Archive | September 2022

The Song of the Allobroges

A Horace blog to mark, a little belatedly, the draft of Horace: A Very Short Introduction that I submitted to OUP at the start of the month. But the Horatian poem I’ll be talking about here came to my attention through an entirely different project, the text and translation (with light commentary) of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ late-nineteeth-century Latin-language newspaper Alaudae that will be my major preoccupation this year (cf. recent blogs, passim).

The poem I’m concerned with here is not by Horace but an imitation of Horace by J. P. Steele written in 1894 and published, perhaps surprisingly, in The Lancet on March 31st of that year. It is a twenty-stanza Latin ode in alcaics on the occasion of the Eleventh International Medical Congress in Rome in April 1894, and it honours Guido Baccelli (1830-1916), the President of the Congress, an eminent physician and Ministro della Pubblica Istruzione (Minister of Public Education) in the Italian government. It also celebrates the Policlinico Umberto I, a modern teaching hospital in Rome, the first of its kind, of which Baccelli was the prime mover and in which the Congress was held, though this huge undertaking was not finally completed for another decade.

The poem is presented below along with a rough-and-ready translation done on trains through France, corrections to which would be welcome. But in summary, the author proposes, with a healthy dose of Horatian irony, that Rome had owed its ancient greatness as much to its devotion to the god of medicine Aesculapius as to its martial abilities, and that the recent revival of Rome as capital of the new nation of Italy is reflected in the renewed concern for the study of medicine in the city that Baccelli and the Policlinico exemplify.

We are informed by The Lancet that the poem was written for The Lancet and presented to Baccelli in advance of the Congress. Some explanation of this lies in Baccelli’s own enthusiasm for Latin. In his obituary in the British Medical Journal, 15 January 1916, p. 115, we learn that he “could discourse in Latin of a Ciceronian quality”, and at the preceding meeting of the triennial International Medical Congress in Berlin in 1890 Baccelli had flouted the requirement that communication be restricted to German, French and English by addressing the conference in Latin. The poem picks up on the breadth of Baccelli’s interests, bonarum cultor et artium et/ scientiarum.

The author of the poem, James Peddie Steele (1836-1917), we’d know less about but for a long and affectionate obituary in Papers of the British School at Rome 9 (1920), 1-15, by John Sandys, Cambridge Classicist and Public Orator. From this it emerges that he was another doctor-Classicist, a Scot who was a long-time resident of Italy, and latterly Florence, and who had a passion for Horace, and a particular interest in his alcaic verse. Sandys records Steele’s gift of books and bookcases to the nascent British School at Rome, his generous and authentically Horatian style of hospitality, and the summers he spent with friends at a villa in Tivoli, Sant’ Antonio, which a sequence of British owners had identified as the site of one of Horace’s properties.

For me, the trickiest detail of Steele’s poem to interpret were the references to the Allobroges. I had assumed a very loose reference to “barbarians”–Alaric conquering Rome in 410. But that seemed weak and didn’t make much sense in context. Illumination struck at Beaulieu-sur-Mer train station as I fell down a very deep rabbit hole in pursuit of the Italian/French character of this part of the Côte d’Azur. Key to the Risorgimento, the movement for Italian reunification, had been Victor Emmanuel of the House of Savoy, king of Sardinia and then from 1861 king of Italy. It was his forces that in 1870 “completed” the reunification by capturing Rome, entering the city by the Porta Pia in the Aurelian Walls, not far from the later site of the Policlinico, itself named after Victor Emmanuel’s son Umberto. The Allobroges, an Alpine people, are best known as Cicero’s informants during the Catilinarian Conspiracy, but their territory coincided with Savoy, or at any rate sufficiently so for Savoyards to claim the Allobroges as ancestors. Le Chant des Allobroges is one product of this.

Steele knows his Horace and does a good pastiche. A speech by Hannibal is inspired by Odes 4.4, and there’s one direct quotation from elsewhere in the Odes and no doubt others I’ve missed. He has managed a Horatian combination of adventurous word order and clarity, and exploits the inherent dynamics of the alcaic stanza, for instance using the emphasis given anything placed in the middle of the third line to highlight Baccelli’s name. I’ve mentioned already the characteristically Horatian elusiveness of tone. This poem is light and serious simultaneously.

