Today, the Scottish Poetry Library and the Writer’s Museum are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the completion of Gavin Douglas‘s The Eneados. Douglas, a Scottish prelate and poet, was born about 1474, third son of Archibald, Fifth Earl of Angus. He was educated for the church at St Andrews and Paris and held a benefice in East Lothian before being appointed Provost of Collegiate church of St Giles in Edinburgh in 1501. His name appears in the pages of the Acta Facultatis Artium Universitatis Sancti Andree as a determinant (for the Bachelor’s degree) in 1489/90 and as a licentiate (for the Master’s degree) in 1494. Later in life, the patronage of Queen Margaret as Regent, who married Douglas’s nephew, obtained for him the abbacy of Arbroath and later the Bishopric of Dunkeld. He was caught up in the political turmoil of the time and, after trial and imprisonment, fled to England in 1521, dying of plague in 1522.
Douglas was one of many Scottish makars who received their education at St Andrews, and we thought we’d join in (virtually!) with the celebrations happening in Edinburgh today by sharing some images from our collections.
Douglas completed his translation of Virgil’s Aeneid in 1513 on the feast day of St Mary Magdalene, while he was provost of the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh. His work was the first complete translation of any major Latin or Greek work into any Anglic language. In fact, his translation is not only of Virgil’s original 12 books of the Aeneid, but also a 13th book written by Maffeo Vegio in the 15th century. Douglas prefaced his translation with a long verse composition in which he drops some very heavy 15th century names: Chaucer and Caxton. Douglas calls out Caxton’s 1490 translation of the Aeneid from the French, calling it “na mair lyke the devill and Sanct Austyne”. His treatment of Chaucer, however, is reverential. Douglas praises Chaucer in the same manner as he does Virgil earlier in his prologue.
The translation of the Aeneid is a masterful work and would ultimately be the verse for which Douglas was most recognised. R.G. Austin commented that “he makes the world of the Aeneid seem almost contemporary; Virgil’s characters might be just around the corner.” Like his Palice of Honoure, The Eneados is preoccupied with the nature of honour, but stresses the conflict between love and duty as one civilisation is replaced by another. Each of the books of the Eneados is accompanied by an original verse prologue by the poet, perhaps taking inspiration from his respected Chaucer. The Eneados is also the first appearance of the word “scone” ever, identified by the OED, appearing in print for the first time in the first printed edition of 1553 (on the fourth line of leaf 119r). Douglas’s original translation circulated in manuscript form for over 40 years before it would be set in type; in fact several manuscript copies of this poem still survive in English libraries. The Eneados was first printed in 1553 by William Copland and unfortunately removes some of Douglas’s original verse, especially the lines describing the love of Dido and Aeneas. St Andrews’ copy of The Eneados was purchased in 1963.
We’ll stop now and leave you here with a transcription of the translator’s rebus, found at the very end of The Eneados. This was part of the original manuscript tradition, and not wholly needed for the printed editions as Douglas is identified on the title page. However these five short lines show the craft and humour that is found throughout Douglas’s work.
“To knaw the name of the Translator.
The gaw unbrokin mydlit with the wine
The dow ioned with the glas, richt in ane lyne,
Quha knawis not the translatouris name;
Seik no farther, for, lo, with lytil pyne
Spye leile this vers, men clepis him sa at hame.”
-Gavin Douglas, The Eneados
–DG, EAH, RH