I’ve written in the past a couple of times about Theodore Beza’s Icones, his bio-hagiographical tributes to several Reformers and forerunners of the Reformation from across Europe (see here on Calvin, here on Hus). Many of his vignettes conclude with a poem.
Such is the case for his sketch of Philip Melanchthon, which I have translated below (appearing here in English for, I suspect, the first time). The poem is written in the First Pythiambic meter (used by Horace in Epodes 14 and 15), in which dactylic hexameters alternate with iambic dimeters.
The poem consists of twelve lines of direct address to three different addressees: Melanchthon himself (1-6); the earth (7-10); and the reader (11-12)–thus the space devoted to each addressee decreases by a third as the poem progresses.
Text and Translation
Et tu igitur tandem tumuli sub mole1 repostus,
Die o Philippe, nunc iaces:
Et quam invidisti vivus tibi tute quietem,
Cunctis quietem dum paras,
Ipsa tibi cura et sancti peperere labores,
Charum o bonis cunctis caput.
At tu funde rosas, funde isti lilia tellus,2
Ut lilia inter et rosas,
Quo nil candidius fuit et nil suavius unquam,
Recubet Melanchthon molliter.
Et gravis huic ut sis caveas, iuvenisve, senexve,
Qui nemini vixit gravis.3
And now then at last you lie in repose under a mound
of earth, o divine Philip:
And the rest you envied for yourself when living,
while you provided rest for all,
your very worry and holy labors have acquired for you,
o leader dear4 to all good men.
But you, earth, pour forth roses, pour forth lilies for him,
in order that Melanchthon–than whom nothing was ever
among lilies and roses.
And you take care, whether a youth or aged, lest you be a burden upon him7
who lived as a burden to none.
Ted Van Raalte points out, surely correctly, that the imagery of earth, vegetation, and color should be read playfully with the etymology of Melanchthon’s name–something I had overlooked completely. Thus: “…in order that Black-Earth, than whom in fact nothing was ever brighter or sweeter, may lie among lilies and roses.”
- Perhaps in inversion of the common Roman grave inscription sit tibi terra levis (“May the earth lie light upon you”).
- Cf. Vergil, Eclogue 4.18-23:
At tibi prima, puer, nullo munuscula cultu
errantis hederas passim cum baccare tellus
mixtaque ridenti colocasia fundet acantho. 20
ipsae lacte domum referent distenta capellae
ubera nec magnos metuent armenta leones;
ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores.
- Again, recall the common inscription cited above–for gravis…ut sis is antonymical to sit…levis.
- Note the soundplay with cura and c[h]arum.
- In reference to lilies.
- In reference to roses.
- The idea of “weight” returns from the poem’s opening.