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    "You star of the learned, you jewel of the pious"

    Satu Lehtinen

 

When Professor of Eloquence Daniel Achrelius started a speech, the audience held its breath. His poetic talents and outspokenness earned him a reputation. Researcher Raija Sarasti-Wilenius completed her doctoral thesis on the Latin epideictic speeches of Achrelius.


When Raija Sarasti-Wilenius talks about her research subject, Latin orations written in Finland, the response of the audience is spontaneous: "Most often people tend to think that well, there's not much to research in there then."

The researcher wants to prove this a fallacy: there is abundant material, which has simply been overlooked. "The Nordic countries have harboured the idea that material written in Latin is of no national relevance. Another reason is that historians have been unable to understand Latin."

Sarasti-Wilenius took part in a five-year project during which the participants collected and studied Latin literature written in the Nordic countries. The project resulted in an extensive Internet database and a publication entitled The History of Nordic Latin Literature.

The materials took the researcher by storm. She regards the speeches of Daniel Achrelius, written at the end of the 1600s when he was Professor of Eloquence at the Royal Academy of Turku, as particularly interesting. Latin speeches

were a part of the Academy's traditions and the celebrations of the circles close to it. Speeches dedicated to the royalty, nobility and the members of the Court of Appeal and the Academy were delivered at inaugurations, birthdays and funerals. According to the custom of that day, they were also printed.

Feared master of eloquence

Achrelius became the protagonist of Sarasti-Wilenius' doctoral thesis. She describes the professor
as a genuine renaissance person: he was not only a famous orator, but also a poet, compiler of textbooks and a philosopher of the natural world.

Poetic talent made the professor famous. When the master of eloquence spoke in the auditorium of the Academy, he attracted the most esteemed audiences of Turku. The occasions were both anticipated and feared. The Professor was famous for his frankness. This trait was a constant source of difficulties; the man who did not mince his words was suspended from his office more than once.

Sarasti-Wilenius points out that a certain degree of criticism was unavoidable: "The 17th century guarded the principles of Lutheran purity with jealousy, and the Catholic Church and the Pope were harshly criticised. Achrelius could be explicitly nasty but in the context this was allowable. This served to strengthen the unity of the audience."

Criticism of the Lutheran Church was naturally banned. When the master of eloquence accused the clergy of hypocrisy, Bishop Johannes Getzelius thought he recognised himself in the speech, and once again, Achrelius had to go.

Laudation orations emphasised virtues

The historical background of such orations dates back to the laudation orations of classical times. Laudation orations not only praise the object but also contain a moral point to educate the audience. According to Sarasti-Wilenius, the pedagogical function is particularly well illustrated in memorial speeches.

"The oration painted a picture of the person as an exemplary representative of his kin or profession. There was no need to confine oneself to the exact biographical information. The most important thing was that the orator showed the audience the significance of the virtues. The underlying thought was that virtue increases when praised."

Exaggeration and even extreme opinions were part of the style. The manner in which Achrelius paid his respects to a late professor of theology in his memorial speech might amuse an audience today: "Farewell, you follower of Christ and the faithful interpreter of his Gospel, you brother of
prophets and apostles, colleague of martyrs, king of the new Jerusalem; farewell you star of the learned, you jewel of the pious, the newest lamp of the newest light."

The virtues often emphasised _ Christian piety, justice and sensibility _ are part of the moral-philosophical tradition of classical times. Besides inner qualities, outward appearance was also praised: "It was known in the classical world that a `handsome package' of a person makes the virtue even more valuable."

Praise for knowledge and science was Achrelius' stock subject. The educational attainments
of the nobility were a source of concern for the professor. "In his textbook on rhetoric compiled for young aristocrats, Achrelius states that being noble by birth is not enough, nobility has to be redeemed by scholarship."

The orators resorted to rhetoric freedom. Historians have occasionally ignored that fact, and speeches have been read as biographical documents. "Caution should be taken if the aim is to establish historical facts from the speeches," says Sarasti-Wilenius. "Historians should also be familiar with the Latinate tradition."

Speech as a status symbol

A speech emphasised the social status of the orator, and a printed speech was, in particular, a much sought-after status symbol. This is illustrated by the fact that people ordered laudation orations. "Some even asked Achrelius to draw up their funeral speech."

The bourgeoisie imitated the nobility's custom of delivering speeches. Latin was the language of the Academy, whereas Swedish was the language of the middle classes. "Roughly speaking, Latin was the language of the learned and the nobility. Swedish was the language of the bourgeoisie, non-scholars and women."

In the 17th century, everyone studying at the Academy had to learn eloquence. Delivering speeches in Latin was one of the basic skills of
a learned man. In the 18th century, the status of Latin deteriorated and was largely replaced by Swedish _ even in the Academy. Simultaneously, the printing of speeches became rarer. In the process, eloquence was gradually replaced by studies in the Latin language and Roman literature.

Can a contemporary researcher deliver a speech in Latin? Sarasti-Wilenius ponders the question for a moment and says: "I had such a wonderful master that by imitating him, drawing up a speech should not be that hard."

Raija Sarasti-Wilenius: Daniel Achrelius' Latin Speeches and Rhetorical Theory in Seventeenth-Century Finland. 261 pages. Helsinki 2000. ISBN 952-91-2954-8. ß