Tuesday, February 07, 2017


A Latin Quotation in the Play Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More. A Play By Anthony Munday and Others, edd. Vittorio Gabrieli and Giorgio Melchiori (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990), p. 134 (Act III, Scene 1, lines 202-207, with editors' notes):
More.               Why, I'll show the reason.
This is no age for poets: they should sing
To the loud cannon heroica facta:
Qui faciunt reges heroica carmina laudant;
And as great subjects of their pen decay,
Even so unphysicked they do melt away.

204 cannon] a quibble: (a) singing to the accompaniment of martial noises; (b) singing to a musical 'canon', by which different voices or instruments take up the same tune in different keys.

heroica facta] heroic feats: it completes the sentence (poets should sing heroic deeds). But it could be the subject of the Latin relative clause in the next line. The expression regia facta ('kingly deeds') is used ironically of Henry VIII's misdeeds in the apocryphal Erasmian poem on More's death mentioned in note to l. 205.

205] 'Epic poems praise what kings do.' The Jesuit phraseological repertory Gradus ad Parnassum (London, 1680) quotes this line (p. 380) under the heading heroicus, attributing it to Ovid, but we have been unable to find it in his works, and later editions of Gradus, while locating precisely most other quotations in the works of their respective authors, fail to do the same with this. Can the line be an oblique reference to the pamphlet published in Hagenau in September 1536 containing an Heroicum Carmen attributed to Erasmus, In mortem Thomae Mori? The pamphlet is a fabrication of anti-Protestant pro-paganda, but was taken seriously by Roman Catholics when circulated on both sides of the Channel, and it is just the sort of literature with which Anthony Munday would be familiar from his stay in Rome in 1579 and from his profession as pursuivant of Roman Catholics in England, see Intro., §2.4.
The Latin quotation isn't from Ovid but rather from Mantuan (1448-1516), Eclogues 5.155-156. See Wilfred P. Mustard, ed., The Eclogues of Baptista Mantuanus (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1911), p. 88.

By the way, the only way I can construe the quotation is without the stop after heroica facta (there is no stop in the manuscript). I translate:
Epic poems praise kings who perform epic deeds.
I.e. parsing as follows:
Qui reges faciunt heroica facta, eos reges heroica carmina laudant.

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