Printer Friendly

Lefevre d'Etaples and the politics of Plato: the Hecatonomiae (1506).

In 1506 Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples was around fifty years old. This great and dedicated professor had been teaching for twenty years at the college of Cardinal Lemoine in Paris. He had introduced into the Faculty of Arts new translations of Aristotle from the Greek made recently by Italian humanists. Lefevre had thus become the renovator of the teaching of Aristotle at the University of Paris, and by quietly distancing himself from scholasticism, he had become a celebrity across Europe. He was highly regarded as a scholar (eruditissimus) because of his many philosophical publications, which were centered on Aristotle but branched out in many directions, toward mathematics, music, and religious authors. His translations and commentaries on the Bible would be the crowning achievement of his editorial work, because Lefevre was also, and above all, a priest. His thinking is profoundly religious and--in the manner of his predecessor, the great Florentine Platonic scholar, Marsilio Ficino--he was very attached to Christianity and wanted to lead the faith back to the purity and fervor of the apostolic period. (1)

I. What is the Hecatonomiae?

The editorial work of Lefevre is immense. His textual editions and commentaries are so numerous that they form a veritable labyrinth. (2) For all its richness, sorting out his work poses a huge challenge to historians of the early book. Recently the department devoted to humanism at the Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes in Paris (IRHT) has undertaken the systematic identification of all the editions of all the texts, both ancient and medieval, that Lefevre wrote or compiled--in the form of editions, translations, explanations, and commentaries. Within this vast project, I would like to draw attention to one particular publication that fills fewer than forty leaves in a folio volume printed in Paris by Henri Estienne, senior, on August 5, 1506. The work was composed by Lefevre, who coined its peculiar title: Hecatonomiae. (3)

Where can one read the Hecatonomiae? The work is difficult to find, which explains in part why it has been neglected, except in the unfinished writings of Professor Jean Boisset (1909-1978), an historian of the Reformation at the University of Montpellier, who specialized in the writings of John Calvin. (4) The Hecatonomiae (5) is incorporated into an edition of Aristotle. (6) In the first and greater part of this book, Lefevre published Leonardo Bruni's Latin translation of the Politica of Aristotle in 135 folios. Between the chapters of this vast treatise in eight books, Lefevre placed his own commentary in the manner of Marsilio Ficino. Next came the Hecatonomiae (folios 135v-168r). Lefevre then resumed his edition of Aristotle (fols. 168v-178 plus 16 supplementary fols.) with the text of the OEconomica, a work attributed to Aristotle that treats domestic economy and for which Lefevre wrote a commentary (for the title page of this edition, see Figure, 1).

What, then, is the Hecatonomiae? This is a collection of laws (in Greek, nomoi), grouped in sections of one hundred (hecaton) excerpts. The title thus means "Groups of one hundred laws." The work has seven sections, giving a total of seven hundred excerpts from Plato. The first one hundred excerpts are drawn from the Republic, and the six hundred others come from the Laws, the last dialogue written by Plato. These are not abstract philosophical reflections. They are realistic and very concrete dispositions--or laws. But these laws are not those of a city or a country that exists in reality. They are virtual laws, "desirable" laws, by which Plato, within the framework of a political and metaphysical vision, regulates in minute detail every aspect of life in an ideal civil community; the Laws describes the Active constitution of an ideal and perfect city made up of virtuous citizens, the Magnetes. In the Republic, Plato makes a model for a city where the common good and justice are the objectives, at once the "principle and the synthesis of the virtues of the soul and of the city." (7)

The text is a Plato latinus, the fruit of a recent discovery. Lefevre owned a copy of Marsilio Ficino's translation of Plato's Opera omnia, printed in Florence in 1484. (8) It was thanks to this monumental and masterful translation that the Latin world discovered the entire works of Plato, saved from oblivion by Ficino like Orpheus leading Eurydice out of the underworld. Most importantly, Ficino brought to light the Republic and the Laws, two works unknown in the West in the Middle Ages. Lefevre read the volume with great care. His excerpts do not always cite the text of Plato verbatim but give a condensed version following the text quite closely. He uses many imperatives, because this is a collection of laws, even if the laws are fictional. Neither the Republic nor the Laws of Plato is a juridical treatise. They are philosophical dialogues in which the speakers are searching for truth; they seek the nature of justice (in the Republic) and ways of assuring the construction of a virtuous city (in the Laws). But in order that the citizens accept the constraints of the laws, they must understand the rationale behind them. In the Laws, Plato is constantly trying to convince us of the merits of the laws that will be decreed. (9) This heuristic aspect, so important for Plato, has disappeared in the excerpts of Lefevre, who concentrates above all on the result to which the philosophical reflection or dialogue leads, without repeating the sometimes meandering demonstration.

Lefevre constantly uses the imperative mood for his ideal laws, and gerundives expressing obligation are also frequent. For example:

1.17. Pueri, maxime qui custodes futuri sperantur, instituantur in gymnastica et musica (Rep. 2:376e).

("Children, especially those who will become 'guardians,' should be taught gymnastics and music.")

1.18. Sint quifictoribusfabularum praesint: etsi quas bonasfecerint eligant, reliquas abjiciant (Rep. 2:377b-d). ("There should be magistrates in charge of supervising the inventors of fables; the magistrates ought to retain the good fables they have made and reject the others.")

