Domitian frag. 1

Quadrans (farthing) of Domitian, AD 83-85: see T.V. Buttrey, Journal of Roman Studies 97 (2007)

There’s a peculiar moment early in Martial’s first book of epigrams.

Martial’s first book of epigrams, I should start off by saying, though he himself entitled it Book 1, is not the first book of epigrams Martial wrote, not by any means. Book 1 was probably published in AD 86, and we think that a book of epigrams on the games in the Flavian Amphitheatre (Colosseum), and two books of poetic “gifts” at the Saturnalia, the Xenia and Apophoreta, predated Book 1.

And then there is the very first poem of Book 1: “Here he is! The poet you’re reading, the poet you request,/ Martial, famous the world over/ for his witty little books of epigrams;/ to whom, eager reader, you have given/ while alive and conscious such glory/ as precious few poets get post-cremation” (Hic est quem legis ille, quem requiris,/ toto notus in orbe Martialis/ argutis epigrammaton libellis/ cui, lector studiose, quod dedisti/ uiuenti decus atque sentienti,/ rari post cineres habent poetae.)

How can Martial claim to be so successful and famous at the start of his first book? Well, it can’t just be on the basis of those earlier books we know about, so we have to assume that he had produced a lot of poetry already, and that Book 1 represents some kind of new departure; and further books did follow regularly up until Book 12 in 101/102. The important point, though, is that at the start of Book 1 Martial could already claim celebrity status.

The peculiar moment I’m concerned with comes shortly after that opening poem. In 1.4, still in introductory mode at the start of the book (his books tend to run to about a hundred poems), Martial commends his epigrams to the emperor Domitian, asking him to approach them not with the severe expression of a ruler of the world (flattery will get you everywhere) but with the tolerance he would bring to a performance of mime, a notoriously unsophisticated (and often obscene) form of comedy which was nevertheless extremely popular in Rome.

In the next poem, 1.5, the emperor Domitian apparently replies to Martial: Do tibi naumachiam, tu das epigrammata nobis:/ uis, puto, cum libro, Marce, natare tuo (“I give you a sea battle, and you give me epigrams:/ I think you and your book have an ambition to go swimming, Marcus.”)

“Domitian” threatens to throw Martial along with his worthless Book 1 into the water. The sea-battle meanwhile (presumably providing the water in question) was a spectacular show staged by Domitian in the Colosseum for thousands of rapt spectators to which a book of short, funny, often smutty poems can’t begin to compare. But it’s a playful ticking off. “Domitian” uses an intimate form of address to Martial (M. Valerius Martialis), his praenomen (pre-name, first name) Marcus.

I’ve put Domitian in scare quotes there, and that reflects the scholarship. No one, to my knowledge, has suggested that this really was Domitian talking, that the emperor Domitian had composed a response to 1.4. Friedlaender, the great nineteenth-century commentator on Martial, describes Martial putting words in the emperor’s mouth (and never doing the same thing again), and as far as I’m aware Martial scholars have followed him in this.

But I wonder…

Domitian was a populist; every emperor had to be, and you don’t stage a sea battle in the Colosseum if you’re not. That Domitian had a good sense of humour, meanwhile, was definitively established by Ll. Morgan (remember the name) in Classical Quarterly in 1997. We also know he wrote poetry (Suetonius, Life of Domitian 2.2; Quintilian, Inst. Or. 10.1.91-2; Martial 5.5, and others), and he could certainly bash out a two-line elegiac epigram if he needed to. A further thought is whether it’s sensible to pretend to be an emperor who, despite that sense of humour, had a reputation as somewhat unpredictable and kinda ruthless.

Isn’t it actually more likely that Martial shared the poem with Domitian (we have evidence that this happened in poem 101 of the first book, a scribe of Martial whose handwriting was known to Domitian and his brother, and predecessor as emperor, Titus), and Domitian wrote a (slightly plodding) reply? We know that both Titus and Domitian showed favour to Martial, and it wouldn’t be the first or the last time a politician sought to harness the popular appeal of an artist, and I don’t need to embarrass anyone with toe-curling reminders of Cool Britannia. Domitian himself had between AD 83 and 85 put a celeb on his coins, as you can see at the top, the rhino (an impossibly exotic creature) that he had introduced to the Roman audience at the Colosseum. The denomination of coin with the rhino image is the lowest, a quadrans, so had the widest distribution. Domitian did not want the Roman people to forget the rhinoceros.

To Domitian, joining in the fun of Martial’s epigrams brought popularity (though with a slightly different demographic than the rhino coin, perhaps); to Martial it offered a brilliantly disruptive, eye-catching moment as he relaunched his poetic career. As for me, I am presenting you with a quite unprovable hunch, but that’s what blogs are for.

This would, though, be the only surviving poetry of the emperor Domitian, and indeed, modest as it is, a whole poem.

Middle-aged pursuits

As I coast toward 150 posts over 10 years (maybe a point to retire the blog…), this one brings together a few of its recurrent preoccupations, chronograms, Oxford, poetic metre, and it’s all, needless to say, in Latin.

The route to the cafe within the Town Hall in Oxford takes you past a display of the Oxford City Plate, the silverware used in Oxford civic ceremonies. Among the items is one I learned about last week from an unlikely source, the journal Chemistry and Industry in its June 24, 1961 issue, pp. 889-90. It is a piece of late Victoriana, and like a lot of that category of silverware looks like the FA Cup, and is a comparable kind of size. But the “Sheriff’s cup” was gifted to the City by Charles Lancelot Shadwell in 1908, according to the notice alongside it, and “is used to serve wine at Mayor-making ceremonies. The guests pass it around the table so everyone can drink from it.” I doubt the latter tradition persists, and I also have a hunch (see below) it isn’t quite what it was designed for.

