Women’s History Month – Elisabeth von Nassau-Saarbrucken


How were medieval noble women involved in the transmission of secular literature? Stephanie Hathaway shares an example with us to celebrate Women’s History Month.

The Chanson de la reine Sébile exists in 13th-century alexandrine fragments, which are the oldest and only known metrical version of the story in existence.  They were found in bindings and MS covers, some heavily damaged.  Most are at the Bibliotheque Royale in Brussels.  These fragments comprise varying dialects, mostly Lorraine and Anglo-Norman. Much of the content of the text can be attested in the Spanish historia. A prose translation of this story into German, in the form of Königin Sibille, was written by a woman: Elisabeth von Nassau-Saarbrücken.

Born Elisabeth of Lorraine-Vaudémont between 1429-1453, she was the daughter of Marguerite of Joinville whose parents were the heirs of Champagne and Marie of Luxembourg.  Elisabeth’s father was the multi-titled lord of Lorraine, Baron of Vaudémont who also held land in Picardie and died in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt.

About 1412, Elisabeth was married to Philipp, Baron of Nassau-Saarbrücken lord of Commercy on Maas and Merenberg in Taunus.  In 1425, when her son, Baron Johann III, was only 11, Philipp died at 61 and Elisabeth became regent.  She excelled at the task, strengthening political and religious ties and securing the inheritance for her son during a precarious time for the barony, caught between French, English and German interests.  Much of her correspondence survives, attesting to her involvement in administrative affairs, as well as to her literacy.

Elisabeth was familiar with literature from an early age.  When she was 11 her mother had Lohier et Malart translated from Latin into French for her.  She was fluent in both French and German.  Elisabeth was already forty years old when she produced prose translations of four chansons de geste, as a cycle from the life of Charlemagne to Hugh Capet, intended for her son.  Alone among the sparse German versions of Reine Sébile that exist, Elisabeth’s is the only one in the ‘French family’.

The surviving text that we have from Elisabeth helps fill in gaps in the reception history of the epic material, as well as attesting to the mobility of this material across linguistic, political and cultural boundaries of the Middle Ages. Elisabeth’s legacy leaves us a picture of not only the literacy of noble women, but their ability to participate in the arena of politics and administration that has been generally, and perhaps incorrectly viewed as an exclusively male domain.




Listening to the Gaoler’s Daughter


From whence come ideas? Kendra Leonard explores the origins of her new article (now live on the Cerae website) in this guest blog.

My article about song and meaning in The Two Noble Kinsmen came about through my already-existing research interest in Shakespeare and music and a symposium held on Two Noble Kinsmen organized by my friend and colleague Niamh O’Leary at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. My 2009 book Shakespeare, Madness, and Music: Scoring Insanity in Cinematic Adaptations examined the relationships between madness and music in film versions of Shakespeare’s three political tragedies—Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. But there is madness—or the simulacrum thereof—in many of Shakespeare’s other plays as well, and I wanted to examine the supposedly mad vocality of the Gaoler’s Daughter in particular.

The Two Noble Kinsmen is based on Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales and was first published in 1634. Two previous plays had taken this tale as their source: Richard Edwardes’s Palamon and Arcite from 1566, written for the young Elizabeth I, and an anonymous version that was played in 1594 by the Admiral’s Men. These works focused on the story of the aristocratic cousins divided by their love for the same woman and did not include the secondary plot line of the Gaoler’s Daughter and her love of Palamon. Scholars believe that the schoolmaster and his coterie were based on Francis’s Beaumont’s Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn from 1613. Despite a title page stating that the play was by ‘Mr. Iohn Fletcher, and Mr. William Shakespeare. Gent,’ Shakespeare’s involvement was often dismissed, and authorship was given to Fletcher and Beaumont. Recent research divides up the play between Fletcher and Shakespeare, assigning Act 1, scenes 1–3; Act 2, scene 1; Act 3, scene 1; Act 5, scene 1, lines 34-173, and scenes 3 and 4 to Shakespeare, the Prologue; Act 2, scenes 2–6; Act 3, scenes 2–6; Act 4, scenes 1 and 3; Act 5, scene 1, lines 1–33, and scene 2; and the Epilogue to Fletcher. The authorship of Act 1, scenes 4-5 and Act 5, scene 2 remains undecided. The songs sung by the Gaoler’s Daughter are contemporary ballads and broadside tunes that would likely have been well-known to audiences. That the Daughter knows so many ballads suggests that she is an avid collector of them—if not in print, then in aural memory.

