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Joannes Secundus and His Roman Models: Shapes of Imitation in Renaissance Poetry

  • Clifford Endres (a1) and Barbara K. Gold (a1)


The theory and practice of imitation have been explored in both ancient and modern times. Ancient and Renaissance writers focused on theoretical problems; recent studies have tended to examine imitation as practiced by specific authors, including Petrarch, Erasmus, Ben Jonson, and others. Another author who might profitably be studied from the point of view of his relationship to classical models is Joannes Secundus, the Renaissance poet best known for his Basia—“kiss poems” after Catullus—and Elegiae, three books of Latin love elegies. In these elegies, Secundus draws heavily upon the Roman elegiac poets, especially Propertius and Ovid, for themes, figures, and turns of phrase. In his work we find such Propertian and Ovidian topics as the poet's refusal to write epic verse, the intervention of a god to turn the poet from epic to elegy, and the power of carmina as both songs and magic charms.



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1 The literature on the subject of imitation is extensive. For some helpful discussions with bibliographies, see Gmelin, Hermann, “Das Prinzip der Imitatio in den romanischen Literaturen der Renaissance,” Romanische Forschungen, 46 (1932), 83360 ; Greene, Thomas M., “Petrarch and the Humanist Hermeneutic,” in Italian Literature: Roots and Branches, ed. Rimanelli, Giose and Atchity, K. J. (New Haven, 1976), pp. 201-24; Braden, Gordon, “Vivamus, mea Lesbia in the English Renaissance,” English Literary Renaissance, 9 (1979), 199244 ; West, D. and Woodman, T. (eds.), Creative Imitation and Latin Literature (Cambridge, 1979), esp. D. A. Russell, “De imitatione,” Ch. 1; Peterson, Richard S., “Imitation and Praise in Benjonson's Poems,” English Literary Renaissance, 10 (1980), 265-99; Pigman, G. W. III, “Versions of Imitation in the Renaissance,” Renaissance Quarterly, 33 (1980), 132 .

2 For theoretical discussions, see Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 10.2; Sneca, Ep. Mor. 84; Erasmus, Ciceronianus; for a recent study focused on the practice of imitation, see G. Braden, “Vivamus, mea Lesbia in the English Renaissance.“

3 G. Schoolfield in his Janus Secundus (Boston, 1980) discusses the important influence of the Roman elegiac poets, particularly Propertius and Ovid, on Secundus (73-74). He comments that Secundus imitated Ovid heavily in his language, phraseology, and attitude but that Propertius “is the main literary force behind the Juliaelegies” (73). He cites other poems that mention the Roman elegists, particularly 1.20, 3.3, 3.6, and makes the point that Secundus seemed more attracted by the subject of Propertius’ verse, Cynthia, than by Propertius himself (74).

4 Cf. Propertius 3.9.43-44; 4.1.64.

5 Wheeler, A. J., Catullus and the Traditions of Ancient Poetry (Berkeley, 1934), Ch. 3; Williams, G., Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry (Oxford, 1968), Ch. 5 and passim.; Pillinger, H., “Callimachean Influences on Propertius,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 73 (1969), 17ff.

6 See, for example, Propertius 2.34.61f, a pastiche of Virgilian names and themes.

7 See F. Cairns, Generic Composition in Greek and Roman Poetry (Edinburgh, 1972); cf. Horace, Ars Poetica 135, where he refers to the operis lex, the “rules of the genre” which bind the author and the imitator.

8 All references to Petrarch's letters are to Petrarch, Le familiari, ed. Vittorio Rossi and Umberto Bosco (Florence, 1933-42).

9 See G. W. Pigman, “Versions of Imitation in the Renaissance,” 2-3, for a brief discussion of the many positions taken on imitation in the Renaissance.

10 Cf. Horace, Ep. 1.19.22-23: “Qui sibi fidet / dux reget examen” (“Whoever has confidence in himself will be leader of the swarm.“)

11 Erasmus, Ciceronianus, ed. Pierre Mesnard (Amsterdam, 1971), in Opera omnia, vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 704, [LB 1022]. See Endres, Clifford, Joannes Secundus: The Latin Love Elegy in the Renaissance (Hamden, 1981), pp. 64ff.

12 See T. Greene, “Petrarch and the Humanist Hermeneutic,” pp. 214-15.

13 For a description of the imitator as a mere collector, Poliziano, cf., “Oratio super Fabio Quintiliano et Statii Sylvis,” Prosatori latini del Quattrocento, ed. Garin, E. (Milan and Naples, 1952), p. 878 .

14 For digestive metaphors, see Seneca, , Ep. Mor. 84 ; Petrarch, Fam. 22.2; Erasmus, , Ciceronianus, p. 704 ; Benjonson, Timber: or Discoveries, 2466-82, in Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson (Oxford, 1947), vol. 8, pp. 638-39; G. Pigman, “Versions of Imitation in the Renaissance,” 8 and n. 13; for apian metaphors, see Seneca, ibid.; Petrarch, Fam. 1.8.23; Stackelberg, J. V., “Das Bienengleichnis: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der literarischen Imitatio,” Romanische Forschungen, 68 (1956), 271-93; for sartorial metaphors, see Petrarch, Fam. 22.2; for filial metaphors, see Seneca, ibid.; Petrarch, Fam. 23.19; Erasmus, , Ciceronianus, p. 704 .

15 See T. Greene, “Petrarch and the Humanist Hermeneutic,” p. 219.

16 E.g., Ciceronianus, pp. 708ff. and passim; see G. Pigman, “Versions of Imitation,” 2off.; T. Greene, “Petrarch,” pp. 210, 219-21.

17 See for example Callimachus, Aetiai, fr. 21-41 Pf.; Virgil, Eel. 6.3-5, Georg. 3.41; Horace, Carm. 1.6, 4.15.1-4. See also Newman, J. K., The Concept of Vates in Augustan Poetry, Collection Latomus, 89 (Brussels, 1967), pp. 8485 ; W. Wimmel, Kallimachos in Rom: die Nachfolge seines apologetischen Dichtens in der Augusterzeit. Hermes Einzelschrifi, Heft 16 (Wiesbaden, i960), pp. if, I3f., i62f., i87f. and passim.

18 Virgil, Georg. 3.41; Propertius 3.9.52.

19 Virgil, Eel. 6.3-5; Propertius 3.3.

20 Cf. Propertius 3.3.15-16; Ovid, Am. 1.1.5. See also Kathleen Morgan, Ovid's Art of Imitation: Propertius in the Amores, Mnemosyne, Supp. 47 (Leiden, 1977), pp. 7-15, for an extended discussion of the relationship between Ovid and Propertius in these two poems.

21 Cf. also Ovid, Am. 1.1.23 and Secundus, Eleg. 1.1.17; Ovid, Am. 1.1.24 and Secundus, Eleg. 1.1.18.

22Vivamus, mea Lesbia,” 201-24, esp. 208, 216.

23 See also Horace, Carm, 3.30, the locus classicus.

24 Propertius 3.2.2-8, 17-18.

25 See Schoolfield, G., Janus Secundus, pp. 72100 , esp. 73-74.

26 Cf. G. Braden, “ Vivamus, mea Lesbia,” 211, on Benjonson's “dismemberment of the Latin poem.“

27 “Petrarch and the Humanist Hermeneutic,” p. 215.

28 Ben Jonson, Underwood 14.60, in Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford and P. and E. Simpson, vol. 8, p. 160.

Joannes Secundus and His Roman Models: Shapes of Imitation in Renaissance Poetry

  • Clifford Endres (a1) and Barbara K. Gold (a1)


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