The Economics of Poetry

The Efficient Production of Neo-Latin Verse, 1400–1720

by Paul Gwynne (Volume editor) Bernhard Schirg (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection XVI, 462 Pages


The Economics of Poetry takes an innovative approach to the genre of Neo-Latin poetry, encompassing the entire process of poetic production, from composition and physical realization to the formal presentation to the honorand. This process was not predicated upon post-Romantic ideas of inspiration and originality, but rather upon the need to produce literary works in a timely fashion, often (though not exclusively) dependent upon the realities and exigencies of the contemporary political situation.
Applying this approach across more than three centuries of literary production, this volume analyses the techniques employed and developed by authors all around the world to reduce the effort of poetic composition, streamline its production and facilitate its presentation when time was a crucial factor in success. To reveal the efficient techniques which authors employed in order to meet their deadlines, each essay focuses on a variety of works by the same writer and examines the full context of their production. The re-use and recycling of previous texts and rhetorical templates – and even the re-dedication of previously presented manuscripts – emerges as a central and essential modus operandi in response to the strict dictates of fast production.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction (Bernhard Schirg / Paul Gwynne)
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • 1 The ‘Economics of Poetry’: Fast Production as a Crucial Skill in Neo-Latin Encomiastic Poetry (Bernhard Schirg / Paul Gwynne)
  • Pietro Lazzaroni and the Carmen ad Alexandrum VI (1497)
  • Johannes Michael Nagonius (Nagonio)
  • Epilogue, Conclusion and Perspectives
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Printed Sources
  • 2 Reuse, Repeat, Recycle! An Intra-textual Approach to the Economics of Poetry (Susanna De Beer)
  • Reuse of Considerable Portions of Verse
  • Repetition of a Story, a Scene, a Thought, or Even a Template
  • Repetition in Ovid
  • Conclusion
  • Epilogue: Economics of Poetry and Digital Tools
  • Tesserae
  • Musisque Deoque
  • CroALa and related tools
  • Mapping Visions of Rome
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Secondary Sources
  • 3 Bella novabo: Basinio da Parma’s Instant Epics (Christian Peters)
  • ‘Write Fast, Die Young, and Leave a Good Looking Corpus’: The Life and Works of Basinio da Parma
  • Making Ends Meet: Economic Recycling
  • Holding Promises: Strategic Recycling
  • Conclusion: Bella novabo
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Primary Sources (Printed)
  • Secondary Sources
  • 4 L’officina di un poeta del Quattrocento: La tecnica del riuso nella produzione poetica di Porcelio de’ Pandoni (Antonietta Iacono)
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Secondary Sources
  • 5 Revisione strutturale come tecnica economica: Le due redazioni della raccolta poetica di Manilio Cabacio Rallo dal codice Berlin, Hamilton 561 all’editio princeps napoletana del 1520 (Iuueniles ingenii lusus)(Giuseppe Germano)
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts and Early Printed Books
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • 6 Spamming the Duke’s Council, or: How to Cold-Call Milanese Patricians as a Poet under Sforza Rule (Bernhard Schirg)
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Secondary Sources
  • 7 I centoni rinascimentali di Lelio Capilupi: Un caso di Poetry in Economics? (Donatella Manzoli)
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • 8 Reuse and Economy in Cento Poetry (Maria Teresa Galli)
  • Introduction: stricto sensu and lato sensu centos
  • Stricto sensu centos
  • The Technique of Late Antique Cento Production: Hosidius Geta’s Medea
  • Techniques of Production in the Vergiliocentones minores
  • Techniques of Production in Lelio Capilupi’s Cento for Cristoforo Madruzzo
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • 9 Horatian Pyrotechnics in the Latin Verse-Cento: Rapid Response to the Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, 5 November 1605 (George Hugo Tucker)
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Early Printed Books
  • Secondary Sources
  • 10 The Economics of Epic: Francesco Benci, Quinque martyres, Epic or Cento? (Paul Gwynne)
  • The Narrative Structure of the Quinque martyres
  • Epic or Cento?
  • The Application of Rhetorical Expansion in the Quinque martyres
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources (Printed)
  • Secondary Sources
  • 11 Short Cuts, or: How to Finish an Epic When You Hear Your Patron Is Dying: The Ormonius of the Irishman Dermot O’Meara (1615) (Keith Sidwell)
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • 12 Playing Virgil at Short Notice: Oxford University Entertains a Special Guest with William Gager’s Dido in 1583 (Elizabeth Sandis)
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • 13 Outdoing the Original? The Economics of Early Modern Japanese Latin Poetry (Akihiko Watanabe)
  • From Coimbra to Nagasaki: An Overview of Jesuit Neo-Latin in Early Modern Japan
  • Latin Verses Imported into Early Modern Japan: The Surviving Evidence
  • Verse Excerpts in BAV, Reg. lat. 426
  • García Garcés (1560–1628) Versus Miguel Gotō: Meaningful Versus ‘Efficient’ Poetry
  • Conclusion: Evaluation of European Classicising Humanism in Early Modern Japan
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts and Early Printed Books
  • Secondary Sources
  • 14 String Your Lyre Promptly: Magnus Rönnow’s Latin Poetry from the Great Northern War as Literary News Reports (Elena Dahlberg)
  • Magnus Rönnow: Some Biographical Remarks
  • Rönnow as Encomiastic Poet
  • Rönnow’s In Victoriam Narvensem, De triumpho Clitscoviensi, and Super triumfum Clitzcoviensem as poetic war accounts
  • Rönnow’s Imitation of Horace as a Compositional Technique
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Figure 2.1: Poem m VIII 24 and R1 by Giannantonio Campano. Florence, Biblioteca del Seminario Arcivescovile Maggiore, MS B V 2, fol. 79r (1460s). Reproduced with permission of the Biblioteca del Seminario Arcivescovile Maggiore, Florence.

