To commemorate the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (r.1952–2022), Antigone is proud to host three Latin poems that celebrate her life and legacy.
I: An Elegy
Roboribus patriis Ea semper amatur ab ipsiS,
Et mare Reginae Luget aitque “valE”
Quorum sceptra habuit Iusta orbigera orbis, et istiC
Urbis erat toto Zona fidesque sitU.
Ipsa dedit nobis Auctrix super astra precameN
Excelsum officiis Bis pia culmen apuD.
Suspensis loris Equitat sublimis et altA
Celsithroni ad metas. Tum, moriente ducE,
Angeli apud caelos Hymnorum culmina dII
Temptent, ac recinant Aurea fata, precoR.
REQUIESCAT ELIZABETHA SECUNDA E·II·R
By the country’s oaks themselves she is ever beloved. The sea too mourns and bids the Queen farewell. Over these the orb-holder of the realm held a just sceptre, and was gird and faith throughout the region of her state. Herself the foundress, she gave prayer for us beyond the stars, doubly dutiful in her offices from her noble peak. With loose reins she rides, noble and exalted, to the posts of the high-throned one. Then, as our ruler dies, let divine angels in heaven strive for heights of hymn and sing golden fates, I pray.
In addition to Simon Armitage, these verses are also loosely influenced by St Aldhelm of Malmesbury (AD c.639–709), Bishop of Sherborne, originator of the Anglo-Latin verse tradition and probably the first speaker of what would become English to write an acrostic poem (albeit in Latin). Reputedly he was also of the royal house of Wessex, which would make him a distant cousin of the Queen. The number of words in the poem added to the number in the acrostics equals the number of years of her reign.
II: An Alcaic Ode
O quae stetisti clara Britannicae
tutela gentis, sedula regium
quae rite septenos ferebas
officium decies per annos,
tristis resultat funera nuntians
clangor tubarum, pompaque ducitur
sollemnis in stratis viarum et
a populo colitur feretrum
regale. te, te crediderim mori?
durare visa es cum ruat axis, et
per bella fatalesque pestes
in solio remanere firma!
fausto coronam deposuit die
cessit parenti cum patruus tuo:
quis te, quis assumptum fuisset
dignior hoc retinere munus?
sublata constans ancora saeculi
transis, in omni cognita litore
Regina, et illustris recumbes
tam merita decorata laude.
O you who stood alone, of all
Britannic lands the guardian clear,
Who tirelessly fulfilled the call
Of duty past the sev’ntieth year,
Now grave the funeral horns ring out,
And through the streets processions flow,
And by the royal bier, devout,
Your grieving subjects come and go.
Can I believe you dead? We thought
Forever, though the heavens groan,
Though plagues descend and wars are fought,
That you would last upon the throne!
So then, auspicious was the date
Your uncle chose the crown to yield,
For by that accident of fate
A worthier heir was next revealed.
Firm anchor of our age now raised,
In every land you owned the name
Of Queen; by every nation praised,
So well deserving of your fame.
III: An Alcaic Ode Celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (June 2022)
AD ILLUSTRISSIMAM REGINAM NOSTRAM ELIZABETHAM
FESTUM QUARTI DECIMI LUSTRI CELEBRANTEM
Delaberetur ne Capitolium
celsum nec acres civica tangeret
nos ira, linquisti quietE,
LASSA, BEATa et amoena Tempe
Sumpta corona. nunc PLATANUM petis,
fortasse, opacum, quod pia tam diu
tu regna servasti labore.
fas hodie celebrare dulci
festum Falerno, sed breviter bibe:
ferox Gigantum saevit adhuc cohors,
premenda nunc sceptro verendo,
quam potes exsuperare vivens.
That the ship of state may not sink
Nor party strife befall,
Elizabeth, our Queen, though weary,
Rejects the pleasant thrall
Of Tempe and the quiet ease
Of retired rural shade,
Drawing out the seventy years
The crown on her has weighed.
That we may mark her toil with thanks
Bring out a festal wine.
Drink to her in this moment of respite,
But brief; for still malign
That host of giants who jeered at Jupiter
Rages yet and strives
To rend our own Olympian isles –
In vain though, while she lives.
So that the high Capitol would not totter, nor civil strife touch us in our sharpness, you, although weary, left behind the Vale of Tempe in its pleasantness and blessed with peace, as you took up your crown. Now, perhaps, you seek the shady plane tree, since in your piety you have so long preserved your realms with your labour. It is right on this day to celebrate the festival with sweet wine, but drink only briefly: the fierce crowd of Giants still rages. You must press them back with your venerable sceptre. You are able to overcome them as you live.
Nicholas Stone studies Law at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.
Anthony Vickers-Collins read Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He is now a legislative drafter at the Parliamentary Counsel’s Office, the team of government lawyers who specialise in drafting primary legislation. He maintains an interest in Latin and Greek verse composition, and from time to time publishes versions on his blog Permessus.
Bijan Omrani is an Honorary Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. His books include Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide, and Caesar’s Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul. He has written for Antigone previously on the Greeks, Afghanistan and Buddha, on Ausonius, and on Julius Caesar’s hybrid warfare.
|⇧1||I am grateful to the Antigone team for some suggestions about the poem.|
|⇧2||While Aldhelm composed thousands of hexameters, he is not known with certainty to have written more than one pentameter verse (see the conclusion of his letter to Heahfrith of c.672, discussed by David Howlett in “Bede, Lutting and the Hiberno-Latin Tradition,” Peritia 31 (2020) 107–24, at 111), although see Michael Lapidge and James Rosier, Aldhelm: The Poetic Works (D.S. Brewer, Woodbridge, 1985) 16–17, and Andy Orchard, The Poetic Art of Aldhelm (Cambridge UP, 1994) 278 concerning his possible authorship of the elegiac epitaph to Theodore of Canterbury (which can be found here). As will rapidly become apparent, I have made rather more use of elision than Aldhelm; of word-initial alliteration far less. In addition to numerology, acrostics and alliteration, the Anglo-Latin poets enjoyed neologisms, compounds, abstract nouns, Greek vocabulary, lists and occasional syntactic obscurity. For background on this period of Latinity, see Rosalind Love, “Insular Latin Literature to 900,” in The Cambridge History of Early Mediaeval English Literature (Cambridge UP, 2013) 120–57.|
|⇧3||Aldhelm’s famous acrostic verses can be found in the prefaces of his Aenigmata (a hexameter double acrostic) and Carmen de Virginitate (a hexameter double acrostic with the telestich – that is, the letters at the end of the line – running backwards). For triple acrostics that repeatedly overlap with themselves, the 10th century offers us Abbo of Fleury. But there are many others. See also Orchard (as n.2) The Poetic Art of Aldhelm, 195, on an earlier Sibylline acrostic translation of uncertain authorship known at the school of Canterbury. Aldhelm’s acrostics, along with the rest of his output, were influenced by Classical and Christian authors whom he would have encountered both in Ireland and at Canterbury under the instruction of Abbot Hadrian and Archbishop Theodore, who had themselves been educated respectively in Africa and Italy, and Byzantium and Italy.|
|⇧4||According to William of Malmesbury (c.1095–c.1143), Gesta Pontificum Anglorum V.188  502–3 in Michael Winterbottom’s edition (Oxford UP, 2007). See also Michael Lapidge, “The Career of Aldhelm,” in Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007) 15–69.|
|⇧5||With acknowledgements to W.B. Yeats, Long-legged Fly (1939).|