The Project

Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum: open volume
Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum:
open volume

The project’s central aim was to understand why, in a country where the culture of Protestant reform had taken such a hold in the decades after 1560, the production of Latin texts by Scottish authors remained such an entrenched feature of cultural life. Specific sub-questions on this theme were: who used Latin in Scotland, when and why? Did the use of Latin vary according to social standing and profession? And what role did scripture, Greco-Roman literature, and Renaissance advances in philology play in texts produced by Scottish authors?

The project has made major discoveries in relation to all these questions, and the electronic resource and associated published outputs now constitute a central reference-point for all scholars interested in Scottish Neo-Latin. It does this in several ways.

Digitally Opening Up the Corpus of Scottish Neo-Latin

Prior to the project, critical editions and translations of Scottish Neo-Latin poets were largely confined to texts by George Buchanan, Andrew Melville, David Hume of Godscroft and a handful of minor poets and authors, supplemented by a range of texts in Dana Sutton’s Philological Museum. Many of these editions were either in hard to access resources (such as journals with small print runs) or in older and less critically edited texts, perhaps the most notorious example being the extremely free paraphrases of poets from Northern Scotland in William D. Geddes' and William K. Leask's Musa Latina Aberdonensis (3 vols, Aberdeen: New Spalding Club, 1892-1910). The project has produced editions of 11 poets, totalling 335 pages, which have been extensively annotated in multiple disciplinary ways and which are freely accessible online. Including its research, bibliographic and other support materials, this is the single largest critical resource of Scottish Neo-Latin poetry anywhere in the world, and is thus an essential starting point for any scholar interested in exploring the field.

New Perspectives on James VI and I and Jacobean Scotland

The project and its associated outputs has also become an essential referent for any scholar interested in cultural life in Jacobean Scotland, and particularly in the presentation of James VI and I in literary terms. A major unifying thread tying the electronic resource together is that all the texts (bar those of Robert Ayton) focus predominantly on the period between James’ birth in 1566 and his accession to the throne of England in 1603. The Principal Investigator’s large-scale bibliographical and prosopographical research into the culture of Scottish Latin texts printed between 1480 and 1700, undertaken during the project and published in the Scottish Historical Review, has confirmed that the collection of poems in the resource include every major ‘political’ poem commenting on events in James’ ‘Scottish’ reign, bar the birth-poem produced for James VI by George Buchanan in 1566. Highlights include a previously unknown poem by Thomas Maitland on James VI’s coronation which discusses the Battle of Langside (where Mary Stewart and the Earl of Bothwell were defeated); an eyewitness account of his first royal entry into Perth in 1580 (by Henry Anderson); and the extensive poem, equivalent in size to a book of the Aeneid, written to celebrate his marriage by proxy to Anna of Denmark in 1589 (by Hercules Rollock). In addition to being easily accessible in the electronic resource, these poems have all been subsequently edited since the project’s completion, and their texts checked against all known variant editions, to form the corpus printed in the project’s anthology text, Corona Borealis.

There are also several other key aspects of cultural history to which the electronic resource and its outputs make a major contribution. In relation to the extensive literature on Scottish diaspora studies in the early modern period by scholars such as David Worthington, Kathrin Zickermann, Siobhan Talbott and Steve Murdoch, Scottish connections with the international community of Neo-Latin scholars were markedly French in character. The Scottish poets we translated for the electronic resource were not merely tourists sampling France’s literary and intellectual delights, but men like James Halkerston and Hercules Rollock were all creators of Latin literature that spoke directly to French affairs, and which earned them minor renown. All the poets who form part of the electronic resource undertook their original degree at St Andrews and then studied for varying periods in France and Geneva, and they all followed remarkably similar career paths into education, law, the church, or medicine.

For scholars interested in the early history of the Anglo-Scottish relationship after the Union of the Crowns, another key dimension of the corpus of early modern Scottish Latin literature was its particular vitality in the decades after 1603. The PI’s database-driven survey of all printed Latin texts by Scottish authors has revealed that the publication of Scottish Latin texts, particularly poetry, reached its zenith in James’ later reign, before a swift and irrevocable process of decline that began at almost exactly the same time as the publication of the DPS. Much of this literature was produced in connection with the accession of King James to the English throne, and the royal visits of 1617 and 1633.

For those interested in the cultural history of the Scottish Reformation, while many of the poets write in part or in whole on religious matters (Andrew Melville, Adam King), it was both surprising and perplexing that much of this religiosity was couched in Classicising terms. To give some very basic examples, God is frequently represented as Jupiter or Zeus, Satan as Pluto, and the Christian Hell as featuring the ‘pagan’ rivers Styx, Phlegethon and Lether, with no apparent discomfort or tension between the largely-Calvinist sensibilities of the authors and their knowledge of antiquity. Poets also wholly adopted models and tropes of Classical poems, even when this might seem to contravene the views of the kirk. Thomas Maitland, for example, wrote a series of love elegies and hendecasyllables modelled on Tibullus, Propertius and Catullus that feature adultery, cuckoldry, and strong obscene and phallic imagery. Maitland was likely Catholic, but other poets, such as the firmly Calvinist Hercules Rollock, also dabbled in obscene poetry. The project has thus uncovered a rich array of material showcasing these forms of Classical reception, and examination of how these are fused into Calvinist and Christian settings by the poets could be a major avenue for future research for any scholar who engages with the resource.

The nature of Scottish contributions to the development of nascent scientific disciplines – engineering, mathematics, astronomy, medicine – and the networks of men, particularly in Edinburgh, who perpetuated their study and advancement in a Scottish context was also examined by the project lead researcher in a series of articles in the project's edited collection of essays and in the Innes Review. The picture emerging from epistolary, manuscript and literary evidence pertaining to men like Adam King and the Craig family suggests that engagement with the early developments of what we would recognise as ‘modern’ empirical science was an underlying feature of Scottish intellectual life between the Reformation and Enlightenment. How far this culture reached, and to what extent it shaped the culture that emerged to span the globe in the Enlightenment, is an important question that remains unanswered. However, the editions of poems by men like King and Craig in the resource will provide a vital starting point for scholars to engage with this issue.

New Avenues and Further Directions

Although the project has mapped out the broad nature and extent of early modern Scottish Latin culture between 1480 and 1700, and produced a resource of every major poem relating to James VI and I up to and including 1603, many areas of this culture remain un-examined, and there is still much we do not know. The project resource itself contains the first serious attempts at critical and contextualised translations for each poem, but they now need a range of scholars, from undergraduates to full-time academics, to undertake systematic analysis and discussion of them. Beyond the resource, the PI's large-scale prosopographical analysis has identified a wealth of texts to be tackled that await translation, and it is a happy irony of the project that while we set out to find out about Latin culture in Jacobean Scotland, our collection produced very little in the way of texts post-1603. There is clearly scope for another major project looking at the Latin response in Scotland to the period after the Union of the Crowns. The full extent of Latin manuscript sources by Scots also remains to be mapped, even to a rudimentary degree. Further research into all these aspects of Scottish Latin culture is not only highly necessary, but has the potential to fundamentally alter our conception of the Scottish intellectual landscape in the seventeenth century.