BMCR 2021.04.31

Coryciana. Epigrammata, 1524: introduction, texte, traduction et notes

, Coryciana. Epigrammata, 1524: introduction, texte, traduction et notes. Les Classiques de l'Humanisme, 55. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2020. Pp. cxxxi, 514. ISBN 9782251450988 €45,00.

The Roman humanists of the early sixteenth century enjoyed a rich intellectual and social life in their many sodalities, and they recorded their interests and activities in reams of occasional poetry, often writing on the same set theme. They wrote on the Laocoon, on the death of Raphael, on the courtesan Imperia, on the hated pope Adrian VI, and on many other topics great and small that struck their collective fancy, always trying to outdo each other in wit and variatio, and sometimes even in poetic art. The Coryciana, by far the largest collection of its kind, preserves 399 examples of their work. Its over 130 poets belonged to the sodality of Johann Goritz, called by the humanist name Coritus or Corytius, after the wonderful old gardener in Vergil’s Fourth Georgic. The poems all deal with several closely related themes: the piety and generosity of Goritz, the festive dinners in the gardens of his vigna, and—above all—the altar to St. Anne that he had constructed in the church of Sant’ Agostino in Rome.

Lydia Keilen’s volume contains Jozef IJsewijn’s[1] Latin text of the first book of the Coryciana (poems 1-372) with Keilen’s facing French translation, extensive introduction, succinct notes on most of the poems, several appendices, and prosopography of the poets.

The poems of the Coryciana were all composed for Goritz’s annual celebration of St. Anne’s Day (July 26). They can be dated to a period of about a dozen years, from the dedication of Goritz’s altar in Sant’ Agostino in 1512 to the submission of the poems to the press at the end of 1523.[2] According to the colophon, they were printed in July 1524 (perhaps in time for that year’s celebration). The volume is divided into three books. Book I, Epigrammata, the subject of Keilen’s work, praises the altar; it is by far the longest. Book II, entitled Hymni, contains both hymns and prayers to Saint Anne. Book III, Annales, is devoted to praises of Goritz and his hospitality. The thematic arrangement roughly corresponds to the rhythm of the celebration. In the morning, the sodales gathered at the altar for mass; afterwards, they adjourned to Goritz’s vigna for a convivial banquet. Their epigrams and (perhaps) their poetic hymns and prayers were attached to boards or screens around the altar. Praises of the banquet were hung on trees and shrubs in Goritz’s garden. Each year’s poems were preserved, and over time the boards around the altar became fuller and more numerous.

The altar itself was the main focus of attention, as the size of Book I indicates. Erected against one of the columns in the church, it holds a statue group of St. Anne, Mary, and the infant Jesus sculpted by Andrea Sansovino. Above the statue group is a fresco of the prophet Isaiah by Raphael. (The ensemble was dismantled in the eighteenth century, but one can see it reunited today thanks to the research of Virginia Bonito, which led to its restoration in 1980.)[3] The chief themes of Book 1 are the statues, the skill of Sansovino, and the religious conception and generosity of Goritz, as well as the celebration of these ideas by the poets themselves. The epigrams pay almost no attention to the fresco; only thirteen of the 372 poems refer to it at all, and not a single one says anything specific about its subject or mentions the name Raphael.[4]

Keilen announces the purpose of her volume on the second page of her introduction (x): “L’objectif principal de cet ouvrage est la traduction du premier livre des Coryciana.” As she notes (xi), she is the first to translate the complete ensemble into any modern language. (More than a few epigrams, but still only a fraction of the whole, have been translated into English by various scholars.)[5] But Keilen’s work is far more than a bi-lingual edition of the Epigrams. It is a major work of scholarship on both the Coryciana itself and on its historical and cultural context.

Her wide-ranging and substantial introduction (over 130 pages long) is the best general account I know. It is divided into two sections. In the first, Keilen presents a full discussion of Goritz and his altar. She brings together the crucial information from its disparate biographical, religious, archaeological, and art historical sources and presents it in a way that sheds light just where it is needed to understand Goritz’s monument, its subject, and its physical setting. The whole section is excellent. Here I will just single out as essential reading her discussions of the following: the biography of Goritz, the traditional iconography of St. Anne and the statue type she calls “sainte Anne Trinitaire” (St. Anne with Mary and the infant Jesus), and Raphael’s Isaiah. Like most scholars, Keilen believes that the altar was created as an ensemble by Sansovino and Raphael and that the sculpture and fresco were meant to be read together. She presents just such a reading in an interesting discussion on pages lxxvi-lxxxvi.