On the bell of the “cup”, in any case, are the City of Oxford’s arms, and in the upper register a Latin text, on one side CIVITAS OXONIAE GAVDET IN SCABINO and on the other (currently out of sight) ET CRATERA PORRIGIT VOBIS PLENVM VINO — taken together, “The City of Oxford takes joy in its Sheriff, and offers you a mixing bowl full of wine”. (The word cratera maybe suggests a receptacle from which wine could be drawn, rather than any kind of actual cup.) But anyone to whom the name of Charles L. Shadwell is familiar will not be surprised to see that some of the letters of this inscription are larger than others.

Here it is again with the inflated letters in bold:


It is, need I say, a chronogram, a text that additionally encodes a date by including letters that can also serve as numbers totalling up to a significant date. This can’t be done in English, which uses Roman script but not Roman numerals, but can be done in Latin (and Greek, Hebrew, and languages that use Arabic script, on which see this fascinating article, with some beautiful examples, by Mehr Afshan Farooqi).

In this case the letters doubling as numerals, CIVIXIVDICICIIVILVMVI, add up, counting each letter independently, to 1894, the year, his “Schrieval year”, when Shadwell served as Sheriff of Oxford, an entirely ceremonial position as far as I can gather. The cup was evidently something he had made for himself, then gifted to the City in 1908, by which time he was Provost of Oriel College.

But I mentioned metre, and this for me is the most interesting aspect of Shadwell’s cup. Of the chronograms of Shadwell I am aware of, one is a dactylic hexameter and the other, on the facade of the Rhodes Building in Oriel, is not metrical. The example in Kingsdown, Deal, which I have attempted to link to Shadwell, is another hexameter. The Latin on the Oxford City cup is certainly verse, but of a very different kind.

Civitas Oxoniae gaudet in Scabino/ et cratera porrigit vobis plenum vino has a medieval form, trochaic, but ruled by stress and rhyme, not by syllable quantity as in classical poetry. The most familiar example of this Vagantenstrophe or goliardic verse is the twelfth-century Confession of the Archpoet, which you can read more about here, and which begins Estuans intrinsecus ira vehementi / in amaritudine loquar mee menti, “Boiling inwardly with intense anger/ I shall address my mind in bitterness”. This specific poem was very familiar: I’ve come across no less than three Oxford takes on the Confession from the end of the nineteenth century in the last week, though with the poem attributed to Walter Map, as it once tended to be.

But my main interest in poetic metre has always been in the “ethos” of its various forms, what difference it makes to the meaning of poetry if it is couched in hexameters, hendecasyllables–or goliardic. In those other late Victorian goliardic poems, in every case (two by A. D. Godley of Omnibus fame, and the other included in James Williams’ 1901 collection The Oxford Year), the metre accompanies accounts of youthful misbehaviour and general fecklessness true to the character of medieval goliardic poetry.

In the case of the cup, opting for the medieval form suits well enough the function of the item inscribed: the goliardic poet was a heavy drinker, or claimed to be. In the same poem the Archpoet expresses his memorable ambition, meum est propositum in taberna mori/ ut sint vina proxima morientis ori, “It is my purpose to die in a tavern, so that there may be wine right by my mouth as I die”. But I think goliardics speak most of all to Shadwell’s perception of his role as Sheriff of Oxford, his sense of it as a medieval role in a medieval city. The non-classical word scabinus sets the tone. There may well be a social charge too when a University man celebrates his grand house in a classical hexameter and his role in city affairs in scurrilous goliardics: Shadwell was fastidious, self-important and an undoubted snob (there’s an anecdote of his dealings with City officials at the bottom).

But Charles L. Shadwell was also responsible for creating some rather beautiful epigraphic Neo-Latin. I think I have now identified examples on stone, wood and silver.

If anyone knows of comparably peculiar Latin inscriptions, with elongated Is and Vs etc. and dating between around 1870 and 1920, I’m on the lookout for further potential Shadwellograms, so do please let me know!

H. M. Lodge, “Half a Century at the Chest”,
The Oxford Magazine January 29, 1947, 231-2, at 231.

In principio

An intriguing bit of C19th Latin to mark the end of a particularly challenging academic term. I’ve been promising myself the relaxing exercise of writing about something unrelated to anything else, and now I have a moment.

A Latin poem has come to my attention, as once before, from Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ Latin-language newspaper Alaudae. Ulrichs had been sent a copy of the poem by its author, Franz Sandvoss (pseudonym Xanthippus, 1833-1913, a writer and educator best known for vicious anti-semitism directed at, among others, the memory of Heinrich Heine), and summarises its content alongside a short quotation in Issue 27. The quotation is slightly inaccurate, however, and the summary may also suggest that Sandvoss’s poem was one thing lost by Ulrichs in a fire that destroyed his lodgings at the end of April 1893 (the issue in which Sandvoss’ poem is mentioned is dated May 1893), though Sandvoss’ politics would not not have appealed to Ulrichs if he was familiar with them. A Latin poem providing a snapshot of something, in any case.

For whatever reason, Ulrichs doesn’t record more than a small part of the poem, and it has been quite difficult to locate a copy of something that was presumably only printed in small quantities. Luckily it was reprinted in a fairly obscure journal called Allgemeine homöopathische Zeitung 141 (1900), p. 61, although for some reason the scan of this issue on Internet Archive misses out these pages, while the Hathi Trust doesn’t seem to have issues 140-141 at all. However, the modern version of an interlibrary loan came up trumps, and the Bodleian, bless them, secured me a scan of page 61 within a couple of days.

