Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.03.10: Review of Godman/Murray

Peter Godman, Oswyn Murray, Latin Poetry and the Classical Tradition: Essays in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. Pp. xi + 243. ISBN 0-19-920174-9.

Reviewed by Paul Pascal, University of Washington and Julia Gaisser, Bryn Mawr College.


The eleven papers assembled here were originally delivered at a conference held at the Warburg Institute in 1988. The authors come from universities in England, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the United States, and constitute a truly stellar assemblage. The editors (both of whom are represented by contributions of their own) in a brief Preface make no claim for comprehensiveness or for "a unified line on the composers' treatment of their chosen subjects." In fact, a fuller introductory essay about general principles would have been welcome, given the scope of the subject. Taken collectively, the articles represent neither a general introduction to the theme, nor a survey, nor a sampling fully representative of relevant material. The volume is a miscellany, but a satisfying one. Everything in it stays close to the stated theme, one that until relatively recently has not fared well in the world of classical scholarship. The fact that this is no longer so is in large measure thanks to the work of the members of this panel, which includes such luminaries as Peter Dronke and Jozef IJsewijn.

The first paper (pp. 1-14) is "The Idea of the Shepherd King from Cyrus to Charlemagne," by Oswyn Murray of Oxford University, one of the general editors of the volume. This forms the ideal introduction to what follows, being concerned not so much with the vicissitudes of the theme of the Shepherd King (although these are plentifully and fairly dealt with) as with the issue of the character and function of cultural tradition in general. Murray prefers to separate this from the notion that the culture of the past explains the present, related to what he calls a Darwinian view of history. His conclusion: "The study of motifs, whether artistic or literary, does indeed usually reveal more about discontinuities than continuities; it is important both in exploding the idea of a developing universe of culture, and in reminding us of the similarity between discovery and rediscovery."

Next Jan M. Ziolkowski of Harvard University deals (pp. 15-38) with "Classical Influences on Medieval Latin Views of Poetic Inspiration." This is one of the most substantial essays in the collection. It does not lend itself well to summary, covering, as it does, all bases from Plato through Horace, Varro, Isidore, and the rest. Among the themes dealt with are the Muses (and other deities as dispensers of inpiration), solitude, lucubratio, the imagery of breath as a medium of contact between gods and humans (cf. "inspiration"), furor poeticus, and finally Bacchus and the role of wine and the tavern. A splendid bibliography of primary and secondary sources is appended. The paper culminates in the famous verses of the Confession of the Archpoet (10, 13-19) beginning, "Poculis accenditur animi lucerna...."

There follows (pp. 39-55) "The Quotation in Goliardic Poetry: The Feast of Fools and the Goliardic Strophe cum auctoritate," by Paul Gerhard Schmidt of the University of Freiburg-im-Breisgau. This is a useful augmented version in English of the author's publication in Antike und Abendland 20 (1974), pp. 74-87: "Das Zitat in der Vagantendichtung: Bakelfest und Vagantenstrophe cum auctoritate," dealing with the medieval poets' use of Biblical and poetic quotation (auctoritates) as a formal device, in the manner that causes us to refer to such quotations as "tags." The original is already widely known and influential. The present translation, by Peter Godman, is smooth and accurate.

Peter Dronke's "The Archpoet and the Classics" (pp. 57-72) is an analysis of the classical and Biblical reminiscences in the Confession, intended to serve as a further rebuttal, if one were needed, of Francis Cairns's position as stated in "The Archpoet's Confession: Sources, Interpretation and Historical Context" (Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, 15 [1980], pp. 87-103). Cairns had argued that the Archpoet's voluminous reminiscences of classical authors and of the Bible are "fleeting or trivial" and "lacking in contextual associations." This position was soon attacked in the same journal by Johannes Hamacher ("Die 'Vagantenbeichte' und ihre Quellen," Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, 18 [1983], pp. 160-167). Dronke adds the finishing touches by thoroughly reexamining the already familiar reminiscences in the Confession and adding a few new ones, notably from Tibullus and Propertius. Some of these latter, it must be admitted, are subtle to the point of being dubious. But Dronke's new interpretation (pp. 64-5) of what are arguably the most familiar lines of medieval Latin poetry, beginning "Meum est propositum in taberna mori" (Confession, 12), based on his addition of Luke 15.10 to the standard inventory of the sources of these lines, is quite simply a stroke of genius.

