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The Devil of Details: Titivillus, from Yesterday’s Monks to Today’s Dungeons & Dragons

Harvard University

Thu, 2/16 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · A17 Julis Romo Rabinowitz Building

Jan Ziolkowski

Join us for the Medieval Studies Faber Lecture with Jan Ziolkowski (Harvard University).

A reception in the Weickart Atrium will follow the lecture.
This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP HERE.

From medieval Europe to the modern West, the demon Titivillus has been famous for identifying and collecting slips and sins in song, speech, and writing. This talk follows him from his origins around 1200 on, and investigates the meanings of his name, diffusion of awareness of him through preaching and painting, interplay between orality and literacy in stories about him, issues of gender and blackness that sometimes surrounded him, and what the Devil has meant across time. Thanks to today’s dominance of English, Titivillus is regarded as especially particular to medieval England, but he became commonplace far beyond the Continent and survived past the Middle Ages to appear in Rabelais, the earliest Slovak literature, Anatole France, Herman Melville, and W. H. Auden, before finally having a novel devoted to him in 1953. He remains unforgotten, a curio beloved among calligraphers and role-play gamers.

Jan Ziolkowski (A.B. Princeton University, Ph.D. University of Cambridge) has been at Harvard since 1981, now Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Medieval Latin. He has concentrated his research and teaching on the literature of the Middle Ages. His special focuses have included the classical tradition, grammar and rhetoric, interaction between folk and learned literature, and Germanic epic in Latin. Lately he has pursued broad interests in medieval revivalism down to the present day. From 2007 to 2020 he directed Dumbarton Oaks in DC and founded the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library.

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