Because of its later entry into the canon of Shakespeare’s plays, The Two Noble Kinsmen has not been produced as frequently as Shakespeare’s other works. To this date, it remains one of the few plays that has not been adapted for television or cinema. However, there are several recordings of professional, university, and amateur productions online. Many of these are particularly interesting for their treatments of the Gaoler’s Daughter’s songs. Often, actors and directors use the music for these songs as provided in Ross Duffin’s Shakespeare’s Songbook (Norton, 2004). Others sing the song texts to melodies of their own composition or improvisation. In some cases, the Gaoler’s Daughter sings fragments of music rather than entire melodies, and in an especially excellent performance of the play by students at Victoria University in Wellington, the Gaoler’s Daughter incorporates bits of song and speech together, creating a Sprechstimme effect that truly conveys the character’s emotional distress and gradual healing. Yet other productions bring new music into their stagings, such as the Brave Spirits Theatre did in 2014, using songs by Billy Idol (“White Wedding”) and Ingrid Michaelson (“The Chain”), among others.

Regardless of what kind of music is used, the Gaoler’s Daughter has much to say through it, and her songs provide alert audiences with a narrative too often overlooked.

Read Kendra’s article, ‘Listening to the Gaoler’s Daughter’, for free by clicking here!

Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Renaissance


Behind every great book likes a great culture. In her new article (now live on the Cerae website), Lisa Tagliaferri explores the intricate relationship between text and translation in the Renaissance.

Translation is a careful act of negotiation across not only language but culture, which becomes even more pronounced when we approach historical documents from a contemporary perspective. The work that is done to make a new text in the target language perform the same function as the source text seems remarkably similar to the kind of work that Baldassare Castiglione’s conception of the courtier must do: strike a balance between subtle nuance and astute daring, and achieve a certain amount of that untranslatable quality: sprezzatura.

Castiglione’s The Courtier, a bestseller of the early modern period that warranted an English translation by Thomas Hoby, continuously invites analysis with its broad scope that considers court life, laughter, and metaphysics. The historical setting makes the piece even more interesting, which is addressed throughout the book and in the preceding letter to Signor Don Michel de Silva, the Bishop of Viseu, and taken up again in Hoby’s rendition which includes an extra epistle of the translator, addressed to Lord Henry Hastings.

The letters are fascinating to me because they add an extra texture to the books, leaving substantial traces of the interpersonal relationships that live on the periphery of the texts. As I have studied Vittoria Colonna’s writing in the past, her mention in each Castiglione’s and Hoby’s introductory letters piqued my interest. Book III of The Courtier has served as a point of inquiry and often contention for feminist criticism (for good reason), and I was intrigued by the ways in which that section seemed to pivot off of the relationship that Castiglione had with Colonna, and that Hoby had with Elizabeth Parr.


Baldassare Castiglione and Vittoria Colonna

The correspondence between Castiglione and Colonna that took place outside of the books of The Courtier fueled my interest even more, as I considered this external material alongside the Renaissance classic. Realizing that Colonna was very much staking a claim as a literary critic of the text herself, while also serving to fuel the revision and publication process of the book, placed her in a paradoxical position that was both crucial to the eventual text yet challenged her friendship with Castiglione. Her situation, and that of her corollary Elizabeth Parr, present a feminine foil for the courtier, as individuals who both wield a certain amount of power and leverage an absence of power in an endeavor to advance their careers.

There is a growing interest in cases of cross-cultural exchange throughout the global Renaissance, and the transmission of texts between Italy and England is an area ripe for investigation. Additional inquiries into the texts produced by Castiglione and Hoby would certainly broaden our understanding of these works, as well as deepen our historical knowledge of both the Italian and English cultures of the early modern period.

