30 June 2021

Doctor Diggle's Dictionary (2)

The older universities ... well, I am thinking of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin ... have an official known as either The Orator or The Public Orator. His job, nowadays, is to declaim elegant and witty speeches in the Latin tongue when distingushed honorands are being presented for their honorary degrees. Diggle was the Cambridge Orator 1982-1993. He also produced a study of the history of the job, in which I am a little suspicious of his use of evidence to establish the antiquity of the post. When he cites late medieval documents about 'orators' I suspect that some of his material relates to the the usage 'bedesman'; in other words, a lesser person is assuring a greater person that he will pray for him to the Almighty (bedesmen were sometimes carved around the monumental tombs of the great). 

Be that as it may, I think it is proven that Cambridge was the first university to have a formally appointed Orator. Its first Orator was a King's hellenist called Richard Croke, who taught at Leipzig, was admired by Erasmus ... he was a Canon of King Henry VIII College at Oxford (have you visited it?) and, laudably, a witness for the prosecution at poor Cranmer's trial. He died in 1558. He is one of those figures who give the lie to the picture of a corrupt late Medieval Catholicism, torpid and resistant to the New Learning. (As Duffy demonstrated, it was the reign of Mary which enabled the brilliance of the European Renaissance to shine in England.)

Diggle's tenure of this post coincided with another age in which gods (and goddesses) still walked upon earth. Syme ... Leakey ... (Owen) Chadwick ... (Alec) Guinness ... (Iris) Murdoch ... Elton ... . People still received Doctorates in Divinity in those days (Kueng; Chadwick; Soper ...); I'm not sure how much that is allowed nowadays. Likewise, when King Juan Carlos was being presented, Diggle referred to how Ferdinand and Isabella "aliena pro superstitione fidem confirmarunt Christianam"; I wonder what a kerfuffle such words might stimulate nowadays. And Diggle wandered down some exotic paths which, possibly, might today be thought a trifle over the top: in presenting Sir Geoffrey ['Galfridum', if you were wondering] Elton, he broke off to declaim "Ite hinc socioanthropopsychologisantium catervae!" When Jacques Derrida was 'done', Diggle evoked the spirit of Aristophanes: "Sokratikophroidiazousai".

Terms such as that did not make it into Dr Diggle's new Cambridge Greek Lexicon.

To be continued.

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