Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Beza on Vergil

In a set of Icones1 contained in his youthful collection of poems (the Poemata or Iuvenilia, or Poemata Iuvenilia), first published in 1548 before his embracing of the Reformation the following year and reissued in expurgated form several times afterwards, Beza includes the following distich about Vergil, a couplet that remains in later editions of the poems. I post it here as further documentation, if any were needed, of the high esteem in which even the most Protestant of the Reformers held the Bard of Mantua (see also here and here on Martin Luther). The metrical pattern is _ _ uu u_u _, a meter known either as phalaecean or hendecasyllabic, and was often used by, e.g., Catullus (for instance, in the famous opening poem of his collection).2

Text and Translation

P. Virgilius Maro.

Et tu, docte Maro, es sublatus orbi.

Mori numina3 posse quis putasset?

Even  you, learned Vergil, were taken away from the world.

Who would have thought that divine powers could die?4

  1. These should not be confused with Beza’s much longer work of biohagiography that bears the same title, first published in 1580.
  2. Really, each of the first two syllables is anceps. The line consists of a glyconic (xx_uu_u) plus a bacchiac (u_ _).
  3. Note the provocative juxtaposition of mori (“to die”) and numina (“divine powers”), a type of word-placement that is referred to, especially in criticism of Horace, as iunctura. The couplet might serve as a memento mori, in addition to eulogizing Vergil: if even Vergil could die, who can escape?
  4. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.