Despite the fact that the Polish Latin elegist Klemens Janicki (1516-1543) was the first native Pole to attain the laurel crown for his Latin poetry and is considered the pinnacle of Polish achievement in Latin letters, the major studies, editions, and commentaries exist only in Polish (e. g. Ä†wikliÅ„ski, Mosdorf, and Krókowski), rendering this inspired and highly original Neo-Latin poet unknown to wider audiences. There is only one significant piece of scholarship on Janicki in English (Segel, whose interest is much more historical than philological), and the entirety of his work remains without an English translation.
One of the key pieces in Janicki’s literary oeuvre is his Tristium Liber (published 1542, Kraków), a book of ten highly subjective and personal elegies inspired by the Tristia and Epitulae ex Ponto of Ovid. While Mosdorf and Lewandowski have outlined general formal and stylistic similarities between the two, there has been no concerted attempt to elaborate the literary process by which his adaptation of Ovid functions. This paper presents a literary analysis of the first poem of Janicki’s Tristium Liber and its interaction with the first poem of Ovid’s Tristia. It will focus on how Janicki—who was never a political exile—assumes the Ovidian exilic persona and adapts it to his own ethical and political purposes. Janicki seeks to rehabilitate the Ovidian exilic voice, which is characterized by the rhetoric of silence and non-response (see Claassen), by reintroducing its ideas concerning literary cultivation (cultus) and amicitia into an ongoing discourse, thereby restoring it to efficacy in the moral and political spheres.
The two poems are both constructed as propemptika for their respective literary works, in which they advise and admonish their books as they venture out into the world. Upon analysis, their similar inspirations give way to divergent aims, as Janicki takes the trappings of Ovidian exile in a direction which fits their new humanist context. Janicki begins his poem with the verse I liber, I tandem, frustra obluctamur amicis (“Go my book, go at last, in vain do we resist our friends”). This is a programmatic indication that Janicki is performing a reversal: the exilic Ovid presents his poetic work as his only means of communication with deserted and deserting amici, and characterizes himself as the sole participant in a one-sided conversation, whereas Janicki establishes his poetry as the respondent’s side of a dialogue initiated by his circle of learned friends. Even the appearance of their personified works can be set at odds. As Ovid’s book is sent forth (Tr. 1.1.4-14), it is admonished to make sure it clothes itself in the dark and obscuring appearance which befits an exile. Janicki, however, sends his book (though also dressed in black—a sign of his assumption of the exilic mode) out of the darkness (tenebris progrediare tuis, v. 2) and makes it bright (in lucem, v.2). Such examples, of which these are but two, suggest that Janicki has a much more publicly engaged role in mind for Ovid’s exilic persona.