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  • Rabelais et l'intertexte platonicien
  • John Parkin
Rabelais et l'intertexte platonicien. By Romain Menini. (Travaux d'humanisme et Renaissance, 461; Études rabelaisiennes, 47). Geneva: Droz, 2009. 224 pp. Hb €91.08.

Romain Menini divides his deep and stimulating treatment into three parts, considering first the state of Plato studies during Rabelais's lifetime, then assessing the latter's exploitation of the Platonic corpus, and passing finally to detailed reassessments of three particularly significant sections, namely the Prologue to Gargantua, the 'hieroglyphique de Rabelais' (that is, the androgynous 'image' placed on Gargantua's cap in c. 8), and the Antiphysie passage of the Quart livre. Documentary evidence suggests that Plato's actual dialogues were unknown to Rabelais prior to 1520; moreover, the multiple references that ultimately flood his published work, as listed in Menini's Annexeand including the different versions of the Cinquième livre, raise the inevitable issue of source. Given the wholesale exploitation of Plato (and Socrates) in antiquity (witness Cicero, Plutarch, and Macrobius), plus the input of Erasmus and Ficino in the Renaissance, can one disentangle primary from secondary sources? More significantly, is it right to do so, given the manner in which Renaissance authors viewed and reviewed antiquity? The Renaissance Plato is in fact 'une autorité plurivoque' exerted via a large number of traditions, ancient and modern, and of which Rabelais was fully aware. Indeed, Menini argues, that awareness came well in advance of the Platonist cult developed in the 1540s around Marguerite de Navarre, and which is ironized somewhat by Rabelais even in the liminary dizain to the Tiers livre (for me a precarious reading). His aim is to turn his own Platonism against late-comers: for instance, Gaster represents a travesty of the Ficinian topos 'amor magister artium', and Panurge's éloge des dettes becomes a parody of Socratic enquiry that extends throughout the ensuing volume. Certain treatments are avowedly brief (for example, on Pantagruel; see p. 86), and one may be surprised to learn of the burgeoning of Platonic translations after 1940 (sic, p. 74), but the close readings in Menini's third section certainly offer rich rewards. Rabelais's silènes are re-examined using the dialogue Symposium and an association of Alcofribas with Alcibiades, one echoed later in the Tiers livre banquet scene. The second topic, Gargantua's 'image' or impresa, is developed with even greater originality, as Menini seeks to refute the theme of androgyny. Alongside Rabelais's use of Aristophanes in, again, Symposium, plus the Pauline source of the motto (i Corinthians 13. 5), must be placed a 'troisième intertexte', namely Horus Apollo's treatment of hieroglyphics, which reveals the prophylactic significance of this 'corps humain ayant deux testes'. Finally comes the material on 'les fils d'Antiphysie', where Rabelais's adaptation of his source (Calcagnini) is compared illuminatingly with the original; in the process it emerges how Rabelais returned to Plato in order to amend the Italian's version and so enrich his own — an exemplary lesson in Renaissance ways of reading. The few misquotations and typographical errors (even including an ungrammatical final sentence?), and the still rarer misreadings (surely the pilgrims of Gargantua c. 45 are yet to be Grandgousier's 'fidèles sujets' (p. 87)) are hugely compensated by Menini's painstaking approach, impressive apparatus, and important discoveries.

John Parkin
University of Bristol