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  • La Syrinx au bûcher: Pan et les satyres à la Renaissance et à l'âge baroque
  • Louisa Mackenzie
Françoise Lavocat . La Syrinx au bûcher: Pan et les satyres à la Renaissance et à l'âge baroque. Travaux d' Humanisme et Renaissance 397. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2005. 476 pp. + 56 b/w pls. index. illus. bibl. CHF 140. ISBN: 2–600–00963–9.

A thematic, rather than author-centered, study of the figure of the satyr in European literature, this ambitious book's chronological span is from the late fifteenth through the late seventeenth century, with textual examples from Italy, France, Spain, and England (the first two considerably more represented), as well as abundant references to Greek and Latin source texts. The erudition is impressive, as one expects from Droz, attesting to a broad reading of primary (including archival) and secondary sources, including references to frontispieces and the plastic arts supported by an appendix of black-and-white plates. Lavocat proposes that satyrs, initially allegorical figures that reflect on the processes of writing and reading, mutate, and at the end of the seventeenth century are emptied of their mythological function to pass into the domains of fable and fiction, becoming what she repeatedly calls "personnages." This is a subtle move, and enables more sophisticated readings than if she had merely recounted a series of "disappearances." Shown perhaps most impressively by the nuanced analysis of multivalent representations of the flaying of Marysas (85–93), Lavocat shows the categorical deaths and rebirths of the satyr, who persists finally as a Bakhtinian type in the modern novel. The idea of passage concludes each chapter, and at times the effort to reduce her meticulously documented variety into one overarching narrative appears a little forced. As a thesis, it is intriguing and implicitly convincing, but this reader would have liked to see more pressure applied to the idea of Pan's transition into a novelistic type throughout the work, rather than in the last pages of the conclusion. There was also on occasion a lapse into rather simplistic binaries (myth-fiction, religion-literature), as well as coupled terms (demonization and naturalization), which might have benefited from some complication. On the whole, though, the author fearlessly embraces complexity, and is particularly scrupulous in her careful distinctions between different members of the satyr family: Silenus, Marsyas, Pan, and Midas.

Chapter themes are as follows: the disappearance of the allegorical function of [End Page 562] Silenus, Midas, and Marsyas (chapter 1); the "fall" of Pan from royal allegory and Neoplatonic signifier to a mere commemoration of himself, accompanied by Counter-Reformation efforts to render satyrs, dance, and poetry itself diabolical (chapter 2); rewritings of the story of the death of Pan, signaling his "death" in certain literary traditions (chapter 3); the "voice" attributed to the satyr, based on the sixteenth-century conflation of satyr and satire (chapter 4); and the satyr's brief presence in pastoral theater, confirming his entry into the domain of the spectacular (chapter 5). The conclusion offers a satisfying summary, while also raising some issues only summarily dealt with in the body of the work, which would have benefited from more sustained treatment, notably the idea of the real existence of satyrs, especially in the Americas. This posited real existence is attached, somewhat too late, to the author's notion of "fiction" (416).

The authors dealt with are too many to enumerate exhaustively: among them are Erasmus, Pico, Bruno, Francesco Colonna, Tasso, Andreini, Rabelais, Marguerite de Navarre, Vigenère, Budé, Pascal, Calderón, Bacon, and Rankins. Many are evoked in multiple chapters. The incessant accumulation of textual examples, and the rapid jumping from one writer (and nation) to another, renders the book somewhat hard to read, particularly for readers formed in Anglophone traditions of scholarship who might find themselves yearning for slower unpacking of specific textual moments, more situation of individual authors in their particular contexts, and more synthetic takes on each author. National scholarly differences aside, though, the promise of attention to the specificity of literary genre was not quite borne out, perhaps because of the juxtaposition of so many kinds of example. The plates were on occasion similarly hastily dealt...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 562-563
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-27
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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