Monday, November 08, 2004


Landor on Some Latin Poets

If someone tries to persuade you that the sum of human knowledge is available on the Internet, tell him to look for the works of Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864). Only bits and pieces of his voluminous works can be found. I don't think that the following short pieces by Landor on some Latin poets have previously appeared in cyberspace.

Among the remains of the Latin poet Catullus are some scurrilous poems which verge on the obscene. In the following epigrams on Catullus, Landor argues that the good far outweighs the bad, and that even some of the bad has its charms.

On Catullus (1853):
Tell me not what too well I know
About the bard of Sirmio ..
  Yes, in Thalia's son
Such stains there are .. as when a Grace
Sprinkles another's laughing face
  With nectar, and runs on.
Written in a Catullus (1863):
Among these treasures there are some
That floated past the wreck of Rome;
But others, for their place unfit,
Are sullied by uncleanly wit.
So in its shell the pearl is found
With rank putridity around.
Landor, who with Milton and Housman was one of the most learned of the English poets, also wrote a long essay entitled "The Poems of Catullus," which appeared in the Foreign Quarterly Review (1842).

In the following verses, Landor touches on some prominent themes in Tibullus' poetry. Some Latin poets, such as Vergil and Horace, advanced the political agenda of the emperor Augustus, and were rewarded for their allegiance by the patronage of Augustus' minister Maecenas. Tibullus followed a different path. His patron was Messalla. When Tibullus' lady-love Delia deceived him, he tried to forget his sorrow by accompanying Messalla on military campaigns (the ancient equivalent of the French Foreign Legion), and he eventually found a new flame, a woman named Nemesis after the Greek goddess of vengeance. In the final line, "Rome's last poet" is Ovid, who wrote a well-known poem on Tibullus' death (Amores 3.9).

Tibullus (1863):
Only one poet in the worst of days
Disdain'd Augustus in his pride to praise.
Ah, Delia! was it wantonness or whim
That made thee, once so tender, false to him?
To him who follow'd over snow and seas
Messalla storming the steep Pyrenees.
But Nemesis avenged him, and the tear
Of Rome's last poet fell upon his bier.
In the following couplet, Flaccus is the Latin poet better known as Horace. His full name was Quintus Horatius Flaccus.

The Two Satirists (1858):
While we are frolicking with Flaccus
Comes Juvenal to slash and hack us.
Satire was the one literary genre in which the Romans were not indebted to the Greeks. Quintilian (10.93) says "Satira quidem tota nostra est" (Satire at least is completely ours). The satires of Horace were gentler in tone than the savage indignation of the poems of Juvenal.

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