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Welcome

Welcome to the website for Dr Victoria Moul’s Leverhulme-funded research project: Neo-Latin Poetry in English Manuscript Verse Miscellanies, c. 1550-1700.

This project aims to survey for the first time the enormous quantity of neo-Latin verse preserved in early modern English manuscript sources. We hope to restore to scholarly visibility the ‘Latin dimension’ of the bilingual literary culture of sixteenth and seventeenth century England: a period in which Latin (not English) was an international language, and in which not only the reading but also the writing of Latin verse was a significant element in all secondary education.

The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust over four years (2017-2021). Our team consists of the project lead and principal investigator, Dr Victoria Moul, who is a Senior Lecturer in Latin Language and Literature at King’s College London; Dr Bianca Facchini, a full-time post-doctoral researcher (2017-20); two fully-funded PhD students, Sharon van Dijk and Raffaella Colombo; and, in due course, a second full-time post-doctoral researcher (2019-21) from an early modern history background. In future posts we plan to introduce all team members as well as to explain more about the project, our findings and the implications of this work for the wider understanding of early modern literary culture. We will also write about how this project intersects with others by colleagues elsewhere, and how the project is contributing to initiatives such as exhibitions and school engagement activities.

We hope to be able in due course to post images of the manuscripts we are working with, many of which are  beautiful, and all of which give an immediate sense of their period.

If you are interested in the project or have questions about the material we are working on do please leave a comment.

At school with Shakespeare

In this post Bianca describes one of the first outreach initiatives of our research team: a primary-school workshop on “Being at school in Shakespeare’s time”. This project has been awarded a Public Engagement Small Grant from the KCL Centre for Doctoral Studies. Designed by Bianca (main grant applicant) and supported by Victoria, the workshop has been developed collaboratively by the whole team and has benefitted greatly from Sharon’s extensive experience in teaching (Latin) in primary schools.

Through interactive discussion, practical activities, and games, our workshop introduces primary-school children in years 5 and 6 to the sixteenth-century classroom, pointing out that children at school in Shakespeare’s time were taught not in English, but in Latin, the international language of the day. During the workshop, children have a chance to look at manuscript Latin poems and school exercises, decipher and translate some Latin words, and *make their own manuscript* writing with a quill pen. We especially encourage children to think about what it means to learn in a second language and how this might be connected to literary creativity. The workshop is particularly suitable for schools with a high proportion of children who do not speak English at home, and are therefore (like Shakespeare!) being educated in their second language.

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On the 21st May Sharon, Raffaella, and I delivered our first two workshop sessions at Holy Trinity and St. Silas, a Church of England primary school located in a colourful neighbourhood between Kentish Town and Camden Town.

We met in front of the school at 8:45 a.m., all carrying large bags filled with ink bottles, quills, photocopies and various sorts of paper. After unwrapping our materials and making some final arrangements with the school teachers, by 9:30 a.m. we were ready to start with our first session with Mr. McIntyre’s Year 5 class. This was a wonderful first-time experience!

The first part of our workshop consists in an interactive presentation on school curriculum, Latin-English bilingualism, and Latin verse exercises in Shakespeare’s time, with projected drawings of a sixteenth-century classroom and images of manuscripts from the period. Children were very interested and participated eagerly to the discussion: Sharon, who was in charge of this part, was overwhelmed with answers, guesses, and comments about the sixteenth-century school timetable, writing equipment, and non-technological classroom! Children quickly grasped the meaning of words such as “manu-script” and “bi-lingualism” based on their Latin components. When asked to reflect on ancient and contemporary bilingualism, children came up with very interesting observations and stories concerning the advantages of speaking more than one language as a way to communicate with different kinds of people, see and interpret the world, and better understand one’s own language.

