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Les metamorphoses d'Hermes: Tradition aichimique et esthetique litteraire dans la France de l'age baroque (1583-1646) & Lucain et la litterature de l'age baroque en France; Citation, imitation et creation. .

Frank Greiner. Les metamorp hoses d'Hermes: Tradition aichimique et esthetique litteraire dans la France de l'age baroque (1583-1646).

(Bibliotheque litteraire de la Renaissance, 3.42.) Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2000. 672 pp. index, append. bibl. 610 FF. ISBN: 2-7453-0295-7.

Jean-Claude Ternaux. Lucain et la litterature de l'age baroque en France; Citation, imitation et creation.

(Bibliotheque litteraire de la Renaissance, 3.43.) Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2000. 472 pp. index, append. bibl. 420 FF. ISBN: 2-7453-0297-3.

Those of us that work in the French Renaissance were fortunate when, a little more than ten years ago, the Paris publishing house Honore Champion reinaugurated its "Bibliotheque litteraire de Ia Renaissance." The two volumes under review join important works in this series by scholars such as Francois Cornillat and Francis Goyet, and are therefore in good company. They have in common with each other a focus on the French Baroque, and they also share the patient monumentality of the these d'Etat. They both attempt exhaustive and detailed surveys of their subjects, a task complicated in each case by the difficulty of deciding what -- or when -- the French Baroque actually was. Each of the works under review does something to advance our always-problematic sense of the period, if only by reminding us implicitly of Wolfflin's familiar definition, one which if over-schematic nevertheless helps us see how the Baroque can be understood as a dynamic filling of the negative spaces around the concept "Renaissance." Tha t this anti-definition is unstable (and appropriately so) from a theoretical standpoint is shown by how hard Jean-Claude Ternaux has to work, for example, to keep the Corneille of La mort de Pompee from sliding into an austere classicism, while Frank Greiner's alchemical aesthetic is Baroque precisely in its obscurity, its instability, even its incoherence (272).

This fugitive character of the subject makes Greiner's task all the more daunting. He proposes to survey and describe the presence of alchemical themes and discourses in a wide range of texts from the period. He does not limit himself to "purely" literary texts--and indeed he succeeds in showing us that, at least as far as the literature of alchemy is concerned, such a distinction is in any case not terribly useful--although it is clear that he ultimately finds these texts more interesting than the technical and expository treatises he also covers. His discussion of the latter, which occupies the first two parts of the book, shows how the alchemical tradition shifts during this period from an essentially oral, or at best manuscript-based, tradition to one residing primarily in the printed word. The closed-circuit relationship of master and apprentice is replaced by books addressed to an anonymous public, books which nonetheless attempt to control the transmission of information in two ways: first, via hyp ertrophic liminary discourses, which attempt to reproduce the master-disciple relationship between author and reader, and second, via a burgeoning obscurity, which is meant to conceal the secrets of "le Grand CEuvre" from those unfit to receive them. Greiner argues that the alchemical quest is therefore doubled, and to some extent replaced, by the hermeneutic exercise of making one's way into what he calls the "labyrinthe hermetique" of alchemical texts. The texts themselves, works such as the Harmonie mystique of David Laigneau, or L'Ouverture de l'escolle dephilosophie of David de Planis Campy, trace out this double trajectory, in the process transforming the reader "de profane en adepte" (234). The authors' obscurity is, for them at least, both willed and the inevitable consequence of a linguistic falling away from an originary consonance of signs and things; the "Haute Science" is therefore an effort to reconstitute that original harmony, a quest for the Philosophers' Stone--or the lingua adamica--tha t will restore both substances and signs to their prelapsarian purity.

