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Cristoforo Landino’s Metrical Practice in Aeolics

Anne Mahoney

Tufts University

Cristoforo Landino (1424–1498), though best known as a philosopher and a scholar of Dante and Vergil, wrote several dozen Latin poems, published under the title Xandra.  Most of these poems are in elegiac couplets, but two are in phalacean hendecasyllables and four are in sapphic stanzas;  all of these are in the first of the three books.  Landino chooses the phalacean meter in imitation of Catullus, as is well known (Gaisser p. 216, Chatfield p. xviii), but his metrical practice is more like Martial’s;  in particular, only once does he start a line with short-long instead of long-long.

Sapphics are more associated with Horace than with Catullus, who used this form only twice.  Horace’s sapphics are more restricted than those of Catullus or of the Greek poets;  he always treats the fourth element as long, not anceps, and always has word break after the fifth syllable.  Catullus, on the other hand, occasionally has a short fourth syllable and regularly has words bridging the fifth and sixth (about 40% of the time).  Landino, like most later poets, follows Horace’s practice here as well.

Gaisser comments (p. 216) on the difficulty of writing hendecasyllables in the first generations of Catullan imitation.  Landino’s verse is technically correct (usually) but not especially Catullan, even though he refers to his “libellus” and compares it to the “Passer” (1.13;  compare Catullus 1, 2, 3).

I argue that Landino’s metrical choices can help illuminate how Renaissance poets learned to write in quantitative lyric meters.  At first, it seems, there is one set of rules:  this is how the form works, and when a poet like Catullus does something different, it’s a mistake.  Later, though, neo-Latin poets become aware that the rules for any given metrical form have changed, in particular between Republican Latin and Augustan — though they may decide that the Augustan conventions produce more attractive poetry.  Landino is near the beginning of this process, imitating Catullus (as well as Horace and especially Propertius), but with more attention to the earlier poets’ content than to their forms.

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Neo-Latin in a Global Context: Current Approaches

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