In the second part of our workshop, children are asked to *read some real manuscripts*, looking at printed reproductions of manuscript pages and answering a few questions about some Latin words and their possible meaning. As a facilitator of this part, I was struck by how promptly children were able to decipher the relevant Latin words (e.g. “liber”) and make the connection with their English derivatives (e.g. “library”)! The last workshop activity – writing with quills – was welcomed with even more enthusiasm by children: they both followed our suggestion and copied the Latin words we had been discussing and, in some cases, engaged in very creative compositions:

After a short break, we moved to Ms Law’s Year 6 class and repeated the workshop. These slightly older children participated with similar vivacity and also made stimulating remarks on the creative potential of bilingualism. Before we left, some children stated that they prefer quills over pens and asked where they could buy a quill!

Overall, this was an extremely enriching and rewarding experience. We were able to engage about 60 children and discuss with them the overall context of our research (i.e. sixteenth-century literary culture), as well as such broad and current topics as bilingualism. We are looking forward to further outreach experiences!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oddities 1: An English Tarantula in an 18th century manuscript at Chetham’s Library

Here Raffaella starts an occasional series of posts on some of the “oddities” we have found:

Our project is specifically concerned with Latin poems in manuscripts dating from between the second half of the 16th century and the first decade of the 18th century. However, we often find materials that are out of our scope because they are too early or too late for us – and sometimes these items are curious or funny in some way. This is the first post of a series that aims at pointing out some oddities we found so far.

In March, Bianca and I visited the Chetham’s Library in Manchester as we knew that it held some relevant materials for our research. We found and analysed a few manuscripts containing several poems each, some of which written by well-known British Latin authors such as William Alabaster.

However, the largest collection of Neo-Latin poetry we found was all composed in the late 18th century, and therefore out of scope for the project. Although too late for our purposes, we decided to have a look anyway at the miscellany contained in the six volumes catalogued as Mun. A. 4.8-13.

I came across some peculiar verse compositions, such a long hexametric poem on Wales, entitled Cambria, or another hexametric poem on the Globus aerostaticus, which testifies the interest in the scientific and technological discoveries – a field that produced many Latin poems in the 18th and 19th century both in England and abroad.

However, the most intriguing finding is undoubtedly the Tarantula, a poem about the Apulian tarantella and the related ‘tarantism’. This was a tradition deeply rooted in the ancient Apulian folklore and now remaining as a cultural heritage with music and dances.

I never expected to find a piece on a such local southern-Italian dimension in an English manuscript: I was so surprised! I was sure that after a research I could have traced down the history of this poem, and discover how it arrived from an Apulian 18th poet to the Chetham’s manuscript. I quickly identified this Tarantula, however, to have been composed by an English poet, a certain Lyne. The text was published in a Florentine edition in 1765, alongside the popular mock-epic poem Muscipula by the English poet Edward Holdsworth (which had already been published in England in 1709). This text can easily be accessed via Google Books (however, this version slightly differs from the one in the manuscript):

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zg3f_6gIEQIC&printsec=frontcover&hl=it#v=onepage&q&f=false

The Tarantula poem is structured as a description of the local and seasonal context of the phaenomenon, the alleged effects of the tarantula’s bite and its remedies. The description/narration is interlaced with some didactic hints and admonitions to a reader or viator, as he is mentioned in v. 7. At the beginning of the poem, an introduction is followed by a warning to the reader: ‘Incautum ne te nova vulnera cogant | exercere choros, cantusque haurire salubres’ (vv. 16-17: ‘don’t be imprudent, make sure that fresh wounds don’t force you to perform dances or absorb the sound of healing chants’). We then find the description of the effects of the bite of the spider, including nervous breakdowns, hallucinations, difficulties in speaking (‘quaerulo nunc murmure lingua | fracta gemit’, vv. 28-29), laugh (‘nunc effuso sonat alta cachinno’, v. 29) and torpidity. Doctors have troubles in curing this morbum and, in addition, a healing song good for a young unmarried woman (the most affected category) may not be effective on an old man. The healing sing and dance ceremony is so dynamic and uncontrolled that the author claims: ‘Dementes credas sacra orgia ducere Baccho | Moenadas’ (‘you might think that this demented people are Menades dancing a sacred Dionysian dance’, v. 49), taking the readers back to an ancient Greek tradition.

