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Reflecting Lesser Lights: The Imitation of Minor Writers in the Renaissan*

  • JoAnn DellaNeva (a1)


In a probing article that appeared not very long ago in this journal, G. W. Pigman III called attention to the following passage from Petrarch's Familiares which deals with the Italian author's unconscious reminiscence from well-known and often-read authoritative works:

I have read Virgil, Flaccus, Severinus, Tullius not once but countless times … . I ate in the morning what I would digest in the evening, I swallowed as a boy what I would ruminate upon as an older man. I have thoroughly absorbed these writings, implanting them not only in my memory but in my marrow, and they have so become one with my mind that were I never to read them for the remainder of my life, they would cling to me, having taken root in the innermost recesses of my mind. But sometimes I may forget the author, since through long usage and continual possession I may adopt them and for some time regard them as my own; and besieged by the mass of such writings, I may forget whose they are and whether they are mine or others'.



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Research for this article was facilitated by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, for which I would like to express my gratitude. I also wish to thank J. William Hunt for his generous help in refining translations from Latin texts, as well as Leonard Orr, G. W. Pigman, and Thomas M. Greene for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.



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1 “Versions of Imitation in the Renaissance,” Renaissance Quarterly 33 (1980): 1-32.

2 Petrarca, Francesco, Letters on Familiar Matters, trans. AldoS. Bernardo, 3 vols. (Baltimore, 1985), 3:212-13. The Latin text: “Legiapud Virgilium apud Flaccum apud Severinum apud Tullium; nee semel legi sed milies, nee cucurri sed incubui, et totis ingenii nisibus immoratus sum; mane comedi quod sero digererem, hausi puer quod senior ruminarem. Hec se michi tarn familiariter ingessere et non modo memorie sed medullis affixa sunt unumque cum ingenio facta sunt meo, ut etsi per omnem vitam amplius non legantur, ipsa quidem hereant, actis in intima animi parte radicibus, sed interdum obliviscar auctorem, quippe qui longo usu et possessione continua quasi ilia prescripserim diuque pro meis habuerim, et turba talium obsessus, nee cuius sint certe nee aliena meminerim”; Le Femiliari (1942; rep. Florence, 1968), ed. Vittorio Rossi and Umberto Bosco, vol. 4, 106 (bk. 22.2: 12-14).

3 Letters, 212. “Legi semel apud Ennium, apud Plautum, apud Felicem Capellam, apud Apuleium, et legi raptim, propere, nullam nisi ut alienis in finibus moram trahens. Sic pretereunti, multa contigit ut viderem, pauca decerperem, pauciora reponerem, eaque ut comunia in aperto et in ipso, ut ita dixerim, memorie vestibulo; ita ut quotiens vel audire ilia vel proferre contigerit, non mea esse confestim sciam, nee me fallat cuius sint; que ab alio scilicet, et quod vere sunt, ut aliena possideo” (Familiari, 105-106; bk. 22.2: 11).

4 Compare T. S. Eliot's definition of minor poets as those “who do not figure so conspicuously in any history of literature, who may not have influenced the course of literature, … whose work is not necessary for any abstract scheme of literary education … .” See “What is Minor Poetry?”, in On Poetry and Poets (London, 1957), 42.

5 See the distinction between “allusion” and “repetition” in Greene, ThomasM., The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven, 1982), 49-50. Likewise, consult Cave, Terence, The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (Oxford, 1979), 174, where the “cornucopian” text is identified with the works of “Homer, … Hesiod, Virgil, Ovid, and other major classical authors” (emphasis added).

6 “My concern is only with strong poets, major figures with the persistence to wrestle with their strong precursors, even to the death.” Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973; rep. New York, 1978), 5.

7 For an extensive discussion of these canons, consult George Kennedy, Alexander, The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World 300 B.C.-A.D. 300 (Princeton, N.J., 1972), 348- 49, 366-67. See also Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Ancient Orators and Isaeus, in The Critical Essays, trans. Stephen Usher (Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge, Mass., 1974]).

