INTRODUCTION

1. George Chapman, the English translator of Hero and Leander, thought that it was the work of Musaeus, a mythological bard of that name, a contemporary of Orpheus, NOTE 1 and it is likely that Gager shared this view. In actuality it was written by a disciple of the late epic poet Nonnus, probably in the fourth or fifth century A. D. Chapman established the high valuation that the Renaissance placed on this tragic romance when he write, “it being <esteemed> by all <as> the most learned, the most incomparable love-poem of the world.” If Susanna portrays predatory eroticism as unpleasant and grotesque, the principal interest of the present effort is that it gives expression to the other side of Gager’s divided attitude on the subject. In this work, eroticism is presented favorably, and Leander’s aggressive suit, Hero’s agreeable response, and the ensuing consummation of their marriage are represented with unalloyed sympathy. Or at least so it appears on the surface. But to a thoughtful the rather equivocal “marriage” of Hero and Leander is quite literally shady: the poem associates eroticism with darkness, furtiveness, and night, and one wonders whether the lovers’ bond could survive the light of day. Indeed, the text particularly the passage at 359ff., gives plenty of evidence that their marriage is no real marriage at all. Gager’s selection of Hero and Leander for translation is psychologically interesting because its attitude towards eroticism is in fact quite ambiguous. In this context it is worth observing that both the general terms and some of the actual verbiage of his lengthy courting speech to Hero that begins at line 170 anticipate the similar wooing of Hippolytus by the Naiad at Panniculus 253ff.
2. The question arises when these youthful works wee composed. The first three items are followed by colophons stating that they were written when Gager was a scolaris, and this translation by one saying haec transtuli in Artibus Baccalaurius. Tucker Brooke (“Life and Times” 407) wrote:

…we have no details of Gager’s life as an undergraduate. He was already writing Latin poetry, and evidently found an encouraging patron in Robert Dorset, one of the canons and the treasurer of the college. His translation of the Batrachomyomachia into Latin hexameters, which opens his manuscript volume, and of which he says, “Haec lusi Scholaris,” may possibly have been done at Westminster, but the next pieces — his version of the Biblical story of Susanna in hexameter and of Isocrates’ precepts to Demonicus in elegiacs — were both dedicated to Dorset…

But surely scholaris signifies the same thing each time it is used. Either it means “schoolboy,” and Gager wrote all three pieces at Westminster (in which case, he must have written the appended dedications to Dorset after the fact) and in Artibus Baccalaurius means “while studying for the B. A.,” or scholaris means “undergraduate” and the latter phrase means “after having been admitted to the B. A.” The second interpretation is undoubtedly right. Although in the special terminology of Christ Church (represented, for example in its battel books) undergraduates were designated discipuli, scholaris was the standard Oxford term for an undergraduate student (Clark, Register II.i.7 n. 3). And if we were to relegate these first three items to Gager’s Westminster days, we would be manufacturing a considerable problem: one would have to explain why Gager was enormously prolific as a schoolboy, and again after receiving the B. A., but far less during his undergraduate years. This would ill accord with the picture he paints in poem LIX of a student devoting himself so wholeheartedly to Latin versification that he earned himself a whipping. For these reasons, and also because of the greater probability that the dedications to Dorset would be written to accompany fresh work done at Oxford, we can be sure that the Batrachomyomachia, Susanna and Praecepta quaedam Isocratis were written between 1574 and the end of 1577, and that this Musaeus translation was written between the beginning of 1578 and June 1580, when our poet incepted for the M. A.
3. This translation is preserved by British Library Additional Ms. 22583, our A, pp. 41 - 56. It is accompanied by a dedicatory epigram written for Gager’s cousin William Standen (poem CII). These verses were probably not written prior to 1581, since the fourteen year-old Standen only matriculated (as a so-called Case scholar) in that year.

 

Notes

NOTE 1 Cf. Richard Corballis, George Chapman’s Minor Translations (Salzburg, 1984) 2.