Figure 2.2: Selection of search results in Tesserae (<http://www.tesserae.caset.buffalo.edu>) for a comparison between Ars amatoria book 1 and Tristia book 2. Search performed by the author in May 2016.

Figure 2.3: Selection of search results in Musisque Deoque (<http://www.mqdq.it>) for a comparison between Ars amatoria 1.31 and Tristia book 2. Search performed by the author in May 2016.

Figure 3.1: Basinio da Parma, Hesperis (working copy). Rimini, Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga, Sc-Ms 34, fol. 2v (detail). Reproduced with kind permission of the Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga.

Figure 3.2: Basinio da Parma, Hesperis (working copy). Rimini, Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga, Sc-Ms 34, fol. 38r (detail). Reproduced with kind permission of the Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga.

Figure 3.3: Basinio da Parma, Hesperis (working copy). Rimini, Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga, Sc-Ms 34, fol. 38v. Reproduced with kind permission of the Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga.

Figure 3.4: Basinio da Parma, Hesperis (working copy). Rimini, Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga, Sc-Ms 34, fol. 15v. Reproduced with kind permission of the Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga. ← ix | x →

Figure 3.5: Basinio da Parma, Hesperis (working copy). Rimini, Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga, Sc-Ms 34, fol. 6v (detail). Reproduced with kind permission of the Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga.

Figure 3.6: Basinio da Parma, Hesperis (working copy). Rimini, Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga, Sc-Ms 34, fol. 4r (detail). Reproduced with kind permission of the Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga.

Figure 6.1: Opening page of the Lazzaroni’s copy of dedication addressed to Gaspare Ambrogio Visconti. Milan, Biblioteca Trivulziana, Cod. 779, fol. 2r. Reproduced with kind permission of the Biblioteca Trivulziana.

