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The 'Opicius' poems (British Library, Cotton Vespasian B. iv) and the humanist anti-literature in early Tudor England.

The humanist Latin poetry surviving in deluxe presentation copies from the early Tudor period in England, especially the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509), when such poetry began to be written in some quantity has paradoxical social properties. On the one hand, great care was evidently lavished on these performances, involving considerable investment of material resources and labor, as well as ingenuity and antecedent training on the poets' parts. The poetry exhibits rare classical learning and innovation and the artifacts transmitting it were designed and decorated to match, after the current fashion of Italianate humanist products, likewise innovative for England. On the other hand, these same lavish, investment-intensive performances seem to have yielded little or no return beyond the immediate moment of the presentation itself or, in some instances, not even then. The poets were able to attract patronal emolument by their presentations in some cases, or to gain a measure of the esteem of their learned compee rs, but sometimes not. In any event, the poetry generally did not make its way into wider manuscript circulation nor into print, and the presentation copies themselves were not made publicly available for reuse in any regular way. The poetry went (and has largely remained) unread, rarely having direct or particular influence on subsequent writing. Great expense, little use: the evidentiary value of the surviving manuscript of the poems of 'Opicius' in the British Library -- five Latin poems, amounting to some seven hundred lines of verse, described as the work of "Johannes Opicius," in a careful copy, now shelf-marked Cotton Vespasian B.iv -- is that, in addition to the kinds of expenditure entailed, it shows that these properties of such a literary performance were complementary rather than conflicting. Purposeless inutility enhanced the worth of the performance in its immediate social setting. The poetry wanted to be useless, that the presentation might work the better to serve the interests of the potentat e for whom the performance was staged.

1. THE MANUSCRIPT: BRITISH LIBRARY, COTTON VESPASIAN B.IV

It is a slender object, now in the British Library, founded out of the sixteenth-and seventeenth-century collections of Robert Cotton, having come into Cotton's possession, in company of various other items, from an earlier English royal collection: (1) twenty-five vellum leaves, their original binding long since having been replaced, measuring 260 x 190 mm. each. In rebinding, possibly more than once, the leaves are likely to have been trimmed. Still, the ratio of page to written area (generally only seventeen lines per page, occupying approximately 136 x 115 mm., though there is not right justification) leaves generous margins.

The pages' decoration is slight, too. The book has only three historiated initials, none extended by penwork or colored decorative flourishing into the margins; nor does any page have a fully, formally decorated border. The three historiated initials -- "B" (fol. 3r), "Q" (fol. 14r), and "S" (fol. 19r)--enclose representations of English heraldic instruments: respectively, a Tudor rose, a Beaufort portcullis, and the dragon rouge of Tudor Wales; also, the foot of the opening recto displays an unframed heraldic device: the royal arms of England, crowned, supported left by a greyhound and right by the dragon rouge. This heraldic display is a mark of ownership, albeit proleptic, inasmuch as the heraldry must have been put into the book in advance of its coming into the possession of the English king. Still, the particular array of devices indicates that the book belonged to king Henry VII of England: the manuscript is a presentation copy, for donation to and for the ownership of this singular audience, and no ot her.

The other decoration in the manuscript is a painting, unframed, at the foot of the second recto to display an historiated initial (fol. 14r), at the second of the manuscript's strongly marked sections (see Fig. 1). The painting is nor heraldic but illustrative, showing three groups of trees, symmetrically distributed across a grassy, rolling landscape, with livestock, as a backdrop before which a pair of rusrics stand, turned towards one another, gesturing. The notion is, apparently, that they converse, and that each is holding a crook serves to identify the figures as shepherds. The unframed realistic painting, placed as it is on the page, recalls features of ancient manuscript decoration, which disposed similar illustrations similarly. As it emerges from reading, however, the painting speaks above all, not about audience or ownership, but about the text's composer's work -- possibly its most innovative, literary historically freighted feature: the text illustrated by the painting is a pastoral verse dialogu e, possibly the first such bucolic poem to have been written in England.

Most pages of the manuscript have only text-writing, except the three with historiated initials. Two of these also have other painted decoration, the one the heraldic indication of ownership, the other the illustrative advertisement of authorial accomplishment. Three rectos of the manuscript -- the three having in addition the manuscript's three disproportionately large historiated initial capitals at their beginnings -- have also quasi-architectural monumental draperies painted across their tops. Set athwart the page's longer axis, rectangular blocks of color, shading around their outlines creating an illusion of relief and movement, these raised labels have brief legenda or tituli in simple script. The script of these drapery tituli is a sort of fereitalic, with more slant and curve, and more elaborate ligaturing intermittently, than might be expected of a humanist bookhand of so early a date; still, the letter separation (a print-like feature, rather than calligraphic) is generally distinct, and the uprigh ts are for the better part properly upright. The historicist sleight-of-hand from which the vogue for letter-forms of this sort derived is well known: the minuscule forms are not Roman, though they were believed to be Roman, the belief being sufficiently strongly and widely held to lend attraction to the style. They are Carolingian, the scholars who first fostered the style knowing no earlier manuscripts of the ancient writings that interested them. (2) Ultimately, the style was promulgated most widely by early printers, who had additional technical reasons for favoring it. (3) In any event, the Carolingian handwriting reform that fooled the fifteenth-century humanist Italians fooled them only partially. Though the minuscule forms they favored ate not Roman, strictly speaking, they are still imperial: the products of a centralizing authority asserting its power to enforce order and uniformity even in cultural production, where there had before been only local diversity, the imposition of imperial order in han dwriting relating metonymically to the imperial imposition in toto, as part of the whole processus of the Carolingian settlement. (4)

The same script is used throughout, except that throughout the body of the manuscript text, capital letters are treated distinctively, in a way that draws attention. The same is true of all the capitals in the manuscript: they are properly Roman (and so also imperial) in derivation, as are the capitals in humanist hands generally, ranged somewhat awkwardly with the Carolingian minuscule forms. The forms of the capitals derive from Roman monumental letter-forms, incised in stone monuments distributed as widely as the Roman empire reached, functioning as a still palpable embodiment of the imperial power. Distinctive about the manuscript containing the Opicius poems is the treatment of line-initial capitals, on all the buried interior pages as well as the display pages marking the manuscript's chief internal divisions. These line-initial capitals have all been drawn, rather than written, and are drawn in relief: outlined and shaded to lend an appearance of the kind of ensculpted incision characteristic of Roman monumental epigraphy.

This array of stylistic features makes it possible to group this manuscript with others, forming a durable, recognizable manuscript genus, the humanist presentation manuscript. It was known in numerous instances in English manuscript production from late in the reign of Edward IV (1461-83), though the earliest examples began to reach England earlier, in the 1430s and 40s, following the protectorate of Duke Humfrey of Gloucester (1391-1447). (5) Thomas More, for one, was still using the style in 1509-10, when he greeted the accession of Henry VIII with a manuscript presentation having the same disposition of elements that characterizes the Opicius manuscript of a generation earlier. (6)

Because of its proximity to the modern printed page, to which all are still habituated, it can be somewhat difficult to appreciate the distinctions of manuscript production in this style (though there are also other reasons for the invisibility of the genus). Nevertheless, one of the attractions of the humanist presentation manuscript style for those who used it would have been its innovation, evidently discontinuous stylistically with what had gone before. In English literary manuscript production, for example, the humanists' presentations could hardly be more markedly distinct from the presentation manuscripts prepared by or for such late medieval English vernacular writers as John Gower (ca. 1330-1408), Thomas Hoccleve (ca. 1369-1426), and John Lydgate (ca. 1370-1449), still widely in use in the fifteenth century, when the humanist manuscript presentations began to appear. (7) In size, layout, decoration, and script -- all features of material presentation, apart from content -- the humanist presentation m anuscript differed.

More specifically, beyond the general cultural capital that accrues eventually to innovation, the stylistic differentiae of the humanist presentation manuscript make a particular, legible cultural-political point by themselves. The physical presentation bespeaks discontinuity, on the one hand, negatively: this is not like the sort of literary manuscript that dominated local book-production; this is something other. On the other hand, positively, it also asserts a specific transhistorical continuity; with an ancient imperialism it hoped to see (and contributed to seeing) revived. The stylistic coding of the manuscript's production values refers to this variety of historical cultural authority, rather than to some other: the power of the Roman imperium, imperial or supra-national, extensive in space, and perdurable in time, like the imperial monuments in stone from which the writing style's most salient feature derives. The manuscript type, of which Cotton Vespasian B.iv is a representative, enacts and embodies this particular cultural imperialism: the material vocabulary of the design bespeaks the dominance of ancient Roman models, mediated for early Renaissance England by contemporary Italian intermediaries, heirs of the ancient Romans, in process of again displacing local northern European cultural canons (local English or the French or Franco-Burgundian of the International Gothic).

Adapting this cultural-imperialist project to England in the early Tudor period was possible because the manuscript style could be made to serve particular political conditions obtaining about the English monarchy at the time -- conditions discussed and analyzed in detail, as it happens, in the verbal contents of the manuscript. However, the manuscript itself, a careful, exquisite confection, seems not to have been much looked at or into. There is no evidence of anyone having read or studied it until James Gairdner did so in the mid-nineteenth century. (8) Meanwhile, the manuscript migrated. In the short term, it would have served to swell the royal book collection, one noteworthy for its treasures, though still more so for its size. It grew great enough in Henry VII's reign to merit the deputation of a professional librarian for the first time, the Burgundian scholar and book-artist Quentin Poulet. (9) The books were still treated like furniture, rather than as the constituent parts of a working collection, with which readers and others might regularly interact: objectified, removed from place to place with the monarch, in company of other goods of his, like plate and jewels, making manifest the kingly glory. (10) Later, the book was let go into the possession of Cotton, in company of a block of similarly sized other books of possibly similar royal provenance. (11) The manuscript would appear to have had little or no weight of intrinsic value or external influence beyond the moment of its presentation.