The conclusion is somehow intriguing and may have multiple explanations. The author states that the tarantula has touched the British land as well (‘tandem etiam nostros insana tarantula fines | attigit, inque tuos manans, Brittannia, fines’, vv. 74-5) – but a different type of disease (‘contagia morbi’, v. 76) is involved in this final and perhaps satirical section. There seems to be some topical and probably political force to the poet’s suggestion that any who wish to sing effeminate songs (‘femineos cantus’, v. 84), and try Bacchic dances or play the cithara, should at once leave England for Apulia: ‘ite procul molles […] | ite per arva | Appula, per campos, baccataque rura Choreis’ (vv. 80-82). Since I have not been able to determine the date of composition of this English Tarantula poem, it is impossible to be sure who, exactly, these final lines are aimed at. But any suggestions from readers would be very welcome!

Introductory post: undergraduate volunteer Astrid Khoo

Astrid Khoo is a second year undergraduate student in Classics. Here she explains how she came to Latin and why she is keen to volunteer to help with the project during part of the summer vacation:

I learned no Latin until I was sixteen. As a child, enraptured by the sound and the fury of literature, I instead studied the languages of Mann, Zola, and Dostoyevsky. Latin was a fantasy tongue, belonging only to Asterix, the Pope, and lawyers.

In retrospect, however, a love for Latin has always lurked in my imagination. When I was five, I invented the game ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. To play Cleopatra I wrapped a towel around my waist; to play Antony I threw the same towel over my right shoulder, toga-style. More worrying, perhaps, were my pretensions to Latin teaching. In primary school I taught a friend Catullus 16, the favourite poem of all beginner students. Though well aware of the fact that I could not read Latin, I considered it a mere technicality. In any case, we never made it past the first line as we considered Pedicabo ego vos… extraordinarily amusing.

At sixteen, driven by some unknown furor, in the double sense of ‘madness’ and ‘inspiration’, I wrote to a Latin tutor and asked him to teach me all that he knew. We began with the Gesta Romanorum (‘Deeds of the Romans’) and Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum (‘Gallic Wars’). From the beginning, therefore, I was trained to read non-Classical Latin. Nevertheless, even when I had gotten into the habit of reading and writing Latin regularly – my compositions can be found on my blog Latine Scribo – I never imagined that I would study Latin at university, let alone choose Classics as a career path.

In fact, I started off as a History student upon arriving at King’s. Hungry for Latin practice, however, I audited Dr. Daniel Hadas’ postgraduate module on Medieval Latin. I greatly enjoyed this course, as it involved collating manuscript variants and working with untranslated texts. On the advice of Dr. Hadas I began attending the Neo-Latin reading group, led by Dr. Victoria Moul, who also kindly allowed me to audit her module on Neo-Latin Poetry. At the same time, I began collecting Latin books, for which I won two prizes in 2017. Courses in palaeography and codicology fuelled my interest for the early modern period, that brave new world teeming with incunabula.

Through these activities I discovered neo-Latin, which I consider to be ‘new’ both chronologically and stylistically. It is undoubtedly funny, as evident from Bohuslav Hasištejnský z Lobkovic’s witty guide to Prague. I also love the subversiveness of neo-Latin, as exemplified by Nicholas Chorier’s pornographic Satyra Sotadica. Furthermore, the range and diversity of neo-Latin excites me; I am currently working on the ‘Brazilian Georgics’ of José Rodrigues de Melo. Most of all, however, neo-Latin derives its appeal from its colour and audacity. Milton’s Defensio pro Populo Anglicano (‘Defence of the English People’, last term’s text for the neo-Latin reading group) is no mere reception of Cicero, but rather a reinvigoration. Milton does not add fuel to the fire, but rather fire to the fuel: his prose explodes out of the page.

