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

By Arthur F. Kinney | Go to book overview

FIVE

Abstracteur de Quinte Essence and Docteur en Médecine: Rabelais's Fiction of Summa Humanistica and the Poetics of Copia

FOLLY AND WISDOM, STYLE AND SUBSTANCE, DESPAIR AND HOPE ALTERNATE IN THE HUMANIST WORKS OF ERASMUS, CASTIGLIONE, AND MARGUERITE DE NAVARRE; WITH FRANÇOIS RABELAIS THE SAME POWERful humanist concerns are buried in a copious language generated by an unquenchable love of learning. "Rabelais plays with words as children do with pebbles," Anatole France writes of his Renaissance predecessor; "He piles them up into heaps."1Rabelais's irresistible taste for humanist copia is a direct consequence of enormous energies, of fiercely unlimited thought, and of unbounded vitality that move him and his gigantic singular novel far beyond the deliberately more concentrated and focused Lucian poetics of Erasmus, or the Ciceronian poetics of Castiglione, to something akin to Marguerite's Plotinian interests in being and becoming. Unlike Marguerite, however, Rabelais is a man of many diverse parts and of a complicating rather than a unifying vision. He is a textual scholar (like Erasmus) who translated Book 2 of Herodotus's fabulous Historia, prepared an edition of Giovanni Manardi's detailed Latin letters on medicine (for which he composed a Latin preface), and edited his own volume of Hippocrates' scientific Aphorisms, based on his medical lectures at Montpellier; yet he also stoutly remains a novelist who, like his three Continental predecessors, keeps confronting what Mary E. Raglund calls "an uncertain and cryptic universe.2 The bibliographer's precision and the mystic's propensity for the ineffable are both encompassed in the sweep of his prose fiction. Both are exposed and central to his characteristically ebullient passages, with their stacks of words and accretive phrases that always hover near repeti-

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