Bloomsbury (2022) p/b 301pp £28.99 (ISBN 9781350160262)

The long and informative Introduction by Lucy R. Nicholas shows how pervasive the use of Latin still was in the period (broadly speaking the 16th and 17th centuries) covered by the book. Greek was far less important (St Paul’s School, under John Colet was the first school in Europe formally to institute the teaching of Greek: Colet’s Hellenizing agenda did much to influence Erasmus). That said, Greek plays only a small part in the book under review. Nicholas is able to point to contributions from five universities in England, Scotland and Ireland, but five of the eleven contributions come from Cambridge: Oxford offers just one, plus another shared with Cambridge.

The format of the contributions is as follows: an introduction, followed by the Latin text with a ‘workmanlike’ translation and a commentary. Each contribution has its own relatively short bibliography. In chapter 1, Micha Lazarus opens with consideration of Stephen Gardiner’s long letter of 1542 to John Cheke—Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge at 27—which concerned a different pronunciation of Greek recently introduced, to which Gardiner was hostile. The letter is in excellent Latin, but although Gardiner was Chancellor of Cambridge University and was agreed to have had the better of the argument, Cheke’s ‘new’ pronunciation long continued to hold sway.

Chapter 2 (A.J. Kachuck and B.C.E. McDougall) gives extracts from two Orationes by Richard Croke which expound why Tudor Cambridge needed Greek (in naming some Greek philosophers, but not Plato, Croke includes Hermes Trismegistus, whose ‘existence’ would be exploded by Casaubon). At least in the extracts given here, there is no mention of the Greek dramatists, nor of Herodotus or Thucydides: that said, the case for Greek is so persuasively argued that even Henry VIII began to study Greek. Croke himself was tutored by William Grocyn (1446-1519).

In ‘A Professor in Scottish Politics’, Stephen Harrison (chapter 3) examines Andrew Melville’s Stephaniskion, a hexameter poem of 215 lines. Melville was at the time Rector at St Andrews (his career underwent some remarkable vicissitudes), and the poem was written for and performed at the coronation of Anne, newly married (1590) consort of James VI. Harrison says that the poem is in effect a set of instructions on monarchy, and shows its didactic nature by opening with the recognizable syntax of Virgil’s Georgics: your reviewer found this introduction notably helpful and informative, while the commentary which follows the poem is, as one would expect, both detailed and of very high quality.

Sharon van Dijk (not, I imagine, related to the Liverpool defender) is the editor of chapter 4, ‘A Distinct Mode of Pastoral in Elizabethan Cambridge: Giles Fletcher the Elder’s Ecloga Daphnis’. Fletcher was an English diplomat and poet, and composed this hexameter elegy of 134 lines on the death of Nicholas Carr, Regius Professor of Greek from 1551 to 1564. Your reviewer read this eclogue with pleasure; it can fairly claim to be poetry, rather than verse, and if Fletcher occasionally allows himself some liberties with caesuras, so, after all, did Virgil.

In chapter 5 William Barton offers some ‘Act’ and ‘Tripos’ verses from the 1580s and 1590s: his introduction is interesting on the subject of sixteenth century religious debate—reflected in the two short sets of Latin and Greek verses presented, which were written to accompany the regular student disputations. The Latin elegiacs are lively, but far from error-free; of the Greek versions (loosely translating the Latin), the less said the better. (In his commentary, Barton cites Rotstein 2010 to the effect that iambics were characterised by invective: yes, but there was very much more).

Chapter 6 sees Elizabeth Sandis on Philip Parsons’ Atalanta—the play is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book 10—from which she presents four extracts, competently written in Terentian senarii (incidentally, I did not spot any use of the lex brevis brevians): curiously, the Prologue switches without explanation from iambic to elegiacs. Parsons was an undergraduate at St. John’s College, Oxford, and it is noteworthy that the play is dedicated to the college’s President, William Laud, not yet a bishop: Laud took a continuing interest in Parsons’ career, to the latter’s marked benefit (he would become Principal of Hart Hall, later Hertford College).

Chapter 7 (grandly titled ‘European Networks and the Reformation of the University of Edinburgh; Astronomical Disputations from the graduating class of 1612-1616. Lecturer: William King’), is edited by David McOmish. It actually consists of nine ‘Theses’ in Latin Prose on astronomical themes; the cosmological and educational background to the ‘Theses’ is explained in McOmish’s introduction. They are part of a larger research project, which is yet to be published; note that astrology is firmly dismissed in Thesis IX.

Tommi Albi’s Chapter 8 ‘A Prevaricator Speech from Caroline Cambridge’ introduces some humour. The ‘Prevaricators’ (quibbler), matched by Oxford’s terrae filius, tended to model their offerings on the Aristotelian disputations, which were inherently scholastic and debated syllogistically. In this instance, the Prevaricator, James Duport, argues aurum potest produci per artem chymicam. In the course of his mildly amusing speech he directs pointed fun at lawyers, Jesuits, cardinals and astrologers; he himself became Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, and Master of Magdalene College: he published a book of Homeric aphorisms, and a collection of his Greek and Latin poems was published in 1676.

Jason Harris edits in Chapter 9 ‘An Irish Panegyric on Henry Cromwell’, by Caesar Williamson (1657); I omit the overlong Latin title. The Panegyric, which praises Cromwell (son of Oliver) is couched in generous terms—yet a few years later he composed a Panegyric to Charles II. Williamson even found a way to justify Henry Cromwell’s dispatch of an army to deliver the enormous library of the late Archbishop Ussher to Dublin; he simply suggested a parallel with Constantine’s claim to have rendered the army a seat of erudition.

The final two chapters reintroduce Latin verse in a variety of metres—hexameters, elegiacs, alcaics, sapphics and even an epode (hexameters plus iambic dimeter). The sapphics were composed by James Bigot of what is now Clare College as one of the ‘Cambridge Poems on the Peace of 1697’ in Chapter 10, edited by David Money; the verses show no little competence and there is no sense of strain in the 32 lines; the alcaics, by Francis Goode (educated, and later Lower Master, at Eton) are no less competent (he praises William in terms which make him an amalgam of Julius Caesar and Augustus: even Domitian could not have faulted him); yet another of the poets in this section is Robert Walpole, the future Prime Minister, also educated at Eton, who offers 40 fluent lines of elegiacs (was not Eton justly famed for ‘longs and shorts’?). John Laughton’s epode runs to 162 lines, of which 78 are quoted here; your reviewer does not recall seeing this metrical structure in other collections of post-classical Latin verse. David Money comments on the ‘variety and spirit’ found in collections of university verse, a subject upon which he has written extensively.

Finally, chapter 11, the oddly named ‘Herrings, Linen and Cheese’, edited by Caroline Spearing, celebrates the 1654 Treaty of Westminster via elegiacs (John Owen), hexameters (John Maples), more elegiacs (the future philosopher John Locke), and yet more elegiacs (Lazarus Seaman, future vice-chancellor of Cambridge, 1653-4).

In general, the Latin verses show a high degree of competence—I see no point in enumerating, say, instances of unelided atque, occasional inelegant elisions, or a trisyllabic ending of a dactylic pentameter—while the introductions to the separate chapters informatively set the relevant political or other backgrounds in context. The level of scholarship in the commentaries is adequate—occasionally I was surprised by absences where a note might have been expected—though none reaches the exceptionally high level achieved by Stephen Harrison. The book will presumably appeal to a fairly limited constituency: that said, it offers good value for money at £28.99 for the paperback version.

Colin Leach