1.27. Sermonis summopere vitetur inhonestas (Rep. 3:400d). ("Inappropriate language is to be absolutely avoided.")

1.28. Cauendum est ne quid circa musicam et gymnasticam innouetur (Rep. 4:424b). ("One must make sure that no novelties are introduced in music or gymnastics.")

1.39. Juniores principes metuant, etseniores reuereantur (Rep. 5:465a). ("The youngest should be fearful of the leaders, and show respect toward the eldest.")

Lefevre offers this vast collection of formulas in order to express the core of Plato's political doctrine. In 1506, very few people in France knew Greek. (10) One of Lefevres self-appointed tasks was to make known, in Latin translation, Greek texts that were unknown at that time in France. (11) The 1506 edition of the Hecatonomiae was reprinted in Paris in 1512, 1515, 1526, 1535, and 1543. (12) For printer-booksellers all over Europe, Lefevre was a blessing. The editions, issues, (13) and/or re-editions of his works, not only of Aristotle but of a host of ancient and medieval authors and, of course, the Bible, were a true publishing phenomenon and illustrate in a particularly remarkable fashion the rapid diffusion of texts in the early years of the printed book.

II. The Content of the Hecatonomiae

Lefevre adopted the method of the Italian humanists, which was new and radically different from the methods of medieval commentators. He does not substitute himself for Plato; he explains Plato by Plato, just as he explains Aristotle by Aristotle. (14) He does not intend to edit all of the Republic and the Laws: he limits himself to large extracts. When Lefevre cuts up the text in excerpta, he is not appropriating selected ideas of Plato to serve his own purposes; his aim is to offer an honest, objective overview of the doctrine of Plato on the constitution of a just city. Thus he goes into all aspects of communal life, describing the moral implications for the individual and the political implications for the city.

In Hecatonomiae 1 (folios 136r-142r in the edition of 1506), the first group of one hundred excerpts is entitled by Lefevre leges Socraticae, "the laws of Socrates," because they are excerpts from the Republic, in which Socrates is the principal speaker in the dialogue. Lefevre uses books I to VII of the Republic, leaving aside books VIII to X. He also makes an index of the excerpts, which is printed at the beginning of his work:

   De legislatore (On the legislator)
   De nuptiis (On weddings)
   De educatione (On education)
   De disciplina (On discipline)
   De moribus (On customs)
   De artificibus (On craftsmen)
   De regione (On the country [where you live])
   De victu et necessariis (On food and necessities)
   De militia (On military duties)
   De re sacra (On religion)
   De magistratu (On magistrates)
   De legislatore (On the legislator)

The last entry repeats the first: one can see the importance Lefevre gives to the legislator, whose role is to insure the unity of the city.

Lefevre did not compile an index for Hecatonomiae 2 to 7, by far the longest section of the work, but he notes that the excerpts taken from the Laws treat matters similar (consimilesfere materias) to those in Hecatonomiae

1.1 have begun indexing these six hundred excerpts, but it is a long and tedious task. The excerpts contain rules for all sorts of things: the education of children, the distribution of wealth, the necessary limitation of individual wealth, provisioning of the city, for example, with rain water (2.93) and fountains (2.94), and surveillance by guardians of the city (3.9) and guardians of the countryside (custodes agrorum; 3.5). Many measures concern penal law, which is not surprising, since Plato in the Laws considers that only a city with political constraints can be virtuous. Once the laws are laid down, Plato gives considerable space to the courts of justice (3.37), age for marriage (4.1), rules of conduct for nannies (4.5-7), moderately stringent rules imposed on young children (4.11), and controls on commerce, distribution of land, housing conditions, and travel. The extracts vary in length. Many are one or two lines long:

4.49. (Laws 7:824a) Sacros venatores: ubicumque venari velint, nemo prohibeat. ("Sacred hunters [i.e., very courageous hunters] may hunt where they like and no one should stop them.")

5.4. (Laws 8:847b) Vectigal importandarum aut exportandarum rerum: nullum sitpenitus. ("No one will be taxed for importing or exporting merchandise.")

5.44. (Laws 9:865b) Omnes medici qui curantes non sponte occiderint: mundi sint. ("Medical doctors who are not at fault when the patient dies should be exempt from legal action.")

7.97. (Laws 12:960a) Lachrymis mortuos decorare aut non: legum lator non prohibeat. Plangere vero et extra domum vociferareprohibeat. ("The dead may be mourned with or without tears, but lamentations and cries are prohibited outside the home.")

But some extracts have as many as fifteen lines or more. For example, extract 4.72 condenses Laws 8:838e, 839a, 837c, 838a-d, and 840d. Extracts 1.97, 1.98, and 1.100, at the end of the first group of the Hecatonomiae, are very long. The length of these passages, which Lefevre could have cut up into smaller pieces, can doubtless be explained by his formal decision to limit the number of extracts from the Republic. Before going on to the Laws, he obviously wanted to load as much of the Republic text as possible into the first group of hundred extracts.

