Beyond Macaronic: Embedded Latin in Dante and Langland.
To a unique degree PPl is a poem about the search for meaning, and in its fictive-world language is the sole mediator of salvation. PPl contains more Latin passages than any other vernacular work of comparable length and kind. They occur throughout the text and range from tags to entire clusters of sentences (sometimes glossed, sometimes not). Though the Latin quotations in PPl were catalogued long ago, what has been needed is an analysis – or at least a prolegomenon -of the “higher governing functions” of this second language. A model of the iconic values that might attach to Latin and vernacular respectively is provided by Dante (Latin = incorruptible but artificial; vernacular = natural but mutable). In the Purgatorio and the Paradiso, embedded Latin acts as “a radical apex of discourse, a figure of ‘Logos’ itself.” By contrast, in the opening scene of PPl, Latin reflects and adds to our sense of confusion (e.g., B.Prol.139-47). At various times WL uses Latin as a scourge, a brickbat, a comeback, a trap, and a joke. Passus 15 even employs the device of reciprocal glossing (Latin explaining English as well as the other way round). The pardon crux of passus 7 involves a text in Latin and forces us to see that PPl’s central concern is not with language itself but with “recte legendi” (“right reading”). The conclusion of PPl depicts Conscience’s failure to maintain the integrity of language when faced with the willful misglossing of the cardinal virtues. Latin functions in PPl as a “speculum” in which the reader can catch a glimpse of perfectibility but also must confront the overwhelming flux of this world.
Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Bononiensis. Ed. Richard J. Schoeck. Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1985. 539-47.
Nolan, E. Peter.