8 “My design is merely to select a few of the most eminent authors for consideration” (“Paucos enim qui sunt eminentissimi excerpere in animo est”); Institutio oratoria, trans. H. E. Butler (Loeb Classical Library [1922; rep. Cambridge, Mass., 1961]), vol. 4, 26- 27(10.1.44-45).

9 For Quintilian's opinion of Homer, see ibid., 48-49 (10.1.85-87); on Horace, see ibid., 54-55 (10.1.94); on Cicero, ibid., 60-61 (10.1.105). 10 See ibid., 50-51 (10.1.88) for Quintilian's opinion on Ennius; and ibid., 56-57 (10.1.99) for his evaluation of Plautus.

11 See Conrad of Hirsau, , Dialogus super auctores, ed. R. B. C. Huygens (Brussels, 1955). For a discussion of these curriculum lists and medieval canon formation, consult Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (1953; rep. Princeton, N.J., 1973), 48-54, 247-64, as well as R. R. Bolgar, The Classical Heritage and its Beneficiaries (1954; rep. Cambridge, 1973), 196-97.

12 See Le prose in Opere, vol. 1 (1729; rep. Ridgewood, N.J., 1965). For a discussion of Bembo's contribution to the establishment of a vernacular canon in Italian, consult Trabalza, Ciro, ha critica letteraria nel Rinascimento (secoli XV-XVI-XVII) (Milan, 1915), 75-77.

13 Once again, Eliot provides a striking parallel in his discussion of major versus minor poets: “with our contemporaries, we oughtn't to be so busy enquiring whether they are great or not; we ought to … leave the question whether they are great to the only tribunal which can decide: time” (“What is Minor Poetry?”, 51).

14 While Renaissance theorists did not always cite Plato in their arguments, they were no doubt aware that this premise finds its ultimate authority in the Republic, where the subject of mimesis, or imitation of reality, is discussed. See The Republic, trans. Allan Bloom (New York, 1968), 279-80 (10:597b-e). Also consult on this point D. A. Russell, “De imitatione,” in Creative Imitation and Latin Poetry, ed. David West and Tony Woodman (Cambridge, 1979), 4. Similarly, in contiguous passages of the Institutio oratoria (10.2.25-26), Quintilian affirms the inescapable inferiority of imitators to their models, declaring that it is impossible to imitate any one model completely and perfectly (vol. 4, 88-89). Seneca the Elder repeats this proposition in the Controversiae, trans. M. Winterbottom (Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge, Mass., 1974]), vol. 1, 6-7. Seneca's statement is echoed in the Renaissance by Vives, Juan Luis, On Education (De tradendis disciplinis), trans. Foster Watson (Cambridge, Mass., 1913), 190 (bk. 4, ch. 4), andin Jonson, Ben, Timber or Discoveries, ed. RalphS. Walker (New York, 1953), 59. It is important to note, however, that both Quintilian and Seneca link the concept of inevitable inferiority in imitation to an argument in favor of multiple model imitation and do not use this premise as a basis for an argument against minor model imitation per se.

15 Minturno, Antonio, L ‘Artepoetica, in Literary Criticism, Plato to Dryden, trans. Allan H. Gilbert (New York, 1940), 301. “Nepocoimporta, quali sieno coloro, cheadimitare ti proponi. Conciosiacosa, che l'imitazione non habbia tanta vertû, che possa agguagliare la cosa, che s'imprende adimitare, equal'ella è, rappresentarla … . Onde, seesempio prenderemo da’ piggiori, cadrem tanto, che niuna laude meriteremo: se da migliori; quando caderemo, rimarrem pure nel numero di coloro, che son molto pregiati”; L'Arte poetica (Venice, 1563), 445.

