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.

The reception

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:

Here are a few snippets taken from some of the reviews (for a full list of such extracts, click here):

Complete list of reviews