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Flora Neolatina: Die Hortorum libri IV von Rene Rapin S.J. und die Plantarum libri VI von Abraham Cowley, Zwei lateinische Dichtungen des 17. Jahrhunderts.

Flora Neolatina: Die Hortorum libri IV von Rene Rapin S.J. und die Plantarum libri VI von Abraham Cowley, Zwei lateinische Dichtungen des 17. Jahrhunderts. By Ruth Monreal. Beitrage zur Altertumskunde, 278. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010. x + 333 pages. It was M.'s purpose in this book (a revised version of her Ph.D. thesis in Tubingen) to present two Neo-Latin didactic poems, Rene Rapin's Hortorum libri IV (Paris, 1665) and Abraham Cowley's Plantarum libri VI (London, 1668).

Like Virgil's Georgics, one of the most important models for these texts, and Rapin's Horti themselves, M.'s book also consists of four parts. In the middle there are two large-scale chapters on Rapin resp. Cowley. They are framed by a general introduction (chap. 1) and a comparative summary of the two poems (chap. 4).

In the introduction M. classifies the poems in the context of didactic poetry (1-9) and describes the state of research on that literary genre (1016), leveling a lot of criticism at Bernd Effe (Dichtung und Lehre (Munich, 1977)) and Yasmin Haskell (Loyola's Bees (Oxford, 2003)), although in the discussion that follows she is often in line with Haskell.

The second chapter deals with Rapin's Horti. After a biobibliographical introduction (23-26) and an annotated list of editions and translations, M. discusses the topic of the poem in general and provides a summary of the four books (34-58). In several lists, she records historical characters and (real and fictitious) gardens in the poem (58-61). The given factual information is also examined in its relationship to Rapin's prose treatise De universa culturae hortensis disciplina, which was printed together with the poem (61-65). The literary form of the Horti, which imitates Virgil's Georgics in general, is analyzed as far as metrics, division into several books, extent, communicative situation, paratexts, prooemium, praeteritio of medicinal plants, aitiological epyllion, and sphragis are concerned (66-99). Rapin's poetological self-conception is studied in the praefatio of the poem and in his Reflexions sur lapoetique (1674), an important text for the famous querelle des anciens et des modernes (99-109). Concerning the question of whether Rapin supported the anciens or the modernes (both answers were given in former studies), M. takes a middle position. Comparing the Horti with Ovid's Metamorphoses, the differences in eroticis are very striking (109-23). Perhaps a nod towards the Ovide moralise would have been helpful here. Furthermore, M. discusses Rapin's imitations of so-called "schone Stellen" (beautiful passages) of the Aeneid (1.423sqq. and 6.847sqq.), Fracastoro's Syphilis (2.223 sqq.), and Vida's Scacchia ludus (123-31). Very few Christian elements can be found in the Horti (132-34). M. tries to explain, as part of an interesting theory, why the splendid garden of Nicolas Fouquet, who fell from Louis XIV's grace, in Vaux le Vicomte is not mentioned in the poem (134-42). The chapter ends with a detailed tabular summary of the poem (142-88).

The third chapter deals with Abraham Cowley's Plantarum libri VI. After biobibliographical information and a survey of editions and translations, M. presents an overview of the content of each book (18999). Cowley's medical and botanical knowledge is analyzed together with the sources he had available for his poem; here, especially Pliny the elder and Jean Fernes stand out (200-12). Some examples illustrate these results: amenorrhea and blood circulation (plant. 2.177-246), the doctrine of signatures, i.e., the correspondence between micro- and macrocosmos, and humoral pathology (pp. 212-17). Concerning the literary form of the poem, M. scrutinizes content, personifications of the plants, extent, division into several books, metrics, notes, poetological passages, the beginning and ending of the books, and catalogues (217-78). As in the previous chapter, this one also ends with a detailed summary of the poem (278-313).

The last chapter is quite short (314-21) and compares the two poems, summarizing the results of the previous chapters. The figure of Flora, the national focus, scientific information, literary form, integration into the generic tradition, and the reception of the poems all come into view. The whole book ends with a bibliography (322-28) and indices (329-33).

M. tries to do justice to the two poems on several levels and analyzes them on different levels. For her, the didactic poetry of the Augustan age is as important for the understanding of Rapin and Cowley as their knowledge of contemporary scientific research. All her observations are well-founded, and sometimes she makes astounding discoveries, e.g., she has discovered an acrostic in hort. 4.813-17 (139-40) and translates a line from Nahuatl (plant. 5.1010 oi camacalli camatli natastlits intelolocti) which so far was considered as mere crying (274-78). M. shows convincingly that in Virgil's Georgics the levels of teaching and of dedication are clearly separated, while they blur in Cowley. But one could certainly ask which political implications Virgil's choice of subject contained and whether these implications also exist for the topic of gardens in Louis' France of the seventeenth century. Analyzing the last book of Cowley's Plantae, which deals (differently from books 1-5) with English history, the question might arise whether this could be an influence from Propertius's last book, which deals (differently from books 1-3) with Roman history. This would also fit together with the intermediate position of the poet between epic poetry, didactic poetry, and a collection of poems.

Considering that the book is a Ph.D. thesis, which must be ready by a certain deadline, one must be deeply impressed by the finesse of the language and the high quality of the work in general. If M. had written the book with less career pressure, she would have taken some additional weeks in order to correct some trifles, like missing (e.g., 122, 260, 320) or clumsy translations. But this is the book of a young Neo-Latinist of high quality, and it is most warmly recommended to anyone interested in Neo-Latin didactic poetry. (Florian Schaffenrath, Universitat Innsbruck)
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Title Annotation:NEO-LATIN NEWS
Author:Schaffenrath, Florian
Publication:Seventeenth-Century News
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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