16 “Nos, qui eius scripti simulacrum, quod sit pulcherrimum et perfectissimum, nobis proponere debemus, in quo effingendo studium et diligentiam adhibeamus; cum illud ante oculos habeamus; ad eorum etiam, quae non ita pulchra sunt, exprimendas imagines curam atque animum traducemus? Mihi quidem falli Pice videtur, qui sic existimat. Neque enim ita formati a Diis immortalibus sumus, ut cum suppeditare nobis ea, quae prima sunt, valeamus; sectemur quae secunda sunt: multo minus, quae sunt infra secunda: animus enim noster summum quiddam semper atque altissimum suspicit”; Le epistole “De imitatione” di Giovanfrancesco Pico della Mirandola e di Pietro Bembo, ed. Giorgio Santangelo (Florence, 1954), 41-42. An English translation of this text, though not entirely accurate, is provided in Pietro Bembo, “A Pamphlet on Imitation Addressed to Gianfrancesco Pico,” in Controversies over the Imitation of Cicero, trans. Izora Scott (1910; rep. New York, 1972), vol. 2, 9. An earlier analogous argument was developed by the anonymous theorist known as Longinus, who speaks of a certain power of inspiration that flows from the most admirable authors to the aspiring writer and who compares our admiration for the best writers with our similar feelings of awe for great things in nature. See On the Sublime (13.2 and 35.4), in Aristotle, Longinus, Demetrius, trans. W. HamiltonFyfe(Loeb Classical Library [1927; Cambridge, Mass.; i960]), 166- 67, 224-27.

17 “For seven whole years now I have touched no books but Ciceronian ones, abstaining from all the rest as religiously as a Carthusian from meat”; Desiderius Erasmus, The Ciceronian: A Dialogue on the Ideal Latin Style, trans. Knott, Betty I., vol. 28 of Collected Works of Erasmus, ed. A. H. T. Levi (Toronto, 1986), 346. “lam annos septem totos nihil attingo praeter libros Ciceronianos, a caeteris non minore religione temperans, quam Carthusiani temperant a carnibus”; Il Ciceroniano 0 dello stile migliore, ed. and trans. Angiolo Gambaro (Brescia, 1965), 20. It is commonly assumed that the Nosoponus character is a caricature of Christophe de Longueil, who was said to have vowed to read no one but Cicero for a period of five years. See Knott's intro., 329, and Vallese, Giulio, “L'umanesimo al primo Cinquecento: Da Cristoforo Longolio al Ciceronianus di Erasmo,” in Da Dante ad Erasmo: Studi di letteratura umanistica (Naples, 1962), 103-28.

18 “Et quia a puero didiceram in omni numero semper optimum esse eligendum, corrupti stomachi et intemperantis aegri esse putabam, deteriorem cibum seligere, salutarem et optimum aspernari”; “Paulus Cortesius Angelo Politiano,” in Prosatori latini del Quattrocento, ed. Eugenio Garin (La Letteratura italiana, 13 [Milan, 1952]), 906. For another English version, see “Cortesi's Answer to Politian,” in Scott, Controversies, vol. 1, 20.

19 Ascham, Roger, The Schoolmaster, ed. Lawrence V. Ryan (Ithaca, N.Y., 1967), 124. See also Ricci, Bartolomeo, De imitatione lihri tres (Venice, 1545). The first book of Ricci's treatise may be found in Trattati dipoetica e retorica del Cinquecento, ed. Bernard Weinberg, (Bari, 1970), vol. 1, 417-49.

20 “Non erit ille igitur prorsus insanus qui, inventis ac paratis frugibus, glandibus vesci velit, quique rivos insectetur et fontem cum limpidissimum, turn uberem relinquat, aliundeque potius quam ab ipso sole lumen haurire desideret?”; Giovambattista Giraldi Cinzio, “Super imitatione epistola,” in Weinberg, Trattati, vol. 1, 202.1 wish to thank Robert Ketterer for his help with this translation.

21 This argument may find its origin in the third book of Plato's Republic, where Socrates declares that the guardians of the city should imitate only good things. See Republic, 74(3:395C-d).

22 An excellent example of this argument may be found in Petrus Paulus Vergerius, “De Ingenuis Moribus,” in Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, ed. William Harrison Woodward (1897; rep. N.Y., 1963), 110 .

