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Leah Whittington (Harvard University): 'Works of Another Hand'

The history of world literature is strewn with books left unfinished by the writers who started them—books that in their incompleteness speak to the contingencies that beset every writing life and the perils of textual transmission. Contemporary attention to the possibilities of digital media has reopened questions about such unfinished works that have long been germane to scholars of the Renaissance: what happens if we try to complete them? This talk looks at approaches to textual completion developed by writers in the early modern period, spurred on by the humanist recovery of ancient texts that were perceived to be unfinished. Focusing on Thomas May’s Supplementum Lucani, a completion of Lucan’s unfinished epic on the Roman civil wars, the talk argues that the practice of recreating missing parts of texts in the Renaissance has a great deal to tell us about authorship, writing, and literary creativity in the period, and more broadly in the long afterlife of Renaissance attitudes to secondary authorship and the contested role in cultural production of “work of another hand.” 

Leah Whittington is Professor of English at Harvard University. Her research centers on the survival and transmission of antiquity in the Renaissance, with an emphasis on the interactions between vernacular and humanist textual traditions. She is the author of Renaissance Suppliants: Poetry, Antiquity, Reconciliation (Oxford University Press, 2016), and a new book forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press called Antiquity Made Whole: Supplements, Continuations, and Completions in Renaissance Literary Culture. She is also Associate Editor of the I Tatti Renaissance Library. 

The Work in Progress seminar explores the variety of subjects studied and researched at the Warburg Institute. Papers are given by invited international scholars, research fellows studying at the Institute, and third-year PhD students.