For the most part, the extracts follow the order of Plato's text. (15) But sometimes several extracts are taken from a single passage, (16) or an excerpt is taken from an earlier passage, (17) or the order of presentation within a passage is reversed, which can distort or color the interpretation, so that Lefevre decrees as a principle what Plato formulated as a conclusion. (18) For example, in 7.12, we read that Plato refuses to tolerate the presence of beggars in the ideal city. But before formulating his refusal, he begins with an important preamble, which has a powerful moral: the person to be pitied is not the beggar, but he who sees what is good and turns away. Moral deprivation is more serious than material deprivation. Plato says that a well-regulated city allows no one to behave in such a fashion, turning his back on what is good and looking for evil. Lefevre, however, inverts the presentation. He begins by saying that, according to Plato, mendicants ought to be banished without pity. He does not give the reason until afterward, and this inversion leads to his condemnation of Plato's position, which he probably judges as "uncharitable." By inverting Plato's text, Plato's preamble becomes in Lefevres text a sort of justification a posteriori, and the true sense of Plato's thought is lost. Lefevres text reads as follows:

7.12 (Laws 11:936c; b) [936c] Nullus in civitate nostra mendicus sit: sed quicumque id tentauerit victumque inexplebilibus precibus colligere coeperit, a rerum venalium curatoribus eforo peuatur, ab aedili vero magistratu ex urbe eiiciatur, ex tota denique regione ab agri magistratu exterminetur. Ut ab huiusmodi animali: omnino uniuersa regio munda sit.

[936b] Nam mirum projecto esset: eum qui temperans esset, et virtute alia aut virtutis parte praeditus, in extremam paupertatem deuenire, utjame vel re alia consimilipremeretur et ita neglectum esse, siue liber siue seruus in ciuitate moderategubernata. Talisprojecto si calamitate vel sorte aliqua vexatur, misericordia dignus existimandus est. Non quijame vel re consimili pressus: precibus victum quaeritat.

[936c] "In our city, there should be no beggars. If someone should do so and go about collecting his means of subsistence by endless supplications, the guardians of the public place will chase him away from the public place, the guardians of the city will chase him from the city, and the guardians of the countryside will chase him from the countryside and expel him from the territory, so that the entire country be rid of this kind of person. The man who is worthy of pity is not he who is hungry or who suffers from some similar woe. It is he who, although he practices temperance, another virtue, or a part of that virtue, is no less a victim of misfortune.

[936b] Therefore it would be strange if a man of this kind were abandoned to the point of falling into profound indigence in a city that is well regulated and provided with good institutions."

The question arises as to whether Lefevre has given some internal logic to the Hecatonomiae. The end of one of the seven sections of Hecatonomiae does not necessarily mark the end of a book in Plato; the same material from Plato is distributed across sections 6 and 7, for example. At this point in my research I would say that the construction appears arbitrary, with little thematic grouping. What philosophical point of view governs the choice of excerpts?

Lefevre provides no commentary for the Hecatonomiae. This marvelous teacher who wrote so many very clear explanations for his students on the works of Aristotle (on physics, logic, and ethics) offers no explanatory text for Plato. Nor does he give a systematic description of Plato's political doctrines. One looks in vain for explanation of the underlying principles of Plato's ideal city, for example his distribution of the population into three groups in the Republic--guardians, warriors, and artisans--corresponding to the three parts of the soul (logistikon, thumoumenon, epithumetikon), (19) The reader may also wish for a commentary in Lefevres long extract from Book 5 of the Laws, which defines the conditions that should govern the distribution of land and the installation of citizens in colonies. Plato limits the population of the city of the Magnetes to 5,040 households. This perfect number ("perfect" because it is divisible by every number up to ten) ought to allow for the best distribution of goods and duties in the ideal city. Lefevre, however, offers no such explanation, despite his appetite for mathematics. Nor does he provide his usual type of paraphrase, a short, pedagogical precis. (20)

However, Lefevre prints his negative evaluations of certain laws in the margins of his text: Stultitia or Stul., Semist. (Semistultitia), and Gentilis. (Gentilitas) (see Hecatonomiae 4.14, 4.18, 4.19, 4.21, fol. 150v; see also Figure 2). Here he castigates customs and beliefs he sees as pagan. These brief formulae thus convey some commentary.

Stultitia 3.51. (Laws 6:771e-772a) [regulations for games and dancing] Ludi chorique puellorum et puellarum simulfiant, nudatis corporibus quatenus modestus pudor patiatur. ("May there be games and dancing where young men and women participate, their bodies left bare within the limits acceptable to a temperate modesty.")

Stultitia 3.71. (Laws 6:775b) Bibere ad ebrietatem, neque alibi unquam decet, praeterquam in solennitatibus euis dei qui largitus est vinum. ("Drinking to the point of drunkenness is never acceptable, except at feasts of the god [Bacchus] who gave the gift of wine.")

Semist. 4.67. (Laws 8:833d-834a) [armed combat for men and for women] Vnius ad unum, duorum ad duos, et usque decern ad decern armispugna fiat ad robur augendum: et id commune sit tarn viris quam mulieribus, ad aetatem usque nubilem. ("One against one, two against two, or even ten against ten; and it should be the same for both men and women, until the age of marriage.")

