Louis le Roy's Sympose De Platon and Three Other Renaissance Adaptions of Platonic Eros*
Schachter, Marc, Renaissance Quarterly
On 24 April 1558 Francois, Dauphin of France (1544-60) and Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87) were married in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. (1) Among the gifts prepared for the newlyweds, one might at first blush seem rather peculiar--a French version of Plato's Symposium. Translated and extensively glossed by Louis Le Roy (1510?-77), Le Sympose de Platon, ou de l'amour et de beaute is divided into three books, the first addressed to the royal couple, the second to Francois, and the third to Mary. (2) Insofar as the general topic of the Symposium is eros, the dialogue could be considered an appropriate wedding present, partaking in the fiction that romantic, rather than political, interest determined the marriage. That, however, the eros in question, at least in the original, is almost exclusively pederastic, might lead us to ask how a text comprised primarily of speeches celebrating relationships whose consummation was punishable by death in sixteenth-century France could be reconfigured in the same time and place for such a paradigmatically straight and officially-sanctioned context as a royal wedding--until we recall that the dominant trajectory of Renaissance theories of eros inspired by the Symposium was one of progressive heterosexualization. (3) But halting the inquiry here with memory refreshed would only be to beg the question, for this heterosexualization, however naturalized its results may have become, was an elaborate process of cultural transformation whose realization in different texts was hardly uniform and whose modalities varied in ways that continue to merit attention.
The process of heterosexualization involved not only the obvious replacement of the lover and the beloved in the pederastic model with a man and a woman, but also a necessary translation from one set of institutional and social contexts into another. Contexts varied widely for the Renaissance reception of Plato's dialogue on love, and so did the motives informing its recuperation. It would be misleading to suggest that the end result of the various translations and reworkings of Platonic eros for a Christian Renaissance audience was, or is, self-evident. Indeed, Le Roy's translation and commentary pursue a unique agenda and, of the major translations and commentaries, his effort is the only one to efface or transform almost entirely the pederastic original. In fact, close scrutiny shows that, with the exception of Le Roy's Sympose, the familiar narrative of heterosexualization is far more fully realized in the Neoplatonic tradition inspired by Platonic theories of eros that it is in direct commentaries on the Symposium.
Before turning to the Sympose de Platon, I will consider at some length the two other major Renaissance translations of, and commentaries on, the Symposium, and a Neoplatonic passage in a highly influential Renaissance dialogue. This survey will enable me to highlight some differences in a tradition too-often considered homogeneous and to emphasize in particular the innovations in Le Roy's contribution. Most striking in this regard is his suturing of the Platonic original to the exigencies of the mid-sixteenth-century French monarchic state. In his reworking of certain elements central to Plato's discussion of pederasty and through his ascription of meaning to biological reproduction and the institution of marriage, Le Roy contributes, I will argue, to what we might call a metaphysics of procreation and matrimony, one closely aligned to state interest. The specifics of this metaphysics respond to numerous factors. My emphasis here will be on questions about the authenticity of the so-called Salic law. (4) I will also contend that other elements of Plato's discussion, some perhaps less amenable to the process of heterosexualization, are taken up by Le Roy to valorize the contributions of his own practice as translator, commentator, and philosopher. My goal, then, is less to demonstrate the "fact" of the transfer of Platonic love from pederasty to heterosexuality during the Renaissance (something that has already been amply established), than it is to explore some of the implications of, and dynamics behind, this transfer in particular instances without taking for granted a terminus ad quem. …