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  • Introduction à la lecture de Sénèque (1586)
  • Jan Pendergrass
Henri Estienne . Introduction à la lecture de Sénèque (1586).Textes de la Renaissance 109. Ed. Denise Carabin. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2007. 529 pp. index. bibl. €96. ISBN: 978–2–7453–1373–7.

Introduction à la lecture de Sénèque is a modern bilingual edition and translation of Ad Senecae lectionem proodopoeia, a Latin treatise written and published by the French humanist Henri Estienne in 1586. It represents a logical companion volume to Denise Carabin's recent historical study titled Henri Estienne, érudit, novateur, polémiste: Étude sur Ad Senecae lectionem proodopoeiae (2006).

Henri Estienne (1531–98) is known for his many contributions to the history of classical scholarship and early French literature. He published critical editions, translations and commentaries of Greek and Latin authors, anthologies, dictionaries, biblical texts in several languages, Calvinist doctrinal literature, and polemical works in defense of the French vernacular. His Conformité du fran çois avec le grec (1565), Précellence de la langue françoise (1579), and Hypomneses de Gallica lingua (1582) helped promote acceptance of the French language as a cultural medium and offered stylistic criteria for its use. A steadfast advocate of eloquent Latin, he displayed scornful opposition to the champions of Ciceronianism in such works as De Latinitate falso suspecta (1576), Pseudocicero dialogus (1577), and Nizoliodidascalus (1578). His four-volume Thesaurus linguae Grecae (1572) became a familiar reference work for generations of Hellenists.

The publication of Ad Senecae lectionem proodopoeia coincided with a rising vogue of Neostoicism within Europe's intellectual community. Estienne claims to have written it not only in response to criticism leveled against the philosopher Seneca by Aulus Gellius and Quintilian, but also, and perhaps more significantly, in response to Marc-Antoine Muret's "flawed" Roman edition of Seneca's collected [End Page 996] works from the preceding year. Muret, who had died shortly before completing his editorial work, was widely celebrated in Roman Catholic circles as a leading proponent of Ciceronian style. Hence, in all likelihood, Estienne saw in the critical discussion of Seneca's writings a welcome opportunity to publicly renew his opposition to the nugatory strictures of Ciceronian aesthetic.

Ad Senecae lectionem proodopoeia is divided into two distinct sections. Section 1 contains eight chapters focusing on various aspects of Seneca's moral philosophy, including the Roman philosopher's definition of the Stoic sage, his choice of Greek technical terms, and his relationship to Epicureanism. Section 2 contains twelve chapters that are devoted mainly to issues of textual analysis. Here, Estienne identifies some of the salient characteristics of the philosopher's writing, such as the omission of conjunctions, patterns in his use of interrogatives and indirect discourse, metaphors that are characteristic of his style, his use of rare technical terms, and the influence of Greek. He also discusses a long list of exegetical and editorial "errors" introduced by early modern scholars such as Caelius Secundus Curio, Erasmus and Hernán Nuñez (Pinciano). Muret, however, receives the full force of his critique. When faced with two variant readings in Seneca, says Estienne, Muret tends to select only the one he favors and suppress the other altogether, thus depriving his readers of the tools of dissent. Typical of Estienne's writing style are the frequent insertion of Greek expressions into his text and the use of Hellenistic neologisms that may be unfamiliar to modern readers. Even the curious title Ad Senecae lectionem proodopoeia (an introduction or guide to the reading of Seneca) will leave many readers guessing. The expression proodopoeia derives from the Greek verb προοδοποιέω, which means to clear a path or to show the way. Carabin correctly translates the word as a guide or introduction. However, Estienne perhaps also chose the term to suggest an attempt to remove debris that blocks our path to a proper understanding of Seneca. In his view, years of neglect and faulty editorial practices had buried the true Seneca beneath so much debris that it had become unnecessarily difficult to read and interpret his work.

Denise Carabin is to be commended for making this challenging text accessible to modern readers in the original Latin and in modern French translation...


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pp. 996-997
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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