Research interests:  Medieval Latin literature, especially narrative; education (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic), poetics, and literary criticism and theory in the Middle Ages; folktales and popular culture in medieval Latin sources; Latin-vernacular relations.

Jan Ziolkowski (A.B. Princeton University, Ph.D. University of Cambridge) has focused his research and teaching on the literature of the Latin Middle Ages. Within medieval literature his special interests have included such areas as the classical tradition in general, the grammatico-rhetorical tradition in particular ("Literary Theory and Criticism in the Middle Ages"), the appropriation of folktales into Latin, and Germanic epic in Latin language. At Harvard he has chaired the Department of Comparative Literature and the Committee on Medieval Studies, in addition to (fleetingly) the Department of the Classics. He founded the Medieval Studies Seminar, which continues to hold regular meetings in the Barker Center that are open to the public. In his teaching he offers courses mainly in Classics (Medieval Latin) and in Medieval Studies. Currently he also directs Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, a Harvard center in Washington, D.C., with programs in Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, and Garden and Landscape studies.


Ziolkowski has written roughly a hundred articles and around sixty book reviews. In books, his older ones encompass critical editions of Medieval Latin texts (such as The Cambridge Songs;Jezebel: A Norman Latin Poem of the Early Eleventh Century; and two of poetry by Nigel of Canterbury), a book on intellectual history (Alan of Lille's Grammar of Sex: The Meaning of Grammar to a Twelfth-Century Intellectual), a book on literary history (talking animals: medieval Latin beast poetry), and collections of essays written by himself and others (On Philology and Obscenity: Social Control and Artistic Creation in the European Middle Ages).

His side interest in the history of scholarship is evidenced in the introductions he has written for the 1993 Princeton University Press reprint of Erich Auerbach's Literary Language and its Public and the 1998 reprint of Domenico Comparetti's Vergil in the Middle Ages. He also translated an essay by Auerbach that was included as an appendix to the 2003 (fiftieth-anniversary) edition of Mimesis.

Over the past decade he has been involved in three collaborative translation projects. The first of the three, The Medieval Craft of Memory: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, coedited by Mary Carruthers, was published in hardcover in 2002 and came into paperback in 2004. He edited an English translation of Dag Norberg's Introduction to the Study of Medieval Latin Versification, which was published in cloth and paper by Catholic University of America Press in 2004. This analysis and interpretation of Medieval Latin versification remains the standard work on the subject. Finally, a very large anthology of Latin texts and English translations on The Vergilian Tradition: The First Fifteen Hundred Years, coedited with Michael C.J. Putnam, was printed by Yale University Press in 2008. Additional material is available on the website for the book: Virgilian Tradition. For the headword list of The Virgil Encyclopedia, to be published by Wiley-Blackwell, that Richard Thomas and he are coediting, see: The Virgil Encyclopedia.

A final team project was A Garland of Satire, Wisdom, and History: Latin Verse from Twelfth-Century France (Carmina Houghtoniensia), which inaugurated in 2007 the series of Houghton Library Studies, distributed by Harvard University Press. It included the work of three former graduate students, two of them Ph.D.-recipients in Medieval Latin philology.

In 2008 Ziolkowski initiated Harvard Studies in Medieval Latin. The initial volume in this new series, also distributed by Harvard University Press, is an edition and translation with commentary that he produced himself and that bears the title Solomon and Marcolf. Another volume of translations, with introductions and notes, was published by Catholic University of America Press in 2008, under the title Letters of Peter Abelard, Beyond the Personal. This volume presents in English all the letters and letter-like texts by Peter Abelard that do not form part of the famous "personal" letters exchanged by Heloise and him.

Among other large projects is a book entitled Nota Bene: Reading Classics and Writing Songs in the Early Middle Ages, which appeared as Publications of the Journal of Medieval Latin 7 in 2007. Between the late tenth century and the late twelfth century, the musical notation known as neumes was provided in dozens of manuscripts for, among other texts, many of Horace's Odesas well as for sections of epics by Vergil, Statius, and Lucan. This study seeks to determine why these texts were chosen and how, where, when, and by whom they were sung. Another book,Fairy Tales From Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Past of Wonderful Lies, published by University of Michigan Press in 2007, sketches the complex connections that existed in the Middle Ages between oral folktales and their written equivalents, by examining specific Medieval Latin texts and the expressions of the same tales in the "classic" fairy tale collections of the nineteenth century.

Medieval Latin at Harvard

Undergraduates in Classics may specialize in Medieval Latin as a degree option. Concentrators in History and Literature, Literature, and Folklore and Mythology sometimes make Medieval Latin a formal component in their degrees. Of course, pursuing a degree or other formal accreditation in Medieval Latin is by no means required of students who are interested in the field. After two terms of college Latin or the equivalent, students may take Latin Bam "Latin Prose Selections (Late Antique and Medieval)" and Latin Bbm "Introduction to Latin Poetry (Late Antique and Medieval)." Other courses at the 100-level or above (such as "Wisdom and Learning" and "The Cambridge Songs") are open to students who have studied more Latin.

At one time or another graduate students in more than ten different humanities departments and programs at Harvard have incorporated Medieval Latin into their general examinations and/or their dissertations. Although Medieval Studies at Harvard is decentralized, the community is strong at all levels (undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and librarians). Links between the Committee on Medieval Studies and the Department of the Classics have been particularly numerous and strong in both Latin and Greek. Since the time of the late Herbert Bloch, Classics has had a Ph.D. program in Medieval Latin philology. Graduates have included Marc Laureys, who heads the seminar for Medieval Latin and Neo-Latin philology at the University of Bonn in Germany; Bridget Balint, assistant professor at Indiana University; and Justin Lake, assistant professor at Texas A&M. Comparative Literature, although it does not have an explicitly labeled "medieval track," has attracted and accepted a number of medievalists who have included Medieval Latin as either their major literature or one of their minors.

Resources for Research

Ziolkowski is very enthusiastic not just about the people in the Harvard community but also about the Harvard College Library, with its marvelous resources in printed materials and electronic databases. For a sense of the Library's holdings in general, conduct a sample search or two in the electronic catalog HOLLIS. For information on paper and electronic research materials in Medieval Latin (such as dictionaries), consult "Inter Libros: Gateway to Classics and Medieval Studies Research at Harvard." For a sampling of the manuscript holdings in Houghton Library, visit "Digital Medieval Manuscripts at Houghton Library."