Sunday, May 30, 2010


ISSN: 1946-1992

Volume Three (2010):
Digital Archives & the Field of Production

In Volume Three of APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture, you will find:

* 5 Articles
* 5 Book Reviews

One of those articles first appeared as a conference paper during our 2010 Appositions e-conference. For the closing remarks from that event, please visit this page:

Presenters at our annual e-conference are invited to submit article-length versions of their papers for our standard peer-review process at the journal while we review manuscripts during our submission period, October through April. Conference presentation does not guarantee journal publication, but we do hope that our electronic forum may generate useful commentary on works-in-progress.

The rest of the documents gathered and published here were submitted independently of the 2010 e-conference.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture
ISSN: 1946-1992

Volume Three (2010):
Digital Archives & the Field of Production


Elizabeth Scott-Baumann & Ben Burton,
Encoding Form: A proposed database of poetic form

Dorothea Heitsch,
Renaissance Soul-Searching (1555-1584):
Maurice Scève, Jacques Peletier du Mans, Pierre de Ronsard, Guillaume Du Bartas, René Bretonnayau

Colleen E. Kennedy,
“Do You Smell a Fault?”:
Detecting and Deodorizing King Lear’s Distinctly Feminine Odor

George Klawitter,
Andrew Marvell’s Use of John Donne: “The Definition of Love”

Andrew Russ,
Four Diseases of Social Speech in “Hamlet”


Claire Bordelon, reviewing:
John Bowes, Richard Brathwait: The First Lakeland Poet. Hugill Publications (2007).

Elizabeth H. Hageman, reviewing:
Ann Hollinshead Hurley and Chanita Goodblatt, eds., Women Editing/Editing Women: Early Modern Women Writers and the New Textualism. Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2009).

Sheri L. McCord, reviewing:
Rebecca Laroche, Medical Authority and Englishwomen’s Herbal Texts, 1550-1650. Ashgate Publishing (2009).

Kathryn Vomero Santos, reviewing:
Amy Greenstadt, Rape and the Rise of the Author: Gendering Intention in Early Modern England. Ashgate Publishing (2009).

Adam Swann, reviewing:
Nicholas McDowell and Nigel Smith, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Milton. Oxford University Press (2009).

In our opinion, we have assembled a robust gathering of works that all strike a vital balance between traditional and innovative concerns in the field. The content speaks/reads for itself, but, of course, we also welcome your participation.

Appositions is designed for commentary and open-access. You may post your questions and comments via the “post a comment” link at the bottom of each document page.

We hope you enjoy your visit, and that you’ll share Appositions with your colleagues, friends, and students.

The Editors

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Three (2010): Digital Archives

* * * ARTICLES * * *

E. Scott-Baumann & B. Burton: "Encoding Form"

Elizabeth Scott-Baumann & Ben Burton
Oxford University

Encoding Form: A proposed database of poetic form

1> In 1979, Heather Dubrow called for a new methodology in early modern studies. ‘We are still prone to separate literary history and generic analysis,’ she observed, ‘[b]ut the two modes of criticism can illuminate each other

“exploring why certain genres flourished when they did and how they shaped and were shaped by the temper of their age is one of the surest ways of tracing the complicated movements that inform literary history.”[1]

Thirty years later, it seems that literary scholars have been slow to respond to Dubrow’s appeal for a new kind of historical formalism, especially when developing electronic resources.[2] To be sure, the last four decades have seen exciting developments in digital literary studies, including e-texts and online corpora; multimedia electronic editions; full-text resources for biography, bibliography, and lexicography; as well as computer-assisted textual analysis. In the field of early modern studies, online resources such as Early English Books Online (EEBO), Chadwyck Healey’s Literature Online (LION), and Gale Cengage’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online (EECO) have enabled scholars and students to conduct literary historical research in novel ways, allowing users to discover obscure publications and pursue new lines of enquiry through keyword-searchable full texts.[3] Such resources as these have transformed the way we study words and phrases, but they are not designed to support sophisticated analysis of the formal properties of early modern texts. As scholars begin to reassess the relationship between formal and historical study, we need electronic resources that will enable scholars and students to study form in a historically-rooted way, stimulating new questions about parallels and differences across literary periods.

2> What might such a resource look like? This paper explores the motivations and challenges of creating a database of form for early modern English poetry. We are currently planning a database that will contain information on the genres, metrical structures and rhyme schemes of all poetry in early modern printed texts. Users will be able to search a variety of criteria, exploring specific poetic forms by name, or metre, or rhyme scheme and then refine search results within a time period, or according to author, or place of publication, or language. They would also be able to enter information about the formal properties of a poem, such as its rhyme scheme, and be able to view similar or identical forms in the database. The database would change the study of poetic form in the way that LION, EEBO and other keyword-searchable full text corpora have revolutionized our ability to study imitation, influence and tradition at the thematic and content level of words. In this paper we will outline the kinds of data this resource could provide, and the kinds of questions we would want to ask of it.

Purpose and Objectives

3> This database will contribute to an ongoing effort to combine literary history with the study of prosody and genre. In doing so, we hope to reassess the scope and purpose of prosodic analysis, and its relation to electronic resources, in shaping our understanding of the early modern period. The database would in no way replace scholarly analysis, but it can assist us in certain aspects of prosodic study, and will open up new areas for teaching and research.

4> The primary objective of the database is to provide an unprecedented quantity of information about poetic form – such as syllable count, rhyme scheme and rhyme words – which form the basis of prosodic and generic analysis. It does not aim to offer definitive or exhaustive analyses, but to stimulate further enquiry and to provide data for independent analysis. The database assists prosodic study by dramatically reducing the time taken to perform basic metrical analysis such as counting syllables and identifying rhyme schemes. More excitingly, it opens up areas of enquiry by enabling scholars to ask new questions about literary texts. At present, prosodic analysis is usually confined to isolated studies of an individual author or small groups of authors. One of the ultimate objectives of the database is to broaden the scope of prosodic analysis by providing the raw materials for a cultural history of poetic form and generic change across the early modern period. In this sense, the database will enable scholars to ask the same kinds of questions about form that our current resources allow us to ask about words, for example: What is the origin (or origins) of a given form? How does its structure, use and meaning change over time? Are there variations in use and meaning in different regions, or among different groups? How does a given form relate to others, and how does this relationship change over time? To pursue the analogy with lexical analysis, the database invites us to explore what might be called the etymology and morphology of poetic form, as well as the complex history of prosodic dialects, sociolects and idiolects.


5> The database would encode additional information about the generic and formal characteristics of texts in our existing online corpora of early modern texts. At present, resources such as EEBO are designed as digital libraries and, as such, are not concerned with adding value by annotating the texts they compile.[4] Our strategy is to create an interface that would interrogate marked-up texts, as users present queries, so that the user’s search would call up certain poems and records of these poems’ formal features. Users would be able to see a short, searchable record of formal features for each text but also to search much more widely and narrowly according to their own research interests. We propose to annotate existing texts created by the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP), enriching these texts by providing detailed information about their prosodic structure. We would use a Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) P5-compliant scheme to enrich the relevant encoded EEBO-TCP texts.[5] The TEI already provides a base tag set for encoding verse, including stanza divisions, caesurae, enjambment, rhyme scheme and metrical information, as well as a special purpose rhyme element to support the simple analysis of rhyming words. For rhyme and metrical analysis, the module for verse includes attributes that allow users to specify encoding for the conventional metrical structure of the element, as well as for the actual realization of the conventional metrical structure applicable to a given element of a text.[6]

6> What kind of information might be marked-up in this way? As David Chisholm and David Robey point out, ‘[t]here is...a general question as to whether text markup for scholarly interchange should be limited to broad formal conventions (e.g. meter, rhyme, stanzaic forms), or whether individual characteristics of verse texts may also be included (a step that often represents the foundation of a stylistic interpretation).’[7] What is more, since prosodic analysis necessarily entails an element of critical judgement, any encoder will need to formulate clear principles for marking up verse. For example, can we always distinguish between formal conventions and individual characteristics of verse? How should we indicate that the pattern indicated by our mark up is not the only possible pattern for the verse text under consideration?

7> We believe that some of these questions are best approached through practice. In our pilot project outlined below, we will test both methods of encoding on a sample of texts spanning a range of genres from the 1590s, including sonnet sequences, epic poetry and drama. At present, we can only speculate as to which approach will be most appropriate for a project of this scope. We suspect, however, that a simple mark-up of rhyme scheme and conventional metrical structure will provide more information about texts that involve a variety of stanzaic patterns – such as sonnet sequences, or collections of lyric poetry – than texts that use a single stanza, such as epic poems, or those which rely heavily on a single conventional metrical structure, like drama. If this is true, it seems likely that the project will need to provide information about formal conventions as well as a limited range of individual characteristics. Of course, this would be labour intensive. Manually marking up the actual metrical structure of poetic texts at line level could prove extremely cumbersome and time consuming. One possibility is that the database might develop in phases, beginning with rhyme scheme and conventional metrical structure, and then progressing to include further information about the actual features of these texts. This approach allows the flexibility to encode additional layers of complexity. These could include highlighting irregularities in rhyme scheme, or indicating any deviation in the real metrical structure of a line from the pattern defined by the conventional metrical structure.
In the Pilot Project section (below) we discuss the possibilities of this kind of mark up, as well as its limitations in relation to our pilot project.