2. THE AUTHOR: JOHANNES OPICIUS

About the person responsible, authorially, for the manuscript -- who composed and arranged its contents, evidently, and who had the thing built, written, and decorated (possibly doing some or all of this work personally as well) -- nothing is known, except what he tells in the manuscript he gave the English king in about 1492-93. (12) Significantly little: he was less than twenty years old at the time, and he names himself "Johannes Opicius."

An evidently Italian family by this name (one of several Latinisations current for an uncertain Italian original) maintained connections with England over a series of generations. A St. Albans chronicler knew a papal collector to England by the name "Johannes de Opyzis" in 1427 -- too early to be the young poet of Cotton Vespasian B.iv, who would have been born circa 1472, though the collector may have been a relation. (13) Janet Backhouse has drawn attention to the work of a musician-composer "Benedictus de Opitiis," the son of an Italian merchant "Peter Opitius" active in England and the Low Countries, who had also another son, unnamed, with whom Benedict collaborated on a "Summa laudis O Maria," mentioned in a printed book produced in the Netherlands in 1515. (14) Backhouse also adduces in evidence that these same two sons of merchant "Peter Opitius" also collaborated with Quentin Poulet in the production of a presentation manuscript of music made in England for Henry VIII during his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (i.e., after 1509 and before about 1529). (15) The manuscript opens with a Latin poem "Psallite felices protecti culmine rose" that has been said to recall lines of verse from the Cotton Vespasian B.iv presentation of Johannes Opicius. (16)

Though other hypotheses might be sustained, the likelihood is that, as Backhouse suggests, Benedict's unnamed brother-collaborator was the Johannes Opicius known also from the Cotton Vespasian B.iv presentation, still active in England twenty years or more later. Absent the emergence of further evidence, it is still nor possible to say what else "Johannes Opicius" may have done in England (or elsewhere) in the interim following the 1492 presentation; nor has additional evidence yet been brought forward about his formation and other doings before 1492. The Italian paternity (albeit mercantile) corroborates the likelihood of early training in Italy: the classicism of the juvenalia surviving in Cotton Vespasian B.iv -- including even such particulars as the allusions to Greek matter, historical and mythographic, and the use of ancient lyric meter -- suggests as much. There were, however, Italians at the time in England, Giovanni and Silvestro Gigli, for example, who disposed a similar range of Italianate classic al learning but may well have been born and raised entirely in England, albeit in families of Italian origin. (17)

The other bit of personal information in the manuscript may be of conventional, symbolic value chiefly, though it is also indicative of a particular understanding of the workings of the early Tudor literary establishment on the part of Opicius. In an introductory section of the first item in the manuscript, the poet gives an account of the purpose of his writing (largely repeated in the manuscript's final item too, a brief poem "Ad eundem serenissimum regem [sc. Henry VII] libelli oblatio"), in the course of which he mentions another writer:
Nam mihi magnanimi regis cantanda Britannum
Maiestas sacrata, sonis memorandaque quondam
Illius acta meis, gelidae qui temperat oras
Hibernae, sine fraude ulla, sed Matte feroces
Saepe quatit Gallos, cui clara Britannia paret,
Insula dives opum, duri Mavortis alumna:
Albion hanc olim patres dixere Latini.
Sed mihi des veniam, quaeso, clarissime regum,
Et mihi parce, precor, nostri si carmina tantum
Ingenii madefacta haud sunt Heliconis in undis,
Illius quantum vatis quem antiqua Tholosa
Gallorum genuit urbs, ortu regia claro,
Cui non deficiunt praecordia sacra Platonis,
Alta Maroneae cul non facundia musae.
Mellifluum Ciceronis habet genus ille loquendi,
Qui te -- fama volat -- numeris celebrate canendo
Coepit et egregias de te contexere laudes,
Grandia facta simul. Hederas ego nuper amavi
Et rudis Eurotam quamvis cum fontibus undas
Thespiadum colui, sterilis tamen excipe musae
Munera, nam sterilis nunquam meliora colono
Semina reddit ager, nec debita reddit egeno
Foenora. Si nobis dederis in carmine vires
Et mihi te placidum, turn me non surgeret alter
Altius in numeris, er te laudesque tuorum
Sidera ad alta poli graviore extollere vena
Protinus aggrederer. Timidae auxiliare carinae:
Sic tua gesta tuae semper laudesque profundi
Pectoris in versu maneant, rex magne, perenni. (18)


The vates "quem antiqua Tholosa / Gallorum genuit urbs" "to whom gave birth the Gauls' ancient city Toulouse" mentioned here -- wise as Plato, profound as Vergil, eloquent as Cicero -- is Bernard Andre (ca. 1450-ca. 1522), who had come to England in 1485 and played an important part in English literary culture thereafter, possibly the preeminent part, in the most elevated sector of the literary culture, that nearest the seat of political authority. (19) Despite Andre's preeminence, this figure's near invisibility to subsequent English literary history makes sense: he was not English by birth or training, and he did not write English (rather, Latin and some French); he did not publish his writings consistently by the kinds of publication routines that generally writers use; and, from a similar perspective, what Andre wrote was not properly literature in any case. The only extensive republication of Andre's work was in 1858, in a Rolls Series volume prepared by James Gairdner. What Andre wrote predominantly, al most exclusively, was varieties of panegyric, albeit both in prose and in verse, that have come to be regarded as chiefly historical in value, as evidence of the vitae et gesta of the potentates for whom he worked and knew over the thirty-five years of his activity. (20) Likewise, Andre published in print infrequently and belatedly, after his reputation had been established by other means. Nor does Andre appear to have used manuscript publication to broadcast what he wrote. Instead, in the first instance he published his panegyric writings by means of unique presentation copies to his monarch. The notion of publication is misapplied here.

These same features of Andre's work, however, that have made him nearly invisible ever since, seem at the time to have made him spectacular. What the reference in the Opicius manuscript establishes is that, by 1492, using only the apparently inscrutable routines he did, Andre was already installed as an arbiter of the literary culture of the early Tudor court. Other evidence corroborates: surviving account books of privy purse expenditures feature numerous payments to "the blind poet" throughout the reign of Henry VII and into the early years of Henry VIII. Andre was widely praised, by Erasmus, Thomas More, Fausto Andrelini, William Lily, Andrea Ammonio, and others; and in the relatively better known cases of Thomas Linacre and Erasmus, Andre had the power to decide the success of other writers' efforts to attract royal patronage, thwarting Linacre's ambitions conclusively while fostering those of Erasmus. (21)

Andre's writings were known (or known of) only amongst other writers, it would seem -- and only amongst other writers with ambitions similar to his own, like Opicius, to profit by royal preferment. They did not circulate beyond his presentation manuscripts, nor were they recopied by others or put directly into print. But no matter: the short-term success Andre enjoyed highlights the importance of the singular audience for whom he worked, who would rarely if ever have put much effort into studying Andre's copious output: the English king. It might be that Andre's contemporary eminence came to him despite his having had all but no readers: a writers' writer, the few he may intermittently have reached would have disposed disproportionate influence, greater than the many. On the other hand, even these few may have been too many: Andre's eminence would have come to him because he had no readers, the fewer the better. This is not only a matter of scarcity value or of the symbolic capital that accrues to exclusivity ; the point of the kind of anti-literature in which Andre worked was to be as useless as possible.

For political purposes -- self-preservation in the first place, given a fractious local situation and no practical international support -- it profited Henry VII to practice magnificence. The idea was that giving public evidence of a capacity to devote resources to the inessential or unnecessary implied command of the needful already, an excess of disposable resources beyond what was required to meet basic needs. Thorstein Veblen's anatomy of "conspicuous consumption" only generalized, for bourgeois capitalism, this notion already well known in practice to fifteenth-century European potentates. (22) From such a potentate's perspective, public evidence of expenditure on literatures -- patronage -- worked as a form of magnificence; but the founding axiom of magnificence -- the more useless the expenditure, the greater the disposable power -- imposed a paradoxical condition on literary production. An association with poets had propaganda value for a monarch, and poets had to produce poetry; at the same time, how ever, the poetry they produced ought to have no use, or as little as possible. The more wasteful the literary production was, the more magnificent the patronage. Poets could not write nothing without ceasing to be poets; the next best thing was poets writing uselessly, producing poems no one could or would read. Panegyric in classicizing Latin verse was already a brilliant conception from this perspective. At this early moment in the introduction of humanist canons of taste in English culture, few could read such verse with appreciation, even given a chance. Moreover, restricting such poetry to circulation by means of deluxe presentation copies, for the monarch only (who did riot read), without recourse to printing or some means of broadcast manuscript circulation, further occluded the possibility that the literary products might be found useful. (23) The deluxe presentation copy that would not circulate of poetry that could not be read was ideal. This is not literature. It is a quasi-dramatic, ritualized pub lic manifestation of anti-social waste, involving lavish expenditure of training, time, and materials, for no other end.

