POETRY, HIBERNO-LATIN (Medieval Ireland)

Hiberno-Latin Poetry is one of the most extensive genres of Latin poetry to emerge from the West in the early Middle Ages. Some of it is of an incidental, spontaneous nature, but much of it is religious, devotional, or hagiographic. It can best be dealt with through its authors, since, unlike the bulk of Hiberno-Latin literature, much of it can be attributed (perhaps coincidentally) to named persons. The writing of Latin verse in Ireland extended into the late Middle Ages.

Columbanus is the earliest composer of Latin poetry from Ireland. The authorship of his works is controverted, especially a group of six metrical poems, which are disputed primarily because of their implications for a knowledge of Classical literature in the early Irish schools. The poems In mulieres and Monosticha are unlikely to be his, but the internal textual evidence of De mundi transitu clearly shows it to be the work of Columbanus. Some of the reasons recently adduced for eliminating the others or attributing them to Columbanus of St. Trond were subsequently refuted, but their authorship still remains in doubt.

Colman moccu Cluasaig (d. c. 665) was abbot and fer leigind of the monastery of Cork. His most important composition, Sen De don de for don te ("God’s blessing, bear us, succour us") was composed, according to the Liber Hymnorum, to avert the "Yellow Plague" of 664-665. It is one of the earliest pieces of macaronic verse in any western European vernacular, interspersing Latin phrases into an Irish adaptation of an early liturgical ordo for the dead. The list of Old Testament saints invoked, Abel, Elias, and so forth, betrays Eastern liturgical influence: nothing like it exists elsewhere in Western Europe at this early date.

Colman is an otherwise unknown ninth-century author of two well-constructed poems in Vergilian hexameters on (1) a miracle of Brigit and (2) a farewell salutation to a younger namesake of his, another Colman, on the eve of his return to Ireland (Colmano versus in Colmanum perheriles). One manuscript attribution names the author Colmanus "nepos Cracavist," a corruption of "ep(is)c(opu)s craxavit"—meaning. "Colmanus the bishop wrote (this)." The poem on St. Brigit (Quodam forte die caelo dum turbidus imber) relates a version of the story of her hanging her cloak on a sunbeam to dry, found also in a slightly variant version in Vita I of Brigit. It seems to have been written for someone who may have been composing a Life of Brigit. The second is an envoi to a younger compatriot returning home (Dum subito properas dulces invisere terras). It describes the dangers of the sea voyage ahead of his companion and the sorrow of their parting, and asks him to remember him, an old man. Both poems are full of classical reminiscences from Virgil and are good examples of Hiberno-Latin versecraft. There are some striking similarities between the poem to Colman and the Versus ad Sethum attributed to Columbanus of Bobbio. The names of both writers are almost identical, and therefore easily confused, so that it is certainly possible that the ninth-century Colman was the author of Ad Sethum, formerly attributed to Columbanus.

Donatus, bishop of Fiesole, is the author of an epic Latin poem in hexameters on St. Brigit, which drew on earlier lives of that saint by Ultan, Aileran, and Cogitosus (qqv), as well as one "Animosus." It has been suggested that it was dedicated to the famous Dungal of St. Denis/Pavia. The poem, of which over 2000 lines survive, is replete with classical references, which would indicate that his school had the facilities to teach classical poetry.

Sedulius Scottus, Irish scholar and poet at the court of Charles the Bald, was the most prolific and best Latin versifier of the mid-ninth century. He is perhaps best known for the 83 poems that he composed in a variety of Classical Latin meters for his patrons, friends, and colleagues, which rank him as the most skillful poet of his day. His poetry can still be appreciated for its inventive freshness, delicacy of sentiment and humor. Among the addressees are his patron, Hartgar of Liege, bishop Hilduin of Cologne, Eberhard of Friaul, and Hatto of Fulda.

"Hibernicus exul" is an anonymous late eighth- and early ninth-century Irish poet of the Carolingian Renaissance. His two main pieces are a panegyric on Charlemagne’s victory in 787 over Tassilo, duke of Bavaria. The second is a poem in two parts, of praise for and admonition to his students (Discite nunc, pueri). He also wrote a piece for the imperial coronation of Charlemagne in 800. The relative freshness of his verse typifies the literary revival, which took place under Charlemagne, though his poetic craft is not otherwise of remarkable quality. His total output of 38 poems survives in a unique manuscript, Vatican, Bibl. Apostolica, Reg. lat. 2078 (saec. ix in).

After the Anglo-Norman invasion, new schools of Hiberno-Latin poetry emerged. Michael of Kildare, a Franciscan friar, is author of some poems in British Library, Harleian MS 913, written in the early fourteenth century. The manuscript is of Irish origin and contains a collection of poems in Latin (31) and English (17), written in an Irish Franciscan milieu. The collection also contains what has been described as the first Christmas carol in English.

Some of the earliest known English songs written by Richard Ledrede, Bishop of Ossory (1317-1360), are preserved in the Red Book of Ossory, where there are sixty Latin verses. The verses were written in about 1324 "for the Vicars Choral of Kilkenny Cathedral, his priests, and clerics, to be sung on great festivals and other occasions." The sixty pieces are in honor of Our Lord, the Holy Ghost, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the first of them is entitled: Cantilena de Nativitate Domini, a sort of Christmas Carol, followed by three others "de eodem festo."

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