- Des Satyres brutes, monstres et démons 1627
It is a wonderful thing to have Des Satyres, brutes, monstres et démons (1627) available to libraries, personal and institutional, for the first time since 1888. My thanks go out to Collection Atopia for this and other treasures of older French literary and cultural history, as well as to the editor Gilles Banderier, who provides a glossary (incomplete) and some useful bibliography, as well as a mostly literary introduction. I wish we could also have it in English: it would be a terrific addition to the syllabi of new courses springing up on monsters, the body, seventeenth-century science, the histories of comparative religion, anthropology, and natural theology — not to mention its value, as both primary and secondary text, for literary (and even art) historians.
The abbé d'Aubignac (1604-1676), humanist, poet, and theater critic, is better known to literary history for his groundbreaking work on the multiple and illiterate authorship of the Iliad, Conjectures académiques ou dissertation sur l'Iliade d'Homère — known to Friedrich August Wolf, who stole the glory — and especially the Pratiques du théâtre (1657); he is also, among other works, the author of [End Page 233] a kind of key to the language of préciosité, the Histoire du temps ou la relation du royaume de coqueterie. He is also (and pertinently) the grandson of the famous French surgeon and teratologist, Ambroise Paré, whose Des monstres we do have in English.
Des Satyres itself, composed for a jumble of reasons, is an instance at once of humanist learning, early modern scientific earnestness, and witty préciosité. It has a theological agenda, but also anthropological and teratological ones, and ends with a witty and moving allegorization of the figure of Pan as a cosmos of the sort Angus Fletcher writes about in his classic Allegory. It aligns itself with reason as much as with piety, and even its theological arguments are interlaced with biological and logical considerations that render the work a good example of the kind of intellectual balancing that so captivated learned divines (especially British ones) and virtuosi of the seventeenth century.
The arguments gesture more than once at throwing off the dead weight of auctoritas, and the author even takes issue with the work of a twelfth-century theologian who interested himself in the nature of satyrs. But the reality of the satyr or "demi-bouquin" is never questioned, nor are the narrative sources that present it — pagan, Christian, classical, and scriptural — especially not Jerome's account, which occupies much of the longest chapter, of Saint Anthony's encounter with a polite and apparently pious satyr in the desert.
D'Aubignac divides his subject into three possible identities, as the title plainly indicates. Satyrs are either "brutes, monstres [or] démons." He takes into account a vast array of sources including New World voyages as well as a great many philosophers — Plato, Aristotle, Pausanius, Pomponius Mela, and Plutarch among others — and benefits from his reading in natural history as well as Scripture and classical mythography. The book is a goldmine of sources on his topic. D'Aubignac's categories are his own: Des Satyres is a work of interpretation, as well as, incidentally, of literary and cultural history, which must prove that: 1) satyrs are, if supernatural, demonic: not gods, not messengers of the living God, not human, and 2) if or when part human, they are not included in the Providence extended to man. Satyrs as hybrids are monsters, and monsters are "brutes" — their human parent's contribution cannot make them "hommes adamiques" because it would be theologically absurd to consider that only some parts of their bodies have immortal souls and will see the Resurrection. As monsters they cannot engender — hybrids are naturally sterile — so the pious satyr must be lying to Saint Anthony when he claims he is an ambassador from his desert tribe, who ardently long...