Therefore, when I heard that Dr. Victoria Moul had successfully applied for Leverhulme funding for her research project on post-medieval Latin poetry in early modern English manuscripts, I simply had to get involved. I wanted to learn more about neo-Latin poetry; I wanted to touch it, transcribe it, and think about it outside the classroom. My palaeographical training pushed me towards manuscript material and especially early modern scripts. I was curious about metre, to which I had been introduced by the Latin metre reading group. Most of all, however, I wished to experience working as part of a project group with highly skilled team members, from whom I expect to learn very much indeed.

 

 

King’s College London Medieval/Renaissance Latin Play 2018 – George Ruggle’s “Ignoramus”

This post reproduces the programme notes on the literary context to Ignoramus which Victoria wrote for the performance of the play at KCL in March:

Latin school and university plays were a typical element of secondary and tertiary education throughout the early modern period: Montaigne, for instance, acted in George Buchanan’s Latin tragedies while his pupil at the Collège de Guyenne in the 1540s. A large number of such plays are extant in manuscript sources, and many others are known to have been put on, although the texts do not survive; relatively few however were published in print and of these even fewer had anything like a ‘popular’ success. George Ruggle’s (1575-1622) Ignoramus, by contrast, was a major hit: first performed in 1615 at Cambridge for the entertainment of the visiting King James I, it was performed repeatedly well into the 18th century, reprinted multiple times (11 editions between 1630 and 1787) and also translated into English at least three times in the latter part of the seventeenth century.

The enormous and enduring popularity of the play is particularly evident in surviving manuscript material: excerpts, especially the prologues and songs from the play, appear in many commonplace books and miscellanies, and bespoke prologues – written to accompany later performances, with up-to-date contemporary jokes – are extant from as late as 1763. Unfortunately, there is no modern print edition, though an online text, translation and brief notes can be found at http://www.philological.bham.ac.uk/ruggle/contents.html

Ruggle’s sprawling work – apparently running in its original performance to over five hours – satirises the character and (especially) the poor Latin of ‘Ignoramus’, the college recorder: that is, a common lawyer in a town of scholars. As such, it belongs broadly to the enduringly popular genre of legal satire – a kind of Better Call Saul for the early seventeenth century. (More closely contemporary examples include Donne’s Satires of the 1590s and the Trebatius scenes in Jonson’s Poetaster (1601).) The specifically dramatic tradition to which it belongs is that of Plautus’ Pseudolus (itself a popular school play), though Ignoramus is based most directly upon an Italian version of Plautus’ play (Giambattista Della Porta’s La Trappolaria). Tonight’s performance has been significantly cut to a running time of only around 40 minutes, but this too is traditional – several of the extant manuscript sources suggest that the play was regularly abridged in performance.

The most distinctive feature of the play is its linguistic inventiveness: Ignoramus’ hodge-podge of half-baked Latin, English and French is still very funny. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, ‘macaronic’ verse – that is, verse in a mixture of two or more languages – had strong satirical overtones. The frequent use of rhyming Latin verse in the songs is also associated, in this period, with satirical or humourous material. Though barely known even to scholars today, the popular Latin literary “hits” of the early seventeenth century almost all included similar elements to those found in Ruggle’s play: John Barclay’s Latin novel, Argenis (1621), for instance, has multiple romantic sub-plots and includes Latin songs which were widely excerpted; William Drummond’s (1585-1649) mock-epic Polemo-Middiana (‘The Battle of the Dunghill’) is macaronic to very similar comic effect to Ignoramus; and the enormously popular Barnabae Itinerarium (‘Drunken Barnaby’s Journey’) by Richard Braithwaite (1588-1673) is a long comic poem about the hapless exploits of the eponymous Barnaby, composed in rhyming Latin verse with a parallel English version. Ignoramus is therefore typical of a lively, albeit now forgotten, culture of popular neo-Latin literature.

