Divine Heroism, Divine Song

This one’s for the John Wayne fans.

Our poem for today’s edition of “Melanchthon Mondays” is on a similar theme to last week’s, but this time no particular poet is named. 

Once again, the poem is in elegiac couplets, and once again I’ve tried to imitate them in my translation.

The Latin text, from here (see p. G5b):

Humanas superans vires Heroica virtus,

#########Tales qui motus dat, monet esse Deum.

Sic etiam ubertas fundentis carmina venae

#########Esse Deum ostendit, motus et ille Dei est.

Ergo agnosce Deum, et iusto venereris honore,

#########Cum docti vatis scripta sonora legis.

And my translation:

Manliness conquering all of the powers encountered in mere men

     Must be how heroes profess impulses given by God.

Thus, too, richness of speech, like a stream in the one pouring forth song,

     Shows the existence of God: that impulse, too, is of God.

Therefore recognize God, and adore him with well deserved honor,

     When you pore over a scroll thundered by some learned seer.

As in the previous poem, Melanchthon touches on virtue and eloquence, but here in a slightly different way. In the poem on Homer, Melanchthon’s argument was that poets singing of virtue and doing so eloquently was a sign of divine inspiration, since only God, the Good, can cause true goodness, and only God, the Word, can cause true facility of speech.

In this poem, on the other hand, he widens the angle somewhat more. Now he has in view (1) virtue in action and (2) “richness of speech,” i.e. heroic men and the singers of heroic deeds. Both of these show not the inspiration of God, but his existence–for anything extraordinary must have a supernatural source. In other words, Melanchthon is asserting a surprising proof for theism. 

I’ve fudged a little in the English metri causa et cetera: really, he says that both virtue and song show esse Deum, that God is. In my translation, I kept the parallelism of “impulses” in lines 2 and 4. But, I think, “Thus, too, richness of song…shows the existence of God” still communicates the meaning and the semantic doubling of his esse Deum. Incidentally, this argument about heroica virtus is one Melanchthon makes in his prose writings as well.

I’ve rendered virtus as “manliness” because (a) that’s what the word means; (b) it preserves the pun I think he is making between virtus and vires (“powers”). The two words aren’t related (despte the valiant but ultimately futile attempts of many a beginning Latin student to translate vires as “men”), but they sound so similar that the wordplay is ready to hand. I’ve tried to reflect the wordplay in English with “manlinesss…mere men,” making my own interlingual pun on virtus superans humanas vires (“manliness conquering all of the powers encountered in mere men”).  

Finally, the conclusion. Last time, Melanchthon argued that we ought to give honor to poets because in doing so we are giving thanks for God’s good gifts. Here, he states that our observation of supernatural gifts in men ought to direct our gratitude and worship to God, their author. Melanchthon’s injunction consciously to observe the behavior of great men and to read the works of great poets within the economy of grace is a salutary reminder that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Anyway, hope you enjoy it.


Related Articles


Other Articles by

Join our Community
Subscribe to receive access to our members-only articles as well as 4 annual print publications.
Share This