A. C. Dionisotti of the University of London contributes a provocative and well-argued paper (pp. 73-96) on "Walter of Chatillon and the Greeks." This deals with the Alexandreis, which was influential in the late medieval period but is less studied now than Walter's accentual lyric verse (witness the rest of the collection under review). Dionisotti raises interesting questions about Walter's intent and procedure in producing this work. There is little of the romance or of the fabulous that might be expected. Alexander is represented as hardly possessing human qualities, but rather as the embodiment of conquest, power, and rule. Dionisotti concludes that the use of the Greek Alexander in this role contributes to the "repeatedly and explicitly anti-Roman" (p. 85) pattern of the poem, and she sees this as "a literary concomitant to the increasingly secular, and increasingly Greek, philosophy burgeoning in the schools of Paris." Her final words (p. 90) describe the Alexandreis as "a classic of that new readiness to break out of the Western mould, to question the boundary and to declare, like Alexander, that one's own world is scarcely enough."

The last essay (pp. 97-114) of the medieval group, "Classical Latin Satire and Medieval Elegiac Comedy," by Giovanni Orlandi of Milan University, is an admirable specimen of appropriately traditional scholarship: identifying sources of the motifs in the Latin elegiac "comedies" of the 12th Century. These turn out to be, not unexpectedly, more closely related verbally to the work of the Roman satirists -- including all of the major ones, Horace, Persius, and Juvenal -- than to ancient comedy. Orlandi's findings are in their way ground-breaking, although at times they seem almost obvious. This reminds us that much "obvious" work of this kind still remains to be done for medieval Latin literature, while in the field of classical literature the work of the Quellenforscher has become a rather maligned and almost extinct pursuit, sometimes seemingly the pursuit of mirages. If the collection has a fault, it is in its virtually unrelenting earnestness. The reader searches in vain here for a light touch or a glimmer of humor (one could argue for an exception or two in Dronke). This is somewhat paradoxical in view of the character of much of the material under consideration. Among the authors who appear and reappear most prominently in the various articles are Horace (mostly the Sermones and Epistles) and Ovid (the amatory poems), of the ancients; and the Archpoet, Walter of Chatillon, and the like to represent their medieval counter-parts. Surely the contributors might have spared a word occasionally to communicate to the reader that the reading of these authors' works can sometimes be fraught not only with significance but with pleasure as well. Is there something about the august Warburg Institute that inhibits this point of view?

Paul Pascal


Scholars have been too little interested in the classical tradition -- a state of affairs that one may attribute both to the parochialism of classicists and to the resulting tetchiness of medieval and renaissance scholars. Assuming that literature ended with the death of Ovid, too many classicists tend to find later works interesting only as they demonstrate their authors' knowledge or misunderstanding of classical sources, while medieval and renaissance scholars, seeing the literature of their periods in its own cultural context (and hence in its own terms), have long since tired of mere Quellenforschung. Until recently, moreover, Renaissance scholars have focussed almost exclusively on the emerging vernacular literatures, largely ignoring or disparaging the riches of Neo-Latin literature, which constitutes a considerable part of the classical tradition precisely in the crucial period of rediscovery and re-evaluation of the ancient authors.1 The present volume, however, which emphasizes the use and transformation of the classical tradition by later poets rather than their passive acceptance of its "influence", does much to redress the balance and should stimulate further research.

In "The 'Pagan Beyond' of Albertino Mussato" (pp. 115-47) Michele Feo of the University of Florence argues that Mussato's Somnium is a humanist version of the "typically medieval literary genre" of visions of the afterlife, which differs from its medieval predecessors in taking the form of a verse letter and in drawing no morals. Though Mussato's chief literary model is Aeneid 6, he is dealing "not with a pure but with an already interpreted Virgil" (p.135) - thus reading Virgil through Servius and Macrobius, as well as through the medieval tradition. Feo tends to be diffuse (his is one of the longest essays in the volume), but he is most interesting on Mussato's corrections of Dante, which he sees as politically motivated -- a successful attempt by the Guelph Mussato to ensure that the Ghibelline Dante did not receive the poet's crown in Florence for his Comedia.