Finally, it’s probably worth observing that with hindsight some of the assimilation of ancient and modern Rome that Steele pursues in 1894 foreshadows fascist ideology a generation later. An editorial in the same issue of The Lancet also addresses the Congress, Baccelli and the Policlinico (Steele was close to the editor, and may have effectively written it), and quotes a stanza from Horace’s Carmen Saeculare, alme Sol! … possis nihil urbe Roma/uisere maius (11-12), which was later inscribed on the fascist Arch of the Philaeni in Italian Libya; it was a fascist motto, in effect. Studying the 1890s, as I have certainly said before, is an eerie exercise in dramatic irony, seeing all the ingredients of the ruinous Twentieth Century as its protagonists plough on regardless.

I’ve added some even rougher and readier explanatory notes below. For Daphne I should have directed the reader to Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.452-567, where she is transformed into a laurel tree. In any case, enjoy what seems to me a remarkable transposition of Horace to the scientific aspirations of the late nineteenth century.

  1. The Gauls expelled from the Capitol by Manlius (and the geese) in 390BC.
  2. Pyrrhus of Epirus, of “pyrrhic victory” fame, defeated by the Romans in 275BC.
  3. Hannibal. The Gallic capture of Rome and Pyrrhus’ and Hannibal’s campaigns in Italy could be considered the three most significant conflicts in Rome’s rise to prominence.
  4. Epidaurus in the Peloponnese was a cult centre of Asclepius/Aesculapius, the god of medicine. In response to a plague in 293BC, the Romans sent an embassy to Epidaurus to secure the god for Rome, encouraged either by the Sibylline Books or the oracle at Delphi (in either case a Sibyl), and the god expressed his willingness by boarding the Roman ship in the form of the snake wrapped around his staff. In the last book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses the poem finally reaches Rome on the ship bearing Asclepius.
  5. Asclepius, still in the form of a snake, chose the Tiber island as his new residence, and that was the location of his shrine in Rome, perhaps constructed to recall the ship that first brought him there.
  6. The wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus.
  7. A Muse, speciality history, her name suggesting fame.
  8. The kings of the Allobroges are the nineteenth-century House of Savoy: see above.
  9. In a gorgeous couple of lines Horace had asked his long-exiled friend Pompeius, quis te redonavit Quiritem/ dis patriis Italoque caelo, “who has restored you as a Roman citizen to your ancestral gods and the Italian sky?” (Odes 2.7.3-4), the unspoken answer being Augustus.
  10. Staged hunts of wild animals and gladiatorial munera, fights between men with variations of weaponry and armour, were two forms of Roman public entertainment in the Colosseum.
  11. Machaon and Podalirius, sons of Asclepius, were both doctors, described as such in Homer’s Iliad.
  12. The International Medical Congress was designed to be a triennial event, thus Washington D.C. in September 1887, Berlin in August 1890, Rome in March 1894, Moscow in August 1897. Trieteris strictly, by ancient inclusive counting, denoted a festival that occurred at intervals of two years, not three.
  13. Steele echoes Odes 3.29.35-6.

Further Larks

I’ve been translating some more issues of Alaudae (“Larks”), the Latin newspaper produced by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs from 1889 to 1895: for earlier thoughts about Ulrichs and Alaudae, see here. A three-volume edition–intro, Latin text, translation and explanatory notes–is going to be published by Bloomsbury in the fullness of time, but here is a taster, from the two issues I’ve just been translating, of the (I think, fascinating) snippet views of Europe in the 1890s (through the eyes of an activist and Classicist) that Ulrichs’ newspaper offers. The first three are from issue 17-18 in March 1891, and the last two from issue 32b in June 1895. Ulrichs is in roman; any comments from me in italics.

Latin in Istanbul:

“Not even in Constantinople is the Latin language spurned. In a Greek high school in the suburb of Pera, whose headmaster is Ch. Hadjichristou, Esq., it is taught by two teachers. And years ago in Würzburg I got to know two young men studying medicine there from Asia Minor, Greek speakers, who had received a thorough grounding in Latin. “I have read “Aeneidos β” (Book 2 of the Virgilian poem), one of them said. Moreover I remember them saying, “Wir sind Romi” (Romīi, that is, “We are Romaei.”) They declared themselves to be Romans, not Hellenes, Romans of the eastern branch, descendants of those Romans who fought under the Comneni and the last of the Palaeologi.”