Read Lisa’s article, ‘A Gentlewoman of the Court: Introducing and Translating the Court Lady’, for free by clicking here!


Ulrike Draesner’s Nibelungen . Heimsuchung – Book Launch


How has the Nibelungenlied inspired modern poet Ulrike Draesner’s new book? Stephanie Hathaway attended the book launch this November. 

Tuesday evening, New College, Oxford hosted the book launch for Ulrike Draesner’s latest volume of poetry: Nibelungen . Heimsuchung. The event was organized by Professor Karen Leeder and Mediating Modern Poetry, and attended by students and staff from modern, early-modern and medieval backgrounds. Ulrike Draesner, a visiting fellow of New College, presented and read selections from her new book that marks the advent of a completely new look for Reclam. Draesner explained that Reclam had acquired the rights to the 1908 Nibelungen illustrations by Carl Otto Czeschka, and asked her if she would compose poetry to accompany them. The result is a beautiful hard-cover volume showcasing the Czeschka colour illustrations in their full Jugendstil glory, complete with gold leaf, placed exactly as Draesner wished, to complement her expressive verse.

Hardly a work has been so charged with complexity in meaning and political and cultural undertones as the Nibelungenlied material. Indeed, Czeschka’s illustrations were themselves instrumental in inspiring Austrian director Fritz Lang to create his epic five-hour silent film version in 1924, at a time during which German cinema was at the forefront of the development of motion pictures.

It is through all of this background that Ulrike Draesner’s verse shines a light of perspective both selective and thought-provoking. She talked about how she had studied the Nibelungenlied at university and, as an “honorary medievalist”, how the Middle High German epic had inspired her then, and again upon coming back to it later, always giving new meaning. Her verse is modern, rhythmic and evocative, focussing, as she says, on the individual.  The book treats each of the four heroic figures: Kriemhild, Sigfried, Brünhild and Hagen, giving their feelings and perspectives voice in “lyric monologues” in German, occasionally interspersed with Latin, English and Middle High German, and concluding with 23 short Nibelungen “novels”.

Draesner was in fine form as she read selections, many from the Kriemhild section, and then from the chorus of crows. Showing some of Czeschka’s illustrations, Draesner focussed on the scene in which Kriemhild dreams about her future husband, Sigfried, as a flacon who is attacked by two eagles. The rhythmic, kinetic verse leapt from the page as Draesner read with her emotive, velvet voice, and the interplay between language and senses could be keenly felt. English translations were read by Professor Almut Suerbaum and Karen Leeder, and were equally well-composed to evoke the images and feelings of the figures.

There followed a short discussion of the ways that the Middle High German epic Nibelungenlied was used in this work, and how it inspired Draesner, who said that she had tried to connect with the psychology of the figures, where the epic described only action, inaction and power-play. The evening wrapped up with drinks and lively discussion in one of those rare occasions that modernists and medievalists are met with the same subject matter. Ulrike Draesner’s book is a real treasure for all Germanists from medievalists to post-modernists, and hearing her perform the verses she composed was an absolute pleasure.

Stephanie L Hathaway, University of Oxford, 10 November 2016.

Stephanie’s review will be published in volume 3 of Cerae Journal!


The Blinding of Harold II at the Battle of Hastings

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 57 : La mort d'Harold

Bayeaux Tapestry, Scene 58 – The Death of Harold

What was it about eye wounds that so fascinated writers and illustrators in late Anglo-Saxon England? Matthew Firth explores this in the companion blog to his new article ‘Allegories of Sight: Blinding and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England‘.

