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.

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.


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

Continue reading “About the project: types of manuscript 1 – presentation manuscripts”

Meet the team – Raffaella

Raffaella Colombo is the newest member of our research team and the second PhD student funded by the project. Here is what she has to say about what her first few weeks have been like:

I’m the newest entry in the team. I joined Victoria, Bianca and Sharon at the beginning of January to work on the project as a PhD student. Before coming to London, I studied in Pavia (Italy) and I was a fellow student of Collegio Ghislieri (http://collegio.ghislieri.it/ ). I got my BA in Classics and then a MA in Modern Philology, thus combining two of my greatest academic interests, Latin literature and its reception in Italian modern and contemporary culture. So, as well as the other team members, I have an interdisciplinary background and I’m passionate about many different aspects of Classical Latin and Neo-Latin culture, including didactic poetry, animal studies and meta-poetical discourse. I studied Neo-Latin poetry for the first time while working on my MA dissertation on Giovanni Pascoli’s Latin poetry (late 19th century) and I’m now discovering a completely new world, working with the English manuscripts from the early-modern period.

My first weeks in London were full of things to do to settle down in a big city and start a new life. However, I got used to the rhythms quite quickly and I started working enthusiastically at the British Library, helping to complete the survey stage of the project. At the moment, my main job is to tidy up the descriptions of the manuscripts that Victoria, Bianca and Sharon examined in the first few months, but I’m also looking at some new manuscripts and working on their descriptions from the beginning. What I really enjoy is that I discover something new every day! And it’s incredible how many things I’ve learnt in only a month in terms of handling manuscripts, palaeography, literary culture and metrics. One of the biggest challenges I’ve been facing since my very first day is, in fact, the identification of the metrical schemes in which the poems we found are written. We are surprised, as a team, at the metrical variety we’ve been finding: not only “common” hexameters, elegiacs and hendecasyllables, but also pythiambics and archilocheans, alcaics and iambics and apparently original Neo-Latin creations for which we have had to invent some terms of our own!

In the following months I’ll be involved in some of the team’s outreach projects and I’ll travel outside London to visit local archives and libraries where we expect to find more Neo-Latin verse. I will also spend some time in determining more precisely the topic of my PhD dissertation, as at the moment I have only a few general ideas.

Sharon’s visit to Durham

A visit to Durham

On Tuesday the 30th of January, I took a 7 am train to go to Durham. I arrived at about 10:15 and had arranged to visit three different libraries. Fortunately, they were all close together in the centre of town. First, I went to the Palace Green Library, which is the main special collections library of Durham University.

The building in the centre of this picture is the Palace Green Library, you can see how close it is to the Cathedral.

There were some interesting items there, including MS MSP 62, an early 17th century volume with notes on Roman and English history (up to the present time) interspersed with Latin verse on important figures, such as elegiacs entitled De Thomae Cranmeri Archiescopi qui carcere detinebatur palinodia and another poem in elegiacs entitled In effigiem Boneri, carmen.

In the afternoon, I went to the Cathedral Library. I wasn’t sure where to go initially; it turned out I had to go through the cathedral to the cloisters and up a staircase leading from there.

The cloisters, near the staircase to the Monks’ Dormitory.

I then found myself in the fourteenth century Monks’ Dormitory, an impressive room with a very high ceiling with wooden beams, which has part of the cathedral’s ‘Open Treasure’ exhibition in it and also serves as a library. I went to the Barker Reading Room, a small room to the left of this dormitory. Because the cathedral collection contained most of the manuscripts relevant to our project, I returned there the next day. One of the most fascinating pieces there, was in MS Hunter 76, a late 17th century manuscript. It is a macaronic poem (partially in Latin, partially in English) in hexameters, entitled Polemo-Middiana Carmen Macaronicum, usually attributed to William Drummond. It includes words such as ‘lobster’, ‘shippas’ and ‘footus’ and has notes accompanying it on the bottom half of each page. Another manuscript, MS Hunter 27, which dates from the mid-17th century, includes Latin versions of poems by George Herbert, illustrating the close relationship between English and Latin poetry in this period.

After the library closed, and I was about to leave the cathedral, I heard the choir sing. It sounded wonderful, so I decided to stay for Evensong. Afterwards, I had a bite to eat and then went to my accommodation. It was now very windy and cold in Durham and they were forecasting snow for the next day. The snow didn’t fall. Instead, I woke up to an even colder, but beautifully sunny Durham with blue skies

The view from the courtyard to the street.

After a quick breakfast, I headed to 5 The College library, where I had my first appointment of the day. The library is hidden away in a courtyard next to the Cathedral. One of the volumes there, Add. MS 352, contains a long hexameter poem of 1290 lines about John Cosin, Bishop of Durham. There is also a curious play about Latin grammar (Add. MS 248) which includes verse and may have been written by Thomas Rud, who was headmaster of the Cathedral grammar school in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. After I finished up work there, I headed back to the Cathedral library, where I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at more volumes before taking the train back home in the evening.

It was an interesting and enjoyable visit!