33 Timber or Discoveries, 37.

24 “Id cum deliberavissem, magna me haesitatio tenuit: deberem ne eos, qui mediocritatem non excederent, an illos potius, qui essent omnium eminentissimi, statim initio aggredi: quos omni studio colerem, ad quorumque similitudinem me quam diligentissime compararem. Nam si animum ad summos adiecissem, illud verebar, ne me vel rei difficultas ab incepto deterreret; vel certe frangeret suscepti oneris magnitudo: cum me parum proficere optimorum scriptorum longeque praestantissimorum exemplis comparationeque cognoscerem: sin autem mediocribus me tradidissem, equidem sper abam fore, ut cum ab illis quantum vellem profecissem, et facilior mihi esset et plane tutior ad eos transitus, quiprimihaberentur” (Santangelo, Epistole, 51; see also “A Pamphlet on Imitation,” Scott, Controversies, vol. 2, 13-14).

25 “Sed angebar animo, quod, ut odore novum vas, sic quo primum rudimento stilus imbueretur, permagni interesse audiebam: mentem etiam ac cogitationem meam multo libentius in summis excellentibusque viris fixam erectamque detinebam. Vicit tamen sive timor, sive imbecillitas plane nostra voluntatis propensionem, qua trahebar. Itaque dedidi me iis magistris instituendum: quorum scripta non tarn laudarem, quod bona, quam reciperem, quod paratiora optimis commodioraque ad imitandum viderentur. Eos igitur acerrimo studio summaque diligentia cum tam diu essem sectatus, quoad mihi videretur me eius, quod concupieram, magnam esse partem consequutum: ad illos me converti, quos esse facile principes omnium hominum testimonio sentiebam: ut eos item sequerer, animumque meum atque mentem ad ipsorum rationes hauriendas imbibendasque traducerem. Id cum sedulo etiam atque etiam experirer; mea me delusum spe sane atque deceptum cognovi. Non enim solum faciliorem mihi eorum imitationem aliorum scriptorum imitatione non esse factam; sed multo etiam difficiliorem, praeclusosque ad earn aditus potius quam patefactos videbam. Nam, quam mihi usui putabam fore insumptam in exprimendis mediocribus operam, ea sane impedimento fuit. Animus enim iam noster diligenti exercitatione illorum scribendi rationibus eruditus atque assuetus eundem morem diu retinuit: a quo quoniam aberat is, quern de optimis hauriri oportebat; contra, quam existimaveram, fiebat; ut scilicet multo minus ad eos exprimendos essem idoneus, quam si me nunquam mediocribus tradidissem” (Santangelo, Epistole, 51-52; see also Scott, Controversies, vol. 2, 13-14).

26 Two classical texts form the foundation for this assumption. Quintilian acknowledges that this opinion is commonly held, though he himself does not use it as a basis for an argument in favor of early minor model imitation. See Institutio oratorio, vol. 1, 254 (2. 15. 18-19). Similarly, Dio of Prusa devised a program of reading to be taken as a “shortcut” to eloquence, via the easier path of secondary models. See Dio Chrysostom, Discourses, trans. J. W. Cohoon (Loeb Classical Library [1939; rep. Cambridge, Mass., 1950]), vol. 2, 214-17 (Dis. 18:4).

27 “Quod igitur ad Statium attinet, ut non hos satis esse absolutos libros paulisper dederimus, nihilo tamen secius cur eos praelegendos susceperimus egregie nobis ratio constiterit. Quid enim prohibet vel ideo adolescentibus non statim summos illos, sed hos si ita placet inferioris quasique secundae notae auctores ediscendos praebere, ut imitari illos facilius possint?” (“Oratio super Fabio Quintiliano et Statii Sylvis,” in Garin, Prosatori, 870).

28 “Nam quemadmodum novellis vitibus humiliora primum adminicula atque pedamenta agricolae adiungunt, quibus se gradatim claviculis illis suis quasique manibus attollentes in summa tandem iuga evadant, ita nee statim ad ipsos sicuti primi ordinis scriptores vocandi adolescentes, sed humilioribus iis, qui tamen haud abiecti humi iacentesque sint, quasi paulatim invitandi sublevandique videntur” (ibid., 870).