Here is the poem, to which I offer some very brief annotations at the bottom after a little more contextual matter. I am as always keen to hear better interpretations of any part of it, notes or translation or especially the nineteenth-century science:

The poem is accompanied in the journal by an introduction from “Dr. M.”, under the heading “The First Cell”, of which the following is a rough and ready translation:

“That Prof. Haeckel has really solved the great World Riddle of the genesis of the first cell is not clear to us; this great problem rather seems to us, in spite of Darwin and Haeckel, irresoluble without presuming a creative act. My dear old friend Franz Sandvoss (Xanthippus) in Weimar has expressed this question of the prima cellula very nicely in a humorous and satirical manner in a parody Carmen Saeculare, by sharing which we hope to bring some joy to colleagues lucky enough to have been nourished by the mother’s milk of the humanistic gymnasia.”

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was a German zoologist and biologist, a follower of Darwin, who in 1899 (so shortly before this issue of the journal) had published Die Welträthsel (“The Riddles of the World”), translated into English as The Riddle of the Universe, which was designed to answer the famous exposition by another Darwinian scholar, Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896), of seven World Riddles in an address to the Congress of German Scientists and Physicians in 1872. Both scholars were concerned, among other things, with the mystery of the origin of life, to which the role of the cell was considered fundamental, and although they disagreed violently between themselves, they (along with Darwin) represented to “Dr. M” and Sandvoss the scientific opposition to their own belief in a conscious, providential design in the Universe. (Sandvoss tries to suggest in the poem that Du Bois-Reymond’s understanding of nature is actually more a matter of superstitious belief than the religious view.)

The point of the reference to humanistic gymnasia is the emphasis of traditional subjects, such as Latin, in such German schools, and the concomitant marginality of the sciences. Relatedly, it is a significant decision on Sandvoss’ part to write his poem in Latin. Read Du Bois-Reymond and Haeckel and you find the Classical allusions common to people of their educational training, but there’s the hint also of a culture war around Classics. Haeckel for one bemoans in Die Räthsel the continuing prominence of “the dead learning that has come down from the cloistral schools of the Middle Ages” in children’s education.

Worth noting also is the journal in which Sandvoss’ poem is reprinted. The previous article describes the inauguration and unveiling of a statue of Samuel Hahnemann, pioneer of the pseudoscience of homeopathy, in Washington DC (attended by no less a personage than William McKinley, President of the United States). It is of course not surprising that a homeopathic publication should adopt an immaterialist standpoint.

  1. The title plays on that of Horace’s Carmen Saeculare, which marked the beginning of a new saeculum in 17 BC; cf. Kipling’s Carmen Circulare, on the dangers of driving.
  2. Possibly a more explicit reference than intended in the Latin, but students are clearly at issue here and in a poem that is to be sung to the tune of Gaudeamus.
  3. Protoplasm being the internal content of cells.
  4. I am not at all sure about this line.
  5. A play on Pater Omnipotens.
  6. In his address to the Congress, Du Bois-Reymond had used Latin to indicate the status of the various riddles, ignoramus, “We do not know”, or ignorabimus, “We shall never know”.
  7. This aggressive conclusion feels like it should be evoking a traditional turn of phrase. Jonathan Katz suggests to me the poem of Matthäus von Collin, Der Zwerg, which was set to music by Franz Schubert.

Post post

This is blogging as stress reduction, which it has been once or twice in the past. But it’s also an exercise in sorting my thoughts out, and illustrates, for what it’s worth, the peculiar difficulties of reading not just nineteenth-century Latin, but nineteenth-century Latin that is consciously promoting the language as equal to the demands of the modern day: the Latin of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ newspaper Alaudae, needless to say. As I’ve mentioned before, Ulrichs was interested in the post in any case, but had a professional interest in its workings while producing and broadcasting his newspaper across the world in the last years of his life, 1889-95.

At the point I’m going to talk about here (in issue 17-18, March 1891), he’s in the process of arguing that the administration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire would be better done in Latin, thereby removing the unfair advantage enjoyed by German, and by German-speakers within the Empire. Tongue somewhat in cheek, Ulrichs goes on to coin Latin equivalents for common contemporary postal terms, and here in a nutshell is the challenge (and appeal) of understanding and translating Alaudae, since it requires not only understanding Ulrichs’ Latin but also knowing what kind of postal items were in circulation in late nineteenth-century Europe. I can claim some limited expertise in the former.

Back in that earlier blog I mentioned one such postal item that I hadn’t encountered before, the newspaper wrapper, but once I did encounter it, it made a whole lot more sense of a couple of passages in Alaudae (Ulrichs’ Latin for this wrapper is fascia). Insight there had come with this video from the philatelists of Lancaster County, PA. But since then I’ve found a marvellous resource for understanding Victorian postal stationery: a series of six short articles by Colin Baker in the British Philatelic Bulletin issue 32 (1994-5) which are scanned and hosted on the Collect GB Stamps website and available here (1), here (2), here (3), here (4), here (5, including newspaper wrappers) and here (6). These are primarily concerned with developments in the UK, but postal practice was effectively developing in parallel across the nations signed up to the Universal Postal Union, established in 1874, and Baker notes what countries the UK imitated and how slow or fast the Post Office was to adopt innovations from abroad.

On the back of these articles, here is Ulrichs’ text at the relevant point, my translation, and the postal items that I think Ulrichs has in mind, with links to descriptions and illustrations where I have them. WordPress plays havoc with formatting, but it still should be fairly clear what goes with what. My interpretation of Ulrichs’ Latin is embodied in the translation as much as anything, and I welcome corrections.

