Melanchthon Writes a Decalogue Poem

I’ve written on the Decalogue, and specifically on the Decalogue in Melanchthon and Melanchthonianism at various times in the past. Below is a nice little epigram Melanchthon wrote on the importance of teaching the Decalogue to the young. (An emphasis easily seen elsewhere in Wittenberg, too—hence, e.g., it forms the first part of Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms). 

The poem, of only four lines, consists of two elegiac couplets. The first line of an elegiac couplet is a dactylic hexameter (the meter of epic and didactic poetry in classical antiquity): –⏕ | –⏕ | –⏕ | –⏕ | –⏑⏑ | – –. (Many thanks to Wikipedia for conveniently providing the scansion—with the exception that I am treating all final syllables as long—so that I don’t have to try to figure out the keystrokes for showing when a syllable can consist of either two short syllables or one long syllable.) The second line is a dactylic pentameter:  –⏕ | –⏕ | –  | | –⏑⏑ | –⏑⏑ | –.

In my English translation, I’ve once again tried to imitate the Latin meter in English, with accentual feet replacing quantitative feet. 

Here is Melanchthon’s Latin (page C3b):

In Decalogum.

Divino praecepta puer si prodita ab ore,

    Et facies casto pectore iussa Dei:

Ipse pater vitae cursum moderabitur omnem,

    Nec fortuna tibi saeva nocere potest.

And here is the English:

“On the Decalogue”

If as a youth you’ll perform the commandments proceeding from God’s mouth,

And with a virtuous heart honor the orders of God,

God the Father himself will guide the course of your whole life,

Nor can you ever be harmed, savage though fortune may be.


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