ushering them into the Promised Land. Yolles notes that Fulcher’s attitude towards eastern Christian and Jewish communities was highly ambivalent; although Fulcher clearly used both for his history, he deliberately did not mention them openly as sources and preferred to position himself as an authority on the history and contemporary geography, natural environment, and cultures of the Holy Land by drawing on biblical and classical Latin sources (49, 52-53, 56-61, 66). Fulcher’s work nonetheless bears witness to a “hybrid Levantine Latin culture” (70) and crossed generic lines by rapidly influencing both liturgy and preaching in Jerusalem and the royal courts of France and Jerusalem; Fulcher’s history formed part of a widely copied codex gifted to Louis VII before his departure on crusade (78), while the Balduini III Historia repackaged Fulcher’s history within a classicizing framework for royal consumption (82-83).

Several Latin communities of regular canons in Jerusalem and Hebron similarly employed shared rhetorical strategies and literary motifs to create institutional identities and negotiate relationships with secular and spiritual powers (86). The community of canons inhabiting the Templum Domini (Dome of the Rock) faced particular challenges. The Templum Domini had been looted by Tancred and, as the presumed site of the Jewish Temple and recently active site of Muslim worship, was a locus for ambivalent symbolism and competing claims to holiness. Their abbot, Geoffrey, responded by appropriating the Maccabees and Josephus to address prior sieges of Jerusalem and previous desecrations of the Temple, thereby presenting his canons as a reformed community worthy of patronage and the Templum Domini as deserving of restoration and veneration as the spiritual navel of Jerusalem (90, 112-113, 123). The canons at Hebron turned to the trusty genres of discovery (inventio) and translation of relics to highlight their possession of the remains of the patriarchs (113-114). Similar to Geoffrey, they emphasized Muslim and Jewish veneration as proof of their site’s holiness and authenticity. Despite the competing claims of the Holy Sepulchre and the fact that both locations had been despoiled by crusaders, the canons positioned penitent Latins as superseding eastern Christian and Muslim claims to these sites (partly through Christian martyrdom), and both communities successfully earned inclusion in Latin pilgrim guides (118-120, 123-125).

In the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, although few Latin Christians interacted directly with Muslims, many did encounter eastern Christians, such that Latin impressions of Islam were often filtered through eastern Christian perceptions of and attacks on it (8, 128). However, in Antioch, at least some Latin Christians such as Stephen the Philosopher, albeit reliant on Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians (Melkites) as translators between Greek, Arabic, and Latin, sought access to the “truth of the Arabs” (174). Partly because Antioch was inhabited by multiple Christianities, Latin writers embarked on ambitious projects ranging from historiography to cosmography, medicine, exegesis, polemic, and debate (127). In order to compete in Antioch’s diverse literary and religious climate, Latin authors weaponized “Latin classroom” rhetorical skills and learning and engaged more directly and extensively with other intellectual and religious communities, particularly the Greeks. Some, like Stephen, recognized the deficiencies of Latinate learning and tried to supplement it with other traditions to position themselves as experts (138-139). Anxieties over divisions in Christianity sparked a Latin interest in religious reform and debate unequaled in the Kingdom of Jerusalem before the thirteenth century (145, 155-156, 175). One surviving polemical work, the “Adelphus” narrative, which Yolles reclaims for the Levantine Latin context, dealt with the history of Islam while also attacking the Greeks. The narrative initiated a combative trend continued by two Latin ecclesiastics, Gerard of Nazareth and Aimery of Limoges, who wrote learned Latin polemics against Greek Orthodox claims in doctrine and praxis (159). Although largely tolerant of the Maronites, Armenians, and Michael Rabbo, patriarch of the West Syrian church, Aimery seems to have viewed the Greeks as prime competitors, perhaps leading him to emulate Peter the Venerable in assembling a corpus of texts in translation to be used as the basis for a polemical treatise (167-169,179-180). Despite or perhaps because of these controversies, Antioch quickly earned a reputation as an entrepȏt where western and eastern visitors could access Greek and Arabic texts and diverse Christian faith traditions (171-174).

No work on Outremer Latinate literature could ignore William of Tyre, whose historical work Yolles describes as the first truly extensive Levantine Latin literary project designed for both eastern and western audiences. Availing himself of the best of western European schooling, William returned to his homeland to seek ecclesiastical higher office. A “Levantine Einhard,” William portrayed the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem as a continuation of the Roman Empire, partly through depicting Heraclius and Charlemagne as proto-crusaders and the Latin kings of Jerusalem as protectors of the Holy Land (177, 182, 188, 210). However, although he utilized Josephus and classical texts, William also evinced a radically new acceptance of Arabic as a language capable of intellectual expression, one unusual in Latin historiography, that perhaps paved the way for the reevaluation of the capabilities of French as a literary language (199, 214-215). Despite the fact that William’s Arabic was severely limited, he may have had access to translated texts via Antioch and certainly collaborated with Arabic-speaking Christians (203), mining the writings of the Melkite Sa’id ibn Batriq for portions of his history (194). The close relationship between Byzantium and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem under Manuel Comnenus and Amalric may have influenced William’s attitude towards eastern Christians, which shifted according to diplomatic and political exigencies (210-211).

As Yolles so eloquently argues, the scholarly penchant for characterizing Levantine Latinity as the substandard product of a colonial periphery is completely baseless; in fact, there are multiple instances of Levantine Latin (and texts translated in the Levant) influencing western European Latin literature and learning (219). There is compelling evidence that some Levantine Latin works circulated widely in western Europe, including Fulcher of Chartres and Latin (and French) continuations of William of Tyre’s history. In fact, Yolles notes that almost all surviving Levantine Latin texts exist today because they were brought to western Europe at some point by travelers and/or pilgrims. Those texts that did not appeal to western tastes, such as William of Tyre’s history of Eastern rulers, are now lost (36-37). However, as Yolles stresses, the corpus of Levantine compositions will only increase as surviving fragments are identified, digitization projects progress, and the study of Byzantine Cyprus and the Latin Kingdom of Constantinople expands (39-42, 225). As he himself notes, the travel of texts occurred in both directions; as the booklist from the Church of Nazareth attests, texts were taken to and from the Latin East by travelers, settlers, and crusaders (and borrowed by heavy and eclectic library users such as the bishop of Sidon). The Nazareth library included a wide range of biblical commentaries, the deeds of the popes, heavy doses of Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, Anselm of Canterbury, and canon law texts including Ivo of Chartres, as well as classical Latin texts typically used in teaching grammar and rhetoric (29-31, 239-241). Some of these works could only have come from the West, perhaps in the same way that the newly elected bishop of Acre, Jacques de Vitry, brought books with him. We know, also, that Jacques’ colleague, Oliver of Paderborn, traveled to Antioch to consult eastern Christians there, and that his and Jacques de Vitry’s histories cite Fretellus, Josephus, William of Tyre, Fulcher of Chartres, and Peter Comestor, among other authors. Both men were aware of intellectual hubs in Acre, Antioch, and Jerusalem, as well as Baghdad and Alexandria. A world of rich connections and multidirectional exchanges therefore awaits those pursuing the paths of intellectual inquiry laid out by this fine first monograph. Both advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers will benefit from Yolles’ shifting of literary categories from “crusader” to “Levantine Latin” and his suggestions for further avenues of research.