Continental Humanist Poetics: Studies in Erasmus, Castiglione, Marguerite de Navarre, Rabelais, and Cervantes

By Arthur F. Kinney | Go to book overview

THREE
Della mortal oblivione questa chiara memoria: Baldassare Castiglione, Il Libro del Cortegiano, and the Poetics of Eloquence

FIGURING FOLLY AS MAIEU- TIC NARRATOR IS ERASMUS'S REMARKABLY SUCCESSFUL WAY OF UTILIZING (AND EVEN EXPLOITING) HUMANIST RHETORIC BOTH TO ADMIT THE HIGHER POSSIBILITIES OF HUMANIST PHILOSO- phy and to confront the essential cognitive indeterminacy and textual instability that might result from a newly developing culture in which ideas are as much exploratory as declarative and words are acts of mediation rather than authoritative counters. Indeed, the very tentativeness of the Encomium Moriae, masked more or less by its self-delight in wordplay, suggests that Erasmus understood that humanist declamation, disputation, and treatise closely approach--may even at their basis be forms of--fiction. Both work as much from hypothesis as from thesis.

Such an understanding of the propositional quality of speech and debate, resting as it must on methexis, is shared by Baldassare Castiglione in Il Libro del Cortegiano. This extraordinary Italian humanist fiction of the sixteenth century vastly extends the voices, attitudes, and allusions of Erasmus's fiction by setting its rhetorical investigations within a highly cultivated social and political setting: Here prosopographia rather than prosopopoeia is elevated to a marmoreal art. Given the refinements of the civilization he means to portray, Castiglione fashions a fiction that is deliberately a work of elegance and eloquence. He eschews the troubled inconsistencies that Erasmus employs to characterize Folly, and that always threaten to undo the order and sense of Folly's presentation by distributing such conflicting views among the several disputants that

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