 

KCL Medieval/Renaissance Latin play: playing Ignoramus

On Friday the 23rd of March, it was happening … The 13th annual King’s College London Medieval / Renaissance Latin play: George Ruggle’s Ignoramus. It was first performed for King James I in 1615, who liked it so much that he asked to see it again.

We started rehearsing in February. Our directors, Laura Vivio and Alessandro Trinca, were very professional and, first things first, taught us about stage directions (upstage, downstage, stage left, stage right, counter, etc.). We blocked the various scenes, so we would know where we had to be throughout each of them. Of course, we also had to learn our lines! I was playing Ignoramus himself, which meant I had to speak a mix of Latin, French and English. Such a mix of Latin and other languages is known as macaronic Latin. Funnily enough, the vernacular words with Latin endings and the inaccurate Latin grammar did not make my lines that hard to remember (in places, they were very memorable). I struggled the most with the legal Latin in my part, because I wasn’t sure what it was saying. Looking at a legal dictionary frequently didn’t help; as the brief introduction to our script (the performing edition prepared by Dr. D.K. Money for performance at the conference of the International Association for Neo-Latin Studies, 2000) points out: “in some places the meaning is less than clear”. However, I managed to learn all of it and so did the other performers. And in spite of our busy schedules and ‘the Beast from the East’ getting in the way, it all came together on the night. We had a nice and hard-working team, consisting of students from BA to PhD level. Some of them had done very little Latin, but were brave enough to take on the challenge of performing in Latin – very impressive!

The plot premise of the play is a familiar one: a fool who falls in love with a pretty girl who isn’t interested in him, is tricked into giving up his pursuit of her (the threat of castration plays a role) by a cunning character so she can end up with the man who loves her.

Playing Ignoramus was great fun! I really enjoyed making a fool out of myself. I could be dramatic (o valde caleor; o chaud, chaud: precor Deum non meltavi meum pingue!) and be angry with scholars (Sunt magnae idiotae. Et clerici nihilorum, isti universitantes). In the final scene, I got to hide behind Trico (the cunning servant who devised the plot to betray me), before being discovered by my opponent Antonius, holding a pair of huge scissors.

The response of the audience really contributed to the experience. It is very encouraging to hear laughter whilst performing. And the humour of this play is timeless; the actions of the characters are frequently very much like slapstick. A great example is the scene in which Rosabella (Ignoramus’s and Antonius’s love interest) and Antonius are finally able to talk, while Trico is distracting Surda (Rosabella’s deaf servant who has been instructed to keep an eye on her). In an attempt to deceive Surda, the lovers pretend to be angry with each other while they say loving things. Meanwhile, Trico pretends to be in love with Surda, passionately calling her the most hideous things.

People in the 17th century must have enjoyed the play’s humour as well. Once we knew that Ignoramus would be performed at King’s, we started to notice extracts of verse from the play (such as Ignoramus’s Versus legales de Rosabella) during the survey for our project on verse miscellanies. In fact, we had come across it several times during our survey before this point, which shows just how popular it was.

To read a bit more about the literary context of the play, see Victoria’s programme notes, which we’ll post as a blog tomorrow.

 

Data so far: some numbers

We are now nearing the end of the ‘survey’ phase of the project. We have visited all the major collections and, of the smaller local collections, we have visited what we hope is a representative selection. This is not aiming to be a complete survey of neo-Latin verse in English manuscript holdings of the period: such an undertaking would take many years in its own right, since so many of the existing catalogues and indexes do not itemise Latin verse. The project is aiming to have made a ‘representative’ survey of this material. No such survey has been attempted before and we hope that future scholarship will be able to build on this foundation.

So how many poems have we found?

