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On September 11 last John O’Malley, Jesuit and historian, died relatively unexpected at the age of 95, mourned by his many friends and admirers after an extraordinary career. That career had been triggered by the publication of his study of rhetoric in papal Rome, Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome; Rhetoric, Doctrine and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court, c. 1450-1521 in 1979.
O’Malley’s book not merely put epideictic rhetoric as practised in the early modern papal court centre stage for the first time and alerted students to the crucial impact of rhetoric on curial practice. It also paved the way for an assessment of the changing role of eulogizing sermons in early modern liturgy, and helped charting the impact of rhetoric on Renaissance theology. By increasing the scholarly awareness of the fundamental importance of rhetoric for thought, culture and politics in the period he studied, the publication of Praise and Blame set the stage for renewed and invigorated scholarly attention.
To review the development of scholarship on the issues this book had addressed, the Royal Netherlands Institute had already decided to organize a workshop on epideictic rhetoric in Medieval and Early Modern Sermons at the book’s 40th anniversary in 2019, which was to include a talk by the great man himself on the book he himself thought ‘perhaps his best’, yet the venue was cut short by the COVID measures. Now that the workshop is finally materialising, it is fitting to open the procedures with a public lecture on Praise and Blame, and introduce younger scholars to the unique brand of humanism O’Malley brought to the study of the early modern period.
About the speaker
David Rijser (Amsterdam, 1956) studied classical languages and literature at the University of Amsterdam, where he also graduated cum laude, after a career in secondary education and journalism, in 2006. Since then Rijser taught Classics and cultural history at the Universities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Tilburg and Groningen specializing in Classical receptions and late medieval and early modern literature. In 2019 he was appointed professor by special appointment at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, holding a chair of Receptions of Classical Antiquity instituted by the Nederlands Klassiek Verbond. In that same year 2019 he also won the OIKOS-publieksprijs for his work as a writer and journalist.
Among his many publications figure Raphael’s Poetics. Art and Poetry in High Renaissance Rome (Amsterdam University Press 2012), Een telkens nieuwe oudheid. Of: hoe Tiberius in New Jersey belandde (Amsterdam University Press 2016), an exploration of Western culture through the prism of classical receptions of which a revised English edition (Antiquity Renewed. Or: How Tiberius Landed in New Jersey) is due to appear with Cambridge University Press in 2023. His latest, Arachne and the Imams, a small book on divergent classicisms in Islamic and Christian aesthetics, will appear this winter.