Peter Godman of Tübingen University is one of the general editors of the volume. In "Literary Classicism and Latin Erotic Poetry of the Twelfth Century and the Rena issance" (149-82) he considers Peter of Blois and Johannes Secundus as "creative subversives" who "wrote in the learned language not merely as conservative men of letters who wished to display their virtuosity to a cultivated elite, but as avant-garde artists to whom Latin offered a uniquely sophisticated medium that they refashioned in order to formulate new cultural styles." (p. 151) He demonstrates Peter's novelty by juxtaposing two of his poems (Sevit aura spiritus and Grates ago Veneri) with the contemporary prescriptions of Matthew of Vendôme. Godman's literary analysis is subtle and acute, and he elegantly situates Peter in his historical and cultural context, but he has not exhausted the possibilities of his two poems. Feminist critics will find plenty of material in both, and particularly in Grates ago Veneri, which features a rape that Godman, though alert to its troubling hints of violence, oddly persists in calling a "seduction". In the discussion of Secundus Godman contrasts Alessandro Guarino's commentary on Cat. 5 with Secundus' Basium 7 (Centum basia centies), accompanied by the wonderful seventeenth-century translation of Thomas Stanley, and thus aptly demonstrates the gulf in understanding between the pedestrian commentator and the highly sophisticated poet. The same point, incidentally, could be made by juxtaposing almost any commentator on Catullus of the period with almost any poet, for -- apart from the conventions of Renaissance commentary writing, which tend to stifle creative independence -- one must admit that Catullus was singularly unlucky in the quality of his fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century commentators. The exception was Pierio Valeriano, whose lectures on Catullus (1521-22) still languish unpublished in the Vatican Library. Godman's discussions of Secundus' Basia, together with his earlier review article ["Johannes Secundus and Renaissance Latin Poetry," The Review of English Studies 39 (1985) 258-72], should be required reading for anyone studying Renaissance imitatio.

In "The Origin and Development of the Catullan Style in Neo-Latin Poetry" (pp. 183-97) Walther Ludwig of Hamburg University presents a shortened (and translated) version of his important essay "Catullus renatus: Anfänge und frühe Entwicklung des catullischen Stils in der neulateinischen Dichtung" [Litterae Neolatinae (Munich, 1989) 162-94]. Ludwig is to be commended for his magisterial and much needed delineation of the main lines of fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Catullan imitation, which he has painstakingly traced from Landino and Pontano on to Marullo and Mantuan, and equally for his reconstruction of Pontano's Pruritus and demonstration of the original ordering of Pontano's Parthenopeus. His work is the necessary starting point for all further studies of Renaissance Catullan imitation and thus a fine addition to the present volume; but readers should consult "Catullus renatus" for L's full argument and references. Two small corrections should be noted. Landino's were not the first Catullan hendecasyllables of the Renaissance -- those of Leonardo Bruni a generation earlier seemingly have that honor [see J. Hankins, "The Latin Poetry of Leonardo Bruni," Humanistica lovaniensia 39 (1990) 1-39]. Moreover, although Ludwig implies the opposite chronology, it was Mantuan's Contra poetas impudice scribentes carmen that influenced Marullo's Ep. 1.62, rather than the other way around. Mantuan's poem, though published in a volume dated 1 April 1489 (BMC VI.823), itself bears the date 20 October 1487; the publication of Books 1 and 2 of Marullo's Epigrams has recently been dated to 1490 [see C. Kidwell, Marullus. Soldier Poet of the Renaissance (London 1989) 156-57].

In "Neo-Latin Imitation of the Latin Classics" (pp. 199-210) G.W. Pigman III of California Institute of Technology is still concerned with a basic question that he raised in his influential article, "Versions of Imitation in the Renaissance" [Renaissance Quarterly 12 (1980) 1-32]: given the highly formulaic diction of Latin poetry, how does one recognize and interpret imitation, and how can one discriminate between intentional allusion and accidental echoes or reminiscences? (The same question will be raised by Jozef IJsewijn in the next essay.) One could fault Pigman's logic (pp. 199-200: "if one can produce an interpretation which plausibly accounts for the interaction between text and model, the interpretation itself becomes a strong argument in favour of taking the imitation as a conscious allusion to a particular passage"; p. 202: "this coincidence (between phrases in Petrarch's Bucolicum carmen and Aeneid 6) ... should alert us to the pitfalls of taking a plausible interpretation of the relationship between text and model as evidence that a text is alluding to a model"; pp. 202-10: P's interpretation of Vida's use of echoes or allusions from Virgil in his De arte poetica). His practical criticism, however, is interesting and convincing: Vida, he argues, imitates passages imitated by Virgil from earlier poets in order to illustrate his own discussion of imitatio and literary furta.

In "Poetry in a Roman Garden: The Coryciana" (pp. 211-31) Jozef IJsewijn of Louvain University discusses one of the most remarkable documents of Roman humanism in its last halcyon days before the sack of Rome (1527): the poems of contemporary humanists that were presented to Johann Goritz ("Corycius") each year on St. Anne's Day to celebrate Goritz's altar to the Virgin and St. Anne in S. Agostino and subsequently published as a collection in 1524.