Stul. 6.86. (Laws ll:929d-e) Liceat filiis parentes morbis vel senio turpiter ajfectos: amentiae accusare. ("Let it be permitted for children of parents who are [mentally] ill or senile to accuse them of dementia.") [Lefevre defends the idea of absolute respect for parents]

These negative judgments concerning dress, drunkenness, combat, and parental respect express a certain distrust of Plato. For Lefevre, Plato's philosophy must not contradict the fundamental verities of Christianity. Thus, in Hecatonomiae 2 to 7, one observes an "almost general adaptation of pagan divinities to Christianity, by different means of expression." (21)

The negative comments culminate in a collection of rejected passages (Reiectitia) placed at the end of the Hecatonomiae (fols. 167-168), "as in the most faraway and abject place" (in fine collocavimus ut in ignobiliori extremo, quo cetera intelligantur digniora etpotiora a deterioribus secernantur) (fol. 167, see Figure 3). Lefevre rejects the right of magistrates to lie to citizens, communal nudity while exercising, the communal status of women and children and the proscription of family ties, the banishing of beggars, and the practices of divorce, eugenics, and abortion.

REIECT. 1. (Republic 3:389b) [rejecting the government's right to lie] Fas esto magistratum gerentibus mentiri. ("A magistrate has the right to lie to those he governs.")

Plato restricts this prescription to a very limited context, which Lefevre ignores:

It is thus for those who govern the city, if indeed it is necessary, that there exists the right to lie, whether with regard to enemies or with regard to citizens, when it is in the interests of the city. For all others, it is out of the question that they resort to lying. (22)

REIECT. 2. (Republic 5:452a-c) [rejecting communal physical education or exercise of females and males in the nude] Liceat nudas cum vetulas turn juvenes cum viris ad palestrae certamen. Ut solent viri in gymnasiis. ("Let nude females, young and old, enter the palestra [area for wrestling and physical exercise] with the men, as men have a habit of doing in the gymnasia.")

REIECT. 4. (Republic 5:457d) [rejecting the community of women and children and repudiation of private family ties] Mulieres hae, horum virorum omnes omnium communes sint nullaque priuatim alicui adhaereat: ac rursusfilii communes nequepater filium noscat neque filius patrem. ("Let women be communally available to all men, and let no woman cohabit privately with a man; let children also be looked after communally, and may no parent know which are his progeny, nor the child his parent.")

REIECT. 12. (Republic 5:468e-469b) [rejecting divine honors accorded to warriors who die in combat] Eorum sepulchra, veluti daemonum, colentes atque adorantes. ("We will care for their graves and we will bow down as on the tombs of divine spirits.")

This is a rejection of practices linked to pagan religion, as with the Stultitia quoted above that rejects drinking at feasts of Bacchus.

7.12. Reiect. 16. (Laws 11:936c) [rejecting beggars] Nullus in civitate nostra mendicus sit. ("There will be no beggars in our city.")

Even more important is Lefevres rejection of divorce, eugenics, and abortion:

divorce Reiect. 14 (= Hecatonomiae 6.89-90) et 15 (= Hecatonomiae 6.90-91 from Laws 11,930a)

6.88 Si vir et uxor,propter morum acerbitatem invicem non conveniant : decern viri de legum custodibus qui medii sint, et decern mulieres de connubiorum curatricibus prouideant. Quorum sententia : si ita conciliati fuerint, valida et stabilis habeatur.("If the incompatibility of their characters prevent a man and woman from finding harmony, ten men of medium age, picked from among the guardians of the laws, [930a] and ten women who provide counsel for marriages should deal with the matter. If they succeed in obtaining a reconciliation, that decision will prevail.")

6.89 Si autem illorum animi vehementius etiam iracundia fluctuant: facto diuortio, illos pro viribus quaerant, qui utrisque conueniant. Et acerbioribus ingeniis: maturiora mitioraque ingenia accomodentur. ("But if the storm that shakes the soul is too violent, a divorce will be pronounced and persons will be sought out who are suitable for each. As such people are likely to be rather prickly, they should be accommodated with partners who are more constant and gentle.")

6.90 Qui sine filiis sunt, aut paucos procreauerunt, dissentiuntque procreandorum liberorum causa : coniugium rursus quaerere compellantur.("lf the couple has no children, or too few, or does not agree about the procreation of children, they should be compelled to seek out a new union.")

6.91 Si filios non paucos habeant atque dissentiant: senectutis curandae gratia (diuortio facto) aliud coniugium ineant.("lf their children are not too few and they have fallen out, they should care for one another in their old age, having divorced and remarried.")

eugenics REIECT. 7 (from Rep. 5,459d-e; 460c) Optimorum proles nutriatur: deterrimorum vero minime. Et dum haec aguntur omnes ignorent, praeter principes. Sic enim armentum custodum : seditione carebit et deteriores illi: fortunam, non principes culpabunt. ("The progeny of those who are of greater worth should be nourished, those of lesser worth not at all. And this shall be done unbeknownst to all, save the leaders. Thus the 'herd' of guardians will be free of internal discord, and men of lesser value will blame fate and not the leaders.")

REIECT. 9 (from Rep. 5, 460c) Qui nascentur ex deterioribus aut de quibusuis sed membro aliquo manci: in abditis ut decet locis abscondantur. Nam purum decet esse custodum genus. ("As to the progeny of those of lesser value, and in the case of malformed children that they bear, they will be hidden as appropriate in a secret and isolated place ... if one wants the race of guardians to be pure.")

Perhaps most emphatic is his rejection of abortion, which Plato admits and which Aristotle tolerates, and even recommends in certain cases:

REIECT. in fine (Arist. Polit. VII 16, 1335b1926): ... determinanda profecto erit procreandorum multitudo. Quod si quibusdam ad procreandum copulatis praeter haec euenerit: priusquam sensus vitaque insit, abortionem procreare oportere. ("... a numerical limit must be imposed on procreation, and if the couples conceive beyond that limit, an abortion must be made before the foetus has received its senses (i.e., life)."