8> This pragmatic approach can only take us so far, however, as we attempt to address larger theoretical questions about how we mark-up verse texts. In a future article we will examine the theoretical assumptions that lie behind the TEI guidelines for encoding verse, and will situate our database in relation to recent historical studies of early modern prosody.[8] At this early stage, we can only highlight some of the large problems that remain to be answered by our project. For example, is the purpose of the database to examine poetry in the terms that early modern poets may have used, or to provide an analytical framework that draws on current prosodic theory? The former approach would allow users to see the period in something like its own terms, but it is open to criticism from theoretical prosodists who distinguish between ‘the conscious metrical principles to which poets may have adhered’ and ‘the principles which actually governed their practice.’[9] This is an important distinction, but it leaves us wondering how these ‘principles’ are to be defined in light of the ongoing methodological conflicts in verse studies. As Richard Cureton observes, ‘the failure of theoretical prosodists in [the twentieth] century to develop a generally accepted method of rhythmical analysis has made it impossible for literary historians and historically minded prosodists to take advantage of these advances in any coherent way.’[10]

9> These methodological questions are complicated further by practical and pedagogical concerns: should we adopt a traditional accentual-syllabic method of scansion that is already used in many textbooks and prosodic manuals, or should we eschew this arguably outdated system in favour of a more credible but less familiar method of analysis? A possible solution to this problem, adopted by Thomas Carper and Derek Attridge, is to combine modern methods of scansion and traditional terminology (such as ‘iambic pentameter’ and ‘trochaic trimeter’), with the proviso that these terms provide a ‘useful shorthand for describing particular sorts of meters’ rather than ‘keys to what’s really going on in metrical lines.’[11] This solution may be pragmatic, but it might also be seen as theoretically suspect. As Peter Groves argues, ‘the traditional description [of verse texts] lacks intellectual coherence and rigour, and should not be perpetuated merely by inertia, incumbency, habit or apathy.’[12] While we admire Groves’s refusal to compromise on this point, we hope to establish principles for encoding verse texts which address the concerns of theoretical prosodists as well as scholars, teachers, students and non-specialists who are already familiar with traditional methods of analysing poetic form.

Dissemination and Publication

10> Online databases and editions are now a central part of UK and US universities’ research resources. Oxford University, where we work as lecturers and researchers, currently subscribes to resources with a variety of search functions and searchability, such as The Bible in English (searchable by key word, or chapter and verse), the Poetry Archive and Past Masters (largely philosophical texts). Reference works are also increasingly used in their online forms. The Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography are now largely used online in frequently updated and carefully managed versions, and scholarly journals increasingly make their articles accessible through and Project MUSE.

11> Many databases providing primary texts, such as LION, EEBO and ECCO, are now commonly subscribed to by universities and widely used by undergraduates, postgraduates and senior scholars. These existing databases offer a sweep of literature from medieval to twentieth-century, and some provide both digital facsimiles and full-text versions of rare (and common) books. Digital facsimiles have enabled thousands of students and scholars to study rare, fragile books as they were originally published, including manuscript drafts (see Oxford’s First World War Poetry Digital Archive) and manuscript texts (the JISC-funded Digitizing Correspondence project under way at London’s Centre for Editing Lives and Letters; the Perdita Project providing facsimiles of early modern women’s writings). Full-text versions of swathes of poetry have been used for stylometric analysis to help ascertain authorship or date a work in a writer’s life or used to trace allusion, echoes and imitations of other authors (just as the availability of scholarship online has enabled many universities to use plagiarism software such as Turnitin to screen their undergraduates’ work).

12> The Text Creation Partnership provides texts to Chadwyck-Healey, who mount them online through their (otherwise facsimile-and-bibliographic-record only) EEBO database. EEBO therefore provides access to both facsimiles and an increasing number of full-text transcriptions of early printed books. We are keen to work with EEBO-TCP texts for the early modern phase of the database, using text encoding techniques to create enriched texts from which the searchable interface will glean and exhibit data on formal aspects of all poetry. We aim to negotiate with EEBO and Chadwyck-Healey to find a form of publication that both respects intellectual property and commercial interests, while also making this rich new material accessible to the widest possible audience.

13> At the current stage of planning we are considering several options for the dissemination of our research findings and the publication of the database. These include 1. An open access interface available to any internet user that provides both a searchable interface and access to marked up texts; 2. Access to searchable interface and marked-up texts to EEBO-TCP subscribing institutions, perhaps as one of the partners’ custom interfaces; 3. Open access to database and texts but not with mark up. This would mean that if we are not able to make the XML-encoded texts freely available, we would display the texts in their entirety (as users request them), but with the encoding invisible. The interface would interpret our encoding and display the verse with, for example, its stresses marked with accents, or its rhyme scheme colour-coded, rather than with visible tags; 4. Open access to database but no texts. We are most keen on the first option, but this will depend on how our negotiations with EEBO-TCP and Chadwyck-Healey progress. Option 3 would have obvious benefits over Option 4 in that institutions who do not subscribe to EEBO such as schools, where we are keen to see the database used in teaching, would have access to the texts as well as our data, just without the mark up visible.

14> This project would result in a sustainable resource that could be developed beyond the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries across every period, and could be connected to huge existing databases of poetry already subscribed to by universities, and ideally also be available to school students across the UK and USA.

Applications: Research and Teaching

15> We are currently in an exciting period of literary criticism, as scholars review the formal, political, theoretical and historical approaches of the previous century and call for perspectives that unite formalist literary and historical analysis.[13] Their work questions the critical tendency to conflate certain poetic genres such as lyric with outmoded critical methodologies of the early twentieth century, and encourages us to rethink the longstanding association between generic analysis and a rarefied concept of the aesthetic. Eschewing the New Critical ideal of formal unity or coherence, these scholars propose a freshly theorized ‘historical formalism,’ reassessing poetic form as historically specific, historically determined, and historically efficacious.

16> There has already been some excellent work in this field, concerned with the rise and fall of genres, changes in prosodic tastes and practices, how writers distinguished and differentiated the specific functions of literary texts, as well as a history of aesthetics, all of which have been sidelined by a cultural studies movement which has dominated literary scholarship in recent years.[14] At present, however, the scope of this research is restricted by the lack of electronic resources that would make prosodic information of all sorts more easily accessed, more quickly searched, and more widely shared. Indeed, we would imagine that many scholars interested in historical formalism are currently wrestling with the same kind of problems that frustrated a previous generation of scholars working on vocabulary and verbal allusion. As a result, scholars interested in formal and historical analysis have understandably tended to focus their energies on analysing a limited sample of texts or a small group of authors. Larger studies, spanning a broad time period and a wide range of authors, are often richly suggestive and point the way towards future research, but scholars need new resources to provide the kinds of evidence that could support these ambitious projects.

17> In creating an electronic database of poetic form for the early modern period, we would seek to provide a crucial tool in this emergent field, enabling scholars to explore the unpredictable, multiple interactions between form and history, while stimulating new questions about the cultural significance of specific forms as well as how particular genres changed and developed over time.

18> The multiple research implications of this database would change the way in which scholarship on poetic form is conducted. Scholars will be able to make new connections between authors of different periods, styles and cultural identities. For example, they would be able to trace the progress of a particular form, looking at how the heroic couplet was used before its most famous practitioner, Alexander Pope, and after him. It would also be possible to discern how common metrical irregularity was within certain forms, and whether this was dictated by subject matter, education or gender. Scholars would also be able to identify heterogeneity within certain forms, for instance, exploring how much formal variation existed within the sonnet boom of the 1590s, which variants endured into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and which were abandoned but received a later revival.

19> Finding a poem difficult to categorise, it would be possible to use the database to investigate similar forms, exploring possible models and traditions, or revealing valuable innovations in form. Rhyme words would also be detailed in the database, providing rich new evidence of how rhyme could function: Were certain rhyme words always used for comic effect? Do particular rhymes appear more frequently in certain periods than others, and what might this reveal about the cultural significance of rhyme at these moments? It was a commonplace of the New Criticism of the earlier twentieth century that, in Pope’s words, ‘The Sound must seem an Eccho to the Sense’[15]; our resource would aim to provide the largest amount of data with which to explore the myriad aesthetic and political ramifications of this principle.

20> The Electronic Database of Poetic Form would also be an immensely useful teaching tool, at both school and university level. Recent research has confirmed that online resources such as EEBO are already transforming undergraduate teaching and learning.[16] Electronic resources are used by undergraduates more than any other group and our database would draw on enthusiasm for online material to challenge and develop their reading of poetry. Undergraduate students might be able to submit entries of rhyme schemes and syllable counts on a connected pedagogical website, developing their own skills at identifying certain metrical forms and exploring the implications of rhyme words and different kinds of rhyme.

21> In the same way, the database could be used to teach secondary school students about rhyme and metre, providing an accessible, hands-on introduction to key concepts of prosodic analysis, and enabling them to explore the variety of poetic forms used by a particular author. Students might be able to highlight and annotate specific features of their chosen texts, following online exercises organized by a teacher, and submitting work for further discussion in an electronic forum with class members. Here we find a particularly strong warrant for making our resource freely available to any internet user, especially to institutions which cannot afford the subscription fees which accompany many electronic resources in the humanities. Although we are currently considering several options for the publication of our database, we have been encouraged by the recent development of open access resources, such as the new Shakespeare Quartos Archive (, that are freely available for sophisticated, close analysis of literary texts for students and scholars across the globe.[17] The success of this resource convinces us that online resources can satisfy the demands of the scholarly community as well as the wider public. In our pilot project, described below, we will experiment with an interface that will be accessible to non-specialists while also providing complex search features for more advanced users.

Pilot Project: 1590s

22> The pilot project comprises two stages: 1. A small database containing information on the metrical structures and rhyme schemes of all verse in the first edition of 10 texts published between 1590 and 1599. 2. A larger database containing information on the metrical structures and rhyme schemes of all verse in first editions of texts published during this period.

23> The first stage of the pilot will illustrate the variety of texts contained in this database, ranging from those written entirely or predominantly in verse (such as epic poems, verse drama and sonnet collections), to those which include poetry and prose in varying proportions. The two principal investigators will work on the initial project, and the results of this work will help determine the search functions of the database, as well as the timescale and the resources needed for the second stage of the pilot. The second stage will demonstrate the complete search functions of the database across a sample period. We aim to provide information about poetry in first editions published between 1590 and 1599, ranging from works written entirely in verse, to brief quotations and epigrams that feature in larger works.

