Baroque was not a term used at the time we now think of as the Baroque era, but it is the classic term for that which is not classic, referring to ancient Rome. This insightful book, edited by three experts, is an interdisciplinary examination of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Petrus Ramus wrote in 1557 “What is taught through grammatical precepts should not be mingled with the principles of rhetoric; what is set forth in rhetoric should not be touched upon by logic; in brief, the ends and the teachings of all the arts ought to be kept separate, although joined in use.”

The implications for the Baroque were dramatic, as “he legitimised the notion of a form of style for style’s sake and helped curtail an elite aesthetic culture in which formal perfection could no longer serve as a veil for behavioural lapse. In many ways he opened up the field of oratory to the masses.” The teachings of Ramus held sway in large parts of Europe for centuries.   

In a study of a novel from 1644, Valerie Boutrois-Wampfler (University of Reims Champagne Ardenne) tells us that the expression Baroque novel is “Used to describe a large proportion of European novels written in the first half of the 17th century.” Such novels are characterized by “an aesthetic of exuberance, of the wondrous, and of virtuosity, based on the model of the ancient novel.” For those whose only experience of the Baroque is in art, one can see at once that both art and the novel exhibit an aesthetic of exuberance.

I found her discussion of the classical origins of the 17th century novel to be most illuminating. “Two ancient models contributed in equal measure,” she tells us: the Aethiopica of Heliodorus (roughly 300 CE) for its structural sophistication, and Apuleius’ Metamorphosis (about 150 CE) that encouraged an allegorical reading. The fashion for the allegorical novel was, the author writes, “paradigmatic of Baroque taste for artfulness, ambiguity and instability of meaning.”

On poetry, the study by Beate Hintzen (Univ. of Bonn) is superb. She looks at the Latin poetry of Paul Fleming, who was crowned the Imperial poet in 1632. “One of the Baroque characteristics par excellence is the phrasing and resolving of contradictions through the oxymoron, which is considered to be the most polished form of perceptive formulation. Such formulation can be found in Fleming’s description of the contrast between appropriate splendour and actual poverty” in the phrase he uses: poverty in abundance. “The oxymoron thus bridges the Baroque world view and a fundamental Baroque stylistic ideal.” Fleming employed this in his 1631 Christmas poem Natalium, whose fame propelled him to the august title just mentioned in the Holy Roman Empire.

By tracing the scholars Fleming knew, Hintzen has been able to trace where Fleming got his vocabulary from. The so-called classical framework had at its centre Cicero, with two or three others as well. But Fleming drew on Plautus, Terence, Livy, Petronius and Statius. One of Fleming’s likely associates, Caspar von Barth, wrote a gigantic compendium of Greek and Latin texts from antiquity to the late Middle Ages. He additionally opposed the “slavish imitation of Cicero,” which for centuries had been the touchstone for nearly all writing. Most authors would use only words that had been written Cicero; Fleming was able to shake off this straitjacket and produce poetry that epitomized the Baroque (he wrote poems in both German and Latin). The words he used were so novel that the printed text of Natalium’s 660 verses is accompanied by a glossary of 11 words which would have been unknown to those tied to Cicero. Fleming’s “lexical breadth” allowed him to reach the “limits of epic genre.” He even caricatured the Ciceronians, in his only satire. Instead of just playing Christmas music in December, the recital of Fleming’s Natalium would be worthy. It begins:

                You would have been worthy of a cradle shining with pure gold and gleaming

                emeralds and sparkling gold bronze, worked on all sides by the chisel of

                Polykleitos. Instead, your cradle is a manger, and a donkey’s manger at that.

Fleming was surely influenced by a work on poetics written in the previous century by Julius Caesar Scaliger (quite a name!). His Poetices “provides unique insight into the productive interplay between Latin and Greek sources that shaped Baroque styles, influencing the most innovative works of early modern literary theory.” This chapter, by Javiera Lorenzini Raty (who completed her PhD at King’s College, London), is based on the work of Hermogenes of Tarsus (c 160 CE). His “theory of style is arguably the most influential Greek source of the early modern experimental styles that have been called Baroque.” Raty calls attention to several Latin editions based on the work of Hermogenes, writing that “they became key sources for theorization on Baroque styles both in the Catholic and Protestant world.” Despite this, they are not well known or fully understood because of “the lack of modern translations. This problem of textual transmission and linguistic access is especially evident when examining recent scholarship on what is one of the most compelling qualities of the Baroque style: literary ingenuity.”

This quality of “wondrous expression” was picked up in the 20th century by T.S. Eliot, who particularly was influenced by a reading of John Donne’s metaphysical poetics. Raty highlights a significant problem with scholarship subsequent to that of Eliot. Recent studies, she states, have focused on 17th century vernacular textbooks, not the earlier Greek sources. As a result, it gives the “appearance the remarkable rise of ingenuity as a rhetorical doctrine appeared (practically) out of nothing.” Raty points to 16th-century commentaries instead, especially the work 1561 Poetices by Scaliger.

In conclusion, I will briefly note that music is also covered in the book, in a chapter by Eric Bianchi (Fordham Univ.). Even in the 17th century, the degradation of the pure Latin language was a source of despair (now, in the 21st century, only a very few people remain who have a full mastery of Latin).   In a book of 1647, Giovanni Doni (a musical antiquarian) lamented that “Nowadays many Latin compositions (especially sacred ones) are heard that observe all the rules of music. I recognize the Latin words in them, but the pronunciation is in no way true, genuine and ancient. It is something else entirely: corrupt, broke, vile, barbarous and entirely degenerated from its pristine majesty.” He explores the deeper link between poetry, mathematics and music (under the heading of Harmonique) through a study of the frontispiece for a 1677 book. Alas, this frontispiece (which can be seen on the internet, and is given here) is not shown, which hampers anyone trying to appreciate the argument. Remarkably, the book has only one illustration!

Aside from that, I have nothing but praise for this extremely fine collection of studies on various aspects of the Baroque. It is a book that fills a major gap in the literature, and has been indispensable in my own writing on early 17th century poetry, which will be included in a book on the Comets of 1618, to be published this year by Springer.

Editor biographies

Jacqueline Glomski is Honorary Senior Research Fellow at University College London (UCL), Vice-President of the Society for Neo-Latin Studies (SNLS), and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She has co-edited the collected volumes Acta He  Neo-Latini Monasteriensis: Proceedings of the Fifteenth International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies (2015), Seventeenth-Century Fiction: Text and Transmission (2016), and Seventeenth-Century Libraries: Problems and Perspectives (forthcoming).

Gesine Manuwald is Professor of Latin at University College London, UK, and President of the Society for Neo-Latin Studies (SNLS). She has published a number of articles on early modern Latin literature and edited the collected volume Neo-Latin Poetry in the British Isles (2012) with Luke Houghton.

Andrew Taylor is Senior Lecturer, Fellow and Director of Studies in English at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, UK. He has published widely on Renaissance literature and has edited Neo-Latin and the Pastoral (2006) and The Early Modern Cultures of Neo-Latin Drama (2013), both with Philip Ford, and Neo-Latin and Translation in the Renaissance (2014).

Baroque Latinity: Studies in the Neo-Latin Literature of the European Baroque is by Bloomsbury. It lists for $108.

Illustration: a portion of the frontispiece of L’art et la science des nombres by Rene Ouvrard. This is discussed in the chapter by Bianchi.

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.