Edited by: Christopher Francese, Meghan Reedy, et al.

Arma virumque cano: Singing Vergil's Aeneid in Early Modern Europe

By Blake Wilson, Professor of Music, Dickinson College

Introduction | The Musical Settings | Vergil in the Schools: The German Humanist Tradition | Vergil, Ferrara, and the Este Family Dynasty | Queens Ancient and Modern: Reading Dido in Burgundian-Hapsburg Dynastic Politics | Arcadelt and French Humanism | o socii: transnational humanism and a musical emblem | Vergil without Books: Oral Tradition and the Aeneid in Early Modern Italy | Epilogue: Italian Origins | Music Sources | Bibliography | Notes


There is no doubt that Vergil's great epic poem the Aeneid was one of the most well-known and intensely studied literary works in early modern Europe. Between 1469, when the first printed edition appeared in Rome, and the end of the sixteenth century, some 750 different print runs of Vergil and Vergil commentaries appeared to feed an "inexhaustible market" for his works.[1] These early editions of Vergil are, moreover, "the most profusely annotated classical texts the world has ever seen" (Allen 1970, 140–41). And the appetite for Vergilian poetry and themes did not stop there, as scenes from the Aeneid appeared in paintings, the fresco cycles of many palace walls, the illustrations of printed books, and just about every other artistic medium (Fagiolo 1981; Scherer 1964, 181–216). Authors of early modern epic poems from Petrarch on modeled their works on the Aeneid, the singers in the oral tradition of popular cantari continually reworked and embellished its stories into vernacular poetic form, and readers from schoolboys to mature scholars mined it for moral aphorisms and elegant phrases, copying them into "commonplace" books for eventual use in their own compositions. That a poem of such vast and varied reception, and one beginning with the line "I sing of arms and of the man," should also be rendered in musical settings is no surprise.

What is surprising is how little attention modern scholarship has given to these musical settings, and how little effort there has been to integrate them into the thriving field of Vergil reception.[2] The central contribution of that scholarship has been to show how unlike the early modern reception of Vergil is to our own understanding of how the great works of the past should be read and understood. In the words of Craig Kallendorf, the meaning to early modern readers of a text like Vergil's Aeneid "rests not in the timeless intention of the author, but in the negotiation between the text and reader that is very much time-bound, linked inextricably to the values and ideas that the reader brings to the text" (Kallendorf 2007b, 128). In other words, a scholar, a duchess, a soldier, or a schoolboy reading the Aeneid in 1500 read it not to understand the historical Vergil or its Augustan Roman context, but to fashion and make sense of his or her own life. This mode of reception was as true of musical and visual representations of the Aeneid as it was of literary treatments.

Before trying to understand the way early modern listeners heard and understood musical settings of Vergil's texts, it is necessary to ask what the Aeneid "meant" to its early modern "readers." As a model of elegant Latin poetry, it was a rich mine of resonant vocabulary and elegant turns of phrase, and because it was generally approached allegorically, meaning was construed in many ways and on many levels. When approached as a whole, it was understood as a narrative of journey and transformation. For some, like the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino, whose extensive commentary on the entire Aeneid in his Disputationes Camaldulenses (1480) profoundly shaped humanist critical approaches to the epic, it was a source of philosophical truth regarding the search for the summum bonum (the greatest good). For Landino Aeneas was an exemplar of all virtues, and his journey from Troy to Italy was an allegory that follows Aeneas from the sensual pleasures of Troy, through the active life of Carthage, to the contemplative life in Italy. In the realm of European imperial and dynastic politics, the Aeneid was no less than a "blueprint" for the founding of a western civilization that traced its roots to ancient Rome, and the ancestry of many of its ruling families to Troy and Aeneas. It was the definitive story of translatio imperii, the founding through conquest of a new national consciousness and governmental authority out of the fall of an old one, and its effectiveness when deployed to legitimize the exercise of power led ruling families like the Este of Ferrara to assert direct descent from Troy, and to construct fictional genealogies and patronize artists, writers, and musicians to propagate that story. 

More often, however, the Aeneid was used as a source of individual episodes, like Aeneas' speech to his beleaguered men in Book I, or the Dido affair in Book IV, each a moral showcase for a particular virtue displayed by Aeneas in the face of hardship and vice. This extraction of Aeneid episodes was appealing no doubt because the scenes could stand alone and take on a life of their own, as they typically did in music and the visual arts, while still drawing meaning from the meta-narratives of the epic.

Standing at furthest remove from the meanings generated by these holistic and episodic approaches was that propelled by the habit of maintaining commonplace books, that is, the mining of the text for easily memorized maxims, ready-made expressions, and even individual words. This fragmenting of the epic into semantic shards of phrases and words was by far the most common way of "reading" the Aeneid.

Mention of musical and visual representations of the Aeneid also require us to question the term "reading" (and, for that matter, "text") that permeates current scholarship on Vergil reception. While it is clear that those who glossed Vergil's text in the margins of printed editions and copied passages into their commonplace books were engaged in reading and texts in the strict sense, these terms do not adequately account for the full range of modes by which Vergil was both delivered and received in early modern Europe. Musical settings of Vergil were intended to be heard, not read, and visual imagery required an entirely different mode of reception and "literacy" (Baxandall, 1988). As the studies of Brian Richardson, Roger Chartier, and others have shown, early modern poetic texts of all kinds almost never lived exclusively in the silent world of individual reading, but were typically read (or sung) aloud, and so were heard as often as seen; one must speak of reciters, singers, and audiences, not only readers, for poetic publication in the early modern world.[3] And nowhere was this aural dimension of literature more dominant than in the popular traditions of medieval romance epic that fed directly into the poems of Boiardo, Tasso, and Guarini, a significant strand of which were the vernacular rifacimenti (reworkings) of the Aeneid as the Roman d'Eneás (English translation) in France and the  Storie di Enea in Italy. When an Italian cantastorie took his place on a raised platform in an urban piazza to sing an epic cantari based on the Aeneid, author, physical text, and the act of reading were left on the sidelines, and delivery and reception were strictly oral. Thus the "polycentrism" of Vergil reception in early modern Europe, the capacity of the Aeneid over time to "admit a structure of multiple relations, relative points of view, and varying perspectives," is greater even than that traditionally posited, particularly when oral modes of transmission like reciting and singing are taken into account (Conte 1986, 153; Kallendorf 2015, 31–32).

The Musical Settings

In the course of twelve books and nearly 10,000 lines of dactylic hexameter verse, Vergil (Publius Vergilius Maro, 70 BC–19 BC) tells the story of how the great Trojan hero Aeneas fled the destruction of Troy by Greeks, and after years of adventure- and hardship-filled wandering, landed on the shores of Italy and founded what was to become Rome. Of those many thousands of lines, only six different passages and a total of 55 lines were set to music by Renaissance composers, but these are among the most beautiful and emotive passages of the entire epic, and with one exception these were set multiple times. So far some 33 extant polyphonic settings of texts from the Aeneid have been identified, all dating from the sixteenth-century, though some of the early settings may date from the late fifteenth century:

Aeneid Text Musical Settings Date Provenance
Arma Virumque Cano      
1.1 ff. 8 c1530-1555 Germany
O socii      
1.198-207 2 1558 No. Italy
4.174-177 2 c1500-1525 Franco-Flemish
4.305-319 2 1507, 1567 No. Italy
4.442-454 1 1556 France
4.651-654 18 a. c1500-1525 (7) Franco-Flemish
    b. c1530-70 (11) Franco-Flemish

By compositional standards of the day these are mostly experimental works. The German settings are novel attempts to recreate the quantitative metric patterns of Vergil's dactylic hexameter verse, and the majority of the remainder are the efforts by some of the century's greatest composers (along with some lesser imitators) to apply the high contrapuntal style of the sacred motet to an ancient secular text of comparably elevated rhetorical style. These Vergil settings by the likes of Josquin, de Orto, Mouton, Agricola, Willaert, Rore, and Lasso, all Franco-Flemish composers of European-wide fame, typically constitute unique works in an overall output otherwise devoted to Mass settings, sacred motets, and secular settings of vernacular texts (chansons, madrigals, lieder). A small number of polyphonic frottole reflect the cultural environment of the intertwined courts of Ferrara and Mantua, and like all of the Vergil settings, these originated in a patronage environment with strong traditions of both polyphonic composition and humanism.

