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Virgilian Echoes in the ‘Dies irae’

  • John J. Savage (a1)


After the intensive studies of Ermini and Daniel on the parallels in Christian Latin literature — religious and secular — to the form and content of the Dies irae, it may seem presumptuous to suggest that its thirteenth-century author may have carried over into the composition of this hymn — or (to be more accurate) sequence — some recollections of his youthful reading of Virgil.

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1 Ermini, F., Il Dies irae (Rome 1903).

2 Daniel, H. A., Thesaurus hymnologicus II (Leipzig 1885) 122–131.

3 For the essential argument of this paper it is indifferent whether the Dies irae was composed in the thirteenth century or the twelfth. But the present writer has found it more congenial to assume the widely held position that Thomas of Celano (ca. 1190 - ca. 1260) was its author; and this he does in spite of the opinion of some that Dom Mauro Inguanez, O. S. B., in 1931, proved that the composition could not date from the thirteenth century but may have come from the twelfth — to which period he assigned a recently discovered manuscript (the original presentation of the argument, in Miscellanea Cassinese 9 [1931] 5–11, was repeated in Rivista liturgica 18 [1931] 277–282). In his Manuale di storia liturgica II (Milan 1946) 333, Righetti, M. declares that Inguanez's argument completely undermines the attribution to Thomas of Celano; but there is, on the other hand, Ermini's reply to Inguanez to reckon with (well stated in his Medio evo latino [Modena 1938] 276–285) and also, resultantly, such a recent judgment upon the upshot of the debate as that of Fausta Casolini, who, in the Enciclopedia cattolica 12 (1954) 243, art. ‘Tommaso da Celano,’ declares that ‘della paternità celaniana [of the Dies irae] si torna a non dubitare’; cf. Bihl, M. in LThK 10 (1938) 125f., with a reference to Lampen, W. in Tijdschrift voor liturgie 16 (1935) 263268. Aside from an unevaluated bibliographical reference, Raby, F. J. E., A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages (Oxford 1927, 2nd ed. 1953) 443, 485 (4892), ignores the problem and is content to treat Thomas as the ‘reputed’ author of the sequence.

4 Cf. 2 Peter 3.10, 12.

5 Ruggieri, R. M., art. ‘Dies irae,’ Enc. catt. 4 (1950) 1576f.

6 [On this cf. Bloomfield, Morton W., supra 252 293ff. — Edd.]

7 Cf. Arbesmann, R., O.S.A., in Augustiniana 6 (1956) 67.

8 Many critics are dubious about the genuineness of the last two stanzas of our sequence. Among such is Raby, op. cit. 449; cf. Henry, H. T., in Catholic Encyclopedia 4 (1908) 787f An analysis of the form and pattern of the Dies irae to be presented later would lead one to assume that the last two stanzas are in the nature of an epilogue to the two opening stanzas, which form a prologue.

9 Cum ab igne rota mundi/Tota coeperit ardere ’; so each of the two versions in AH 23.53f. (nos. 79 [strophe 6.1–2], 80 [4.1–2]) and that edited by Strecker, K., MGH, Poetae latini aevi Carolini 4.2–3 (Berlin 1923) 521–3 (5.1–2). Cf. Raby 447f., where three full strophes are quoted.

10 For the absence of these words from the original text of the responsory see Righetti, , op. cit. (n. 3) II 337.

11 See the treatment of E. Mâle, L'art religieux du XIII e siècle en France (6th ed. Paris 1925) 369–388.

12 Cf. Comparetti, D., Vergil in the Middle Ages . trans. E.F.M. Benecke (London 1895) 100–103; Rose, H. J. The Eclogues of Vergil (Sather Classical Lectures 16; Berkeley 1942) 193f., 196, 261 (notes); and, quite recently, Kurfess, A., ‘Vergils vierte Ekloge bei Hieronymus und Augustinus,’ Sacris erudiri 6 (1954) 5–13.

13 Cf. Ermini, , op. cit. (n. 1) 111.

14 Servius on Ecl. 4.4, ed. Thilo, G. - Hagen, H. III (Leipzig 1887) 44f.; the passage is translated by Rose, op. cit. (n. 12) 172.

15 See Harvard Studies in Classical Philology (HSCP) 43 (1932) 8287.

16 Ibid. 7982.

17 Thilo-Hagen (cit. supra n. 14) III 46.7–8: ‘nonnulli etiam, ut magi, aiunt, Apollinis fore regnum: in quo videndum est, ne ardorem, sive illa ecpyrosis appellanda est, dicant.’

18 Lactantius, , Div. inst. 7.19.1–9 and 20.1; Augustine, De civ. Dei 18.23f. It must be admitted that the Sibylline oracle given by Augustine (18.47) offers a striking parallel.

19 See Mâle, , op. cit. (n. 11) 372f. (fig. 171).

20 Kuhnmuench, Otto J., S.J., Early Christian Latin Poets (Chicago 1929) 454.

21 See the note of Pellegrino, M. in his edition of the Cathem. (Alba [Cuneo] 1954) 227f.

22 Cf. AH 51.112. See also ‘The Medieval Tradition of Cerberus,’ Traditio 7 (1949–1951) 405–410.

23 Carm. 3.9. ed. Leo, P. MGH, Auct. Ant. 4.1 (Berlin 1881) 59–62; cf. Messenger, R. E., ‘Salve Festa Dies,’ Transactions of the American Philological Association (TAPA) 78 (1947) 208–222.

24 Carm. 2.6 (pp. 34f. Leo).

25 TAPA 67 (1936) 126147.

26 Hymn. 8 (aliter 9) lines 16–20, ed. Terzaghi, N. (Rome 1939) 53 (also the Annotationes pp. 264–266); cf. Messenger, TAPA 67.130.

27 AH 53.107, from stanza 10 (quoted by Messenger, TAPA 67.137).

28 AH 7.59, from stanzas 6a and 6b (quoted ibid.).

29 Allegorical interpretation of the myth of Orpheus has had a long history. A painting of the second half of the second century in the Catacombs of St. Calixtus represents an Orpheus that is assimilated to the Good Shepherd: see Leclercq, H. art. ‘Orphée,’ DACL 12.2 (1936) 2738 (with fig. 9236, after Wilpert); J. W. and Cruickshank, A. M., Christian Rome (London 1911) 55 (cf. 62). Until the thirteenth century, when allegorical interpretation was fostered by the study of Ovid (cf. Rand, E. K., Ovid and his Influence [Boston 1925] 112f.), we find such comment in individual manuscripts, e.g. Oxford, Bodl. 8856 (saec. XI; HSCP 45 [1934] 185–187), on Aen. 6.645, and especially in Paris lat. 7930 (saec. X ex.; HSCP 43.111–115), on Aen. 6.119, from the school of the famous Gerbert of Reims. Gerbert's Virgil — or rather what seems to be a thirteenth-century copy — furnishes us with a new fragment of Varro on the ‘Lyra Orphei.’ Cf. HSCP 43 loc. cit. and TAPA 56 (1925) 229–241 (esp. 235f.), with the illuminating note of Nock, A. D. Classical Review 41 (1927) 169–172. This Gerbertian annotation, in contrast to the usual tendency in dealing with the story of Orpheus, is quite objective. For a clear exposition of the sources of allegory and its prevalence in the Middle Ages, see Quain, E. A., S.J., ‘The Medieval Accessus ad auctores,’ Traditio 3 (1945) 222, with extensive bibliography.

30 So Raby, op. cit. (n. 3) 450.

31 Op. cit. 98-100.

32 The thirteenth century was the golden age of Classical florilegia; cf. Sanford, E. M. TAPA 55 (1924) 190248; Rand, ‘The Classics in the Thirteenth Century,’ Speculum 4 (1929) 264. According to Kristeller, P. O., in Byzantion 17 (1944–45) 363, the study of Classical authors was neglected in Italy up to the middle of the century; the library of Monte Cassino was an exception.

33 It is interesting to note in connection with the mention of the incident of the woman of Samaria at the well, cited as an example of pietas (‘Quaerens me sedisti lassus’ 26; cf. Luke 7.36–50), that our author may have seen the well that was traditionally associated with that event. In the first half of the thirteenth century, this well was shown at Rome, in the cloisters of St. John Lateran, later in that century under the administration of the Franciscans; cf. Cruickshank, op. cit. (n. 29) 230.

Virgilian Echoes in the ‘Dies irae’

  • John J. Savage (a1)


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