Epitaphium Ioannis Metellani magni Scotiae Cancellarii (1595)

This poem and the one that follows (d1_CraT_009) were written for John Maitland of Thirlestane (1543-1595), royal secretary from 1584 and chancellor from 1587. Full details of his life and career, and another epitaph on him by Andrew Melville, can be found at d2_MelA_036. Metre: elegiac couplets.

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Epitaphium Ioannis Metellani magni Scotiae Cancellarii

1Humida quod terrae facies, tot mensibus aether
imbribus infestus, fluctibus aequor erat:
quodque Ceres mentita fidem, fata merserat undis,
aetheris et terrae haec signa gementis erant.
5Quippe Metellano (cujus, frendente profana
invidia, ad mundi mœnia fama volat) 1
iusta piis lachrymis, et pulla veste parabant,
nec lucem in luctu sustinuere suo.
Sed si mens ulla est hominum praesaga futuri,
10nec semper vates vana referre solent: 2
si Nioben flet adhuc marmor, 3 si candida vatum
mater adhuc multo Memnona rore gemit; 4
multa diuque tibi lachrymarum flumina fundet
14Scotia consiliis sola relicta suis.

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An epitaph for John Maitland, high chancellor of Scotland

The face of the earth was wet, the heavens clogged with rain-clouds for so many months, the sea with storms, and the harvest feigned promise and buried our fortunes under a deluge - these were manifestations of the heaven and earth in mourning. For they were arranging the last rites for Maitland (whose fame flies up towards the walls of the universe, as base envy seethes) with dutiful tears and in dark veil; and in their grief they could not endure the light. Yet if the wit of men has any inkling of the future, and the soothsayers are not always wont to tell lies, if marble still weeps for Niobe, a if the bright mother of poets still laments Memnon with her many dewy tears, b then Scotland, all alone, stripped of her source of wisdom, will pour out many rivers of tears for you.



1: As his fame flies towards the 'walls of the universe' Craig presents Maitland as another Epicurus (in the heroic, rather than philosophical sense): Lucretius, De Rerum Natura I.73

2: Allusion to Ovid, Metamorphoses XV.145, and his playful comments on the poet/soothsayer's ambiguous relationship with the truth.

3: Ovid, Metamorphoses VI.312

4: Another expansive piece of poetic allusion by Craig. This time the immediate source is Ovid, Metamorphoses XIII.575-583. However, the 'mother of poets' epithet has the dual strength of Aurora's role in 'bearing' Apollo (the sun and God of poetry) into the sky, and as mother of Memnon, whose statue in Egypt produced music as it was hit by the sun's rays: Juvenal, Satires XV.5.


a: Niobe: daughter of Tantalus, who boasted that she was superior to Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis, because she had many children while Leto only had two. Enraged at this, Apollo and Artemis killed her children and turned her into a stone, and her tears into streams that wept from it.

b: See note to Latin text.