We cannot know that Bernard Andre was without sight or that "Johannes Opicius" was under twenty; such conventional characterizations indicate that these were not persons but quasi-things or persons qua objects. (24) Blind vates, poetic tyro: such figures have no existence except as functional locations in a system of cultural-political relations in place in England at the time. To be a poet from this perspective is strictly to have a place and to function within this network of relations: producing unread, useless writing in a way that might still serve the need of the royal patron for expressions of magnificence. Neither Andre nor his epigone Opicius had careers (or, from the perspective of the present, recuperable lives) except as royal servants, the literary-cultural equivalents of such household officers as butler or wardrobe, instruments of the Tudor will to magnificence and hence aggrandized power.

3. CONTENTS: THE OPICITUS POEMS

3.1 DE REGIS IN GALLIAM PROGRESSU: EPIC MILITARISM

The first item in the manuscript is a poem, in 334 lines of unrhymed Latin hexameters, celebrating Henry VII's 1492 military campaign in northwestern France. It is about half the length of a book of Vergil or Ovid or Lucan, and its prosody already evokes the epic conventions of antiquity. The norms for Latin verse were the qualitative meters of hymnody and more or less elaborately rhymed versions of two quantitative meters, hexameters and elegiac distych. Unrhymed hexameters had been little written in England for several hundred years. (25) The poem's form represents an aesthetic, stylistic choice, articulating a clear message, strictly by means of style albeit also carrying clear social and political import, that is repeated in other ways throughout.

The poem's characteristic gesture is epic inflation, seemingly without irony, though often, from a more distanced perspective, it appears to go too far. The panegyrist begins with the assertion that where others had celebrated the destruction of Troy, the foundation of Rome, the cosmic principle of change (corpora metamorphosed into other forms), or the invention of Roman imperial majesty out of the Civil Wars, his co-equal ambition was to sing of Henry VII's recent foreign adventure:
Bella canant alii Troiae prostrataque dicant
Pergama; nec Danaum taceat fera gesta suorum
Conditor Illiados, et fortia musa Maronis
Praelia Dardanium memoret cum gente Latina;
Caesareos necnon praeclaro carmine honores,
Corduba magniloquo genuit quem carmine vates
Concinat, Aeneadum genus alto a sanguine ductum,
Nec fera praetereat crudelia facta Neronis;
In nova fert alius mutatas corpora formas,
Lascivos alter Veneris describit amores.
At tua magnanimum cur non, Henrice, Britannum
Certa salus, nitidis scribuntur gesta Camoenis?
Nunquid adest genus egregia de stirpe creatum?
Nunquid avi, pater ipse tuus, diademate magnum
Regali imperium nullo prohibente regebant?
Quod facis ecce tuum celebrat fidissima numen
Turba ducum, pelagoque colit terraque potentem.
Non tibi forma deest nec te praestantior ullus
Ingreditur bellum polletque nitentibus armis;
Et te formosi venerandum corporis ordo
Cuncta etiam virtute facit -- non omnibus, inquam,
Quod commune quidem. Quid plus tua facta venerare?
Cur tua non potius celebretur fama tonanti
Carmine, cum tu sis mortali dignior ullo
Laudari versu mittique ad sidera terso? (26)


The panegyrist likens himself to Homer, Vergil, Ovid, and Lucan, and his subject matter to epic and cosmic matters of antiquity: the rest of the poem matches these inflationary gestures, on several levels. It is full of the stylistic features of Roman epic: the dixit and nec mora formulas at the end of mannered, set piece orations invented for such protagonists as the historically inarticulate Henry VII himself; accounts of battle cast as a series of single combats between individuated heroes; mirabile dictus; and so forth.

The poem represents Henry's campaign in terms of prudential imperialism, as the patient effort of an imperial overlord to return a recalcitrant subject king to submission. Peace has reigned in Britain for some time, "Limina belligeri multo cum tempore clausa / Numine Pacis erat Iani" (When, for long, by agency of Peace, the doors of belligerent Janus had stood shut; 60-61, fol. 4v), since the sober and beneficent Henry has been guarding the laws:
Tum gravis Henrici regis praesentia terras
Hibernae egregii gelidas et sola benignus
Regna Britannorum populis sub lege tenebat. (27)


But now Furor and Mars and Enyo are growing impatient: the perfidious French have failed to render the tribute they owe. Henry's aim, stated repeatedly, is that the French should pay him proper tribute; failing that, he would be obliged to take French urbes regnaque cum populis under his direct rule by force. In his undertaking, Henry enjoys vociferous, unequivocal support from all levels of the English polity, "egregios proceres equitesque ducesque / Et cives aliosque viros" (lordly notables, knights, captains, burghers, and other men; 176-77, fol. 8r).

Though they address the French king Charles politely, even deferentially, calling him "Gallorum maxime regum" (greatest of French kings; 133-40, fol. 6v-7r), the English ambassadors whom Henry sends to the French court are answered arrogantly:
Talibus obstupuit dictis, rex atque patenti
Nulla dedit responsa viro; sed voce superba
Tandem est affatus: "Vestro capta oppida regi
Non animus nobis nec reddere dona quotannis.
Nil timeo externis surgentia bella Britannis. (28)


And when word of this pacific embassy's rebuff reaches him, Henry must muster the English for war. Janus' gates crash open; Peace, Justice, Piety, Respect for Law, Love, and Loyalty flee to the heavens; Discord and blind Lust for Dominion ("Discordia Rerum...et regnandi caeca Cupido;" 197-98, fol. 8v) are loosed on earth. (29) Furor, Mars, Allecto, Bellona, Enyo flock to Henry, and the English invasion is launched across the channel:
Classica pulsa sonant, petit ardua sidera clamor
Protinus, et volucrum fremitusque auditur equorum
Volvuntur celeri pulvisque per aerhera cursu
Atque globus, liquidusque tonat clamoribus aer. (30)


The reduction of Boulogne by siege is described as an epic slaughter ("Fortia mox populant prostratae moenia terrae / Corpora tercentum deiecta per aequota campi / Cernere tu posses totidemque carentia membris" (31)), until at length the French king sues for peace, through legates, recognizing Henry's suzerainty and promising to pay tribute:
Salve, rex regum, cui diis est aequa potestas,
Quo nihil egregius toto viget orbe: salutem.
Quam moestus forti mittit tibi Carolus ecce.
Praeterea haec memorat: si vis cum gente Britanna
Ad patrios remeare lares, dabit ille tributum
(Non nisi iusta petit) cerrumve numisma quotannis
Et quae militibus solvisti praemia reddet. (32)


The poem ends with Henry's triumphal return to London, described in terms taken over from the ancient triumph:
Rex poscquam Henricus habuit sua dona, Britannis
Moenia Galligenae regis simul arva relinquunt
Protinus, intrarunt proprios sua tecta penates.
Tum victor superis grates agit atque Sabaca
Thure replent aras reditu pro quisque sacerdos
Henrici regis, tenduntque ad sidera palmas.
Nec tua praetereant nunc Angligenumque o patrone
Numina, qui cum tex noster fera bella movebat
In Gallos, quotiens tu spectabaris Olympo. (33)


The poem glosses over the violence -- invasion in military force -- by which Henry had usurped the English throne, and it ignores the ruthlessness with which he had put down persistent residual domestic resistance against his reign. England's recent history was not as pacific as the poem suggests, nor its magnates and other classes as unified. (34) Nevertheless, the poem still acknowledges the importance of these events of 1492, if it means to highlight the contrast between Henry's domestic police operations and England's resumption of military campaigning abroad, which was a significant development of 1492. When the invasion force landed near Dixmunde in September, it was the first time a Tudor king led English troops on campaign abroad. That the campaign's purpose fundamentally was to protect English commercial interests in access to continental markets, when these were threatened by French manipulations of a marriageable Burgundian minor heiress; that the fighting at Boulogne was inconclusive; that the Tre aty of Etaples ending it brought only renewed French promises to pay that in the event were not made good; and that the issue had been settled preemptively, by Anne of Burgundy's marriage before the invasion force left England: all such considerations were impertinent to the Opicius poem. Though the result on the ground was negligible, the political significance was great; what mattered was the reassertion of English imperial ambition that Henry's course of action represented. His action meant that, after some decades of debilitating domestic division, England had a king securely enough on the throne to involve the country again in foreign adventure. The invasion stood for Tudor domestic security and a concomitant capacity to project power abroad. Opicius espouses the view of early Tudor policy towards France, imputed recently by John Currin to king Henry himself, as driven by "Henry's sense of honor:" the king prosecuted "an honor-bound obligation to vindicate claims pertaining to his crown." (35) Instead of choosing a feudal-chivalric register for glorifying these aims, however, Opicius modernized, paradoxically, by using Roman antiquities. The Opicius poem glorifies Henry's pretensions by likening them to ancient Roman imperialism, casting them in terms taken over, literally, from Roman imperial epic.

