Intertextual Labyrinths: Ariadne's Lament in Montaigne's "Sur Des Vers De Virgile" [*]

By Wiesmann, Marc-Andre | Renaissance Quarterly, Autumn 2000 | Go to article overview

Intertextual Labyrinths: Ariadne's Lament in Montaigne's "Sur Des Vers De Virgile" [*]


Wiesmann, Marc-Andre, Renaissance Quarterly


This study reconstructs the thematic and literary presence of a labyrinth in Montaigne's "Sur des vers de Virgile." Indispensable to such a reconstruction will be a consideration of Catullus's epithalamium on the marriage of Peleus and Thetis from which are derived the hexameters textually anchoring the labyrinth in Montaigne's text. I will then place these verses in their French surroundings and pursue the insights that an awareness of the Catullan context makes available for interpretations of the essay.

The multicursal labyrinth is an edifice designed to prevent the discovery or attainment of its center by entangling the person who enters the building in a multiplicity of detours or "ambages." Urging repeated directional choices upon the traveler, the duplicity or "doubleness" of the structure (in Latin, the "ambo" of "ambages" means "both") endlessly defers penetration to the precious core and simultaneously renders exit almost impossible. [1] Commentators of Montaigne have often used the multicursal labyrinth as a metaphor for the essays themselves, texts that stubbornly refuse to be resolved into one single interpretation and that specialize in multiple digressions forcing the reader to lose his or her way as the argument progresses. [2] In a recent article, Mary B. McKinley has demonstrated the aptness of this metaphor when it is applied to both Montaigne's style and to the sequencing of topics or "subjects" in individual essays. She has discussed Montaigne's own awareness of the ambiguous quality of hi s writing, and traced his view of the labyrinth, a term he uses only once, to essential passages in Ovid's Metamorphoses and Virgil's Aeneid. [3] One could add to her remarks that a medieval etymology for "labyrinth," "labor" + intus" or "internal work," adequately captures the nature of Montaigne's literary project: an exploration of an individual's consciousness in its multifarious meanderings, turns and returns, which represent the inner and apparently directionless labor the essayist believes to be characteristic of human efforts at reasoning and at assessing our place in the world. [4] Moving away from this general exposition of the phenomenological relations between labyrinths and Montaigne's literary practice, the following pages will concentrate upon an actual instance of a labyrinth imagistically surfacing in the dense fabric of "Sur des vers de Virgile" (3.5), and will demonstrate the significance of the thematic dimensions of the maze on several levels. The articulation of the labyrinth in the essa y depends upon an intertextual reconstruction: the folds of the building appear in all their detail only through the dialogic commerce the French text engages with a long and complex poem of Catullus, a poet who, besides Ovid and Virgil, is the major exponent of Daedalus's architectural masterpiece in Latin literature. [5]

The polymath and historian Estienne Pasquier (1529-1615), a friend of Montaigne and a great admirer of his "chefs-d'oeuvre," nevertheless singles out "Sur des vers de Virgile" for criticism precisely because of its overly labyrinthine or disorienting nature. Pasquier observes that this chapter's intelligibility suffers from the essayist's propensity to "jump from one topic to the other" (sauter d'un propos l'autre) and that Montaigne would have done better to give it the title Cocq a l'Asne. [6] This comment targets the foundational saut or sudden turn marking the topical organization of a text which, in its title, installs a clear expectation in the reader, namely the discussion of a passage of Virgil, only to frustrate this promise and to spell our another "theme": "What has the sexual act, so natural, so necessary, and so just, done to mankind, for us not to dare to talk about it without shame and to exclude it from serious and decent conversation?" [7] However, as soon as this theme is announced, the tex t abruptly abandons it to introduce "Ces vers ..." (848 B), referring to Virgil's verses in the title and to their painting or "peinture" of "1'action genitale. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Intertextual Labyrinths: Ariadne's Lament in Montaigne's "Sur Des Vers De Virgile" [*]
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.