Ecce, quem in modum fingi possint verba postalia Latina:

Chartula epistolaris duplex. Huic parti adjuncta appendix respondendo destinata est. Appendix responso scribundo. In hoc latere praeter inscriptionem nil poni licet.

Epistola curae praecipuae commendata. Epistola ad certam summam cautione postali munita. Epistola chartas continens aeris vice fungentes.

Mandatum de solvendo postale. (Assignatio postalis.) Appendicula separabilis. Quam resecandi et sibi habendi accipienti jus est.

In chartula duplici conglutinabili recentissimae inventionis: Chartula epistolaris clausa. Quam ut aperias, secundum foraminum seriem avelle marginem.

En, res facillima.

Witness how postal words may be fashioned in Latin:

‘Two-fold letter card.’ ‘The attachment joined to this part is intended for a reply.’ ‘Attachment for writing a reply.’ ‘On this side nothing beside an address may be put.’

‘Letter entrusted to special care.’ ‘Letter protected by postal insurance to a set sum.’ ‘Letter containing sheets serving in place of cash [cheques].’

‘Postal order for payment. (Postal assignment.)’ ‘Detachable counterfoil, which the recipient has the right to cut off and keep.’

On the sealable two-fold card recently invented: ‘Closed letter card. To open, tear the edge along the line of perforations.’

There, nothing easier!

Reply Card: development of the simple postcard (one side for the message & one for the address) with two cards folded together, one detachable for the reply. Description & image pp. 80-81 here.

Various forms of registered post, which included compensation for loss or damage calculated according to a table of fees: see here.

Still today a reasonably familiar item, but shouldn’t the counterfoil be for the sender, mittenti, not the recipient, accipienti?

A development of the first item known as a Letter Card and designed for messages requiring privacy, a sealable double card: pp. 208-209 here, confirming that in 1891 it was indeed a recent invention.

To err

A joke in Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ Alaudae. Probably not worth a blog (though what is these days?), but it’s a good one, I think: donnish and thus my favourite kind.

In Issue 22 of Alaudae (from January 1892) Ulrichs has got hold of an American publication called The University Magazine, a rather waspy exercise focussed on the elite US institutions of higher education. He spends a bit of time in this and subsequent issues sharing, in Latin of course, a description of the physical monuments of the College of New Jersey, Collegium Neo-Caesariense in Latin, shortly to be renamed Princeton University in 1896, but he also refers to some of the other articles in the issue.

One he mentions is an odd little narrative, “Ione: A Tale of Old Mycenae”. It’s hard to summarise, but the story basically comes down to Aristocles, the husband of the divinely beautiful Ione, being tempted by the gods, Aphrodite in particular, by way of a test of his professed devotion to his wife. It features some exceptionally affected dialogue, for instance:

“‘My Aristocles, thou doth distrust me. Dost thou wonder that for thee my beauty is divine? Love is blind only because, forsooth, it doth o’erlook all blemishes in its ideal! Whatso’er doth move a man is divine for him. Dost thou forget that Love is very godfulness?’ ‘I mistrust thee not,’ he answered,” etc. etc.

I’m delighted to report that the author of “Ione”, James E. Homans, seems to have made his living after graduating from Harvard writing the last word in practical guides to everyday stuff: ABC of the Telephone: A Practical and Useful Treatise for Students and Workers in Telephony (1901); Self-propelled Vehicles : A Practical Treatise on the Theory, Construction, Operation, Care and Management of All Forms of Automobiles (1902); New American Encyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information: A Practical and Educational Compendium Suited to the Needs of Everyday Life (1905); and Homans’ First Principles of Electricity (1916).

But Ulrichs has his own way of puncturing this overheated prose. By manipulating Ione’s name into the genitive case, and retaining its Greek inflection in his Latin text, and by doing the standard thing back then of writing a consonantal i as a j, well, it becomes narratio ficta, sumta ex antiquis Mycenis, sub titulo puellae Jones, “A tale of old Mycenae with the title, the Jones girl.”

Ulrichs Bodleianae d. d.

As some of you will have gathered, I’m spending much of my time at the moment editing translations of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ Latin newspaper Alaudae, which he published with considerable, perhaps surprising, success, from 1889 until his death in 1895.

Somewhat late in the day it occurred to me to investigate what my local Bodleian Library possessed in the way of original Alaudae material. I had an idea it held original copies of Ulrichs’ Latin newspaper, but I only got round to calling them up from the stack two days ago. What I found, bearing in mind I’ve been working through the 33 issues of Alaudae since September, was rather special.

First the disappointing news, though. The Bod doesn’t seem to have a full run of issues, 1-33, but rather 1-15 and then 25. As we’ll see, what the Bodleian has depends on what Ulrichs thought to send it.

Issues 1-15 are bound together in the Bodleian copy, with Issue 25 loose and tucked in the same volume. Glued in the front of the volume is a postcard (front and back in the photos below) with a handwritten note from Ulrichs in Aquila, the Italian town (now L’Aquila) where he spent his final years, and where he composed all those issues of Alaudae:

“Dear Sir!

You have had the kindness (the 20 May) to thank me for having sent my little journal périodique Latin Alaudae I & II. With the present lines I would ask, the Bodleian library might accept an abonnement gratuit of Alaudae and, in consequence, accord me the honour to send, in quality of donum auctoris, also the following numbers.