There are few images in medieval art as well known, or as well debated, as the depiction of Harold II dying with an arrow in his eye at the Battle of Hastings.  As a pictorial representation of a momentous event in English history, the transition from an Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman realm, its fame is justifiable.  Much of the debate surrounding this depiction of Harold’s death revolves around whether this is indeed the way Harold died or if it represents an authorial invention, anachronistic restoration or the preservation of a vernacular tradition.  It is not a debate into which my paper, ‘Allegories of Sight: Blinding and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England’, enters.  Indeed, I studiously avoided the Bayeux Tapestry in my exploration of Anglo-Saxon attitudes to punitive blinding; Harold’s death is only metaphorically punitive, and is extensively hypothesised elsewhere. Yet it was out of a now distant conversation on the iconography of Harold’s death with a fellow student at the University of New England that this paper was born: Why the eye? Was there subtext to an injury to the eye in this cultural milieu? Are there other examples in the late Anglo-Saxon/early Anglo-Norman world?

I should briefly disclaim that my Master’s research focuses on Anglo-Saxon societal attitudes to punitive mutilation, especially as represented in narrative sources. That is a nice neutral summation that tends to garner polite attention. ‘Societal attitudes to punitive blinding’ on the other hand tends to garner mildly shocked looks of bemusement and a disapproving interrogation. This is perhaps because the social mores of a society and time long distant and alien to modern sensibilities can be difficult to access.  The term ‘punitive mutilation’ gels with a popular image of brutality in the medieval world without being confronting, whereas the idea a person being deliberately punished through blinding provides a more palpable and horrific image. Certainly if we were informed on the news tomorrow of a deliberate and malicious blinding in our neighbourhood it would be shocking crime engendering the censure of the community.  Nonetheless, in the course of my research it did not take long to locate examples of blinding in Anglo-Saxon literature, both actual and fictional, being perpetrated from the highest tiers of society.

It is fair to say that all narratives of blinding in Anglo-Saxon society are didactic. Some more directly so than others.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle attributes numerous political blindings to Æthelred II (the Unready) during is tumultuous reign, while the law codes of his successor, Cnut, are the first codes to specify blinding as a legal punishment for recidivist criminals. Such historical blindings are multifaceted in motivation. For Æthelred, blinding deprived rivals of political power while stopping short of the sin of murder, while Cnut’s law codes reflect a theological concern to punish the sinner while preserving their souls that they may repent and receive redemption. In a society in which each person’s worth was defined by their ability to contribute to their community, the punishment of blinding extended beyond the victim.  The victim’s family was burdened by a member that still consumed valuable resources but was now functionally unable to add to those resources, while the mutilated features of the victim were a visual exemplar to the community, warning of the repercussions for criminal behaviour.

In hagiography blinding takes on a different aspect. Here the practice is almost always a narrative trope and almost always serves to demonstrate the power of the saint. This can take many forms (and are frequently rather entertaining). St Kenelm’s treacherous sister attempted to curse the procession translating her brother’s remains and, as she read an imprecatory psalm backwards, her eyes shot out onto the psalter. A man erroneously sentenced to mutilation had his eyes remove and, having lived like this for three months, had them restored by St Swithun.  St Dunstan fled from the shores of England just before King Eadwig’s mother-in-law (and some-time lover) could catch and blind him.  Whether the saint is enacting blindings, healing blindings or avoiding blindings, God’s favour for the saint is on display in their spiritual power. As artefacts of saints’ cults this is certainly one intent of the narratives, yet the duality of the trope cannot be ignored as a didactic motif. Those who do wrong in the eyes of God are blinded by his agents, while the innocent partake in his blessings.  These narrative elements are representative of moral archetypes familiar to an Anglo-Saxon audience and, as such, provide evidence of Anglo-Saxon societal attitudes toward blinding.

I do not believe that blinding was a common punishment in tenth- and eleventh-century England, nor that it was undertaken lightly. Indeed, it is this cultural reticence to the practice that grants blinding in hagiographical narrative its pedagogic impact. But I do believe that it began to gain some acceptance as a practical political and legislative expedient. It is clear that sight was a cherished faculty in Anglo-Saxon England and that blinding was a vehicle in which personal agency could be invested, political power could be diminished, and spiritual power could be augmented.

Read Matthew’s article, ‘Allegories of Sight: Blinding and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England‘, for free by clicking here!


