9 December 2010

Only for classicists

Here is the poem Erasmus ... yes; more fruits of my afternoon in Bodley with the Merton Priory copy of Erasmus ... composed to go with a picture of the Child Jesus which his fellow Humanist Dean Colet had put up in the school he founded and headed at S Paul's Cathedral in London.

Sedes haec puero sacra est Iesu
Formandis pueris dicata; quare
Edico, procul hinc facessat, aut qui
Spurcis moribus, aut inerudita
Ludum hunc inquinet eruditione.


It is written, as you perceive, in Phalaecian hendecasyllables. Quaerendum: Did Erasmus derive the use of this metre from Catullus, or from Martial? The former survived antiquity only in the Veronensian codex discovered in the middle of the fourteenth century, while Martial was much more widely known at least from the Carolingian Renaissance onwards. I think I can prove it was Martial: there is a lovely little book in the British Library containing verses by the Italian Humanist Giovanni Gigli (1434-1498), later bishop of Worcester, but, when he wrote the book in 1486/7, a writer of pure and elegant classicising verse and a seller of indulgences (a revealing combination!). It includes a very long Genethliacon dedicated to the recently-named Arthur, later Prince of Wales ... in Phalaecian hendecasyllables. And I have spotted a quotation from Martial in something else Gigli wrote: which seems to me very probably to settle the question of where this fascinating generation of circa 1500 Humanists got that metre from.

Incidentally, Gigli's genethliacon begins with a recusatio explaining that disertiores will be able to do his high subject justice in heroic measures. As people scrambled for favour and jobs in the new Tudor court, it was clearly important for him to do a quick job. Indeed, many of us, I suspect, found when we were schoolboys that hendecasyllables are just about the easiest metre in which to write fast. I wonder if that is why Erasmus produced Phalaecians to be hung up where Colet's schoolboys would see them, so that the little chaps might be tempted to have a go at doing it themselves.

4 comments:

Andrew Malton said...

What is the _ludus_? Or does it just mean amusement in general ("boys, consider Who is watching, and behave") ?

Ed Cryer said...

I scan the first line as a decasyllable, given elision and "Iesu" as two syllables.

Would Catullus have condoned that?

Ed

Jack O'Malley said...

I also at first scanned the first line as did Ed Cryer. But I think the correct scansion is ĭ-ē-sū in three syllables. (In case the diacritics don't get through - that's a short i, long e, and long u, though the last syllable is anceps.)

In Greek the name of Jesus is three syllables: iota-eta-sous. And the three syllables are preserved in Old Slavonic (and Russian) as i-i-sus (both the iota and eta having the "i" sound as in Modern Greek. Perhaps the trisyllabic rendering was common in Erasmus' day only later being reduced to two under the influence of the vernaculars?

I suspect Catullus would have condoned anything that resulted in another basia mille from Clodia. :-)

news4all said...

There is an interesting article about this poem (and others associated with it) called "Erasmus, Colet and the Schoolboy Jesus" by James Henry Rieger in "Studies in the Renaissance" (1962) vol 9. pp 187-194, accessible on JSTOR.

The boys of Dean Colet's St Paul's School used to gather round "a beautifully wrought figure of the Child Jesus, seated, in the attitude of one teaching" above the High Master's chair, as they entered or left the school, and would "salute it with a hymn. Over it is the countenance of God the Father, saying, Hear Ye Him: an inscription added at my suggestion" (Erasmus, "The Lives of Jehan Vitrier and John Colet", as cited in the article).

The poem obviously refers to this image.

I have two Coletine sons at present and I am afraid that this practice has no sign of survival either in modern day Colet Court, the prep school, or in the modern St Paul's School, now on the south side of Hammersmith Bridge in Barnes!