Yours very sincerely,

Carlo Arrigo Ulrichs

Aquila degli Abruzzi


31 May 1889.”

Most of the readers of Alaudae were paying subscribers: the terms of subscription (in Latin, like everything else) precede every issue. What Ulrichs is offering the Bodleian here is a free subscription, a gift of the author, and he is committing himself, if the offer is acceptable, to sending “the following numbers”, which I take to mean all the issues to come.

I shan’t show all my workings, as that might get a bit dull, but from a combination of postmarks, accession notes added by Bodleian librarians, and in particular Ulrichs’ own elegant autograph inscriptions on some numbers, it emerges that Ulrichs fulfilled his generous offer up to a point, sending issues periodically in batches. Thus a postmark and half of a five-cent stamp (and all of King Umberto I’s substantial moustache) at the end of 2, plus the fragment of what I think is a newspaper wrapper (there’s another fragment of a newspaper wrapper attached to Ulrichs’ note; more on wrappers below), testify to Ulrichs’ posting of Issues 1-2 as mentioned on the postcard. (King Umberto was a bit of a philistine, incidentally. But Queen Margherita subscribed to Alaudae, as well as allegedly lending her name to a pizza.)

At the end of Issue 4 we find the same postmark, AQUILA (ABRUZZI), and in the newspaper itself, in Issue 3, there is a personal communication (Ulrichs likes to include such communications to subscribers & sim. at the end of his issues) to “E. B. Nich.” at the “Library of the University of Oxford”: Verba tua benevola accepi. Ecce hic, quod obtuleram, “I have received your kind words. Find here what I had offered.” Ulrichs seems to refer back here to his own note and its offer quoted above, while “Nich.” is Edward Nicholson, Bodley’s Librarian at the time, who has evidently replied to Ulrichs’ postcard. At the end of Issue 6 there’s another address and postmark, and accession notes by the library indicating that 7-8 arrived along with 5-6 (in Issue 10 Ulrichs records the Bodleian’s thanks acceptis lib[ellis] 5-8, “for the receipt of Issues 5-8”); at the start of 9 a very elegant address including Nicholson’s name (image at the top) accompanies issues 9-13; and again at the start of 14 (below) there is an indication that 14-15 are being sent, though accession notes indicate that 14-15 were sent before 9-13. Finally, 25 (also below), not bound with the rest, was apparently sent individually.

Were the other issues ever sent by Ulrichs? The accession of these issues was so meticulous at the Bodleian end (judging by the accession dates) that I doubt it. I can also understand why he might not have done. Ulrichs struck up productive relationships with readers in Spain, the US, Britain, Finland, Egypt, the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, and much of his content is generated from material shared or sent by these contacts. There’s no evidence that I’ve yet encountered of anything similar with Nicholson or the Bodleian, so perhaps no strong reason for Ulrichs to keep the library in mind, more’s the pity.

One thing I have to develop in the next few months is a greater understanding than I can currently claim of postal habits at the end of the nineteenth century. (I seek the Bozi Mohacek of circa 1892 self-sealable pre-paid postcards.) I already know much more than I once did about newspaper wrappers, the means by which newspapers reached their intended destination, thanks to this video, and I was more delighted than I would ever have expected to be to find traces of such wrappers among these Bodleian issues.

Ulrichs has a special interest in matters postal, having written in the past about the postal service in his native Hanover, and being faced with a pressing need to despatch to the four winds a Latin newspaper on which, he calculated, the sun never set, so remarkably far-flung was its readership. This generates some exceedingly tricky passages as he translates contemporary postal realities into Latin, but also some excellent content. He recounts, for instance, the peregrinations of some Romanian newspapers sent him from Constanța, Ovid’s place of exile (he contrasts the existence of a statue of Ovid in Constanța with the lack of any such statue, in his day, in Ovid’s hometown of Sulmona, not far from Aquila, the regrettable neglect of Latin in contemporary Italy being a regular theme in Alaudae). The Romanian newspapers had been bound in two newspaper wrappers, with the address to “Aquila” written across both. When the wrappers became separated, and “Aqui” from “la”, the parcel went to Acqui (Terme), which is a very long way from Aquila.

We also hear of the wrapper for issue 17-18 (a single issue) arriving in Lima, New York without the newspaper, and then of the postcard sent to Ulrichs by the subscriber in Lima reaching Aquila via Bombay, having somehow been misdirected to the Indian Mail. That card had taken 68 days to get from New York State to Aquila, but in general the speed of the post from Aquila to Oxford at this time, and also the efficiency with which the Bodleian accessioned the material it received, if I’m interpreting correctly what I’m looking at, was impressive.

Ulrichs’ Latin addresses in full:

6: Alaudarum auctor: Carlo Arrigo Ulrichs, “The author of Alaudae, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs”;

9: Viris clarissimis bibliothecae universitariae Bodlejanae curatoribus, ad manus Viri Clarissimi Eduardi Nicholson, bibliothecarii, “To the most esteemed gentlemen, the curators of the Bodleian University Library, for the attention of the most esteemed gentleman Edward Nicholson, Librarian”;

14: Bibliothecae Bodlejanae universitatis Oxfordiensis; Misit D(ono) D(edit) D(edicavit) hasce duas Alaudas Alaudarum moderator, auctor, “To the Bodleian University Library of Oxford”; “These two issues of Alaudae have been sent, given and dedicated as a gift by the editor and author of Alaudae”;

25: Misit Alaudarum auctor, “Sent by the author of Alaudae“.

Do I need to add that encountering Ulrichs’ handwriting, both informal and calligraphic, and recognising in it that glorious eccentricity and charm that emerges from every issue of Alaudae; tracing in detail his dealings with Nicholson and the Bodleian; and gaining some sense at least of how he managed to broadcast his Latin newspaper from a tiny garret in Aquila to Mexico City, Madras and a remarkable number of places in between, is simply the kind of thing I became an academic to do?

