Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

Rimbaud's Ode to Jugurtha

Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

Rimbaud's Ode to Jugurtha

Article excerpt

Among Arthur Rimbauds earliest surviving poems is a Latin ode of eighty-three lines he wrote in 1869, at the age of fourteen, which won first prize in a regional academic competition. The students were given the theme "Jugurtha" and six hours to compose a poem on it. Jugurtha, King of Numidia, led a war of independence against Rome in the first century B.C. Sallusts history of his valiant but unsuccessful revolt was a staple of the secondary curriculum in Rimbaud's day, and thus familiar to Frenchmen who had received a classical education.

Rimbaud gave his ode a topical twist by imagining the shade of Jugurtha appearing to the infant Abd el-Kader, a hero of the Algerian struggle for independence. Captain Frédéric Rimbaud, the poet's father, had fought against Abd el-Kader and may have been present at his surrender in 1847. Captain Rimbaud was something of a martial ghost himself: He left his family to serve in Algeria when Arthur was five and never returned. He was sympathetic to the Arab cause and translated the Koran into French, just as his son would later do when he was living in Abyssinia. After his defeat, Abd el-Kader was exiled to Damascus, where he gained a reputation as a chivalrous modern Saladin. When riots broke out in 1860 between Maronite Christians and the Druze, a mystical Muslim sect, Abd el-Kader offered shelter and his personal protection to the Christians. In 1865 Napoleon III invited him to Paris, where he was given a hero's welcome.

One of the earliest Rimbaud legends attaches to this poem. …

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