Paraphrasing a Finnish scientist’s account of a research trip to the Kola Peninsula:

“In the month of July the author witnessed the plain still covered in snow, surrounded by land already cleared by the sun’s rays, and in the middle of the plain more than a hundred head of reindeer. They had retreated there to avoid the torment of mosquitoes, and the mosquitoes were not willing to follow them into the snow.”

A self-defence against criticism of his activism for the recognition and tolerance of homosexuality:

“To my critic from Munich. How unkind you are! You have certainly not read the books I have written about that remarkable mystery. Have you explored the profundities of Nature? Have you penetrated her secrets? I somewhat doubt it. And do you presume to pass sentence, a judge before your time? Forbear then, if you wish to sit in judgment, forbear to pass judgement on the defenceless, lest you harm the daughter of great Jupiter the Thunderer, heavenly Justice. If it is so much your wish to have someone to condemn, have it out with Nature the creator. Condemn her. She it was that committed the crime of not creating things according to your instructions, you silly man. A Swiss historian, a man of the purest judgment, has read my books carefully and wrote the following to me: “A wicked case cannot be defended as you have defended yours.” It is worth something, I think, to know truth, and its power to disperse the darkness and expunge unpardonable evil. To know it and remain silent, when I have the ability to speak, I have judged unworthy. Rightly would you scorn me, if I had kept silent, like someone of the basest kind and the weakest of spirits. But I was not willing to abandon what I considered my duty. I wanted to fulfil my duty. I acted fearlessly, though my heart was pounding.”

On poems in Latin in honour of Guido Baccelli, a senior Italian physician and politician, and President of the Eleventh International Medical Conference in Rome in 1894, who according to his obituary in the British Medical Journal 15th January 1916, pp. 114–115 “could discourse in Latin of a Ciceronian quality” himself; Dr. J.P. Steele’s poem is to be found in The Lancet 31st March 1894, pp. 819-20, or more conveniently, here:

“Two Latin poems have been written for Guido Baccelli. One is by a British doctor, Steele, twenty alcaic stanzas which The Lancet in London published: “At the part of the wall where the standard bearer of the Allobroges etc.” The other by the Roman doctor Cesare Ballabene is four elegiac couplets: “The … which once shone with diverse marbles and gold etc.” (Balla bene, that is, “he dances well”. If there weren’t ten elisions in these eight verses I’d judge he made good verses, too.)”

In the process of deciphering this section, I discovered (with some effort) two things: the first was that “Guido” can be rendered in Latin as “Vitus”, and the second that Ulrichs’ Latin abbreviation for Baccelli’s governmental position in 1894, “min. regius a p. instr.”, could be expanded as “minister regius a populo instruendo”, “Regio Ministro della Pubblica Istruzione”, “Royal Minister of Public Education”, which was indeed Baccelli’s role in 1881, 1881-4, 1893-6, and 1898-1900.

Excerpt from a Latin oration delivered by John Sandys, Public Orator, on the occasion of the award of an honorary doctorate to the future George V by Cambridge University, June 1894; the child mentioned is the future Edward VIII, born just a few days before the ceremony:

“Most worthy sir, Mr Chancellor, and the whole University! How happily we hail the grandson of the Queen and Prince Albert, once our Chancellor. We hail his father, our most eminent Prince, whom thirty years ago we saw honoured with the same accolade. We hail his mother, whom we rejoice is today herself in attendance. We hail the Prince, who almost from boyhood has devoted himself to mastering naval science; who, having traversed the oceans, visited our colonies separated from us by the whole world but joined with us with their whole hearts, as yet unaware of the kingship that would one day be his; who has shown again and again that the naval glory of the British Empire is his greatest love. … Almost a year ago he took as wife the granddaughter of the first Duke of Cambridge *) Today we rejoice that the heir of the heir of this great kingdom has been blessed with a son and that the royal line has been continued to the third degree. I bring before you Prince George Frederick, Duke of York.”

At *) Ulrichs comments, “I love this name. The Duke of Cambridge ruled the kingdom of Hanover, my homeland, as Viceroy when I was a boy. U.” Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, was Viceroy of Hanover from 1816 to 1837, at which point Victoria’s accession in Great Britain caused the dissolution of the “personal union” between Britain and Hanover. Adolphus was the grandfather of Mary of Teck, the wife of George V, and was associated by Ulrichs with a more liberal constitution in Hanover than followed after the separation, and then again some years later after Hanover’s annexation by Prussia.