Prussian ’ggression; ducal dubieties

In January/February 1891 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs included a short, impassioned and enigmatic paragraph in his Latin-language newspaper Alaudae. It illustrates nicely both the challenge and the interest of editing Alaudae, since Ulrichs is making allusions that he was probably confident his contemporary readers would recognise, but which are more than a little opaque in 2023.

I give the text below, but to summarize it, Ulrichs first makes reference to a defeated leader in a civil war whose possessions had been expropriated at his defeat, but who has nevertheless more recently been permitted to receive an inheritance, and this outcome is then contrasted with the circumstances of another leader, also dispossessed, whose surviving son has little hope of recovering what is properly his.

Here is the passage in question, in English and the original Latin:

“A general, defeated in civil war, was once forcibly stripped of what was his by the victors. The same man not long ago took possession, with no objection, of an inheritance that had been legally bequeathed to him. Another leader, again forcibly stripped of what was his, has a surviving son. To this son also an inheritance has been legally bequeathed. When will that be restored to him, an inheritance that in defiance of justice and right a more powerful man has had the effrontery to steal, that man to whom so many among those people were wont to swear loyalty come hell or high water? When? Has reverence for what is right among you just turned into an old-womanish superstition? Are you not flushed with shame still to be striking TO EACH THEIR OWN?”

Dux quondam, victus bello civili, eo quod suum erat a victoribus vi spoliatus est. Idem nuper, contradicente nemine, potitus est devolutae ad se legitime hereditatis. Alii principi, suo eādem vi spoliato, superstes est filius. Ad hunc quoque legitime devoluta est hereditas. Quando huic ea restituetur, hereditas quam contra jus contra fas ausus est intercipere potentior, iste in cuius verba apud illos solebant per fas et nefas jurare tot animi? Quando? Num apud vos verecundia eius quod fas est abiit in superstitiones aniles? Nonne rubore suffundimini adhuc feriundo SUUM CUIQUE?

I understand the second half, I think. Ulrichs was born in the Kingdom of Hanover, which subsequently, in 1866, had been defeated and annexed by Prussia, and Ulrichs regularly expresses his outrage at this turn of events. The word I’ve translated “leader”, princeps, can also be “prince”, and suggests Ernst August, erstwhile Crown Prince of Hanover, the son of the king of Hanover deposed by the Prussians who never relinquished his claim to the crown of Hanover. The “stronger man” is surely Bismarck, whose brainchild the German Empire was that emerged from Prussian expansion, but who had resigned his position as Chancellor just a year before Ulrichs was writing.

Finally, the motto that the “those people” should be ashamed to be “striking” (the natural sense of ferio), suum cuique (one which I gather was sufficiently tainted by Nazi use to be avoided these days) is found on some Prussian coins of an earlier date, I think, and on the badges of Prussian guardsmen, but at any rate as the motto of the Order of the Black Eagle, the highest distinction in the Kingdom of Prussia, clearly identifies Ulrichs’ target as the Prussians even if I’m still pondering the precise implication of feriundo.

The first half is trickier. I’m assuming, and this could be a basic mistake, that a civil war well enough known in Europe in 1891, which is significantly far in the past (quondam) but of which the aftermath is still contested (nuper), is likely to be the American Civil War. My best guess is that in the dux who was deprived of his possessions after the war, but managed without contest to receive an inheritance, Ulrichs is making a rather loose reference to the court case United States v. Lee in 1882, in which George Washington Custis Lee, son of Mary Anna Custis Lee and Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces in the Civil War, sued for the return of his mother’s Arlington estate, which had effectively been confiscated by the US government in the course of the war in 1864, and subsequently — an inspired gesture — largely turned into the Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1882, however, the Supreme Court ruled in Custis Lee’s favour, and while he never returned to Arlington, he received generous compensation from the government — recovered his inheritance, in other words. Custis Lee was himself quite prominent in the Confederate army, but if it is this case that Ulrichs is referring to, I think there’s some conflation in Ulrichs’ mind of the famous Robert E. Lee and the lesser-known Custis Lee.

So on the one hand we have a civil war and a recent high-profile case; on the other, if it is indeed the Lee suit at issue, a vagueness, at least, in the definition of the parties, as well as an inaccurate assertion that the claim to the inheritance was uncontested. I’m inclined to think this can be explained by Ulrichs’ passionate concern for the claims of Ernst August, which leads him in the process of condemning Prussian injustice to flatten and simplify a half-remembered recent controversy in the United States. But that doesn’t entirely satisfy me.

So if anyone has a better candidate for that dux dispossessed in civil war, I am all ears. I should say that it’s just the kind of thing that Ulrichs will himself decide to clarify in three issues’ time, in which case I’ll let you know.

Bamiyan after Bamiyan: civilization in ruins

Find here an essay gathering together some thoughts post-“The Buddhas of Bamiyan” for KabulNow, which is a source of English-language news on Afghanistan very much worth following.

From Srinagar to Stroud

I did indicate in my last blog that an item in the Proceedings of the Cotteswold Naturalists’ Club was intriguing me, and here it is. As far as I can tell from my perusal of these Proceedings (you too are welcome to peruse them here), this “Ode to the Cotteswold Society” (the Cotteswolds or Coteswolds are what we now call the Cotswolds, the comparatively elevated country that reaches roughly from Oxford in the east to Stroud in the west) was written probably in very early 1850, and is a jocular plea to be admitted as a member of the Society. It advertises itself a parodical version of Horace’s Integer vitae ode, 1.22.

