It is a curious fact that nearly all surviving literature in Latin was written not in the Roman Empire but in early modern Europe. Renaissance humanists, in particular, wrote in serious Latin (usually prose) about philosophy, science, history and theology, and then, in their spare time, fashioned elegant Latin poems, often on frivolous subjects. These literary ‘trifles’ (nugae) were reprinted enthusiastically for generations but declined in popularity in the 19th century, when they were castigated by philological purists for their artificiality, lack of authenticity, and bad grammar. Since then, most of them have been languishing in the deepest stacks of research libraries.
Two such trifles, both with standardised spelling and facing English translations, have now been republished by Michael Fontaine, a professor of classics at Cornell who is an advocate for making the study of Latin enjoyable. The Pig War, or Pugna Porcorum, was composed by a minor humanist known by his Latin moniker, Placentius, a Dominican monk who studied at the so-called College of the Pig at Louvain University. In 1530, he moved to Antwerp and published The Pig War. This poem has the dubious distinction of being one of the earliest surviving examples of a tautogram: a text, usually in verse, in which every single word begins with the same letter.
The opposing parties in Placentius’s The Pig War are the fat hogs (porci) and the small but ambitious piglets (porcelli). A fight begins after the piglets object to the way in which the hogs ‘hog’ all the social privileges. The piglets win the first round and, after negotiations with the