An investigation into the difference in poetic form between certain Medieval and Renaissance poets writing in Latin, with particular reference to Milton
Curr, Matthew Andrew
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By tracing the tradition of secular metrical Latin verse from the Fifth to the Seventeenth Century the final assimilation of classical sources into the mainstream of vernacular European literature can be much more meaningfully understood. Venantius Fortunatus began his poetical career in the Sixth Century as a professional court versifier, who earned his living by writing poems for wealthy patrons. His work initially fell strictly within the bounds of the rhetorical tradition of Latin poetry but later he started to write more spontaneously upon personal subjects when he was settled at Poitiers. Eventually he abandoned the confines of metrical verse altogether and wrote his finest poems in rhythmical verse upon Christian subjects. The Dark Ages closed in rapidly upon Venantius' death and little Latin poetry of any worth was produced. The Irish scholars formed an isolated body of learned men whose work was rivalled after some time by schools in England. Bede's work at Jarrow marked a significant advance in learning while Charlemagne prompted a renaissance of the arts on the continent. Alcuin was appointed to head this revival of letters and gathered together a circle of highly talented men. The monasteries subsequently took upon themselves the weight of learning and the abbots of St. Gall maintained a particularly good standard during the Tenth Century. Secular studies were not encouraged by the monks, however, and towards the Eleventh Century classical studies were more readily promoted in separate cathedral schools. In the Twelfth Century philosophy and satire were reinstated in scholarly writings. The differences between humanism and Christianity grew clearer so that men such as Abelard openly wrote as scholars for scholarship's sake. The immortality of letters Has recognized once more. The career of Serlo of Wilton is typical of the times. Initially he wrote about grammar, then licentious subjects but finally preferred religious topics in rhythmical verse. The beginning of the Renaissance has marked by Petrarch and Italy's recovery of Greek manuscripts from Byzantium, Classical studies were pursued with fervour and the original Greek text s of the great philosophical schools were read. Metrical verse attained the grace of ancient models through a process of painstaking imitation. Erasmus was a popularizer of the classics and re-asserted the value of ancient works to his contemporaries. Milton's first task as a poet was to attain a mastery of classical metrical technique and his first exercises display a remarkable proficiency. He later developed an original way of transforming the mass of inherited conventions which had stymied so many of his predecessors. His Epitaphium Damonis was a highly individual solution to the problems of writing upon Christian topics in a secular tradition and signified the final assimilation of a classical inheritance.