One of the most important but neglected moments of Scottish engagements with Islam is the 'heroicall song' of King James VI of Scotland/I of England celebrating the Christian defeat of the 'faythlesse Turkes' in the 1571 battle of Lepanto. A short-lived if celebrated victory, James's poem is an oddity historically, politically, and formally, and the spectre of Lepanto behind Shakespeare's Othello has overshadowed it in literary history. First published twenty years after the event, and written perhaps in the context of the Spanish Armada before that, James sets himself a tricky task. But even before the 1603 edition's defensive preface, the paradoxes and challenges of James's task – to find a markedly Scottish voice, style, and attitude in which to narrate this Catholic victory over what was commonly presented as the encroaching force of Islam – find striking expression in the poem's complex and overdetermined form. This essay explores James's literary and political choices in the poem as they seek articulation through the genre of Christian epic, focussing less on the well-studied European sectarian context but instead on James's representation of the Muslim Ottomans.


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