John Lyly’s ‘Anatomy of Wit’ as an Example of Early Modern Psychological Fiction


Adele Kudish relates her first encounter with John Lyly’s Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit in a blog post accompanying her new article in Ceræ: Volume 3.

I first discovered John Lyly while writing my dissertation on what I call “proto-psychological fiction” or “analytical fiction” in Early Modern European prose. Proto-psychological fiction is a sub-genre in which analysis—self-questioning, questioning the motivations of others, the narrator questioning and distrusting the motivations of characters—subsumes all other sense of plot. In other words, analysis itself comes to comprise the plot. Authors of proto-psychological fiction depict a damning view of human nature through scenes of dissimulation, duplicitous language, and, most of all, the strategies of characters who think they know what they want, but who discover that they no longer desire their love objects as soon as their love is reciprocated.

While doing research on how the term “psychological” had been applied by critics to fiction, I came across some references from the nineteenth century that described Lyly’s prose romances, Euphues: Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England, as forerunners of the psychological novel in England. While I had already been researching proto-psychological fiction in Early Modern Italy and France, in Boccaccio’s Elegy of Madonna Fiammetta, Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron, and Madame de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves, the English part of my thesis was going to begin with Samuel Richardson. I was obviously intrigued by an Elizabethan author who could potentially provide an earlier link to the development of proto-psychological fiction.

One problem in attempting to delineate a strain of psychological fiction before Freud is that critics tend to claim that many different works—as varied as Murasaki Shikibu’s Japanese romance The Tale of Genji (written circa 1021) to Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons (1782)—constitute the first “psychological novel,” simply because they are concerned with interiority. There have been a few studies that define “psychological fiction,” like Russian critic Lydia Ginzburg’s On Psychological Prose, which focuses on character and the development of personality in literature, and Leon Edel’s The Modern Psychological Novel, which focuses on Modern literature and thus uses the term “psychological” without anachronism. Although these studies are very interesting on their own, they describe something totally different from what I had in mind about proto-psychological fiction. In addition, I realized that most studies of psychological fiction tend to associate “psychological” fiction with nineteenth-century realism (as Ian Watt does in The Rise of the Novel), or with the development of modern subjectivity and characterization. Yet, even the two early nineteenth century novels that I was writing about for my dissertation (by Austen and Stendhal) deal with “psychology” or consciousness in a very different way than nineteenth century realism does. Their sense of “psychology” is actually more in line with sixteenth and seventeenth-century conceptions of self-governance, that is, the debate about whether it is the passions or reason that control us.

Proto-psychological fiction is ultimately about a disabused reading of humanity; it is written by authors who profoundly doubt our ability—and even our willingness—to know ourselves. Euphuistic rhetoric is a device that creates both inroads and barriers between characters, drawing characters close together and then separating them physically. Like so many other conduct manuals of this era (even the ones Lyly himself mocked), Euphues can be read as a veiled political text that warns of the perils of revealing one’s true feelings. Also interesting to me is the figure adynaton, which is “a confession that words fail us,” as well as the themes of cyclicality, dilation, and deferral, as well as dissimulation, doubt, silence, and incomplete or misrepresented knowledge. The works I write about share a tendency on the part of the narration to keep characters apart, to trap them in a closed, confusing society, and to defer, for as long as possible, any chance of intimacy, finality, or resolution.

Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit is certainly such a text. Euphuism is paradoxical, self-doubting, contradictory, and self-correcting language. Narrators and characters in Euphues attempt to read each other, but they are constantly faced with deception, misprision, doubt, and confusion, leading to self-deception, jealousy, and crises of love. On the level of vocabulary, certain verbs (such as to think, to believe, and to dare, as well as verbs of seeing and seeming), as well as the adverb almost, illustrate that one character is attempting to read—that is, produce knowledge about—another, to read herself, or to do both. Characters who attempt to look within themselves are usually wrong in some way. They are mistaken about their own knowledge, about a belief, or about someone else, so that characters engage in infinite reciprocities, moving to and fro, never capable of alighting on any stable certainty. For this reason, jealousies come to the surface and love is always thwarted.

