Academic journal article Seventeenth-Century News

Des Apophtegmes a la Polyanthee: Erasme et le Genre Des Dits Memorables

Academic journal article Seventeenth-Century News

Des Apophtegmes a la Polyanthee: Erasme et le Genre Des Dits Memorables

Article excerpt

* Des Apophtegmes a la Polyanthee: Erasme et le genre des dits memorables. By Louis Lobbes. 3 vols. Textes litteraires de la Renaissance, 12. Paris: Editions Champion, 2013. 2000 pp. 295 euros. Opera omnia IV-4: Apophthegmatum libri I-IV. By Desiderius Erasmus. Edited by Tineke L. ter Meer. London and Boston: Brill, 2010. viii + 399 pp. $142.00. The Apophthegmata, a collection of shrewd and witty sayings made by particular ancient men and women, and gathered from the classic texts, appeared late in Erasmus's career. The first edition (Apophthegmatum ... dictorum libri sex) came from the press of Hieronymus Froben in 1531. It was dedicated to the young William of Cleves (1516-1592) and was meant to instruct him, and other noblemen like him, in the wise speech of leadership, using exempla from antiquity. An expanded edition (now eight books) appeared a year later. A final and corrected text (Apophthegmatum libri octo ... denuo vigilanter ab ipso recogniti autore) was published in 1535 (Erasmus died the following year). The collection was immensely popular, going through dozens of editions into the seventeenth century. The first translation was in German, prepared by Heinrich von Eppendorff, an enemy who suppressed Erasmus's name on the title page, and as early as 1549 the work had also been translated into French, English, Spanish, and Italian. When Thomas Nashe, in his Anatomie of Absurditie (1588), describes the way that Agesilaus of Sparta refused the food and drink in the country of "Thasius" (or Thasos), he probably picked the story up from the widely circulated Apophthegmata, not directly from Plutarch.

The two books under review are both scholarly editions of this text. The work of Dr. ter Meer is an annotated text of Books I through IV, the first of two volumes in the authoritative ASD edition of the Erasmus Opera omnia (ASD is an abbreviated name for Amsterdam, where the project started). The study by Dr. Lobbes (a substantial Habilitation a diriger des recherches directed by Jean Ceard) is made up of a volume of introduction and source notes for each apophthegm, followed by two volumes that print the 1535 Latin text opposite two French translations of 1539 and 1553. To these two might now be joined volumes 37 and 38 of the Collected Works of Erasmus, a translation of the Apophthegmata by Drs. Betty Knott and Elaine Fantham that has appeared at the time of writing (September 2014) from the University of Toronto Press.

Despite its considerable humour and many flashes of insight, along with the always engaging presence of Erasmus throughout the text, the once widely circulated Apophthegmata is not that well known today. Essentially a book of political wisdom for young William and his fellow peers, it is a remarkable treasure-house of 3,085 quotations or observations by or about many ancient notables, taken and often significantly modified from Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, Xenophon, Athenaeus, and many other writers. Plutarch's Apophthegmata Laconica and Dicta regum et imperatorum in Morada were the initial inspiration, but Erasmus shook apart Plutarch and a large body of other sources to reform them into a new whole. There are eight books with sayings from Spartans, Socrates, Aristippus, Diogenes the Cynic, other great men of war and politics (Cicero and Demosthenes tacked in at the end of IV), and "miscellaneous persons," such as Roman historical figures gathered from Suetonius, Livy, Valerius Maximus, and the Historia Augusta. Books VII and VIII, "the after dinner sweets" (as Erasmus puts it), were added in the second edition. Book VII has philosophers as its theme and is based largely on Diogenes Laertius; Book VIII turns to sophists (moving "from horses to asses," says Erasmus).

A typical short entry comes from Plutarch's account of Agesilaus:

[30] in ASD: Rursus alii cuidam percontanti, quam ob causam Sparta non cingeretur moenibus, ostendit ciues armatos. 'Hi' inquiens 'sunt Spartanae ciuitatis moenia,' significans respublicas nullo munimento tutiores esse quam virtute ciuium. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.