We have found about 15,000 neo-Latin poems in about 1000 individual manuscripts in thirty libraries or archives. Here ‘poems’ range from single lines of verse to a handful of hexameter poems which are hundreds of pages long. We have not counted Latin drama, even where it is in verse, though we have included excerpted Latin songs from plays and some marginal cases of apparently ‘dramatic poems’.

We have found so far 40 manuscripts with 100 or more neo-Latin poems in (this number will probably increase slightly as we are still working on the full descriptions of some of the richest sources), with one manuscript containing 712 individual Latin epigrams! At the other extreme 311 manuscripts contain just one neo-Latin poem (some of these will be one very long poem), and we have looked at about 250 manuscripts which proved to contain no material relevant to our survey (for instance, no Latin verse at all, or Latin verse which is either entirely classical, medieval or neo-Latin verse certainly dating from after the early 18th century). We are still working on the descriptions of around 50 particularly rich or complex manuscripts, and we have a handful of archive visits still to go.

What form are these poems?

The most common metre is elegiac couplets, and the most common form or genre is (almost certainly) the epigram – we can’t be completely sure of this yet as we have not yet assigned all the items we’ve found a generic category. But some manuscripts contain hundreds of individual epigrams, especially in the period between about 1610 and 1630 when these were particularly fashionable (the manuscript with over 700 poems is an epigram collection). Equally, in many of the instances where we found only a single Latin poem in a manuscript, the poem in question was an epigram. Hexameters are the second most common metrical form throughout most of our period, though in the earliest manuscripts (of the mid-16th century) they are in fact significantly more common than elegiacs, the trend for which seems to be a latter-16th century innovation, probably influenced by the rising fashion for the briefest kind of epigrams, which tend to be in elegiacs. In the latest material (from the early 18th century) Latin lyrics are found more commonly than hexameter verse, and displace hexameter as the second most frequent type of poem. Of course if we were counting numbers of lines rather than individual poems, the data would look different, since nearly all of the very long poems we have found are in hexameters.

Bilingualism

A significant proportion of these sources are bilingual to varying degrees and I personally am particularly interested in the relationship between Latin and English literature throughout this period: it’s not just that many of our manuscripts include both Latin and English verse (though this is certainly true) – it’s also that a significant proportion of what we have found is as it were ‘actively’ bilingual – most commonly, paired poems in Latin and English versions but also including other related phenomena (such as a response or answer poem in another language, and translations into and out of Latin into other languages, most commonly Ancient Greek, Hebrew, French, Dutch and Italian).

In short, this is a very large and extremely varied corpus. In the course of this project we shall of course only be able to transcribe a small proportion of these poems (though we are hoping to be able to put together a first-line index for a relatively large proportion of them), and translate, annotate and analyse in detail only a still smaller fraction. But since there has been no previous scholarly attempt even to get an overview of this material, a significant aim of our project is precisely to offer such an overview, trying for the first time to give some sense of the ‘big picture’: the overall role of the reading, writing and circulation of post-medieval Latin verse in early modern England.

Raffaella’s first research trip outside London

This blog was suspended over the period of the UCU industrial action; but we are now pleased to return with a post Raffaella wrote a few weeks ago about her first trip to a local archive outside London. She writes:

Last week I did my first manuscript trip outside London. I was very excited about visiting a new archive after my first month and a half spent at the British Library. I went to the East Sussex Record Office, situated on the edge of Brighton, where we knew there were around ten manuscripts useful for our research.

I was surprised at the variety of documents I had in my hands through the day: family account notebooks, a diary, some commonplace books containing orations and classical quotations, a couple of parish registers and some loose sheets as well. All these materials contained some Neo-Latin verse in different percentages, but all of them proved very interesting. It is always curious to see that people scribbled a Latin epigram in the middle of some annotations of their expenses, or an epitaph on someone’s death in the parish register that normally contains only the list of births and burials. I reckon that this aspect is much more visible when visiting a local archive rather than a big library such as the BL. In smaller archives or libraries, of course, there are fewer Latin documents, so in just one day you can read also the ones that normally you would consider less important.

