Thomas Maitland

Sylva IV: to his brother William, preliminary words concerning the projected war against the Turks

This poem is addressed to Thomas' brother, William Maitland of Lethington (1525x30-1573). The political successes of William, known as the 'chameleon' for his ever-shifting allegiances, were achieved not without some considerable double-dealing. While a member of the government under Mary of Guise he also played a leading role in the Lords of the Congregation; although he was Queen Mary's secretary between 1561 and 1566, he took part in the murder of David Riccio and was actively involved in her forced abdication in 1567; and following the establishment of the Moray regency (of which he was an integral part) he switched allegiances again over the course of 1569 to emerge, following Moray's death on 23 January 1570, as the de facto leader of the Queen's Party (on William, see Mark Loughlin, 'The Career of Maitland of Lethington, c. 1526-1573' (unpublished Edinburgh PhD thesis, 1991, available here [https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/6894]), esp. pp. 10, 299-300 for his relationship with Thomas; Mark Loughlin, 'Maitland, William, of Lethington (1525x30-1573)' ODNB [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/17838]). This poem and the references to civil war gripping Scotland in lines 1-14 suggest that it could have been written at any time between 1567 and Thomas' death in 1572. However, the veiled discussion at lines 83-102, advising Maitland to seize a political opportunity and to take care that he not destroy his family in the process, makes it more likely that it was written after late 1569. The poem also celebrates the value of education in the liberal arts and declares Thomas' delight in the rhetorical writings of Cicero (lines 41-61); and describes the younger Maitland sending his early writings to his elder brother (lines 62-82).

This latter section, and the title of the poem, pose something of a conundrum. At line 72 Thomas describes his desire to see a crusade taken up against the Turks to divert Scottish martial appetites from civil war, and his description of a desire to do this 'with words' ('verbis') suggests that he had possibly written something discussing this issue. The 'praefixa' of the poem's title possibly suggests (though not conclusively) that this poem was appended to a larger work. In 1571 Pope Pius V was canvassing throughout Europe for support against the Turks, and this led, in the summer of that year, to the formation of the Holy League - and ultimately to the great naval victory at Lepanto. If this poem was written as late as 1571, it is possible that Maitland is suggesting his brother should focus on the efforts of international Christendom to defeat the Ottoman threat, as a way to divert attention and energy from the internecine struggles at home. Metre: hexameter.

[171]

Sylva IV: Ad Guilelmum fratrem, de bello in Turcas suscipiendo praefixa

1Dum te castra tenent mersum civilibus undis, 1
magnanimosque atrox eheu discordia Scotos,
maxima quam genuit Furiarum tristis Erynnis, 2
exercet rauco lituusque in praelia cantu, 3
5excitat armatas acies (miserabile dictu) 4
ut saevo fas sit nato jugulare parentem:
et genitrix tepido natorum sanguine terra
imbuitur, nos a bello turbisque remoti,
qui tractare manu nondum consuevimus arma,
10nec celeri in medios ferratum cominus hostes
cornipede invecti torquere ferociter hastam: 5
sed totos annos viridis consumpsimus aevi
intenti studiis, Musas, colimusque Minervam,
pacatique artes hic exercemus honestas.

15O qualem nobis vitam florentibus annis 6
concessere Dii, vacuam curaque, metuque!
Et miseram vobis regni moderantibus axem,
vos quisquam vano captus splendore beatos
solos esse putet, quos si queis invida rectis
20fortuna inceptis miserum prosternere gestit. 7

Sed quia non animus, nec mens est omnibus una, 8
ingeniique docet cursum Natura sequendum:
non omnes operam studiis navamus iisdem.
Hic petit ex sacris divina oracula libris,
25non quae fatidicae quondam cecinere sorores,
assidua gentis cura servata togatae:
sed quas terrarum, et summi dominator Olympi 9
ignivoma leges populo de nube patenti
annuit, ut vere patres testantur Hebraei.
30Hic varias mundi partes, et candida caeli
Sydera 10 prospectat variis orientia signis.
Ille Cupidineo trajectus pectora telo 11
flammeolis dominae blandum ridentis ocellos,
et Veneris lusus modulari carmine gaudet,
35lascivo teneros versuque includit amores. 12

[172]

Hic legit Hippocratis, divini hic scripta Platonis,
et quicquid sophiae veteres scripsere magistri.
Ille pari antiquas numerosa volumina leges
perdiscit studio, summos securus honores,
40et summas securus opes hac arte parari.

