Homer in the French Renaissance*
Ford, Philip, Renaissance Quarterly
It is difficult for us to imagine a world without Homer. The story of the Trojan War and the wanderings of Odysseus have fared rather better in the popular imagination than Aeneas's parallel adventures, and many aspects of the Homeric style--epithets such as "rosy-fingered dawn" and "wine-dark sea, " (1) extended similes (of which the comparison of the generations of man to falling leaves is just one of the most beautiful (2)), and its formulaic nature--have appealed to the sensibilities of many readers over the years. Yet it was not always so. For centuries, Homer's poetry was lost to Western Europe, even though the name Homer was a byword for the inspired poet, and it was not until Petrarch, the father of Renaissance humanism, turned his attention to Homer that the stage was set for a return. Since his youth, Petrarch had wanted to be able to read the Homeric epics, but it was not until the end of 1353 or early 1354 that he obtained a Greek manuscript of Homer, thanks to the Byzantine ambassador in Italy, Nikolaos Sygeros. As he did not know any Greek, the text of Homer remained silent for him--"Your Homer is dumb as far as I am concerned, or rather I am deaf as far as he is concerned" (3)--until he met Leontius Pilatus in the winter of 1358-59. Pilatus came from Calabria, though he passed himself off as a Greek. Petrarch persuaded him to translate the first five books of the Iliad, and a few months later, at the request of Boccaccio, Pilatus went to Florence, where he spent two years (1360-62) completing his translation of the two epics. (4) The two manuscripts prepared for Petrarch are now in the Bibliotheque nationale de France, ms lat. 7880(1) and 7880(2), beautifully illuminated and bearing some of Petrarch's own annotations. (5)
However, it would not be until the end of the fifteenth century that French humanists turned their minds to Homer, stimulated by the works of Florentine humanists such as Angelo Poliziano and by contacts with the Byzantine scholar Janus Lascaris (1445-1534). (6) In the early days, would-be Hellenists in France, like those elsewhere, relied on Italian texts, at a time when only a few presses were beginning to come to terms with the complexities of printing Greek. The editio princeps of Homer, which appeared in Florence in 1488, would have offered little assistance to those who were struggling to understand the Greek text, at a time when there were few teachers or dictionaries. While it contains, in addition to all the texts attributed to Homer at the time--the Homeric Hymns and the Battle of the Frogs and Mice as well as the Iliad and the Odyssey--the lives of Homer thought to be by Herodotus and Plutarch, and an essay by Dio Chrysostom, there is barely a word of explanation in Latin other than an epistle by the editor Bernardo Nerlio to Piero de' Medici. (7) Those early readers who could understand something of the Greek were put off precisely by many of the things which we now prize in the Homeric style: the use of epithets, formulaic expressions, and repetition. At the same time, there was an admiration, based to a large extent on classical doxa, of Homer's knowledge--the Iliad and the Odyssey were considered to be the source of all the arts and sciences as well as the philosophical schools--of the moral wisdom contained in the two epics, and, for some readers, of the hidden allegorical meanings which the poems were thought to contain. (8) Appreciating Homer was a complex process.
2. HOMERIC PUBLICATION IN FRANCE
There can be no doubt of Italy's preeminence in the early publishing history of Homer. Of the eighteen editions, translations, and ancient commentaries that I have identified, twelve are from Italy, and only two from France, three from Germany, and one from Switzerland. (9)
The first Homeric work to be printed in France, the 1510 edition of Niccolo della Valle's Latin verse translation of the Iliad, illustrates the importance of the Italian connection in the early days of Homeric scholarship in France. The editor, Josse Bade (1461/2-1535), writes in his liminary epistle to Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples (mid-fifteenth century-1536) in June 1510, "I am particularly moved to recognize your poetic judgement (not to mention many other reasons) from the fact that you have had Homer's Iliad (would that it were the complete work), which Niccolo della Valle translated into Latin, brought all the way from Latium, Rome to be precise, to be published by us one day." (10) Lefevre d'Etaples had visited Italy in 1492, when he met, among others, Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, and appears to have maintained contact with his Italian counterparts. He returned in 1507, which is when he brought back the Iliad text. (11)
However, unlike England--where no edition of Homer was printed until the 1591 Greek edition of the Iliad by George Bishop--France, and particularly Paris, was not slow to provide its own Homeric texts. This is particularly noticeable after the founding of the College des lecteurs royaux by Francois Ier in 1530. (12) This progressive institution, which to a large extent owed its existence to the lobbying of Guillaume Bude (1468-1540), was established to teach the three ancient languages, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and to provide its students with texts. The Paris presses were soon printing partial or complete editions of the Iliad and the Odyssey: Chretien Wechel in the 1530s, his son Andre in the 1550s, and Guillaume Morel and his heirs from the 1560s onwards. These editions of set texts were meant to be annotated by students during their lectures, and there survive a reasonable number of works bearing students' notes and providing us with a good idea of the content of these lectures. (13) The following table gives an idea of the popularity of these editions:
However, student editions were not the only texts being printed, and Paris, like other important humanist centers in Europe, saw its fair share of other editions. The first complete edition of the Odyssey in France dates from 1541, while the Iliad was not printed in its entirety until the 1554 edition of Adrien Turnebe (1512-65), acknowledged as one of the most elegant and carefully produced Homeric texts of the period. However, it is the Parisian printer Henri Estienne (1531-98) who published in 1566 what is undoubtedly the landmark text for Homer (though it appeared in Geneva).