29 “Itaque neque qui aurigari discunt valentissimas statim ac praeferoces ad currum quadrigas adhibent, nee qui navali erudiuntur praelio non in portu prius tranquilloque mari aliquandiu exercentur, neque non multo facilius multoque libentius adolescentuli in scholis doctiores condiscipulos quam magistros ipsos imitantur; non enim cuiquam temere evadere ad summas licuerit, nisi proxima quaeque antea, nisi quae paratissima amplectatur” (ibid., 870-72).

30 On Education, n o (bk. 3, ch. 3), “Facilius videlicet attollunt se pueri ad intelligentiam aequalium, quàm magistri, quippe parva et tenera citius apprehendunt (quo innitantur) proxima, quàm excelsa; quod in arboribus videmus contingere”; De tradendis disciplines, in Opera omnia, ed. Gregorio Majansio (1785; rep. London, 1964), vol. 6, 311.

31 On Education, 189 (bk. 4, ch. 4), “Imitatio porro effictio est rei alicujus ad exemplar propositum, quo circa proponenda sunt quaejuvet expressisse, optima scilicet, non simpliciter, sedjuxta praesentes vires; sapienterque a Marco Fabio praecipitur, ne initio pueri ad magistri aemulationem conentur assurgere, ne destituantur viribus, sed, quod illis erit facilius, ac promptius, aliquem de condiscipulis doctiorem exprimant, quo innisi paullatim se ad magistrum exprimendum erigant; quod consilium agricolas in maritandis vitibus videmus sequi” (De tradendis disciplinis, 362).

32 E. K., “The Epistle Dedicatory to The Shepheards Calender,” in Elizabethan Critical Essays, ed. Gfeorge] Gregory Smith (1904: rep. Oxford, 1959), vol. 1, 131-32. The spelling of this passage has been slightly modified to conform to modern typographical distinctions between “u ” and “ v . ” Similar modifications will be used as needed throughout this paper. For an insightful discussion of “minor genres,” see Ruggero M. Ruggeri, “Convenzioni e convinzioni relative al ‘minore': Per una verifica di certe categorie letterarie e artistiche,” in Il “minore” nella storiografia letteraria, ed. Enzo Esposito (Ravenna, 1984), 107-30.

33 The topic of minor works of major writers is discussed by Oreste Macri, “ ‘Maggiori' e ‘minori’ o di una teoria dei valori letterari,” in Esposito, Minore, 28-29. For another view concerning the literary critic's interest in such works, consult Renza, Louis A., “A White Heron” and the Question of Minor Literature (Madison, 1984), 19-20.

34 On Education, 196-97 (bk. 4, ch. 4). “Eorum quae imitationi sunt proposita, quaedam nunquam possis ad perfectum referre, quod genus sunt homini naturalia; ea vero semper sunt sequenda, quoniam aequare non est concessum, furoris est enim hoc sperare” (De tradendis disciplinis, 366).

35 “Nequeego paraphrasim esseinterpretationem tantum volo, sedcircaeosdem sensus certamen atque aemulationem”; Institutio oratoria, 114-15 (10.5.5).

36 Schoolmaster, 88. Cicero's discussion of this technique may be found in the De oratore, trans. E. W. Sutton (Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge, Mass., 1942]), vol. 1, 105-07(1.34.154-55).

37 Schoolmaster, 88. Ascham later reveals that this opinion owes much to Johann Sturm, who “also counseleth all scholars to beware of paraphrasis, except it be from worse to better, from rude and barbarous to proper and pure Latin, and yet no man to exercise that neither, except such one as is already furnished with plenty of learning and grounded with steadfast judgment before” (ibid., 93). The relevant passage from Sturm's De imitatione oratoria is quoted in Schoolmaster, 93, n. 47: “Paraphrasibus bonorum orationes in eadem lingua explicando dilatare, aut aliis verbis commutare non laudo: quicquid enim substituetur fiet deterius. Nam boni oratoris est, et fuit illis aetatibus omnium oratorum, ita scribere: ut nihil additum aut abstractum, aut transpositum potuisset effectum opus facere melius.”

