Sunday, March 17, 2024

Fortnightly Book, March 17

 One of the most popular works of the Renaissance was Marco Girolamo Vida's Christiad. It was originally commissioned by Pope Leo X, whose support was continued by Pope Clement VII; Vida spent some years working on it, reading parts aloud to friends and friends of friends when they would stop by, so that a very large number of people in Renaissance Italy were looking forward to its completion. When it was published in 1535, it received resounding acclaim, and continued to do so for an entire generation and more. Vida was proclaimed the Christian Virgil. It did indeed hit the pool of the literary world like a large stone, on its own invigorating the Latin epic and influencing the entire course of Renaissance poetry, the ripples continuing well into the early modern period. Many had been trying to adapt revived Classical Latin to the interests of Renaissance humanism, but it is with Vida, more than anyone else, that this was widely seen to have been achieved. Proof of possibility in hand, other great, occasionally perhaps greater, poets were encouraged to try the epic themselves, the most famous, but neither the only nor the first, being John Milton, whose Paradise Lost shows many similarities to the Christiad.

Of Vida himself, we know remarkably little, and he would prefer it that way, often avoiding the public eye and refusing to provide information about his life to the curious. He was born in Cremona at some point in the 1480s as Marcantonio; he took the name Marco Girolamo when he joined the Canons Regular of St. John Lateran. He wrote a number of poems prior to Christiad that were very well received, and were the reason Pope Leo originally commissioned him, but as often happens, at the success of Christiad they stopped being merely well received and became must-reads for literati all over Europe; his poem De arte poetica, in particular, became a major text for the neoclassical movement.

I will be reading it in James Gardner's prose translation for the I Tatti Renaissance Library; it has the Latin and English facing, which will be useful. It's perhaps worth noting that, while I had it on my list eventually to do for the fortnightly book, I decided to do it now partly because it is Lent, but also partly because I recently came across Adam Roberts's Christiad blog, written in the Days of COVID, in which he worked out a draft of a verse translation, and provides commentary on various aspects of the passages translated; it made me even more interested to get into the text.