In 1551 Henri Estienne joined his father, Robert, in Geneva, where he set up his own printing business. (14). After his father's death in 1559, he joined the two businesses together, and it is this printing house which published in 1566 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Poetae Graeci principes heroici carminis, & alii nonnulli. This fine folio edition contains the works of fifteen other Greek poets.
For the first time, the emendations to the Homeric text are based on a clearly thought out set of philological principles. In his "Introduction to this Edition" Estienne explains that he has compared eighteen editions of Homer, as well as an ancient manuscript, Genevensis 44, and the text in Eustathius's commentary--a work dating from twelfth-century Byzantium and first published between 1542 and 1550--in order to resolve the textual problems posed by the Homeric epics. (15) In doing so he establishes certain problem areas in earlier editions, and creates, for the first time, something resembling a critical apparatus. The scholar and printer points out that the position of the apostrophe is intimately bound up with the problem of establishing an accurate text, as is the Homeric use of tmesis, normally involving the separation of a prepositional prefix from its verb. Estienne gives a number of examples of these various errors and, in virtually all cases, modern critical editions agree with his emendations. (16) There can be no doubt that his edition was a success: the text he established so carefully was followed until 1788, the date of the publication by Jean-Baptiste Gaspard d'Ansse de Villoisin of MS Venetus Marcianus A of the Iliad, with its numerous scholia which had remained undiscovered until then.
The other area of printing which it is worth mentioning concerns the various commentaries on Homer which appeared in France. Of particular interest, because it is a relatively early work, is Melchior Wolmar's edition of the first two books of the Iliad--Homeri Iliados libri duo: una cum annotatiunculis Volmarij, passim suis locis positis--published in 1523. Wolmar was born in Rottweil, Germany; he was educated in Bern and later at the University of Tubingen before going in 1521 to Paris, where he studied Greek with Nicolas Berault. The future teacher of Calvin and Beze makes it clear in his preface to the Neo-Latin poet Pierre Rosset that his commentary is aimed at the young. (17)
Wolmar devotes fourteen pages to book 1 and ten pages to book 2 of the Iliad. There is a great deal of linguistic commentary, especially on the Homeric verb forms, a necessary aid at a time when dictionaries would not have offered much assistance. He also includes moral commentary on the conduct of the Greek heroes Agamemnon, Achilles, and Odysseus in the first two books, and is by no means hostile to an allegorical interpretation of certain events: for example, Apollo's punishment of the Greeks' impiety in not returning the captured Chryseis to her father Chryses, a priest of Apollo, in which the god's plague-inducing arrows are interpreted by Wolmar as referring to a pestilence caused by the sun's rays. Wolmar also comments on the dispositio of the epic poem, emphasizing its nonlinear, in medias res structure. (18) This commentary no doubt reflects quite closely the kind of teaching which was available in the 1520s, and is also significant because it illustrates the other main influence on the reception of Homer in France, the Protestant humanists associated with Philipp Melanchthon (1487-1560). Melanchthon's staunch championing of classical scholarship at the University of Wittenberg helped nurture a whole generation of Homeric scholars such as Joachim Camerarius (1500-74) and Vincentius Opsopoeus (d. 1539), who each made a distinctive and early contribution in the areas of teaching and publishing. They would offer a rather different view of Homer from the Italian one, with greater emphasis on the moral lessons to be derived from the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Later commentaries printed in France or written by Frenchmen include the Meditationes in librum primum Iliados (1566) by Nicolaus Girardus, the Apologeme pour le grand Homere, contre la reprehension du divin Platon sur aucuns passages d'iceluy (Lyon, 1577) by Guillaume Paquelin, and Jean de Sponde's (1557-95) precocious commentary on the works of Homer (Basel, 1583). We shall return to these works later.
In general terms, Homer fares well in France in three areas of publication: partial editions of the epics for university use; French translations; (19) and Latin translations, especially Eobanus Hessus's (1488-1540) highly popular verse translation of the Iliad. (20) On the other hand, …
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Publication information: Article title: Homer in the French Renaissance*. Contributors: Ford, Philip - Author. Journal title: Renaissance Quarterly. Volume: 59. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2006. Page number: 1+. © 1999 Renaissance Society of America. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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