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Original scientific paper

Stribiligo of Ilija Crijević – How to Understand a Poetic Expression

Neven Jovanović orcid id ; Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia

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Ilija Crijević, who chose for himself the humanist name Aelius Lampridius Cerva or Cervinus (Dubrovnik 1463–1520; received the title of poeta laureatus at the academy of Pomponius Laetus in Rome in1484; teacher at the local grammar school 1498–1505 and 1514–1520) composed a Latin poem of 175 iambic verses Super comoedia veteri et satyra, et nova, cum Plauti apologia. In 1872, Croatian historian and politician Franjo Rački (1828–1894; first president of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts, 1866–1886) selected 30 verses from the poem to illustrate Cerva's attitude towards the "vernacular language"; Rački interpreted the verses as Cerva's plea for classical Latin and criticism of the contemporary culture based on the native (that is, Croatian) language. The interpretation was supported and further honed by Jireček (1897, 1902) and Medini (1902). They singled out the phrase stribiligo Illurica as a token of Cerva's attitude, in the process separating the phrase from the poem, translating it wrongly as "Illyrian screeching" (Medini), but also realizing (Jireček) that Cerva was writing about three languages: Latin, Romance Dalmatian, and Croatian (or, generally, Slavic). Existence of Romance Dalmatian, however, was not registered in literary history of Dubrovnik, as told by Croatian, Yugoslav, and Serbian historians of literature (Vodnik 1913, Kombol 1945, Črnja 1978, Frangeš 1987, Bojović 2014); literary historians preferred Medini's (anachronistic) vision of Cerva as a brilliant scholar whose Italian education brought him into conflict with his national identity.
In 1969, Gortan and Vratović included Cerva in the influential anthology Hrvatski latinisti (Croatian Writers in Latin). They accepted the interpretation of Cerva as an author opposed to the use of Croatian language, but also offered their own translations for stribiligo Illurica ("Illyrian deformity", "Illyrian depravity"); they did not say outright, however, that "screeching" is an impossible equivalent for stribiligo. Almost exactly hundred years after Rački, in 1971, Škunca first recognized the poem Super comoedia... as an academic opening lecture (praelectio), intended for students of the Dubrovnik
humanistic grammar school. The poem was fully described and published in its entirety in 1991, by Mrdeža Antonina, with a Croatian translation by Milenko Lončar (who translated stribiligo Illurica as "Illyrian lisping").
A survey of Latin lexicography shows that stribiligo, attested in Gellius and Arnobius, provides strictly the Latin equivalent of "solecism", "a nonstandard or ungrammatical linguistic usage". A number of humanistic dictionaries (Tortelli, Giuniano Maio, Perotti, Calepinus) confirm that the meaning of the word remained the same during the Renaissance.
Stribiligo appears, in company with other words used by Cerva in Super comoedia... (insuescere, vernaculus, sermo, pretium), in a 1488 iambic poem by Angelo Poliziano, composed as a prologue for a performance of Plautus' Menaechmi in Florence (the play was performed by Paolo Comparini and his students). Poliziano's poem is a polemic, just as the Super comoedia...; Poliziano's targets are magistri triviales who compose plays in prose, or in bad verse, and Florentine Franciscans scandalized by dramatic performances.
Poliziano's magistri triviales infect their students' tender tongues by stribiligo (linguas tenellas polluant stribiligine), that is, they teach unstandard Latin. Poliziano, a professor at the University of Florence, was well known and highly appreciated in Renaissance Dubrovnik; he composed a number of opening lectures, so he could have been Cerva's inspiration for the choice of literary form as well.
When Cerva mentions stribiligo Illurica in his poem Super comoedia..., he has in mind "Illyrian solecism", a local unstandard linguistic usage. Because Plautus can correct this usage, it is possible that Cerva is thinking about Latin, which badly educated native speakers of Croatian use improperly.
The main context of Super comoedia... is school; the poem addresses students (probably the students of the Dubrovnik grammar school, probably Cerva's own students); it is a praelectio, an introductory lecture for a course on Plautus, and that explains the history of Greek and Roman comedy and Roman satire presented in the first section of the poem; it is a general background necessary to understand Plautus. Cerva also wanted to compete with Poliziano, transferring his theme and metre (Plautus and the iambic senarius) to another genre, and composing a praelectio on an author about which
Poliziano never wrote an introductory lecture. The tone of Super comoedia... can also be seen as inspired by Poliziano's polemic. Further interpretations of Cerva's poem should take into account its school setting and the possibility that the poem was not an attack on the use of Croatian in Early Modern Dubrovnik communication and literature, but rather an attack on Cerva's less competent colleagues.


literature of Dubrovnik; literary history; Neo-Latin poetry; Ilija Crijević; Angelo Poliziano; Neo-Latin lexicography; Renaissance Humanism; humanist education; linguistic situation

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