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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.

Ancient & modern

An ancient excerpt and two modern posted without comment, except to say that they are roughly datable in their content to AD 81, 1824 and 1879, respectively.

“Agricola had given protection to one of the chieftains of the Irish who had been driven out by internal conflict, and under the pretence of friendship was holding onto him in case an opportunity presented itself. I have on many occasions heard him say that Ireland could be conquered and held by a single legion and a moderate number of auxiliaries.” (Agricola expulsum seditione domestica unum ex regulis gentis exceperat ac specie amicitiae in occasionem retinebat. saepe ex eo audiui legione una et modicis auxiliis debellari obtinerique Hiberniam posse). Tacitus, Agricola 24.3

“If the British did not get their hands on Afghanistan first, [William Moorcroft] warned, then the Russians almost certainly would. And what better moment than the present, when two rival factions were vying for the Afghan throne? A single British regiment, Moorcroft argued, was all that would be needed to place a suitably compliant candidate on the throne.” Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game, p. 99

“But if [Col. George Pomeroy] Colley [private secretary to the Viceroy of India] was an admirable theorist in the art of war, he did not give me the impression that he would be equally good in practice. He tried to convince me quite seriously that a British regiment 1,000 strong, and armed with Martini-Henry rifles, ought to be able to march through the length and breadth of Afghanistan, when once clear of the Khyber and Kuram Passes.” J. L. Vaughan, My Service in the Indian Army—And After, p. 182


The joke in my Christmas cracker this year went something like, “What cheese is best for hiding a horse?” Answer: “Mascarpone”. This sets the standard for what follows.

As I may have mentioned once or twice, my time when not teaching or walking the dog this academic year is taken up editing and annotating translations of the Latin newspaper Alaudae, published by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in the last years of his life from 1889 to 1895. I’ve just finished a primary edit of Issue X (out of a total of XXXIII), January 1890, translated by Phillip Dupesovski, and a selection of its contents might be: discussion of the motto of the House of Savoy, FERT, as found on the edges of nineteenth-century Italian coins; an encounter between a Goliardic poet and an Archbishop based on a twelfth-century poem attributed to the Anglo-Welsh priest/courtier/writer Walter Map; a love poem which makes poignant sense against a poem Ulrichs had written in German 40 years before; and acknowledgement of receipt of a book from Max Müller, proving there was an avid and eminent reader of Alaudae at 7 Norham Gardens, Oxford.

At the end of Issue X there is a poem on coffee, presented with a translation below, and I need some help with it. Cafea is written in hendecasyllables, Catullus’ trademark metre (so a playful form), albeit not consistently respecting Classical rules of versification; or more accurately, following a nudge from Antigone, always a source of illumination, the Catullan hendecasyllables are alternated, pretty much at random, with sapphic hendecasyllables—the latter of which Ulrichs used a lot in his Latin poetry. The poem begins by describing Ulrichs’ morning ritual of brewing coffee over a spirit burner. (Ulrichs spent his final years in very straitened circumstances.) Then the figure MINITANTE appears, sharing Ulrichs’ addiction to coffee to a comic degree, and at the end he asks us to identify her.

I say “her” because that is clearly the gender of Minitante in the Latin. My best guess is that Ulrichs is punning, with a word that could be Latin but make no sense as such in situ, on German “meine Tante”, “my aunt”. The instruction to change a letter, but only one (if we’re understanding him correctly), I take to mean changing the first “i” of “minitante” to “eye”, but not the second, which unstressed could sound like the -e of “meine”. It would be nice to discover that “My aunt” is a regular feature of comic anecdotes, but I have no reason to believe that is true.

Anyhow, I’m inviting better theories, as well as any corrections of my (and Phillip’s) reading of the Latin. If we’ve got it all backwards, we’d be delighted to know!

28.12.2022. In addition to the suggestion in the comments below, two from Twitter. Eric Sheng points out that minutante in Italian can mean retailer or shopkeeper, and that might make better sense of the financial considerations towards the end. Meanwhile Charles Stewart, and independently my co-editor Michael Lombardi-Nash, have pointed out dialectal forms of “meine” that would bring the first syllable closer to “min-“. Editing Alaudae offers a great deal of intellectual fun!

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 “was himself particularly fond of writing Alcaic odes after the model of Horace” (Sandys in an earlier eulogy in the TLS August 2, 1917 p.369). 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. In letters to Sandys he described the view from the villa in a couplet adapted from Epistles 1.10, one of Horace’s most appealing poetic letters: Prospiciens Anienis aquas, et Tiburis umbram,/ Excepto quod non simul esses, cetera laetus, “Looking out over the waters of the Anio and the shade of Tivoli,/ in all respects happy except that you are not with me” (cf. Epist. 1.10.50). This intense identification with Horace is a feature of his afterlife, really unlike any other ancient poet.

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 (I seem to share Steele’s taste in Horatian verses) 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.