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Herbert's Lucus and Pope Urban VIII
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Herbert's Lucus and Pope Urban VIII

A sequence of four poems in Herbert's collection of Latin epigrams Lucus engages with the Church of Rome, and, in particular, Pope Urban VIII (Maffaeo Barberini). At the time of his election in 1623, Urban was already well known across Europe as a Latin poet, and as such attracted significant attention from other poets; even Protestant ones, like Herbert, were apt to respond to this "Pontificem poetam." Of special note among Herbert's anti-papal poems is his epigram on "Roma/Amor," which not only circulated more widely than the rest of his poetry, but seems to have been known and responded to by Pope Urban himself. This paper will consider the anagrammatic roots of Herbert's poem, Urban's responses to it, and Herbert's counter-responses.

The initial poem is based upon a series of anagrams of "Roma":

XXV. Roma, Anagr.
(Oram, Maro, Ramo, Armo, Mora, Amor)

ROMA, tuum nomen quam non pertransiit ORAM,Cùm Latium ferrent secula prisca iugum?Non deerat vel fama tibi, vel carmina famae,Unde MARO laudes duxit ad astra tuas.At nunc exucco similis tua gloria RAMOA veteri trunco & nobilitate cadit.Laus antiqua & honor periit: quasi scilicet ARMOTe deiecissent tempora longa suo.Quin tibi tam desperatae MORA nulla medetur,Quâ Fabio quondam sub duce nata salus.Hinc te olim gentes miratae odere vicissim;Et cum sublatâ laude recedit AMOR.1

[Rome: An anagram
(Frontier, Maro, Branch, Shoulder, Delay, Love)

Rome, what frontier did your nameNot cross, when times of old endured [End Page 43] The Latin yoke? Fame you did not lack,Nor songs of fame, whence MaroMade you eminent among the stars.But now your glory like a withered branchFrom an old and noble tree is fallen.Ancient praise and honor are no more, as ifFrom their shoulder distant timesHad thrown you down. Indeed for you delayDoes not mend despair,As once beneath the hand of FabiusDelay produced securitiy. Hence the nations now,Whose admiration you possessed,Hate you in turn:When praise decays, love departs.]

In this poem Herbert is participating in and extending a long tradition of finding anagrammatic significance in "Roma." Most widespread was the palindrome of ROMA/AMOR that frames this poem and Pope Urban's two responses to it. This palindrome had been long recognized, and the sixth-century Byzantine writer Joannes Laurentius Lydus referred to the mystical connection between ROMA and AMOR reflected in it:

Nomina autem urbi tria erant, arcanum, sacerdotale, politicum: arcanum, velut, Amor, ut omnes amore divino circa urbem tenerentur, unde et Amaryllida urbem poeta per ambages in carmine bucolico vocat;2

[There were, however, three names of the city, the arcane, the priestly, and the political: the arcane name, as it were, was "Amor," so that all could be held around the city by a divine love, and whence the poet called the city Amaryllida through riddles in his bucolic song]3

A more extended and complex ancient palindrome also circulated widely in classical times: "Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor"4 [Your love, Rome, will suddenly come to you through these stirrings to action], as did the palindrome "Roma muro luces summus seculorum [End Page 44] amor" ["Walled Rome, you, the highest love of the ages, shine forth"], in the Middle Ages.5

With the Reformation these mystical celebrations of the significance of ROMA/AMOR were replaced by caustic satiric treatment. The English Reformer John Bale mocked the anagrammatic significance of "Roma": "If ye spell Roma backwarde, ye shall fynde it love in this prodygyouse kynde, for it is preposterous amor, a love out of order or a love agaynst kynde."6 In a later work Bale cites an epigram that uses the same conceit, but applies it specifically to Pope Julius III's scandalous lust for boys:

Roma quid est? Quod te docuit pr[a]eposterus ordo,Quid docuit? Iungas versa elementa, scies.Roma amor est. Amor est? qualis? Praeposterus. Unde hoc?Roma mares. Noli dicere plura, scio.7

[What is Rome? That which the inverted order taught you.What did it teach? That you will know you...