At mihi praecipue regina oratio rerum
flexanima arrisit, 13 veteris sapientia Romae:
nec plebs scriptorum, sed princeps detinet ille,
flos delibatus populi, Suadaeque medulla, 14
45Tullius antiqui genus alto a sanguine regis, 15
quem pia posteritas atque inveterata parentem
eloquii, et patriae communis fama sacravit.
Illa placet vario splendens oratio cultu,
et mens necquicquam dicentis suspicit ora,
50seu chartis terse scriptis affatur amicos;
sive docens fortes patrio sermone 16 Quirites
dogmata Graecorum, Romam traducit Athenas:
seu stans altiloquo pro rostris fulminat ore;
sive trahit quocunque velit, retrahitque Senatum;
55non mihi Romulea genitus de stirpe, sed urbem
Romuleam 17 Deus eloquio rexisse videtur.
Hunc ego saepe legens dum valde admiror, et illi
persimiles conor lambendo effingere fœtus,
multa puer scripsi, nondum limata rotunde,
60qualia quae faber ex imis defossa lacunis
marmora deposcuit tecto, non arte polivit.

Sed quia nostra manus quamvis indocta placebat:
ingeniique mei fraterno impulsus amore, 18
saepe immaturos ardebas cernere partus;
65haud equidem celanda diu monumenta laboris
esse reor nostri, nec sunt haec arte locanda,
(dicitur) ut quondam Phidiae servata Minerva: 19
sed subeant vultusque tuos, frontemque serenam:
imprimis vero haec necquicquam nacta patronum
70causa ferax in se vestra repetatur in aula.
Ardeo Christicolas armare in praelia reges,
inque pharetratos verbis accendere Turcas.
Si vos tanta tenet bellandi forte cupido,
huc huc intrepide ferrum convertite, et arma, 20

[173]

75o cives, nec enim vestrae locus aptior ullus
virtuti in terris, usquam nec gloria major.
Quid juvat insanos in mutua viscera ferrum
stringere? Quid matres natorum in funere saevo
mortifero tabo et patrias fœdare penates? 21
80Nullane vos pietas? Nec terrent numina Divum 22
conscia patrati sceleris? Vos cura nepotum
nulla tenet? Belloque potest prohibere nefando?
Tu memor interea nostrae vir maxime gentis
incolumis patriae 23 et cano superesse parenti,
85ne caput exitio, vitam ne crede periclis.
Mors nulli parcit. Te vero si quis iniquus
eripiet nobis casus, Respublica, et alma
gloria Scotorum subducto Sole 24 peribit:
nostra domus ruet antiquis innixa columnis,
90et nostris (eheu) morientia lumina patris, 25
condentur digitis senio luctuque gravati.
Quos ego ne videam casus patriaeque superstes,
saepe Deos supplex (nox testis et astra) 26 rogavi;
ut pater armipotens 27 tanto in discrimine, si quid
95mortales tangunt caelestia Numina curae,
dimittat Maja genitum, qui sospita virga
discutiat Zephyris ictusque avertat in auras
et re de castris salvum sanumque reducat.
Tu quoque, cum certo das tempore membra quieti,
100cum silet armorum strepitus, sonitusque tubarum,
si vacat interdum positis requiescere curis,
102nostra lege, et prorsus nisi sint indigna, probato.

[171]

Sylva IV: to his brother William, preliminary words concerning the projected war against the Turks

1While the camps hold you submerged in the stormy waves of politics, and fierce discord, alas, which grim Erynnis, greatest of the furies, bore, and the clarion-call drives the noble Scots into battle with its harsh singing, the armed battle-line rouses (wretched to tell) so that it is lawful for the parent to be slaughtered by the savage child: and mother earth is soaked with the luke-warm blood of her children, and we who were far removed from the war and its uproar, who had not yet become accustomed to carrying weapons in our hand, nor at close quarters, carried upon the swift hoof-footed beast, to hurling fiercely the iron spear into the enemy's midst: but we spent all the years of our adolescent age applied to our studies, and we worship the Muses and Minerva, and at peace here we occupied ourselves in worthy arts.