24> The 1590s was a unique and exciting decade in the development of poetry in English, with poets experimenting with classical metres, forging and theorising a vernacular literary tradition, reflecting continental influences, as well as the inflections of music and rhetoric. It saw the publication of Sidney’s Defence of Poesie, one of the most influential formulations of the purpose and responsibilities of poetry, as well as his sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. The decade saw the publication of Spenser’s major English epic, The Faerie Queene, Marlowe’s Ovidian Hero and Leander and Shakespeare’s two great narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. These latter two have been characterised as the most patterned, structured and even the most ‘literary’ of all Shakespeare’s works.[18] Heather Dubrow has talked of modern readers’ ‘distrust of elaborate devices’ and though these poems are widely studied, much remains to be explored in their formal patterns and innovations.[19] These poems enjoyed a much greater fame in Shakespeare’s lifetime than they do now, and it was these works that motivated contemporaries to write about the honeyed softness of Shakespeare’s verse. Our database would allow further exploration of what exactly such critical terms meant in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Were these works defined by their formal regularity, by enjambment creating an admired sense of flow, or can we see ways in which irregularity and shifts in metre might also be admired? These terms of smoothness and softness became connected with the couplet in the eighteenth century and it would be fascinating to be able ultimately to compare the couplets of the sixteenth century with those of the eighteenth. Did poets’ use of the couplet become more uniform as it gained dominance?[20] Shakespeare’s narrative poems of course do not employ couplets, but for Venus and Adonis iambic pentameter sestets (rhyming ababcc) and for Lucrece rhyme royal (7 pentameter lines rhyming ababbcc). The Electronic Database of Poetic Form would allow users to input these schemes (either metre, rhyme scheme or both) and immediately see what other works were published in the period using the same stanzas, whether these became more or less common after Shakespeare’s poems were published, whether these forms were used for comic, tragic or other material, amongst numerous other research questions.

25> The 1590s also saw the rise of some of the greatest works in English verse drama, which this database will include, such as Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Dido Queen of Carthage and Edward II, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, Richard II and Love’s Labour’s Lost. It has often been said that late sixteenth-century drama and poetry influenced each other, and this database would provide illuminating evidence of the exact nature of this influence. Certainly Love’s Labour’s Lost includes poetry which alludes to song forms such as madrigal verse, as well as strophic forms, and is the most heavily rhymed of Shakespeare’s plays. The rhymes are often semantically significant, such as the repeated pairings of ‘lord’ and ‘word,’ ‘eyes’ and ‘lies’. These rhymes were indexed in Helge Kökeritz’s Shakespeare’s Pronunciation of 1953, which used linguistic features such as rhyme words and puns as evidence of pronunciation. Our database will shed light on this issue by providing a far greater set of data on rhymes across first the 1590s and then the early modern period. It might also tackle and challenge in its methodology some of the assumptions that have been made about pronunciation on the basis of rhyme. As we develop the database, looking to ascertain which words constitute rhyming pairs, we will need to examine works on early modern pronunciation, but as these works have often used literary texts as their evidence, we face a thorny but fascinating methodological challenge in deciding the extent to which seeming rhymes can act as evidence of actual pronunciation.

26> The songs and sonnets in Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella constitute one of the most varied and sophisticated poetic sequences ever written, and were a major influence on the dazzling metrical and rhyme forms of the Sidney psalms. Much has been written about Astrophel and Stella as a political and social text, as well as about its Petrarchanism, anti-Petrarchanism and its playful manipulations of courtly lyric conventions. The sonnets indeed register tensions and competing impulses, between political activity and alienation, desire and frustration, authority and submission, the wishes of the individual and the rules of society. A database recording the structural rhyme and metre, rhyme words, and ideally the moments of irregularity in these poems would allow a far more nuanced analysis of whether these tensions and energies are embodied in the poems’ forms in ways that a reading of individual poems, or even reading all the poems in sequence, might not reveal.

27> The 1590s saw very few women publishing their works, or at least publishing under their own names. The translation of Robert Garnier’s Marc Antoine by Lady Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, is a notable and fascinating exception. The Countess of Pembroke’s Antonius reveals her characteristic formal sophistication. Garnier’s drama was written more for reading or domestic performance than for public productions, and Antonius’ popularity (editions in 1592 and 1595) might be due to its suitability to informal performance.[21] Antonius marks an interesting point in English drama, as Pembroke adapts Senecan drama from a French work in alexandrines, to her own combination of blank verse (only in the 1590s becoming the dominant form for drama) with metrically diverse rhymed choruses. The excellent recent editions of the Countess of Pembroke’s works alert readers to the formal variety of the Countess’ works, but our database would allow her innovations to be studied in much greater detail and with greater scope in the context of her contemporaries.[22] The influence of Antonius on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra has been noted, but much remains to be explored in terms of the influence of translated drama, of drama by women and of the emergence of blank verse drama, and by allowing synchronic and diachronic comparisons of large texts our database would provide unprecedented quantity and quality of data from which to build such analyses.[23]

28> The nature of poetry in the 1590s also demands that we consider including works circulated in manuscript as well as those published in print. The Sidney Psalter, a series of 150 psalms composed by Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, was famously praised by John Donne as ‘the highest matter in the noblest form.’[24] It was never published in the early modern period, and yet it was as highly esteemed and as influential as any printed work. If our database were able to include such a work, it would make it possible to ask new questions as well as to investigate current scholarly claims with an unprecedented data set. Fascinating work has been done on how both the Sidneys’ psalm translations were influenced by the forms of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, but the database would allow us to ask far broader questions about how manuscript poetry and print poetry cross-fertilised, how the psalter influenced its readers in their own writing, how the psalms compare formally to other works by both Philip and Mary Sidney. There are many reasons to include a work such as the Sidneys’ psalms in our database, not least its technical audacity and influence, but some of these qualities also make it a test-case for the difficulties of expanding our remit from first editions of printed works to manuscripts. The question of authorship for the psalter has largely been resolved, with the first forty-three psalms written by Philip Sidney and then revised by his sister, and the rest of the psalms her work alone. The case is not so clear for many manuscript works, where the form of publication and circulation itself led to a more flexible, collaborative process of writing and reading. This would pose questions for the database in terms of how to categorise authorship, possibly with levels of certainty indicated. While these questions are of course pertinent to printed texts, existing databases such as EEBO provide a fairly authoritative precedent for attribution. The question of dating is similarly vexed with manuscript texts. Perhaps most difficult would be the question of what to include. We would need access to full-text transcriptions of manuscript poetry that are being created currently in an active but dispersed field. We would need to address the possibility of working with a confined field, at least initially. This might mean starting with the poetry in manuscripts in one particular institution, for instance the Bodleian or British Library, or working on the texts included in a particular catalogue, such as Peter Beal’s Index of Literary Manuscripts.[25]


29> The digitization of books and archives has both stimulated exciting new scholarship and provoked concern that the digital image has lost many of the attributes and features of the printed page that make it a work uniquely of its period. This electronic database of poetic form would build on existing digitization to create new ways of thinking about poetry both in its moment of production and far beyond it. Each poem, whether lyric, epic, song, verse drama, will be open to analysis both for its own formal features, whether common or unique, and also in the context of its year, decade or century. We hope that this database will provide a framework in which scholars can find unprecedented ways of answering their research questions and, crucially, a tool that will provoke them to ask new questions.


1. Heather Dubrow, ‘The Country House Poem: A Study in Generic Development,’ Genre, 12 (1979), 153-79 (p. 159).

2. For further discussion of these issues, excluding electronic resources, see Dubrow, ‘The Politics of Aesthetics: Recuperating Formalism and the Country House Poem. in Renaissance Literature and its Formal Engagements, ed. by Mark David Rasmussen (New York; Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 67-88.

3. For an introduction to these resources in early moderns studies, see Matthew Steggle, ‘“Knowledge will be multiplied”: Digital Literary Studies and Early Modern Literature’ in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. by Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), pp. 82-105.

4. Steggle (2007), pp. 82-105, (p. 88). For further discussion of this aspect of humanities computing projects, see Susan Schreibman, ‘Computer-mediated Texts and Textuality: Theory and Practice,’ Computers and the Humanities, 36 (2002), 283-293.

5. By ‘P5-compliant,’ we mean that our database will follow the latest version (‘P5’) of the TEI Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange. The guidelines define and document a markup language for representing the structural, renditional and conceptual features of texts. An online version of the P5 guidelines is available at,
[accessed 26 April 2010].

6. P5: Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange.

7. David Chisholm and David Robey, ‘Encoding Verse Texts,’ Computers and the Humanities, 29 (1995), 99-111 (pp. 108-109); reprinted in Text Encoding Initiative: Background and Context, ed. by Nancy Ide and Jean Véronis (Dodrecht; London: Kluwer Academic, 1995), pp. 99-102.

8. Ben Burton and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, ‘The Problem of Prosodic History: Towards an Electronic Database of Poetic Form’ (in progress).

9. Derek Attridge, The Rhythms of English Poetry (London: Longman, 1982), p. 147. Historical studies of early modern prosody tend to follow traditional methods of scansion. See, for example, Susan Woods, Natural Emphasis: English Versification from Chaucer to Dryden (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1984); O. B. Hardison, Prosody and Purpose in the English Renaissance (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1989).

10. Richard D. Cureton, Rhythmic Phrasing in English Verse (London: Longman, 1992), p. 429.

11. Thomas Carper and Derek Attridge, Meter and Meaning: An Introduction to Rhythm in Poetry (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 87.

