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Jacques Amyot and the Clerical Polemic Against the Chivalric Novel*

  • Marc Fumaroli (a1)

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The first part of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, published in 1605, is, as is well known, a satire on chivalric novels. We must all the same take note that the purpose which is clearly assigned to the novel in the prologue: “to destroy the authority which chivalric books have in the world and among the vulgar,” is never directly assumed by the narrator. Not that the latter is trifling with the purpose which he has publicly assigned to his narration; quite the contrary. But he takes care not to present himself as other than the docile and modest instrument which happens to be at the service of this higher end.

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*

The original version of this essay was presented at the meeting of the Renaissance Seminar of the University of Chicago and the Center for Renaissance Studies, The Newberry Library, in March 1984. As the prefaces or “dedicaces” from Amyot, Gohory, Jodelle etc. that are quoted, translated, or paraphrased in this essay have no pagination in the original sixteenth-century editions, I had no other choice than to leave the interested readers to check for themselves, at the beginning of the editions quoted in notes, the precise location of each particular phrase or sequence of phrases. In order to help, I tried to be faithful to the order as well as to the meaning of these texts. I owe a special debt to my friend, Professor David Buisseret, The Newberry Library, who helped me to translate both my own French and the sixteenth-century French quotations in current English. Quotations and paraphrases of Don Quixote are drawn from the standard French translation of Cervantes’ novel (Paris, Pleiade edition).

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1 Possevino, Antonio, Bibliotheca Selecta (Rom, ex Typ. Apostolica Vaticana, 1593), L. 1, ch. 25, p. 113 . The passage is suppressed in the Venetian edition (1603). The title of the subchapter is in itself a good summary of the argument: De Amadisis, et aliis ejusdem libris, quos varus Unguis hoc novissimo saeculo editos, nobiles potissimum versarunt, magno pietatis damno, ad Magiam veto, et ad sortilegia, denique ad heresim ostio per eos patefacto. Cautio ad superius caput pertinens. Boccaccio's Decameron and Ariosto's Orlando Furioso are included, with French and Spanish chivalric romances, among venena Diaboli to be carefully excluded from any Christian library. The Amadis vogue in France is accused, along with Rabelais’ Pantagruel, of having paved the way for the spread of Lutheran heresy there. Possevino regards novels in general as a diabolic perversion of imagination, leading to heresy and to magic or alchemical arts, and he finds the situation in France an evident proof. Going much further than Amyot, Possevino seems to have full knowledge of Jacques Gohory's occultist apologetic for the chivalric novel, which I analyze in the last part of this study. His Philippic is a late reply to Gohory's prefaces, themselves, as we shall see, a response to Amyot's 1547 preface violently attacking chivalric fiction. Possevino's insistence upon the danger to nobiles potissimum (the nobility of the sword) is a mirror image to Gohory's celebration of chivalric romance as the “school for gentlemen.”

2 Famiano Strada, S.J., Prolusiones Academicae (Rome, 1617). See my Age de l'Eloquence (Geneva, 1980), pp. 190-202.

3 See especially Bataillon, Marcel, Erasmo y España (Mexico City, 1966), ch. XIII, p. 620 .

4 Concerning Tasso as a theoretician of poetics and his influence, especially upon Cervantes, see Forcione, Alban K., Cervantes’ Christian Romance: A Study of Persiles y Sigismonda (Princeton, 1972), p. 7 , quoting Farinelli, A., Italia e Spagna, 2 vols. (Turin, 1929), II, 237-86. The Discorsi dell'arte poetica were published in 1587, and the Discorsi delpoema eroico in 1594.

5 See Forcione, op. cit., p. 7, about the Tassian sources of the Canon of Toledo's ideas.

6 The first edition of the Greek text had been published by Opsopaeus in 1534 from a manuscript which had been part of the famous King Mathias Corvin's Library (see Cioranescu, Alexandre, Vie de Jacques Amyot, d'après des documents inedits [Paris, 1941], P. 49).

7 See Cioranescu, op. cit.

8 Ibid., p. 62. Amyot was then in Venice, among the entourage of the Cardinal de Tournon, and was chosen by his master to read the King's letter in the cathedral of Trent (Sept. 1, 1551). The content of the letter was a frank refusal to allow the Gallican Church to participate in the Council. Cardinal de Tournon and the French Ambassador in Venice, Odet de Selve, took care not to go to Trent themselves. They sent the then little-known Amyot. That action did not mean that Amyot or his master the Cardinal rejected the idea of Catholic reform. The question at issue then was the traditional quarrel between the French King, in some ways the head of the Gallican church, and the Roman Pope, about the procedure and the aims of an ecumenical Council.