Proto-psychological fiction is neither romantic nor realist, it is not baroque for Baroque’s sake, nor didactic. Narrators in analytical fiction are not omniscient: they are sometimes even one step behind the characters in their journey—not toward, but, perhaps, around knowledge. This is because characters are simply not “knowable” in these works. Even when their stories end with a marriage (as I discuss in another article on Austen’s last novel, Persuasion), characters in analytical fiction do not really change, they do not grow into knowledge in the same way as characters in novels labeled “Realist” do. Their hearts and minds are fickle, suspicious, and dissimulating, so that striving to know falls by the wayside of analysis. This particular sub-genre of narrative is found in fiction across the centuries and from all over the world, written by authors who share a pessimistic view of human nature as incapable of—or else unwilling to strive towards—self-knowledge.

Read Adele’s article, ‘John Lyly’s ‘Anatomy of Wit‘ as an Example of Early Modern Psychological Fiction’, for free by clicking here!



‘Economics of Poetry’ Conference: Rome, April 28-30 2016  

IMG_9719 (1)

Used with permission from the ‘Economics of Poetry’ conference organisers.

Tara Auty reflects on the recent ‘Economics of Poetry’ conference at the American University at Rome.

Held on the grounds of the American University at Rome (AUR), from April 28-30 2016, the ‘Economics of Poetry’ conference was an academic gathering to discuss and advance the study of ‘efficient techniques of producing neo-Latin verse.’ Organised by Paul Gwynne of the AUR and Bernhard Schirg of the Freie Universität Berlin, and funded jointly by those institutions, this conference brought international scholars together to share their research into the practices of efficiency that were intrinsic to the production of Latin poetry in the early modern period. This approach ‘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.’ What follows is a brief summary of some of the insights that came to light over the course of seventeen varied and dynamic presentations that were particular helpful or novel to me, but the full listing of the abstracts can be found here.

Susanna de Beer launched the conference with her keynote presentation, Reveal, Reuse, Recycle! How Digital Tools Can Help Detect Efficiency in Giannantonio’s Campano’s (1429-1477) Poetry. Dr. de Beer’s paper questioned the very paradigm by which neo-Latin poetry has thus far been judged, and invited the attendees to consider repetition and self-referencing within the corpora of early modern Latin poets not as ‘laziness’ or ‘insincerity,’ but instead as well-developed strategies to meet the demands of the patronage system. One of the major contributions that the concept of ‘economics of poetry’ is making to the field of neo-Latin criticism is that it is encouraging scholars to reassess intratextuality (i.e., self-repetition and self-allusion), which has traditionally been devalued in contrast with intertextuality (i.e., repetitions from and allusions to other authors’ works, usually already well-regarded and known) as a viable and significant practice in literary production.

In a period where competition for patronage could be fierce, and an author’s livelihood depended on their ability to adapt, the capacity to reuse pre-fabricated material was a great benefit and was not necessarily viewed as a lack of originality. Paul Gwynne’s paper, The Economics of Eulogy: Johannes Michael Nagonius (c. 1450-c.1510), highlighted the ways in which Nagonius continuously revised his poetry to reflect developing political situations, with particular reference to a funeral song derived from an original pseudo-Ovidian source that he repeatedly adapted to mourn different significant personages. In Spamming the Council of Milan: Pietro Lazzaroni (c.1420-c1497) Spreading His Poems to Lombardian Patricians, Bernhard Schirg pointed out that these instances of self-repetition can be viewed as variations on a basic template, and allowed the extremely prolific Lazzaroni to engage in ‘cold-calling’ potential patrons by show-casing the kind of work he was capable of adapting to them specifically.