What is Lefevres position on Plato? He knows Plato byway of Marsilio Ficino, the remarkable Hellenist, great Platonic scholar, and sincere Christian whom he met in Florence in 1492 and whom he calls "very honored father" (pater reverendissimus). Soon after Lefevres return from his first trip to Italy, when he met Ficino, he expressed his great admiration for the eminent Florentine translator by publishing, with the printer Johann Higman, Ficino's edition of the Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus in July 1494, accompanied by brief Argumenta. But his admiration slowly became tainted by distrust: in 1505, he published a new Parisian edition of Poimandres, printed this time by Henri Estienne, which shows that Lefevres enthusiasm for Ficino had waned. The Argumentum for book 3 of Poimandres is a modified version of the one in the 1494 edition and shows a much more prudent Lefevre, who warns the reader that this book "should be read with caution" (caute legendum). In the margins of this work are printed scholia denouncing pagan beliefs (gentilissime), exactly parallel to those found in the Hecatonomiae of 1506.

It is evident that by 1505 Lefevre did not share Ficino's Platonic enthusiasm or even the same attraction to Plato's work. But it is important to remember that Lefevre only "transmits" Plato in aid of better comprehension of Aristotle, as he wrote in his dedication to his friend Jean de Ganay, First President of the Parliament of Paris. (23) Indeed, Aristotle strongly criticizes some of Plato's political views, such as the communal status of women. Lefevre judges Plato to be inferior to Aristotle, or "more dangerous." And while Lefevre admires Aristotle, he places him on a low rung of his scala studiorum, or ladder of scholars. Aristotle is the "best guide to our knowledge of the senses," (24) and can be relied on for the study of logic; further, he established fine principles for ethics. Concerning the knowledge of higher realities, Lefevre thinks that one should be guided by Christian authors, those who lived in apostolic times, as well as by the Fathers of the Church and mystics such as Dionysius the Areopagite, who offers a theologia vivificans, cibus solidus--the solid food of a vivifying theology. (25) But access to the highest truth ultimately comes only through knowledge of Holy Scripture. In fact, Lefevre never really wanted to publish or explain Plato. Even the Phaedo, on the immortality of the soul, did not interest him, nor did Plato's eschatology, as expressed in the Myth of Er in book 10 of the Republic. Lefevre probably admired it, but he kept it at a distance.

What place does the Hecatonomiae have in studies of Plato? The answer is: a modest one at best, with most influence at the beginning of the early modern period. Lefevres "transmission" of his author is limited, serious, and honest; in doing this, he made known certain of Plato's political ideas for the first time in France. Philosophers and scholars interested in Plato would wait another fifty years for Loys Le Roy, known as Regius (ca. 1510-1577), to publish--this time in French--and comment on the most important and significant parts of the Republic and the Laws. (26) Lefevre was an attentive reader in a time and place when Plato was still largely unknown, and he circulated Platonic ideas in an academic community still in the grip of the medieval scholastic tradition. Lefevres role in his commentaries on Plato was to subordinate an untamed wild beast to Christianity. (27) What appealed to Lefevre was the ideal regulation of a city, which, in order to be just, had to be founded on metaphysical and religious values: the divine office, the common good, and justice. Lefevre prudently notes that Plato's reflections have both a religious and a moral basis but that they correspond to the vanished world of antiquity, not the Christian world. He further raises the question as to whether Plato might be influential in a Christian world.

It is difficult to measure any direct influence by the Hecatonomiae because the work is buried as a sort of appendix in an edition of Aristotle, and the few steps that Lefevre takes toward Plato are embedded in his transmission of Aristotle. A case of formal resemblance exists in a work entitled Tres hecatonomiae de conceptibus by Nicolaus Francus, known as Vimacuus, published in Paris in 1509 byjean Barbier for Jean Joncour. (28) Apparently only one copy of this book is preserved at the University of Cambridge. The author was a student of Philippe Prevost of Arras, himself a teacher at the college of Cardinal Lemoine at the same time as Lefevre. The title of the work is obviously a direct echo of Lefevres collection, but its essentially academic content has nothing to do with Plato.

The political ideas of Plato, and especially the project for the ideal city developed in the Republic and the Laws, had much more resonance with the utopian tradition than the strictly philosophical tradition. More important, therefore, are the resemblances to Thomas Mores Utopia, published in 1516, which is awash in Platonic ideas (29)--and yet it is quite different from Lefevres work. More's work, so important in the history of political thought, was certainly not inspired by Lefevres collection of excerpts; More had a complete text of Plato and did not need Lefevres excerpts.

