Programme Line: Politics – Key concept: Identities 

(Florian Schaffenrath, Lav Šubarić, Farkas Kiss, Isabella Walser, Gábor Almási, Oren Margolis)

With the rise of nations, nation states, and national languages in the early modern period, Latin, the traditional international language of Europe, found itself caught up in complex negotiations of political identity. Both in the search for a common European identity and the development of modern national identities, Latin was not only a significant medium of discussion but also a topic of considerable emotional weight in its own right. This programme line aims to unravel the role of Latin in this process on a number of levels.

In the first phase of the LBI (2011–14) our research has been dedicated to the role of Latin in reflecting national and supranational identities in the Habsburg Empire. Given the precarious cohesion of this multinational Empire, Latin was from the 16th to the 19th centuries not only a highly useful lingua franca but also a privileged means of expressing imperial identity on the one hand, and national (and partly also regional) identities on the other. We analysed this role of Latin in in two particularly rewarding yet hitherto largely neglected groups of texts, one from the belles-lettres, another mainly from administration, political theory and journalism.

Firstly, we examined the construction of political identities in Latin novels and epics, the classic representatives of narrative literature. In the Habsburg Empire both genres also assumed a specific political significance. We have traced how they expressed centripetal tendencies, speaking out for unity and Austrian predominance, on the one hand, and centrifugal tendencies, shaping regional or national identities, on the other hand.

Secondly, we examined the changing attitudes towards Latin from the late 18th to the mid 19th century. In the eastern part of the Empire, the multinational Kingdom of Hungary, Latin was in the early modern period not only the official language of education, administration and the judiciary, but also the medium of communication between different linguistic communities and even, to a degree, of everyday communication among the elite. While in the late 18th century Latin was still seen as a cornerstone of national identity, this role radically changed in the following decades: with the re-definition of national identity as based on ethnolinguistic principles, Latin seemed more and more an obstacle to the progress of nations and their  innate genius.

In the second phase (2015–17), we are studying the construction of political identities no longer primarily in the Habsburg Empire, but in the wider European context. We do this on three different levels.

Firstly, in a direct and general way, we confront the issue of a supranational European identity by tracing the concept of Europe as a (geographical, political, cultural, religious) unity in a large variety of Neo-Latin texts, from historiography to travelogues to treatises. Except for a few prominent authors such as Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Neo-Latin literature has never been seriously and systematically mined for manifestations of the term and idea of ‘Europe’. We have selected sources from various genres which represent fundamental intellectual and historical trends in early modern Europe. Geographical treatises play an important role in recreating the ancient geographical concept of Europe, while various descriptiones and maps constitute an important step in its visualization together with the popular allegories of continents. In Latin political arguments, the pan-European perspective is a recurrent issue in the question of universal monarchy that was often evoked in the French and Habsburg power struggle for predominance in Christian Europe. Another well-known force in the process of the political and ideological perception of Europe was the definition and demarcation of the ‘Other’. Various genres serve as a means to transport ‘European ideology’ against the most important ‘Other’ in early modern Europe, the Ottomans: speeches, theological treatises, historiographical writings, or epics. The judicial discourse theorizes pan-European jurisdictions on the basis of common European institutions and administrations. The colonization of the New World, Asia, and of the Americas created a variety of literary texts (e.g. epics, novels, dramas) dealing with European cultural supremacy, in which ‘Europe’ was represented as a synonym of Catholicism, power, and peace. Finally, literary histories give an impression of the intellectual map of Europe, just as the very personal statements of intellectuals in speeches and correspondences do. From a survey of the texts and issues in question, we expect new and more nuanced insights into what ‘Europe’ meant to contemporaries in the early modern period.

Secondly, we take a closer look at the connections between language and political identity by investigating the European-wide emergence of grammars of national languages. Many of the national grammars in question are actually written in Latin and virtually all of them are modelled on grammars of Latin. We will examine the strategies with which the authors use Latin and its grammar to prove the literary dignity of their own language (e.g. by applying Latin structures on the vernaculars), and how Latin provides also political authority beyond mere linguistics. Paratexts like prefaces (in which e.g. national pride is expressed) do often prove helpful here.

Finally, we are examining the symbolic value of Latin in education and identity-constructions in eastern Europe from the 18th to the early 20th century. While the vernacular languages have gradually substituted Latin as the language of education, it still remained an essential element of school curricula until the 21st century and has retained an important place in the value systems and the self-image of several European nations. For Western Europe this process is well researched. However, the same process in Central and Eastern Europe has never been studied in detail. The position of Latin as medium and content of education was far more entrenched and secure at the beginning of the period in question in the highly Latinized societies of Central and Eastern Europe than in the West. Due to the rationalist positions of the Enlightenment combined with the birth of national ideologies in the late 18th century, the role of Latin in education started to change slowly, as the ethnolinguistic approach to culture aimed to put the vernacular ‘national’ language in the centre of education as means of national self-preservation. In the political conflicts of the 19th and the early 20th centuries, ‘national education’ became a problem of even greater urgency than in the West. Consequently the attitudes towards Latin became much more radical and the educators debated its position in education with far greater vehemence. Under these new circumstances the re-integration of Latin in the system of values was correspondingly more complicated and required additional ideological justification.