Brian Jones and Tudor Ovid

Note:  this is a section of an essay that had to be cut to make word length for an edited collection. My paper concerns the first English translation of Ovid’s semi-satirical love treatise, the Ars amatoria, The flores of Ovide de arte amandi with theyr englysshe afore them: and two alphabete tablys. The fyrst begynneth with the englysshe hauyng the laten wordes folowynge. the other with the laten hauyng ye englysshe wordes folowynge (London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1513).

Some things cannot be ameliorated, nor should they be, and find their best expression in musical form. Music is feeling, then, not sound, as a spectacular Wallace Stevens poetical effusion goes, featuring Peter Quince in its title. To this end, the Rolling Stones’s “Street Fighting Man” became an unofficial anthem of worldwide student movements and unrest in the momentous year it was released, 1968: the Prague Spring, Paris Left Bank protests, the riots surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

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Brian Jones, 1967, Hyde Park, for the Between the Buttons album cover shoot

The track, acoustic except for an electric bass, consists largely of a duel-duet between Mick Jagger’s vocals and Keith Richards’s staccato C, F, and G-chorded guitar. Already stirring, the song’s conclusion rises to magnificence as the main theme recedes in favor of more exotic sounds, the sitar and shehnai supporting the otherworldly siren-like drone of Brian Jones’s tamboura, with the arpeggios of Nicky Hopkins’s piano weaving around them.

Imagine for a moment this twenty seconds of innovative sublimity fueled by ancient Indian instruments resonating back across the centuries, recalling melodies that pupils and masters must have heard echoing in winding streets and stone hallways as they parsed their Latin with Wynkyn’s textbook. In an oddly similar fashion, the crumhorn, bagpipe, shawm, and rebec might have twined themselves into an anthem of sorts as a group encountered subversive Ovidian adages in the Flores. Perhaps they were aware of another Wynkyn publication, Here bygynneth a lytell geste of Robyn hode (c. 1506). robinThis set of ballads, which probably had musical accompaniment, championed the well-known folk hero who in his pursuit of social justice and personal profit robbed the moneyed, subsidized the underprivileged, and battled the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham, mocking him as his captive: “I shal the teche proud sheryfe / An out lawe for to be.” Recent scholarship has demonstrated Robin’s importance as a figure used to comment on religious reform, taxes, corruption, and other dangerous topics. [1] For as we have seen, the second decade of the sixteenth century was a time of great unrest, as well, not dissimilar to the late twentieth. To paraphrase Stevens again, in 1968, the ancient aspect was touching new minds. 

Without question, student unruliness would have been nothing new to the Flores editor and his target audience of pedagogues. It has, in fact, remained notoriously constant, on as continuous a note as the droning crumhorn and tamboura. The cinematic analogue to “Street Fighting Man,” Lindsay Anderson’s if .  .  . (1968), in its depiction of a violent uprising at a British boarding school, demonstrated considerable anxiety about such occurrences. Its influential predecessor, Richard Brooks’s The Blackboard Jungle (1955), presented a darker vision in its hero’s struggle with his violent and psychopathic charges, the dystopian plot complemented by expressionistic black and white photography and its frenzied soundtrack that introduced rock and roll to an international audience, including the young Stones.

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Glenn Ford gives Vic Morrow merely half the beating he deserves, Blackboard Jungle

Thomas’s remarkable pamphlet, Rule and Misrule in the Schools of Early Modern England (1976), documents three centuries of similar struggles, disorder, and resistance by students and the prehistoric administrative classes.  For instance, in 1595, the High School of Edinburgh endured a lethal “barring-out” prank that led to actual battles between students and townspeople armed with swords, pistols, and farm tools after the youngsters had accidentally killed a town bailiff intent on breaking up the fray. Gerald Graff’s “institutional history,” Professing Literature (1988), details student resistance to the rote-reading, discussion-free authoritarian methods of Hiram Corson (1828-1911) at Cornell that included shoe-throwing and reading newspapers in class while the professor lectured on Chaucer and modes of literary criticism. Riots and disorder were standard occurrences at American universities throughout the nineteenth century.[2]