The idea of the "philosopher king" (30) could have seduced some religious reformers, convinced that rigorous regulation was necessary if one were to govern a city according to purely religious values. Such is the case with Jean Calvin, who submitted the entire city of Geneva to strict ecclesiastical discipline in the 1540s and 1550s. The many Platonic themes in Calvin's thought are often overlooked. Their importance is emphasized by Jean Boisset, the only scholar to my knowledge who has studied the Hecatonomiae. Did the Hecatonomiae inspire Calvin to read Plato? I leave this to the historians of Protestantism. (31)

To read Plato is--and will forever be--a great intellectual pleasure, but we know that his ideas are impracticable. This caveat was already apparent during the Roman Empire when, six centuries after Plato, his distant successor Plotinus planned to found an ideal city, which he called Platonopolis, in 268 a.d. The philosopher and founder of Neoplatonism was aided, it seems, by the support of the Emperor Gallienus and his wife, Cornelia Salonina, but the project (which was intended to give new life to a community of philosophers already imagined in the time of Cicero) came to nothing because of opposition in the circle of the emperor. (32) Plato himself was conscious of the impossibility of ever finding practical conditions that would be favorable to the realization of his discourse. He is the first to say it: the legislator cannot model a particular city "as in wax." (33) The demonstration in the Laws presents a model (34) and proposes nothing more than a reasoned fiction. (35) Renaissance readers were utterly sure that the type of ideal city described by Plato in the Republic was a paradigm, even if it was given a more concrete meaning in the Laws.

Ficino, in the argumenta and the epitomai that accompany his translation of the Republic and the Laws, agrees with Plato's affirmation of the superiority of the contemplative life over the active life. But he keeps his own counsel in the face of ideas he finds scandalous, such as eugenics or the communal status of property, women, and children. Lefevre, in his limited selection of political ideas, is far more critical, considering that on many points the Platonic city transgresses the law of God. This "fundamental criticism" is repeated by many French scholiasts at the end of the sixteenth century, such as Jean de Serres in his commentary accompanying his Latin translation of Plato (1578), or the Hellenist and translator Loys Le Roy who, like Lefevre, produced a commentary on the Politics of Aristotle (Paris, 1568), emphasizing Aristotle's criticisms of Plato in book 2. (36) At the dawn of the sixteenth century, when Platonic thought was being widely rediscovered, Lefevre was the pathfinder for all these readers with his Hecatonomiae.


An earlier version of this text was read at the 48th Medieval Congress (Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, May 10, 2013). I thank my colleague at the Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes (IRHT, Paris), Patricia Stirnemann, who translated the paper into English and gave aid and support that were indispensable and generous, elegant and light-hearted.

Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes (CNRS), Paris

Susan Powell, University of Salford


(1.) The two fundamental studies on Lefevre are still Augustin Renaudet, Prereforme et humanisme a Paris pendant les premieres guerres d'ltalie (1494-1517), rev. 2nd ed. (Paris: Librairie d'Argences, 1953), 130-158; and Guy Bedouelle, Lefevre d'Etaples et Yintelligence des ecritures (Geneva: Droz, 1976).

(2.) See Eugene F. Rice, "Bibliography," in Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples, The Prefatory Epistles of Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples and Related Texts, ed. Eugene F. Rice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 535-568.

(3.) Ibid., 553, no. 198.

(4.) Jean Boisset, Sagesse et saintete dans la pensee de Jean Calvin: Essai sur Vhumanisme du reformateur francais (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1959).

(5.) Jean Boisset was preparing a critical edition of the Hecatonomiae. The posthumous publication is sadly inadequate: Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples, Hecatonomiarum libri: Texte latin des Hecatonomies de Lefevre d'Etaples, en parallele avec la traduction latine de Platon par Marsile Ficin, ed. Jean Boisset, revised Robert Combes (Paris: J. Vrin, 1979).

(6.) [Aristotelis,] Contenta. Politicorum libri octo. Commentarii. Economicorum duo. Commentarii. Hecatonomiarum Septem. Economiarum publ. unus. Explanations Leonardi in oeconomica Duo (Paris: Henri Estienne, August 5,1506); Rice, "Bibliography," 553, no. 198. The Hecatonomiae occupies only folios 135v-168r of this volume, that is, only thirty-four folios out of nearly two hundred ([5] +178 + 16).

(7.) G. Leroux, "Introduction," in Plato, Platon: La Republique, 2nd rev. ed., trans. G. Leroux (Paris: Flammarion, 2005), 15.

(8.) Plato, Platonis Opera omnia (Florence: Lorenzo Veneto [and San Iacopo di Ripoli, 1484]), two volumes; see Sebastiano Gentile, et al., eds., Marsilio Ficino e il ritorno di Platone: Mostra di manoscritti stampe e documenti, 17 maggio-6giugno 1984: Catalogo (Florence: Le Lettere, 1984), no. 91, 117-119. See also P. O. Kristeller, "The First Printed Edition of Plato's Works and the Date of Its Publication," in Science and History: Studies in Honor of Edward Rosen (Wroclaw: Ossolineum, 1978,1978), 35-35. This editioprinceps was full of errors and displeased Ficino, who declared it spoiled by neglegentia impressorum vel potius oppressorum (untranslatable pun in Latin: "through the negligence of printers or rather of oppressors"); Marsilio Ficino, "Letter to Francesco Bandini," in Marsilii Ficini opera (Basel, Switzerland: 1576), 872. It was followed by a second edition, Venice, August 13, 1491, printed by Bernardino de Cori and Simone da Lovere.

(9.) A "persuasive" discourse should precede the establishment of the law in order to convince the citizens of its utility and obtain their assent: Plato, Laws 4:723a-b. See Luc Brisson, "Les preambules dans les Lois," in Lectures de Platon (Paris: Vrin, 2000), 235-262.