Figure 6.2: Opening page of the manuscript preserving Lazzaroni’s poem to Giovanni Melzi. Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Y 147 sup., fol. 158r. Reproduced with kind permission of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Figure 14.1: Title-page of Magnus Rönnow’s poem In Victoriam Narvensem Hyperborei Monarchae Caroli XII vere Magni a foedefragis Moscis die XX Novembris MDCC gloriosissime obtentam. Stockholm, 1701. ©Uppsala University Library. Page-format: folio.

Figure 14.2: Title-page of the official report on the Swedish victory at Narva on 20 November 1700. Stockholm: Kongl. tryckeriet, 1700. ©Uppsala University Library. Page-format: quarto.

Figure 14.3: List of the Russian and foreign commanders taken as prisoners of war in the Battle of Narva as presented in the official report Kårt doch Sanfärdig Berättelse om den Glorieuse och i Manna minne Oförlijklige Seger, hwarmed den Aldrahögste Gud ← x | xi → den 20. November hafwer behagat wälsigna Kongl. May:tz af Swerige Rättmätige Wapn emot Dess trolöse Fiende Czaren af Muscow. Narva … (1700). Uppsala University Library.

Figure 14.4: Title-page of Magnus Rönnow’s poem De invictissimi Sveciae Regis Caroli XII triumpho Clitscoviensi reportato die Dunici anniversaria IX/XIX Julii MCCII. Stockholm, 1702. ©Uppsala University Library. Page-format: quarto.

| xiii →


The Economics of Poetry is a joint initiative which focuses on the various techniques used by neo-Latin poets to produce verse efficiently and to bring dedication copies of their work to timely completion. This approach was first developed by Bernhard Schirg in his PhD thesis (Göttingen, 2014) in a case study of Pietro Lazzaroni’s encomium on Pope Alexander VI Borgia (r. 1492–1503).1 Paul Gwynne’s studies on Johannes Nagonius (Nagonio) provided an interesting parallel. Their shared interest in the systematic study of the complete oeuvres by hitherto neglected poets led to a number of projects: a panel at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America (Berlin, 2015); a joint article on the Economics of Poetry (reprinted herein); the website economicsofpoetry.net, and eventually, the present volume. To promote the concept further and to apply it in a variety of contexts, within as well as beyond the Italian Renaissance, an international conference was held at The American University of Rome (AUR) from Thursday, 28 April, to Saturday, 30 April 2016. Building on the success of these various initiatives, this volume now proposes the Economics of Poetry as a versatile concept to a wider audience.

There now remains the pleasant duty of recording our debt of thanks to all those who have contributed at the various stages of this initiative. First and foremost we wish to thank the contributors both for their initial enthusiasm, and most importantly, for the timely submission of their chapters and their patient response to our frequent editorial queries. The AUR and the Istituto Italiano di Studi Germanici in the Villa Sciarra kindly provided the venue of the conference, and AUR generously contributed towards the cost of the conference. We thank the President, Professor Richard Hodges, for his enthusiastic acceptance of our proposal, and all ← xiii | xiv → the staff of AUR for their efficiency and hospitality. The Freie Universität Berlin and its Center for International Cooperation equally deserves our thanks for its generous support of the conference and the costs of printing this volume. The conference would not have been possible without the helping hands of many people. Kristen Hook, Gabriela Picart and Ella May Sumner provided cheerful support both before during and after the conference on all fronts. Jenni Kuuliala supported the artwork, and we thank Markus Neuschäfer for his support with the homepage.

Special thanks must be given to Martin Korenjak and Florian Schaffenrath, who read the Introduction and provided critical feedback. David Chacon provided translations of the Italian chapters and Jean Schofield admirably filled the role of ‘Gentle Reader’. At Peter Lang we would like to thank the production team for their helpfulness, editorial patience and good humour. We would also like to thank the Editorial Board of the Trinity Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the anonymous reader who reviewed this book in manuscript form.

Chapter 1 first appeared in Studi Rinascimentali 13 (2015), 11–32. It is here reprinted with the kind permission of the original publishers. Slight editorial changes and corrections have been made.