Again and again, this was the job of the camp-following of humanist poets - grex poetarum, in Bernard Andre's phrase (36) -- associated with the Tudor king: by its verse-making, lend a weight of cultural sanction to Tudor militarism, be it in the form of local police actions or international adventures. All such occasions, when the monarch exercised direct legal violence of this sort, were welcomed with celebrations from the humanist poets: the revolutionary victory at Bosworth Field in 1485 (Andre, Carmeliano), the final victory over the Yorkist remnant at the Battle of Stoke in 1487 (Andre), the repression of the northern tax-revolt in 1489 (Andrd, Skelton), and so on. The rhetorical strategy used in all these poems for glorifying state violence was the one used in this De regis in Galliam progressu: equating Tudor sovereignty with the Roman empire, by describing the former in terms strictly proper only to the latter. Henry's triumphal return to London in November 1492 was welcomed with a suite of rhetorica lly similar poems by Bernard Andre, some in ancient lyric meters, all suffused with the same strictly misappropriated ancient terms of reference, "Caesaris Augusti veluti praeconia quondam" (just like Augustus Caesar's praises of old), beginning:
Vade ad laurigerurn canens trophaeum,
O felix, sine me, er beata Clyo,
Que tantos hodie vides triumphos
Et cernis venerabilem senatum
Tanto occurrere plaudere atque regi.
Quo maius potuit nihil Britannis
Excelsus dare Jupiter, nec ipse
Ad delubra deum referre maius
Princeps munera quam sacrata pacis.
Gaudent hac superi, popellus ista;
Hanc totus veneratur ecce mundus.
I, nunc, Iaurea pacis et quietis,
Velatum nitidos lares benigni
Regis, pacis amor: deus, faveto. (37)


The pattern continued throughout the reign and into the next. For example, the international victories of 1513 on two fronts against France and Scotland, called forth panegyrics from Andre, Carmeliano, Skelton, Ammonio, More, and Erasmus, all employing the same equivocating, aggrandizing rhetorical strategy. (38) The pull of this panegyric purpose -- the strength of the Tudor monarchy's need for military successes, at home and abroad, and for whatever legitimating cultural sanction poets could provide -- was great enough to attract even the pacifists like Erasmus. Most characteristically, this is what the humanist poets did, Opicius like the others: apologize for official violence, sanction direct exercises of state power. Most characteristically, this is how the humanist poets did it, again Opicius as well as the others: by glorifying it as ancient epic heroism, dressing it up in Roman dress.

3.2 DE REGIS LAUDIBUS SUB PRETEXTU ROSAE PURPUREAF: ENCOMIASTIC PASTORAL

Ostensibly, imperialism benefits the metropole. The benefits in the particular case of early Tudor England are spelled out in the poem that follows in the manuscript: 144 lines of elegiac disrych in praise of the Henrician regime. (39) The poem uses a quasi-allegorical conceit for rendering its praises, the officially sanctioned conceit of the Tudor Rose. The poem depicts a walled garden, in which flourishes a red rose; to it is joined a white rose, and their offspring together adorn the whole place:
Extat in egregio quidam circumdatus omni
 Parte loco muris hortus et inde vadis
.. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. .
In quo pernitidi flos est rosa rubra coloris,
 Cui placuit flori iungere se niveo,
Qui simul ecce ferunt croceos sua pignora flores,
 Clarum illustrantes totius edis opus. (40)


The red rose has been threatened from within, by thorns spreading in the garden; but the power of the red rose was great enough to compel their submission:
Sed modo nonnullis fuerat mens artibus atque
 Nescio qua rubeam perdere fraude rosam;
Ast sterili amissis mandarunt semina harenae
 Foenoribus, sed nec fata dedere modum.
Attamen inter se summo de vertice in hortum
 Iactarunt muri gramina -- triste scelus! --
Ac genus urticae flores se miscuit inter,
 Virtutem ut rubrae perderet illa rosae.
Dira sed urticae fuerant aconita rosarum
 Splendor, honos, virtus purpureusque vigor.
Tunc se caeruleis crevisse optabat in undis
 Quum vidit rosulis florida prata suis,
Denique quid faceret? Facerent quid gramina? Circum
 Prata urtica fugit, gramina sed periunt
Sed postquam invictis victam se comperit: auctis
 Viribus illa rosae se tulit in manibus,
Cui croceus summae semper pietatis abundans
 Flos veniam tanti criminis ille dedit.
Ergo urtica rosam supplex venerarier atque
 Est tibi stellifero saepe colenda deo:
Nam potis est toto componere foedus in aevo:
 Si mihi quid credis, numen in orbe novum est. (41)


The red rose's perseverance and the garden's consequent well-being are cause for rejoicing in the formerly barren land ("Non secus externis quam nauta agitatus in undis / Gaudet fructiferum trudere... solum, / Vel currente sitim rigidus restinguere lympha / Ferventi messis tempore ruricola" (42)), and the poem ends with a hymn in praise of Henry's good governance, making plain the allegory's tenor. Peace is come again to England; the iron age is over, being succeeded by a new age of gold. The merchant goes unmolested, peacefully gathering wealth, and the reason is the good governance of the king, who is the red rose:
Iam dea belligeri clausit Pax limina Iani,
Et sedit inpatiens iam super arma Furor.
Ferrea nunc nobis fugierunt termpora, sed iam
Consurgunt satis aurea saecla suis.
.. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. .
Iamque iter accipias, nullis satiate viator
Divitiis; umbra luceque tuta via est.
quo duce, qui forsan dicent, haec commoda nobis
Tradita sunt, laetis commoda temporibus?
Septimus Albionum Henricus qui sceptra gubernat,
quo nihil in toto clarius orbe viget.
Ille est purpurei splendor quem floris obumbrat.
Rubra potest merito dicier ecce rosa,
Nam veluti rosa rubra viget virtute. (43)


Though the present age knows none quite like Henry ("cui paucos norunt secula nostra pares" [few equals knows our era to him; 114, fol. 17r]), he finds his like among exemplary figures of antiquity ("Non minor Aenea pietate et laude; negatur / Cedere Pompilio relligione Numae" [Not less than Aeneas in piety and praise; he yields not to Numa Pompilius in religion; 125-26, fol. 17v]). The consequence is imperial majesty. All of the English king's neighbors are said to recognize his sway, Scots, French, Germans, and Italians; war or peace rests in his will alone:
Plura ego quid referam? Labor est plus facta referre
 Illius. En celebrat axis uterque virum.
Hunc petit Insubrii Mautus Venetumque Senatus,
 Totius Italiae lumina prima soli;
Hunc petit et Gallus, petit hunc Germania, clarus
 Astur et eximia nobilitate vigens.
Tu quoque Parthenopes regem, memorande Britannum
 Rex, colis; en colit hunc Scotia tota virum.
Ergo ego quid memorem, nostro quid carmine praeter?
 Si libet hic pacem, si libet arma movet. (44)


Inevitably, the poem's hortus conclusus allegory recalls the medieval tradition of the Roman de la rose. More immediately, however, the allegory rakes its legibility, not from this pan-European erotic tradition, but from local English political custom: the adoption of badges by the opposed factions of the Wars of the Roses, which Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York had resolved with their children, whose badge was to be a rose both red and white. Magnate retention of gangs, distinguishing themselves from other such gangs by the use of badges, has been judged a chief source of lawlessness and disorder in late medieval England. (45) The Wars of the Roses had elevated this kind of lawlessness to the level of civil war. The Tudor use of the red and white rose of union took over symbolic vocabulary from the aristocratic gang warfare, using it to articulate unity in place of division.

The political import of this Tudor Rose emblem was widely elaborated in Tudor verse and other art forms, as in the present poem. (46) Still, its allegorized panegyric argument -- that under the Henrician rose England is well -- is carried forward yet further by a historically significant generic innovation that the poem builds around the political allegory: it is a bucolic idyll, a pastoral dialogue between the shepherds Mopsus and Meliboeus, as they tend their flocks. Mopsus had looked so poorly last time Meliboeus had seen him ("Nam modo pallenti fuerant tibi squalida vultu / Lumina; sic toto corpore pallor erat" [You were then so squalid and pale about the face; indeed, about your whole frame there hung a pallor; 17-18, fol. 14v]) that Meliboeus can hardly recognize him:
Quis tu, qui laeto mihi pectore talia poscis?
 Te mihi, si credis, noscere voce puto.
Non tu pastor amans formosam Amarillida Damon?
 Tityrus? Haud Egon? Thirsis es? Haud Coridon?
Alphesibeus enim? Damoetas? Pulcher Adonis
 Non es. Si noster Mopsus amicus, ave. (47)


The explanation for the shepherd's transformation ("laeticiae quae modo causa tuae est" [the cause of this your present joy; 22, fol. 14v]) is king Henry's good governance, as it turns out, the two having retired to the shade to detail it, in allegorical terms.

