Neo-Latin reading group: Silvae and shadows

November 11, 2010

In the group’s first meeting this term, Stephen Harrison resumed his discussion of George Buchanan’s poetry with a selection from his Silvae (published in 1567). He showed how such collections of occasional poems in hexameters looked back to the model of Statius’ Silvae, which were rediscovered in 1415. Buchanan’s Silvae centred on commemorations of state occasions, including his famous epithalamium for Mary Stuart and an equally didactic celebration of the birth of James VI. His collection answered to expectations of generic range with a different kind of poem, a praise, not as in Statius’ case of a dead parrot but of living horses, whose versatility and nobility, Buchanan claims, gave rise to the myth of the Centaur.

In the second session, Nicola Gardini presented the De Profectu of Celio Calcagnini (1479-1521). A humanist based in Ferrara, Calcagnini aspired to encyclopaedic knowledge and his interests ranged from astronomy to Egyptology. The De profectu conveys its moral teaching through an image of the shadow which can be traced back to the idea of the Skiomachia, fighting one’s own shadow, but in some psychological ramifications looks forwards to Jung. If his Latin prose lacked elegance, Calcagnini fiercely defended the language against vernacular writing,  perhaps, Dr Gardini suggested, as a reaction to the political troubles besetting Italy.

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