The radical unconventionality of the Flores, its implicit critique of pious platitudinousness regarding manhood and manliness and its subversive source material implies another purpose, perhaps, besides that of an elementary language primer. Maybe it was meant to address students in a somewhat radical way, as future intellectual peers. Perhaps its compiler or sponsor intended its wordliness and familiarity as a means of cultivating intimacy and collegiality, a preventative against adolescent alienation, restlessness, and disenfranchisement, all conducive to becoming fighters in the streets or stealing from the unjustly wealthy.

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Title page to the Flores

Some of the Ovidian adagia included do not seem to have any other purpose, since they could not easily be disguised or altered to be anything else than what they were, and clearly, the editor had no desire to do so. They advise in the full-throated voice of the magister Amoris that the successful seduction of women depends on dissimulation and other types of politic, crafty, “suttyl” behaviors. Ultimately, why the editor chose to include these in the Flores is mysterious and likely to remain so, though if its morally ambiguous material impressed the boys or garnered their respect and cooperation by speaking to them as adults, the unadulterated Ovidian passages could only have enhanced this strategy.

One could hardly imagine a twenty-first century father counseling his fourteen-year-old son to avoid drunkenness when trying to encourage his female middle school classmates to go to bed with him. But the Flores does precisely this, since it offers no easy tranference to a less worldly context to say that the overconsumption of alcohol interferes with seductive eloquence: “Ebrietas vt vera nocet: sic ficta iuuabit. / Fac: titubet bl[a]esso sub dola lingua sono” (AA 1.597-98). It would be no more wholesome to recommend pretended inebriation to aid in the cause: “Like as very dronkynnes indede hurtith: euyn so feynede dronkennes shall helpe, or p[ro]fet otherwhyle therefore cause that thy suttyl deceytfull tunge that is to sey, that thy tunge whan thu gost about suttiltes: may stu[m]bil with a bussynge sonde” (FL 22).

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erotic art from Pompeii

The assumption couched in the second person that the young seeker of feminine pulchritude is already possessed of a “suttyl deceytfull tunge” could hardly be moralized or rationalized away, either. And “suttilties,” like “suttyl,” possessed a much stronger, negative meaning in the early sixteenth century: “Craftiness, cunning, esp. of a treacherous or underhand nature; slyness, guile” (OED subtlety n. 3.b). Drinking and wenching are presented as themselves, without adulteration.

Indeed, an adult in any time period, in this case the “suttyl” man, already knows that some form of ars governs love, as the magister Amoris teaches.  Yet the sixteenth-century adolescent novice clearly did not possess this knowledge any more than his counterparts five hundred years later, regardless of the availability of instructive cable television programming. An early modern youth might have encountered more conventional wisdom, such as that proffered by, once again, Erasmus:

Ex aspectu nascitur amor.  Of syght is loue gendred.  Noma[n] loueth ye thynge he knoweth not, of companyenge and resortynge together spryngeth mutuall loue. And namelye the eyes be lures & baytes of loue. Wherfore yf thou woll not loue the thynge ye is vnlawfull for the to loue, absteyne from beholdynge.  He that beholdeth a woman (sayth Christ) wyth a lust vnto her, hath alredye played an aduowterers parte wt her in hys harte. (AD fol. xjv)

Oddly, the eyes as “lures & baytes of loue” squares with the view of the matter in the Ars, though the moralized caveat against sight-engendered lust does not. This is why the Flores editor’s first choice of Ovidian locus in the Flores must have struck its users entirely unconventional, a direct contradiction of standard pieties: “Arte citt[a]e, veloque rates, remoque reguntur / Arte leuis currus: arte regendus amor” (AA 1.3-4). In paraphrased form, the first thing that the editor thought his readers should learn about loving was that guile should be employed: “Swifte shippis be gouerned be craft / & with seale and oure & a light swyfte chace is gouerned by crafte: and lyke wyse loue most be gouerned by crafte” (FL 1).

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erotica from Pompeii

The key term, interchangeable with “art,” posseses negative overtones in its early sixteenth-century usage: “In a bad sense: Skill or art applied to deceive or overreach; decit, guile, fraud, cunning. . . . An application of deceit; a trick, fraud, artifice” (OED craft n.4.a-b). What sort of lesson is this for young men who know nothing about love or women? Or, for that matter, who was meant to benefit from a similar observation in the middle of the text regarding flattery? “Blanditiis animum furtim deprendere fas est: / Vt pendens liquida ripa subibit aqua” (AA 1.619-20); “It is lauful to gete a bodyis mynde priuely by flatteryngis: so to faul in fauer with hym. as the hangyng bancke shal com vnder the clere watyr: what hit hath preueyly fretyn awey the erthe vndernethe” (FL 26). In the event that the message of this couplet and translation was unclear or, conversely, seemed blatantly cynical, there is hope: “S[a]epe tepens vere c[o]epit simulator amare. / S[a]epeque quod incipiens finxerat esse fuit” (AA 1.615-16); “A feyner of loue slacke at the begynnyng hath oftyntymis in conclusio[n] fal an honde to loue ernestly: & hath byn oftymys a mater indede afterwarde that he hath feynid hymselfe to be: whan he beganne” (FL 25). So: the subtle lover, one who understands that flattery and craftiness are his allies in seducing women, might discover in the midst of his chicanery that he can love after all, and sincerely. How reassuring this must have been to the man aware of his own corruption. But what would London schoolboys have known about the perplexing complexities of feigned love to begin with?

Enterline argued that the concept of imitation as presented in the humanist schoolroom, with its constant stress on learning to copy the styles of great writers and then make them one’s own, must have taught a type of deceit, that one should not be oneself, which might have bred cynicism.[3] This theory, ingenious and entirely conducive to Ovidian chicanery, predicts an outcome for this pedagogical convention wildly divergent from its early modern intent, however familiar it might seem to us. Still, the Flores editor, as if to anticipate such an example of the amorphousness of literary identity half a millenium earlier, includes material in his schoolbook designed to stymie dishonesty, in contradiction to other passages that recommend craft in love.

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Ovid from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Simply put, the master of love frequently discredits himself as an authority, albeit implicitly and ironically, in a strange conjunction with the standard Erasmian counsel: “Veritas simplex oratio.  Trouthes tale is simple, he that meaneth good fayth, goeth not aboute to glose hys communicatio[n] wyth painted wordes” (AD fol. xiiijv). Though a reader’s awareness of the narrator’s studied inconsistency in the entirety of the Ars aids in its analysis, a peruser of the Flores unfamiliar with Ovid’s poem as a whole might wonder why the compiler included these self-conscious passages. It might be expected after reading the first four hundred lines of the poem that the narrator might defend himself in some way: “Non ego per pr[a]eceps: & acuta cacumina vadam / Nec iuuenu[m] quisquam. me duce captus erit” (AA 1.381-82). In short, he does not give faulty advice or proceed by erecting needless difficulties to strew in his path: “I wol not goo cu[m]mberly by en hedlyng passage & sharpe rought hilly clyfis. neryet any body of yong folke shal be bygylid whyle I am is gyde” (FL 10). He claims to be entirely reliable and credible. But why would a speaker so endowed feel the need to say so? His actions and words would have already established his reliability and credibility. And what bit of wisdom, besides an implicit message to tell truth and shame the devil, could the Flores editor meant to have transmitted by choosing the lines for translation? The self-sabotaging tendency becomes stronger in the third book of the poem, and more pronounced in the bilingual text: “Ducere consuescat multas manus vna figuras. / Ah pereant per quos ista monenda mihi” (AA 3.493-94). Namely, though a person might need to imitate different types of handwriting to protect him or herself, it is unfortunate that someone would need such advice, and from someone such as himself. “Let oon man hand vse to draw mony maner figur[e]; ah I prey god: they come to euyl prese: by whome these wordis shuld be exortid & seyd of me” (FL 77). Though Ovid’s original point is aimed at women attempting to protect their reputations against the perfidity of their blackmailing handmaids, treacherous trulls all, the transference here makes no difference, its subtlety senseless in the context of the schoolbook, and again openly undermines the speaker as an authority.

