Research interests: Medieval literature, especially narrative and Latin; education (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic), poetics, and literary criticism and theory in the Middle Ages; folktales and popular culture in medieval sources, especially Latin; Latin-vernacular relations
Jan Ziolkowski (born November 17, 1956; A.B. summa cum laude Princeton University, 1977; Ph.D. University of Cambridge, 1982) has focused his research and teaching on the literature and culture of the Latin Middle Ages. Within medieval literature his special interests have included such areas as the classical tradition, the grammatical and rhetorical tradition in particular ("Literary Theory and Criticism in the Middle Ages"), the appropriation of folktales into Latin, Germanic epic in Latin language, and the postmedieval reception of the Middle Ages.
A faculty member at Harvard since 1981, he has chaired the Department of Comparative Literature and the Committee on Medieval Studies, in addition to (fleetingly) the Department of the Classics. In the early 1980s he founded the Medieval Studies Seminar, which continues to hold regular meetings in the Barker Center that are open to the public. He served three stints as chair of Comparative Literature. From 2007 to 2020, he directed Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, a Harvard center for the humanities and arts in Washington, D.C., with programs in Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, and Garden and Landscape studies. That long stretch taught him much about those fields of studies, but perhaps even more about Harvard as an institution.
In his teaching Ziolkowski offers courses now mainly in Classics (Medieval Latin) and in Medieval 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 monograph on intellectual history (Alan of Lille's Grammar of Sex: The Meaning of Grammar to a Twelfth-Century Intellectual), one 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.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century he spearheaded 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 brought into print 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 published by Yale University Press in 2008. Additional material is available on the website for the book: Virgilian Tradition.
A further team project from the same period 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 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 his own 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 Odes as 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.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Ziolkowski focused on three major projects.
First, he founded the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) and oversaw it from 2010-2020. DOML is a much younger sibling to the Loeb Classical Library, a somewhat more youthful one than the I Tatti Renaissance Library. Now comprehending more than sixty volumes, DOML, published by Harvard University Press, presents texts from the Middle Ages facing translations into modern English. The subseries include Byzantine Greek, Medieval Latin, Old English, and (in gestation) medieval Iberia. To this series he contributed half of one volume from 2011, Satires of Sextus Amarcius and Eupolemius. Recently he returned to his earliest engagement as an editor by re-editing and translating Nigel of Canterbury, Miracles of the Virgin. This is a second collaborative venture with Ronald E. Pepin, who has put into English for their forthcoming DOML volume the same medieval writer’s Tract on Abuses. To flank the text-and-translation book, Ziolkowski has in press a fullscale commentary on the Miracles in Supplements to DOML, a series published by Dumbarton Oaks.
Second, he collaborated with his colleague in Classics at Harvard, Richard F. Thomas, to produce The Virgil Encyclopedia, published by Wiley-Blackwell in 2014. These three volumes offer the first comprehensive reference work in English on the oeuvre of the great Roman poet and their influence down to the present day. The Encyclopedia was for Ziolkowski a complement to both Nota Bene and The Virgilian Tradition in the aspiration to bridge classical antiquity and later eras, especially the European Middle Ages, through reception studies.
The efforts directed to Virgil had their medieval complement in work on Dante Alighieri. In 2014, Ziolkowski edited Dante and the Greeks, in Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Humanities (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Publications, 2014). His introduction leads into a dozen chapters by Dantists, medievalists, and Byzantinists. In 2015 his Dante and Islam, previously a special issue of Dante Studies, was reprinted as the inaugural volume in the series Dante’s World: Historicizing Literary Cultures of the Due and Trecento (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015). The two Dante books offered opportunities to bring into communication fields that at that point were still largely separate.
Third, Ziolkowski completed a project to investigate a single medieval story, known both as The Jongleur of Notre Dame and as Our Lady’s Tumble, its reception in modern culture from 1873 to the present day, and its place more broadly in modern revivals of the Middle Ages, especially in Gothic architecture. Entitled The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity, this monograph comprises six volumes. All are available free as PDFs as well as for purchases in cloth, paperback, and e-Pub forms:
With nearly twelve hundred illustrations, this book pursues leads and offers findings relevant to such fields and disciplines as medieval studies, medievalism, philology, literary history, art history, folklore, performance studies, and reception studies. Its overarching objectives are to demonstrate the interrelatedness of past and present, Europe and United States, and humanities and arts.
