‘What role did Latin play in Jacobean Scotland? An introduction to the “Bridging the Continental Divide” Project’

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On 22 January, the Centre was delighted to welcome Steven Reid and David McOmish who discussed ‘What role did Latin play in Jacobean Scotland? An introduction to the ‘Bridging the Continental Divide’ Project’. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

The ‘Bridging the Continental Divide Project’ seeks to translate and electronically publish around one-third of the neo-Latin poetry featured in the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum . This anthology was published in 1637 and was edited by Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit and the Aberdonian poet Arthur Johnstone. The Delitiae was the largest of its kind in Scotland and the only produced for an international audience. It provides a snapshot of neo-Latin culture in Scotland, largely focused around James VI’s reign.

Some of the main questions the project seeks to answer are as follows:

* Status: Who used Latin at this time? And why? If they did, what was their societal background and/or profession?

* Religion: Why was the Delitiae, an ‘egalitarian’ collection with mixed-religious contribution and copious Catholic references, approved by the Protestant church?

* Culture/Language: How did Latin interact with Scots and other languages at the time? Scots was predominant at this time, was Latin reserved purely as an elite language?

Continental equivalents of the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum were produced in France, Italy and a particularly massive collection in Germany in 1612, which spanned 12 volumes (the third volume alone has around 1500 pages!). Interestingly, England did not produce a Delitiae, though academic publications did emanate from Oxford at this time, mainly as a ‘graduation showcase’.

The bulk of the material in the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum is connected to courtly life in James VI’s reign, despite it being published well after his reign in 1637. The poets featured in the anthology had varied professions. Among others, we have a merchant, a doctor, a lawyer, a courtier, a soldier of fortune and a royal chancellor. Six were Protestant, two were Catholic and the religious affiliation of the others is not yet known, emphasising the multi-faith nature of the text.

David McOmish provided a summary and interpretation of some of Andrew Melville’s poems from the Delitiae which gave an insight into the wealth of the material. Melville was heavily influenced by Virgil’s, Aeneid and would paraphrase or take full lines from this text, often weaving this with his own material to create a sophisticated political or religious point. He was clearly influenced by other Classical authors such as Ovid or Horace, yet there are also examples of an engagement with more contemporary sources, such as the Scottish bishop, John Lesley (who authored a famous history of Scotland). Melville’s use of these sources could be purely cosmetic but he frequently made very erudite allusions, as evidenced by his re-interpretation of Chapter 3 of the Book of Job. This relied upon the reader’s knowledge of texts by Virgil and Ovid to obtain full understanding of Job’s fate. This all gives an impression of a living, vibrant Latin tradition, or as David McOmish put it: not ‘zombified’.

The intended outputs of the project includes a website as an online resource featuring the translated works: http://dps.gla.ac.uk/. One poem is already available online (with full commentary and footnotes), the aforementioned Ch. 3 of the Book of Job: http://dps.gla.ac.uk/features/display/?fid=f002_job. They also hope to hold an annual conference/symposium and run a joint honours masters course with Scottish Latin at the University.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Next Friday 1st February, the Centre is pleased to welcome Dafydd Johnston who will discuss ‘Curses and Concepts: the lexicon of Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poetry’. Venue and time are still to be confirmed, so engage with our Facebook page to stay up-to-date: http://www.facebook.com/scottishceltic

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