The author, I confidently believe, is W. Henry Hyett, of whom this is an interesting account, mentioning his love of Horace, short career as a Whig MP for Stroud, and Fellowship of the rather more eminent Royal Society. His interests match well those of the Cotteswold Naturalists’ Club, which is a jolly-sounding group that gathered at hostelries in towns across the western Cotswolds to discuss the geology, history and natural history of the area. It is pleasing to note how happily the scientific interests of Hyett and his fellow members coexisted with the classical educations also much in evidence. Knowledge of Horace here functions, in a way readily paralleled, as a mark of elite status. “Clubbable himself, Horace granted access to the club”, I have written in my Horace: VSI draft, never expecting to find quite such a literal illustration.

Below is a translation of the text and notes (it is set out in the Proceedings to resemble a contemporary annotated classical text), and below that my notes on Hyett’s poem and notes. There is much I am unsure about, and I’ll have made mistakes. I welcome any further ideas.

I have a special reason for enjoying Hyett’s parody. The places he refers to have become familiar to us in the last three years while my elder son has attended a special college in Nailsworth, while living most of the year in Stonehouse (there’s a map elucidating this and Hyett’s geography at the bottom). He will probably be moving on from there this year, but we have grown very fond of the area and the people who have looked after him so brilliantly. With my Horace hat on, it tickles me, too, that an ode of Horace based in the Sabine country can provoke recognition in Srinagar and be replayed in Stroud.

  1. An ostracism was an Athenian mechanism for deciding if any citizen should be expelled from the city for ten years, and Hyett suggests melodramatically that a failure to give him membership of the Society would be tantamount to exile.
  2. The reference in “Steam” may be to the fiendishly complex manner in which Gloucester became connected to the growing railway network. “Baker” is Thomas Barwick Lloyd Baker, president of the club, and a figure very active in efforts to rehabilitate (particularly younger) criminals.
  3. Beneath Hiatus lies Hyett, but the sense of the line is difficult, and I wonder if there is also some play on “hiatus” meaning a pause or gap.
  4. A traditional rhyme. See the map below.
  5. Michael Wood, now best known as a Services on the M5.
  6. Very good…
  7. “Champagne mousseux” is what we would simply call “Champagne”, heavy drinkers of which are notoriously prone to gout.
  8. Lutetia Parisiorum being the classical name for Paris.
  9. Reading impulsa.
  10. Ovid, Met. 15.44, from the story of Myscelus, founder of Croton.

Lalage, a life

In 1913, Aurel Stein, archaeologist and explorer, was preparing for his third expedition into Chinese Turkestan, modern Xinjiang. He made sure to pack, as he always did, a copy of Horace’s Odes, on this occasion the recently published Odes and Epodes translated by C.E. Bennett in the new series of Loeb Classical Texts from Harvard University. On the inside cover of the book Stein wrote In ripis Hydaspis MDCCCCXIII, “On the banks of the Hydaspes 1913”. Later in his expedition he added Gravi vulnere aegrotantis solatium fuit iste libellus in montibus Sericis Nan-shan, “This book was a comfort when suffering from a serious injury in the Chinese Nan-shan mountains.” Stein had been thrown by an excitable horse and spent some time recuperating in camp, his Horace to hand. These inscriptions in Stein’s Loeb were recorded by L. Rásonyi, Stein Aurél és hagyatéka [Aurel Stein and his Legacy] (1960), on page 30, most fortuitously so as since that time the cover of the book, bequeathed along with much else by Stein to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, has been mislaid. I’m deeply grateful to Ágnes Kelecsényi of the Academy for all this information.

“On the banks of the Hydaspes” is a little Horatian joke on Stein’s part. He was in Srinagar, Kashmir, which lies on the river Jhelum or Vyeth, in Greek antiquity named Hydaspes, and so named in particular in one of Horace’s most popular odes, 1.22, Integer vitae:

I think I’ve now sent off a final text of Horace: A Very Short Introduction, which will see the light of day sooner or later, but I thought I might thread together some scattered references I make to this particular poem of Horace and its fairly remarkable life story. You can’t embed YouTube videos in a book, either, and it would be a shame not to share a couple of them.

Horace’s poem is a particularly satisfying exercise in playful misdirection. An apparently sombre and high-minded opening, claiming that the virtuous man should have no fear of any harm, a Stoic doctrine, is somewhat punctured by the appearance of an addressee for the poem, Aristius Fuscus, a literary type and friend of Horace who has been advertised as a man with a sense of humour in Satires 1.9 and would by implication be characterised as a Stoic with a sense of humour in Epistles 1.10. Greater damage still to the respectability of Odes 1.22 is done by the poet’s lover Lalage, whose name means “Chatterer”, “Babbler”. Horace is singing about her when the wolf runs away from him, but that seemingly incidental detail returns unexpectedly at the end of the poem to derail what we’re probably expecting to be a restatement of the opening: “No matter what inhospitable place I find myself in, my virtue will keep me safe” is instead “No matter what inhospitable place I find myself in, the answer is to sing about Lalage as I was doing when that wolf appeared.”

Philosophy gives way to a flippant love affair, then, and it’s possible also that the effect is reinforced by a move from poetry reminiscent of Alcaeus to a more Sapphic conclusion. The metrical form of the poem, the sapphic stanza, was shared between Alcaeus and Sappho, but there is a clear allusion to Sappho fr. 31 (and Catullus’ imitation of it) in the final image of Lalage, while specifically Alcaic elements in the poem have been argued for by Gabriele Burzacchini, QUCC 22 (1976), 39-58, and one might say (and once I did) that poetry focusing on an attractive young woman is itself intrinsically reminiscent of Sappho. I also suggested back then that the Mytilenean duo Sappho and Alcaeus offered Horace in his Odes a mini polarity between relatively serious and relatively unserious lyric poetry — always according to ancient stereotype.