As well as reusing existing models within a given genre, authors also engaged widely in intertextual borrowing across genres and across languages. Elena Dahlberg’s presentation, String Your Lyre Promptly! Magnus Rönnow’s (1665?-1735) Latin Poetry from the Great Northern War, foregrounded the variety of sources used by the Swede neo-Latin poet in his coverage of contemporary military events. Detailed textual comparison showed that Rönnow used printed news sources alongside literary accounts of the conflict, so that his own poetry ‘blurred the boundaries between truth and fiction.’ Authors using these contemporaneous sources had to find linguistic strategies to render their material into neo-Latin, and these strategies in themselves can be viewed as part and parcel of the practice of ‘economics of poetry,’ wherein textual sources are the bare resources of poetic production, subject to the labour of the author to create a viable end-product.

Repetition in and of itself does not necessarily equate to less literary labour, and the genre of the Cento further highlights this complexity. The opening keynote presentation by Dr. de Beer invited attendees to question whether ‘repetition can be both efficient and meaningful,’ and in her paper, Riuso ed Economia Nella Pratica della Poesia ‘Centonaria,’ Maria Teresa Galli showed that repetition, far from being a ‘shortcut,’ in fact adds layers of meaning and can prove to be quite an inefficient practice. Assembled entirely from the fragmented lines of another author’s work, laid out in a new order, Cento poems were acts of ‘literary acrobatics,’ and the writing of them was an exercise undertaken by the learned to showcase their knowledge of classical works and to demonstrate the author’s ability to rework and remould well-known masterpieces. The finished product is a multi-layered puzzle, which simultaneously recalls the original stories from which they have been extracted while piecing together a new story, a feat made all the more impressive by the appearance of effortlessness.

This semblance of effortlessness was also a key feature in the phenomenon of ‘fast composition,’ as discussed by Marc Laureys in The Aesthetics of Mourning: Techniques of Composition in Neo-Latin Funeral Poetry from Germany and the Low Countries (16th and 17th Centuries). Speedy writing had long been associated with improvisation and extemporising, and diametrically opposed to polished sophistry. In this model, the latter was associated with guile and superficiality, while the former was authentic, candid and unpolished. Statius’ Silvae provided the key classical exemplar for this idea of ‘spontaneous’ writing, as Professor Laurey illustrated, and was one of the main literary precedents for early modern authors writing Latin funeral poems (who, naturally, had certain time-pressures on their compositions). Fast, unpolished writing is motivated by intense emotion in the Statian model, and the claims to extraordinary speed embedded in these poems were thus part and parcel of the ‘aesthetics of mourning’ characteristic of this genre.

In the final panel of the conference, Elizabeth Sandis similarly addressed the strategies employed by William Gager (1555-1622) to produce a high-quality piece of work in a very limited time-frame in Playing Virgil on Short Notice. Following the orders of the Chancellor of Oxford University to stage an original performance for a Polish dignitary visiting England in 1538, Gager wrote the 1,300 verse Dido in approximately three weeks. This new composition, partly based on his ‘youthful adaptations of Virgil’s Aeneid,’ was developed to serve a propagandistic purpose and highlight the beneficent generosity of Queen Elizabeth I to the foreign ambassador. One of the most salient points made by Dr. Sandis in this presentation was that the success of this performance relied on a shared knowledge of the story of Dido: by choosing an iconic text as a base model, Gager efficiently creates meaning by drawing on the audience’s assumed collective memory of the original story.

The question of how to detect efficient techniques of poetic production was one that was addressed to varying degrees by some of the papers, but the most practical guidance was given by Dr. de Beer in her keynote speech. Various digital tools have emerged, and are continuously emerging, that allow scholars to not only access Latin texts in their entirety, but also to quickly detect intratextual and intertextual relationships by enabling searches for individual words, phrases and motifs. Two examples are ‘Musisque Deoque’ and Dr. de Beer’s own project, ‘Mapping Visions of Rome.’

This is no doubt only the beginning of what is already proving to be an extremely fruitful and innovative movement to reassess particular features of neo-Latin poetry, and its usefulness in literary criticism and history will surely become evident to scholars working on material in other languages, genres and periods. Under the editorial guidance of Paul Gwynne and Bernhard Schirg, the findings of this conference will be further developed into a collection to be published by Peter Lang in late 2016/early 2017.This will be the largest contribution thus far to the growing body of ‘economics of poetry’ material already published: