Larry Norman, University of Chicago
“The Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns, from Renaissance to Romanticism”
This talk situates the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns in a broader historical framework in order to gauge how attitudes toward Antiquity conditioned notions of French national identity, both within the country and outside it (notably from English and German-speaking perspectives). Erupting in the last third of the 17th century, the Quarrel’s retrospection concerned not only classical antiquity, but much more immediately a Renaissance past now deemed obsolete and, even closer, a perceived cultural apex under Louis XIV now menaced with future decline. The measurement of modernity through its imagined relation to the Greco-Roman past will continue to inform Enlightenment accounts of France’s historical progress, only to be shattered at the turn of the 19th century by the replacement of the ancient/modern paradigm with the newly minted classical/romantic one, a conceptual metamorphosis which will upend a grounding principle of French exceptionalism and cultural hegemony.
Panel 1: Intellectual History
Michael Moriarty, Cambridge University
“Defending the Stoics: the Daciers’ Marcus Aurelius”
The general picture of the development of Stoicism in seventeenth-century France is of a gradual decline from the zenith it had attained in the late sixteenth century, with the work, for instance, of Guillaume Du Vair. Still influential in the mid-century, as witness the drama of Corneille and the moral philosophy of Descartes, it lost ground thereafter, partly under the pressure of criticism by writers influenced by Augustinian thought, such as La Rochefoucauld, Jacques Esprit, and Pascal. The paper will discuss the edition of Marcus Aurelius by André and Anne Dacier (Réflexions morales de l’empereur Marc Antonin, 1691) as running counter to this trend; while pointing to areas where Stoic views need to be corrected by Christian doctrine, it emphasizes the compatibility between aspects of Marcus’s teaching and the ethics of Christianity, and defends Stoicism against some of the most severe criticisms levelled against it.
Scott Francis, University of Pennsylvania
“The Stoic Origins of Conciliation: Adiaphora in Erasmus, Marguerite de Navarre, Montaigne, and Castellio”
This paper proposes to trace the evolution of the concept of adiaphora, or indifferent matters, from the Stoic philosophy of antiquity to the French Reformation. Zeno defines adiaphora as a neutral category of things that are neither inherently good, like wisdom or moderation, nor inherently bad, like folly or excess, but whose moral quality depends upon how they are used. This definition, codified by Cicero in De finibus and De officiis, is taken up both by reform-minded Catholics (évangéliques) like Erasmus, who reconciles it with his Christocentric philosophy, and by schismatic Protestants like Calvin.
As such, adiaphora were one of the most important and most hotly debated topics of the Reformation. Erasmians like those in the Circle of Meaux, the evangelical churchmen and intellectuals who gathered together under the aegis of Marguerite de Navarre in the 1520’s, used the concept to defend Catholic devotional practices and ceremonies that Protestants deemed to be idolatrous and to have no basis in Scripture, such as fasting, pilgrimages, votive candles, and the cult of the Saints and the Virgin. I will examine the connection between adiaphora and ceremonies in two generations of French thinkers: the évangéliques of the first half of the sixteenth century, represented by Marguerite de Navarre and the Circle of Meaux, and two figures from the second half of the sixteenth century who are often considered to be precursors of the Enlightenment concept of religious tolerance, Michel de Montaigne and Sébastien Castellio. In so doing, I hope to reveal the connections between the conciliatory thought of Montaigne and Castellio and the évangéliques who preceded and influenced them, as well as between Reformation and Enlightenment thought, the latter of which also appropriates adiaphora in the service of conciliation.
Daniel Garber, Princeton University
“The Ashes of the Ridiculous Mouse and the Fortunes of Aristotle in Paris”
In 1653, François Bernier published a curious polemical work, Favilla ridiculi muris (1653), The Ashes of the Ridiculous Mouse, a sequel to his earlier polemic Anatomia riduculi muris…, The Anatomy of the Ridiculous Mouse (1651). Both were directed against the Aristotelian astrologer, Jean-Baptiste Morin, a professor at the Collège Royal who had gotten into a pamphlet war with the Epicurean scholar and philosopher, Pierre Gassendi. Attached to the Favilla as an appendix was another curious work, De varia Aristotelis in academia parisiensi fortuna … liber, On the Various Fortunes of Aristotle in the University of Paris by Jean de Launoy, a somewhat unorthodox member of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Paris. The work is at the same time a serious history of the treatment of Aristotle in the French academy and a contribution to the polemic between Gassendi and Morin over Aristotle and Aristotelianism. In this talk I would like to discuss the original context of this book, and its considerable later history independent of the original dispute.
Panel 2: Literary Forms
Helena Taylor, University of Exeter
“Poetry, Pleasure, and Salon Games in Late Seventeenth-Century France”
Antoinette Deshoulières and Anne Dacier, two writers of late seventeenth-century France, both chose to establish their places in the Parisian literary scene by publishing as their earliest works versions of the ancient Greek lyric poet, Anacreon. Anacreon, whose work is characterised by odes to pleasure and a ‘good life’ (namely, drinking, sex and dancing) and whose persona is frequently a lubricious and sometimes homoerotic old man, was perhaps an odd choice given the gendered constraints placed on women at this time. That oddness is in part explained by the fashionable place Anacreon and Greek lyric held in Parisian literary circles; Sophie Tonolo describes the 1670s and early 80s as having an ‘atmosphère anacréontique’.
In this paper, I will make a case for the exceptional and noteworthy influence both women drew from Anacreon, establishing them as agents in his becoming fashionable. In so doing, I will explore what the comparison of Deshoulières’ and Dacier’s renditions reveals about pleasure and poetry. I will argue that although writing in different contexts and for different readers, both authors figure the bodily pleasure depicted in Anacreon’s lyric poetry as intellectual pleasure, reworking the classic adage ‘plaire et instruire’ as they rework his poems into new literary forms. Pleasure becomes part of the process of composition and of reading – Deshoulières’ early poem was part of literary game; Dacier wants to provide ‘plaisir’ for female readers. This will then lead to a reflection on how pleasure, knowledge and gender are figured more widely in contemporary discourse, and a suggestion that Anacreon’s reception reveals the limitations of the divisions ancient/modern, savante/salonnière, complicating our perspective on the knowledge cultures of late seventeenth-century France.
David Posner, Loyola University Chicago
“Dead Friends and Tacky Souvenirs: The Fragment and the Sublime in Montaigne’s ‘De la vanité’”
In the Renaissance project of the recovery of Classical antiquity, the fundamental unit is perforce the fragment, whether physical or textual. What makes that project of recovery possible is the notion that the fragment creates opportunity, in that it leaves a space to be filled. And yet there remains a sense that the space is unfillable, that there will always be something beyond what is sayable or representable. The fragment, then, engenders this space of the sublime, which I will discuss with particular reference to the way Montaigne explores and inhabits it in his essay “De la vanité”.
Cynthia Nazarian, Northwestern University
“Rabelais’s Unsympathetic Laughter”
This paper examines the curious absence of sympathy in Rabelais’s texts. Like Seneca, who likened pity to “a vice of the mind” and a trait of “old and foolish women,” the author of Pantagruel (1532), Gargantua (1534) and the Tiers Livre (1546) writes heroes who do not express fellow feeling for victims, and only rarely seek to mitigate others’ distress. Instead, Rabelaisian texts teach unsympathetic laughter. They make the rejection of sympathy central to their ideal of aristocratic heroic masculinity—one that, far from pacifist, is in fact limitlessly violent in the exercise of power. Channeling Stoicism’s criticism of sympathy, Rabelaisian comedy works to undo vulnerability’s affective claims through a moral anesthesia that builds bonds of camaraderie and class between male chivalric characters over the violence they unleash on civilians and women.
Panel 3: Ancient and Modern Media
Alan M. Stahl, Princeton University
“The Cabinet des Médailles of Louis XIV and the use of Ancient Coins in the Design and Decoration of Versailles”
Jean Foy-Vaillant was named Antiquaire du Roy by Louis XIV’s first minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert and charged with expanding the collection of ancient coins that the king had inherited from his uncle Gaston, Duc D’Orléans. He travelled the Mediterranean world looking for coins that would make the French royal collection the largest and most comprehensive numismatic assemblage in the world. When the royal court moved to Versailles in 1684, the collection was installed in a separate room designated the Cabinet des Médailles, which one entered through the Salle de l’Abondance, whose decoration was inspired by the coins in the collection, as was the Gallérie des Glaces. This paper will explore critically the oft-cited fascination of the king with ancient coins and the links between the images on them and the decoration of the adjacent rooms.
Sylvaine Guyot, New York University
“Bedazzling Scenes, Stage Technology, and the Critique of Representation: Ovidian Scopophilia in Early Modern Parisian Machine Plays”
Focusing on the machine tragedies that achieved great popular success in Paris during the 1660-70s, this talk aims to complicate the traditional reading of the repertoire of impressive scenic effects by which, as the Jesuit Claude-François Ménestrier put it, “the spectator’s eyes [were] bedazzled”. I will examine how playwrights paradoxically seized upon Ovidian myths that center around scopophilic pleasure to formulate, through scenes with machine effects, a certain number of questionings, or even reservations, about the social, ethical, and aesthetical blind spots of bedazzling theatricality, offering an ideal site for studying the incorporation of the political-theological model of brilliance within dramatic fiction. In this sense, bedazzling imagery on the early modern Parisian stage (and in the Ovidian myths that inspired it) developed as a complex figure for the critical potential of the visual media itself, and, at the same time, for its complicity with the spectacular politics of the monarchy.
Katie Chenoweth, Princeton University
“Plutarch’s Pharmakon, or, the Deadly Art of Quotation in Montaigne’s Essais.”
Image: Hubert Robert, “Imaginary View of the Grande Galerie in the Louvre,” 1789, oil on canvas (Louvre, Paris, France)