Tag Archive | Alaudae

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.

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?


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!

Mira quaedam vis

I’ve been spending a lot of my summer, happily but quite unexpectedly, in the late Nineteenth Century. This is partly related to a book I’m co-writing on the origins of archaeology in Swat, modern Pakistan, but also to a week I spent translating an issue of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ Latin newsletter Alaudae (“Larks”).

My translation of issue 27 of Alaudae, from May 1893, is part of a project coordinated by Michael Lombardi-Nash to get all issues of Alaudae — there were 33 of them between 1889 and 1895, the year of Ulrichs’ death — translated into English in time for the bicentenary of Ulrichs’ birth in 2025. Ulrichs, a lawyer and journalist from Hanover, was a passionate promoter of the Latin language, but his greater significance lies elsewhere, as a fearless campaigner for the recognition and acceptance of same-sex attraction in writings and public statements that required, in nineteenth-century Germany, immense personal courage. This is a good account of Ulrich’s life and importance.

Toward the end of his life, disenchanted with his reception in Germany and with broader developments there, Ulrichs relocated to Italy, and settled in L’Aquila as the guest of Niccolò Persichetti, who shared his interest in Greco-Roman antiquity and was sympathetic to his campaigning in defence of homosexuality. It was from L’Aquila that Ulrichs published Alaudae, and in issue 27 at least this meant gathering together items in Latin that had been sent to him from all corners.

It makes for a wonderful mishmash of material. On a train into London I found myself translating the Latin oration for a graduation ceremony at Trinity College Dublin, where an honorary degree was being conferred on General Sir George Stuart White. An hour later I was looking at a statue of George Stuart White, a man I confess I’d never heard of before, as I hurried down Portland Place. Ulrichs is not very sympathetic to the military, it’s fair to say, having encountered too many militaristic Prussians back home, no doubt, and he spends more time humorously discussing the kilt worn by Major Napier of the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders), who was accompanying White to the ceremony. When I talk about vivid glimpses of the late Nineteenth Century, though, I don’t mean British generals so much as things like Ulrichs’ source for this chunk of Latin from Trinity Dublin. He was sent it by W. H. Brayden, the editor (who is later mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses) of the “constitutional nationalist” newspaper the Freeman’s Journal—you are reading Latin in Alaudae, in other words, then suddenly deep in the complicated politics of pre-Easter-Rising Ireland.

Most of the issue I was translating was taken up by a celebration of the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s arrival as a teacher at the University of Padua in 1592, to which Padua had invited, in Latin of course, representatives from universities across Europe and in the United States, and received Latin responses back from a number of them. Ulrichs reproduces a few, and we’ll return later to the Latin letter from the University of Kazan on the Volga,  an important centre for Classical studies, as my colleague Georgy Kantor has informed me. I’ll also come back later to a dance card sent to Ulrichs from a Society of Pharmacists in Brno, now the Czech Republic (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), written in Latin so as not to upset either Czech or German pharmacists in this bilingual city. It’s again odd to view this after an intervening century of Czech-German relations, though my immediate need was for someone to make sense of Latin terms for dances like Polonaisa, Polka Frankogallica and Saltatio germanica. My colleague Sophie Bocksberger, an expert on dance ancient and modern, stepped deftly into the breach. But for Ulrichs such an event embodied the motto that prefaces every issue of Alaudae, Latinae linguae mira quaedam vis inest ad jungendas nationes, “The Latin language has a remarkable power to bring nations together”—Latin, no one’s language and thus potentially everyone’s.

I volunteered for this project because Ulrichs deserves all the recognition he can get, and because Latin and late-nineteenth-century intellectual life are a couple of my favourite things. But I found here something far more varied and interesting than I anticipated, and closely engaged with a fascinating moment in European history. What holds it all together, though, are Ulrichs’ journalistic skills of editing and composition, and the light touch and humour with which he threads it all together. He skips out of Latin at the end of my issue to share a French joke that is of its time but still quite funny, explaining why the English use “Esq.” in addresses: we are rather chilly in manner, and it stands for Esquimau. It’s a great project that Michael is leading, in short, and it deserves success—deserves, dare I say it, a publisher who’ll put these remarkable documents from a formative time between hard covers. If anyone is interested, feel free to get in touch.

However, two tiny and trivial thoughts that occurred to me while translating, chosen because they brought me quite close to Ulrichs and to these other people speaking Latin to each other 130 years ago.

At the end of the elegant Latin letter from Kazan University to Padua, a copy of which Kazan had sent him, Ulrichs gives the names of the Rector of the University and the Secretary, K. Boporuuno and M. Solovieff. A conversation on Twitter ensued between myself and Georgy Kantor, who like me initially thought that Boporuuno must be a Finnish name, but then established that the Rector in 1893 was not K. Boporuuno but Konstantin Voroshilov. The explanation is clearly that Ulrichs read Voroshilov’s name in Cyrillic, Ворошилов, as if it was in Latin script. But it can’t be quite that simple because Ulrichs reads printed Cyrillic elsewhere in the document from Kazan (and elsewhere again in issue 27) quite happily, identifying Latin derivations in administrative Russian. What’s happened, then, I think, is that Ulrichs was presented with two signatures from Rector and Secretary. One of them, that of Secretary M. Solovieff, was in Latin characters, leading Ulrichs to assume that the Rector’s was too. I can easily imagine a handwritten К. Ворощилов being read as K. Boporuuno. As for Ulrichs, to err is human, and one can encounter the human in a silly mistake. Here I felt like I was looking over Ulrichs’ shoulder as he struggled to decipher someone’s handwriting, something I’ve done quite a bit of myself in the recent past.

I’m not at all sure about my second thought. But it takes us back to those pharmacists in Brno. I couldn’t initially make sense of an abbreviation that prefaces each half of the dance card, “Rp.”: Rp. Polonaisa. Saltat. german. Polka francogallica … Rp. Saltat. german. Polka mazur. IVta Quadrilla …, and I think Ulrichs was as foxed as I was. But then I had a thought. One piece of Latin that’s quite peculiar to pharmacists, or at least pharmacists in Central Europe, is “Rp./” short for “Recipe”, “Take…”, the instruction from the medical practitioner to the chemist/pharmacist as to what they should give the patient. (An English “recipe” was originally a medical prescription; and Rx or ℞ is the local equivalent of Rp./, I believe.) Here is a guide to writing medical prescriptions that I was delighted to find on the website of Masaryk University, Brno, with some important abbreviations on the first page, and a model prescription on p. 7. The invocatio, Rp., is what we’re concerned with:

“Take a Polonaise, Allemande, Polka Française…” instructs the pharmacists’ dance card. If I’m wrong about this, and it’s very likely, errare est humanum and I do it a lot. If I’m right, though, how absolutely lovely that is, pharmacists telling each other, whether they be Czech or German, that an evening of dancing together is just what the doctor ordered.

My thanks to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs for telling me about about this, and to Michael Lombardi-Nash for introducing me to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs.