Monday, July 26, 2010

THE BATTLE OF LEPANTO

On 7 October 1571, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth, the forces of a ‘Holy League’ sponsored by Pope Pius V defeated those of the Ottoman Sultan Selim II. The battle involved more than 200 galleys on each side: it was both the last great naval engagement of that type and the last European military venture that could be characterized as a crusade.

In an era when the Turkish threat was keenly felt, the victory occasioned unbounded jubilation: at Lepanto, the seemingly inexorable Ottoman advance had at last been checked. The commander of the papal fleet was Marcantonio Colonna, a scion of one of Rome’s great baronial families. Colonna returned to Rome to be fêted on 4 December with a magnificent triumphal procession that entered the City on the Via Appia and terminated at the Vatican. A few days later, he dedicated the captured Ottoman standards in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitoline Hill. The proceedings are commemorated in a monumental inscription on the inside wall above the portal (Latin Inscriptions of Rome, 1.8B):

IESV CHRISTO HVMANÆ SALVTIS AVCTORI
QVOD PIVS V PONT MAX ANIMI CELSITVDINE
CVM PHILIPPO II HISPANIAR REGE S Q VENETO
FOEDERE INITO SELYMVM TVRCARVM TYRANNVM
AD ECHINADES INSVLAS NAVALI PRÆLIO POST
HOMINVM MEMORIAM MAXIMO DEVICERIT
S P Q R
M ANTONIO COLVMNA PONTIFICIÆ CLASSIS PRAEF
REDVCE OVANTEQVE OMNIVM ORDINVM
GRATVLATIONE RECEPTO ÆDEM HANC AVREO
LAQVEARE VEXILLISQVE HOSTIVM EXORNAVIT
ANNO SAL M D LXXXVI

In the year of Salvation 1586, upon the safe return
of Marcantonio Colonna, captain of the papal fleet,
and his reception with the exultant thanksgiving of all orders,
the Senate and People of Rome embellished this church
with gilt coffering and with the enemy’s ensigns for Jesus Christ,
author of mankind’s Salvation,
because Pius the Fifth, Supreme Pontiff,
in loftiness of spirit, having entered into an alliance
with Philip the Second, King of the Spains
and with the Senate of Venice,
in the greatest naval engagement in human memory
defeated Selim, tyrant of the Turks, at the Echinades Isles.

If Colonna’s victory procession resurrected the pomp of a Roman triumph, his commemorative inscription exhales the full majesty of imperial dedicatory inscriptions. In order to illustrate the skill with which ancient prototypes are here adapted, it is convenient to furnish an item of comparison. A suitable candidate is housed in Palazzo dei Conservatori, just across Piazza del Campidoglio from Aracoeli:

TI CLAV[dio drusi f cai]SARI
AVGV[sto germani]CO
PONTIFIC[i maxim trib potes]TAT XI
COS V IM[p xxii cens patri pa]TRIAI
SENATVS PO[pulusque] RO[manus q]VOD
REGES BRIT[annorum] XI D[iebus paucis sine]
VLLA IACTVR[a deuicerit et regna eorum]
GENTESQVE B[arbaras trans oceanum sitas]
PRIMVS IN DICI[onem populi romani redegerit]

The Senate and People of Rome to Tiberius Claudius Caesar
Augustus Germanicus, son of Drusus, Supreme Pontiff,
vested with the Tribunician power for the eleventh time,
Consul for the fifth, acclaimed Imperator for the twenty-second,
Censor, Father of his Country, because with no losses
he defeated eleven kings of the Britons,
and first subjected their kingdoms
and the barbarian nations domiciled across the ocean
to the sovereignty of the Roman people.

