Epitaphium Alexandri Arbuthneti (1583)

Alexander Arbuthnot (1538-1583) was a student and then regent at St Andrews between c.1552 and 1558, and was found competent to serve as a protestant minister in St Andrews by the general assembly in December 1560. Between 1561 and 1566 he studied civil law at Bourges, and on his return, after a brief spell as minister of Logie Buchan in Aberdeenshire, was appointed as the first protestant principal of King's College Aberdeen in 1569 (following a purge of the Catholic staff by the regent Moray). Melville and Arbuthnot were ideologically very closely matched - both men opposed episcopal hierarchy, and both were interested in implementing a full-scale protestant reform of the Scottish universities. With that latter aim in mind, the two agreed in 1575 to develop a shared programme of reform, which was implemented at Glasgow with the parliamentary-sanctioned 'Nova Erectio' of 1577. However, an attempt to implement a similar 'Nova Fundatio' at King's College was repeatedly hindered, first by the political upheaval of the Ruthven Raid and James' subsequent blocking of the reform in its immediate aftermath, and then by Arbuthnot's sudden and unexpected death. Calderwood noted (History, vol. 2, p. 319), that Arbuthnot was 'in all sciences expert; a good poet, mathematician, philosopher, theologue, lawyer, and in medicine skilful'. Where he got this latter training is unknown, but Melville makes clear reference to both his medical and his legal skills in this epitaph. See James Kirk, 'Arbuthnot, Alexander (1538-1583)', ODNB; Reid, Humanism and Calvinism, pp. 95-106. Metre: elegiac couplets.

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Epitaphium Alexandri Arbuthneti

1Flere mihi si fas privata incommoda, si fas
publica, nec tua mi commoda flere nefas:
flerem ego te, mihi te ereptum, pater Arbuthnete,
et pater, et patriae lux oculusque tuae.
5Flerem ego te Superis carum caput Arbuthnete,
et caput, et sacri corque animusque chori.
Flerem ego: nec flenti foret aut pudor, aut modus, eheu!
Link to an image of this page  [p121] Flerem ego te, te eheu! Flerem ego perpetuo?
Deliciae humani generis dulcissime rerum,
10quem Musae et Charites blando aluere sinu.
Cujus in ore lepos, sapiens in pectore virtus,
et Suadae et Sophiae vis bene juncta simul.
Cui pietas, cui prisca fides, constantia, candor,
et pudor, et probitas non habuere parem;
15sacras et Themidis medicas et Paeonis artes
et potis immensi pandere jura poli.
Vis animi, vis ingenii, vis vivida mentis
et terram, et pontum, et sidera perdomuit.
Talis erat hic aevum agitans: nunc aethere summo
20celsior, et summo non procul inde Deo.
Perfrueris vera in patria, cœloque, Deoque
22faelix: haec tua me commoda flere nefas.

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An epitaph for Alexander Arbuthnot

If it is lawful for me to weep at private disasters, and if it is lawful to do so at public ones, it is not a sin for me to weep at your good fortune: I shall weep for you, you who have been torn away from me, father Arbuthnot, both the father, the light and the ornament of your nation. I shall weep for you, Arbuthnot, a head cherished by those above, both head, heart and mind of the sacred choir. I shall weep for you: nor, alas, will there be any shame or end to my weeping! Link to an image of this page  [p121] I shall weep for you, you, alas! Shall I weep forever? You, the treasure of the human race and sweetest of all things, whom the Muses and Graces have nourished upon their smooth breast. Whose wit in speaking, whose wisdom and virtue in heart and whose powers of persuading and reasoning well are joined together as one. Whose piety, whose well-established faith, loyalty, honesty, modesty, and good standing have no equal; and who was able to lay clear the laws of boundless heaven and the venerable medical skills of Themis and Paeon. a Your force of intellect, your force of character, and your spirited force of mind thoroughly vanquished both land, and sea, and the stars. Here he was such a driving force of the age: now he is higher than the highest ether, and not far away from God Almighty. As a joyful being you will delight thoroughly in the true homeland, and in heaven, and in God: it is a sin that I weep at this good fortune of yours.



a: Themis, daughter of Gaia and Ouranos, closely associated with justice, law, and ordinances; Paeon (Paean), a healing God later identified with Apollo and Asclepius.