BMCR 2017.07.07

The Neo-Latin Reader: Selections from Petrarch to Rimbaud

, The Neo-Latin Reader: Selections from Petrarch to Rimbaud. : Sophron Editor, 2016. xviii, 381. ISBN 9780989783682. $12.95 (pb).

In the early 1950s, a burgeoning interest in Neo-Latin resulted in the publication of Aemilio Springhetti’s Selecta Latinitas, Rome, 1951. Several anthologies of Neo-Latin or Renaissance Latin literature followed: Laurens’ Musae Reduces, Leiden, 1975; Nichols’ An Anthology of Neo-Latin Poetry, New Haven, 1979; Perosa and Sparrow’s Renaissance Latin Verse, Chapel Hill, 1979; McFarlane’s Renaissance Latin Poetry, Manchester, 1980; IJsewijn’s Jesuit Latin Poets, Wauconda, 1989; Minkova’s forthcoming collection from Leuven, 2018; and many other collections of regional selections. With 772 pages of Neo-Latin spanning the 15th to the 20th century, Springhetti’s Selecta Latinitas remained perhaps the most significant compendious collection of Neo-Latin literature. Springhetti, however, was too fond of his compatriots and fellow Jesuits, which resulted in their overrepresentation within his selections. Also, Springhetti’s work contains no footnotes; its intended audience was clearly knowledgeable Latinists who did not require any aid in reading the language or even introductions to the selected authors. It is precisely by avoiding these two shortcomings that Riley’s The Neo-Latin Reader succeeds.

Riley’s Reader is an anthology of selections extending from Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini in the first half of the fifteenth century to Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud in the nineteenth. It contains 31 sections, each of which consists of selections from a single author. The selections are flanked by an introduction to the anthology and two appendices, one on the development from Medieval Latin to Neo-Latin and another on “Humanist handwriting”. In addition, Riley has provided brief introductions to each author and each separate work, which help to orient a reader who might be unfamiliar with Renaissance history or the conventions of Neo-Latin literature. Each reading is annotated with footnotes. The majority of footnotes are lexical or grammatical, but a significant number aim to clarify what might be obscure cultural, historical, or scientific points.

Those who want an introduction to a wide variety of Neo-Latin literature will find plenty here of interest to them. The genres represented include history, epic, travel narrative, colloquies, scientific writing, and poetry. Erasmus and Barclay are the most represented with 66 and 25 pages, respectively. The other authors are mostly well known, with a few who are likely known only to specialists (e.g., Grotius, George Buchanan, Elizabeth Jane Weston, George Ruggle, Holberg, Tycho Brahe, and Raphael Landivar). The book’s order is rather mysterious as it is not organized thematically or chronologically.

It is difficult to make selections for an anthology and easy to criticize another’s selections. The editor informs us that the selections were made “for their historical or literary value” and in view of the interests of the “English-speaking student” so as to “cast light on English and American history and literature” (p. xvii). Nevertheless, in any anthology of Neo-Latin literature longer than 300 pages, one would certainly expect to find more than two pages devoted to Petrarch (pp. x-xi). And if the interests of Anglophones and English literature were a primary concern, how is it that the Latin of Bacon and Milton is so conspicuously absent? Theological and religious writing accounts for a great deal of Neo-Latin literature and is crucial for the understanding of Renaissance history. It is both curious and lamentable that the enormous amount of literary output (polemical or otherwise) regarding the religious perspectives of the Catholics and Protestants has been neglected in the Reader. Lastly, the choice of Ruggle’s Ignoramus whose Latin text includes as many pages of English dialogue as there are of Petrarch’s Latin in this reader, is indeed an unusual one. These minor complaints notwithstanding, the selections are representative of many Neo-Latin literary genres and the selection is especially engaging for an Anglophone audience.

In addition to giving general biographical information and introducing the selections in the anthology, each essay discusses how the author in question relates to his contemporaries or contemporary history. Overall, his introductions are lucid, informative, and concise. One desideratum in the prefatory remarks to each selection is the lack of critical analysis of style. The authors are from different schools, periods, and nationalities, and their prose or poetry reflects these differences. As is to be expected in any literary anthology, most selections have been excerpted from longer works, and it is a challenge at times to grasp the story in medias res. Riley does provide the reader with short blurbs which fill-in the gaps whenever the selections omit chunks of text.

