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George Buchanan, Poet and Dramatist.

* George Buchanan, Poet and Dramatist. Ed. by Philip Ford and Roger P. H. Green. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales; Oakville, CT: David Brown Book Co. 2009. xxxiii + 322 pp. George Buchanan's quincentenary in 2006 occasioned many symposia and exhibits, including performances of his dramatic works and poems. This collection distills the manifold receptions of Buchanan from his own time to the present, with particularly fresh appraisals of his dramaturgy. Sections on the "secular" poems, the Psalm paraphrases, the dramas, and the works in performance present illuminating appraisals, well researched and current in bibliographical resources. The collection exemplifies the recent revival of Buchanan studies after a long dormant period that followed his 1906 commemoration and notes the influence of a decline in Latin studies upon this unwelcome loss. In their Introduction Philip Ford and Roger Green survey Buchanan's Neo-Latin literary accomplishments, an oeuvre that had established him by the time of his death as a premier figure in European humanism as well as in Scottish letters and learning. His Psalm paraphrases, alongside Erasmus's 1516 Greek-Latin edition of the New Testament, became staples of the humanist-Protestant partnerships that were especially prominent in France and Scotland. When he turned to drama, while at the College de Guyenne, it was at first as a requirement that each teacher produce a Latin translation of a Greek drama for student performance. In Jepthes he took up the theme of corrupt priests; in Baptistes, the tyrant. Erasmus's Iphigenia and Hecuba translations (1506) provide a touchstone for examining Buchanan's style, inclusion of political and Biblical allusions, and what Jean-Frederic Chevalier terms a "poetics of borrowing," while remaining controversial as well as renowned. Ford and Green note that like his later Psalm paraphrases, possibly as prototypes for them, the choruses in Buchanan's dramas employ a "religious lyrical expression." The three chapters on Buchanan's dramas further explore debates concerning allegory and satire, and allusions to Biblical, classical, and contemporary religious themes: Iphigenia about corrupt priests sanctioning human sacrifice, Baptists understood as a reference to Henry VIII's treatment of Thomas More.

Philip Ford presents the ample range of Buchanan's styles, genres, versification, and uses of allegory and satire as a significant advance in extant rhetoric and poetics, which he taught far more by practice than by precept. Ford notes in particular Buchanan's innovative uses of ethos in developing characters and pathos in the choruses, turned to modern religious and political themes. Jamie Reid Baxter's essay on performances of Buchanan's dramas reprises four centuries of debate about the degree and specificity of their political allegory, or alternately their more general treatment of humanist themes: "the difficulties of conforming oneself to the demands of the moral law when a tyrant rules, the priesthood adapts, and the non-evil prudential elements of society beg for compromise." The satirical Franciscianus got Buchanan jailed in Lisbon by the Inquisition, at which time he claimed that in Baptistes he had done as good a job as the material allowed in portraying the plight of Thomas More. During the Lisbon incarceration (1550-52) he occupied himself by completing the Psalm paraphrases that established him in the top ranks of the Neo-Latin humanist literati. De jure regniapudScotos (1579), his dialogue on politics dedicated to young James VI, brought him further acclaim in human ist circles as various forms of republicanism and limited monarchy merged across Protestant Europe. John McQueen's essay provides a lucid account of Buchanan's emerging political thought between the composition of his paraphrase of Psalm 104, published four years before Queen Mary's return to Scotland, and De jures context. McQueen observes that Buchanan's reputation often suffered from reading back into his earlier works a political and theological radicalism that branded him as dangerous.

Robert Crawford's excellent concluding chapter considers the rise, fall, and recuperation of Buchanan's reputation across four centuries, beginning with an immediate decline within England under James VI, James I of England. Buchanan was regarded as guilty by association of fostering republicanism and even regicide. Though he remained known, his political works along with Milton's were burned at Oxford and Cambridge following the restoration. Within Scotland, however, and in America, the memory was less suppressed, a history that until recently has not been traced as well as it should have been. English versions of Jepthes were popular in the schools and theatres of eighteenth-century Scotland; Hugh Blair included Buchanan alongside Ossian in his lectures on rhetoric and belles lettres as a native son, historian, and exemplary stylist. English editions of Dejure appeared in America as early as 1766. Andrew Steuart (d. 1769), of Scotch-Irish origins, also published a number of poems and pamphlets in the Philadelphia area, including Benjamin Franklin's Cool Thoughts on the Present Situation (1764) and a number of post-Stamp Act invectives against taxation without representation.

One of the many intriguing questions provisioned by these essays is the influence of Buchanan on political thought and letters among the generation that he taught, including not only James I of England, but also Montaigne, his student at Guyenne. The biting satire of Franciscianus, as well as of many of Buchanan's epigrams, would have been familiar models to students who composed Latin elegies and epigrams as a daily classroom exercise. In "Brasilia," discussed in Philip Ford's essay, Buchanan expresses his opposition to Portuguese colonialism: "Africa is deserted, the needy soldiery is begging, without fighting the fleeing Moors have safe cities. Dusky Brazil receives the disgusting colonists, and he who previously had ploughed boys is ploughing fields. He who removes his estates from the soldiers is handing them over to perverts." Buchanan's imagery and vocabulary are evocative of Catullus; his topic, Brazil's encounter with "disgusting" colonists. Writing in the aftermath of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacres (1572) that took the life of Buchanan's colleague Peter Ramus, Montaigne draws together several instances of cannibalism to ask who is the more civilized: the American Tupis tribe who sent a delegation to Rouen in 1562, or members of the French Catholic faction who had sold the limbs of Huguenots for food in Paris and Lyons after the riots. "I am not sorry that we notice the barbarous horror of their acts; but I am heartily sorry that, judging their faults rightly, we should be so blind to our own. Not only is the Christian as bad as the cannibal; the cannibal is also as good as the Christian." We can only wonder what influence Buchanan's styles and themes may have had upon numerous early vernacular writers as they moved from the settings of the colleges to the tending of their communities.

The range of contributors to this collection, from several different fields and from a number of different national backgrounds, provides ample material for further conjecture on these and other points. The joint publication in Britain and America is welcome, as it will help span the transatlantic divide that often obstructs our knowledge of scholarship past and present. Charles Arrowood's edition of De jure (1949), published in America, for example, deserves a place alongside the other earlier sources cited, such as Sharrat and Walsh's important edition of the tragedies. (Jan Swearingen, Texas A&M University)
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Title Annotation:NEO-LATIN NEWS
Author:Swearingen, Jan
Publication:Seventeenth-Century News
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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