The article is a good introduction. IJsewijn sees the Coryciana as an illustration of "how Augustan Rome had become a model for its Medicean successor" (p. 216), and reminds us that Goritz's appellation "Corycius" is an allusion to Virgil's senex Coricius and his wonderful garden, which the Renaissance poets saw as foreshadowing the vigna of their Goritz. And he shows how many of the 400 poems in the collection blend Christian and Pagan elements [a theme he seems to have developed further in an article I have not seen: "Puer Tonans: de animo christiano necnon pagano poetarum qui "Coryciana" scripserunt," Academiae Latinitati fovendae Commentarii 12 (1988) 35-46]. True enough. The Roman humanists did mingle Pagan and Christian elements, and they did see themselves as recreating and continuing ancient Roman institutions. (Thus, in 1522 Valeriano explains the word sodalitas in Cat. 12.13 in terms of contemporary humanist sodalities: "No form of association produces a greater bond of friendship than dining together, than being nourished and fed together -- whence the terms 'close friends' (sodales) and 'fellowship' (sodalitium) for a gathering of those friends who often dine together. You know this sort of fellowship at Rome, the sodalitia of Sadoleto and of Giberti, Coricius, Colocci, ... and others." (Vat. lat. 5215, 176 r-v.)

But in focussing so heavily on their echoes and reminiscences of classical poetry (whose importance he is inclined to suspect in any event), IJsewijn omits two far more significant artistic elements of the Coryciana: the shape and arrangement of the collection and the role played by the poems in their original position around the altar. The collection is divided into three books, Epigrammata, Hymni, and Annales, but are there artistic criteria for the arrangement within books? (They were edited by several of the contributing poets, and one manuscript, Vat. lat. 2754, contains some directions for arranging the poems for publication. One might profitably look more closely at the poems themselves for further clues.) Equally interesting, however, is the place of the poems in the original ensemble, which has been restored and interpreted by Virginia Bonito [The Saint Anne Altar in Sant' Agostino, Rome, Dissertation, New York University, 1984 (University Microfilms 8324791)]. Goritz's altar was attached to one of the piers in the nave of S. Agostino. On the altar itself was Sansovino's sculpture of St. Anne, the Virgin, and the infant Christ. Immediately above the altar was Raphael's fresco of Isaiah holding a scroll. Below, in the pavement of the church, was Goritz's tomb, ready to receive him. The poems were attached to boards or frames fastened to the pier. But other words also appeared in the ensemble. Isaiah and the statuary are framed by a Greek inscription above the prophet's head and a Latin inscription below the altarpiece -- both commemorating Goritz's gift. Isaiah's scroll carries a Hebrew text ("Open the gates that there may enter a just nation, guardians of the faith. The mind stayed. Thou wilt preserve in peace." Isaiah 26.2-3, quoted by Bonito, p. 123). Goritz's funeral inscription, in Latin, appeared at eye level on the altar: "That your dutifulness, i.e., that of St. Anne and the Virgin, may later grant him in return a place in the stars, Corycius has given these statues on earth" (Bonito, 146). Here is Bonito's interpretation of the whole (p. 146):

Uppermost on the pier Isaiah, with the message of the scroll, represents the Old Testament, prophecy and time past, but also the Gate of Heaven. Lower on the pier and closer to us emerging from the niche are Saint Anne, the Virgin, and the Child, the intermediaries for our salvation. Again, the position of the Child is important. On the sloped lap of the Virgin, it directs our view to the altar,2 in our realm, on which His incarnation and sacrifice is re-enacted. Finally, Goritz's tomb would have appeared earthbound, in the pavement at the foot of the steps.

The complex iconography of word and image was continued and enhanced by the poems around the altar musing on the statues, the piety of Goritz, and (although less often) on the powerful fresco that is so much better known today than the celebrated statues. Here, for example, is Blosio Palladio in his ode, Ad Corytii Columnam:

Salve augusta Columna, hospitium deum, Vatum materies,
artificum labor Spes certissima mortalibus, et salus. (Vat. lat. 2754, 18 r-v)

There is much exciting work to be done on the Coryciana, but it must take into account the physical, religious, and iconographical context of the poems as well as their classical echoes. But one must not carp at IJsewijn for omissions. His article, if it does not address wider concerns, certainly presents the literary and convivial world of the Coryciana and points out the poetic aspirations and self-consciousness of its contributors. It is the result of Professor IJsewijn's distinguished contributions over the years that one is able even to discuss what is important in a work like the Coryciana and that a volume like Latin Poetry and the Classical Tradition exists.

Julia Gaisser


  • [1] Humanistica lovaniensia, the most important (and until recently, the only) journal specializing in Neo-Latin studies, is only 23 years old in its journal format. The International Neo-Latin Society is also in its first quarter century, and the International Society for the Classical Tradition was founded only this year.
  • [2] But I would have said, also to Isaiah's scroll.