Innsbruck and Rome, August 2017

B. S. and P. G.


1 Bernhard Schirg, Die Ökonomie der Dichtung. Pietro Lazzaronis Lobgedicht and den Borgia-Papst Alexander VI. (1497) (Hildesheim-Zürich-New York: Olms 2016).

| xv →


When referring to classical authors and their works, we have followed the standard abbreviations as listed in Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd rev. edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), xxix–liv. All references to classical texts, unless otherwise stated, are to the Loeb Classical Library. Similarly, all English translations of classical Latin are taken from the most recent Loeb editions (at times with adaptions) and are acknowledged accordingly.

BAV Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano

BL British Library, London

DBI Dizionario biografico degli Italiani, 80 vols to date (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960–)

EEBO Early English Books Online

Kristeller, Iter Paul Oskar Kristeller, Iter Italicum: A Finding List of Uncatalogued or Incompletely Catalogued Humanistic Manuscripts of the Renaissance in Italian and Other Libraries, 8 vols (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 1963–2003)

Oxford DNB Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds, 61 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

STC Short Title Catalogue

Abbreviations for the citation of archival and manuscript sources:

fol(s): folio(s)

l(l).: line(s)

MS(S): manuscript(s) ← xv | xvi →

mm: millimetres

n.d.: no date

no.: number

n.p.: no publisher

r: recto

v: verso

| 1 →



Indi, come orologio che ne chiami

ne l’ora che la sposa di Dio surge

a mattinar lo sposo perché l’ami,

che l’una parte e l’altra tira e urge,

tin tin sonando con sì dolce nota,

che ’l ben disposto spirto d’amor turge …

DANTE, The Divine Comedy, Paradise (canto 10, 139–44)

[Then, like a clock that calls us at the hour

when the bride of God gets up to sing

matins to her bridegroom, that he should love her still,

when a cog pulls one wheel and drives another,

chiming its ting-ting with notes so sweet

that the willing spirit swells with love …]

— translation by ROBERT HOLLANDER, The Princeton Dante Project

Comparing the harmony of the wandering souls with the mechanical chimes of a clock, in The Divine Comedy the Italian poet Dante (1265–1321) provided one of the earliest descriptions of a clock and its mechanism. In the late medieval period, the chiming of such devices, situated in the cells of European monasteries, divided the hours of monastic duties. For many decades, cultural historians have paid close attention to the closely intertwined relationship between the rise of mechanical horology and its formative effect on early modern civilisation. Sophisticated craftsmanship on both sides of the Alps, that permitted the measurement of time in increasingly minute intervals, made portable clocks sought-after items. As clock-faces and their acoustic signals became ever more present, and the fleeting character of time more tangible, a shift in mentality, that conceived time as a carefully measured and allotted resource, followed. In Quattrocento Florence, forms of early capitalism coincided ← 1 | 2 → with reflection on the nature of time and its use. For example, the advice given in the third book of Leon Battista Alberti’s Four books on the family (Quattro libri della famiglia) from the 1430s also covers time as a means that has to be economised just like the other resources at the disposal of a household.1

As cultural historian Carlo Cipolla has pointed out, in the course of the fifteenth century, economising time became a prominent topic in both literature and art.2 Less studied, however, is the actual relationship which the ticking clock exerted on the practise of artists and writers. What techniques did those authors use, whose works were commissioned and finished for (or followed closely upon) specific events, and what methods did they employ to meet impending deadlines, to beat the ‘ting ting’ of Dante’s clock calling the hour, and how did they maximise their output to attract more patrons?