15O, what a life free of cares and fear have the gods granted us in our flourishing years, and what a wretched one to you, steering the axle-tree of the kingdom. Anyone, captured by empty splendour, may think you the only ones who are blest, you whom fortune strives to overthrow wretchedly, should she be jealous of your good undertakings.

21But because neither thought nor the mind are one in all things, Nature teaches the course of character which must be followed: we do not all zealously serve the same studies. This one hunts out divine prophecies from sacred books, not those which once the prophetic sisters uttered, safeguarded by the constant care of the toga-wearing race: but those laws which the overlord of the earth and of highest Olympus granted to the people, revealed from a fire-surging cloud, as the Hebrew fathers truly attest. a This one gazes out at the various parts of the universe, and the brilliant stars of heaven, rising in various configurations. That one, his breast pierced through by Cupid's dart, seduced by the laughing eyes of his mistress in her bridal veils, rejoices to set the sport of Venus to music, and encloses tender love in frolicsome verse.

[172]

This one reads the words of Hippocrates, b this one the divine writings of Plato, and whatever wisdom the ancient masters have written. That one with equal zeal gets by heart the numerous volumes of ancient laws, secure in the greatest honours, and the greatest wealth, that are acquired from this art.

41But eloquent speech, queen of them all, has especially attracted me, the wisdom of ancient Rome thoroughly moving my heart. It is not the commoner of the writers who holds me captive but the prince himself, the choice flower of the people, and the quintessence of persuasion, Tullius, c of an ancient race, from the high blood of a king, whom pious and long-standing posterity and the common opinion of his nation consecrated as the father of eloquence. That speech of his, shining with a wide range of cultivation, pleases, and to no avail the mind looks upon the mouth of the person speaking, whether it addresses friends from sheets elegantly written upon, or teaching the tough Quirites, d in their native language, the principles of the Greeks, or brings Athens to Rome: or standing with high-speaking mouth thunders out the business of the Rostra, e or draws, or draws again, the senate in any direction he wishes; it seems to me it is not a man born of Roman stock, but God, who by his eloquence has ruled the city of Romulus. Often as I read these I am struck with wonder, and by licking I try to make my offspring very similar to his: f as a child I wrote many things, not yet roundly polished, in quality like the marble dug up from the deepest pits which a craftsman has set down in a dwelling but not yet polished with his skill.

62But because my hand, although untrained, was pleasing: and driven by the fraternal love of my natural talent, you were often keen to see the productive cause: I confess that the monuments of my labour are not to be equally long concealed, nor are they to be set down as art, as those (it is said) of Minvera, once kept safe by Phidius: g but let them submit to your visage, and your serene brow: and particularly, in truth, may this productive cause, never beholden to a patron, be sought for itself in your court. I burn to arm Christ-worshipping kings in battle, and to set fire to Turkish bowmen with my words. If such a great love of waging war should keep its hold on you, here, here, is where you should turn your fearless sword and arms,

[173]

o citizens, for neither is there any place better suited to your strength in the world, nor any glory greater. What pleasure is it for madmen to draw weapons into each other's guts, or for mothers at the sad funeral of their children, or to defile the national gods with death-bringing gore? Does no piety, do the powers of the gods, all too knowing of the crime committed, not terrify you? Does no concern for your descendants restrain you? And is it possible to desist from abominable war? Meanwhile, you, the greatest man of our family, be mindful of our fatherland as it was unharmed, and take care to survive our snowy-haired parent: h do not believe that your head is above destruction, or your life above danger. Death spares no-one. Truly, should some dreadful chance snatch you away from us, the state, and the nourishing glory of the Scots, will perish, the sun having been removed: our house, supported by ancient pillars, will fall into destruction, and (alas) the dying eyes of our father, weighed down with old age and fear, will be closed by our hands. Often as a supplicant I beseeched the gods (the night and stars are my witness), so that I may not see these disasters and outlive my nation: and I beseeched the father, powerful in war at such a time of trial, if any mortal cares touch the heavenly deities, that Maja may send down her son, who as a saviour may with his rod scatter the blows and turn them into gentle breezes, and return you safe and sound from the camps. And you too, when at a certain time you give over your body to quiet, when the din of arms and the sound of trumpets falls silent, if, cares being laid aside, there is freedom to rest, read our lines and go on to judge of them, that they be not unbecoming.