As a pastoral dialogue, this Opicius poem was the first such to be written in England, though it was followed in ensuing years by others, attesting a centrality for the genre in establishing Renaissance literature in England. The other earliest English efforts at pastoral were likewise products of the grex poetarum associated with the Henrician court. Bernard Andre is reported to have written "De Carob Francie in Italiam egloge due" within a year or two of the 1492-93 presentation of the Opicius poem, evidently with reference to the French king Charles VIII's Italian campaigns of 1494-95, though the two eclogues do not survive. (48) Likewise, John Skelton (ca. 1460-1529) claims to have written something called "How Iollas lovid Goodely Phillis," and it may have been pastoral, though again no such poem is known to have survived. (49) Credit for the Renaissance invention of the eclogue for England is usually imputed to Alexander Barclay (ca. 1475-1552), whose first three eclogues (in English) had been printed ( in England) by 1514, though Barclay was in fact only following the precedent set some two decades earlier by Opicius, Andre, and possibly Skelton. Barclay's proper literary milieus were monastic and metropolitan-commercial--a black monk of Ely, he worked closely with the City-printer Richard Pynson--rather than courtly; nevertheless, he was thoroughly familiar with Skelton's work at least. (50)

Barclay's pastoralism was fundamentally critical, "a discourse of the powerless in dispraise of power," in the phrase of Louis Adrian Montrose; his eclogues "are symbolic instruments," useful to outsiders "for coping ... with the endemic anxieties and frustrations of life in an ambitious and competitive society." (51) The success of Barclay's work rested on his decision, having chosen a critical, anti-courtly source -- Enea Silvio Piccolmini's De miseriis curialium, an epistolary, non-fictional, Latin prose account of the workings of the imperial court of the 1440s, written by an insider -- to recast his source material in the form of pastoral verse, also translating the source's original local references into English ones. (52) The generic decision enabled Barclay to underscore the basic contrast between the vice of courtiers and the virtues of their critics that his source supplied him by reduplicating it in generic terms, supplementing it with the characteristically pastoral contrast between vicious, sophi sticated urbanity and pure, simple rusticity; the former associated with the corrupt court and the latter with the court's honest critics. In so doing, Barclay bypassed the tradition of medieval, Christian-allegorical, other-worldly pastoral that was still well known in the form of the Ecloga Theoduli, for example -- current as a school-text well into the sixteenth century -- in favor of a return to the political currency and topicality of the Vergilian example. (53)

Vergil wrote the fourth eclogue, however, praising the Augustan imperial settlement, as well as his first, criticizing Octavian's land confiscations, begun in late 42 B. C. E. after the victory at Philippi; and Opicius' pastoralism is of the encomiastic manner of the fourth eclogue, to which Opicius alludes, rather than the critical manner of the first, followed by Barclay. The De regis laudibus sub pretextu rosae purpureae uses pastoral convention to conjure up the image of an England in which courtly urbanity and rustic simplicity are at one, complements one to the other, in the general domestic concord wrought by the Henrician regime.

The harmony at home that Opicius evokes and glorifies here by his use of antique pastoralism was a necessary condition for the kind of imperialist success abroad that he glorifies in the first poem by his use of ancient epic conventions. Pastoral works here as had epic before: to magnify the early Tudor political settlement, by equating it with the Roman example, by way of the mediations of literary convention. Opicius' generic decision to cast his semi-allegorical laudatio of Henry VII in the form of a pastoral dialogue is of a piece with other such decisions that he took, in other words: the prosodic decision to use unrhymed hexameters and elegiacs, as well as lyric meter, and the stylistic decision to decorate the king's 1492 accomplishments with epic conceits. Other than epic, pastoral is the genre most closely associated with the Roman imperium, in the work of the imperial poet Vergil. In choosing pastoral, Opicius again elevates his contemporary subject matter by affiliating it through genre with the gl ories of antiquity.

3.3 MORTALIBUS EXHORTATIO UT CHRISTI NATALICIUM CONCELEBRANT: EMPEROR WORSHIP

The third item in the manuscript, a poem again in 144 lines of elegiacs, is ostensibly an exhortation to celebrate Christ's birth, though it represents the event consistently as a festum Tonantis [the Thunderer's festal day] and ends with a prayer to Henry VII. The poem recites standard components of the Christmas story: the immaculate conception and virgin birth (23-26, fol. 19v), the appearance of the star of Bethlehem and the angelic chorus that accompanied it (41-50, fol. 20r), Herod's machinations, the flight of the holy family (86-90, fol. 21v), and so on. However, the terms chosen for describing these events are persistently non-Christian. Herod is to suffer Tartarea palude "in Tartarean swamp" (119, fol. 22v) for the results of his rage -- described with an epic simile (54) -- and the people of Israel react to his slaughter of the innocents with Bacchic fury, "qualis ab Ogygio concita Baccha deo" [like a maenad driven on by the Theban god; 110, fol. 22r]; likewise, in this poem too occurs the formulai c diction of epic: "nec mora" (79, fol. 21r), for example, and "miserabile dictu" (115, fol. 22r).

Most significant is the poem's persistent translation of Christian history into ancient terms. The Christian God is repeatedly called Tonans (the Thunderer; 5, 69, 121, 131, fols. 19r, 21r, and 22v). In the process of Christ's incarnation, unmentioned in such terms, the deity is said to have been "vasto magnas demissus Olympo / in terras" (sent down to the wide earth from lofty Olympus; 17-18, fol. 19v). The day celebrated subsequently in commemoration of the event is repeatedly referred to as festum Tonantis (the Thunderer's festal day; 121, 131, fol. 22v). This is "veneranda dies summo ducenda triumpho" (a worshipful day, fit for noble triumph; 15, fol. 19r), celebration of which is carried forward "Laude, hymno, cithama, munere, thure, prece (with praise, song, music, offering, incense, and imprecation; 132, fol. 22v) -- details of the sacrifices (munera) involved are not supplied, though one form the triumphal munus took in antiquity was human sacrifice. Opicius' Christmas hymn starts by invoking Calliope : "Scilicet o nonas inter quae es prima sorores / Calliope, numeris prona faveto meis" (Albeit you are first among the sisters nine, o Calliope, yet indine favorably towards my verses; 1-2, fol. 19r); and it ends by enjoining the local people -- already morally fortified ("plus iuvat armiferae Pallados arma sequi" [It does more good to heft the weapons of Athene; 126, fol. 22v]) -- to pray to Henry VII for preservation of the "aurea secla" (the golden age) that he has installed:
Longa principibus qui vos in pace perenni
 Sic retinent vestris regna rogate bonis,
Henrico ante omnes, qui pace excellit et armis
 Quoscunque omnis habet terra locusque viros,
Qui laeta populos retinet sub pace Britannos,
 Cuius inest sacro pectore sanctus amor;
Quos foelices bis terque rogate Tonantem
 Perpetuo talem servet in orbe virum. (55)


The unsettled syncretism of Christian history and non-Christian ancient rite that characterizes this poem is common in the humanist poetry circulated in England during the reign of Henry VII. It occurs in attenuated form in innumerable applications of Jovial epithets to God the Father, or Christ, for example, and invocations of musae and Parcae in Christian hymns. (56) It goes further in the Suasoria Laeticiae of Pietro Carmeliano (1451-1527), which represents God the Father dealing with his saints (including a sainted Henry VI) in lowish intrigue against the House of York, as if it were the Olympian pantheon about another fractious concilium deorum. (57) The next step in logic was the implicit dismissal of Christianity altogether, as if it might be insignificant. Again, Carmeliano's work provides an example. In celebrating spring's advent, his De vere catalogues the response of various natural kinds -- animals and birds, trees and flowers -- to the seasonal change, doing so in strictly naturalistic terms, wi th occasional reference to ancient sources of nature lore, especially Pliny. (58) Medieval Christian traditions of the allegorized bestiaries and the like -- the scripturalized "Book of Nature" approach, investing natural phenomena with spiritual significance, as if nature were another testament through which God spoke to humankind -- figure not at all in Carmeliano's poem; the rejection remains implicit but is none the less striking. Nor does Carmeliano make any reference to Lent or Easter, the synchronicity of natural and spiritual renewal that makes the seasonal change meaningful in Christian tradition. Carmeliano's De vere treats Christianity as an irrelevance.

The significance of such literary gestures is positive, however, rather than negative. They do not amount to a principled, reformist rejection of Christianity. The religious conceptions of the early Tudor humanist poets before Erasmus are conservative: authoritarian and hierarchic, rather than liberal or egalitarian. Instead, in the displacement of Christian literalism by the figural emperor worship that characterizes this poem of Opicius is achieved by a focus on the secular power of the monarch. The depiction of Henrician religion as a repetition of ancient imperial cult again aggrandizes the king's secular power, attenuating the hold of Christianity over him by likening him again to unchristian Roman emperors. Henry's deeds in France in 1492 are the epic gesta of an antique imperialist; his domestic regime is a bucolic idyll, an Augustan saecula aurea come again; and his religion is the emperor cult of ancient Rome. Opicius inverts the Augustinian concept of spolia Aegyptica, the accomplishments of classic al antiquity that might be carried forward amongst the Christians as tools for building Christianity; instead, like the others, Opicius uses Christianity -- here the occasion of the natalicium Christi--as an occasion for carrying forward the politically motivated antiquarianism by which he would praise Henry VII. The Christian event serves for Opicius to occasion references to the ancient imperial cult, the references glorifying England's secular ruler by equating his religion to that of the Roman imperium and him to an emperor.

3.4 LAUS DEO PRO SECCESSU FOELICI ET BONO STATU HENRICI: CULT OF DYNASTY

The fourth item is a prayer to Christ, though not in praise of Him, despite the phrase "Laus deo" (Praise for God) at the head of the poem; it is a prayer to Christ for Henry VII, "pro successu foelici et bono statu Henrici" (for the fortunate success and good continuance of Henry), in praise of him instead, cast in terms that again aggrandize his power. The poem is brief enough to be quoted in full:
Christe, terrarum fabricator ingens
Orbis, humani et generis, timent quem
Cuncta, qui necnon homines trisulco
 Fulmine terres;
Quas tibi laudes meritis canemus,
Quae modo prestas, Pater alme, nobis,
Possumus quales precibusque nostris
 Reddere grates.
Iam tuo Henricus dominus Britannum
Septimus nutu superans catervas
Hostium evasit, decus orbis ingens,
 Undique victor.
O dues, serves decus hoc, precamur,
Huicque consortem; foveasque matrem
Filios una, colit orbis en quos
 Axis uterque. (59)


First, the Christian-imperial syncretism that characterizes the natalicium Christi poem recurs here. Christ is addressed at the outset as qui homines trisulco fulmine terres, for example, like the Tonans of the previous poem; the somewhat unusual use of Sapphic stanzas for the prayer means that formally as well as rhetorically it is an antique paean, to a romano-hellenized deity for a romano-hellenized secular dominus. More substantive is the poem's application of emperor worship to Henry. The Tudor king-emperor (denominated Angliae et Franciae rex in the heading on this poem only) is attributed qualities similar to those attributed to the deity, in similar terms. The one is terrarum fabricator ingens, the other decus orbis ingens; the one is timent quem cuncta, the other, superans catervas, is undique victor. The last stanza goes so far as to depict the Tudor king and his family as cult objects of devotion in their own right, to be worshipped pervasively here below: the crucial term is colit, "colit orbis en quos / Axis uterque," where the antecedent of quos must be Henry's children, his mother, his wife, and himself.

In this instance, the cult object is the nascent imperial dynasty as much as the monarch. The poem names also the king's consors Elizabeth of York (1465-1503); the filii born to them as yet, in whom Lancaster and York united to make Tudor; and the powerful matriarch, the king's mother Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), whose role as dynast was much greater than that of Henry's long-deceased father: through her the Lancastrian titulus came to Henry. The imperial military adventures praised in the first poem, enabled by the domestic concord celebrated in the second, both licensing the imperial cult delineated in the third, all rested on the dynastic stability articulated (in prolepsis in some part) in this fourth. The Tudor preoccupation with problems of the succession -- Henry's early and decisive promise to wed Elizabeth of York, their production of heirs who could in turn produce further heirs, the problems caused by the ill-timed death of Arthur in 1502, and Henry VIII's subsequent marital difficulties with his brother's widow and others -- reflects real political and legal problems about the conditions of the Tudor accession in 1485 and, more importantly, the dynasty's fundamental need in ensuing decades to avoid any return to Wars of the Roses-like conditions about the exercise of sovereign power in England. The contribution of magnificence to ensuring the desired dynastic stability and success, to the degree that stability would have been a matter of perceptions as much as realities, may have been substantial.

3.5 AD REGEM LIBELLI OBLATIO: THE POLITICAL IMPORT OF GIFT-GIVING

The manuscript's last poem does not ask for money, though other similarly placed poems in cognate contemporary collections do, and there survives one manuscript presentation in which a concluding poem gives thanks for the money that the donative collection had attracted by way of recompense. (60) Instead, the concluding item in the Opicius collection -- headed simply, in black ink, without drapery or other adornment, "Ad eundem serenissimum regem libelli oblatio" (To his most serene highness, the same, an offering of this book) -- speaks of the poems simply as munera, "nostrae servata Camoenae I Dona": strictly, gifts given freely, without thought of recompense, in the present case even apologetically. The poet contrasts his with the numerous richer gifts others offered Henry, regrets his own youthful incompetence -- being less than twenty ("Nec tetigere mei bis duo lustra dies"), not much was to be expected of him -- and promises more savory work in due time. Again, the poem is brief enough to be quoted in f ull:
Rex, precor, accipias nostrae servata Camoenae
 Dona tibi, posito (quaeso) supercilio.
Iam tibi permultis mittunt, rex, munera rebus
 Magna viri, sortis munera quisque suae:
Hic gemmas, alter conchas, et serica donant
 Balsama; Phidiaca signa dolata manu,
Sunt qui quas Zeuxis, tabulas quas pinxit Apelles.
 Ast ego fortunae porrigo dona meae,
Quae sale sint, fateor, quamvis aliena latino.
 Non tamen haec aetas noscere cincta potest,
Imberbi necnon haec sum modulatus avaena:
 Nec tetigere mei bis duo lustra dies.
Arboribus primo fructus edentur acerbi;
 Tempore mox fiunt mitia poma suo. (61)


The presumptive indirection here may be dishonest: of course, Opicius would have wanted royal patronage, payment for his immediate literary labors or the sort of sustenance that would enable their continuation. But to have petitioned for the money directly would have been to reduce the transaction between prince and poet to a simple commercial exchange, as if between equals. Doing so would have reversed the relation of power -- to make Henry do something for Opicius -- that the rest of the production describes as obtaining between prince and poet. Instead, Opicius' indirection aggrandizes the monarch still further, and in the realm of art: as in international relations, domestic social order, local political and religious settlements, so too in culture this monarch is the fons et origo of all goods, including cultural production. (62)

The final poem in the Opicius manuscript makes the fundamental point about this kind of early Tudor writing: this is a poetry that would not have been produced if not for glorification of the monarch. The writing's raison d'etre is to serve the aggrandizement of this particular concentration of socially accumulated power. The nascent printing industry was another such locus of concentration of power that early Tudor writers might serve, as were also academic institutions and the ecclesiastical hierarchies imbricated with the others. By playing one such concentration off against another or others -- press against court, or king against magnates, or potentates against potentates, in different hierarchies or across borders -- some writers were able to gain a measure of independence. Still, in general, this kind of demand-driven literary production -- driven by the wants of an identifiable audience or market -- is characteristic of large portions of the early Tudor literary corpus. The careers of early Tudor writ ers are characterized in varying degrees by varieties of such subordination. Itinerants like Opicius or established careerists like Bernard Andre may have set the pattern; Skelton, Barclay, and others had to follow in order to thrive. There is no art for art's sake here. If literature is art for art's sake, there is no literature, but only submission to the exigencies of power, even its injunction to write for no one but the monarch when so doing might serve.

By repeating in one place a series of literary gestures made diversely, in several places by several authors, in recent English literature -- literature published in England (each of which terms wants qualification) since the accession of Henry Tudor in 1485 or slightly before -- the Opicius poems represent compendiously what the early humanist anti-literature was: the cultural expression of Tudor ambitions to domestic security and empire-like international influence, furthering real-world Tudor political ambitions by realizing them in the mediated irreal world of cultural imaginings. This early Tudor writing aggrandized early Tudor power by the means appropriate to literature. The literature served this culturally mediated, socio-political purpose, even by means of its other, seemingly contrary feature, also evident in the work of Opicius: it did not circulate. The additional exemplary or symptomatic quality of the Opicius poems is that they speak too about this other quality of the early Tudor humanist anti -literature: this is literature meant to go unread. Moreover, the Opicius poems explain why unreadability was a desirable literary quality. The purpose it served was aggrandizement as well, of the royal subject, great enough to attract such wasteful performances, even unbiddingly and unrewardingly. As Opicius puts it in his final piece, this poetry is the same as such other wastefully overwrought luxuries as exotic fabrics, far-fetched woods, dyestuffs, and gemstones; it is the same as strict nullities -- long since disappeared creations of Phidias and ancient paintings from Apelles to Zeuxis -- slender nothing and magnificent at once.

(1.) On the formation of Cotton's collections, see Tite, and for the kinds of complexity that characterize the fata of books that were in or came into English royal ownership during the early Tudor period, see Carley, 1997b.

(2.) The standard account is that of Ullman, 1980, 137-44, briefly, and, in greater detail, Ullman, 1960.

(3.) See Morison, 1943.

(4.) The egregious broad statement on this point, with detailed analysis, is Morison, 1972.

(5.) The most useful published documentation of this manuscript corpus is the Bodleian Library exhibition catalogue, Hunt and de la Mare; and also de la Mare, 1980. Further documented examples of the type, not cited elsewhere in this paper, would include, e. g.: Armstrong; Clough, 1978 and 1981; Modigliani; Trapp; Gwynne; Carlson, 1993; and Backhouse, 1995.

(6.) On More's presentation, in London, British Library, Cotton Titus D.iv, see esp. Rundle.

(7.) See Edwards and Pearsall, esp. 264-65.

(8.) Gairdner, lx-lxii.

(9.) On Poulet's activities, see esp. Backhouse, 1987, 32-38; and see Backhouse, 1995, 175-76.

(10.) On pre-Tudor fifteenth century libriaries and their mobility, see Green, 91-97; and see Carley, 2000, xxiii-xxvii.

(11.) This suggestion, that the adjacent Cotton manuscripts, Vespasian B.i, B.ii, and B.iii, albeit that they are stylistically and substantively different from the Opicius manuscript (i. e., they are Franco-Burgundian rather than Italianate), being also roughly contemporary early Tudor products, would also have come into Cotton's possession from a royal collection, is owed to Dr. Tite. See now Carley, 1997a.

(12.) The subscription on fol. 23r (": [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [sic] 1497?") appears to me to be a later addition to the manuscript, and a dubious guess. The featured poem in the manuscript, the first one, on events of autumn 1492, would have lost its point by 1497; the third item, the Christmas poem, has seasonal import; the most plausible date for Opicius' presentation would seem to me to be New Year's 1492-93, though the evidence is hardly conclusive. Likewise, how much or how little of the manuscript production Johannes Opicius did personally cannot at present be determined with certainty. The manuscript names him author of all five poems; that he selected the poems and chose for them the order in which they appear in the manuscript -- that he was his own editor in this sense -- seems likely. That Opicius did the copying in his own hand is also plausible; that he did the illustration and decoration with his own hand seems less so, by light of the quality of the work, specialized in nature. In any case, it seems probable to me that he would have exercised editorial control too over such features of the manuscript's design -- directing the labors of others if not doing the labor himself--given the complementarity of book-forms and verbal content that characterizes the manuscript. Still, the evidence is poor.

