1. Although, particularly in Germany, short collections of Latin verse congratulating someone on the receipt of an advanced academic degree were sufficiently common to constitute a recognizable subgenre of poetic publication — a couple of representative examples can be seen here and here — it was not common for a newly-minted diploma holder to publish a poem on his own success, much less an elaborate and charming epyllion. But John Dunbar [d. 1626] was already an accomplished poet, having published his volume of Epigrammaton Centuriae Sex, Decades Totidem two years earlier (details about Dunbar’s life and epigrams can be found in the Introduction to that work, and his epigrams lavishly illustrate the milieu in which he lived and wrote), and so he composed this pleasant work celebrating his 1618 receipt of the Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Padua in an mythological allegory. (It is probably not irrelevant to note that two of Dunbar’s poetry-writing Scottish friends had already received similar degrees from Padua: Arthur Johnston, best remembered as the editor of the 1637 Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum, in 1610, and George Sibbald of Rankeillour, for whom see here, in 1614).
2. The epyllion, on the subject of the marriage of Apollo and Daphne (somehow Catullus’s sixty-fourth poemis lurking in the background), contains an easily-deciphered allegory. Apollo, who stands for the intellect (and at 112 we are reminded that he was also the patron god of medicine), is triumphantly united with his beloved Daphne, now transformed into a laurel tree, as described in Book I of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the laurel represents the victory-wreath at least figuratively conferred on a successful degree candidate (until academic reforms in the 1980’s, the highest obtainable Italian academic degree was actually called the laurea). Thus, just as Apollo gets his laurel, Dunbar receives his laureate.
3. Once the allegory is appreciated, one sees that the poem contains a number of significant details. The event involving so much pomp and bustle described at the beginning of the poem is both the the forthcoming wedding and the Paduan graduation ceremony. When Apollo devotes a long speech (25ff.) to recounting all the struggles and labors he has undergone for Daphne’s sake, the allusion is to all the effort needed to win doctoral laurels. Apollo even serves as a lay-figure for Dunbar himself at lines 46ff., where he recounts his arduous journey from the north. Here Dunbar describes a journey from Scotland to Padua, for poetic effect taking the most roundabout and difficult route possible: traversing France, crossing the Pyrenees to Spain, then taking ship for Italy and suffering whatever adventures and risks the sea might have to offer. At 92, the docti are included among those who are captivated by love of Daphne, i. e. motivated by the hope of gaining their own special kind of glory. In an academic context, the observation at 123f. gains extra point:
Saepe latet lacera veneranda scientia veste,
Et se purpureis tegit ignorantia pannis.
[“Often learning is concealed under a tattered gown, while ignorance clads itself in purple.”’
And in this context, the word studiis acquires particular significance at 184. At 227ff.. the academic implications of this poem are finally brought to the fore when the poet exclaims,
Doctorum te clara cohors venerantur, honorant,
Et tua sola petunt in praemia laeta laborum
Munera, seu medico placeat decurrere circo,
Sive velint sacros Themidos decerpere fructus,
Aut Pandioniis sua scribere nomina chartis,
Teque tuus fida fruitur modo coniuge Phaebo.
[“The noble crew of the learned worship and honor you, seeking your happy gifts as the sole reward for their labors, whether they choose to run the medical race, pluck the holy fruits of Themis, or affix their names to Pandion’s documents, as long as they have the enjoyment of you and your faithful consort, Phoebus.”]
A final detail that belongs on this list is the repeated use of the word tituli at 172, 190, and 199, since Dunbar has already used this word on the title page to designate the academic degrees he was receiving.
4. Dunbar’s Daphnaeum Doctorale was issued at Padua by the printer Giambattista di Martini, in 1618. Evidently the sole surviving copy is in the possession of the University of Edinburgh Library. I am greatly indebted to Dr. Jamie Reid Baxter for providing me with a copy of the text, supplying the translations to the Italian and French epigrams at the end of the volume (he is also responsible for translating the two Latin ones by Andrew Aidie), and offering much-needed encouragement and advice.