12. Peter L. Groves, Strange Music: The Meter of the English Heroic Line (Victoria, B. C.: English Literary Studies, University of Victoria, 1998), p. 33.

13. For a useful introduction, see Mark David Rasmussen, ‘Introduction: New Formalisms?’ in Rasmussen ed. (2002), pp. 1-16. On the shifting fortunes of formalism in literary studies, and for a lively defence of its continued importance to literary scholarship, see Richard Strier, Resistant Structures: Particularity, Radicalism, and Renaissance Texts (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1995).

14. For an overview of current work in this field, see the essays collected in Shakespeare and Historical Formalism, ed. by Stephen Cohen (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), as well as in Reading for Form, ed. by Susan J. Wolfson and Marshall Brown (London: University of Washington Press, 2006), originally published as a special issue, Modern Language Quarterly 61:1 (2000).

15. ‘An Essay on Criticism’, l. 365 in The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, gen. ed. John Butt, 11 vols (London: Methuen, 1938-1968) I, p. 281.

16. On the uses of EEBO in particular, see Thea Lindquist and Heather Wicht, ‘Pleas’d By a Newe Inuention?: Assessing the Impact of Early English Books Online on Teaching and Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder,’ The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33:3 (2007), 347-60.

17. Louise Tickle, ‘Shakespeare goes Digital,’ The Guardian, Tuesday 26 January 2010.
[Accessed 1 February 2010].

18. See, for instance, the introduction to Shakespeare’s Poems, ed. by Katherine Duncan-Jones and H. R. Woudhuysen (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2007).

19. Heather Dubrow, Captive Victors: Shakespeare’s Narrative Poems and Sonnets (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), p. 16; see also, looking at numeric patterning rather than form, Christopher Butler and Alastair Fowler, ‘Time-beguiling sport: Number Symbolism in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis,’ in Venus and Adonis: Critical Essays, ed. by Philip C. Kolin (New York: Garland Publishing, 1997), pp. 157-169.

20. Though scholars including J. Paul Hunter have productively questioned many assumptions about the couplet and its hegemony. Hunter, ‘Formalism and History: Binarism and the Anglophone Couplet,’ Modern Language Quarterly, 61 (2000), 109-129.

21. See Selected works of Mary Sidney Herbert Countess of Pembroke, ed. by Margaret P. Hannay, Noel J. Kinnamon, and Michael G. Brennan (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe, Arizona, 2005), p. 42.

22. The Collected works of Mary Sidney Herbert Countess of Pembroke, ed. by Margaret P. Hannay, Noel J. Kinnamon, and Michael G. Brennan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 2 vols; Selected Works, ed. by Hannay, Kinnamon, Brennan.

23. Michael Steppat, ‘Shakespeare’s Response to Dramatic Tradition in Antony and Cleopatra’ in Shakespeare- Text, Language, Criticism: Essays in Honour of Marvin Spevack, ed. by Bernard Fabian and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador (Hildesheim: Olms-Weidmann, 1987), pp. 254-79.

24. ‘Upon the Translation of the Psalms by Sir Philip Sidney, and the Countess of Pembroke His Sister’, l. 11 in The Sidney Psalter: The Psalms of Sir Philip and Mary Sidney, ed. by Hannibal Hamlin and others (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 3.

25. Peter Beal, Index of Literary Manuscripts, 2 vols (London: Mansell Publishing Ltd, 1987).

Elizabeth Scott-Baumann is a Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford University and a Lecturer in Renaissance Literature at Oxford Brookes University. She has published articles in Literature Compass and Women’s Writing and co-edited The Intellectual Culture of Puritan Women, 1558-1680 (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming). She is currently writing a book called Forms of Engagement: Women, Poetry and Culture 1640-1680.

Ben Burton is a lecturer at Oxford University. He has published articles in Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme as well as entries for The Story of the Church in England (forthcoming). He is currently writing a book called Poetics of the Eucharist from Robert Southwell to John Milton.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Three (2010): Digital Archives

Dorothea Heitsch: "Renaissance Soul-Searching"

Dorothea Heitsch
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Renaissance Soul-Searching (1555-1584):
Maurice Scève, Jacques Peletier du Mans, Pierre de Ronsard, Guillaume Du Bartas, René Bretonnayau

"Aristippus ne defendoit que le corps, comme si nous n’avions pas d’ame; Zenon n’embrassoit que l’ame, comme si nous n’avions pas de corps. Tous deux vicieusement."[1]

1> In the following pages, I analyze some aspects of the body-soul relationship in a choice of pre-Cartesian texts.[2] All texts were written in the second half of the sixteenth century by French writers who endeavored to develop a discourse of natural philosophy in the tradition of Lucretian poetry. These Renaissance poets lived in a world in which university scholarship proposed an Aristotelian doctrine of three souls (vegetative, sentient, rational) and where the revived Platonic and Neo-Platonic doctrines of the soul which were considered incompatible with Aristotle’s were thought quite concordant with the Christian understanding of the immortal soul by many. Controversy arose over certain Neo-Platonic views such as metempsychosis which some considered heretical. Another controversy emerged over whether the rational soul and the Christian immortal soul were identical or not, giving rise to Averroistic objections and the Pomponazzi affair: Pomponazzi had maintained that according to Aristotle and according to reason the soul was not immortal; this prompted the Lateran Council of 1513, in whose wake Pomponazzi had De immortalitate animae published in 1516. Other discussions concerning the nature of the soul then were to follow in print. It is into this map of soul-searching that I insert my Renaissance authors.[3]

2> One way of approaching the relationship between body and soul is through the “topos” of the flight of the soul, a literary commonplace reaching back to, among numerous texts, Plato’s Phaidros as well as to his Phaidon where Socrates presents the otherworld, to Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, and, in a sense, to Dante’s Paradiso: by means of the flight, the soul is set free of its corporeal prison. All four texts discuss metempsychosis as a journey to the beyond from where the soul (of the poet) returns in order to relate what it has seen and learnt. In the Amour des amours (1555), the French writer Jacques Peletier du Mans, who is known for enriching the French language in order to give it its modern form, takes up this image. Similarly, the body-soul problem can be found in Pierre de Ronsard’s poetry, as for example in the hymns (1555, 1556) and the enigmatic text entitled Le chat (1569), in Maurice Scève’s Microcosme (1562), in René Bretonnayau’s La génération de l’homme et le temple de l’âme (1583), and in Guillaume Du Bartas’s Sepmaine (1578, 1584). These French texts belong to the so-called scientific poetry that was defined by Albert-Marie Schmidt.[4] Beverly Ridgely has narrowed down the scope of texts for my purposes.[5] In her all-encompassing analysis, Isabelle Pantin has determined that in the sixteenth century the gap between poetic discourse and the astronomers’ findings is wide and that French poets still express a unitary cultural view where cosmology is not separated from theology and morality.[6] My own discussion begins here.[7]

3> Although the five poets do not directly work together, they all approach an apparently pressing problem from different angles. I am not discussing their poems as artistic, linguistic, and rhetorical constructs, because this has been done, in particular with regard to Ronsard.[8] Instead, for each of the chosen poets, two of my objectives are to ascertain whether they consider the body as a prison of the soul and whether they embrace death as a desired separation of soul and body. Other points of discussion are the soul as the center of a person and how to define the visible and the eternal, thus leading to the question of the immortality of the (individual) soul. In each case, I end my analysis by describing perception, memory, and the will as they are seen in the texts of my choice and by situating the poems in Renaissance discussions concerning Platonic, Neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, and theological doctrines of the soul. In this way, I determine the relationship between faith and “experientia,”[9] so that my investigation returns to the history of theology and philosophy of which it is a part, a fact that has been neglected by contemporary historians of these fields.[10]

An Infinite Mind: Maurice Scève’s “Microcosme” (1562)[11]

4> At the end of his life, the poet Maurice Scève from Lyon, who draws from both Late Medieval and Renaissance aesthetics, takes up the theme of the cosmic journey, but does not fully develop it in his anti-Lucretian Microcosme (1562). Like Cicero in the Somnium Scipionis, he visualizes it in the manner of a dream. It is in the third book of the Microcosme that Adam tells Eve his prophetic vision concerning the future of the world: “...puis luy recite en somme/ Le futur bien du Monde, et quel deviendra l’Homme”[12] (“...then summarizes for her/ The future good of the World/ and what will become of Man”). In this vision, the poet maps out the possibilities of humankind that are grounded in the “dignitas hominis” and in redemption, the two bases for intellectual and scientific achievement. Intelligence and human science are valorized by Scève, who at the same time warns his readers twice against the ambiguous use to which they can be put.[13] Consequently, Adam’s dream describes a movement toward redemption through what could be called scientific progress that is, however, based on a traditional worldview gleaned from the “septem artes liberales” and from sources such as the Bible, Gregor Reisch’s Margarita philosophica, Charles de Bovelles, Pico della Mirandola’s De Hominis Dignitate, and Nicolas of Cusa.

5> Scève’s Adam is a marvelous astronomer:

“Adam son dire alors accompaignoit de traits,
Et orbes enlacés diversement pourtraits
Par diametre, cercle, et ligne oblique, ou droitte,
Selon la longitude, et latitude estroitte,
Ou bien amplement large, et de tel art tracee.
Au point de son degré justement compassee,
Qu’en traçant il sembloit, que les Cieux, et leurs cours
Tournoyaient à sa main, et suyvaient son discours.” (3, v.169-76)

“Adam then accompanied his discourse with lines,
With intertwined orbs diversely drawn
By diameter, circle, oblique or straight line,
According to longitude and the right latitude,
Or wide enough and traced with art.
Surrounded justly at the point of its degree,
So that by tracing it, it seemed as if the Heavens and their course
Were turning at his hand, following his discourse.”