(10.) Jean-Marie Flamand, "Les ecoles de grec a Paris au XVe siecle," paper read at the Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes (Paris: March 26, 2010).

(11.) On this point, Lefevres views coincide exactly with those of Leonardo Bruni, who declared: "Quid enim opera mea utilius, quid laude dignius effcere possim, quam ciuibus meis primum, deinde ceteris, qui Latina utuntur lingua, ignaris Graecarum litterarum, facultatem praebere, ut non per enigmata ac deliramenta interpretationum ineptarum acfalsarum, sed defacie adfaciempossint Aristotelem intueri et, ut ille in Graeco scripsit, sic in Latino perlegere" (see Rice, 153). See Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples, The Prefatory Epistles of Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples and Related Texts, ed. Eugene F. Rice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 153.

(12.) Paris: Henri Estienne, March 31, 1511/1512; Paris: Ponset le Preux, 1515 (edition shared with Francois Regnault and Jean Petit); Paris: Simon de Colines, April 30, 1526; Paris: Simon de Colines, 1535; Paris: Simon de Colines, 1543. See Rice, "Bibliography," 553-554, nos. 197-203.

(13.) See Isabelle Pantin, s.v. 'emission," in Dictionnaire encyclopedique du livre, ed. Pascal Fouche, Daniel Pechoin, and Philippe Schuwer, vol. 2 (Paris: Edition du Cercle de la Librairie, 2005), 48-49.

(14.) See Charles H. Lohr, "Renaissance Latin Translations of the Greek Commentaries on Aristotle," in Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Jill Kraye and M. W. F. Stone (London: Routledge, 2000), 24-40; and Luca Bianchi, "From Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples to Giulio Landi," in Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Jill Kraye and M. W. F. Stone (London: Routledge, 2000), 41-58. Lefevre adhered to the fundamental approach of the Italian humanists, which consisted of finding the texts themselves and refusing the burden of interpretation that led to accumulation of "delirious commentaries" (see n. 11).

(15.) One of the merits of Boisset's edition (Lefevre d'Etaples, Hecatonomiae, ed. Jean Boisset, revised Robert Combes) is that it has a "Table of Concordance" (pp. 248-253) between the extracts retained--and often remodeled--by Lefevre and the passages of Plato identified by cross-reference to the Estienne edition (Geneve, 1578; column number, followed by letters a, b, c, d, e), which is today the universally accepted norm in studies on Plato. By consulting the table, one easily notes that the order of the extracts chosen by Lefevre generally corresponds to a continuous reading of Ficino's text of Plato.

(16.) For example, the six extracts numbered by Lefevre 2.30-2.35 on the use of money all come from the same passage of the Laws (5:742a-742c); elsewhere, the five extracts in Lefevre as 4.49-4.53 concerning the hunt come from the Laws 7:824a.

(17.) For example, Lefevres extract 7.57 refers to Laws 12:950a-c, while the preceding extract, 7.56, refers to a later passage in the Laws, 12:952a-b.

(18.) On Lefevres inversions within certain of Plato's passages (e.g., in Hecatonomiae 1.38), see "Introduction," in Lefevre d'Etaples, Hecatonomiae, ed. Jean Boisset, revised Robert Combes, 29-30.

(19.) Plato, Republic 4:427e-445e, a long passage devoted to the dialectic of justice in the individual and in the city, with a discussion of the role of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.

(20.) Lefevres celebrity throughout Europe is due above all to his "Paraphrases" of Aristotle. The first series concerned natural philosophy: Totius Aristotelis philosophiae naturalis, (Paris: Johann Higman, 1492). This work, intended for his students at the University in Paris, was followed by thirty-six reissues, either complete or partial (some accompanied by the commentaries of his student Josse Clichtove) up to 1540 in Paris, Lyons, Alcala de Henares, Freiburg im Breisgau, Strasbourg, Leipzig, Krakow, Salamanca, and Nuremberg; see Rice, "Bibliography," 535-539, nos. 1-37.

(21.) See "Introduction," in Lefevre d'Etaples, Hecatonomiarum libri, ed. Boisset, revised Combes, 30.

(22.) For this theory of the "noble lie," cf. REIECT. 8 (= Rep. 5,459c-d): Quare necessarium fore videtur: utfrequenti mendacio et deceptione utantur principes ad subditorum utilitatem. Huiusmodi enim omnia pharmaci medicinaeque loco necessaria sunt. ("This is why it seems that it will frequently be necessary for the leaders to use lies and subterfuges for the good of their subjects. All procedures of this kind are necessary, if they act as remedies and medical treatments.")