9 See Cioranescu, op. cit.

10 Ibid.

11 In fact, at the time when he prepared this translation, Amyot was not a priest, but a lay professor at Bourges University. In 1547 he received the benefice of an abbey and was tonsured (Cioranescu, p. 51). Born in a lower class family, he was evidently preparing himself for an ecclesiastical career, in which he ultimately achieved great success.

12 See Nicholas Herberay des Essarts, Prologue to Amadis de Gaule (1540) in Weinberg, Bernard, Critical Prefaces of the Renaissance (Evanston, III., 1950), pp. 8586 . This prologue, first reprinted in Vaganay, Hughes, Premier Livre d'Amadis de Gaule (Société des Textes franços modernes [Paris, 1918]), I, pp. xi-xiii) is in fact a short dedication to Prince Charles, due d'Orleans et d'Angouleme, second son of Francis I, and its critical content is negligible. Weinberg, who does’ not reproduce Amyot's prefaces, here seems simply to have followed a tradition started by Vaganay.

13 Le septieme livre d'Amadis de Gaule… Histoire très excellente d'Amadis de Grece… (Paris, 1546).

14 See the very useful study, Baret, Eugène, De l'Amadis de Gaule et de son influence (Paris, 1853), where Du Bellay's “Ode to Des Essarts” is quoted. Herberay is already praised there as “L'Homère françois.” Regrettably, I couldn't use M. Simonin, “La disgrâced’ Amadis,” Studi Francesi, 82, 1984, 1-35.

15 Ibid. p. 163.

16 Ibid. p. 165.

17 Ibid. p. 161.

18 Sept livres et histoires de Diodore Sicilien, nouuellement traduuyts du grec en françoys (Paris, 1554); dedicated to King Henri II. In his preface, Amyot emphasizes that “princes et grands seigneurs” are by privilege and position the best readers of histories. “Les mouvemens de guerres, yssues de batailles, traittez de paix et autres telles haultes et grandes matieres,” the natural subjects of history, provoke in those individuals who participate in comparable events in contemporary life, more than in common mortals, both “jugement” and “delectation.” Such “delectation” originates for such individuals in history's “representation” of their own deeds, situations, and feelings, reflected in the mirror of the past as in a painting.

19 Georges de Selve, officially first in charge of the translation of Plutarch, died at the time Amyot presented his own translation of Heliodorus to King Francois I, who then asked Amyot to take over the royal charge of translating the Parallel Lives into French.

20 Concerning the Examen de ingenios, widely read and translated throughout Europe as late as the middle of the next century, see Possevino, op. cit. L. 1, ch. 13-18, entirely dedicated to a discussion of Huarte's theory. The book's influence upon Cervantes has been studied by Salillas, Raphael, Un gran inspirador de Cervantes: Huarte de San Juan (Madrid, 1915) and by Iriarte, M., “El ingenioso hidalgo y el Examen de ingenios,” Revista Intern, de estudios bascos, 24 (1939), 499524 .

21 The central role of this Hellenistic novel in the post-tridentine debate about the norms of Christian epic and Christian romance is evidenced by Marcel Bataillon, loc. cit., and by, among others, Forcione, op. cit., pp. 13-29, “Imitation and Innovation.”

22 Cioranescu, op. cit., p. 51. The discovery occured during Amyot's stay (1548—1551) in Italy, where he won the esteem of the powerful and learned Cardinal de Tournon.