Not only that but he arranges the celestial bodies as if the heavens were turning at a sweep of his hand, aligning themselves according to his words. A little later, the poet says: “Icy tairay passant tous les arts sedentaires,/ Aucuns necessiteux, et autres voulentaires,/ [...] Que nostre Homme inventa...” (3, v.711-22; “Here will I pass over the sedentary arts, some necessary, some voluntary, [...] that our Man invented...”). As a microcosm, Adam creates his own world by imitating the divine act on a small scale. While Scève presents Adam’s revelations in a dream, that is, an intermediary that links the immaterial soul and the material body between which there cannot be a direct tie, according to theories inherited from Dante and the “dolce stil novo,” Adam becomes Eve’s teacher in the third book, thus illustrating the abilities of the human mind. The poet defines the human soul as follows:

“Que [le grand Ouvrier] de son saint Esprit luy soufla en la face
Une alaine de vie, une ame vegetante
Croissant de sensitive en ratiocinante,
Qui firent ce corps vif bouger, mouvoir, courir,
Et apte en tout, par tout, et de tout discourir.” (1, v.128-32)[14]

“That [God] breathed of his Holy Ghost into his face
A force of life, a vegetative soul
Growing from sentient to rational,
That made this living body stir, move, run,
And fit to speak in all, through all, and of all.”

6> An Aristotelian model of the tripartite soul as vegetative, sentient/animal, and rational in its three functions that Scève expresses through the plural “firent” is here combined with the Neo-Platonic concept of the soul as amphibian: the notion of “discourir,” which is provoked by the soul, reveals this faculty as an interpreter that, once it is incarnated in a body, can remain in the “Nous”/origin and can turn toward that which has become. The soul works at the seam between “Nous” and “materia,” the divisible and indivisible. It is eventually united with the world soul and therefore kin to the cosmos, which is one of the reasons that man has so much knowledge at his disposal in book three of the poem. In this way, Adam, “Ce Microcosme vif en sa pure innocence,/ Pure simplicité, sans art et sans science” (1, v.147; “This living Microcosm in its pure innocence,/ pure simplicity, without art and knowledge”) is connected to the macrocosm: “Son Rien, son Microcosme, unira à son Tout” (3, v.994; “His Nothingness, his Microcosm, he will unite with God’s All”).

7> It is Orpheus, the god associated with metempsychosis, who interrupts Adam’s dream:[15]

“Et d’un long son trainant sensiblement plus dous
Transformoit les brutaux, et les rudes sur tous
En forts hommes adroits. Dont l’Homme s’espouvante.” (2, v.989-91)

“And through a long, drawn out sound much softer
Transformed the brutes and wild beasts
Into strong able men, which/who frighten(s) our Man.”

Noise and transformation/transmigration images from animals to men frighten Adam into awakening, though the passage could also suggest the ambiguously civilizing power of music. The allusion to the god as teacher of reincarnation, as harbinger of knowledge from previous times, may foreshadow the ambiguous destiny of Adam’s heirs. Though the first book of Scève’s poem is a paraphrase of the book of Genesis, describing the fall from grace, fratricide, flight, and despair, and though restitution happens through Christ’s redeeming deed as well as the divine plan symbolized by the three books of 1000 verse and a three-verse epilogue, I would emphasize that Scève gives free rein to human perfectibility.[16] By presenting, in the second book of the Microcosme, Adam’s dream of the knowledge of the world and of his own self, the development of humanity and skills, and by adding a third book about telling these facts, the poet makes knowing and willing, which according to ancient psychology are the double tasks of the soul, central topics of his work. In emphasizing the ambiguous nature of the mind in its pursuit of finite microcosmic knowledge which will lead later−with Pascal, for example−to knowledge of the infinite universe, the poet opens up endless possibilities for the future.

A Journey through the Cosmos (of Love): Transmigration in “L’Amour des amours” (1555)

8> In 1555, Jacques Peletier du Mans made the journey through the microcosm and macrocosm of love his leitmotif in L’Amour des amours.[17] Peletier’s cycle is divided into two parts: first, 96 sonnets dedicated to the winged goddess of fame (fama pennata) who also seems to figure as the poet’s elusive mistress if we read, for example, the dedicatory poem entitled “A la fame” as “A la femme” and if we take into account the incorporeality of the lady in sonnets 55 and 57 as well as the golden branch offered by her in sonnet 18.[18] A series of cosmic poems forms the second part. The first part of this collection is dedicated to (Petrarchan) love, whereas in the second part, the Muse Urania, the “celestial one,” muse of the stars and of astronomy, initiates the soul of the poet into arcane knowledge: after tasting terrestrial love and knowledge, he will gain insights into celestial love, philosophy, and cosmology (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). Both sequences are linked through the image of the flight of the poet’s soul across the universe during which Fama serves as a faithful guide. Clearly, metempsychosis functions as the centerpiece of this work by Peletier.

9> If the cosmic journey is a trope which the author claims to have revived for French Renaissance poetry, such a conscious choice could open up the field for speculation with regard to the reception of metempsychosis in the French Renaissance.[19] From its source in book ten of Plato’s Republic (614b), Renaissance readers conclude that the individual soul, not being a body and not being composed, but related to the divine and living primarily, is related to the world soul and immortal, whereas the body is mortal and its resurrection impossible. Those souls that at their separation from a body did not purify themselves reunite in metempsychosis with a body that corresponds to their own inclinations. A revival of such theories, which are influenced by Plotinus’ theory of the soul, happens, among others, in Ficino’s Theologica Platonica (1474). Though the author denies that transmigration is a Platonic concept, but claims that it needs to be read allegorically, Renaissance discussions concerning it can be found in Pico, Savonarola, and Palmieri.[20] It appears that Johannes Reuchlin and Agrippa von Nettesheim reject it and that the Reformers Huldrych Zwingli and Théodore de Bèze are aware of it without taking a stance.[21] Metempsychosis will become an important topic in the Cabala del cavallo pegaseo (1585) where Giordano Bruno lets the Cillenican ass say: “Non esser cossí fiero, o Micco, e ricordati ch’il tuo Pitagora insegna di non spreggiar cosa che si trove nel seno della natura. Benché io sono in forma d’asino al presente, posso esser stato e posso esser appresso in forma di grand’uomo; e benché tu sia un uomo, puoi esser stato e potrai esser appresso un grand’asino, secondo che parrà ispediente al dispensator de gli abiti e luoghi e disponitor de l’anime transmigranti”[22] (“Don’t be so proud, o Fool, and remember that your Pythagoras teaches not to despise things that are found in the bosom of nature. Though I presently am in the shape of an ass, I may have been and might yet appear in the shape of a great man; and though you are a man, you may have been and might yet appear a great ass, according to what will seem expedient to the distributor of clothes and places, and the dispatcher of transmigrant souls”). While it is not Bruno’s ironic warning alone−not to deride an ass that may, in another life, have been a great man and not to admire a man who may once have been a great ass−which brings on his death at the stake in 1600, the danger of discussing transmigration is substantial. It certainly could be said that in L’Amour des amours Peletier not only juxtaposes traditional love themes and innovative, “scientific” themes in poetic guise while in the second part he thus pushes out the boundaries of the cosmos in a fictitious, hypothetical, and therefore inoffensive context. But in order to link the first and second part of his cycle, he employs an image that may become risky in the course of the Counter-Reformation.

10> At the beginning of its progress, in “L’Amour volant,” the soul first develops the ability to travel by sprouting wings reminiscent of a passage in Plato’s Phaidros (251): “Je sàn des pointes an mon ame/ De tous les cotez s’elancer,/ E nouveau cors me balancer” (101 v.4; “I feel wingtips in my soul/ Shoot up at every side/ And a new body rock me”). Fama/femme then guides the soul through its apprenticeship, which involves overcoming its initial fear of traveling through liquid ether that does not carry, so that in a short time it vanquishes its anxiety and becomes accustomed to movement.[23] Comprehension begins in the poem “Le Parnase,” where the soul gets to see a different aspect of its guide: “An ce haut lieu je la connoé/ Moins severe (chose voyable)/ E plus belle (chose incroyable)/ Qu’an moe je ne la façonnoé” (105 v.9; “In this high place/ I find her Less severe (visibly)/ And more beautiful (incredibly)/ Than to myself I imagined her”). Then follows a series of epiphanies linked to sense perception: “Je voè l’etroete region...” (106 v.33), “De loin je suis apercevant (106 v.41), “Mes espriz a l’ouvert humoet...” (107 v.46), “Ce l’ét, ma vue n’ét point veine...” (107 v.50), “Je voè desja au prochein val...” (107 v.57), “Or ça, dit el’, ne voés tu pas...” (108 v.73).[24] The soul then perceives Urania and the Castalian source and is told that the reason for its journey is that man’s vain efforts at cognition need the help of Fama to follow the lead of love’s attraction and to recognize the good: “Amour t’à ici attirè,...”[25] (“Love has drawn you here,…”).

11> Fama then exhorts the soul of the poet to remember well all that it has seen. It should be able to go back to earth as well as to return again to the heavens, which amounts to a repetition of the journey or even, in an allusion, to a reincarnation: “Contample moe ces chans divins,/ Connoè le genie e l’honore:/ E pour y retourner encore,/ Retièn bien par ou tu y vins” (112 v.178) (“Contemplate these divine fields,/ Know genius and honor it:/ And to return again,/ Remember how you came”).[26] It is notable here that both the soul and reason are individualized, and that the soul quite evidently has a cosmic character. Thanks to the Muses’ song the poet will then achieve understanding (115 v.217) and he will be able to describe his experience according to his abilities: “Ce chant naïf j’è retouchè/ Einsi que je l’è pù comprandre...” (117 v.257) (“This original song I have touched up/ As I was able to understand it....”).[27] The resulting cosmic harmony resounds in the air which is imagined both as liquid substance, as God’s writing table, and as a receptacle for divine song.