(23.) On Jean de Ganay (ca. 1450-June 3, 1512), who was very open to humanist ideas, see Ernest de Ganay, Un chancelier de France sous Louis XII, Jehan de Ganay (Paris: Plon, 1932). See also Lefevre d'Etaples, Prefatory Epistles, 17-20, ep. 5, 155-157, ep. 50: cum suscepissem Politicorum Aristotelis recognitionem et commentarios meditatusfuissem, occurrebant Socrates et Plato frequenter in jus ab Aristotele vocati, quos si adducerem et ad politicenfacere visi sunt, et nefalso videretur Aristoteles illospro veritatis defensione insimulavisse; adducere autem dispersim et in singulo quoquie loco et longum et onerosum visum est, at legentibus multo conducibilius si sua serie pro rei magnitudine in uno volumine collecti pariter ederentur; sicque magis insuper posse prodesse, praesertim iis qui prima legum tyrocinia aggrediuntur, si post lectam Ethicen et Politicen ... exphilosophicis legibus, ut ex quibusdam praeludiis, ad illas sacrosanctas, augustas et imperatorias leges surgerent. ("As I had undertaken a critical rereading of the Politics of Aristotle and thought about glossing the text, Socrates and Plato have come to me, frequently invoked by Aristotle in judicial matters; if I wanted to cite them, it was because they not only seemed adapted to the politic, but also because I wanted to make clear that Aristotle was not making untruthful accusations against them. But to cite them helter-skelter in the course of my text seemed labored, and I found it much more practical for my readers to edit them in order, given their extent, in one volume. In so doing, I intended to be useful to those apprehending the very rudiments of law so that after having read the Ethics and Politics ... they might progress from the laws of the philosophers to the sacrosanct august and imperial laws.")

(24.) Summum Aristotelem omnium vere philosophantium ducem ("the great Aristotle, the guide of all those who are really philosophers"), from Lefevre d'Etaples, Prologus in Paraphrasin librorum Physicorum Aristotelis, in Totius Aristotelis philosophiae naturalis paraphrases, Paris, Johann Higman, 1492 (Rice, 5).

(25.) Heb. 5:14. Cf. Lefevres edition of Dionysius the Areopagite, Dionysii Areopagitae opera omnia: Theologia vivificans. Cibus solidus. Dionysii Celestis hierarchia. Ecclesiastica hierarchia. Mystica theologia. Undecim epistole. Ignatii undecim epistole. Polycarpi epistola una (Paris: Johann Higman & Wolfgang Hopyl, February 6,1498/1499), fol.; Rice, "Bibliography," 549-550, no. 155.

(26.) Plato, Le premier, second et dixiesme livre de lustice, ou de la Republique de Platon ... traduict de grec enfrancois [par Loys Le Roy] (Paris: Sebastien Nyvelle, 1555); Plato, Discours de Platon extraict du troisiesme de ses Loix, sur le royaume de Perse (Paris: F. Morel, 1562). Moreover, Loys Le Roy also translated into French and commented on Aristotle's Politics-, Aristotle, the Politiques dAristote, trans. Loys Le Roy (Paris: Michel de Vascosan, 1568; new ed. 1576).

(27.) Fifty years after Lefevre, Loys Le Roy would cautiously try to reconcile Plato with Christianity in France; see Raymond Lebegue, "La Republique de Platon et la Renaissance francaise," Lettres d'Humanite 2 (1943): 141-165, esp. 150-151.

(28.) See [PhilippeRenouard],Imprimeursetlibrairesparisiensduxviesi'ecle,t. Ill (Paris: 1979), 110-111, no. 149: Tres hecatonomiae Nicolaifranci Vimacui [= du Vimeu] de conceptibus. Prima depotentia cognitiua, obiecto cognoscibili, et medio cognoscendi-, deque tribus signis doctrinalibus (scriptura inquam voce etconceptu) ingenerali: correspondens primo capiti tractatus summularum Petri hispani. Secunda de conceptus incomplexis eorumque speciebus acproprietatibus: subordinata prohemio primi perihermeneias Aristotelis. Tertia de conceptibus complexis ac eorumdem appaehensione [sic] dubitatione, assensu etdissensu, actu, dispositione, et habitu, subseruiensprimo capitiposteriorum eiusdem Aristotelis (copy in the University Library, Cambridge). Signature a i v: dedicatory epistle from the author to his teacher Philippe Prevost d'Arras (Philippus Prepositus Attrabatensis), on whom see Lefevre d'Etaples, Prefatory Epistles, 111.

(29.) See Jean-Yves Lacroix, L'Utopia de Thomas More et la tradition platonicienne, De Petrarque a Descartes 74 (Paris: Vrin, 2007).

(30.) Plato, Republic 5:473d.

(31.) See Boisset, Sagesse et saintete, 253-314, esp. 277-284 on political themes.

(32.) Porphyrius, Vita Plotini, 12; see Lucien Jerphagnon, "Platonopolis ou Plotin entre le siecle et le reve," in Neoplatonisme: Melanges offerts a Jean Trouillard, Les Cahiers de Fontenay 19-22 (Fontenay-aux-Roses, France: E.N.S., 1981), 215-229.

(33.) Plato, Laws 5:745e-746a.

(34.) Ibid., 3:702d; 5:739el; 5:746b7.

(35.) See Jean-Francois Pradeau, Platon, les democrates et la democratie: Essai sur la reception contemporaine de la pensee politique platonicienne (Naples: Bibliopolis, 2005), 66-73.

(36.) Jean Ceard, "Le modele de la Republique de Platon et la pensee politique au XVIe siecle," in XVIe Colloque International de Tours: Platon et Aristote a la Renaissance (Paris: Vrin, 1976), 175-190.
COPYRIGHT 2014 Pace University Dba: Pace University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Nota Bene: Brief Notes on Manuscripts and Early Printed Books: Highlighting Little-known or Recently Uncovered Items or Related Issues
Author:Flamand, Jean-Marie
Publication:The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Previous Article:Early printed Chaucer editions in the Harry Ransom Center's George A. Aitken collection.
Next Article:Queen Mary I's books at Lambeth Palace Library.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |