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Heraldry in Arcadia: the court eclogue of Johannes Opicius

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Abstract:

The article attempts to place the Dialogus of Johannes Opicius in its historical and literary setting. This is one of five poems by the same poet preserved in Cotton Vespasian MS B.iv, a presentation copy addressed to Henry VII, probably for Christmas 1497. Written to celebrate the victory of Henry VII over Perkin Warbeck, the Dialogus is the first known example of an English Neo-Latin eclogue. It combines influences from classical bucolic poetry with the heraldic symbolism popular in contemporary vernacular poetry. The structure of the poem imitates Virgil's First Eclogue. In the song sung by the first shepherd England appears as an allegorical garden, protected by Tudor heraldic cognizances. The song of the second shepherd consists of a general panegyric based on the traditional motif of the Golden Age and the return of Astraea, goddess of Justice. This part of the eclogue shows a marked influence from Virgil and Calpurnius Siculus. Opicius's choice of genre represents a conscious attempt to follow the new trends in literary Italian humanism. In the Dialogus he portrays Henry as a peaceful ruler, a topic for which the bucolic genre is particularly well suited. This is contrasted in the MS by the preceding epic poem, which concentrates on the warlike aspects of the king. Similarities between the Dialogus and an illumination in British Library Royal MS E.xi support the theory that Opicius is the author of the poems in the latter volume.

Document Type: Original Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1477-4658.00333

Publication date: June 1, 2000

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