This volume focuses on the methods of effective production of literature in the early modern period by presenting case studies from the flourishing field of neo-Latin poetry. Many compositions by highly respected authors were polished and refined over years. However, not all writers enjoyed this freedom. A vast corpus of literature was evidently produced within strict guidelines and subject to tight deadlines. This holds particularly true for occasional and encomiastic poetry. Yet interaction between external circumstances (social, political, religious) and the poets’ pragmatic responses constitutes, for the most part, a blind spot in the scholarship. The reasons for this are complex, and relate to the low esteem in which these genres have been held. The vast output of certain early modern authors defies explanation in terms of sensibilities obsessed with the nineteenth-century aesthetics of inspiration and originality, which continue ← 2 | 3 → to inform the history of literature to the present. The pointed comments of Ian MacFarlane, who once described this verse as ‘sophisticated, prolix, stilted and frankly dull’, still ring true in many quarters.3

Early modern encomiastic poetry challenges traditional paradigms and long-established aesthetic ideals of Latin literatury scholarship. Building upon their previous research, the editors propose a new avenue of approach to a quantitatively and culturally significant genre, whose authors may have been dismissed as hack or insincere. The Economics of Poetry, as defined in the joint article (reprinted as Chapter 1 in this volume), ‘analyses the techniques authors employed and developed to reduce the effort of poetic composition, streamline its production, and facilitate its presentation when time was a crucial factor for success’.4 Placing these poets and their works within their social contexts and the timeframe of production, the Economics of Poetry thus encourages consideration of those very aspects of their writing that led to their dismissal by earlier literary critics. Reuse and self-recycling – essential factors in the efficient production of verse – are of particular interest in this regard, and emphasise poetry as a craft that can be learned, to equip the author in spe with templates and models for various occasions. The use of such techniques is discussed as ‘the authors’ response to the strict dictates of fast production’ in contexts when timely delivery constituted a crucial factor for success.5

The inclusion and examination of time as a factor of poetic production continues to ruffle many critical sensibilities as echoes of influential nineteenth-century aesthetics still frequent neo-Latin studies. The Romantic notion, which considered poetry as a medium for emotional expression and personal experience, had a significant effect on the choice of neo-Latin verse that was selected for inclusion in the anthologies that ← 3 | 4 → defined, and formed a basis for, the new discipline.6 Previously rejected for its prolific and occasional character by an audience fed on the classical canon, acquiescence to these aesthetics initially helped promote its general acceptance. Defending neo-Latin poetry in their (now classic) Anthology of Renaissance Latin verse, almost four decades ago John Sparrow and Alessandro Perosa countered such prejudice by emphasising that many compositions transcend the mass of

‘occasional’ verse designed to celebrate public or private ‘events’ – to greet the accession or the marriage of a monarch, or to mourn the death of a patron or a public figure – sometimes as an academic exercise, in which the composers sought to demonstrate their fidelity to classical models, in epic or didactic, lyric or elegiac, verse. It was written off, in short, as a product of courts and colleges, devoid alike of genuine feeling and of artistic originality.7

From a historical perspective, however, this attempt to rehabilitate neo-Latin verse came at a cost. Overemphasising concepts such as genius, originality and inspiration, tended to play down (or ignore completely) poetic training and education, the techniques (rhetorical or otherwise) employed to produce verse, and entire genres that formed an essential componant of early modern culture.

From the very outset, neo-Latin verse constituted a complex case for scholars. Unlike ancient Roman writers, neo-Latin authors have a non-native speaker’s relationship with the language of their literature. This is unavoidable. In an early overview of the Latin poetry of the Italian Renaissance in 1960, John Sparrow had already asked (somewhat rhetorically): ‘Could a language which was … “artificial” be an adequate instrument for a poet whose aim it was to give full expression to his deepest ← 4 | 5 → feelings?’8 Sparrow’s words recall that after the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West, Latin became a foreign language that had to be acquired. In his view, aspiring neo-Latin poets should only be exposed to and imitate the best Roman authors, who simultaneously provided their benchmark of assessment. For Sparrow, these writings resonated with the most congenial among their early modern audience by ‘pleas[ing] a sort of sixth sense in the percipient reader’.9 In contrast, attempts at imitation by ‘second-rate performers’ must of necessity result in ‘the manufacture of empty echoes’ and ‘second-hand images’.10 According to Sparrow, only the best among the ‘true poets’ of the Renaissance had imbued themselves ‘with the classical spirit’ to such a degree that Latin became a vessel for their true emotions.11