That’s all as may be, but for our purposes what matters is that it follows from this account of Integer vitae that if you lop off the last four stanzas you have an apparently serious poem, and the remarkable truth is that historically 1.22 has probably been encountered far more often in this form, just the first or the first two stanzas, than as a whole. The reason for this is a melancholy musical setting by F.F. Flemming that became a standard at funerals in northern-European funerals. Here it is sung by a German collective, although somewhat inauthentically (I think) they sing the first three verses.

The other Latin author I’m currently working on, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, shares in his Latin-language newspaper a discussion of the poem between himself and a Finnish Classics professor in Helsinki, “F. G-n”, identified by my co-editor Michael Lombardi-Nash as Fridolf Vladimir Gustafsson, Professor of Latin at Helsinki University from 1882 to 1920 and according to Iiro Kajanto, “The Classics in Finland”, Arethusa 3 (1970), 205-226, a formative influence in the history of Classics in Finland. (This is a rich Classical culture under severe pressure at the moment, I’m sad to say: there are petitions worth signing relating to Classics at Oulu here and Turku here.) One thing that makes editing Alaudae such a fascinating activity are Ulrichs’ interlocutors across Europe and the US.

Gustafsson had attended a funeral of a friend at which Flemming’s Integer Vitae had been sung by the congregation, and the friend’s widow had asked him to translate the whole poem for her — an awkward dilemma, as Lalage is not especially funereal. What’s interesting is that Ulrichs, who is undoubtedly one of Horace’s very biggest fans, seems to agree with Gustafsson that the poem is unsatisfactory, a dignified opening spoiled by the entry and especially the reappearance of Lalage. “Someone once exclaimed, “How did Pontius Pilate creep into the Christians’ creed?” I exclaim, “How did Lalage into Integer Vitae?”” But both Gustafsson and Ulrichs will no doubt have attended numerous funerals where this strange hymn was sung, and the sombre associations were perhaps impossible to escape. They were not alone in wanting to lose Lalage, at any rate. The metrically identical socios, “fellows”, was another way of bowdlerizing away the love interest Lalagen in school texts.

The poem seems to have been favoured for musical setting also in the heyday of the frottola, the most widespread form of secular song in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Italy. Here you can find a setting by Bartolomeo Tromboncino, and here at 2:10 by Michele Pesenti.

A final outing for the poem now, accompanied by a request for any others you know of. (I have myself found and am pondering a parody of the poem in Proceedings of the Cotteswold Naturalists’ Club circa 1853, beginning Innocens vitis, cellar-isque purus, “Innocent of the vine, of the cellar pure”, and by (I believe) William Henry Hyett.) Below is the whole of the stunning film of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, directed by Julie Taymor and starring Anthony Hopkins, an appropriately gothic take on a Goth-driven Revenge Drama. Titus is a very classically-aware play, with an overarching debt to Seneca, Ovid’s Metamorphoses a key prop in the plot, and a general determination to collect and stage the most ghastly myths from antiquity. Do watch it, but count to ten before you do. At 4.2.18 (around 1hr 37mins in the film, where Shakespeare’s text is slightly adapted), Titus Andronicus, having discovered the plot of Aaron the Moor to destroy his family, sends his best weapons to the two Goth sons of the empress Tamora, who under Aaron’s guidance have committed their ghastly crimes, and along with them a note containing a meaningful quotation of the first two lines of 1.22:


What’s here? A scroll, and written round about?

Let’s see:

[reads] Integer vitae, scelerisque purus,

Non eget Mauri iaculis, nec arcu.


O, ’tis a verse in Horace, I know it well.

I read it in the grammar long ago.


Ay, just — a verse in Horace, right, you have it.

[aside] Now, what a thing it is to be an ass!

Here’s no sound jest. The old man hath found their guilt

And sends them weapons wrapped about with lines

That wound, beyond their feeling, to the quick.

Anachronistically, these depraved young Roman-era Goths were educated using the so called Brevissima Institutio, a Latin textbook composed during the reign of Henry VIII by John Colet, Erasmus, but mainly William Lily, and in continuous use in schools for centuries thereafter. The first stanza of 1.22 is used in Lily as the model for its metrical form, the sapphic stanza. The textual variant Mauri, present in Lily and in Titus Andronicus, allows a pun, targeting Aaron: “The man pure in life and innocent of crime/ needs not the javelins nor bow of the Moor.” Aaron, at least, gets the point of it.

A moral of this very short history of Odes 1.22 is that, however much you try to suppress Lalage, she has a habit of resurfacing, sweetly laughing, sweetly speaking — a dynamic that began with Horace himself. A final thought is whether there’s a hint of the same here in Titus. Titus Andronicus’ beloved only daughter Lavinia has been raped and maimed by the Goth princes, at Aaron’s instigation, who have cut off her hands and removed “that delightful engine of her thoughts,/ that blabbed them with such pleasing eloquence” (3.1.83-4), her tongue. Yet she has managed to communicate the truth of their ghastly crimes nevertheless, mainly by means of a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses opened to the story of Philomela, and Titus’ revenge on Aaron and the princes follows.

Titus is surely conveying by the citation of Integer vitae not just that he knows of the plot, but that Lavinia has communicated it, the beloved babbler still babbling.