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

Program in Medieval Studies; Eberhard L. Faber 1915 Memorial Fund in the Humanities Council, Jan Ziolkowski

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

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 graduated from Princeton and received his PhD from the University of Cambridge. He is Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Medieval Latin at Harvard University, where he joined the faculty in 1981. 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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