The long series of neo-Latin poets hailed as ‘the Virgil of their time’ or ‘a second Ovid’ testifies to the undoubted prestige the classics enjoyed as best models in early modern times.12 Following the acclamation of contemporary authors, modern scholarship tends to gloss over the process in which this craft was acquired for use in a rich spectrum of social contexts. Beyond such vague concepts as ‘exposure to classical models’, ‘inspiration’, or the innate skill of a natural born Latin poet, for many centuries there existed a vibrant tradition in which the composition of Latin poetry continued to be taught and practiced. Mediated through a rich genre of handbooks such as the Artes poeticae, the poetic forms, vocabulary and metrics of the Roman poets were transmitted and transformed as examples devised for the exigencies of Latin poetry in medieval and early modern culture, at schools and universities, in Europe and beyond. ← 5 | 6 →

However, the tradition of literary criticism in the aftermath of Romanticism showed little interest in considering poetry a skill that could be acquired by application rather than the product of innate genius. The idealising and classicising perspective that limits poetry to a means of immediate inner expression occasioned at best harsh criticism, at worst complete dismissal of all the writers considered second- and third-rate in this hierarchy. In Sparrow’s words, a large number of authors, whose output quantitatively accounts for a far more considerable share of neo-Latin verse, were not to be considered real poets, but merely writers of ‘frankly “occasional” verses’.13

As a consequence, some of the most productive genres disappeared from the map of neo-Latin literature. Furthermore, the unidimensional focus upon poetry as a means of deep, immediate expression and/or imitation of the best classical authors, has drawn attention away from a large number of texts and the contexts of their production. In a wider perspective, however, the classicising perspective in later Latin literature is gradually opening up as the historically grown bias recedes. In recent times, the field of neo-Latin has profited from an ongoing process of redefinition and recalibration in Classical Philology. Almost three decades ago, in the preface to his ground-breaking survey of neo-Latin writings of produced in Renaissance England, Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England (1990), J. W. Binns lamented the ‘catastrophic decline of Latin studies’ which he attributed to ‘the extreme reluctance of classically trained Latinists to take up the study of Later Latin’.14 At the same time, the working-knowledge of Latin in neighbouring philologies, which until recently had characterised the bilingual nature of early modern European culture (and incidentally promoted the field now known as neo-Latin), has been receding further. As new generations of trained Latinists seek to make their own discoveries and explore where best to apply their philological skills, Roman Antiquity increasingly shifts from their purview. Reviewing his own long and distinguished career as an editor of classical texts, Michael ← 6 | 7 → Winterbottom bluntly questioned the need for more editions with the heretical thought, ‘Why are we doing this?’ and proposed realms beyond classical and Late Antiquity as a viable and inviting alternative for the application of profound philological training and editorial precision.15

In recent years, the global study of neo-Latin has increased exponentially.16 Scholarly interest in Latin literature produced in the post-classical period has gained momentum to the extent that we no longer talk of the ‘lost Renaissance’ of Latin literature,17 but instead of the ‘Empire of Latin’.18 However, while we now acknowledge the vast world of Latin literature in its global dimension and research potential, new avenues are needed to approach individual works or the complete oeuvres of certain authors; to justify editions, translations and interpretations of works previously discarded or ignored.

