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les Enluminures

[ANONYMOUS], Spectaculum Lucretia et Pompilius

In Latin, illustrated manuscript on paper
[Germany, Bavaria or Southern Germany, circa 1505-1510]

TM 63

8 folios (two quires of 4), complete, watermark close to Briquet nos. 4950-4953, “Couronne à diadème” (Southern Germany [Bavaria]: Bamberg, 1506; W├╝rzburg, 1506-1508; Friedberg, 1507), written in brown ink in a slanted italic script, text on up to 22 long lines (justification 165 x 100 mm.), additional contemporary annotations in the margins, contemporary interlinear corrections, THREE DRAWINGS IN PEN AND BROWN INK HIGHLIGHTED IN WATERCOLOURS (ff. 1, 7v, 8v). Unbound (but probably in its original state). Dimensions 204 x 150 mm.

Neo-Latin dialogue used in the schools, this spectaculum was not intended for actual performance but sets out the moral dilemmas of the characters and the dramatic plot. Its form as a pamphlet relates it to other manuscripts of this little known and poorly studied genre. Unusual is the inclusion of illustrations, which are in themselves important not only for neo-Latin narrative depictions but for their possible record of actual performance in early interludes. The present text is closely related to, and may have influenced, Medwall's sixteenth-century drama of a similar subject, the earliest extant drama in English that is purely secular.


1. Watermarks suggest an early sixteenth century Southern Germany provenance, confirmed by the style of the drawings. This provenance is reinforced by a trace of vernacular German. Although the text and annotations or corrections are all in Latin, the word zier (“adornment” or “decoration”) is copied above the Latin word insignia (“emblem” or “decoration”) on f. 6v.

2. France, Private Collection.


f. 1, Heading, “Argumentum spectaculi sequenter” [Here follows the plot of the play]; Incipit: “Pompilius senex iam decrepitus ab Lucrecie nubilis filie coniugium a Fulgentio et Scipione romanis adolescentibus et procis interpellatus primo filiam de hinc ceteros populares consulum Fulgentius consulum decreto voti fit compos optata foeliciter utitur Lucrecia” [Pompilius, an aging old man, wanting to wed his nubile daughter Lucretia to Fulgentius or Scipio, both Roman youths and suitors, addresses first his daughter, then asks advice from popular Council; Fulgentius is declared the best party by decree of Council, to Lucretia’s greatest happiness].

f. 1, Incipit, “Verba patris Pompilii ad Lucreciam” [Fatherly words of Pompilius to Lucretia];

f. 1v, “Responsio Lucrecis ad patrem” [Lucretia’s reply to her father];

f. 2v, “Responsio Pompilii ad verba Lucrecie” [Pompilius’s reply to Lucretia’s speech];

f. 7v, “Scipio ad senators” [Scipio before the Senators];

f. 8, “Responsio Lucrecie pudica” [Reply of modest Lucretia];

f. 8v, “Pompilius amicos accedit pro consilio” [Pompilius goes to his friends for council].

The present neo-Latin Spectaculum Lucretia et Pompilius is concerned with the Roman ideal of Pudicitia, or modesty, and the leader (Valerius says “dux”) of such an ideal is embodied by the historical figure of Lucretia, wife of Tarquinius Conlatinus, raped by Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the King of Rome. The historical Lucretia, whose story is told both by Livy and Valerius Maximus, having revealed her plight to her husband and father, killed herself with a hidden sword, provoking the Roman people to exchange kingship for consular rule (Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, “De pudicitia,” 6.1.1).

