BMCR 2011.06.34

Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Budapestinensis: Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies, Budapest, 6-12 August 2006. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 386

, Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Budapestinensis: Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies, Budapest, 6-12 August 2006. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 386. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010. xxxiv, 865. ISBN 9780866984348. $95.00.


In reviewing an earlier volume in this series, I have already pointed out that in the field of Neo-Latin studies these Acta volumes play an unusually important role for collections of the cahiers type: because of the general paucity of Neo-Latin journals, they serve as an important outlet for article-length work. The present one is notable for the number of studies of writers of the host nation, and (which is not precisely the same thing) contributions by modern scholars of that nation. The result is that a spotlight is thrown on Hungarian humanism, which was lively and interesting—in his presidential address, Jean-Louis Charlet reminds us that until as late as 1844 Latin was the official language of Hungary (which makes Walter Savage Landor’s recommendation that Latin be the official language of the newly-founded Italian state less silly than it might otherwise seem). More generally, if you are looking for a theme in this volume, there is an unusual emphasis on the Neo-Latin literature of European nations some might consider “peripheral”: for some reason, Polish authors and Polish contributors are particularly prominent, and other articles are written on Scandinavian, Scottish, and Finnish subjects—all of which is highly educational for readers to whom much of the material handled in this volume will be unfamiliar territory. How many of us knew, for example, of the influence of the Polish Jesuit Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski on English literature (studied by Piotr Urbańsk, pp. 789 – 96)? Many readers, I am sure, will join me in regarding such contributions as most welcome, and congratulating these nations for the obviously thriving state of contemporary Neo-Latin studies in these countries. All in all, this particular installment counts as an important addition to the Acta series.

This collection of course contains the usual lavish smorgasbord of studies on all manner of topics that one expects from an Acta volume, on a range of subjects far too wide to allow any one individual to offer comprehensive critical commentary. I shall only mention a few items that happened to catch my eye. Readers with different research interests would of course fasten on other contributions, but all of us, surely, would agree on the considerable value of the volume as a whole.

Dominique Arrighi’s “L’Usage du latin dans les relations internationales au XVI e siècle” (pp. 127-135) looks at an important Renaissance cultural phenomenon, and there are many ways one could enlarge on her work. The frequency with which humanists were recruited to serve on diplomatic missions is striking, and, no doubt, somehow had to do with the international nature of respublica literarum. A Latin word frequently used to designate an ambassador, after all, was orator, and many contemporary accounts describe diplomatic representatives delivering prepared set-speeches to their hosts, which goes to show the importance of the art of rhetoric in international relations. One could also investigate the way this use of Latin played out in individual nations. No historian, for example, appears to have studiedthe position of Latin Secretary in England. This was instituted by Henry VII (whose importance in introducing humanism into England is often underrated), who appointed the Italian immigrant Andrea Ammonio, one of the cadre of continental humanists with whom he surrounded himself (Polydore Vergil being the best known) to this position, no doubt because he could not find any Englishman qualified for the task. In later times this grew to be an important and prestigious job: the Latin Secretary had a seat on the Privy Council and the position was occupied, among others, by Roger Ascham and John Milton (who published a volume of his official correspondence).It is not unlikely that other nations have equally interesting stories to tell.

Roger P. H. Green compares samples of Scottish Psalm metaphrases by two authors, George Buchanan and Roderick MacLean, in “Poetic Psalm Paraphrases: Two Versions of Psalm 1 Compared” (pp. 261 – 270). This is a by-blow of the first-rate study George Buchanan: Poet and Dramatist he recently co-authored with Philip Ford, but it is particularly interesting because of the inclusion of MacLean. As soon as one moves beyond Buchanan, too important a figure to be ignored, Latin poetry written by Scotsmen largely becomes uncharted territory. Particularly in view of the current prominence of Scottish nationalism as a political movement, it is difficult to understand why more of that country’s scholars do not devote themselves to the task of study their own rich cultural heritage. There is much work crying out to be done.

In “‘Heaven’s Blessing and Earth’s Joy’: Commemorative Anthologies for the Marriage of Frederick V and the Princess Elizabeth,” (pp. 573-82), Lee Piepho looks at the Oxford and Cambridge commemorative anthologies for the 1613 marriage of James I’s daughter to the Palatine Elector Frederick V. A remarkable feature of the Cambridge one (which was never published and survives only in the manuscript presented to Frederick, now preserved, because of the vagaries of history, in the Vatican Library) is the inclusion of items by the famous Oxford poet-playwright William Gager, who stands head and shoulders above the other contributors to the collection. The reason an Oxford man’s poetry appears here is that at this time Gager was Chancellor of the diocese of Ely, living and maintaining an office in Cambridge (he had also been incorporated M. A. at Cambridge many years previously). As noted by Philip C. Dust, the anthology’s modern editor, the riverine imagery of Gager’s poetry finds a counterpart in a contemporary masque by Beaumont celebrating the marriage of the Rhine and the Thames performed at Gray’s Inn, and Gager’s comparison of Frederick to Jason retrieving the Golden Fleece was matched by the newlyweds’ entry into Heidelberg, with Frederick, costumed as Jason, displaying a Fleece while riding in wagon made up to look like a mock Argo. Features such as these suggest a guiding hand from outside (probably Sir John Finnet, James’ Master of Ceremonies, working in tandem with his Rhenish counterpart). One would like to learn more about the way in which such occasional literature and pageantry devised to celebrate state occasions was designed and coordinated, and the kind of thinking that went into their creation, because they were a conspicuous feature of Renaissance political opinion-molding. And the university anthologies on the death of Sir Philip Sidney (Gager edited the Oxford one), with so much of their poetry organized around the theme of Sidney being metamorphosed into a star, suggest that, speaking more generally, such anthologies were not immune to outside influence.

Unlike classical studies, ours is a branch of scholarship devoted to a body of literature of which a great deal of material is unavailable in modern editions, and sometimes the original publications in which they appeared are unavailable on the many library sites which nowadays post digitized photographic reproductions of old books for downloading and reading. Since not all readers are lucky enough to have access to a well-furnished research library, authors wishing to discuss such items are confronted with the problem of how to write about literature inaccessible to many readers. One obvious recommendation is that such authors ought to be particularly liberal in quoting the texts they discuss, both to provide support for their observations and to convey a distinct impression of the flavor of the texts in question. This is a problem that occasionally crops up in this volume due to the unfamiliar nature of much of the material covered, although some of the contributors have the mitigating excuse that they are studying literature for which they have editions in the works (such as Alexandra de Brito Mariano, David Money, and Peter Zeeberg). In such cases, surely one of their aims is to stimulate interest in these forthcoming publications.

There are eighty contributors to this volume, of which only five represent English-speaking nations (Roger P. H. Green, David Marsh, David Money, Lee Piepho, and Valery Rees, three from the United Kingdom and two from the United States). One might think this is the result of the fact that Hungarian and Polish scholarship is so richly represented, but comparison with previous Acta volumes shows that this is not the case. Rather, the disparity of contributions accurately reflects the state of play in contemporary scholarship: Neo-Latin studies flourish in Continental Europe but have not gained much traction in the English-speaking world. I was recently approached by a research student at Oxford who was enthusiastic about writing a dissertation on academic drama, and did my best to discourage her by pointing out that this would be a guaranteed career-killer in view of a near-total lack of Neo-Latin academic positions. No explanation for this regrettable and puzzling situation comes to mind.