All of these composers were accustomed to setting Latin to music, but it was a Medieval Latin shaped by the needs of the Christian liturgy, and Vergil's exquisite style, unusual vocabulary, and pagan themes presented entirely different challenges that required a different approach to text setting. The works performed and recorded by the Dickinson Collegium (audible through sound links on this website) were chosen to demonstrate the variety of these approaches, from simple, chordal declamation of the German settings at one extreme to the expressive beauty of polyphony at the other.

1. Vergil in the Schools: The German Humanist Tradition

The oldest examples of a music that might be called purely humanistic appeared in a 1507 print in Augsburg, the Melopoiae sive harmoniae tetracenticae (.pdf of an exemplar from the Bavarian State Library). This was a collection of 19 Horatian odes and epodes set to music by Petrus Tritonius, a pupil of the German humanist Conrad Celtis (1459–1508). The musical style of these settings was simple and severe, yet utterly novel in its day: each poem was set in four-part chordal declamation, devoid of counterpoint, and with the rhythm scrupulously adapted to the longs and shorts of quantitative Latin meter. Only two modern note values are used, typically rendered in modern transcriptions as half and quarter notes, and the usual regularity of musical meters (like 3/4 or 4/4) are here subjugated in favor of the irregular flow of long and short values in strict adherence to the poetic meter of the classical text. The result is "a solemn declamation of the ancient Latin poem heightened by the sound of four-part harmony" (Lowinsky 1989, 156). The collection was reprinted several times in the following decades, and similar printed collections directly influenced by Tritonius' settings, expanded to include settings of verse by Vergil, Ovid, Martial, Catullus, Prudentius, and Propertius, rolled off the German presses with regularity well into the 1560s.

These settings, including most of the eight devoted to the opening lines of the Aeneid, were the work of several collaborative pairs of scholar/patrons and composers, following closely on the model of Celtis and Tritonius:

            Simon Minervius (c1497–1572) and Ludwig Senfl (c1490–1543)

            Johannes Stomius (1502–1562) and Paul Hofhaimer (1459–1537)

            Willibald Pirckheimer (1470–1530) and Johannes Cochlaeus (1479–1552)

            Johann Frisius (1505–1565) and Heinrich Textor (fl1554)

All of these men were active in humanist circles in Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland, and most were involved with the design and implementation of humanist curricula in Cathedral schools and Lateinschulen (Latin schools). Minervius (Munich) and Pirckheimer (Nuremburg) combined political careers with humanistic scholarly pursuits. Minervius made the first German translation of the Odyssey, while Stomius (Salzburg), Cochlaeus (Nuremburg), Frisius (Basle, Zurich), and Tritonius (Brixen, Bozen) were all schoolteachers and rectors with university training in both Latin and music. In each case, the musical settings were created at the specific request of the scholar/patron, and while Textor and Cochlaeus were not principally composers, Senfl and Hofhaimer were two of the most famous musical figures in northern Europe. Senfl was a leading composer at the courts of Emperor Maximilian I in Vienna and Duke Wilhelm IV in Munich, and Hofhaimer was organist and composer at Maximillian's court and the Salzburg Cathedral. Senfl's 42 and Hofhaimer's 35 settings of classical texts were devoted primarily to Horatian odes, but each included settings of Vergil's Arma virumque. In both text and texture these works are unique in the context of their overall output, each arising from the requests of humanist scholars, and all the settings observe the declamatory four-part texture pioneered by Tritonius.The specific context for most of the extant Arma virumque settings was probably twofold. Primarily these settings were intended for use in German-speaking schools where the new humanist curriculum was being implemented. All but one of them appeared in print, many with publishers who specialized in school books (like Faber in Leipzig), or with titles indicating their pedagogical function (“ usum scholae Lunebergensis”). In this context the works combined musical study with the study of classical prosody and style.[4] Hofhaimer's setting, for example, is titled Hexametrum heroicum loci et primo Aeneidos Virgilii, and clearly demonstrates the dactylic hexameter used in epic poetry, while the other 34 pieces in his Harmoniae poeticae (Nuremberg, 1539), demonstrate other classical meters like the Phalecium hendacasyllabum Martialis, the Jambicum dimetrum Prudentii, or the various meters (Sapphicum majus, Alcaicum, Asclepiadeum, Phthiambicum minus, etc.) of the Horatian odes.[5] In 1530 Stomius had founded a private school for children of the aristocracy in Salzburg, and in the preface to the Harmoniae he describes how he had pressed Hofhaimer to finish the collection, no doubt for use in the school: "Hofhaimer pleasantly engaged me, to show me, as I had requested of him, some trial settings in four parts of some of the poems. Since these Odes, which in fact were his swan songs, truly pleased me, I pressed him without letting up until he had designed and completed the entire work" (Pirker 1977, 149).

The other likely context for these works were the humanist sodalities with which most of these figures came into contact. Celtis had founded the first of these at Heidelberg in the 1490s (the Sodalitas Litteraria Rhenana) and at Vienna University sometime after 1497 (the Sodalitas Litteraria Danubiana), and many others soon followed throughout Germany following Celtis's example. Pirckheimer belonged to such a group in Nuremberg, along with Celtis and probably Cochlaeus, and Senfl frequented Celtis's group in Vienna while he was a university student there. Tritonius's settings were composed under Celtis's guidance, and performed after the latter's lectures on Horace at Ingolstadt University to illustrate classical meters. In any of these contexts, however, one can easily imagine that the emphasis was placed on the correct and elevated musical recitation of the Latin. Unlike the other early modern Aeneid settings that focused on particular passages for their distinctive content, the Arma virumque settings were all probably conceived to be open-ended templates for the reading of any or all parts of the Aeneid, with the principal goal being the pedagogical demonstration of the classical poetic meters. Though it is doubtful that anyone could stand to sing or hear the entire Aeneid performed throughout to the same four lines of music, theoretically any of Vergil's dactylic hexameter verse could be sung to what was essentially a recitation formula devoid of any particular emotional content. 

2. Vergil, Ferrara, and the Este Family Dynasty

Probably no European ruling family had for so long and so closely identified its origins with Troy as the Este of Ferrara (Prosperi 2015, 23–25). Official court historiography in this vein dates at least as far back as the chronicles of Riccobaldo da Ferrara (1246–c1320), who traced Este family lineage to the Trojan refugees who had landed on the shores of Italy, and these myths were burnished by later court historians like Pellegrino Prisciani (Historiae Ferrariae, 1488) and Giambattista Pigna (Historia de Principi di Este, 1570) (Tristano 2012). In tandem with the Estense classical self-fashioning of the court historians were the extraordinary literary creations of its poets. Romance and Neo-Latin epic flourished here, much of it both directly and loosely modeled on the Aeneid. A humanist tradition begins with Tito Vespasiano Strozzi's Borsias, an unfinished epic poem dedicated to Borso D’Este, and continues through the vernacular epic poems: Boiardo’s Orlando Inamorato, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. But more popular and oral traditions of the cantastorie (discussed below) thrived with equal vigor at court, and these drew on a longer and more diffuse reworking of Vergilian epic.  It is no surprise that the Ferrara court's musical life was as rich as its literary traditions. The Este were extravagant patrons of composers, singers, and instrumentalists, and as in antiquity, Renaissance poetry both lyrical and epic was intimately tied to musical performance. The frottola was a polyphonic genre that arose principally at the nearby court of Mantua (the birthplace of Vergil!), but principally through the patronage of Isabella d'Este after she married Marchese Francesco II Gonzaga in 1490. Though the roots of the frottola are in the oral traditions of sung poetry that mostly governed the singing of Italian poetry during the fifteenth century, after ca. 1495 it constituted some of the earliest efforts of Italian humanist composers to join written polyphony with Italian and Latin texts. Among the latter are two settings of texts from the Dido episode of the Aeneid, Filippo de Lurano's carefully declaimed setting of Dissimulare etiam sperasti (IV, 305–319; Venice, 1507), and a Dulces exuviae setting attributed to Marchetto Cara (Naples, 1519) (Luisi 1977, 372-86) .

