Jason Harris, Keith Sidwell, eds. Making Ireland Roman: Irish Neo-Latin Writers and the Republic of Letters. Cork: Cork University Press, 2009. vii + 246 pp. $66.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-85918-453-0.
Reviewed by Valerie McGowan-Doyle (LCCC/Kent State University)
Published on H-Albion (June, 2010)
Commissioned by Brendan Kane
This collection, emanating from the Centre for Neo-Latin Studies at University College Cork, is most welcome in bringing more of this group’s findings to a wider audience. Taking their title with reference to Nicholas Canny’s study, Making Ireland British 1580-1640 (2001), the editors have here gathered essays that demonstrate recourse to a competing source of authority and identity in Ireland’s early modern period: Romanitas. As Jason Harris and Keith Sidwell note in their introduction, Romanitas “carried a rich sense of endowment for both Protestant writers participating in the notion of British imperial Romanitas and Catholic writers engaging with the historical and spiritual universalism of the Roman Church” (p. 11). The sources explored by the collection’s contributors, however, reveal “ambivalence in the concept of Romanitas,” and therein resides the depth and wealth of the collection (p. 11). Spanning the period of intensified English domination over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the subjects of these essays trace the evolving and sometimes conflicting definition and employment of Romanitas, in both its Catholic and classical guises, by Gaelic and Old English writers alike as a counter to Rome as model for British colonialism.
In addition to the use of Latin and classical rhetoric, a number of other themes, such as collection practices, are carried through the essays, supplying a cohesiveness not always evident in essay collections. Several essays consider the same authors, notably Richard Stanihurst and Philip O’Sullivan Beare, providing even greater contextualization for the individuals, texts, and issues under consideration. While the collection should certainly be essential reading for historians and literary scholars of early modern Ireland, it will also be of considerable importance to scholars of early modern Europe more broadly. It offers novel studies and perspectives that affirm not only that Ireland was influenced substantially by such European developments as Renaissance humanism, but also that Ireland in turn has much to offer studies of this period. This is demonstrated admirably in the first two essays considered below.
Elizabethanne Boran considers Archbishop James Ussher’s collection activities as he participated in a “network of scholarship in the Republic of letters,” grounding him within European-wide practices and contacts that straddled confessional networks (p. 183). Boran works closely with Ussher’s correspondence to emphasize that attention to the relationships that developed between collectors is important in delineating the role that “religious fault lines” could also play as works were shared (p. 183). Diarmaid Ó Catháin’s essay provides an excellent complement to Boran’s, similarly considering collection activities and continental contacts and experience essential to the exchange of manuscripts, but here from the perspective of the Gaelic community. Muiris Ó Ficheallaigh is but one of the individuals Ó Catháin considers whose careers reflect extensive travel and increasingly influential positions. Ó Ficheallaigh, for instance, began as student at Oxford before attaining respect as a scholar in Padua and Venice, after which he returned to Ireland as archbishop of Tuam in 1506 (pp. 19-20). Ó Catháin’s essay is also welcome for its detailed consideration of the heretofore little studied but often-remarked upon library list for the 8th and 9th Earls of Kildare, rare as one of the very few extant library lists from this period in Ireland. The Kildare library rivaled many in its reflection of Renaissance texts, including Juvenal, Vergil, and Boccaccio, among others. Ó Catháin adroitly employs this information to emphasize that Renaissance tastes, as well as Florentine ancestry and contacts, were as important to Kildare identity as their powerful connections in the English and Gaelic worlds.
Another powerful Old English noble, Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond, serves as the focus of Sidwell and David Edwards’ essay on Dermot O’Meara’s 1615 poem Ormonius. Ormond’s age and failing health compounded the subsequent threat to his family’s traditional position as new policies came into play following Elizabeth’s death and the end of the Nine Years’ War. To “arrest the Butlers’ declining reputation and to help restore the family to its rightful glory as Ireland’s premier noble dynasty,” Ormond commissioned O’Meara’s composition of the Ormonius (p. 66). Writing in Latin, and applying classical references and models to Gaelic literary forms, O’Meara utilized the medium of published poetry to secure Ormond’s legacy.