Germany was one of the undisputed centers of drama in the sixteenth century, much of it focused in the schools where it was used to teach rhetoric (see Online Resources, Borchardt). Such dramas survive in different forms: the interlude, a short play with multiple parts intended for performance, and the dialogue, consisting of a discussion or sometimes debate between the protagonists. The present drama fits the category of the dialogue, which was employed as a pedagogic device for commending instruction, offering both admonitions to moral behavior and instruction in the art of speech. Like ours, many neo-Latin plays were "virtue" dramas, whose purpose was to inspire the audience to a particular virtue or set of virtues, Patience, Chastity (ours), Prudence, etc (on English examples, see Houle, pp. 43-44). Some 58 German cities and towns had schools with drama prescribed in the curriculum (see McConaughy, p. 49). Bradner (1943, 1957) cites the names of no fewer than one hundred authors of neo-Latin dramas, and at least twice as many texts, the majority of which were anonymous. The present text is not recorded by Bradner.

As forms of the manuscript book, neo-Latin dramas are considered among the "classics of modern pamphleteering" because they exist, as does the present play, unbound in loose-leaf quires. They are little studied perhaps for the following reason: "The history of these remarkable works has never, to my knowledge, been written […] Lying between the purely dogmatic treatise, on the one hand, and the professed drama on the other, they have proved too doctrinal for the men of literature, too literary for the men of doctrine. Even in Germany, where the choicest specimens were produced, they have been relatively neglected." (Herford, p. 21–22). It seems likely that many more were lost than have survived, and most of them were never printed.

Many of the titles of neo-Latin dramas evoke ancient names—Appius, Virginia, Caracalla, Clytophon, Laelia, Philomela, Silvavus, and so forth--and the great majority are dramatizations of historical events. In fact, the origins of English comedy are found in neo-Latin drama along with the classical revival of Roman theatre.

Our neo-Latin drama is remarkably similar to a play by Henry Medwall (1461-c. 1512), called Fulgens and Lucres and known as the earliest extant drama in English that was purely secular. Its title-page reads: "Here is conteyned a godely interlude of Fulgens, cenatoure of Rome, lucres his daughter, Gayus flaminius and publius Cornelius… compyled by Mayster Henry Medwall, chapelayne to the ryght reverant fader in God Johan Morton cardynall and archebysshop of Canterbury." All character names hark back to the Roman aristocratic and senatorial tradition. The Spectaculum Lucretia et Pompilius and Fulgens and Lucres have similar initial plots. In both cases, Lucretia is ready to marry, and discusses her choice with her father. She must choose between two suitors. In both scenarios one of the suitors is named Publius Cornelius Scipio. The second suitor is named Fulgens in our play and Gayus Flaminius in Medwall’s Fulgens and Lucres. In the present Latin dialogue, Lucretia's father is Numa Pompilius, named after the second king of Rome. In Medwall, Lucretia’s father is Fulgens, whereas he is one of the suitors in our play. However both plays diverge when it comes to the plot’s development. Medwall's dialogue is constructed around a debate on the nature of true nobility, during which the wise Fulgens encourages his daughter Lucretia to choose her husband from two aggressive suitors, Publius Cornelius, who is noble by birth, and Gayus Flaminius, who is low-born but who "by meane of his vertue to honoure doth aryse." Lucretia will ultimately choose Flaminius over Publius Cornelius, with the implication being that true nobility lies in virtuous action not bloodline. Fulgens and Lucres is actually a dialogued adaptation of the Controversia de noblitate by Buonaccorso da Pistoia. Nevertheless, it seems likely that Medwall knew a version of the Spectaculum Lucretia et Pompilius.

Interestingly, the same names appearing in both the Spectaculum Lucretia et Pompilius and Fulgens and Lucres can also be found later in Jesuit Latin plays, published or copied as late as the eighteenth century. Valentin records a play by A. Claus entitled Publius Cornelius Scipio, of which a manuscript copy exists in Munich, Staatsbibliothek, cod. Lat. mon. 1704, ff. 5-33 (Valentin, 1984, no. 4765); also another play named Numa Pompilius, staged in Munich on 3 and 6 September 1745, manuscript copy in Munich, S.B., cod. lat. mon. 2179, ff. 7-29 (Valentin, no. 5753).


f. 1, Lucretia (“nubilis filiae”) with her father Pompilius, on the left, stand facing her suitors, Fulgentius and Scipio (Publius Cornelius Scipio), on the right;

f. 7v, Pompilius, on the right, hat in hand, appears before three enthroned senators, on the right, seeking council;

f. 8v, Pompilius, on the far right, presents the suitor of choice, Scipio, in the center, to the three enthroned senators on the far right.