In the third and final part of his book, Greiner turns to the manifestations of alchemical themes in explicitly literary texts, only a few of which we can mention here. He begins with a discussion of the Latin Chrysopeia of Aurelio Augurelli, a poem signaled long ago (as Greiner acknowledges) by Albert-Marie Schmidt, in his seminal La Poesie scientifique en France au XVIe siecle, as a kind of founding text for subsequent literary exploration of alchemical themes. He goes on to discuss such texts as Christofle de Gamon's Tresor des tresors and Clovis Hesteau de Nuysement's Poeme philosophic and Visions hermetiques, poetic texts that present alchemical "knowledge" while also enacting the hermeneutic exercise of its discovery in the deciphering they demand of their readers, whether straightforwardly (Gamon) or in a more obscure, Baroque mode (Hesteau de Nuysement). He continues with descriptive discussions of prose narmtives such as Les Aventures duphilosophe inconnu by one dom Belin, and the better-known Cabine t de Minerve and Voyage des Princes Fortunez of Beroalde de Verville, characterizing these texts, in sound alchemical fashion, as "alliages" (alloys) (462), insofar as they combine novelistic features with other attributes drawn from the tradition of the "Doctrine Doree." He closes with a discussion of works like La Carithee by Mann Le Roy de Gomberville, a pastoral romance in which alchemical themes, instead of being a central presence with a didactic purpose, have become more diffuse, giving a color of mystery and obscurity to the text in the service of aesthetic rather than "scientific" ends.

Greiner's work is in some ways an extension of Schmidt's project forward into the seventeenth century, as well as a complement to monographs like Wallace Kirsop's these, Clovis Hesteau, Sieur de Nuysement, or Neil Kenny's Palace of Secrets on Beroalde de Verville. It gives exhaustive and detailed summary views of a wide range of works, emphasizing description rather than grand interpretation. It is richly and carefully documented, with an encyclopedic bibliography, and will therefore be a valuable resource to anyone interested in exploring alchemical themes, la poesie scientifique, and Baroque aesthetics.

The same may be said of Ternaux's survey of the presence of Lucan in French Baroque literature. Ternaux begins with an inventory of what one might call the physical manifestations of Lucan's text in the period--libraries, schools, editions, collections, translations--suggesting that Lucan's influence is in fact more widespread than the uneven concrete evidence tends to show. He goes on to survey learned commentaries from the period, showing how Lucan, like other epic poets, was read at the time as much for his alleged historical, geographical, and scientific knowledge as for his poetry. More generally, he shows how positive readings of Lucan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had to respond to devastating critiques of the poet both ancient (Quintilian) and modern (J. C. Scaliger), for both of whom Lucan was the acme of bad taste. Taste aside, Ternaux argues persuasively that the Pharsalia, with its pertinent subject matter (namely civil war), vehement rhetoric, and stoic philosophical stance, suit ed the temper of the period like no other antique text, In the much longer second portion of the book, he systematically surveys all literary genres in which Lucan's presence can be detected: lyric, (the centon, Jean Dorat's Odes, Joachim du Bellay's Antiquitez), narrative (Urbain Chevreau's Hermiogne, Georges de Brebuef's Lucain travesty), epic (La fudit of Guillaume du Bartas, Agrippa d'Aubigne's Tragiques) and theater (Robert Gamier's Roman plays, Pierre Corneille's La mort de Pompee). These chapters are more or less substantial according to the importance of Lucan's presence in the texts under discussion and to the depth of the texts themselves; by far the strongest chapters, therefore, are those dealing with the Tragiques and with theater, particularly the section on Corneille. Here, Ternaux has plenty of material to work with, and he makes the most of it, minutely examining the presence--through translation, paraphrase, imitation--of the Pharsalia in the texts in question. In these readings, Ternaux is at his most interesting, as when he shows how Corneille adapts substantial portions of Lucan to his own needs, nevertheless "classicizing" his source in consonance with the ideal of magnanimite that, together with Lucan's stoicism, constitutes the governing ideology of his play. Corneille's Cesar therefore cannot be the arch-villain he is in Lucan; Ternaux thereby shows us both the depth and the limits of Corneille's involvement with his ancient model.

The book suffers from a certain unevenness, and from occasionally sloppy editing; in particular, the chapter (already published elsewhere) on the Antiquitez sits ill with the rest of the work. The bibliography is also surprisingly weak for a book of this scope. Nonetheless, Ternaux's patient march through the material reveals textual and ideological resonances that illuminate our vision of the texts he examines. More broadly, like Schmidt and Kenny, both Ternaux and Greiner remind us that the literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in France is far stranger and more diverse than we usually allow it to be, fully meriting the ambiguous, tortured designation "Baroque."
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Author:Dosner, David M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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