Cara was a composer favored by his two chief patrons, Isabella d'Este and her husband Francesco Gonzaga, and there is reason to believe that Cara's setting may be the one alluded to in an episode involving Isabella as a performer. Isabella's patronage of poets, musicians, and artists is well-documented, as are her own abilities as a musician. She was an ardent admirer of Vergil, and in more intimate court correspondence she was referred to as "Elisabella", or "Elissa Bella." The reference to Dido's Phoenician name "Elissa" becomes clear in the context of a poem by Baldassare Castiglione dedicated to Isabella and bearing the title De Elisabella Gonzaga canente, which then proceeds in 41 Latin elegiac couplets as a paraphrase of Vergil's Dulces exuvie in which her singing is compared to that of Orpheus. In fact Castiglione records in this poem his reaction to having heard Isabella sing Vergil's original lines while accompanying herself on a keyboard—or, as the description of the poem in her own inventory of books puts it, "Elegy of Baldassare Castiglione on Madame singing Dulces exuviae:"[6]

Dulces exuviae, dum fata, deusque sinebat Remnants dear to me, while god and fate allowed it,
Dum canit, et quaerulum pollice tangit ebur, As long as she sings, and plays the plaintive ivory with her finger,
Formosa e coelo deducit Elisa tonantem, The beautiful Elisa brings down her sound from heaven,
Et trahit immites ad pia verba feras, And draws the wild beast to her virtuous words.
Auritae veniunt ad dulcia carmina sylvae, The long-eared underwood will come at her beloved songs,
Decurrunt altis undique saxa jugis; From everywhere the rocks will hasten down from the high ridges.
Stant sine murmure aquae,  The waters will stand still without a murmur,
Taciti sine flamine venti, The winds fall silent without a gust,
Et cohibent cursus sidera prona suos. And the setting stars halt their course.

We can only imagine the array of meanings that a court audience steeped in a long history of Vergil reception brought to a moment like the one described here, but it must have included an association of Isabella (and her family) with the image of Dido not as a spurned lover, but as the builder and leader of a great city-state. What we do know is that Isabella was hardly the last early modern woman to be identified with the Dido of Vergil's Aeneid.

3. Queens Ancient and Modern: Reading Dido in Burgundian-Hapsburg Dynastic Politics

By far the greatest concentration of Aeneid settings by Renaissance composers is to be found in a single source, the music manuscript London, British Library MS Royal 8 G. vii. It is a collection of 34 Latin motets, all sacred liturgical works except for six "secular motets" all devoted to texts from Book IV of the Aeneid: Josquin's setting of Fama malum, and in the latter part of the collection, five settings of Dulces exuvie all grouped together:

Title Composer Text
7. [Vexilla regis] Pierre de la Rue (d1518) Passion/Crucifixion
8. Fama malum    Josquin des Prez (d1521)                Aeneid IV: 174–177 (swiftness of rumor)
9. [Doleo super te] Pierre de la Rue (d1518) David's Lament on the death of Jonathan
26. Dulces exuvie               Anon. Aeneid IV: 651–654 (Dido's last words)
27. Dulces exuvie               Alexander Agricola (d1506) Aeneid IV
28. Dulces exuvie               Josquin des Prez Aeneid IV
29. Dulces exuvie               Jean Mouton (d1522) Aeneid IV
30. Dulces exuvie               Johannes Ghiselin (d1507)             Aeneid IV
31. [Absalon fili mi] Pierre de la Rue (d1518) David's Lament on the death of Absalom

This is the earliest source for these settings, and for all but one it is the unique source. On the surface of things, these pagan secular texts are completely out of place and render the collection unlikely to have been used by Henry's chapel choir. But the manuscript shows signs of careful planning, and the inclusion of the five settings of Dido's last words was clearly intentional. This extraordinary situation naturally raises questions about the manuscript, which has generated a good deal of scholarly effort to explain its unique contents.[7]

This source belongs to a large complex of music manuscripts copied and illuminated during the early sixteenth century in a scriptorium aligned with the court chapels of the Hapsburg-Burgundian rulers in Flanders: Philip the Fair, his son Charles (later Emperor Charles V), and Philip's sister Marguerite of Austria (who acted as Regent in the Burgundian lands for Charles after Philip's death) (Kellman 1999, ??). For several reasons, this is perhaps the most interesting and important of the fifty manuscripts produced in this workshop for presentation to members of the Burgundy-Hapsburg ruling house and other nobility throughout Europe. For one, it was designed for and presented to Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Catherine was the daughter of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, but she was also Marguerite's sister-in-law and aunt to the future Charles V, so the manuscript was a lavish symbol of the dynastic alliance between the English throne and Burgundy-Hapsburg houses. But the carefully chosen and ordered contents of the collection suggest that it conveyed more than that, and in particular the jarring presence of Vergil's texts on foul rumor, love gone awry, and suicide (stated five times) in a gift intended to celebrate matrimony and alliance indicate that complex subtexts may be at play here.[8]

The London manuscript is comprised of eight fascicles, the first of which contains three motets that honor and mention by name Henry and Catherine, and include prayers for the birth of a son. The following fascicles include works associated with the Hapsburgs, particularly with Marguerite and Charles, one or both of whom was most likely involved with the preparation and presentation of the volume. The almost diplomatic protocol of exchange between recipient and donor is abruptly interrupted, however, by Josquin's Fama malum, which is surrounded by two related works: Vexilla regis, a Passion motet in relation to which Fama malum alludes to the rumors and betrayals that led to the crucifixion, and Doleo super te, David's lament for the death of his son Jonathan. This prefigures the contents of the seventh fascicle, which is comprised of the five Dulces exuvie settings followed by Absalon fili mi, another motet on the untimely death of a son, David's lament on the death of his son Absalom.[9]

Strange as may be the juxtaposition of motets on union/birth and abandonment/death in a gift like this, one does not have to look far into the lives of these royal families to find plenty of the latter during this period. On the Hapsburg side, Margaret was betrothed to, then repudiated by, the future Charles VIII when he decided to marry Anne of Brittany. She was married twice subsequently, first to Prince Juan of Spain who died months after their marriage, leaving her pregnant with a child that was stillborn, then to Duke Philibert II of Savoy, who died three years later leaving her childless. She was 24 by then, and vowed never to marry again. Margaret's brother Philip the Fair was the hope of his father Maximilian to unite the Spanish and Burgundian-Hapsburg houses through marriage to Queen Juana of Spain (Catherine of Aragon's sister), but in 1506 Philip predeceased his father (a death explicitly commemorated in the above-mentioned Doleo super te). On the English side, the travails (literally) of Catherine of Aragon are infamous. She was married first to Henry VIII's brother Prince Arthur in 1501, after whose untimely death five months later she married Henry VIII in 1507. After five unsuccessful pregnancies (thought by one commentator to be symbolized by the five Dulces exuvie settings), she bore Henry a daughter, Mary, in 1516, but it soon became clear that Catherine would not produce a male heir, and by 1527 Henry had begun both his affair with Ann Boleyn, and the unprecedented series of steps that would lead to his divorce of Catherine.