In the second section of the introduction Keilen treats the Coryciana itself, placing Goritz’s sodality in the cultural landscape of early sixteenth-century Roman humanism and comparing the poetry collection with other large-scale contemporary efforts, particularly the annual verses offered at the festival of Pasquino. The section presents a discussion of epigram as a genre and refers in general terms to the nature of the Epigrams but has little specific to say about the poems themselves. It is not concerned at all with books II and III of the collection, which I hope Keilen will treat in a second volume. Scholars have paid little attention to these poems, and a study devoted to them is surely needed. For me, the most interesting part of the section is that treating what she calls “Genèse du recueil” (cx-cxxiii): selection of the poems for the edition, their arrangement into books, and the history of the text. These are all important questions. In the dozen years of the celebration there were probably far more poems than appear in the Coryciana; what we have is a selection, although a large one. How was it made? To what extent can the chronology of the poems be determined? Keilen, appropriately cautious, does not claim to have definite solutions, but presents a useful review of the evidence and previous scholarship and gives a clear account of the possibilities and probabilities. I would have welcomed a bit of speculation on some points. For example, a note at the end of one of the manuscripts (Vat. lat. 2754) reads “sequantur mox Graeca” (the Greek poems to follow). What if anything can be surmised about these poems, and who in the sodality might have written them? (To mention just one possibility, the famous Greek humanist Janus Lascaris, for example, was a member of Goritz’s sodality, but no poem by him appears in the Coryciana; could he have contributed a poem in Greek?) It would also have been worth taking up another question: given that Sansovino’s statue and Raphael’s fresco were designed as an ensemble, why does the collection essentially ignore the fresco? At present we have no answers to either question and little information to go on, but both are highly relevant to any consideration of the original character of the collection.

Keilen’s translation will prove invaluable to future scholars. I cannot claim to have scrutinized each translation, but the many I have examined are clear and accurate. My sense, however, is that the whole is more important in this case than the sum of its individual parts. The Latin and indeed the sense of some poems is sometimes surprisingly difficult, but by working through the entire mass of epigrams, Keilen has inevitably gained a specialist knowledge of how they work—not only their language and style, but also their approach to their subject, which is often a group approach even though the epigrams vary in depth and complexity, to say nothing of quality. Her commentary identifies Biblical and mythological references and echoes of classical poets and frequently presents a brief reading of a poem. Only once or twice did I find myself disagreeing with her in the poems I looked at. The most notable example is in her translation and reading of Cor. 110 by Marcus Antonius Casanova.

Si vivis, nec nos delusit dextera Apellis,
Quid sentis, vates, de Superis? Loquere!

Keilen translates (p. 88):

Si tu vis et si la main d’Apelle ne nous trompa pas,
Que penses-tu, poète, des Dieux d’en haut? Parle!

But this is surely one of the handful of poems referring to Raphael’s fresco, and the most striking example at that, as Riiser noted.[6] The vates in line 2 is not a generic poet, but Raphael’s lifelike prophet Isaiah, called upon to speak about the divinities (Superis) depicted in the statues below the fresco. Here is how Riiser translates the line: “What do you think, prophet, of the gods? Speak!”

Keilen’s volume includes a generous amount of important supplementary material: a detailed commentary on the introductory letter of Blosius Palladius, several appendices containing primary material not easily available elsewhere (including Goritz’s contract with the monks of Sant’Agostino to erect his altar, the partial list of Goritz’s sodales attributed to Paolo Giovio, and Francesco Arsilli’s complete De poetis urbanis). In addition, she presents a detailed prosopography of the poets represented in Coryciana 1-372. All this material, like the rest of her volume, will be welcomed enthusiastically by scholars interested in the Coryciana and in the culture of Roman humanism as a whole. I for one hope that she will soon give us a similar volume (volumes?) on the Hymni and Annales.

 Review Bibliography

Bonito, Virginia Anne, 1982. “The St. Anne Altar in Sant’ Agostino in Rome: Restoration and Interpretation.” The Burlington Magazine 124, 268-76.
Bonito, Virginia Anne, 1984. The Saint Anne Altar in Sant’Agostino, Rome, University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
IJsewijn, Jozef, 1990. “Poetry in a Roman Garden: the Coryciana.” In Latin Poetry and the Classical Tradition, eds. Peter Godman and Oswyn Murray. Oxford, 211-31.
IJsewijn, Jozef, ed., 1997. Coryciana. Rome.
Rijser, David, 2012. Raphael’s Poetics: Art and Poetry in High Renaissance Rome. Amsterdam.


[1] IJsewijn 1997.

[2] IJsewijn 1997, 19-20.

[3] Bonito 1982.

[4] Rijser 2012, 227-28.

[5] For example, Bonito 1984, IJsewijn 1990, Rijser 2012.

[6] Rijser 2012, 228.