(13.) "Chronicon rerum gestarum in monasterio Sancti Albani regnante Henrico sexto" (London, British Library, Harley 3775), Riley, ed., I, 13.

(14.) Backhouse, 1993.

(15.) London, British Library, Royal 11.E.xi. On this manuscript, see also Anglo, 93-95.

(16.) Wahlgren-Smith, 228-29.

(17.) See Weiss.

(18.) "De Henrici in Galliam progressu" 31-59, fols. 3v-4v: "For I am to hymn the sacred majesty of the magnanimous king of the British and in my measures to commemorate his deeds of late -- him who tempers ice-bound Ireland's shores, guileless, but puts down the beast-like French by battle; him whom illustrious Britain obeys, an island rich in wealth, fostered up by hard Mars: 'Albion' they called it of old, the Latin fathers. Indulge me, please, most illustrious of kings, and let it be, I beg, if you find that these products of my poetic talent have been but briefly dipped in the waters of Helicon, unlike those of that bard to whom gave birth the Gauls' ancient city Toulouse, a region of renowned foundation. He wants not the divine insight of Plato, nor the profound riches of Vergil's muse. He commands the honey-dipped eloquence of Cicero, and he -- fame tells -- has undertaken to sing your manifest praises and weave them up in verse, together with your bold deeds. Albeit I have but late loved the ivy and h ave frequented Thespian Eurotas, waters and springs, but newly, yet take up the offerings of my still barren muse, for the barren field never yields its laborer better fruit, nor does it yield him due profit in his poverty. If you were to give us strength and to approve my effort, no other would rise higher in verse than me; straightaway, I would undertake to exalt to the heavens you and the praise of what is yours, and I would do it in polite vein. Lend aid a foundering vessel: by this means, great king, your deeds and your praises will live on forever, perennially, in poetry of profoundest intention." For this as for subsequent citations, the lineations are of the individual poems in the manuscript London, British Library Cotton Vespasian B.iv, the folio ranges representing the folios on which the lines in question occur. In the quotations themselves -- in view of the unpublished state of the material, longer than might otherwise be expected -- the punctuation is editorial, as is some of the orthography (mo dern distributions of i, j, u, and v, and use of ae or oe to represent the e with cedila that occurs intermittently in the manuscript). Throughout, the translations are this author's.

(19.) The best account of Andre's career remains that of Nelson, 4-39. Carlson, 1998, gives further references.

(20.) In Gairdner.

(21.) On the privy purse account books and their reference to Andre, see Plainer, and Carlson, 1998, 230; for the praises mentioned here, see Carlson, 1991a, 263-64, and Tournoy, 1978, where are also discussed Andre's relations with Erasmus; and for Andre's relations with Linacre, see Carlson, 1991b, 263-64.

(22.) In Veblen. The Veblenesque analysis of the sociology of cultural production, particularly literary production, is developed by Bourdieu, 175-277, esp. pertinently; and for fifteenth-century elaborations of patronage theory, see Jenkins.

(23.) It is true that, subsequently, with printed circulation or manuscript broadcasting, the Latin writings of humanists in England, verse and prose, served informative and propagandistic functions, as happened with the writings of 1513 mentioned below, and n. 38, for example. The standard work on these functions of the sixteenth-century Latin literature of England is Binns.

(24.) Opicius' assertions about his youth and incapacity parallel quite closely, for example, the conclusion of the Neronian Laus Pisonis 246-61.

(25.) But compare Rigg, 132-33.

(26.) "De Henrici in Galliam progressu" 1-25, fols. 3r-3v: "Let others sing the wars of Troy and tell of Pergamon laid low; nor let the Iliads composer be still when it comes to the bold deeds of his Greeks. Be it well for Vergil's muse to recount the hard battles of the Trojans against Latins; likewise for the bard (whom Cordoba begot) to make sound his eloquent and famous song, of Cesarean honor and the people descended from the high race of Aeneas, nor let him pass over the bestial, cruel doings of Nero. Yet another tells of forms rendered other, into new bodies, and will describe Venus' lascivious amours. Why, o Henry -- rock-solid refuge of the Britons -- are your deeds not set forth in luster-lending verse? Have not you too a race descended from illustrious stock? Did not your grandfathers, your very father, in regal diadem, rule over a great empire with no let? A throng of trusty nobles celebrates what your power accomplishes and honors your sway by sea and by land. You want nor beauty, nor does anyone with greater seemliness than you enter battle and adorn illustrious arms; the orderliness of your comely form makes you venerable for every virtue -- not, I say, a thing common to all, by any means. What more venerates your deeds? Why should not your fame be celebrated in thunderous song, since you are more worthy than any mortal to be praised and in polished poem to be lifted to the stars?"

(27.) Ibid., 70-72, fol. 5r: "During that time, the sway of the grave Henry the king was holding the ice-bound shores of famed Ireland and all the realm under his law, kind to the British peoples."

(28.) Ibid., 141-45, fol. 7r: "Struck dumb by remarks of such a sort, the king made the man addressing him no answer; then at length, in tones of arrogance, he spoke back: 'We have no intention of tendering our towns captive nor of paying annual tribute to your king. Least of all do I fear war brought against me by your British strangers."

(29.) This is accompanies by an authorial comment -- in the year of the Columbian landfall in the Americas -- on the pervasive influence of Lust for Dominion ("regnandi caeca Cupido"): "Hec Diva extremas Europe ferture ad oras / Ac Indos petit, et Garamantes sole perustos / Ambit et Hispani sedes; haec Sauromatrasque / Non haec Germanos, non praetermittit et urbes / Chaoniae, Insubres, Athesim, Venetosque porentes / Et totum Italiae tractum, Danaosque penates, / Gallica regna simul Rhodanus, qua fertur in aequor" (199-205, fols. 8v-9r). See the remarks of Anderson, esp. 29-33, on the economic imperative of territorial expansion that drove the war-waging of a late feudal, nascent absolutist monarchy like that of the early Tudors: "War was possibly the most rational and rapid single mode of expansion of surplus extraction available for any given ruling class under feudalism. Agricultural productivity was, as we have seen, by no means stagnant during the Middle Ages, nor was the volume of trade. But both grew ve ry slowly for the lords, compared with the sudden and massive 'yields' afforded by territorial conquest.... It was thus logical that the social definition of the feudal ruling class was military. The economic rationality of war in such a social formation is a specific one: it is a maximization of wealth whose role cannot be compared to that which it plays in the developed forms of the successor mode of production, dominated by the basic rhythm of the accumulation of capital. The nobility was a landowning class whose profession was war: its social vocation was not an external accretion but an intrinsic function of its economic position. The normal medium of inter-capitalist competition is economic, and its structure is typically additive: rival parties both expand and prosper -- although unequally -- throughout a single confrontation, because the production of manufactured commodities is inherently unlimited. The typical medium of inter-feudal rivalry, by contrast, was military and its structure was always pot entially the zero-sum conflict of the battlefield, by which fixed quantities of ground were won or lost" (31).

(30.) "De Henrici in Galliam progressu" 239-42, fol. 10r: "Winded horns sound our, their thunder goes straightaway about the heavens, and the voices of hawks and horses are heard. The lively activity raises a cloud of dust and dirt to the very sky, and liquid air resounds with the clamor."

(31.) Ibid., 270-72, fols. 10v-11r: "Next they ravage the mighty walls of the prostrate land: you could have counted three hundred corpses scattered about the battlefield's level, and the same number there missing limbs."

(32.) Ibid., 299-305, fols. 11v-12r: "Hail, king of kings, whose might equals that of the very gods above, than whom none anywhere in all the world is more potent, and fare well! Lo, Charles, deeply aggrieved, sends to your might, and, moreover, tells this much: if you would consent to make removal back, with your race of Britons, to your hearths and homes, he will pay you tribute (he petitions not but what is right) or monies yearly, surely, and pay back the costs you have incurred for your soldiery."

(33.) Ibid., 316-24, fols. 12r-12v: "Once king Henry had what was owed him, straightaway the British make vacant the Gallic king's fields and towns, entering their own homes and proper hearths. Then the victor gives thanks to the gods above: his whole priesthood loads altars with Sabaean myrrh in honor of the king's homecoming and raises opened hands to the heavens. Nor would it be right to ignore your divine power, o patron of the English, you who look down from Olympus as often as our king makes hard war against the French."

(34.) Polydore Vergil, for example, records persistent disaffection with the 1492 campaign and its aftermath: see Vergil, 52, 56.

(35.) Currin, 1998, 884-85 and 900: "Late medieval and early modern European politics was more inter-dynastic than international; claims to familial lands, inheritances and titles were of paramount importance, to be advanced and defended if necessary by war. Henry's demand for tribute [from France, 1489-90] came not from some modern idea of England's prominence in international affairs, but from Henry's sense of honor, that as king of England he had to maintain the claims of his [Plantagenet] progenitors in France, and even their traditional role as protectors of the Monforts in Brittany." See also Currin, 1996.

(36.) See Carlson, 1988, 287.