Notes:


Original

1: 'mersor civilibus undis' (in same metrical position): Horace, Epistulae I.1.16

2: 'Furiarum...maxima': Vergil, Aeneid III.252, VI.605; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica I.816

3: 'et rauco strepuerunt cornua cantu': Virgil, Aeneid VIII.2. Also echoes Ovid, Fasti III.216; Seneca, Oedipus 733

4: An inversion of Vergil's often-used 'miserabile dictu' (eg Aeneid IV.182)

5: 'torqueat hastam': Vergil, Aeneid XI.284

6: 'florentibus annis' (in same metrical position): Statius, Silvae III.5.23; Silius Italicus, Punica IX.533

7: 'Fortuna...invida': Seneca, Hercules Furens 524; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica II.473-474

8: 'rege incolumi mens omnibus una est': Vergil, Georgics IV.212

9: 'dominator Olympi' (in same metrical position): Appendix Vergiliana, Elegiae in Maecenatem I.87

10: 'candida lunae/ sidera': Appendix Vergiliana, Ciris 37-8

11: 'igne Cupidineo proprios exarsit in artus': Appendix Vergiliana, Culex 409

12: 'teneros...amores': Calpurnius, Eclogues VI.73; Ovid, Tristia II.1.361

13: 'flexanima atque omnium regina rerum oratio': Cicero, De Oratore II.187.7

14: Whole line: Ennius, Annales IX.308; Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium fr.I.3; Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae XII.2.3.6

15: 'genus alto a sanguine Teucri': Vergil, Aeneid IV.230, VI.500; 'genus alsto a sanguine divum': Vergil, Aeneid V.45

16: 'patrio sermone': Curtius, Historiae Alexandri Magni VI.9.34.3; Silius Italicus, Punica II.440

17: 'mox et Romuleam stirpem proceresque futuros': Statius, Silvae V.3.176

18: 'impulsus amore fraterno': Cicero, Pro Sulla LXII.14

19: Phidias and Minerva: Cicero, Paraxoda Stoicorum pr.V.9; Pliny the Younger, Naturalis Historia XXXVI.177.6-7; Valerius, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia VIII.14.6.10

20: 'me, me, adsum qui feci, in me convertite ferrum,/ o Rutuli!': Vergil, Aeneid IX.427

21: 'tinctaque mortifera tabe sagitta madet': Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto III.1.26

22: 'conscia numina': Vergil, Aeneid II.141

23: 'incolumis patriae': Cicero, Rhetorica ad Herennium [sp.] IV.34.15

24: 'subducto Sole' (in same metrical position): Silius Italicus, Punica V.678

25: 'morientia lumina' (in same metrical position): Vergil, Aeneid X.463; Ovid, Metamorphoses IX.391

26: 'nox et tua testis/ dextera': Vergil, Aeneid IX.288

27: 'pater armipotens' (in same metrical position): Ovid, Fasti II.481

Translation

a: The Ten Commandments specifically, but the laws of the Old Testament in general.

b: Hippocrates of Cos (c.460-370BC), often seen as the father of western Medicine.

c: Cicero's full name was Marcus Tullius Cicero, often referred to in the early modern period as 'Tullius' or (in the vernacular) 'Tully'.

d: The earliest term used to describe Roman citizens.

e: The main platform in the centre of ancient Rome used by magistrates and public speakers.

f: Maitland is here thinking of the myth where bear cubs were literally 'licked into shape' by their mothers from an inchoate mass.

g: Phidias (c.480-430BC) was seen as one of the greatest sculptors in the history of Ancient Greece, and created two statues of Athena or Minerva - the Athena Parthenos and the Athena Promachos - at the Athenian Acropolis.

h: Richard Maitland of Lethington (1496-1586). See Michael R.G. Spiller, 'Maitland, Sir Richard, of Lethington (1496-1586), ODNB. [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/17831]