However, I had to go very quickly through all the items I had to examine, because the third or fourth I required (you can only have one per time on your table) proved extremely full of Neo-Latin poetry. Except for a few letters written in Latin prose, almost all the 250 pages of the manuscript FRE/690 contain poems, that were written by various authors including Alexander Gill, Charles Blake and many fellows of St. John’s College Oxford in the 17th century. It was exciting to discover that many pieces were quite long (up to nearly 30 pages of hexameters in one case!) and that there were many different themes in the various poems: celebrations for sovereigns, religious matters, poems for weddings and philosophical poems as well.

This trip has been a very useful experience to me for several reasons. I’ve learnt that when you’re visiting a new archive you must be well prepared for what you expect to find, but also flexible and ready to adapt as what’s there is never quite what you envisaged.  Once at the archives, it’s important to optimise your time.  I found more interesting things than we expected and I couldn’t analyse all the material while at the archive, so I decided to take pictures first and defer some of the descriptions, on which I worked in the following days looking at images. Finally, it was great to taste the local dimension of Latin poetry that can be found in an account book or in a parish register, and it was lovely as well to work for one day in a smaller archive where people usually do researches on local history or family genealogy and more rarely on literature (not to mention Neo-Latin!).

Latin metre group – a guest post by Jill Woodberry

Today we have a guest post from Jill Woodberry, a PhD student at King’s who helps to organise a Latin metre reading group at KCL. Jill writes:

The idea for the metre group was conceived after one of Victoria’s neo-Latin reading group sessions, when a few of us found ourselves bemoaning that, though we might manage to translate a Latin poem, we had little idea how its rhythms should sound. We decided to meet regularly to try to get to grips with Latin metre, and count ourselves very fortunate that Caroline Spearing agreed to ‘lead’ us in a regular reading group. The meetings were made possible through the sterling work of Lucy Jackson in dealing with the complexities of KCL room bookings and general admin.

As a foundational practice we concentrated on hexameter. At first we would take one line each, and painstakingly work out the scansion mathematically before reading it out loud in turn. Gradually however we became more adept at speaking unprepared lines as we grew more familiar with the rhythmic patterns of the hexameter. We looked at Virgil, Catullus and Ovid, and noted in particular stylistic differences in their use of elision. We then moved on to elegiac couplets and Catullan hendecasyllables.

Towards the end of the semester, Lois Potter, as expert on early-modern drama, gave us a fascinating talk on the shifting use of metre in Shakespearean drama. At the end of the session we read the ‘echo’ scene from Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, noting the comparison with Ovid’s treatment of the echoing voice in the story of Echo and Narcissus which we had read some weeks earlier.

This semester we have moved on to the very different lyric metres, reading poems by Horace as well as some by Cowley and Sarbiewski (the latter in part to coincide with the neo-Latin reading group). We began with Alcaics, followed by Sapphics. Though our sessions are largely practical, sometimes an element of the theoretical enters in; a vexed issue for us from the conceptual/technical standpoint, is how far it is relevant to consider these lyric metres in terms of smaller units of ‘feet’, as is possible with hexameter and pentameter, or whether each line should be considered a ‘colon’ in its own right. The fact that authorities seem to differ in the way they divide lines suggests that there is no definite rule. We are just beginning to look at Asclepiads, and here, arguably, we do return to an idea of the basic unit of the choriamb as a kind of ‘foot’.

The continuing success of our group is due in part to the enthusiasm of members for hearing spoken Latin poetry, and in part to its interdisciplinary nature, with our very varied interests, expertise and scholarly backgrounds resulting in stimulating and illuminating comment and discussion.

Later, when the survey stage of the Leverhulme project is complete, we look forward to a talk by Victoria on the wide variety of metres that have been discovered in early modern texts.