These circumstances provide some basis for understanding the presence of the Vergil texts in this collection. To go along with the opening prayers for the birth of a son, the two instances of pairing stories of a suffering Queen (Dido) and a suffering King (David) would seem to invoke ancient models that appealed alike to the English royal pair, and perhaps was a statement of empathy for difficulties they both faced in their attempts to produce a male heir (a matter of particular urgency to the rather shaky Tudor foundation in England). This presumes that the collection was made some time after not only the marriage in 1507, but after Catherine's early failed attempts at childbirth, but before the situation had become hopeless after 1516, and certainly well before the rupture between the two sides created by Henry's repudiation of Catherine.[10]

On the other hand, Henry's legal argument for his divorce runs strikingly parallel to that of the Aeneas/Dido episode, or as Richard Sherr summarizes it, Henry "claimed that he had been involved in an illegal, in fact non-existent, marriage to a widow that he had every right to break, the reason being that he needed to pass on his kingdom to a son and heir" (Sherr 2012, 72-83). And it would have been consonant with early modern interpretations to look upon the Dido episode as a cautionary tale to widows to remain "chaste," that is, faithful to their dead husbands (in this case Henry's older brother Arthur). From this perspective, the argument that Marguerite actively shaped the contents of this collection as way to express sympathy with her sister-in-law's plight is feasible given both her own personal history with broken vows and childbirth, and her own passionate engagement with music patronage (Thomas 2005, 341-57). One of Marguerite's own music books (Brussels, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, MS 228) was copied in the same scriptorium as the London manuscript, and is a very personal collection of works bearing her portrait and coat of arms, with content related to her, her family, and her court (Picker 1965). The chansons and motets in it are overwhelmingly doleful, including two settings of Dulces exuvie (one by Agricola found in the London MS as well, and another by Marbrianus de Orto, another composer associated with the Burgundian Hapsburg courts), and an anonymous setting of Fama malum. A parallel between the two collections is suggested by the pairing in Margaret's collection of the Vergil texts with the Good Friday motet Vexilla regis, just as Fama malum and Vexilla regis had been paired in the London manuscript. The collection clearly reflects both Margaret's misfortunes (she was called the Dame de deuil [Lady of Mourning] by her court poet and historian Jean Lemaire), and the likelihood that this classically-educated woman could not have failed to draw some meaning from Dido's story.

The evidence of Margaret's literary tastes also supports the idea that she had a direct hand in the inclusion of materials drawn from the Aeneid. She requested her court poet Jean Lemaire to write a history of Troy directed at female readers. Between 1511 and 1513, probably just prior to the compilation of the London manuscript, Lemaire completed his three-volume Les illustrations de Gaule et singularitez de Troye, in which he traces Burgundian-Hapsburg descent from Francus, son of the Trojan hero Hector (Kem 1994, xi, 27; Zywietz 2004). 

The two settings of Fama malum  and six of Dulces exuvie discussed so far comprise the first generation of settings by Franco-Flemish composers, all composed prior to ca. 1515, and attributable to composers with ties to the courts of France and the Burgundian states. What is less clear are the circumstances under which they actually composed their Vergil settings. Whichever Burgundian Hapsburg ruler oversaw the assembly of the London manuscript certainly collected the works, and may have commissioned some of them directly from composers like de Orto, Agricola, or Ghiselin who had direct ties to them, but the far-flung and peripatetic careers of these men and the fact that two of them (Agricola and Ghiselin) died perhaps a decade before the London MS was assembled argues against a comprehensive commissioning program. Those of Josquin, Agricola and Ghiselin could have been composed in Italy, where they travelled extensively, worked together, and even spent time in the orbit of Isabella d'Este at the courts of Mantua and Ferrara.

Two of the Dulces exuvie settings, those of Josquin and Mouton, show signs of direct borrowing (though it is unclear who borrowed from whom)—they have nearly identical superius (top voice) melodies. Likewise, the two Fama malum settings—one anonymous in Marguerite's music book and the other by Josquin in London—also share melodic material (the opening four note motive consisting of a descending third coupled with a descending fifth, and treated imitatively among the four voices, and in the same tonality). But all this means for sure is that in each case one of the composers had access to the other's music at some point.

If these works were composed independently of the Burgundian-Hapsburgs rulers' specific priorities, what criteria then did govern these composers' choice of text and musical setting? All of these composers at one time or another worked in centers of humanist scholarship, and given their constant engagement with texts and text setting, and the ubiquity of Vergil's poetry, it would not be surprising if they found their way to these Aeneid texts by other routes.[l1] The reciting and singing of Vergil was popular not just at Mantua and Ferrara; Agricola and Ghiselin visited the court of Naples around the time the resident singer/poet Benedetto Gareth (“Il Cariteo”) famously was performing Vergil's verses at the pleasure of King Ferdinand II, and Vergilian scenes became part of classicizing banquets that proliferated at humanist courts and featured classical tableaux with sung Latin texts (Pirrotta 1984, 104; Cummings 2015). This would lead the humanist scholar and improvisatory singer Raffaele Brandolini to declare that Vergil, along with Cicero, were his "authorities in speaking and singing" (Brandolini 2001, 105).

The path to setting Vergil in the elevated polyphonic style usually reserved for sacred texts was also eased by the early modern perception of Vergil as a proto-Christian poet. This, in fact, opened the way for some the best composers of their generation to invest the setting of Vergil's texts with the same spirit of humanistic experimentation in text setting with which they approached their Christian texts. The central concern of musical humanism was how best to wed music and poetry, and in Josquin's generation the sacred motet was the progressive medium for the fashioning of an elevated and expressive musical diction—a musical rhetoric—suited to the textual subject matter. This engaged a set of humanistic priorities different from those that governed the German metrical settings of Arma virumque cano (Lowinsky 1989, 172-73). The expressive nuances of harmonic dissonance, counterpoint, and flexible rhythmic construction excluded by the strict adherence to ancient meter in the German tradition were here fully embraced and joined to the rich verbal language of these emotionally charged scenes. De Orto's setting of Dulces exuvie stands out even among his own works for its expressive dissonance, and Agricola's exquisite work is suffused with the pathos of Dido's tragic end. The greatest rhetorical sensitivity, however, is revealed in Josquin's two settings: in Fama malum the relentless unfolding of the stark opening subject suggests the inexorable march of that "horrible monster" (monstrum horrendum) Rumor, and its gathering swiftness is vividly portrayed as repetitions of the word velocius pile up on top of one another, using the opening motive but now stated twice as fast (i.e., in halved note values). And of all these early Dulces exuvie settings, his achieves the most clear and careful declamation of the words, and the most nuanced shifts of texture in response to the unfolding text.

The popularity of the Dulces exuvie text continued well past this generation of composers, as it moved into broader circulation in tandem with the spread of humanism and Franco-Flemish style polyphony. At least eleven more settings appeared in years after ca. 1530, by composers both obscure (Peschin, Bratel, Freminot, Rossetti) and well-known (Willaert, Vaet, Lasso, Handl, Wert) who were scattered across Europe from England to Slovenia and Italy to Northern Europe. Vergil also seemed to travel with relative ease across the religious divides that were deepening throughout Europe. A remarkable anecdote is reported by the Wittenberg preacher Johannes Mathesius, a companion of Martin Luther:

When the Doctor [Luther] had worked until he was weary and exhausted, he would make merry at the table, and sometimes started a bit of singing. In the presence of the right congenial people we would sing Dido's last words from Vergil's Dulces exuviae (Nettl 1948, 14-15).

The version sung here was almost certainly the anonymous one published in the collection Symphoniae juncudae by Georg Rhau in Wittenberg, 1538, for which Luther himself provided a forward.[12]

After ca. 1530, musical treatments of the Dido episode became increasingly autonomous in a way comparable to its treatment in literature and the visual arts, nor is it difficult to understand why. With almost epigrammatic brevity these four lines contained a world of dignity and tragedy. Perhaps more so than any other famous episode or excerpt in the Aeneid (such as Fama malum, or Aeneas' O socii speech to his men discussed below) this highly charged scene presents a single, unforgettable visual tableau that a sung performance would have invoked in the listener's imagination. From the perspective of early modern commentators this was also one of the most morally complex scenes in the Aeneid, and one that gave some of them difficulties when it came to the larger narrative of the Aeneas pius who always did the right thing.[13] In these readings Aeneas’ falling for Dido is palliated by portraying her as chaste and modest, and as a capable ruler. But at the end of the episode he recovers his reason and virtue, and departs, while she loses hers by succumbing to concupiscence, betrayal of her (dead) husband, neglect of her civic duties, and self-destruction. Humanist writers from Petrarch and Boccaccio thus wrestled with a female figure they found both admirable and fatally flawed. In the epideictic tradition of praise and blame, virtue and vice, Aeneas and Dido ultimately were assigned polarized roles.[14] These and other complexities related to the status of their "marriage" unfold across the previous 650 lines of Book IV, and the impact of the performance of a free-standing musical setting of Dulces exuvie certainly depended on how much of this a listener brought to the moment. But it is fair to say that most early modern audiences for such a piece probably knew at least the broad outlines of the events of Book IV (if not the entire epic), though even those hearing it apart from an understanding of the larger context in the Aeneid could perceive it at its simplest level as a version of the archetypal lament of an abandoned lover.[15]

4. Arcadelt and French Humanism

Standing apart from all other treatments of the Dido episode is that of Jacques Arcadelt (c1507–1568), one of the most famous composers of secular text settings in his day. Arcadelt set not only the Dulces exuvie lines, but also the preceding nine lines beginning with At trepida et coeptis, where Vergil describes in vivid, dramatic language the frenzied actions of Dido immediately prior to her suicide. For this much longer text he adopts a more syllabic delivery and less contrapuntal texture that stylistically falls somewhere between the German metrical settings and the Franco-Flemish motets.