The three illustrations focus the reader's attention on the crucial moments in the drama. Executed with rapid pen strokes and finished with watercolor washes primarily in red, blue, brown, the illustrations "tell" the play in pictures, although the precise artistic milieu in which the drawings were made needs further study. The use of minimal architectural and landscape settings, employed to isolate the participants and spotlight their action, recalls the early woodblock illustrations of theatre in Terence's Comedies, which would have been in circulation already for several decades. .


Bradner, Leicester. “A Checklist of Original Neo-Latin Dramas by Continental Writers Printed before 1650,” Publications of the Modern Language Association 58 (1943), pp. 621-633.

Bradner, Leicester. “The Latin Drama of the Renaissance,” in Studies in the Renaissance, IV, 1957, pp. 31-70.

Brooks, N.C., “Latin Morality Dialogues of the Fifteenth Century," in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 42 (1943), pp. 471-474.

Buonaccorso da Pistoia. Ici commence la Controversie de noblesse, plaidoyée entre Publius Cornelius Scipion d’une part, et Cayus Flaminus, de autre part, laquelle a esté faicte et composée par un notable docteur en loix et grant orateur nommé Surse (Buonaccorso) de Pistoye, Bruges, C. Mansion, [1475].

Colvin, Sarah. The Rhetorical Feminine: Gender and Orient on the German Stage, 1647-1742, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1999.

Creizenach, Wlihelm. Geschichte des Neueren Dramas, Erster Band, Mittelalter und Fr├╝hrenaissance Halle, Max Niemeyer, 1893.

Hallett, Judith. Fathers and Daughters in Roman Society: Women and the Elite Family, Princeton, 1984.

Harbage, Alfred. “A Census of Anglo-Latin Plays,” in Publications of the Modern Language Association 53 (1938), pp. 624-29.

Herford Charles H. Studies in the Literary Relations of England and Germany in the Sixteenth Century, Cambridge, University Press, 1886.

Houle, P.J. The English Morality and Related Drama. a bibliographical survey, Hamden, Archon Books, 1972.

Joshel, Sandra. "The Body Female and the Body Politic: Livy's Lucretia and Verginia," in Pornography and Representation in Ancient Greece and Rome, Amy Richlin, ed., pp. 112-130, New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992.
McConaughy, James L. The School Drama (Teachers College Columbia University Contributions to Education, 57), New York, 1913.

Medwall, Henry. The Plays of Henry Medwall, ed. Alan H. Nelson, Cambridge, D.S. Brewer, 1980.

Parente, James A. Religious drama and the humanist tradition: Christian theater in Germany and in the Netherlands, 1500-1680, Leiden and New York, E. J. Brill, 1987.

Schlicher, John, Latin Plays for student performances and reading, Boston, Ginn & Co., [1916.]

Valentin, Jean-Marie. Le Théâtre des Jésuites dans les pays de langue allemande: Répertoire chronologique des pièces représentées et des documents conservés (1555-1773), Stuttgart, A. Hiersemann, 1984.

Wickham, Glynne. English Moral Interludes, London, 1976.

Wright, L.B. “Notes on Fulgens and Lucres: New Light on the Interlude,” Modern Language Notes 41 (1926), pp. 98–100.

Online resources

Frank Borchardt, "The Theory and Practice of Comedy in Sixteenth-Century Germany"

"Continental Humanist Drama" from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature

Five Sixteenth-Century Latin Plays, from Comedies and Tragedies, ed. Nicholas Brylinger, Basle, 1540