12> In Peletier’s Amour des amours, the soul does not experience death, but a different dimension of being that could be read as a continuation of its existence without transition. This would mean that for the author the soul is immortal. The body is not necessarily regarded as a prison, but it seems as if the soul could return and disclose to the terrestrial space what it has seen. Both the terrestrial and the celestial spheres coexist and seem to permit an exchange; they are of a permeable nature. The soul is seen as the center of a person and has the gift to perceive the eternal in exceptional circumstances, for example, if the poet is particularly talented. The poet’s soul may thus experience transmigration. Perception, which is illustrated by the frequent mention of the eye and the many verbs of seeing, and memory, which is illustrated by Fama who tells the poet to remember the way he came so that he can return alone at a later date, are important aspects as well as the will to recount the story of the journey. Faith and “experientia” are combined in the first and second part of the work respectively, because the soul discovers revelation in such a way that the poet will be able to narrate it afterwards. In this view of reincarnation, the soul is a substance distinguished and distinguishable from the body. This immortal soul creates all things and shapes a (poetic) world. Metempsychosis here legitimizes the poet’s status and the superiority of poetic discourse. In this way, it helps the poet acquire poetic skills, and, at the same time, he may present new worlds to the reader.

Ambiguous Mediators: Demons, Plants, Animals, and Philosophy in Ronsard’s “Hymnes” (1555, 1556) and “Le chat” (1569)

13> Shortly after Peletier’s Amour des amours, Pierre de Ronsard publishes his two volumes of Hymnes in 1555 and August 1556. In these texts, the author approaches natural philosophy with a combination of occult, magic, and experimental elements typical of Renaissance “scientific poetry” and celebrates, according to Jean Céard, the strength of human reason by cautioning at the same time against its fallacies.[28] Reincarnation through metamorphosis is one of Ronsard’s favorite motifs, as seen in his sonnet cycles Les Amours. Therefore, I propose to verify whether it may not constitute more in the hymns than a mere poetic kinship or a kind of exile topos.[29]

14> In the demonology of his “Hymne des Daimons” (1555), Ronsard stipulates that God made creatures for water, earth, air, and heaven. Demons are part of group three, their realm has certain limits, and they are of a changeable, mutable, or ambiguous nature. Their mutability is emphasized by a series of verbs denoting transformation (“muer,” “changent,” “transformé,” “s’eslargissent,” “s’etressissent”) and by the statement that, like the human being, they are mixed creatures consisting of serene respirations and passionate evaporations.[30] Good demons detach the human soul from the body whose prisoner it is in order to free it for a journey into the cosmos about which it then will tell man. The poet implies that the soul will return, for, in addition to guiding it, the good demons also are responsible for prophetic and divinely inspired dreams: “Les bons [...] r’emportent à DIEU noz faictz & nos prieres,/ Et detachent du corps noz ames prisonnieres/ Pour les mener là-haut, à fin d’imaginer/ Ce qui se doit sçavoir pour nous endoctriner” (197 vv.209-14; “The good ones [...] take up to God our deeds and our prayers,/ And detach from the body our imprisoned souls/ In order to lead them up to imagine/ What needs to be known to them in order to teach us”). Not only is the demons’ nature uncertain, they do ambiguous work, they can be dispensed with by believers, and they can be chased by using the magic word of God.[31] Moreover Ronsard’s attitude toward them is not only ambivalent, as has been underlined by Jean Céard,[32] but engaging in the development of a demonology already is an equivocal undertaking: demons compete with God because they interfere with his omnipresence and omniscience. This will be made clear by Jean Bodin, who in the first chapter of the first book of De la démonomanie des sorciers (1580) gives definitions of spirits and demons; he emphasizes that Christians understand “demons” to mean evil spirits and reminds his readers that in 1398 the Paris Faculty of Theology condemned as heretics those who maintained that there are good demons.

15> In the “Hymne de la Philosophie” (1555), the demons’ function is carried out by philosophy that detaches our imprisoned soul in order to lead it to the stars by means of “esprit,” that is, reason, ether, or “spiritus.” It is philosophy that travels through the universe, allying itself with the stars, and aiming at a glimpse of the divine in order to then open the soul’s eyes: “Elle, voyant qu’à l’homme estoit nyé/ D’aller au Ciel, disposte, a delié/ Loing, hors du corps, nostre Ame emprisonnée,/ Et par esprit aux astres l’a menée”[33] (“Seeing that it was denied to man/ To go to Heaven, she readily untied/ From the body our imprisoned Soul,/ And through the ether led it to the stars”). In the “Hymne de la mort” (1555), finally, the same image is elaborated to include a reason for the human being’s suffering: man is a prisoner cuffed and chained, who must be rejoicing at the moment of his liberation through death. Like Plato, Ronsard considers the body to be the prison of the soul or the soul’s tomb.[34] The second part of the comparison, which is introduced by “Ainsi” in this poem, develops the idea that man should rejoice when death undoes his ties in order to free him from the bonds of misery:

“Mais où est cestuy-là, s’il n’est bien miserable,
Et lourd d’entendement, qui ne veuille estre hors
De l’humaine prison de ce terrestre corps?
Ainsi qu’un prisonnier qui jour et nuict endure
Les manicles aux mains, aux pieds la cheine dure,
Se doit bien resjouir à l’heure qu’il se voit
Delivré de prison: ainsi l’homme se doit
Resjouir grandement, quand la MORT luy delye
Le lien qui tenoit sa miserable vie, . . .”[35]

“But where is the one who, unless he is quite miserable
And hard of understanding, would not want to be out
Of the human prison of this terrestrial body?
Like a prisoner who day and night endures
Cuffs on hands, and hard chain on his feet,
Must well rejoice at the hour he sees himself
Delivered from prison: thus man must
Rejoice loudly when Death unties
The bond that tied his miserable life, . . .”

16> Death, a female deity,[36] is ambiguous, as for the common man it separates the body from the soul, whereas for the philosopher it separates the soul from the body. Yet death ultimately is embraced as a desired separation of soul and body, a liberation, in “L’Hymne de la mort,”[37] whereas in the other two poems the journey to the beyond is a repeated occurrence thanks to the demons and to philosophy.

17> If man’s grasp of arcane knowledge is due to his angelic and demonic double nature, in the “Hymne des Daimons” he is regarded as immortal in so far as one of the two parts of which he is composed derives from God who is all-powerful and eternal: “Or’ deux extremitez ne sont point sans milieu,/ Et deux extremitez sont les hommes et DIEU./ DIEU, qui est tout-puissant, de nature eternelle,/ Les hommes, impuissans, de nature mortelle:/ Des hommes & de DIEU, les DAIMONS aërins/ Sont communs en nature,…”[38] (“Now two extremes are not without a mean:/ the two extremes are man and GOD:/ GOD who is all-powerful and of eternal nature,/ And powerless man of mortal nature:/ Of men and GOD the demons of the air partake…”). Yet we may say that in Ronsard’s view the divine is always counterbalanced by an awareness of “experientia.” Demons for the poet are a means to explain supernatural events without encroaching on religious matters, which thus remain untouched by human intelligence. In the “Hymne des daimons” he ventures to give a detailed description of these creatures’ constitution and of their partly divine, partly human nature as well as their categorization into good and bad demons.[39] For Ronsard, demons fulfill the same function that spirits fulfilled for Peletier in L’Amour des amours: they are mediators between the different strata of the cosmos and they help man acquire scientific and poetic knowledge through useful links.[40]

18> In Ronsard’s demonology, demons have bodies of the same nature as spirits. They are both soul and spirit and may therefore influence the soul and the spirit of man. Yet for writers of the sixteenth century, it is a risky undertaking to combine “spiritus” and soul, “spiritus mundi” with its children and “spiritus” in the sense of the Holy Ghost. It remains impossible to align the medical theory of spirits with Christian psychology, because the spirit tends from his mediator position to become dominant so as to leave hardly any room for a transcendent and incorporeal soul.[41] As the “spiritus” is the soul’s competitor, between matter and spirit, it is ambiguous, suspect, and may even be considered as heretical. In addition, venturing outward into the cosmos and the space of demons means that the poet pushes upward and enlarges the scope of human intelligence beyond the limits set by theologians. This is why there are noticeable changes in the 1584 edition of the Hymnes: philosophy becomes a saint in the “Hymne de la Philosophie” and the author omits, in the “Hymne des daimons,” the scientific account of the demons’ origin as well as an autobiographical passage concerning an encounter with a group of ghosts in which he attempts a comparative anatomy.

19> In the demonology of the “Hymne des daimons,” Ronsard maintains that demons may appear in the shape of cats (Hymnes, 194 v.106). Yet in his poem “Le chat” (1569) he names several (animal) signs that announce disagreeable events and that can be attributed to God, whose presence permeates the world as soul, according to the beginning of the text:

“Dieu est par tout, par tout se mesle Dieu,
Commencement, la fin, & le milieu
De ce qui vit, & dont l’Ame est enclose
Par tout, & tient en vigueur toute chose,
Come nostre Ame infuse dans noz corps.
Ja des longtemps les membres seroient morts
De ce grand Tout, si cette Ame divine
Ne se mesloit par toute la Machine,
Luy donnant vie & force & mouvement:
Car de tout estre elle est commencement.”[42]

“God is everywhere, everywhere works God,
Beginning, end, and middle
Of what lives, and whose soul is enclosed
Everywhere, and keeps everything alive,
Like our soul instilled in our bodies.
Long ago the parts would have died
Of this great All, if this divine soul
Did not work in the entire machine,
Giving it life and force and movement:
For of all being it is the beginning.”

