State of the field before my research
Gorippus (wrongly known as “Corippus”) was a mid-6th c. Latin poet from North Africa who wrote a rather lengthy poem celebrating a minor Byzantine general named John. This John was dispatched from Byzantium to quell a Berber revolt (which he managed to do), and this conflict is the subject of the epic. Gorippus wrote a classic Latin epic following the lead of Vergil, Lucan etc., though he introduces Christian elements and often employs uncommon language, which was characterized by scholars as tainted with vulgarisms. Most research on Gorippus was carried out either by philologists with a literary approach, who compared scenes in Gorippus' work with earlier models, providing intricate interpretations of perceived differences, or by textual critics (as there is just one single—and sloppily written—manuscript of the Iohannis, this poem is a perfect playground for ingenious textual conjectures). Those few historians who were interested in Gorippus usually concentrated on the information he provides on the Berber natives.
My approach and results
My original intention was modest and limited to creating a commentary on one specific book of the Iohannis. However, I quickly realized that the existing scholarly consensus on the poet and his work needed rectification in many respects. What was originally intended as a short summary of available research on Gorippus and the Iohannis grew into a 100+ page handbook-like introduction that diverged substantially from what was at the time believed to be a secure state of knowledge. I showed the name “Corippus” to be incorrect, and that "Gorippus" instead should be retained. Most details about him to be found in lexicon entries (“schoolteacher,” “from the countryside” …) have little or no basis in the sources. More importantly, based on a meticulous analysis of Gorippus’ language, I demonstrated that his linguistic idiosyncrasies—far from being vulgarisms—are instead highly original intentional innovations. By pointing to obvious contradictions, I questioned the traditional methodology, which consisted largely of comparing scenes in the Iohannis with parallel scenes in Vergil and other previous authors, and then giving ingenious interpretations regarding the differences in content. I proposed instead a different model, according to which Gorippus used older texts as a quarry to put his poem together quickly. Using a radically new methodology, I created a distinct vision of the Iohannis’ purpose and the circumstances of its creation. A case in point: in the 8th book, there is a Byzantine officer named Putzintulus who performs deeds of valor. In the past, scholars wondered why Gorippus would invent so strange a name. Using prosopographical means I was able to show that this name is real, but its occurrence is limited to a tiny region in the Balkans, which at the period was a preferred recruiting ground for the Byzantine army. Thanks to a detailed onomastic analysis, I detected many authentic yet highly rare names (my favorite is Bulmitzis, a name otherwise attested only in Old Turkic, which was borne by a Byzantine soldier of “Hunnic” origin). In conclusion, my Iohannis was a great deal less “literary” and “incompetent” (in terms of language usage) and much more “historical” and “innovative” (again, as regards language) than it had appeared to earlier scholars.
Shortly after submission, the original doctoral thesis on which the Gorippus book is based was awarded the Fakultätenpreis, the most prestigious award for a doctoral thesis at the University of Kiel (awarded only once per year to a single thesis). The book was published by Egbert Forsten in Groningen. The original print run sold out within two years, and it was reprinted by Brill, Leiden, with a much higher number of copies. Up to now (January 2020), Gorippus has garnered 35 reviews, in five languages, in journals from the States and Canada, from all major European countries and even from Israel, Russia and South Africa. Journals specializing in Classical Philology and Ancient History, as well as in Church History and Liturgy, have reviewed the book. The huge majority of these reviews are highly positive, a few are indifferent (limiting themselves to relating the contents), and none is negative. Reviewers underline:
- the groundbreaking character of my work on Gorippus which put all further research on the Iohannis on a completely new footing
- the multi-disciplinary approach I used to engage with Gorippus, employing methods and findings from many different (sub-)disciplines including textual criticism, literary studies, paleography, linguistics, ancient history, prosopography, onomastics, liturgy studies and others
- the book’s high readability
Here are a few snippets taken from some of the reviews (for a full list of such extracts, click here):
- "Die Lektüre dieses ebenso klugen und gehaltvollen wie eloquenten und stilsicheren Buches ist von der ersten bis zur letzten Seite ein Genuß" (Silvio Bär, Gnomon).