38 “Nec dubitem versus hirsuti saepe poetae / Suspensus lustrare, & vestigare legendo, / Sicubi se quaedam forte inter commoda versu / Dicta meo ostendant, quae mox melioribus ipse / Auspiciis proprios possim mihi vertere in usus / Detersaprorsus prisca rubigine scabra … . Nil adeo incultum quod non splendescere possit, / Praecipue si cura vigil non desit, & usque / Mente premas, multumque animo tecum ipse volutes”; The De arte poetica of Marco Girolamo Vida, ed. and trans. Ralph G. Williams (N.Y., 1976), 98-99 (bk. 3, 196-201, 207-09).

39 “Flumina saepe vides immundo turbida limo: / Haurit aquam tamen inde frequens concursus, & altis / Important puteis ad pocula. desuper ilia / Occultis diffusa canalibus influit, omnemque / Illabens bibulas labem exuit inter arenas”; De arte poetica, 98-99(3: 202-06).

40 A similar combination of the alchimy and distillation images are used later in the century by Gabriel Harvey: “True Alchimy can alledge much for her Extractions and quintessences; & true Phisique more for her corrections and purgations. In the best I cannot commende the badd, and in the baddest I reject not the good, but precisely play the Alchimist [sic] in seeking pure and sweet balmes in the rankest poisons. A pithy or filed sentence is to be embraced, whosoever is the Autor; and for the lest benefit received, a good minde will render dutifull thankes, even to his greatest enemy.” See “An Advertisement for Pap-Hatchet” in Smith, Critical Essays, vol. 2, 282.

41 Such is also the case for Quintilian, who likened the vast array of literature at the disposal of the aspiring writer to a banquet, at which one invariably first takes the best fare and then turns “to other food which, in spite of its comparative inferiority is still attractive owing to its variety.” He suggests, then, that the reading of secondary authors would be acceptable at a later stage of the students’ career, once their style and taste have been developed. Institutio oratoria, vol. 4, 34-35 (10.1.5. 57-59).

42 “Tempus erit, tibi mox quum firma advenerit aetas, / Spectatum ut cunctos impune accedere detur”; De artepoetica, 16-17 (bk. 1, 214-15).

43 Schoolmaster, 88.

44 It is perhaps Horace who first suggested the basis for this argument in two separate passages that treat of Pindar's inimitability. See Epistle 1.3:9-11 in Horace, Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough (Loeb Classical Library [London, 1926]), 270-71, and Ode 4.2: 1-4 in The Odes and Epodes, trans. C. E. Bennett (Loeb Classical Library [1914; rep. London, 1919]), 286-87. Also consult on this point Greene, 67-68. Quintilian reaffirms Horace's estimation of Pindar and, earlier in the same book, expresses a similar feeling towards Homer. See Institutio oratoria, vol. 4, 30-31, 34-37 (10.1.50, 61).

45 A classical parallel to this argument is provided by Longinus, who, drawing a distinction between flawless mediocrity and faulty genius, maintained that “in great natures their very greatness spells danger.” See On the Sublime, 216-19 (33:1-2).

46 Consult on this point Quintilian, who recognized that stylistic virtues are difficult to imitate without degenerating into faults. But Quintilian does not develop this premise into an argument against major model imitation. Instead, this warning is issued simply as a general caveat to all imitators to use goodjudgment in their imitations. See Institutio oratoria, 82-83 (10.2.16).

47 On Education, 191 (bk. 4, ch. 4). “Utilis est imitatio verborum Ciceronis, et tuta, dictionis vero non item; hanc enim si quis non assequatur, in sermonem quendam degenerabit redundantem, enervem, vulgarem ac plebeium, cui vicinus admodum est M. Tullius; a qua tamen vilitate vindicat ipse se et asserit admirabili dignitate orationi addita ex scientia et cognitione multarum et maximarum rerum, turn concinnis et venustis numeris, aptissimis et naturalibus metaphoris, contrapositis, periodis, gratia quadam inexplicabili, ac prope inimitabili” (De tradendis disciplinis, 363).

