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The Unruly Tongue: Speech and Violence in Medieval Italy

March 19, 2018 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Drawing from the margins of a notarial register depicting an individual with hands tied behind the back with his tongue having been cut out
Image Credit: Archivio di Stato di Bologna, Libri Inquisitionum et Testium, Busta 172, Reg. 9, Fol. 18R.


Monday Seminar:

Melissa Vise

Solmsen Fellow (2017-2018)

Italian Studies, New York University


What can words do? Or for the historian, what could words do in cultures past? This talk focuses on the northern cities of medieval Italy, the nascent self-governing republics that arose in the midst of encroaching monarchic and seigniorial rule. The cities branded themselves as beacons of libertas, but dissimilar to the ideals of many modern republics, speech was far from free there. In order to understand that world, I construct a cultural history of speech and its regulation by drawing together medical tracts, pastoral treatises, rhetorical manuals, contemporary literature, statute law, and civic, episcopal, and inquisition trial processes. The presentation will conclude with a close reading of the first story on the first day of The Decameron as Boccaccio’s influential juridically-minded meditation on what words could do.


Melissa Vise is a historian of medieval Europe whose research focuses on religious, cultural, and legal history with an emphasis on the Italian peninsula. Most recently, she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at New York University in the Department of Italian Studies. She was a Presidential Fellow at Northwestern University (2012-14), a Fellow in the Mellon Academy for Advanced Studies of the Renaissance (2013), a Charlotte Newcomb Fellow (2014-15), and a winner of the Medieval Academy of America’s Olivia Remie Constable Award (2017). Her most recent article, “The Women and the Inquisitor: Peace-making in Bologna, 1299” is forthcoming in Speculum, 2018.


March 19, 2018
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States