The dedication commemorates the invasion of Britain undertaken by Claudius in AD 43, on the successful conclusion of which the emperor was voted a triumph (the portions of the text enclosed in brackets have been reconstructed by conjecture). Reduced to its essentials, it consists of a subject (‘the Senate and People of Rome’, line 5), an indirect object (‘to Claudius’, lines 1–4) and a causal clause (‘for having conquered Britain’, lines 5–9). In dedications of this type, the verb and the direct object (‘authorized this monument’) are implied as a matter of course. Because Latin permits a good deal of flexibility in the construction of sentences, the emperor’s name and titles are able to stand first: ‘To Claudius / the Senate and People of Rome / for having conquered Britain’. A special nuance of Latin syntax is the use of the subjunctive mood to assign a motive. Here, the verbs devicerit (‘defeated’) and redegerit (‘subjected’) might as well have been put in the indicative mood (devicit, redegit) without materially changing the sense. The indicative would simply assert that the Senate and People granted the monument because Claudius had, as a matter of fact, conquered Britain. The subjunctive tells us not only that the conquest took place, but that this was the Senate’s and People’s motive for the honor conferred.

Within the limits imposed by the very different political and religious circumstances, the Aracoeli dedication hews assiduously to the classical pattern. The three basic elements are present: the subject (the Senate and People of Rome); the indirect object (Jesus Christ); and the causal clause with its subjunctive verb (‘because Pope Pius V defeated the Turks’). Already, however, an important structural difference is apparent: whereas the ancient inscription has a protagonist and a deuteragonist – the emperor and the S P Q R – the modern one has a protagonist (Jesus Christ), a deuteragonist (the S P Q R) and a tritagonist (Pope Pius V), as well as a supporting cast that includes Philip II of Spain, the Venetian Senate, the Ottoman sultan Selim II and Marcantonio Colonna. Jesus Christ, the recipient of the dedication, naturally takes pride of place. On the ancient pattern, the S P Q R should immediately follow, while the pope – who in the logic of the matter forms the subject of the causal clause – should appear last. That is not, however, the order adopted. The wish to reflect a hierarchy in which Christ and his Vicar on earth stand above the temporal authorities has resulted in the demotion of the S P Q R to third place. By adopting an order of presentation that is less rhetorical than logical, the English translation aims at achieving a more transparent exposition of the contents. The Aracoeli inscription departs from its prototype in another respect: it features a verb and direct object – elements, as we have seen, that were routinely left implicit in imperial dedications. The kernel of the predicate is ÆDEM HANC … EXORNAVIT (‘embellished this church’).

Innovations notwithstanding, the language and epigraphical conventions evince a thorough commitment to classical precedent. There is only one outright error: the word proelio (‘in battle’) is spelled prælio; in post-classical Latin, the diphthongs OE and AE fell together in pronunciation and are routinely confused in spelling. Suspensions are few and correct: PONT(ifex) MAX(imus), HISPANIAR(um), S(enatu) Q(ue), S(enatus) P(opulus) Q(ue) R(omanus), PRAEF(ecto), SAL(utis). In default of imperial titulature, Christ is elegantly styled ‘author of mankind’s salvation’. Philip II is king of the ‘Spains’ – that is (as one might imagine) the kingdoms of Aragón, Castile and Léon, united under his crown. In fact, the choice of the plural is more likely due to the fact that the Iberian provinces of ancient Rome comprised a trio – Lusitania, Baetica and Tarraconensis: the designation ‘Spains’ had a pleasingly antique resonance. As for the Venetian ‘Senate’, that is the classicizing name by which the Consiglio dei Pregadi or Consiglio dei Rogadi came to be known during the Renaissance. In a particularly felicitous appropriation of ancient terminology, Selim II, the Ottoman sultan, is stigmatized as a ‘tyrant’ – the mot juste for an oriental despot. The site of the battle is identified by the ancient toponym Echinades – the Greek name of the archipelago at which the conflict took place. The battle itself is characterized as the greatest post hominum memoriam (‘in human memory’), a favorite phrase of Cicero’s. The church is not a medieval ecclesia but a classical aedes (‘shrine’). The text is not only a marvel of creative adaptation but a miniature masterpiece of rhetoric in its own right.

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