The Economics of Poetry advocates a balanced philological approach to entire works previously discarded as generic or repetitive, as well as their socio-historical re-contextualisation. At its core, it argues for a shift in perspective in literary criticism by reconsidering the category of success. The still dominant classicising perspective invites scholars to judge neo-Latin poetry by the degree to which it lives up to the canon of established authors. By contrast, however, the Economics of Poetry advocates consideration of those authors as ‘successful’ who delivered their works on time ← 7 | 8 → and to the satisfaction of all parties involved. In this regard, a brief epic (moderately original in its kaleidoscopic juggling of elements from previous works) but presented in a timely fashion to a transient honorand may be considered more successful than a monumental, classicising epic such as Tito Strozzi’s (1425–1505) Borsias. Although this work has won the acclaim of literary critics, it was, like many other fifteenth-century attempts at the epic, a failure in terms of dedication. Subject to a painstaking process of creation and revision, Strozzi’s poem was produced too slowly to keep pace with the shifting dynamics of Italian politics; or indeed the lifespan of the original dedicatee, and was eventually left incomplete at the author’s own death.19 Those authors who successfully delivered their works to the dedicatee resorted to different forms and/or techniques of efficient production.

Strozzi’s case is instructive for an increasing number of fifteenth-century neo-Latin authors who strove to artfully imitate classical forms and to embed these works in a contemporary frame of reference. The often transient nature of these points of reference not only challenges the author to negotiate between generic material and uniquely worked passages with clear historic references and thus a limited half-life, but also complicates its reception, as Ian MacFarlane indicates: ‘in our time there is the additional disadvantage that the circumstances and persons sung in these compositions frequently remain outside the ken of the alert reader’.20 For early modern times, archival sources and surviving documents may provide a much more favourable basis for historical re-contextualisation than in the case of Classical Antiquity, where the lack of contextualising sources has in fact favoured idealising interpretations. Although early modern letters and archival material may allow revealing insights into the context of literary production and the networks the authors entertained with patrons or peers, deeper explorations have frequently been hindered by the notoriously low esteem of occasional poetry and encomiastic verse in literary criticism.

The Economics of Poetry supplies research questions by which these fields can prove fruitful for the application of full philological expertise. It encourages tailor-made approaches to these works in their contexts, not ← 8 | 9 → divorcing them from the social and cultural milieux in which they were written and presented, but promoting full contextualisation within contemporary aesthetics and practises of literature.21

In the digital age, the phenomenon of ‘copy-and-paste’ renders scholars increasingly sensitive towards plagiarism, self-imitation and self-recycling. The Renaissance, however, presents imitation in a different perspective. As David Quint and Martin McLaughlin have repeatedly argued, the poet was applauded by the discerning audience for his ability to adapt his model to the present situation, and it was expected that allusions and, quotations from earlier poets would be recognised. In the Renaissance, and for instance, also in the case of the hundreds of dramas produced at Jesuit schools, the poet’s skill lay in the art with which these quotations were woven together. Originality, as such, was not encouraged.22

The general idea of ‘imitation’ was not new to the Renaissance.23 In the De Oratore, Cicero encouraged imitatio as a method of rhetorical composition:

Let this then be my first counsel, that we show the student whom to copy, and to copy in such a way as to strive with all possible care to attain the most excellent qualities of his model. Next let practice be added, whereby in copying he may reproduce the pattern of his choice and not portray him as time and again I have known many copyists do, who in copying hunt after such characteristics as are easily copied or even abnormal and possibly faulty.24 ← 9 | 10 →

Cicero, however, urges the author to use discretion and imitate only the best aspects (quae maxime excellent) of the model chosen for imitation and he warns against imitating trivial qualities (quae facilia sunt) or even defects (ac paene vitiosa). The pseudo-Ciceronian Ad Herennium similarly defines imitatio: ‘imitation stimulates us to attain, in accordance with a studied method, the effectiveness of certain models in speaking’.25 The idea was repeated by Longinus, who boldly states that, ‘imitation is not plagiarism’,26 and given detailed treatment by Quintilian.27 Even Virgil, as Seneca states explicitly (Suas. 3.7), wanted his allusion to and borrowings from earlier writers to be recognised.

