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  • Médecine et rhétorique à la Renaissance: le cas du traité de peste en langue vernaculaire by Véronique Montagne
  • Valerie Worth-Stylianou
Médecine et rhétorique à la Renaissance: le cas du traité de peste en langue vernaculaire. Par Véronique Montagne. ( Bibliothèque de la Renaissance, 17.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2017. 443 pp., ill.

In sixteenth-century France, outbreaks of plague occurred approximately every fifteen years, occasioning widespread fear; hence a significant number of popular medical [End Page 596] treatises were devoted to the subject. Drawing on a corpus of some forty-eight works published in French (including several translations into French and one bilingual French-Latin volume), Véronique Montagne explores how the authors — mainly physicians, but also some surgeons and apothecaries — presented an illness whose cause remained subject to hypotheses, and whose ravages respected neither social hierarchies nor professional learning. Nonetheless, the main focus of the study is not medical or social history, although there are certainly nuggets of both along the way, but rather 'l'écriture des textes' (p. 23). As with Andrea Carlino and Michel Jeanneret's edited collection Vulgariser la médecine: du style médical en France et en Italie (XVIe et XVIIe siècles) (Geneva: Droz, 2009), Montagne investigates the porous boundaries between medical and literary writing; she also positions the arguments of the corpus within more general developments in Renaissance dialectic, notably with regard to the influence of Ramus. After presenting her theoretical approach and sketching a brief introduction to the corpus (more on book history, including subsequent editions, would have been welcome here), the first and fourth of the main chapters are framed around a technical qualitative analysis of what Montagne terms 'les figures saillantes' (pp. 24-25 and 315-86). By this, she means recurrent tropes that surprise the reader by disturbing the smooth flow of the text; foremost among them are allotopy, comparisons, and analogies. Montagne suggests that they often serve to re-invigorate stereotypical images (for example, the plague as the enemy or a wild animal). In the central two chapters, the analysis focuses on the voices of the authors and on their argumentation. Using linguistic analysis to review how the authors establish relationships both with their readers and with other recent texts on the same subject, Montagne shows convincingly that some authors draw on their personal experience of the plague to build their authority. It is a shame that this chapter does not also pursue further the relationship between the sixteenth-century corpus and classical or medieval sources. The investigation of the dialectic of these treatises is, for me, the most original and game-changing section of the work: because the causes of the plague could not be identified with certainty, authors increasingly worked with plausible and logical arguments rather than definite proofs. They necessarily developed the technique of reasoning from probability in order to try to persuade readers that panic was not their best recourse (even if running away from the plague in practice remained a common form of self-protection!). While the Conclusion is careful to remind us that these stylistic and dialectical developments need to be seen as general rather than universal trends, ultimately the value of Montagne's work extends well beyond its analysis of French treatises on the plague. She proposes a convincing model for analysing the style and arguments of discursive scientific and medical writings in sixteenth-century France, in a period when, to use her own term, 'une logique rhétoricisée' still prevailed (p. 407).

Valerie Worth-Stylianou
Trinity College, Oxford


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pp. 596-597
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