48 Ciceronian, 377. “Summa liberalitas nonne vicina est profusionis vitio? Et summa severitas an non affinis est truculentiae? … Et summa festituitas urbanitasque, nonne ad scurrilitatis ac levitatis accedit viciniam?” (Ciceroniano, 108-10).

49 Ciceronian, 378-79. “Tam fluidum est illi dictionis genus, ut remissus ac solutus alicubi videri queat; tarn exuberans verborum copia, utredundans… . Haec ut fateamur in Cicerone vitia non esse, propter insignem illam naturae felicitatem, quam decent quae facit omnia; ut etiam virtutes sint, sic tamen insunt, ut ob viciniam non careant specie vitiorum sub iniquo iudice … ” (Ciceroniano, 114).

50 Ciceronian, 379. “Colligimus igitur, nullius imitationem periculosiorem esse, quam Ciceronis, non tantum eo nomine, quod summus orator, et extra omnem ingeniorum aleam positus est, … verum etiam quod pleraque in illo sic summa sunt, ut vitiis sint proxima” (Ciceroniano, 114). It should be noted that Erasmus refers to Horace's judgment concerning the inimitability of Pindar in this passage.

51 “Chacun sait intuitivement qu'une imitation comique ‘exagère’ toujours les traits caracteristiques de son modèle: c'est ce procédé que les Formalistes russes baptisaient… la stylisation. Le terme le plus juste et le plus précis serait peut-être celui de saturation … .” Genette, Gérard, Palimpsestes: La littérature au second degre (Paris, 1982), 95.

52 Ciceronian, 379-80. “Siquidem imitatio spectat similitudinem, aemulatio victoriam. Itaque si totum et unum Ciceronem tibi proposueris, non in hoc tantum ut ilium exprimas, verum etiam ut vincas; non praetercurrendus erit, sed relinquendus magis. Alioqui si illius copiae velis addere, fies redundans; si libertati, fies petulans; si iocis, fies scurrillis; si compositioni, fies pro oratore cantor” (Ciceroniano, 116).

53 Ciceronian, 369. “Certe in aliis alia magis eminent ob raritatem, quae in M. Tullio ornamentorum densistate velut obscurantur: perinde quasi si certas Stellas notare velis, facilius id fades si rarae luceant, quam si tota coeli pars pariter insignibus obsita sit. Itidem si vestem conspicias totam gemmis obtectam, minus te capient singulae” (Ciceroniano, 84-86). Likewise see Seneca: “A single tree is not remarkable if the whole forest rises to the same height” (“Non est admirationi una arbor, ubi in eandem altitudinem tota silva surrexit”); Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, trans. Richard M. Gummere (Loeb Classical Library [1918; rep. London, 1925]), vol. 1, 232-33.

54 ” Advertisement for Pap-hatchet,” from Pierce's Supererogation or a New Pray se of the Old Asse, in Smith, Essays, vol. 2, 281. See also Vives, who speaks of the dangers for Christians of reading pagan literature in these terms: “These books … must be regarded as a great field, of which one part is useful, and another hurtful; in which useful herbs spring up in one place, and noxious weeds in another; whilst in a third part the field is planted with flowers which serve for pleasure and adornment.” On Education, 48-49 (bk. 1, ch. 6); De tradendis disciplinis, 269. He repeats similar images later in his treatise: “How then ought we to read? How are we to gather healthy plants from amongst so many poisonous weeds? What are to be our precautions in stepping amongst the thorns?” See On Education, 127 (bk. 3, ch. 5); De tradendis disciplinis, 322. Indeed, the moral implications of reading great pagan literature sometimes lead literary theorists to recommend the reading of inferior, but Christian, or at least inoffensive pagan models, thus providing another argument in favor of minor model imitation. See on this point Greene, 267; also consult Bolgar, Classical Heritage, 348-49 on the effect of Christian moral concerns in the literary thought of Melanchthon.

