Neo-Latin Reading Group, Trinity Term 2011

July 6, 2011

The Neo-Latin reading group continued its exploration of early modern poetry and prose, beginning with Thomas More’s Coronation Elegy for Henry VIII. This poem presents Henry’s accession as a deliverance from the evils flourishing under his father, and raises questions as to how its first readers understood its expectations of monarchy. Stephen Harrison pointed to Ovid’s Tristia 4.2 as a close thematic and metrical parallel, and advanced other Latin analogues to question the ironic reading recently outlined by David Rundle (whose Renaissance blog is here). If Milton’s Latin poetry has been neglected, it is partly because of the difficulty of catching in translation an idiom whose playfulness, Gordon Teskey has argued, does not square with normal images of the austere Puritan. Professor Teskey, visiting this term from Harvard, has contributed a preface to an excellent collection if verse translations by David Slavitt. His presentation  for the reading group centred on Mansus, with special reference to the conclusion, where Milton imagines himself looking down from heaven and applauding his own poetic deeds. Professor Teskey offered a fascinating interpretation of this vexed passage – so vexed indeed that it is often omitted in translations – and is modified by Slavitt. Returning to our series of Selden events, Nick Hardy explored John Selden’s Uxor Ebraica, a work which ‘was much more than an intervention in contemporary debates: it was a kaleidoscopic work of late humanist erudition which blended historical and literary sources, moving with ease between Roman law and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and quoting from the full range of texts regarded in the seventeenth century as classical: Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and even Arabic’. In a challenging overview of early modern intellectual history, Per Landgren (visiting from Göteborg University, Sweden) introduced ‘the Aristotelian concept of historia in the late Renaissance’, emphasizing how widely the term’s neo-Latin usage differed from what we would now describe as history, and the overlap with Aristotelian ‘natural history’.


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