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Archive Highlights #4: Beza's Poemata Varia

by Sam Nyhus on 2021-04-14T09:33:00-07:00 in Church History, Literature | Comments

Most know Theodore Beza as Calvin's spiritual successor in Geneva. He was, in fact, that. But Beza was also a poet. So poetic was he, that collections of his poems have survived, one of which has fallen into the hands of Tyndale Library itself. This little book, titled Poemata Varia (Various Poems), is housed in the display case just outside the door to the Commons.

Published in 1614 by Jacob Stoer, this collection consists of ten main sections:

  • Sylvae (Forests)
  • Elegiae (Elegies)
  • Epitaphia (Epitaphs)
  • Epigrammata (Epigrams)
  • Icones (Icons - a series of epigrams written about prominent figures)
  • Emblemata (Emblems)
  • Cato Censorius Christianus (Cato, Christian Censor - a series of epigrams)
  • Ionah (Jonah - poetic paraphrase)
  • Abrahamus Sacrificans (Abraham Sacrificing [Isaac] - a poetic paraphrase)
  • Canticum Canticorum (Song of Songs - a poetic paraphrase)

A NOTE ON THE "SYLVAE"

Few are familiar with the sylva (also spelled silva) as a poetic form. Literary scholar Frans de Bruyn provides a helpful explanation:

"The silva is a 'collection' genre, a miscellaneous poetic form of classical origin which enjoyed a great vogue in the Renaissance and early eighteenth century. The best-known practitioner of the form in ancient times was the Roman poet Statius, who produced a collection of thirty-two occasional poems entitled Silvae. The Latin word silva literally means 'wood' or 'forest,' but its use as a literary term plays on several metaphorical meanings the word acquired over time, especially 'pieces of raw material' and 'material for construction.'" (1)

The reason it was called "raw material" goes back to the method in which these verses were composed; the verses of a silva were drafted rapidly in a burst of inspiration, to be revised and corrected later. (2)

THE EMBLEMS

The emblemata section contains a series of woodcut prints, under which Beza has written accompanying verses. A few of these intriguing entries are shown below:

A SAMPLE

Beza's epigrams make up about a third of this collection. The subject of one such epigram is the illustrious Pythagoras (p. 118, in the icones section):

Latin English
"Audent vitam alii suam loquendo, virtutem ipse meam probo tacendo" "Others risk their own lives by speaking; I myself prove my own virtue by remaining silent." (3)

Although Poemata Varia is not available for checkout, feel free to gaze at it wistfully through the glass. If you are a student and would like to access this or any other archived resource, talk to Head Librarian Caleb Harris.


1. Frans De Bruyn, "The Classical Silva and the Generic Development of Scientific Writing in Seventeenth-Century England," New Literary History 32, no. 2 (2001), 347.

2. Ibid., 359-60; Quintilian describes the silvae in this way. He was, apparently, not a fan of this method of composition.

3. My own translation. As I am not a reformational Latin scholar, feel free to dispute it in the comments.


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