(37.) "To the wreathed memorial, come, please, o fortunate, blessed Clio, and sing, for today you see great triumph and review our honored senate greeting and congratulating our great king. Exalted Jove himself could give the British none greater than him, nor could the prince offer at the altars of the gods anything greater than these donatives consecrated to Peace. The gods above joy in her, as do the humble folk; lo, the whole world worships her. Forth now, laurel of peace and rest, wreathing round the glory-covered home of our benign king; forth, love of peace: God favor us!" The quotations here are from the manuscript, British Library, fols. 202v-03r and 206r, varying slightly in orthography from the text printed by Gairdner, 61-64. A cognate English poem in the same manuscript is reported in Robbins, mentioning also, 291, the poem of Opicius.

(38.) See Gutierrez.

(39.) A text of this item is printed in Wahlgren-Smith, 231-34.

(40.) "De regis laudibus" 27-28 and 31-34, fols. 14v-15r: "There stands, in famous spot, encircled all around with walls and then with waters, a garden ... in which there is a flower, a red rose of brilliant hue, whom it pleases to join itself to a white flower, and together, lo, they bring forth saffron blooms, their offspring, adorning famously the workmanship of the whole structure.

(41.) Ibid., 45-66, fols. 15r-15v: "But late there have been those who meant, by trickery and some ruse, to destroy the red rose, yet their seed they sowed in barren sand, wasting their effort, nor did the fates make way. Nonetheless, amongst them they managed to toss -- wicked doing! -- seeds over the top of the wall into the garden, and so a race of nettles implanted itself amongst the flowers, to destroy the power of the red rose. But a deadly poison to the nettles were the roses' crimson splendor, glory, power, and strength. Then the nettle wished it had fallen instead into the deep blue sea, when it saw the fields in bloom with their rosebuds. Now what was to do? What were the seeds to do? The nettle fled about the fields and the seeds perished, but afterwards it found itself overcome by those it had failed to overcome: though its strength grew, it fell to the forces of the rose. The bright flower, ever the fount of profound piety, paid it the wage due crime so great. Thus the nettle, now supplicant, rev erenced the rose, and you have ever to honor star-wielding God, for God can settle things forever. If I have any credence with you, there is a new divinity on earth."

(42.) Ibid., 83-86, fols. 16r-16v "Just as the shipman, driven abroad over the waves, rejoices to tread the fertile earth, or the hardened fieldhand to slake his thirst from the babbling brook at hot harvest-season."

(43.) Ibid., 93-96 and 101-09, fols. 16v-17r: "Now the goddess Peace has shut up the gates of war-like Janus, and Furor sits unwilling on her weapons. Now the Age of Iron recedes and already a truly Golden Age comes upon us....Now you can rake to the roads, o traveler whom no amount of money can satisfy: the way is safe by night and by day. Who perchance would ask by what leader we gain such commodities, the commodities of joyous times? Henry, the seventh to wield the scepter of Albion, than whom none flourishes more gloriously anywhere in the world. It is he whom the splendor of the scarlet rose impersonates; he properly can be named, lo, the red rose, for, just like the red rose, he flourishes in virtue."

(44.) Ibid., 127-36, fols. 17v-18r: "Why say more? To tell more of the deeds of the man is hard work. The heavens, lo, end to end, celebrate the hero. The Lombard Motta petitions him, and the Venetian Senate, the brightest lights of all Italy. The French petitions him, Germany petitions him, and the proud Asturian, of egregious nobility strong. You too of Naples, honor the king, o remarkable king of the British; lo, all Scotland honors this hero. Why tell, therefore, why tell more in this our song? Peace, if he likes, war, if he likes, are his to impose."

(45.) See Bellamy, 2. Though there is earlier evidence of trouble, the problem of magnate gangs became acute in the reign of Richard II, whose praetorian guard of Chesiremen was notoriously most abusive; see Saul, 393-94.

(46.) The elaboration of the symbol during the sixteenth century is discussed in Anglo,

(47.) Ibid., 3-8, fol. 14r: "Who might you be, addressing such remarks to me in happy tone? I think your voice is known to me, if you can believe it. Are you not the shepherd Damon, lover of comely Amarillis? Tiryrus? Not Egon? Are you Thyrsis? Not Corydon? Alphesibeus, perhaps? Dametas? Not you beauteous Adonis. Be you our friend Mopsus, you are welcome!"

(48.) Carlson, 1998, 248.

(49.) The names come from an allusive passage of Vergil, Ecl. 3.76-79; see Brownlow, 204. The other pre-Barclaian example is Andrea Ammonio's Ecloga interlocutores Lycas et Ammon, in Ammonio, 6-15. It was written during the period of princess Mary Tudor's betrothal to emperor Charles V. after November, 1506, but before her marriage to him, by proxy, in December, 1508 (see esp. lines 187-99), possibly nearer the earlier of these dares: the poem treats the death of Charles' father Philip, which occurred in September, 1506, as if yet recent: (see line 208). Ammonio's poem is known only in the form in which it was later printed, Ca. 1511-13; for this date, see Tournoy, 1989, 239.

(50.) Carlson, 1995.

(51.) Montrose, 153 and 155.

(52.) On Barclay's source, see Paparelli, 1968 and 1977.

(53.) Hamilton, 180-81.

(54.) "Mortalibus exhortatio" 93-98, fol. 21v; "Et gemit ereptum quod aver sibi : seu leo cuius / Agnus ab horrisono cum tener ore cadit / Per totos furit ille greges, nunc dentibus atque / Molle pecus mandit, unguibus atque trahir. / Et frustra vacuas foetae balatibus auras / Implent, et rauca pignora voce vocant."

(55.) Ibid., 136-44, fol. 23r: "Beg sovereignty of your good rulers, who guard you ever in long-lived peace, Henry before all, who, in peace and in war, betters all men whomsoever all lands and regions hold, who guards the British peoples under his joyous peace, in whose sacred heart stands holy charity; twice, thrice beg the Thunderer to preserve, you in Your felicity, and so great a hero ever in the world."

(56.) A curious example is the verse in Lorenzo Traversagni's Petrarchan, profoundly classicising Triumphus amoris (one of an interconnected series of triumphi that Traversagni wrote, presently scattered in several libraries: see Ruysschaett, 208-10), presented in April, 1485, to Bishop William Waynflete of Winchester, formerly in the library of Magdalen College, Oxford, and now London, Lambeth Palace, Ms. 450, on fols. 46v-49v; the verse is nevertheless quantitative, e. g., Tibi, Christe, splendor patris, / Vita, virtus cordium, / In conspectu tot sanctorum / Votis voce psallimus; / Alternatim concinendo / Pangimus preconia. / Collaudamus et amarnus, / Veneramur pariter; / Sed precipue virtutem / Claram tuam pangimus, / Qua captivos redemisti / Dura de tirannide.

(57.) The poem, in London, British Library, Addit. 33736, is discussed in Carlson, 1993, 47-56.

(58.) The poem, in London, British Library, Royal 12.A. xxx, is discussed in Carlson, 1993, 38-41; See also Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, 348-50.

(59.) "Laus deo," 1-16, fol. 23v: "O Christ, great maker of earth and humankind, whom all things fear, who likewise, with forking flame, affright humans; we hymn you with what praises you merit and give you the thanks of our prayers, beloved father, for alt such as you now provide us. By your will, lord Henry of the British, the seventh, late conquering, has escaped his thronging foe -- that great ornament of the world, everywhere triumphing, O God, guard this ornament, we pray, and the consort given him; foster his mother together with his children, whom honors, lo, the whole orb, end to end."

(60.) Carlson, 1987, 497; or Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, 349.

(61.) "Ad regem," 1-14, fol. 24r: "Take to you, king, I pray, our muse's guarded offerings, and -- please -- set aside disdain. Men offer you, king, great offerings, of many varieties, offerings each of a kind proper for him. The one offers gemstones, another pearls and oriental balsams; there are such as offer sculptures carved by the hand of Phidias, paintings that Zeuxis made, that Apelles made. But me, I hand on such offerings as have fallen to my lot; albeit in Latin, they may be oddly spiced, I know. This youth cannot yet be skilled in all; then too I play these tunes on unbarbered flute: twice two fives' years have not befallen me. At first, trees yield fruits bitter to the taste; given time, the yield then turns flavorful."

(62.) A letter from Pietto Carmeliano in the presentation manuscript, London, British Library, Royal 12.A.xxix, fol. 1r (here quoted from Carlson, 1993, 174) explains the genesis of his De vere in similar terms: its invention was strictly a matter of wishing to please the monarch: "Cogitanti mihi iandudum, illustrissime princeps, quonam pacto sublimitati tuae me notum facere possem, id tandem mihi fieri posse arbittatus sum, si quippiam meorum carminum ad re dedissem quod tibi vel ex eorum sententia vel fortasse compositione aliqua parte placere posset. Quocirca novam materiam aggressus, veris silicet, primae anni partis, descriptionem, quam a quoquam maiorum nostrorum diffuse scriptam adhuc non legi."

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Allegory and Epic in English Renaissance Literature: Heroic Form in Sidney, Spenser, and Milton and Edmund Spenser: Essays on Culture and Allegory....
Desiring Women Writing: English Renaissance Examples.
Open Syllable Lengthening before /t/ and /k/ in the language of Cursor Mundi--the evidence from rhyme vowels.
Nation, State and Empire in English Renaissance Literature: Shakespeare to Milton.

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