55 See Plato, Ion (533CI-534C), trans. Lane Cooper, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Bollingen Series, 71 [1961; rep. Princeton, N.J., 1973]), 219-20. This dialogue also concerns itself with the question of distinguishing the best authors from mediocre writers, thus further demonstrating that the distinction between “major” and “minor” authors is a long-standing area of interest.

56 “The poet, being a portrayer (mimêtês), like the painter or any other artist, must always portray one of three kinds of object: things as they really were or are, things as they are said or popularly supposed to be, or things as they ought to be.” Aristotle, The ArtofPoetry, trans. Philip Wheelwright (1935; rep. New York, 1951), 322 (bk. 25). For further details concerning the distinction between Aristotelian and Platonic understandings of imitation, consult Tatarkiewicz, W., “Mimesis,” in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, ed. Philip P. Wiener (New York, 1973), vol. 3, 225-30.

57 For a detailed discussion of the advent of originality, consult Mortier, Roland, L'Originalité: Une nouvelle catégorie esthétique au siècle des lumieres (Geneva, 1982). Mortier, 18, gives this summary of Plato's implicit denial of poetic technique or individual artistic skill and its opposition to originality: “La theorie platonicienne de l'enthousiasme ne se soucie nullement de mettre en valeur l'originalite de l'artiste; bien au contraire, elle la lui dénie catégoriquement… . Le poète est un porte-voix à travers lequel s'exprime une voix venue d'ailleurs. II n'est qu'un medium dans l'acte de communication.”

58 For a detailed examination of what Marc Fumaroli has called Erasmus's citation rhetoric, “qui fait de tout discours un carrefour visible de discours antérieurs, un ‘montage' qui se donne pour tel,” see L'âge de I ‘éloquence: Rhétorique et ‘res literaria’ de la Renaissance au seuil de l'époque classique (Geneva, 1980), 98 (emphasis added). Fumaroli contrasts this Erasmian tendency to equalize sources and to advertise their presence through deliberate quotations with the vastly different imitative technique of Bembo, who offers his readers “une surface lisse et sans arrêtes, d'une seule et élégante venue qui voile en quelque sorte la présence des ‘sources’ sous le tissu serré d'une forme parfaite” (98, emphasis added). For another discussion of this topic, consult Antoine Compagnon, La seconde main ou le travail de la citation (Paris, 1979), 218. One might profitably consider the major/minor model debate in light of Compagnon's distinction between the exemplum and l’auctoritas.

59 The expression is Greene's, who declares that these are “not genuine imitations at all in our sense” (Light in Troy, 220). See Rime diversi di molti eccellentissimmi autori nuovamente raccolte (Venice, 1545) and Delle Rime di diversi nobili huomini et eccellenti poeti nel la lingua thoscana (Venice, 1548), hereafter referred to as Giolito II. The link between minor poetry and that found in anthologies has been firmly established by Eliot. See “What is Minor Poetry?”, 39-40.

60 Joachim Du Bellay, L'Olive, ed. E[rnesta] Caldarini (Geneva, 1974), 169.

61 In this way, the phrase “que j'ay leuz quelquefois assez negligemment” modifies only “beaucoup d'aultres,” a reference to the minor poets Du Bellay has read in the Giolito anthologies. This would be in keeping with Petrarch's distinction between major poets, who are read often, and minor authors, who have been read “only once, … hastily and quickly.” For a similar interpretation of this passage, consult Robert Griffin, Coronation of the Poet: Joachim Du Bellay's Debt to the Trivium (University of California Publications in Modern Philology, [Berkeley, 1969]), 96.

62 See, for example, the notes to Caldarini's edition of the Olive, as well as the more extensive discussion of the Du Bellay-Rinieri imitation in Weber, Henri, La création poe'tique au XVF siècle en France (Paris, 1955), 304-07. The sonnet quoted here is from Giolito II, f. 22.

* Research for this article was facilitated by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, for which I would like to express my gratitude. I also wish to thank J. William Hunt for his generous help in refining translations from Latin texts, as well as Leonard Orr, G. W. Pigman, and Thomas M. Greene for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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