As an outgrowth from the research, Ziolkowski curated an exhibition at Dumbarton Oaks, that ran through early March of 2019. Entitled “Juggling the Middle Ages,” it included more than 100 objects. It was flanked by publications directed at a larger public, to which he has contributed prefaces, forewords, or afterwords, and which he has translated. These include two versions of a short story by Anatole France, one from 1906 with Ziolkowski’s translation on facing pages and one from 1924 solely in translation; a coloring book; and a reprint of Barbara Cooney’s The Little Juggler from 1961. This foursome is distributed by Harvard University Press.
Available through the Museum Shop of Dumbarton Oaks are two additional items, the exhibition catalogue, Juggling the Middle Ages, written and edited by Jan M. Ziolkowski and Alona Bach (now available for consultation freely online), and a reprint of José María Souvirón, El juglarcillo de la Virgen, illustrated by Roser Bru, from 1942. Last but not least is Max Bolliger, Jacob the Juggler, Based on a French Legend from the Thirteenth Century, illustrated by Štěpán Zavřel (Trieste, Italy: bohem press Italia, 2018).
In the third decade of the twentieth century, Ziolkowski has been devoting part of his time to extending (and concluding) major earlier projects. Volumes have already been mentioned on Nigel of Canterbury in DOML and Supplements to DOML. Additionally, he has coming into print Solomon and Marcolf: Vernacular Traditions. This compendium, with translations by divers hands, will be published as Harvard Studies in Medieval Latin 4. Finally, he has under consideration Reading the Juggler of Notre Dame: Medieval Miracles and Modern Remakings, to make available in English primary sources that facilitate engagement with the medieval poem and its modern derivatives that were a major focus of his efforts a few years ago.
Watching with fascination the cultural politics and university dynamics that have developed lately, he is proceeding with all due caution in research and writing on the Waltharius and its reception down to the present. This many-pronged project entails multiple hazards, despite centering as it does on something as recondite as an early Medieval Latin epic. The investigation leads into such categories, now deeply fraught, as the Middle Ages, Latin and classics, and Germanic heroism. Fortunately, his family history has prepared him for at least some of the threats posed by latter-day brownshirts and Bolsheviks. Though his scholarship deals with the suddenly controverted categories of European literature, foreign languages, and the medieval past, he hopes all the same that what he produces will not be frowned upon by everyone. In fact, he dares even to dream that this work may find a welcome from international if not national or local interlocutors long from now once he sees into print. Fingers crossed!
Medieval Latin at Harvard
Undergraduates may specialize in Medieval Latin as a degree option within Classics. 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.
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, associate professor at Indiana University; Justin Lake, associate professor at Texas A&M; Justin Stover, lecturer in Medieval Latin at the University of Edinburgh; David Ungvary, assistant professor at Bard College; and Julian Yolles, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Southern Denmark. In bygone decades Comparative Literature, though it never had an explicitly labeled "medieval track," attracted and accepted numerous medievalists who elected Medieval Latin as either their major literature or one of their minors. Committees such as “Folklore and Mythology” and “Medieval Studies” do not admit and fund graduate students, but they can enrich and certify programs. At the undergraduate level they offer opportunities as a concentration and secondary field, respectively.
Resources for Research
As everyone realizes, the world, United States, and Harvard are changing fast. For four decades Ziolkowski participated with wholehearted enthusiasm and loyalty in the academic community in Cambridge. He sought to build bridges between fields, individuals, and groups. Collaborative projects mattered immensely to him. That was then, this is now. The current arts and humanities environment has brought home instead the prudence of aloofness. Even so, he remains as passionately committed as ever to serving students who are attracted to areas of mutual interest. He has also been a great fan of the Harvard College Library, with its marvelous resources in printed materials, electronic databases, and manuscript holdings. In all cases, he has directed his efforts as a comparatist, Latinist, and medievalist toward the increase and dissemination of knowledge. Within the humanities, his ultimate concern has been to appreciate individual human beings and their self-expression in the arts, especially texts.