Arcadelt's via media between strict metrical fidelity rooted in the text and expression rooted in the music is a reflection of the French humanist environment in which the work was conceived. Arcadelt composed his setting of At trepida et coeptis, along with settings of three Horatian odes and a Martial epigram, during 1551–1562, while in the employ of Charles, the Cardinal of Lorraine, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in France. Charles de Lorraine was also the most influential patron of the emerging French poets and musicians who looked to ancient Greek and Latin poetry for inspiration. He was an early champion of the so-called Pléiade poets, including Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim De Bellay, Pontus de Tyard, and Jean-Antoine de Baïf, who sought to elevate French lyric verse to the rhetorical heights achieved by classical authors through imitation of the forms and idioms of Greek and Latin poetry. Though classicizing odes in French began appearing in the 1550s, the development of a musique mesurée à l'antique that reconciled the metrical differences between Latin and French poetry was several decades in the future, and in the absence of surviving ancient musical models there was disagreement among French humanists about what the melodic and harmonic properties of that music should be (Lowinsky 1989, 176-79; van Orden 1996, 361-64).

What they shared, however, was a belief that the ancient poets sang their verse to the accompaniment of a lyre, and that these performances achieved not just a faithful declamation of the poetry but the power to transport the souls of listeners into a state of Orphic furor poeticus (poetic frenzy). In this the aesthetic goals of Charles de Lorraine and the Pléiade were distinct from both the Burgundian-Hapsburg patrons, who did not share the French poets' intellectual engagement with Greek and Latin prosody, and the German humanists, who were not concerned with neo-Platonic views of the expressive and rhapsodic capabilities of ancient sung poetry. In fact, their models for sung poetry à l'antique, as for many other aspects of French humanism, came from Italy.[16] The writings of the Florentine neo-Platonist Marsilio Ficino about poetic frenzy were well-known to the Plèiade, including his promotion of "Orphic singing to the lyre" as a revival of ancient poetic practice. And the extended Italian sojourns of both Arcadelt (Florence and Rome, c1530–1551) and Charles de Lorraine (Ferrara and Rome, c1547–1550) afforded ample exposure to the widespread Italian humanist practice of cantare ad lyram, as well as to other forms of solo singing to the accompaniment of a lute like the frottola.

Arcadelt's At trepida et coeptis thus belongs to an early phase of French humanism prior to the advent of musical settings of French vers mesurés, when the circle of poets and musicians around Charles de Lorraine were still focused on ancient poetry per se and how contemporary musical settings could capture the effects, if not the actual sounds, of ancient lyric verse. Just what effects they expected to experience are revealed in a poem by Ronsard describing a performance of Arcadelt's At trepida around 1558 at Charles' palace at Meudon, just outside Paris:[17]

Mon Dieu! que de douceur, que d'aise et de plaisir My God! what sweetness, what joy and pleasure
L'âme reçoit alors qu'elle se sent saisir the soul receives when it feels seized
Et du geste, & du son, & de la voix ensemble, by the gesture, and by the sound, and by the voice together
Que ton Ferabosco sur trois lyres assemble, that your Ferrabosco assembles on three lyres
Quand les trois Apollons, chantant divinement when the three Apollos, singing divinely,
Et mariant la lyre à la voix doucement, and sweetly marrying the lyre to the voice,
Tout d'un coup de la voix & de la main agille together, with the voice and with an agile hand,
Refont mourir Didon par les vers de Vergille            make Dido die again by Vergil's lines,
Mourant presques eusmesme... almost dying themselves.

This is remarkably reminiscent of Castiglione's rhapsodic poem describing Isabella d'Este's performance of the same Dido episode at Mantua, including the performing style as an instrumentally accompanied song. In fact, though Arcadelt's setting is composed for four voices, its performance here as a solo song accompanied by the "lyres" of Charles' Italian lutenist Alonso Ferrabosco and his brothers acknowledges the Italianate humanism at work in this setting: its essentially monodic conception (cantus solo plus accompaniment) coupled with a declamatory homophonic setting that follows closely, though not slavishly, the accents of Vergil's prosody, proceed from a belief that the effects of ancient poetry were best achieved through solo song rather than complex polyphony.

The significance of Arcadelt's Vergil setting extends beyond the intimate gathering of patron, poets, and musicians, and includes the classically appointed halls and rooms of Charles' suburban retreat (Brooks 1996, 188-90). After his purchase of Meudon in 1552, he employed the Italian artists Primaticcio, Niccolò dell' Abate, and Federico Zuccaro, and immediately set about remodeling and decorating the palace, filling it with his extensive collection of ancient statuary, all of it designed to "place the French king and the Guise ancestor [Charles] on an equal footing with their ancient counterparts and representing the French élite as the Greeks and Romans of their age."[18] Like the visual elements of Meudon, the music and texts performed for Charles and his guests, both ancient and those by the Pléiade poets, advanced a classicizing rhetoric that identified the French courtiers with their ancient counterparts. Vergil is here conflated with other ancient poets, orators, statesmen, and emperors to articulate a more broadly conceived translatio imperii with respect to the French nobility.

5. O socii: Transnational Humanism and a Musical Emblem

The environments of Vergilian musical settings considered so far all have been defined by national or regional boundaries: the composers, scholars, poets, and/or patrons were in each case German, Franco-Flemish, Italian, and French working with colleagues and within regions more or less defined by shared language. This might be understood as a result of both the tendency to appropriate the Aeneid to the dynastic politics of various ruling dynasties (Este, Hapsburg, Valois), but also as efforts to reshape vernacular languages according to the rhetorical goals of humanism. But even in its classicizing forms Latin remained an international language, and enabled Europe's more cosmopolitan patrons to engage in a kind of international artistic commerce.

An excellent example of the transnational status that humanism had attained by the mid-sixteenth century are the two related musical settings of O socii durate, Aeneas' speech to his beleaguered men in Book I, during which he tries to lift their flagging spirits by exhorting them to endure (durate), and so "save yourselves for kinder days." The specific circumstances surrounding the creation of these works are well documented in surviving letters: they are by the two greatest Franco-Flemish composers of the mid-century, Adrian Willaert and Cipriano de Rore, composed while working and residing in Italy, and at the behest of a Burgundian cardinal.

Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (1517–86) was a cardinal, archbishop, and prime minister to Charles V, and was widely travelled in his capacity as one of the most dominant imperial statesmen of his time. His portrait was painted by Titian, and his keen interest in music is measured in the handful of important music prints that were dedicated to him. Granvelle corresponded directly with Lasso, who in 1557–9 sought Granvelle's support just prior to Lasso's appointment as Kapellmeister of the Bavarian court in Munich, and he was particularly engaged with the composers associated with Willaert in his capacity as maestro di cappella at St. Mark's basilica in Venice, including Rore and Nicola Vicentino. Granvelle clearly had an eye for musical talent, especially in approaching both Rore and Willaert with a commission to set some verses by Vergil.[19]


Image: Titian, Portrait of Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle

The first mention of the commission is in a letter from Willaert to Granvelle in October 1558 when Willaert explains that his gout has kept him from working on a motet setting of quei versi di Vergilio 'O socii'. By the following spring Willaert had begun work on the motet, but was feeling anxious that the work would not meet Granvelle's expectations. Nevertheless, Willaert completed it by the end of April 1559, and despite his protestations the work had to have pleased its patron, for it is not only a motet of arresting beauty and expressive power, but it pays tribute to Granvelle in an extraordinary manner.