20> God is the giver of an all-embracing soul that is as perfect and eternal as he is himself.[43] This soul permeates the earth that is regarded as a mother who engenders life.[44] Ronsard here refers to ideas of the Averroists: they believe that the soul is divided into the functions that it has to fulfill; they also try to determine whether the thinking, rational soul is immortal and whether it is immortal as individual soul or only as universal reason.[45] Thus they deny that our souls are individual units. Accordingly, Ronsard names prophetic plants, as, for example, a laurel tree whose sudden death caused by a demon brings on the poet’s fever (vv.71-100). There also are prophetic animals: a horse that provokes a servant’s death whose last words are considered as an omen which once again precedes the poet’s fever (vv.101-110). A quarter of the poem is dedicated to Ronsard’s personal hatred for cats; this is illustrated in an encounter with such an animal, an event that provokes some speculations concerning animal signs. This leads to a final passage on the manifestation of the divine in animals. While it is certainly correct, as has been shown by Jean Céard, that there are classical sources for the discussion on pantheism, – one of them, Aratos, is even mentioned by the poet –, it remains important to stress the typical humanist way of adapting ancient sources to contemporary use:[46] “Le chat” is dedicated to Remy Belleau whose epitaph Ronsard composed and who translated the Phainomena, the cosmology of Aratos, one part of which describes the transformation of beings into stars. In addition, one of the articles condemned by the Lateran Council in 1513 is the Averroistic doctrine of the unity of the intellect. On the other end of the spectrum there is Bruno’s statement “Natura est deus in rebus” from Lo Spaccio della bestia trionfante, a statement which makes the universe indistinguishable from the divine. Whereas in the hymns Ronsard still balances human and divine intellect, in “Le chat” he engages in unapproved deliberations. Yet the poem may also be read as a satyrical metempsychosis, similar to the one of Lucian’s rooster in the dream of the shoemaker Michyllus.

The All-Encompassing Protestant Soul in Du Bartas’s Creation (1578, 1584)

21> Though Guillaume Salluste Du Bartas, in his monumental cycles of creation, the Première Sepmaine (1578) and the Seconde Sepmaine (1584), does not present a heliocentric worldview 35 years after the death of Copernicus, he celebrates creation by giving a near-complete inventory of the universe in which man is a second God, endowed with a “fifth essence,” the soul.[47] This “quinta essentia” defined by Aristotle in De Caelo (1.2, 3) as heavenly substance and as the nature of the innate spirit in De Generatione Animae (2.3, 736b), is taken up in the sense of cosmic spirit by Ficino, by the alchemists, and by Fernel in the fourth book of De naturali parte medicinae (1542). Yet the soul for Du Bartas is likewise suspended between God and the human body and is divinely inspired, as the poet indicates in the encomiastic turn at the beginning of his work: “[Pere] Esleve à toy mon ame, espure mes esprits,/ Et d’un docte artifice enrichi mes escrits” (1.5) (“Lift up to you my soul, purify my mind, And by learned art enrich my writings”).

22> That the soul is imprisoned by corporeal matter seems to be Du Bartas’s opinion on the second day of his Première Sepmaine: here the wicked coat of the rebellious body presses down on the soul like a heavy counterweight: “Ou bien, que deschargé du manteau vicieux/ De ce rebelle corps, qui mon ame sans cesse/ D’un pesant contrepoids en bas presse et represse” (2.948). In this image we may see a faint allusion to the weaver’s coat that is mentioned by Cebes, one of the interlocutors in Plato’s Phaidon (87b-c). In the seventh book, Du Bartas reiterates the disparity of body and soul: “Ains qu’il [l’Eternel] logea nostre ame en un vaisseau de terre,/ Plus liquide que l’eau, plus fresle que le verre./ Il sçait que rien plus tost ne nous guide au trespas,/ Qu’avoir tousjours tendus les esprits et les bras” (7.367) (“As he lodged our soul in a vessel of earth,/ More liquid than water, more fragile than glass./ He knows that nothing helps us more in our passing/ Than to always have lifted our minds and our arms”). In the Seconde Sepmaine, Du Bartas maintains once more that the earth is merely a prison, an abbyss, and the worst of graves (“Ce n’est qu’une prison, une averne effroyable,/ Et du monde premier le tombeau miserable,” 3.9).[48] While we may therefore assume that the author considers death as a desired separation of soul and body, he describes, at the same time, reincarnation in an alchemical image:

“Presque en mesme moment de ce cendreux monceau
Naist un ver, puis un oeuf, et puis un autre oiseau,
Ainçois le mesme oiseau, qui né de sa semence,
Deux cens lustres nouveaux, trespassant recommence,
Au milieu du brasier sa belle ame reprend,
Infini par sa fin dans la tombe se rend,
De soy mesme se fait, par une mort prospere,
Nourrice, nourrisson, hoir, fils, et pere et mere:
Nous monstrant qu’il nous fait et de corps et d’esprit
Mourir tous en “Adam,” pour puis renaistre en Christ.” (5.589-98)

“Almost at the same moment, out of this ashen pile,
Comes a worm, then an egg, and then another bird,
But the same bird, born from its seed,
Two hundred new lights, passing beyond begins anew,
In the middle of the flames takes up again its beautiful soul,
Infinitely by its end returns to its tomb,
Transforms itself by a prosperous death into
Nurse, nursling, heir, son, and mother and father:
Showing us that it makes us all in body and soul
Die in “Adam” to then be reborn in Christ.”

23> Like the phoenix, the human soul dies in the human body, but is resurrected in Christ. Thus, divine creation must be contrasted with purely human efforts that only produce a soulless mass: “Mais l’artifice humain ne produit seulement/ Une masse sans ame, un corps sans mouvement” (6.833-4; “But human art only produces/ A mass without soul, a body without movement”). According to Du Bartas, man has a purely mechanic talent of imitation.

24> In order to examine the soul, the poet dissects it, like the rest of the body, on the sixth day. He does so by drawing on the French tradition of the blason, i.e. poems minutely describing the qualities of individual body parts, as well as on the craft of dissection that had been publicized by Vesalius. By taking up the scalpel, Du Bartas lays bare the nerves of the brain:

“Prendray-je la scalpelle
Pour voir les cabinets de la double cervelle,
Thresoriere des arts, source du sentiment,
Siege de la raison, fertil commencement
Des nerfs de nostre corps:” (6.643-7)

“Will I take the scalpel
to see the double chambers of the brain,
Treasurer of the arts, source of feeling,
Seat of reason, fertile beginning
Of our body’s nerves.”

“Pourray-je desployer sur un docte fueillet
Ce Dedale subtil, cest admirable reth
Par les replis duquel l’esprit monte et devale,
Rendant sa faculté de vitale, Animale:” (6.653-6)

“Could I display on a learned sheet
This subtle maze, this wonderful net
Through whose meshes the spiritus rises and descends
Restoring its vital to animal faculty.”

25> The results are, however, disappointing for the modern reader, as they are influenced, on the one hand, by Galen’s observation of an ox and, on the other hand, by the Pythagorean idea that one production of brain matter is sperm. Thus, the soul remains Aristotelian, but, according to the poet, does have the capacity to fly:

“Or bien que nostre esprit vive comme captif
Dans les ceps de ce corps, qu’il languisse chetif
Sous un obscur tombeau, d’une tirade il vole
Et d’Imave outre Calpe, et de la terre au pole:
Plus viste que celuy qui d’un flamboyant tour,
Tout ce grand Univers postillonne en un jour.
Car quittant quelquefois les terres trop conues,
D’une alegre secousse il saute sur les nues,
Il noue par les airs, où, subtil, il aprend
Dequoy se fait la neige, et la gresle, et le vent:
Dequoy se fait l’esclair, la glace, la tempeste,
La pluye, le tonnerre, et la triste comete.” (6.789-800)

“Although our spirit lives like captive
In the shackles of this body, though it wretchedly languishes
Under a dark tomb, by a leap it flies
From one end of the world to the other:
Faster than the one who by a blazing course
Traverses this great Universe in a day.
For, sometimes leaving these too well known lands
By a sprightly leap it springs on the clouds,
It speeds through the airs, where, discerning, it learns
Of what snow is made, hale, and wind:
Of what the lightning is made, the ice, the storm,
The rain, the thunder, and the sad comet.”

In fact, La Seconde Sepmaine, in addition to depicting the perfect state of Adam who is in regular dialogue with God, has Du Bartas the poet embark on a cosmic journey that reminds us of Peletier, with the difference that this journey leads to the dream of Paradise in the Suite de la Seconde Sepmaine.[49] Here, Paradise is the dwelling place of Eloquence, which is consequently divinely inspired.

26> How does man perceive things in general and eventually recognize what he is destined to attain, that is, the divine? For Du Bartas, perception looks as follows:

“Je sçay que comme l’oeil void tout fors que soi-mesme,
Que nostre ame conoit toutes choses de mesme,
Fors que sa propre essence: et qu’elle ne peut pas
Mesurer sa grandeur de son propre compas.
Mais comme l’oeil qui n’est offensé d’un caterre,
Se void aucunement dans l’onde ou dans le verre,
Nostre ame tout ainsi se contemple à peu-pres
Dans le luisant miroir de ses effects sacrez.”[50]

“I know that, like the eye which sees all except itself,
Our soul equally knows all things
Except its own essence: and that it cannot
Gauge its greatness by its own measure.
But like the eye which is not clouded by the humors
Sees itself somewhat in water or in a glass,
Our soul equally contemplates itself somewhat
In the shiny mirror of its holy deeds.”

Perception will always be thwarted, for the eye as well as the soul can only indirectly perceive themselves either in a mirror or in the mirror of their effect. The poet maintains that it is the contemplation of nature that should lead to recognition and knowledge (7. 435-40). “Experientia” seems to be the key to progress and faith, at the same time, is not an obstacle when man is invited to read in the world as in a book. Such a cosmic view is in harmony with the poet’s opinion that man is the king of animals, because he masters nature by way of language that helps him appropriate reality (6.946; 6 vv.483 and 927-934). Situated between God and the earth, the human being has an immediate relationship with the former and constitutes the essence of the latter: “Et bref l’homme n’est rien qu’un abregé du monde,/ Un tableau racourci, que sur l’autre Univers/ Je veux ore tirer du pinceau de mes vers” (6.406).