The threatened status of the Old English community runs throughout several essays, encapsulated in the person of Stanihurst. Stanihurst exemplifies the declining position that confronted many of the Old English as well as the competing purposes to which classical learning could be put. Following his self-imposed exile from Ireland in 1581, Stanihurst spent time in the Low Countries before making his way to Spain in late 1591. His time at the University of Leiden brought him into contact with the Dutchman Justus Lipsius, one of Europe’s leading humanists. Colm Lennon’s essay explores their exchange of letters written in 1592 at a “critical juncture” in both men’s careers (p. 57). As Lennon demonstrates, the friendship that developed between them was fundamental to the professional and spiritual development of each. Stanihurst is also addressed in John Barry’s essay which offers a comparative reading of passages in two of Stanihurst’s works--his “Description of Ireland” (1577), incorporated into Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, and his later De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis (1584)--with both the text and images in John Derricke’s Image of Irelande (1581). Arguing that Stanihurst’s “Description” influenced Derricke’s Image and that Derricke’s Image in turn influenced Stanihurst’s De Rebus, Barry demonstrates an engagement between the authors that accounts specifically for the nature of episodes they chose to consider. Among many other examples, Barry notes that Stanihurst’s description of horseboys in De Rebus “reads almost like an explication of” the image of horseboys in the first plate that accompanied Derricke’s work, and suggests further that Stanihurst had The Image of Irelande in front of him as he wrote (p. 41). Stanihurst figures prominently yet again in an accomplished essay by Harris. Here Stanihurst represents the deployment of classical learning in the service of colonialism as countered by Stephen White, a seventeenth-century Old English Jesuit representative of an element within the Old English now labeled nua Gaedhil, or New Irish. Harris considers White’s Apologiae (the first composed ca. 1611-13, the second likely in the 1630s) in which White attacks both Stanihurst and Giraldus Cambrensis, staple sources for English denigrations of the Irish, with an eloquent and an exceptionally advanced display of classical learning and rhetoric.
White was not alone in deploying classical training to challenge the legitimacy of English colonial claims and behavior, as the essays by Gráinne McLaughlin, David Caulfield, and Hiram Morgan demonstrate. As McLaughlin notes in her essay, the Commentarius Rinuccinianus (composed 1661-66, published 1932-49) turned the table on the colonial rhetoric of cultural superiority. It was in fact the “civilized” who “speak Latin and Irish,” demonstrated by a close reading of invective verse from the Commentarius that drew on Vergil and Ovid among others (p. 155). O’Sullivan Beare similarly utilized classical learning to challenge English domination, notably in the Zoilomastix (composed ca. 1626) where, like White above, he refuted both Giraldus and Stanihurst.
Two of O’Sullivan’s other works, Tenebriomastix (composed ca. 1636) and the Compendium of the Catholic History (1621),are explored in essays by Caulfield and Morgan. The Tenebriomastix represents O’Sullivan’s contribution to the Scotic debate, in which Scottish writers asserted that Scotia referred to Scotland, not Ireland, thus “robbing” Ireland of its history (p. 111). As Caulfield shows, classical learning was fundamental to O’Sullivan’s restoration of Ireland’s “ownership of the past,” key to its identity and his defense of Gaelic Ireland’s cultural and religious traditions (p. 125). In a carefully constructed essay, Morgan builds on his extensive work on Hugh O’Neill and the Nine Years’ War as well as earlier work on the Compendium, to consider O’Sullivan’s presentation of the Tudor conquest of Ireland. Morgan stresses the importance of O’Sullivan’s decision to include the decision of the dons and divines of Salamanca and Valladolid on the legitimacy of O’Neill’s war against England. Their decision drew fundamentally on Spanish natural law theory, and its use by O’Sullivan, as Morgan details, underscored O’Sullivan’s principal concerns: “English Protestant tyranny, Irish divisions and Irish reliance on Spain” (p. 88).
This collection will prove most useful to scholars and graduate students, though advanced undergraduate students will find it a beneficial complement to survey studies. Historical background on early modern Ireland is presented in the introduction, and translations are provided for all primary source excerpts in Latin and Irish.
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Valerie McGowan-Doyle. Review of Harris, Jason; Sidwell, Keith, eds., Making Ireland Roman: Irish Neo-Latin Writers and the Republic of Letters.
H-Albion, H-Net Reviews.
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