The printed version of the work bears a dedication: Illustrissimi et Reverendissimi Cardinalis Granvellani Emblema. The emblema embedded in the music becomes immediately clear to anyone who has heard or performed the work: two of the motet's five voices are dedicated to multiple repetitions of only one word, durate, which is sung to the same three-note motive in each voice and throughout the work. At first it is heard in long notes separated by long intervals, then later in halved rhythmic values (i.e., twice as fast) and at closer intervals, then halved yet again near the end, as the motive also begins to pervade the other voices and seems to echo from every direction. The effect is stunning: the motive, at first in the sonic background of the other more elaborate contrapuntal voices, gradually moves into the foreground as Aeneas' injunction to his men to "hold on" becomes more insistent and magnificent through repetition. Great care has been given to the unfolding of this motive, but also to its melodic shape: it is what is known in musicological circles as a soggetto cavato dalle parole ("a subject carved out of the words"), in this case the vowels of the word durate.[20] In the widely-used solmization (or solfège) system of the day, the 'u' of 'du[rate]' became 'ut' (equal to the modern 'do'), the 'a' became fa (a fourth above ut), and the 'e' became re, a step above ut and a third below fa. The musical motive ut-fa-re "carved" from the word durate consists of three notes that trace the tiny arch of a rising fourth followed by a descending third. Willaert deployed this motive on the three primary scale degrees of the time: c, g, and f. The motive is thus heard in three versions: c-f-d; g-c-a; and f-bb-g, each one an ut-fa-re configuration consisting of a rising interval followed by a descending interval. As it turns out, however, Willaert's strategy was not purely musical, for durate was Granvelle's personal motto, as Willaert already knew by 1557 when he acknowledge receipt of a medal from Granvelle that showed his portrait on one side, and on the other an image of Aeneas' wind-tossed ship with DURATE inscribed above in large letters:


Image: Medal of Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (verso)

Equally deserving of comment is the singing that surrounds the repeated durate subject, for it is here that we find Willaert's unique style of text setting: in each voice the text is set to a chanted, almost recitative-like melody, but overall the voices overlap contrapuntally. The result is as close as one could hope to come to a reconciliation between the conflicting demands of text and counterpoint, as the multi-stranded linear choral chanting unfolds in a gradually-developing wave of emotionally charged harmony.

Though no comparable documentation survives for the creation of Rore's setting of the same text, there is no doubt it was commissioned by Granvelle around the same time as Willaert's (Meier 1969, 98). The unique source for both works is Rore's Il quinto libro de' madrigali (1566) where the works appear next to each other, bearing exactly the same dedication to the Cardinal's emblema. Rore uses the same three-note soggetto and, as in Willaert's setting, it speeds up and migrates among different pitch levels as the piece progresses. Rore deploys it in only one voice, however, and rather than migrating in pitch level from g to c to f, the motive is transposed up stepwise from g through c.

Another critical difference between the two works is the treatment of Vergil's text. Both take liberty with it by repeating the word durate from beginning to end, whereas in Aeneas' original speech it is heard only once at the very end. But Willaert goes even further by eliminating entire lines (strike-throughs) and adjusting the word order (underlines):

Vergil 1.198-207 Willaert's Text   
'O socii-neque enim ignari sumus ante malorum- 'O socii [durate]—neque enim ignari sumus ante malorum—
O passi graviora, dabit deus his quoque finem. O passi graviora [durate], dabit deus his quoque finem [durate].

Vos et Scyllaeam rabiem penitusque sonantis

accestis scopulos, vos et Cyclopea saxa  
experti: revocate animos, maestumque timorem     experti: revocate animos [durate], maestumque timorem [durate]
mittite: forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.      mittite: forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit [durate].
Per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum Per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum [durate]
tendimus in Latium; sedes ubi fata quietas tendimus, ostendunt sedes ubi fata secundas [durate
ostendunt; illic fas regna resurgere Troiae.  
Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis.' Durate [durate, durate] et vosmet rebus servate secundis [durate].

Vergil's original text has been purged of specific references to the ancient world (Scylla's caves and Cyclops' crags), and to Aeneas' mission to reach Latium and re-establish "the realm of Troy," and the final lines were adjusted to express a contemporary promise of prosperity (secundas), rather than Aeneas' vision of a peace (quietas) to be found in Latium. Since Rore retained Vergil's original text, we can only assume that these alterations were not dictated by Granvelle, but made by Willaert himself. The correspondence reveals that Granvelle held Willaert in high esteem, and that the two men were on intimate terms, so it is likely that Willaert customized his text in special deference to his patron, and in such a way that Granvelle was more easily understood as an Aeneas-like leader. Vergil

Of all the appropriations of the Aeneid taken up by Renaissance composers, these settings of O socii come closest to the most common way of reading Vergil in this period, the breaking of the text into short maxims and ready-made expressions. Though a distinct episode—Aeneas' speech to his men—is invoked here, in Willaert's setting it is stripped of its contextual moorings and reduced to an aphorism.In both settings the focus upon the single word DURATE inscribed on Granvelle's medal is Vergil reduced to the most elemental of semantic shards, a single word.

6. Vergil without Books: Oral Tradition and the Aeneid in Early Modern Italy

 Among the many glosses, paraphrases, translations, and rifacimenti (reworkings) of the Aeneid generated in the early modern world, one genre has been overlooked in most discussions of Vergil reception: popular reworkings of the Aeneid in the tradition of medieval romance epic, versions that were sung in both France (the Roman d'Enéas) and Italy (Storie di Enea) well into the sixteenth century.

Since the twelfth century romance epics in prose and poetry, in Latin and vernacular, and on classical, biblical, and medieval topics, were widely read, recited, and sung in both popular and courtly environments. In Italy, the primary strands of the literary materia were worked into vernacular ottava rima and performed by improvising cantastorie with prodigious memories, including the materia of France (Carolingian knights), Britain (Arthurian tales), and classical myth and history (stories of Troy, Thebes, Aeneas, and Alexander). The literary culminations of these traditions were the sixteenth-century epic poems by Boairdo, Ariosto, and Tasso (Everson 2001).

Though not a note of the music survives from this oral tradition, the epic cantari built around these legends were most certainly sung by generations of cantastorie, oral singers accompanied by instruments (typically bowed string instruments like a vielle or lyra da braccio) who freely reworked their literary and musical materials according to the fluid conditions of memory and oral performance. The best of the performers commanded large audiences in urban piazzas, and were wide ranging in their literary sources, capable of absorbing material from all kinds of sources, including the more learned traditions of commentary. This was most likely how all but the most literate elite experienced Vergil, and of all the early modern performance traditions surrounding the Aeneid, this one most closely resembled the "negotiation between the text and reader that is very much time-bound, linked inextricably to the values and ideas that the reader brings to the text" (Kallendorf 2007b, 128). By rendering the Aeneid in vernacular ottava rima, and pinning its meanings to his audience of the moment in countless subtle ways, the cantastorie was not just another teller of the Storie di Enea, but one of the most effective and ubiquitous early modern interpreters of Vergil.

