“The immense shade of its mother”Posted: June 22, 2012 | |
The title page of the Crooke book includes the following passage, in Latin:
—————————Etiam Parnassia Laurus
Parua, subingentimatris se subijcit umbra.
Because I am totally Latin-illiterate (a problem, I know; see “In the beginning“), until I learn the language I am forced to rely on the translations of others. Although elsewhere in the book where Crooke quotes passages in Latin he will frequently provide an English translation, he has not done so here. The lines are from Virgil’s Georgics, specifically lines 18-19 of Book II. My copy is the Oxford World’s Classics edition, translated by C. Day Lewis (Oxford UP, 2009). According to Lewis, the lines read:
[. . .] the Parnassian bay-tree also,
When tiny, shelters beneath the immense shade of its mother.
Obviously, Crooke is not the only person quoting Virgil in the 17th century, and I look forward to reading more about the role of Virgil’s writings in seventeenth-century print culture. But aside from the obvious appeal of including a quote from a popular source, Crooke is saying something about his own text through the image conveyed by the precise lines he chooses to include.
Crooke pays homage to the debt he owes his sources through the metaphor of the bay laurel trees. Laurus nobilis reproduces by way of flowers and berries; the seeds can be dispersed when the latter are eaten by birds or, logically, when the berries simply fall from the tree to the ground below, so the image of the sapling in the shadow of the “parent” tree is not unrealistic. Native to the Mediterranean, the trees’ location on the slopes of Mount Parnassus is also literally believable, although the mountain’s association with literature undoubtedly plays a role in its inclusion as well, for both Virgil and Crooke. There is certainly something humorously ironic about the depiction of Mikrokosmographia as a “tiny” tree when the volume weighs in at over 1,000 folio-sized pages, but the correlation of the amount of knowledge conveyed in his book to the much larger volume of existing human knowledge about his subject may have been accurate in Crooke’s eyes. The relationship between the book as a physical object and any tree seems almost cliché, even if laurels in particular aren’t used in paper-making. The classical associations the laurel does have are also obviously desirable to Crooke’s aims. The bay laurel’s common use in cooking may initially seem a more awkward aspect of the comparison, but Crooke himself will offer up his text as a “Banquet” he has “Cooked” for his audience within the first few lines of his “Praeface to the Chyrurgeons.”
But the parental relationship established by the use of Virgil’s metaphor is particularly important. In my mind there is little doubt that Crooke was apprehensive about the reception of his work, and not just because of its attempted suppression. His preface (which, believe it or not, we will reach very shortly) is a great deal concerned with how his audience should receive Crooke’s book and the role he intended it to have in the English medical community. It’s certainly true that his sources (Paré, Bauhin, and Du Laurens, among others) provide the bulk of the anatomy information, so that Crooke is making no original scientific contributions to that field. But by portraying his contribution as the child or offspring of those sources, Crooke both establishes and legitimizes a legacy for his work. Calling Mikrokosmographia the child of its predecessors not only clarifies the book’s relationship to its sources but also validates its heavy resemblance to them.
There’s one other word here, though, that I’m particularly interested in, but this is where my lack of Latin becomes more problematic. Matris is easy to identify, but I’m not sure which of the Latin verbs is the source for the translation “shelters.” From exploring various other translations of Virgil accessed online (I’m nowhere near a university library during this summer, unfortunately), I’m under the impression that alternate interpretations might involve more active English verbs, which I see as a significant difference. It is one thing for Crooke’s book to “shelter” under its predecessors; it’s quite another for it to “grow” or even “spring up.” I do suspect that the “subingentimatris” that appears without any spaces ought to be broken out into multiple words; my uneducated guess is “sub ingenti matris.” But if any of my readers can help me out on this, I’d be grateful.