8 December 2010

Erasmus of Rotterdam

In the Pilgrims' Manual at Walsingham is given a mangled text of the Vow which Erasmus composed for his 1511 pilgrimage to our Blessed Lady. That Manual does not reveal that the original was a delightful exercise in perfect Attic Greek iambic trimetra. Here is a complete if wooden translation; I spotted the Greek text, by the way, while looking through the Merton Priory copy of Erasmus in Bodley.

Hail! Jesus' Mother, blessed,
Alone of women God-bearing and Virgin,
Others give to thee other gifts,
This man gold, that man again silver,
Yet another brings and offers freely precious stones
In return for which they ask in return, some, health of body,
Others, wealth, and some hope for their wives
To conceive, that they have the lovely name of Father.
Some of them hope to obtain lives as long as the Old Man of Pylos.
But I, a poet, devoted but poor,
Bringing verses - for I cannot bring anything else -
Beg as a return for my worthless gift,
The greatest prize, a devout heart
Free once for all of all sins.

This is a reworking of the Greek topos which Eduard Fraenkel, whom in a wondrous benefaction Adolf Hitler sent to Oxford to transform Classical studies here, taught us to call a priamel; "Some .... Some ... Some ... but I ... "

Did Erasmus read his poem by the flickering lights in the Holy House at Walsingham? I like to imagine that he did; to think of the New Learning, the Renaissance world, there at our Lady's feet; to imagine that funny little Dutchman as he murmured verses that Euripides could have written; to think of him bringing before her the cultural continuum of Sappho and Pindar and, not least, of Horace (see Odes 1:1) ... whose birthday was on December 8.

If we join the Ordinariate, shall we ever again be able to offer the Adorable Sacrifice at our Lady's Altar in her Holy House?


Gary said...

On Erasmus at Walsingham, you might be interested in my forthcomng books, The Virgin Mary in Late Medieval Literature and Popular Culture (Cambridge UP January 2011) and especially Walsingham and the English Imagination (Ashgate July 2011), in which there is a detaile dchapter on Erasmus and the shrine.

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Well, it's always jolly to get review copies of congenial books ...

Steve said...

I take my hat off to whoever did the translation - was it your good self, JWH? - for rendering "theotokos" as the equivalent of "genitrix Dei" rathern than the unscriptural and un-Chalcedonian "mater Dei".

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Mater Dei is the common currency of the Latin Church and of the Byzantine communion (it is written at the top of every Ikon of our Lady). So I don't find it easy to be dismissive of it .