Tales of the Trojan War circulated widely in popularized forms as the Roman de Troie (c1155–1160), and later in Italy in both prose and verse forms, and though the story of Aeneas forms a significant part of these tales, it also forms a separate tradition both through direct dependence on Vergil, and through popular verse rifacimenti in the vernacular that were being sung in Italy from at the least the fourteenth century.[21] The popularity of the Trojan material was guaranteed by the popular myth that Europeans, and Italians in particular, ("were all descended from the Trojans" (de' Trojan siam tutti disciesi),[22] and Aeneas' special journey and destiny to found Italy made him the pre-eminent ancestor. Written versions in prose, like Frate Guido da Pisa's Fatti di Enea, appeared in the early fourteenth century, and formed the basis for fifteenth-century cantari in ottava rima like the Liber Virgilii de Eneydos and the Eneido in ottava rima. These were distinguished from volgarizzamenti (translations) of the Aeneid, such as those by Ciampolo degli Ugurgieri (ca. 1313–1315) and Annibale Caro (16thc.), by the much freer treatment of Vergil's material, and the mixed orality of the tradition. With few exceptions (the works of Pucci, Pulci, Boiardo, et al.), these cantari thrived first and foremost in the fluid conditions of improvised performance, and as Balduino has suggested, the extant manuscript copies should be regarded more as prompt books for singers than as authoritative texts (Balduino 1984, 70). These versions betray a mix of direct dependence on Vergil, but also alteration through transformation, interpolation, and even distortion of Vergil as if "poorly remembered" (Everson 2001, 46). At times they show a serious attempt to portray Aeneas as Vergil did, while at others Aeneas and his men are changed into adventuring medieval knights, or the storytelling is altered by alternative interpretations (like that of "Aeneas the Traitor") drawn from commentaries.[23] The cantastorie performing these popular cantari paradoxically provided their audiences with sung versions of the Aeneid that both treated the story in holistic fashion, but also altered it significantly through translation, recasting of its poetic meter, and rifacimento of the stories and characters. In the process, they moved well beyond the small circles of the literate and wealthy, and brought the stories and characters of the Aeneid to much larger and more socially heterogeneous audiences. The Aeneid also found a place in the performances of the humanist improvvisatori who emerged in the courts, academies, and universities of fifteenth-century Italy. This tradition of cantare ad lyram was more self-consciously modeled on ancient practices of instrumentally accompanied solo song, and was aligned with more learned traditions of both vernacular and neo-Latin poetry. The great Catalan poet-singer Benedetto Gareth (Il Cariteo) spent most of his career at the Aragonese court of Naples during the late fifteenth century, where he famously sang portions of the Aeneid at the request of King Ferdinand II (Pirrotta 1984, 104). The Latinate tradition of solo singing is given its loftiest humanist portrayal in the treatise De musica et poetica (1515) by the Florentine humanist scholar and singer Raffaele Brandolini. Brandolini considered Cicero and Vergil his highest "authorities in speaking and singing" (presumably he is taking Cicero as a model of spoken prose and Vergil a model of sung poetry).[24] Brandolini's primary goals were to revive the ancient convivium as a setting for poetic performance in the context of the many banquets that proliferated in aristocratic and curial households of early modern Rome, and to foster lofty subject matter and delivery appropriate to the dignity of the setting:

Did Terpander...add the seventh string to the lyre's concord and join song to it so fittingly for any other reason than to show that the lyre was the proper instrument for poets, whether they lamented over love stories...recounted the praises of gods, the prizes of victory, the witticisms and humor of banquets, or finally, the precepts and habits of moral behavior...or diligently committed the greatest dignity and resources to celebrating the exploits and deeds, private or public, of heroes, as Homer offered to the Greeks with the stories of Achilles and Odysseus, and Vergil to the Romans with the story of Aeneas?

Shortly after this Brandolini cites a scene from the Aeneid that is perhaps the locus classicus of elevated ancient banquet singing, and of the ancient tradition of sung poetry in general:

Have you not read often how that Vergilian singer Iopas adorned the royal banquets of Dido with lyric verse [1.740–747]? The Poet granted him not only Apollonian hair and a golden cithara, but above all granted him a subject matter of momentous events, in order to display plainly a custom so familiar from ancient times and to have the highest distinction for his characters. It was surely not proper to employ anything ludicrous at a royal banquet with a foreigner, with a hero. The poet preserved decorum, I say, something that philosophers particularly demand. So after the splendid banquet, in the presence of Aeneas, the originator of the Roman race, and of Dido, the ruler of the Punic Kingdom, Iopas, himself not unlike the figure of Apollo in habit and appearance and with Apollo's instrument, declaimed the most profound problems of nature in elegant verses. Nor was Aeneas's speech introduced by some vile buffoon, but by the most accomplished bard. Thus you see how suitable the lyric instrument is for proper dinner gatherings; in fact, how more outstanding than others that might be used for expressing happiness.[25]

There are many passages in Brandolini's treatise in praise of the Aeneid.His search for dignified ancient subject matter and precedents for singing at banquets aligned squarely with the views of mainstream commentators, like Brandolini's older Florentine colleague Landino, who held up Vergil as the model of poetic eloquence, and Aeneas as an exemplary moral figure.[26]

Epilogue: Italian Origins

These popular and humanist practices of instrumentally accompanied solo singing are very likely the oldest and most seminal of all the early modern Aeneid singing traditions discussed above. Cantastorie performances in both cities and courts date back to the fourteenth century at least, and the humanist practice of cantare ad lyram is rooted in two fifteenth-century sources: Ficino's "orphic" singing to the lyre, which he advocated as early as 1457, and the humanist educational treatises and curricula of Vittorino da Feltre, Pier Paolo Vergerio (c1402–3), Leonardo Bruni (c1424), Eneo Silvio Piccolomini (1450), and Battista Guarino (1459) (Wilson 2015, 298-99). When Ambrogio Traversari visited Vittorino's school near Mantua, he was welcomed by a young Gonzaga prince studying at Vittorino's school with the recitation of 200 verses of the Aeneid, and "found it hard to believe that Vergil pronounced Book Six of the Aeneid more gracefully before Augustus."[27] Perhaps taking their cue from Petrarch's love of the sound of Cicero's and Vergil's Latin, together with a revived interest in eloquent public speaking, these influential educators promoted a studia humanitatis that emphasized effective Latin recitation and proper diction. Hand in hand with this went the study of music, especially singing to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument that modeled ancient practice and arose naturally from a view of ancient literature as a "script for an oral performance " (Grafton 1999, 197). Or as simply put in 1473 by Lodovico Carboni, humanist orator at the Ferrarese court and lecturer on rhetoric at the University of Ferrara, "verses should not be presented without any singing" (Gallo 1995, 70).

Vergil is the preeminent ancient poet throughout these treatises, and he is cited almost universally among them as the ancient author with which a young student should begin his studies. All of the approaches to the Aeneid are discernible here: as a great epic story, as a collection of significant episodes, and as a rich source of aphorisms, resonant vocabulary, elegant turns of phrase, and sonorous prosody. Battista Guarino, who like his father before him maintained the celebrated school in Ferrara, taught students to master the essential qualities of this poetry through the interrelated activities of memory and recitation. Once they mastered scansion, "they should commit Vergil's poetry to memory so as to learn the quantity of each syllable in accordance with the authority and example of the best poets; they should also practice reciting quantity of feet by merely chanting the words."[28] For Bruni, "one learns the poets in childhood...and they remain fixed in our memory through their sonorous elegance."[29] Carboni recalled that the elder Guarino had taught all his students to compose Latin verses with musical accompaniment, and the practice quickly became widely diffused in university circles within and beyond Ferrara (Gallo 1995, 72). Piccolomini was a particular advocate of cantare ad lyram, for according to Brandolini, Piccolomini (by then Pope Pius II) "took such delight in metrical poetry accompanied by the lyre that he preferred this kind of enjoyment to all others. And not only did he enjoy hearing the lyre, but he was also not reluctant to play it very sweetly on occasion" (Brandolini 2001, 19). It is hard to imagine that an educated man bearing the name Aeneas did not favor the singing of Vergil's verses.

As Guarino implies above, Vergil was the primary pedagogical source for an understanding of Latin poetic meter and prosody (as Cicero was a source for stylistic elegance and linguistic purity in prose), and this approach is reflected in the preoccupations of subsequent Italian practitioners of cantare ad lyram like Brandolini, as it would be for the later German and French humanists discussed above. For Brandolini and his kind, mastery of Latin meters (or numeri) was essential to being able to improvise in them; Pierio Valeriano, a humanist scholar and papal secretary, described the ability of the famous Roman improvvisatore Andrea Marone to improvise faultless Latin verse on any subject: "he used to do this with equal ease in three meters especially; whether you asked for elegiac, or the Phalaecean hendecasyllabic, or Sapphic [strophe], without hesitation he would celebrate whatever subject you had proposed in any one of these meters" (Cummings 2009, 45). Raffaele Brandolini's brother Aurelio was one of the most famous of these singers in Rome, and surviving transcriptions of a performance indicate that he improvised in sung hexameters in praise of Pope Sixtus IV during the 1480s (Gallo 1995, 78-84).

