Neo-Latin Reading Group: Thomas Watson

December 1, 2010

Thomas Watson (1556-92) is known as a minor Elizabethan sonnetteer, but his Latin writings, as Tania Demetriou explained to the neo-Latin reading group, opened up further and sometimes surprising aspects. Watson was as familiar as could be with the conventions of frustrated Petrarchan love, having translated the Canzoniere into Latin, but his last major work, the  Amintae Gaudia, inverted the Petrarchan sequence of love and lament: the collection was a ‘prequel’ to his widely-read Amyntas, where the eponymous shepherd mourned his Phyllis. The Gaudia describes the progress of love in a witty, self-conscious style strongly reminiscent of the Hero and Leander of Christopher Marlowe – who indeed wrote the dedication to the Countess of Pembroke when the work was posthumously published. In an ekphrasis on the verge of irreverence, the poet describes a milk-pail depicting the defeat of the Armada, with the sailors transformed into fishes in an imitation of Virgil. Demetriou suggested that such erudite play, conventionally termed ‘Ovidian’, also evoked Greek erudite verse, just as Marlowe imitated Musaeus. (For more on Watson, see Dana F. Sutton’s critical overview.)

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