- "El comentario ... es punto menos que definitivo. [...] Un trabajo memorable" (Luis Alberto de Cuenca, Emerita).
- "This is an outstandingly intelligent, thorough and well informed commentary" (Gregory Hays, Scripta Classica Israelica).
- "D’une impeccable présentation matérielle, d’une érudition à peu près irréprochable, d’une intelligence toujours en éveil" (Vincent Zarini, Latomus).
- "It will be an indispensable part of any future scholar’s required reading for research on North Africa of the period" (Betine van Zyl Smit, Acta Classica).
- "Der Kommentar ist einer der besten, die in den letzten Jahren zur spätantiken Epik abgefaßt wurden, eben weil Philologie und Historie gleichermaßen zu ihrem Recht kommen." (Rainer Jakobi, Hyperboreus).
Complete list of reviews
- sehepunkte 11 (2011), Nr.1 (Mischa Meier)
- Plekos 13 (2011) 3-7 (Ulrich Lambrecht)
- Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.06.06 (Benjamin Goldlust)
- H-Soz-u-Kult 06.06.2011 (Daniel Syrbe)
- Revue des Études Latines 88 (2010) 301-303 (Jean-Louis Charlet)
- Revue d'Études Augustiniennes et Patristiques 57 (2011) 182-185 (Benjamin Goldlust)
- Gnomon 84 (2012) 25–29 (Silvio Bär)
- Tyche 26 (2011) 376-377 (Dorothea Weber)
- Scripta Classica Israelica 31 (2012) 233-237 (Gregory Hays)
- Emerita 80 (2012) 205-206 (Luis Alberto de Cuenca)
- Vigiliae Christianae 66 (2012) 440-442 (Jan den Boeft)
- Revue de philologie, de littérature et d'histoire anciennes 84 (2010) 161-167 (Giulia Caramico)
- Church History and Religious Culture 92 (2012) 322-324 (Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini)
- Eos 99 (2012) 190-192 (Dariusz Brodka)
- Acta Classica 55 (2012) 183-184 (Betine van Zyl Smit)
- Bollettino di Studi Latini 42 (2012) 851-855 (Vera Tufano)
- Revue des Études Anciennes 114 (2012) 635-638 (Aurélie Delattre)
- Arctos 46 (2012) 275-276 (Heikki Solin) - Hinweis
- Ecclesia Orans 28 (2011) 372-374 (Matthias Skeb OSB)
- Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft 16 (2013) 1229-1249 (Thomas Gärtner)
- Revue Bénédictine 123 (2013) 421 (Pierre-Maurice Bogaert OSB)
- Vetera Christianorum 49 (2012) 376-377 (Emanuele Castelli)
- Koinonia 37 (2013) 375-382 (Giovanni Polara)
- Eirene 49 (2013) 239-241 (Fiona Haarer)
- Latomus 72 (2013) 1171-1172 (Vincent Zarini)
- Speculum 89 (2014) 234-236 (Helen Kaufmann)
- Hyperboreus 18 (2012) 355-358 (Rainer Jakobi)
- Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft 54 (2012) 266-267 (Cyprian Krause OSB)
- Minerva 27 (2014) 300-304 (Antonio Ramírez de Verger)
- Athenaeum 102 (2014) 723-724 (Lisa Sannicandro)
- Exemplaria Classica 18 (2014) 293-294 (Roger P. H. Green)
- Anzeiger für die Altertumswissenschaft 66 (2013) 189-192 (Maria Assunta Vinchesi)
- The Journal of Medieval Latin 24 (2014) 330-334 (Michael W. Herren)
- Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 56/57 (2013-14) 189-192 (Claudia Schindler)
- Auctores Nostri 18 (2017) 51-54 (Renzo Infante)