Querelle des anciens et des modernes. The frequently renewed debate over the relative merits of ancient wisdom and modern genius* was revived in the late 1680s and prolonged (in what is called the Quarrel's second phase) by the polemic surrounding a new translation of The Iliad ( 1711). The translator, Madame Dacier *, wished to bring the beauties of the Greek text to a broader French public and thereby add support to the Ancients' side of the debate. Exceptionally well educated, Dacier had learned Greek and Latin from her father and had several translations to her credit by the time of her marriage to André Dacier, classicist and secretary of the French Academy. Houdar de La Motte, a leader of the Modernist opposition, held that Homer was an imperfect writer and published his own "improved" translation. He was supported by the prominent salonnière Madame de Lambert*. Discussion of the issue continued over the next decade and produced, among others, Fénelon's famous letter to the French Academy. Control of that body was a prize coveted by both sides. Lambert's efforts were crucial both in electing pro-Moderns to the Academy and in bringing about a reconciliation of the two sides. Many issues raised by the Quarrel were significant for eighteenth-century women. If few men of the period could read classical Greek, even fewer women were allowed that privilege. It is arguable that educated women would naturally choose the Moderns' role, given their historic exclusion from classical education. Furthermore, as the Moderns argued from Cartesian principles of clarity and reason against the weight of authority, they found allies among women whose emerging rights were often at odds with traditional authority. The relationship between progress in the arts, letters, and science, on the one hand, and the status of women, on the other, was clearly a logical one. The debate further illustrates the role of the salon* itself as an important site of cultural discourse.
Caryl L. Lloyd