Virgil and The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of HCBC

Misenus, a character in Virgil’s epic poem, the ‘Aeneid’. Picture: The Metropolitan Museum, New York (Public Domain).

3 August 2018

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch links rowing, The Andrews Sisters’ greatest hit, and Virgil’s Aeneid.

Internet auction sites are often a source of items that one suspects are unique. When someone questions the high price asked for a piece of memorabilia, dealers sometimes respond by challenging them to ‘find another one’. Such an object is currently for sale on eBay. It is a bugle engraved with the arms of Oxford University’s Hertford College, the initials of its boat club, HCBC, the date of May 1877, and a latin quotation from Virgil, Remumque tubamque (the alternative spelling, ‘Vergil’ is used).

The 1877 Hertford Bugle.

It is reasonable to speculate that this was produced for the 1877 Eights Week (a.k.a. ‘Summer Eights’). Eights Week is Oxford University’s main intercollegiate rowing event of the year. It takes place every May and is made up of a series of ‘bump’ races nowadays held over four days. In bump racing, a number of boats chase each other in single file, each trying to catch (‘bump’) the boat in front without being caught by the boat behind. Each boat is supported by a ‘bank party’ cycling on the towpath, who tell their crew how far they are from the one in front of them by a system of whistles. However, this rarely seems to work as it is difficult to tell who the whistles are from, they just blend into a high-pitched noise. I imagine that it would have been more effective if Hertford had used the bugle in place of a whistle.

The final day of Eights Week, 2014.

1877 was near the start of an exciting few years for Hertford College Boat Club. The college had been re-founded in 1874 and the new boat club started in October 1875. Its second secretary, E. Buckin, takes up the story of HCBC at that time:

The First Eight made its appearance in May 1876, and rose four places. After this, we have only to chronicle success. The Eight starting nineteenth in 1878, rose in that year six places to thirteenth – in 1879 five places to eighth – in 1880 three places to fifth – and in 1881 with five new hands when everything looked worst we rose the remaining four places to ‘Head of the River’.

Today, HCBC’s unofficial motto is ‘Fear the deer’. Alas, 1881 has been the only year that it went ‘Head’ in Summer eights.

The latin quotation, Remumque tubamque, would not have needed explaining to the young Oxonians of 1877, all would have been very familiar with Virgil’s Aeneid in its original Latin.

The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem in twelve books written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC. Ostensively, it relates the travels and experiences of its Trojan hero, Aeneas, but its main purpose was as a foundation myth, a glorification and exaltation of Rome and its people ‘Aeneas embodies the most important Roman personal qualities and attributes, particularly the Roman sense of duty and responsibility that Virgil thought of as having built the Rome he loved’.

In Book VI, it is revealed that Misenus, Aeneas’ comrade and trumpeter or herald, had challenged the gods to play as well as he did on the conch shell. For his impudence, he was drowned by Triton, a minor sea god.

Triton, the merman who blew on a twisted conch shell to raise or calm the waves. Less glamorously, he lived with his parents, Poseidon and Amphitrite.

The passage detailing Misenus’ funeral rites shows the importance the Romans placed on respect for the dead and Virgil spends 50 lines describing the preparations made for the funeral. He concludes the scene with the following (the underlining is mine):

At pius Aeneas ingenti mole sepulcrum
imponit suaque arma uiro remumque tubamque
monte sub aerio, qui nunc Misenus ab illo
dicitur aeternumque tenet per saecula nomen.

For those of us without a classical education, one translation is as follows:

Faithful Aeneas for his comrade built
A mighty tomb, and dedicated there
Trophy of arms, with oar and with trumpet
Beneath a windy hill, which now is called
“Misenus,” – for all time the name to bear.

On Misenus’ tomb was placed his arms (sword and armour) to denote that he was a warrior, an oar to show that he perished in a naval expedition, and a trumpet to denote his office. Thus, the inscription on the Hertford bugle, Remumque tubamque, can be translated as ‘With oar and with trumpet’

One comment

  1. So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

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