Teachers who use Ecce Romani will know about the Scottish poet of Latin, Buchanan. (I can't give you chapter and verse, but when I used the course I met Buchanan for the first time.) These teachers, and others, will probably be interested in this book, reviewed in The Scotsman.
Awakening Scotland's Latin spirit
Apollos of the North
George Buchanan, Arthur Johnston – Robert Crawford (ed./tr.)
ONE might not expect a pair of Scottish poets writing in the wake of the Reformation to choose Latin as the medium for their expression. But, in those days, Latin was still a living language. Nowadays, of course, things are different, but Robert Crawford has rolled up his sleeves and provided a spirited facing translation to assist the uninitiated with these selected poems of George Buchanan and Arthur Johnston.
Buchanan was born in 1506 in Stirlingshire, fought in the French army at the age of 17, studied at St Andrews and Paris, was imprisoned by the Inquisition in Portugal, escaped with his life and ended up back in Scotland as tutor to James VI. He died in Edinburgh in 1582. Johnston was born in 1579 near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, studied in Aberdeen and Heidelberg, became Professor of Physic at Sedan, but eventually returned to Scotland. He became Rector of Aberdeen University in 1637 and died in 1641.
Unsurprisingly, the man who suffered at the hands of the Inquisition writes very differently from the man who began and ended his life in rural Aberdeenshire. When reading Buchanan, one sometimes has the impression of reading the invectives of Catullus or Horace. His 'Franciscanus' contains an excoriating piece about Fr William Lang conducting a fantastical exorcism on a barren heath. Crawford's renderings are lively, if not always particularly close to the original. Thus Lang is a “Franciscan spindoctor to James the Fifth… hocuspocussing like mad”; Diogio de Murça, Rector of Coimbra, is “Master Beleago MBA (Monster of Bestial Accumulation”, who has “wholly Mastered Being Ahead”, a “no-brain, blackballed Baal of the Unbelles Lettres /Of Marketing, our Mall-mad Manager”.
This is not what Buchanan wrote, but it might strike a chord with anyone who has worked in a modern university. The wedding hymn for Francis of Valois and Mary Queen of Scots is a long and turgid piece of toadying in which Mary is advised to acknowledge her womanly place and learn to bear the yoke of marriage. The extracts from 'De Sphaera' show Buchanan attempting a grand scientific poem in the manner of Lucretius.
Buchanan writes in a variety of styles. He was clearly profoundly learned in the finer points of metre, prosody, and rhetoric. But his verses struck me as ultimately rather frigid. I often felt that he was showing off his manipulation of metre and vocabulary like a precocious undergraduate, with results that could be jarring and did little for the underlying thought.
Johnston, on the other hand, writes in a mellow and fluid manner that reminded me strongly of Ovid. Some might tire of the succession of short pieces in praise of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, St Andrews, Dundee, Montrose, Brechin, Aberdeen and Elgin. But they are beautifully deft vignettes, full of evocative and charming imagery – far more satisfying, for example, than Buchanan's rather ponderous piece in praise of Paris.
Johnston's poem about the atrocity at Frendrocht on October 8, 1630, where John Gordon, Viscount of Melgum and John Gordon of Rothiemay were burned alive in a tower, shows Johnston combining his talent for arresting visual descriptions with an eloquent rhetoric of moral indignation. Although the fashion has been to exalt Buchanan over Johnston, one feels that Buchanan could never have written like this.