23 See Note 18 above.

24 La vie des hommes illustres grecs et romains, “Préface aux lecteurs“: “Cette louange [the famous Horatian dictum about the two ends of art] à mon advis est deue proprement ou principalement plus qu'à nulle autre à la lecture des histoires, comme à celle où il y a plus d'honneste plaisir joinct avec l'utilité, et qui a plus d'efficace pour ensemble plaire et proffiter, resjouyr et enseigner, que nulle autre sorte d'escriture d'invention humaine.“

25 Paris, 1552. The antithesis between “fables” and “chroniques” (i.e., “histoires vrayes“) and the relative disdain newly shown by Herberay towards the former demonstrates the efficacy of Amyot's argument, at least in raising a problem that henceforth could no longer be avoided by the contemporary critic or novelist. That the court humanists were divided about the solution to this problem is demonstrated by Marc Antoine Muret's poem praising Herberay as “Homere second/Premiere gloire de France” in the same volume of the so-called “Cronique.” Many humanists, besides Muret, sided, as we shall see, with other translators of the subsequent Amadis “livres,” themselves humanists, such as Claude Colet and Jacques Gohory. A third translator, G. Aubert, in his preface to the XIIth Book (Paris, 1560) will protest that his translation was only a “recreation,” and claim that his next achievement will certainly be a “plus haut et plus laborieuse entreprise.“

26 (Paris, 1553). Dedicated to “Mgr. Jean de Brinon, Seigneur de Vilenes, Conseiller du roy en son Parlement de Paris.“

27 (Paris, 1555). Claude Colet died in 1553.

28 (Paris, 1555). I rely upon the editions available at the Reserve of the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale. As Colet in 1553 alludes to Gohory among the Amadis des Gaules’ translators, we may conclude that either an earlier edition exists or, most probably, that Colet knew through common friends of the existence of Gohory's work in progress. This 1555 edition is adorned with a poem by Muret comparing Gohory's translation to a fertile metamorphosis (“gaye saison,” “richesse,” “fleurs“) of “vieux chants” in a youthful cornucopia, transforming a faded Spanish hero into a rejuvenated French “valeureux.” About the ideas of sixteenth-century humanism concerning the art of translating, see Norton, Glyn, The Ideology and Language of Translation in Renaissance France…, Geneve, Droz, 1984 .

29 (Paris, 1571). Dedicated to the Countess de Retz. In his introductory text, Gohory gives his impressive bibliography (Compendium of Paracelsus, translation of Titus Livius, of Macchiavelli upon Titus Livius, of Apollonius’ Argonautica, Animadversiones omnis generis antiquitatum) and a fully array of Pleiade authorities, as if to prevent his translations from “gothic” Spanish from any suspicion of provincialism or of hostility towards the translatio studii humanist program.

30 (Chambéry, 1575). Dedicated to Princess Henriette de Clèves, Duchess of Nevers. In his “Préface au Lecteur,” Gohory alludes to his translation of Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and does not hesitate to compare the Italian chef d'oeuvre to the Amadis books, seeing in the two fictions, as in Boccaccio's Filocolo and in Petrarch's Poems the same cypher challenging the “esprits sublimes” to discover “secrets de nature.“

31 Concerning this much neglected masterwork of French fiction, see Marquet, Jean Francois, “Béroalde de Verville et le roman alchimique,” XVIIe sieck, 120 (1978), 157-70. Béroalde de Verville, like Gohory, is the author of a translation and edition of the Hypnerotomachia (1600).

32 See the 1571 “Dedicace“: “Car à ces esprits revesches et rebarbatifs, ennemis de toute joyeuseté, qui les estiment (the chivalric romances) inutiles et reprehensibles, nous satisferons amplement en vostre presence. Car vous qui estes instruite en la langue grecque et latine, en laquelle vous surpassez Lelia, Cornelia, Martia en leurs langues naturelles… (there is therefore no incompatibility between the highest humanist learning and the enlightened taste for chivalric romances) ne prendriez pas plaisir en telles oeuvres (estant stylée et accoutumée aux meilleures) si vous n'y sentiez quelques joyeuseté d'artifice, gamy, parmy la gayeté des comptes, de quelque sue et moelle de doctrine.” Gohory identifies Francis I as the patron of Luigi Alamanni and an assiduous reader of the latter's Gyron le Courtois, “qui est ouvrage tout semblable à l'Amadis“: “II s'en faisoit lire en sa chambre, il ammonestoit les gentilshommes là presents de les manier aucunesfois en leurs maisons, leur remonstrant par sa Royalle Eloquence que sous l'escorce de ces joyeuses narrations y gisoit de bonnes instructions morales pour la noblesse en exaulsant les vertueux faits et en blamant les vicieux, en recommandant tousjours l'adoration et reverence de Dieu, la defence du bon droit principallement des personnes pitoyables, damoyselles, veufves, orfelins… Que ils conseillent le travail et exercices de guerre, abhorrent l'oysiveté, louent largesse et liberalite et taxent l'avarice… et la vertu rebutée plus leur affermoit les enseignemens des moeurs parmy ceste douce volupté de comptes plaisans et heroiques que dedans les autheurs des Ethiques, espineux, sees, et étiques.“