It is from the perspective of this well-established and widely diffused practice of cantare ad lyram that we can make better sense of various assertions that the sixteenth-century written traditions of Vergil settings discussed above are traceable to Italy. The preoccupations of the German humanists with prosody and pedagogy probably arose from their founders' Italian travels: Celtis traveled through Italy during 1487–9 (visiting Rome, Bologna Florence, Ferrara, Padua, and Venice), and Tritonius received a doctorate from the University of Padua by 1502. In these cities neither could have avoided contact with Italian singing traditions, and Tritonius most likely would have gained access to printed Venetian editions of late fifteenth-century attempts to join music to ancient Latin poetry. The most influential of these was the Grammatica brevis of Franciscus Niger (Francesco Negro) published in Venice in 1480, which included six pages of printed monophonic melodies that are the first examples of printed mensural music.[30] Niger provided these melodic templates for a five different Latin meters: hexameters (heroica gravis and heroica bellis), elegiacs, sapphics, and final category he called lyrica. Niger's treatise was reprinted in Basel in 1485 and 1499, and thereafter these several music pages appear to have taken on a life of their own, for they were included in an edition of minor works attributed to Vergil, the Vergiliana opuscula familiarit exposita, published in 1501 in Paris.[31]

In Ferrara the frottola itself, and the literary preoccupations of its primary patron Isabella d'Este, were both indebted to the court's long-standing engagement with both vernacular cantastorie traditions and humanist educational ideals, but Ferrara was also of particular importance for contact between northerners and native Italian traditions of solo singing. The Cardinal de Lorraine, so formative to the French humanist tradition, was allied with the Este family through marriage and spent significant time at the Ferrara court just prior to his collaborations in France with Arcadelt and the Pléiade poets. Most of the Josquin generation Franco-Flemish composers of Aeneid settings spent time at the Ferrara court, as well as at other humanist centers of cantare ad lyram practice like Florence, Naples, and Rome. Granvelle studied at the University of Padua, maintained close contacts in Venice, and during 1565–75 spent long periods in Rome and Naples. The Flemish composers with whom he was engaged likewise spent long and formative periods in Italy: Lasso (c1544–54; Mantua, Milan, Naples, Rome); Willaert (c1514–62; Ferrara, Venice); and Rore (c1542–65; Brescia, Ferrara, Parma). These and the other northerners like Josquin who spent long periods in Italy were clearly shaped by the humanist environments in which they worked, particularly with regard to how they approached text setting and expression. So even these polyphonic Aeneid settings that seem farthest removed from pure Vergilian prosody are nevertheless deeply indebted for their declamatory and expressive qualities to their composers' engagement with Italian humanism and singing practices.

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[1] Wilson-Okamura 2010, 23. These figures take no account of the oral and literary traditions of popular literature—romances, cantari, etc.—devoted to the Aeneid. This is a study very much privileging the written (and specifically print) tradition. Hence the emphasis on "readers" and "texts" in the perhaps too-narrow sense.

[2] For ex., the very extensive bibliography (179 pp.!) on the Aeneid by Niklas Holzberg, accessible through the Vergilian Society's webpage ( ), includes none of the basic musicological studies of Aeneid musical settings by Strunk 1930, Osthoff 1954, Skei 1976, Bossuyt 1998, and others.

[3]Richardson 2009, 226–58; Idem 2004; Chartier 2000; Burke 1998.

[4] No doubt the humanist scholars among them understood the Latin term prosodia (“proper grammatical articulation or phrasing and delivery of written text read aloud”) as deriving from the Greek προσῳδία, “a song sung to instrumental music.”

[5] Moser 1929, 112–128. The metrics of ancient poetry had been neglected in medieval schools, and the pedagogical materials for this, like most of the German prints bearing Arma virumque settings, had to be devised anew. On the place of metrics in the curriculum of the humanist schools in Italy, see Grendler 1989, 240–244.

[6] Elegia del Signor Baldesare da Castione sopra Madama cantante 'Dulces exuviae’. This episode is described and documented in Prizer 1999, 10–49, esp. 38–43.

[7] Tirro 1981; Kellman 1987; Meconi 1998, 18-23; Thomas 2005; Sherr 2012.

[8] See Kellman 1987, vi-vii, where he remarks on the careful physical layout of each fascicle.

[9] As Kellman points out, the final lines of both Dulces exuvie ('et nunc magna mei sub terras ibit imago') and Absalon fili mi ('non vivam ultra sed descendam plorans in infernum') convey very much the same image; Ibid., vii.

[10] Kellman 1999, 110 dates the collection "1513–25, probably 1516–1522"; Meconi 1998, 21 argues for 1513.

[11] On the likelihood that Marguerite and Catherine, and humanistically educated early modern women in general, read the Aeneid, see Thomas 2005, 341 n.16.

[12] Rhau 1959, 159–61; Luther's preface is edited on p. xv.

[13] Among many discussions of the medieval and early modern reception of the Dido episode, see Desmond 1994;  Ziolkowski and Putnam 2008, 511–542; Kallendorf 1989, 58–76; Idem. 1983b, 46–55; and Wilson-Okamura 2010, 233–247. Some of the early modern visual images of Dido scenes are reproduced and discussed in Fagiolo 1981, passim.

[14] Grendler 1989, 237–238; Kallendorf 1989, Ch. III; idem 1983b, 46–52.

[15] Many interpreters and re-interpreters of the Aeneid, both ancient and modern, from Macrobius (Ziolkowski and Putnam 2008, 524) to Purcell, Berlioz, et al. (Strunk 1930, 491-496; Draheim 1993, 322–344) focused on the Dido episode.

[16] See especially Brooks 1996, and van Orden 1996, 366-69 on Charles' travels to Italy.

[17] Ronsard 1937, 53–54; edited, translated, and discussed in both van Orden 1996, 342–45, and Brooks 1996, 188. The excerpt appears on pp. 10-10v of Ronsard's Hymne de tresillustre prince Charles cardinal de Lorraine (Paris 1559), a digital reproduction of which may be seen at

[18] Ibid., 189. Niccolò dell'Abate also painted an Aeneid cycle for Boiardo's palazzo in Scandiano around 1540.

[19] Helga Meier, the editor of Willaert's O socii setting for his Opera omnia, proposes that both Willaert's and Rore's settings were commissioned for Granvelle's elevation to cardinal in February, 1561 (XIV, p. x), but Bossuyt has shown that Willaert's setting was composed three years earlier in 1558 (Bossuyt 1998, 440).

[20] The procedure seems to have originated with Josquin's Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae for the Ferrara court; the term was coined by Willaert's pupil, the famous music theorist Gioseffo Zarlino.

[21] Prosperi 2015, 15–34; Everson 2001, 45–46; Balduino 1984, 57–92; Ugolini 1933, 44–53.

[22] Guerra di Troia, VIII, st. 318, edited in Gorra 1887, 100.

[23] Everson 2001, 45–49; see also Kallendorf 2007a for alternative, and sometimes quite negative, views of Aeneas.

[24] Brandolini 2001, 105, and 59, where he asserts that Vergil expresses the full range of moral philosophy in the person of Aeneas, and of virtues and vices through the other characters in the Aeneid.

[25] Ibid., 31. A troll through the TML (Thesaurus Musicarum Latinarum) on Indiana University's website for the Center of History of Music Theory and Literature, a searchable database of the texts of music treatises in Latin from the 3rd to the 17th centuries, reveals that the Iopas story was a favorite Aeneid citation of music theorists, often as a component in a humanist laus musicae:

[26] Besides the passages cited above, see, for example, Brandolini's long passage on the Aeneid, Ibid., 77–81.

[27] A. Traversari, Epistolae, 7.1, translated in Grafton 1999, 196.

[28] B. Guarino, De ordine docendi et studendi, translated Kallendorf 2008, 141.

[29] L. Bruni, De studiis et litteris liber, edited and translated in Grendler 1989, 239.

[30] For a more detailed discussion of the Italian origins of German musical humanism, see Lowinsky 1989, 156–162.

[31] For a brief discussion of Niger's Grammatica, including facsimile examples from the 1480, 1485, and 1501 prints, see Goff 1948, 61, 67.

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