EP&M Online Poetry

The New Hercules: A Poem For His Holiness


Dr. Joseph S. Salemi
Department of Classics, Hunter College CUNY

The following Latin hexameters were written shortly after the election of the new Pope. They are more in the nature of an exercise than a literary attempt; many persons are far more adept at Latin verse composition than I am. An English translation has been appended to the Latin text.

In Latin, the hero Hercules is often given the epithet of claviger, or "club-bearer," because of the large club he carries. But claviger can also mean "key-bearer," originally in reference to Janus the god of doorways, and later by extension to the Supreme Pontiff, who is the keeper of the keys of St. Peter. This double meaning is the essential rhetorical core of the poem. Our new Pope bears the keys, but he also wields a club. That is why I call him haereticorum malleus, or "the hammer of heretics."

Some of the lines are heavily substituted with spondaic feet, to suit the solemn subject matter. In dactylic hexameter, many spondees add gravity and weight to the Latin line. In the last verse I employed the Greek ecclesiastical phrase oikos kyriakos ("the Lord's house") to start. I have taken the upsilon of the second word to be long--as it is by nature in Greek--even though an orthographic y usually does not make position in Latin meter. Mea culpa.

My thanks to my colleague Robert White at Hunter College, and his wife Jane White, for reviewing these hexameters and saving me from two blunders.

Versus scripti
in honore Sanctitatis Eius

Pontificis Maximi Sanctissimae Ecclesiae Romanae
ut celebretur electio eius
Dei gratia
ad Sedem Apostolicam.


Ecce, sacerdotem peperit Germania fortis
Mirifice doctum. Regnet securus et amplus!
Accrescat pietas; doctrina stet, Benedicte;
Christi nuptam duxisti feliciter almam.
Haec dilecta est perpetuo pulchrissima coniunx.
Palliolum tibi nunc offertur splendidius quam
Mundi vestimentum. Petri claviger esto
Et solus sacrosanctus Vicarius alti.
Haereticorum malleus es; cum robore persta!
Oikos kyriakos regnatur non sine pugna.

             --Joseph S. Salemi


Verses written
in honor of His Holiness
Supreme Pontiff of the Most Holy Roman Church
to celebrate his election
by God's grace
to the Apostolic See.


Behold, strong Germany has brought forth a priest
Wonderfully learned. May he reign safely and honorably!
Let piety increase; let doctrine endure, Benedict;
You have happily wedded the nurturing bride of Christ.
This most beautiful spouse has been chosen in perpetuity.
A small pallium is now offered to you more splendid
Than worldly raiment. You shall be the keeper of Peter's keys
And the single, sacrosanct Vicar of high heaven.
You are the hammer of heretics--persevere with strength!
The Lord's house is not governed without fighting.

        Latin hexameters and translation by
  Joseph S. Salemi

Copyright © 2005 by Dr. Joseph S. Salemi
All rights reserved