In early modern times, imitation and reuse remained key concepts in the production of neo-Latin literature. In his seminal study of the Hostis by Leon Battista Alberti, Roberto Cardini compared this treatise constructed on a dense base of hypotexts to a mosaic and its pieces (tesserae), suggesting that thorough analysis of humanist texts could only be achieved by the complete dismantling (smontare: ‘de-construction’, if you will), of all their constituent parts.28 Regarding poetry, the previous quotations by John Sparrow have already emphasised the central role of imitation of the classics for practising the craft of neo-Latin poetry. Contemporary theoreticians such as Marco Girolamo Vida (1485–1566), also touch upon the ‘economical’ aspects inherent in such practise. Commenting on the ‘Art of Stealing’ in his De arte poetica (1527), Vida recommends either disguising the borrowings or to transferring notable lines from the classics into a new context: ← 10 | 11 →

Regarding the Economics of Poetry, it remains open to what degree Vida’s instructions also negotiate the effectiveness that may lie in quarrying the Roman classics for lines and content. Under what circumstances have imitation and adaptation as central aesthetic categories in neo-Latin poetry also expedited the completion of texts due for dedication?

In the digital age, modern databases facilitate the tracing of literary echoes and borrowings from an increasing canon of Latin authors. Expanding the scope, the Economics of Poetry also encourages the ‘vertical’ study of the entire oeuvre by one author. This entails the effort of bringing together widely dispersed texts – often transmitted in single manuscript witnesses. This approach, however, allows to assess self-recycling as a practise ← 11 | 12 → that more efficiently (yet difficult and also more difficult to discover) facilitated the finishing of copies of dedication.

A brief example will illustrate the point. Thirty hexameters in a panegyrical epyllion written by the itinerant poet Johannes Michael Nagonius to encourage the Holy Roman Emperor Elect Maximilian Habsburg to journey to Rome for his coronation by Pope Alexander VI Borgia, mourn the loss of a certain Paolo Orsini.30 Examination of these lines according to the precepts of the Economics of Poetry leads not to their dismissal as padding or a trite rehash of the classical Consolatio ad Liviam [Consolation to Livia],31 but rather places this seeming digression both within the shifting dynamics of Borgia-Orsini political relations and classical reception studies.32 ← 12 | 13 →

Furthermore, these lines would also form an integral part of the poet’s strategy for recognition as he travelled across Europe presenting deluxe manuscripts of his panegyric verse to a variety of dedicatees. The passage would be included in each successive elaboration of his oeuvre, thus allowing the poet’s various political affiliations to be charted at every stage of his career and a nexus of patron-client relationships identified within an increasingly elaborate deployment of classical reference (elaborated in the footnotes). Analysis of Nagonius’s poetry reveals that that the poet constructed his verse as a ‘mosaic’ of metrical and verbal ‘tesserae’; close paraphrases and quotations from a variety of classical authorities ingeniously linked together.

Quid moror? Ausonio peperit si Rhenus honores

Inclyta vel Druso dederit Germania nomen33

Cui brevis aura fuit, dirarum pensa sororum

Pertulit heu iuvenis, patria cum mole recepta

Maximus indomitos iussit dare terga Sicambros.34

Quosque dabant fletus superi, quos Livia questus

Indignas soluta comas35 donabat adempto.36


XVI, 462
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Neo-Latin reception studies literary history and theory patronage studies world history
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. XVI, 460 pp., 1 fig. col., 13 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Paul Gwynne (Volume editor) Bernhard Schirg (Volume editor)

Paul Gwynne obtained his doctorate from the Warburg Institute at the University of London. For the last twenty years he has lived and worked in Rome, where he is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the American University of Rome. Bernhard Schirg obtained his doctorate from the Department of Medieval and Neo-Latin Philology at the University of Göttingen. He is currently working as a researcher and project leader at the Gotha Research Centre of the University of Erfurt. His research profile reflects the interdisciplinary potential of the growing field of Neo-Latin studies, comprising Renaissance poetry, emblematics, art history and the history of science.


Title: The Economics of Poetry
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480 pages