Finally, this semester we have timed our sessions to align with the main neo-Latin reading group, i.e. 2-3pm on Mondays, and if anyone would like to join us they are very welcome (room is S2.38). Contact details are: jill.woodberry@kcl.ac.uk; caroline.spearing@kcl.ac.uk; lucyjackson@kcl.ac.uk.

 

 

The Festival of Imagined Worlds

On the 9th of February, Bianca and I (Sharon) went to Oxford to represent the Society for Neo-Latin Studies (SNLS) at the Iris Festival of Imagined Worlds, which was taking place at Cheney School. The festival started at 3 pm and we arrived at 1 to set up. There were various worlds in different rooms, such as Harry Potter World, Tolkien World and C.S. Lewis World. Some of the stalls in a room were related to the imagined world it was named after, others had some other link to the theme. Our stall was in C.S. Lewis World, which was based in the library.

At our stall, we explained to visitors a bit about what neo-Latin is, with a short, interactive powerpoint presentation. Starting with the multiple-choice question “Who do you think spoke Latin?” which had as possible answers ‘Queen Elizabeth I’, ‘William Shakespeare’ and ‘Isaac Newton’, we told them a little bit about the importance of Latin in the 16th and 17th centuries; explaining its role as the international language and the standard language of education from when a child began school at age 8 right up until they left university.

The imagined worlds that could be discovered at our stall were, of course, also neo-Latin ones: Thomas More’s famous Utopia (1516) and Ludvig Holberg’s Klimii iter subterraneum (1741). Because of More’s novel, the word ‘utopia’ is now used to refer to a perfect society.

Bianca on our stall

The adventures of Holberg’s hero reminded many of the visitors of Gulliver’s Travels. Children could have a go at writing some Latin with a quill, just like pupils in the 16th and 17th centuries did. There were some images from manuscripts as inspiration!

Having a go at writing with a quill.

There were hundreds of people attending the festival and it was a very enjoyable afternoon. So many people were interested to find out about neo-Latin: children (ranging from the very young up to A-level students), parents, grandparents and other stallholders, as well as academics from related and different fields. Many people were familiar with Thomas More’s Utopia, but unaware that it was originally written in Latin. The quill activity proved very popular too: everyone wanted to have a go! Even the children who were shy or too impatient to talk about Latin in the early modern period were telling each other about the stand where you can write with feathers and ink, and there was often a bit of a queue!

About the project: types of manuscript 1 – presentation manuscripts

In the survey phase of our project we are trying to get a sense of the range of types of neo-Latin poetry in English manuscript sources which survive from the early modern period (c. 1550-1700) and the sorts of context in which they are found. In practice, this means that we are looking at a huge range of types of manuscript: throughout this period you find neo-Latin poetry in all sorts of source, from large and beautiful, sometimes illustrated, scribal presentation manuscripts to the most personal and ephemeral material – sometimes literally scraps of paper on which someone has scrawled an epigram. In this series of posts I want to give a sense of the range of this material, starting today with presentation manuscripts. I am very grateful to the British Library (https://www.bl.uk/) for giving permission for us to use images of their collection to illustrate what we are doing.

Presentation volumes of Latin verse were often offered as gifts to noblemen, the monarch or visiting dignitaries. Some of these collections are the gift of an individual; many of them are presented by an institution (such as a school or college) and represent the work of many individuals, who are often (though not always) named.

BL Royal MS Royal 12 A VII, f9r

This first image is of BL Royal MS Royal 12 A VII, f9r (this means the ‘recto’ or ‘right side’ of the ninth folio). This is the beginning of an interesting pastoral poem commemorating the death of Henry VIII and the accession of Edward VI. Henry VIII died in 1547 so this is technically just outside the boundaries of our survey, and is therefore one of the oldest precisely datable manuscripts that we have included. This particular volume is by a fairly well-known poet, the Frenchman Nicolas Denisot. Not many of the works we are studying are by authors with their own wikipedia entry, but Denisot has one in both English and French: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolas_Denisot

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