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Ars amatoria ms. from the Bodleian Library, Oxford, with Latin and Old Welsh glosses

This becomes even more pronounced toward the end of the Ars and the Flores: “Quo feror insanus? quid ap[er]to pectore in hoste[m]. / Mittor, & indicio prodor ab ipse meo” (AA 3.667-68); “whyther am I brought madde man that I am. why am I fynde be myn own madnes ayenst myn emny with my brest opyn vnharnest: & am be trade myselfe through myn own shewynge: p[re]sentynge myself folyshly” (FL 83). The master speaks ironically to the women he has been addressing in the third book of the Ars that someone like him usually does not reveal his technique, though he presents himself rather than them as prey.  And if the students using the Flores were keeping track of its many assertions, why would these disavowals of reliability not destabilize Ovid’s authority, however fragmented? Instead, perhaps, they somehow undermined the idea that deceit was as inevitable or as necessary as Enterline supposes, that it was acceptable “to be trade myselfe through myn own shewing,” and “folyshly,” at that.

The daring and editorial artistry of the Flores editor can hardly be disputed, no matter what his purpose: language training, social subversion, gentlemanly advice, or preparation for a cruel and predatory world. Amidst such morally ambiguous Ovidian material, some of it surprisingly undiluted, he might have been tempted to include an aphorism from the accompanying poem to the Ars, the Remedia Amoris.  Sometimes described as its fourth book, this comic prescription of cures for love was a medieval medical text. Erasmus alludes to it in the Adages: “Satius est initijs mederi, q[ui] fini.  Better it is to remedy the begynnynges then the endes. Stoppe a disease (sayeth the poete Ouide) whyle it is in the commynge” (fol. ixv).

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Wynkyn’s colophon for the Flores

Arguably, this is what the Flores was meant to do: “Principiis obsta; sero medicina paratur, / cum mala per longas convaluere moras” (RA 91-92) [Resist beginnings; too late is the medicine prepared, when the disease has gained strength by long delay]. Here the praeceptor means to contradict his earlier advice in the Ars by recommending that the lover would be better off by avoiding love altogether. Erasmus sensibly implies that a young man can avoid disagreeable results by knowing their causes, and understanding how he might avoid contributing to them. Above all, one should not hurry. Festina lente, as Aldus’s emblem of the dolphin and anchor symbolized.  The Flores editor knew this well, which he showed in what was probably the most pungent bit of Ovid’s love treatise he included: “Crede michi: Veneris non est [pro]peranda voluptas / Sed sensim tarda perficienda mora” (AA 2.717-18). In the translation, he added a pilcrow for extra emphasis:  “¶ Beleue me verily: the bodily plesure of the wanton fleshe is not to be made hast fore. but it shulde be performyde with a slowe let tariynge by litil & litil: what nature felith his tyme in a maner constrayng thereto” (FL 59). Why should this have been included? Again, Erasmus provides the best answer imaginable, one that should guide anyone teaching the young, no matter what the subject: “Candidæ musarum ianuæ.  The doores of the muses be without enuye, that is to saye, learned persons ought frely, gentylly and wythout enuye admytte other vnto them that desyre to be taught or informed of them” (AD fol. xijv).

[1] See the edited collection Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. Stephen Knight (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); and Sean Field, “Devotion, Discontent, and the Henrican Reformation: The Evidence of the Robin Hood Stories,” Journal of British Studies 41 (2002): 6-22. For the quotation, see Here bygynneth a lytell geste of Robyn hode (London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1506?), Ciiv.

[2] See William Steven, The History of the High School of Edinburgh (Edinburgh: Maclachan and Stewart, 1849), 22-27; 47-50; and Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Twentieth Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 48-49.

[3] Lynn Enterline, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 7-8.

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