As valuable as the introductory material is, however, the notes are the most important feature in the book. Riley’s notes are succinct and offer the reader a great deal of help. Nevertheless, one might expect an editor to confine himself to brief definitions of words not likely to be found in a classical Latin dictionary and uses that are unique to Neo-Latin. Riley does significantly more for his readers, annotating both Neo-Latin innovations and those points of classical vocabulary or grammar that he feels might be taxing to students. The notes, however, are not always as useful as they might be. Much of the difficulty arises from their lack of focus: it is not clear for whom the notes are intended or what the editorial criteria were for their inclusion. A considerable number are devoted to basic points of classical Latin: e.g. Saluti fuit, Dat. of purpose: ‘this saved him, that he found nothing to eat there’ (p. 16, n. 5); e vestigio ‘at that moment’ (p. 18, n. 5); clitellae are ‘saddlebags’ (p. 41, n.4); Mavors is a poetic variant for Mars (p. 111, n.2); ansam dare ‘to give occasion to’ (p. 261, n.1); venor, venari ‘to hunt’ (ibid.). There is, at times, some unnecessary editorializing: “The many heretics burned under More’s supervision may have had a different opinion” (p. 80) and “In 2016 about 10% of the population of France was foreign-born” (p. 134). Then there are items that are left without remark: “ Vinum non haberi nisi importatum; equos natura gradarios omnes parvique corporis inveniri … solitos ” (p. 17). Does the author expect that the reader will recall this meaning of gradiarius from a fragment of Lucilius? The notes on the Ignoramus treat neither the phrases of the Romance languages nor the barbaric Latin, which silence leaves the student reader ignorant of the meaning of the vernacular lines and of the nature of the macaronic Latin. There are not any notes aimed at more mature scholars or referring the reader to scholarly secondary literature. Certainly nothing is wrong with providing such ample linguistic help, but I wonder whether students who need so much assistance are prepared for a book like The Neo-Latin Reader.

The Latin passages in the book contain a significant number of typos and suffer from amateur typesetting. “We pay no salaries,” says a publisher’s note on p. iv, and continues, “Large and complex digital editions undertaken with limited means must result in a certain number of textual errors or inaccuracies. For the most part these are apparent, irritating, and do not affect the meaning of the text.” The publisher ends with a promise to correct any submitted errata. What the publisher says is, in fact, true: the poor typesetting never affects the meaning of the text, but it does rob some joy from the reader. The worst of the typesetting results in footnotes not appearing on the correct page or being incorrectly numbered (pp. 45, 52, 67, 88, 92, 203). On many occasions the lines seem uneven or the spacing between letters inconsistent. The high number of typos is of greater concern. “Here are recognized classical alternatives which you may see in this Reader: paullum for paulum; intellego for intellego (and other compounds with -lego)” (p. xvi). The author certainly means “ intelligo for intellego.” Some additional errata include: “ ambo in lectum profecti ea nocte Veneri operam dedern.” (p. 8); “ Lucretis ” for “ Lucretia ” (p. 27); “ exoneravit, ‘unburdened himself of’” is a note referring to “ oneravit ” in the text (p. 27, n. 2); liiteras for litteras (p. 62); tament for tamen (p. 67); amanada for amanda (p. 90); and “ fundus, a shepherd’s weapon; cp. David and Goliath.” Riley certainly means a funda, and the form to which this note is attached is fundas (p. 125, n.6). The use of “e” or “æ” for “ae” is inconsistent even in the same page or sentence (cf. “ que ” for “ quae ” but “ Angliae ” p. 17, ceterorum and caeterorum, p. 209). The introduction would also have benefitted from closer proofreading, as it is marred by missing punctuations, some obvious typos, and inversions of words.

The editing of the Latin selections is the responsibility of the editor, who often remarks that the text of a given work is “available on-line.” He adds in a few places that those versions are “riddled with scanning errors.” There are so many errors in the printed text that one cannot help but wonder whether some selections were simply copied and pasted from Internet sources or scanned using OCR software without careful vetting.

Despite the criticisms listed here, the positive qualities of this affordable collection of Neo-Latin literature far outweigh the negative. If Riley and his publisher Sophron are able to eliminate the typesetting issues and fix the typos (which they likely will), this will be an excellent introduction to Neo-Latin for accomplished undergraduates, beginning graduate students, and hobbyists. The introductory material and the variety and value of the selections could make this book an appropriate choice for inclusion in a graduate survey course in Renaissance or Neo-Latin Latin.