PIMS Interdisciplinary Research Seminars

When and Where

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 3:10 pm to 5:00 pm
Laurence K. Shook Common Room
59 Queen's Park


Philippa Ovenden
Daniel Armstrong
Tristan Major
Paul Vinhage


Featuring their Mellon Fellows and LMS Candidates, The PIMS Interdisciplinary Research Seminars take place in the Laurence K. Shook Common Room on the following Wednesdays at 3:10 pm.


April 10

Paul Vinhage, (Mellon Fellow, PIMS), ‘Tis optophone which ontophanes’: The Network of the Liberal Arts and Poetic Production in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries

After the introduction of Martianus Cappella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii to the Carolingian curriculum in the middle of the ninth century, the study of the seven liberal arts, inaugurated by Alcuin and his generation of scholars, intensified. At the same time biblical commentators and grammarians began to theorize an originary writing used by Adam (or other figures from Genesis) to encode the arts in part or whole for future posterity. Likewise, scholars like John Scottus Eriugena and Remigius of Auxerre found in the liberal arts a method and promise of universal knowledge capable of recovering the divine state of the human mind before the Fall. In the late-ninth and early-tenth century, poet-scholars educated in the system of the seven liberal arts began to experiment with modes of composition that united two or more of the arts under the banner of poetry. In these literary experiments, the audio-visual nexus that grounds the arts reveals the nature of reality that underlies sensation, speech, and thought: “’Tis optophone which ontophanes.”

March 20

Philippa Ovenden (Mellon Fellow, PIMS), Habituating Knowledge in Late-Medieval Representations of Musical Time


In the first of four Questiones addressed to students of a late-fourteenth-century Italian university, an anonymous author asks whether music is a science. He answers in the affirmative: music is a science, but it is also an art; it unites contemplative speculation and practical experience. Music is a habitus or mental habit, a permanent or habitual state of knowledge. Practicing music shapes the mind; the mind, shaped by the musical habitus, influences how a musician performs or thinks about music.

During the fourteenth century, interest in the mathematics of musical time was expressed through experimentation with the representation of rhythm in diagrams and notations. While much musicological scholarship has focused on the technical parameters of this phenomenon, contemporaneous theoretical accounts also address its philosophical significance. One of the most striking of these is found in Liber de musica (c. 1360s?) by the Italian theorist Johannes Vetulus de Anagnia, which describes an idiosyncratic method for the notation of complex rhythms using a series of theological symbols and six tree diagrams. A distinctive attribute of Vetulus’s diagrams is that, unlike contemporaneous models, notes are not represented directly on the tree branches. Instead, abstract durations of time measured in atoms are used to quantify different types of notes. Abstract temporal units—time spans that are not associated with any specific note shape—are also used to measure musical time in some of the experimental notations found in fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Italian songbooks.

Tracing the use of abstract temporal units to measure musical time through a series of theoretical and practical examples reveals that similar conceptual precepts can act as the basis of notations that are formally or stylistically dissimilar. The application of the concept of abstract temporality in musical contexts, which began to be theorized in late-medieval angelology and is now taken for granted, underscores the relevance of both practical and speculative music to the development of ideas that continue to influence philosophical and scientific discourse.

March 27

Daniel Armstrong (Mellon Fellow, PIMS), Communications and Power: Pope Gregory VII’s Correspondence with Queens and Countesses


During his tumultuous twelve-year pontificate, Pope Gregory VII wrote twenty letters to various queens and countesses across Europe. Whilst this makes up only a small number of Gregory’s extant letters, it amounts to 50% of the surviving correspondence between popes and female rulers across the entirety of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It, therefore, gives the impression that Gregory developed a distinctive relationship with queens and countesses. The most notable of these women was Matilda of Tuscany, who has long been seen as an exceptional figure in her dealings with Gregory. However, this paper will cast its net wider, undertaking a comparative consideration of Gregory’s correspondence with queens and countesses across Europe. It will explore Gregory’s models of female power and rule, considering the various factors and circumstances that shaped this correspondence. The extant evidence means we only have Gregory’s side of these communications, with no letter by a female ruler to Gregory surviving. Nevertheless, many of Gregory’s letters were responses, so it is possible to explore the agency of these female rulers in initiating this contact. Ultimately, the paper will seek to better integrate queens and countesses within our understanding of Gregory’s pontificate and the wider transformation of papal power in the eleventh century.

April 3

Tristan Major (LMS Candidate, PIMS), Rhyming Connections: The Aurality of Tenth-Century Anglo-Latin Literature


One of the key Anglo-Latin works of the tenth-century Benedictine reform is Lantfred’s Translatio et miracula Sancti Swithuni (792 x 794). Written to commemorate the translation of the relics of Swithun at Winchester, the text recounts numerous posthumous miracles in a style marked by lengthy sentences, some rare vocabulary, and rhyming prose. Although the ornate formal features of Lantfred’s Latin style act to elevate the status of the saint and promote the nascent monastic reform movement in England, they may also be understood as functioning to facilitate, not obscure, aural comprehension. Specifically, Lantfred’s rhyming prose not only breaks the longer sentences into smaller syntactical units that are easier to digest mentally, but it also often uses sonic effects that heighten the content of the narrative and set an appropriate tone for a listening audience. Additionally, Lantfred’s rhyming prose is not unique to the period; it is a staple of late tenth-century hagiography found frequently on the continent as well as among some of Lantfred’s English contemporaries. Of particular interest is the Latin of Ælfric of Eynsham, who was trained at Winchester during Lantfred’s sojourn and who uses similar aural effects in his Latin compositions meant for oral delivery, which find loose parallels to the aural effects found in his Old English homilies. These formal features of the Latin prose of the period urge a need to reconsider the nature of tenth-century Anglo-Latin literature in order to account for the probability that certain, superficially difficult, texts were originally intended not to confuse and bedazzle but rather to be understood by a listening audience.