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  • De Troie à Ithaque: Réception des épopées homériques à la Renaissance
  • Donald Gilman
Philip Ford . De Troie à Ithaque: Réception des épopées homériques à la Renaissance. Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance 186. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2007. x + 411 pp. index. illus. bibl. $86.45. ISBN: 978-2-600-01212-6.

In 1540 Eobanus Hessus proclaimed Homer as the "poetarum omnium seculorum longe princeps" (138). Certainly, other humanists would have contested this sweeping statement. Nonetheless, as Philip Ford has masterfully demonstrated, the textual reconstitutions, Latin translations, and commentaries of Homer's epics affirm the pervasive breadth and unequivocal depth of his influence in sixteenth-century Europe. In analyzing and synthesizing this vast amount of material, Professor Ford sensibly divides this study into two sections: an examination of the problems, particularities, and traditions of textual criticism; and the literary reception of Homeric epic in France. A clearer picture of poetic principle and practice emerges.

Three philological periods characterize the rise (1488-1540), development (1541-70), and decline (1571-1600) of interest in Homeric epic in France. In general, humanists proceeded from the establishment of the Greek text, to the publication of the text with accompanying Latin translation, to the preparation of annotated editions, and finally to the dissemination of commentaries. Henri Estienne's magisterial edition (1566), then, resulted from the diligent study and continual refinement of his predecessors to produce competent renderings and accurate translations. The first part of this study becomes therefore an important reference tool that elucidates the transmission of the text, and that chronicles efforts to include these works in the literary canon and school curricula. Such a survey, though, is hardly reduced to a compilation of listings. Rather, through analysis of several widely studied episodes (e.g., the love of Zeus and Hera [Iliad 14.341-56] and the Cave of the Nymphs [Odyssey 13.92-112]), the reader perceives the struggles of the translator to provide a linguistically accurate but stylistically faithful interpretation, as well as the attempts of the commentator to explain denotations and connotations of words and allusions. The translations of Divus, Crespin, and Salel and the teaching of Dorat, Turnèbe, and Lambin cannot be underestimated in the popularization of these epics. Further, allegorical readings of Homer's writings by ancient and Neoplatonic critics validated philosophical, theological, and political meanings that, in turn, encouraged humanists to syncretize Homeric ideas with Renaissance thought. As the Pseudo-Plutarch notes, the Iliad defines the importance of fortitudo, whereas the Odyssey extolls the virtue of prudentia. [End Page 1281]

Corresponding to the chronological divisions of the first half, the second three chapters center attention upon critical interpretations and literary adaptations. Budé stresses the military and political themes of the Iliad and the representation of Odysseus's character as an image of the aspirations and conflicts of the Christian soul. Jean Lemaire de Belges fictionalizes this moral allegoresis; and, if Rabelais borrows Homeric narrative to describe the duel between Pantagruel and Loupgarou, he also recognizes Homer as "père de toute philosophie" (Tiers Livre, ch. 13; 208). Dorat's teaching of the texts shapes Pléiade poetic practice. Through an incisive analysis of Dorat's thoughts on etymological and arithmetic hermeneutics, Ford identifies the levels of interpretation that theorists (e.g., Sébillet, Peletier, Ronsard) reworked, and that Pléiade poets employed to enhance subtlety of thought and expression. In brief, Ronsard transforms literal meaning into a metaphoric expression of "la vérité des choses" ("Hymne de l'Automne, " v. 81; 113). Scaliger's Poetices libri septem (1561) acknowledges the significance of Homer but emphasizes Virgilian artistry and Horatian prescriptions. Montaigne may have described Homer as "un maistre tres-parfaict en la connoissance de toutes choses" (Essais 2.36; 305), but his words become an epithet overshadowed by the developing formalism of seventeenth-century aesthetics.

Breadth of learning, depth of analysis, meticulous readings, and sound syntheses characterize the fine qualities of this examination. But, like all groundbreaking studies, this history of changing perspectives invites additional investigations into the theory and art of translation, intertextual and comparative readings of Homer's successors in France and Europe, and expanded explorations into the relation between Homer...


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