Monday, January 17, 2011

Swine at War: 16th Century Poem or Pork-Barrel Congress?

All the world's a sty and all the men and women merely oinkers...

by Stephen J. Gertz

In Ausberg 1530, Heinrich Stayner printed a curious work of neo-Latin poetry. Written under the pseudonym, Publius Porcius, and 253 hexameters in length, it is titled Pugna Pocorum (The Battle of the Swine), a narrative allegory of human behavior, and though tempting to do so it should not be conflated to an overview of contemporary American politics - but go ahead, anyway.

It is also one of two priceless examples of a tautogram, an alliterative form of poetry wherein every single word begins with the same letter, here "P." The other tautogram of note is one  discussed not too long ago by Booktryst, De laude calvorum ad Carolum Calvum Imperatorem by Hucbald of St. Amand, each word in that appreciation of alopecia beginning with the letter "C."

This bizarre poem is the only claim to fame of its author, John Leo Placentius or John the Pleasing, of whom we know little beyond that he was born c. 1500 in St. Truiden, near Liege, and educated at Bois-le-Duc, in the School of Hieronomytes. He entered the Dominican order and was sent to Louvain for his theological studies.  He also wrote a history of the bishops and dioceses of Tongres (Tongeren), Maastricht and Li├Ęge until 1506. He died c. 1548.

John Leo Placentius
aka Publius Porcius
Portrait woodcut from edition of 1831.
A learned pig.

The poem has been reprinted on a few occasions (1586; 1642; 1648), typically as part of small collections of other satirically licentious and/or anti-clerical neo-Latin poetry. It was, for example, reprinted without date, publisher, or location (somewhere in Germany) in 1690 as part of a collection titled, I. Papa Pariens! [The Pope in Labor!] II. Porcus Pugnans! [Fighting Pigs!] III. Priapus Periclitans! [Priapus Threatened!] IV. Papasinus [The Pope's Lap].

The 1690 edition is quite rare with OCLC locating only two copies in institutional holdings wolrdwide, and COPAC recording only one copy, at Cambridge.

A copy of the 1690 edition, however,  has recently come to market, offered by Alastor Rare Books in the U.K. which, in its recent Catalogue Eighteen, presents the volume with the deadpan headline, "Rhapsody in Pee," assuring that readers will be all wet if presuming a  pissior-inspired work to follow rather than the "P-nuttiest" poem ever written.

"It's the P-nuttiest thing I've ever read!"

Inquiries to Alastor Rare Books may be made here.

[PLACENTIUS, Jean-Leo]. I. Papa Pariens! II. Porcus Pugnans! III. Priapus Periclitans! IV. Papasinus. N.p. [Germany]: n.p., 1690. First edition thus, with separate title pages. Quarto. 32 ff [A1-B4; A1-B4; 4 ff.; A1-B4].

Ref.: BL German, 1601-1700, P81.

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