33 “Dedicace,” “Je feray doncques fin à ce discours par une desmonstrance de l'art Rhetoricale qui consiste en construction des Rommans, non croyables qu'à ceux qui en contemplent de pres l'architecture. Lesquels connoissent certainement que la delectation y estant pour fin proposée, au Rommanceur, selon les Institutions Oratoires de Cicéron, le style aussi y est floride, net et coulant (the chivalric novels’ dispositio and elocutio are not alien to the rules of humanist rhetoric). Quant au sujet, que l'ordre des temps y est observé, la description des lieux, les conseils des entreprises, y vont devant, puis le fait, les événements après (which means a certain amount of humanist verisimilitude). Qu'il ne traite pas seulement les actes, mais les modes et manieres d'icelles, des événemens il affine les causes, ou dc cas fortuits ou de pourvoyance et de témérité. Et quant aux gestes des hommes, il touche de ceux qui excellent en los et renom, la vie et bales complexions. Or pour rendre le Rommanceur sa narration plus plaisante, il met en avant choses nouvelles ou non, mais jamais ouyes ne veues, il la rend plus agrèable par admiration, attentes, issues inopinées, (here the hellenistic “suspens,” linked to admiration and surprise, is claimed for the chivalric novel technique), passions entremeslées, devis des personnes, douleurs, coleres, craintes, joies, desirs evidens. Quant à la disposition, il monte aucunesfois de petites choses aux grandes, autresfois il descend des grandes aux petites, autresfois il les mesle les unes parmy les autres, et les simples avec les composées, les obscures avec les claires, les tristes avec les gayes, les incroyables avec les vraysemblables: qui n'est pas besogne de petite industrie (the varietas, supreme ingredient for delectatio, in the full humanist sense, is therefore here cultivated with the utmost cunning, and according to the spirit of rhetorical poetics, within the range of a verisimilitude extended to the “merveilleux,” la miraviglia). The end of the dedication draws far-reaching conclusions from that polemic apology for chivalric fiction: poetry is superior to history, and the “inventions fabuleuses,” the “dire mensonge” of poet-novelists have more “hidden truth” in them than the pretension to truthfulness in the often biased and lying historical “chroniques.“

34 “Dedicace.” The last argument in this remarkable text lies in the eulogy of the “risibilité humaine” which the chivalric novel expresses according to the spirit of a true liberal and noble education, and which is ignored or even hated by the pedants, “un tas de lourdauds, loups garou, vieilles rosses, melancoliques formez, fascheux, ridez rustiques.” There is a rabelaisian enthusiasm in the final celebration of le “riz,” la “gayeté honneste,” of Solomon's proverb: “Bien vivre en esjouissance,” all fruits of properly reading the chivalric romances.

35 The mediation is evidently Tasso, whom Gohory quotes in his dedicace to Henriette de Clèves (1575): “Ce n'est pas sans cause que le gentil Italien Tasse a reduit nostre Amadis en son Rhyme Toscane comme le docte Luigi Alamanni Gyron le Courtois, par le commandement du grand roi Francois, des quels j ‘ ay sceu, Madame, que n'estiez pas desgarnie.“

* The original version of this essay was presented at the meeting of the Renaissance Seminar of the University of Chicago and the Center for Renaissance Studies, The Newberry Library, in March 1984. As the prefaces or “dedicaces” from Amyot, Gohory, Jodelle etc. that are quoted, translated, or paraphrased in this essay have no pagination in the original sixteenth-century editions, I had no other choice than to leave the interested readers to check for themselves, at the beginning of the editions quoted in notes, the precise location of each particular phrase or sequence of phrases. In order to help, I tried to be faithful to the order as well as to the meaning of these texts. I owe a special debt to my friend, Professor David Buisseret, The Newberry Library, who helped me to translate both my own French and the sixteenth-century French quotations in current English. Quotations and paraphrases of Don Quixote are drawn from the standard French translation of Cervantes’ novel (Paris, Pleiade edition).

Jacques Amyot and the Clerical Polemic Against the Chivalric Novel*

  • Marc Fumaroli (a1)

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