Bretonnayau and the Cosmic Temple of the Soul (1583)

27> In 1583, René Bretonnayau publishes La Génération de l’homme et le temple de l’âme avec Autres oeuvres Poëtiques extraittes de l’Esculape, a long poem half medical-empirical, half philosophical that is dedicated to the king’s brother.[51] Its title also refers to the poems of the “rhétoriqueurs,” a group of writers who compose precious verse, and in particular to one of their late representatives, Clément Marot, who wrote an allegorical eclogue entitled Temple de Cupidon. Du Bartas’s description of man on day six of his divine week may also have inspired our poet. Yet this work of 1,888 verses turns out to be an anatomical observation of the human skull laid down in heroic verse (alexandrines) and almost hymn-like tones. In his introduction, the Protestant and Paracelsian author[52] states that he is conscious of composing an innovative literary genre: “Oeuvre laborieux, sur nul autre imité,/ Temple, que le premier à la divinité/ De l’ame ie basty, le premier ie dedie/ A l’ame, qui de l’homme est l’immortelle vie” (55r) (“Laborious work, not modeled after any other, /Temple which I am the first to have built/ To the soul which is the immortal life of man”). Having thus defined the soul as everlasting, he invites all readers to his monument, “le tabernacle humain de l’ame le sacraire” (55v) (“the human tabernacle, the shrine of the soul”), except for those who consider the soul as perishable, that is, the followers of “atheist” Protagoras and “dirty” Epicurus.[53]

28> Bretonnayau describes the creation of the macrocosm and of the microcosm: “Chere Muse dy moy comme a esté bastie/ De l’humain Microcosme à part chasque partie:/ Et commençons au chef, qui tient un pareil lieu/ A l’ame, que le ciel tient au regard de Dieu” (57r) (“Dear Muse, tell me how were built/ the separate parts of he human Microcosm:/ And let us start with the head that has the same function/ for the soul as does the heaven for God’s gaze”). Accordingly, throughout the text, the poet engages in cosmic comparisons, in a long analogy typical of contemporary prose texts and poetry cycles.[54] Yet Bretonnayau differs from them by concentrating on the head, not in the sense of Plato’s Timaeus or of the Church’s official anatomy which propagates three spheric ventricles: instead he admires God’s artisanship in the formation of the parts of the crane whose suturations he describes in a way that reminds the reader of Vesalius’ illustrations to De humani corporis fabrica (1543):

“Le maistre tout faisant, qui le Crane bastit
En huict os, comble & fond, sagement compartit
Pour la commodité: car si un os se casse,
N’y a qu’un os cassé, la playe n’outrepasse
Ses orlets dentelez, & l’autre plus prochain
Ne se sentant du coup demeure entier & sain:” (61r)

“The all-making master, who built the Crane,
In eight bones altogether wisely divided
For convenience: for if a bone breaks
There is only one bone broken, the wound does not go beyond
Its jagged borders, & and the other next to it
Does not feel the blow and remains intact.”

29> Plate 5 from the first book of the De humani corporis fabrica shows the skull shape with the sutures (5:1, 5:8).[55] It is possible that Bretonnayau gets the notion of diploe[56] from Galen who had already described it, but it is Vesalius who pictures it:[57]

“C’est os, le Tout-ouvrier, d’artifice admirable
Recama par dessous d’une seconde table
Mince, mais pourtant forte, entre ces doubles os.
Ce que le Dyploé on appelle, est enclos
Tout plein d’humeur moüelleux, . . .”(61v)

“This bone, the Maker with wonderful art
Stitched underneath a second table
Slender, but strong, between these double bones.
What is called diploe is enclosed
Full of moisture, . . .”

This protective shell is neither too thick nor too thin and therefore just right to contain the soul. Not only are the turns of Phoebus compared to the spheres of the brain/globe (62r), but the lowest part of the brain also corresponds to the moon: “Des tantes du cerveau nous en reste encor une/ De toutes la plus basse, ainsi qu’aux Cieux la lune” (62v) (“Among the domes of the brain there is still one left that is of all the lowest, as is the moon in the Heavens”). The comparisons continue up to the cosmic harmony which is in unison with that of the human soul: “Tels sont du petit ciel avecque le tresgrand/ Les accords, cestuy Dieu, l’autre l’ame comprend:/ Voyons aussi qu’elle est la divine harmonie/ De l’ame avecque Dieu humainement unie” (63v) (“Such are the agreements of the small heaven with the great,/ the latter comprises God, the former the soul:/ Let us also see what is the divine harmony/ of the Soul humanly united with God”).

30> As it is for Du Bartas, the soul is a fifth essence for Bretonnayau also (65v). In order to gain knowledge, it embarks on a journey, freely leaving and reentering the body, and traveling in order to convey dreams to the human being. The poet’s example is the Queen mother who is pregnant with the king’s brother. She dreams of giving birth to a laurel tree whose fruit is peace and that is contested by Apollo and Mars in a war of winds (73v). It resists long enough to be finally protected by Apollo and it is left to grow in order to give prosperous shade to the people of France (74r). In the same way that good people can have confidence in such dreams sent by God (74v), unreasonable minds will be sent incomprehensible dreams, just as Ronsard suggests in his demonology. This leads Bretonnayau to warn against many pregnant mothers’ overactive imagination that may cause monstrous births (75v). After a poetic description of the cerebellum and the ventricles as temple-like constructs, this poem, like Ronsard’s “Le chat,” ends with a pantheistic description of the world soul.


31> While the French Renaissance poets whom I have chosen for my analysis partly depict the relationship between body and soul in stock images from classical sources, all of them, in their endeavor to describe and situate the soul, propose outlooks on empirical observation. Scève develops a concept of perfectibility on the basis of human intelligence. Peletier’s transmigration opens up a view of cosmic landscapes. Ronsard’s daring display of mediating forces between the human soul and God reduces the role of the divine. Du Bartas’ eclectic view of the soul is in direct communication with God, but the poet is ready to embrace the entirety of contemporary science. Bretonnayau’s anatomy of the human skull loses itself in descriptions quite regardless of divine power. Such accumulations are, on the one, hand typical of the encyclopaedic Renaissance style, but, on the other hand, useful as a subterfuge: for the occupation with humanistic thought and its presentation in verse is certainly worthwhile, but as such not quite interesting enough. Yet even the mere listing of supposedly empirical facts at the expense of religious precepts may become risky in the end and the poet would like to stay alive. Therefore empirical fact needs to be presented such that it is not clearly empirical, because otherwise empirical research is not possible any longer. On the other hand, it is tempting to deal with it, because otherwise these poems would not have been written at all.

32> The abundance of theories concerning the nature of the soul and the question of transmigration, be it in scientific or poetic terms, likewise interest Michel de Montaigne who concludes:

“[L]’entendement humain se perdant à vouloir sonder et contreroller toutes choses jusques au bout; tout ainsi comme, lassez et travaillez de la longue course de nostre vie, nous retombons en enfantillage.−Voylà les belles et certaines instructions que nous tirons de la science humaine sur le subject de nostre ame.”[58]

“Human understanding loses itself wanting to probe and examine everything to its end; likewise we ourselves, weary and tired from life’s long journey, fall back into childishness.−These are the beautiful and definite findings that we get from human science on the subject of our soul.”

The author distinguishes between “l’entendement humain,” that is, reason, the intellect, the mind on the one hand and “âme” on the other hand, which in this passage could mean the immortal soul; about the latter we cannot have scientific knowledge.

33> Scève, Peletier, Ronsard, Du Bartas, and Bretonnayau of course intend to celebrate, through a poetics of immortality, the immortality of their own work. Yet to render eternal the poet is only part of their endeavor. Where human science is not advanced enough to solidly confirm new findings or their hypotheses, where theologians prevent a direct engagement with empirical fact, poetic representation enables to open doors to a new age. As the cosmic dimension of the texts discussed is not of great interest, the intention of these Renaissance poets may have been, by a detour, to enable inquiry to take place nevertheless. For their professions of faith, Catholic or Protestant, genuine or preventive, cannot deflect from the fact that their infinitely detailed description of the abilities of the human mind in connection with cosmic dimensions is a fascinating topic which ultimately points to the description of an infinite universe.


1. Michel de Montaigne, Les Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1962) 3.13, 1087 c. “Aristippus only defended the body, as if we had no soul; Zenon only embraced the soul, as if we had no body. Both were mistaken.” (All translations are mine.)

2. These texts are pre-Cartesian in the sense that the thinking soul is not as a rule identified with the mind, because for Descartes the mind or soul is as a nonmaterial entity exclusive to human beings; it lacks extension and motion, does not follow the laws of physics, and interacts with the body at the pineal gland.

3. I would like to thank Christoph Lüthy for encouraging such an approach.

4. La poésie scientifique en France au XVIe siècle (Paris: A. Michel, 1938).

5. “The Cosmic Voyage in French Sixteenth-Century Learned Poetry,” Studies in the Renaissance X (1963): 136-62.

6. La Poésie du ciel en France dans la seconde moitié du seizième siècle (Geneva: Droz, 1995) 495, 498.

7. Evidently, this is not a complete corpus, as Pontus de Tyard or Guy Le Fèvre de La Boderie are missing. I omitted the latter’s description of the soul in the Encyclie (1571), for example, because it is entirely indebted to the official doctrine of the Catholic church.

8. Germaine Lafeuille, Cinq Hymnes de Ronsard (Geneva: Droz, 1973); Philip Ford, Ronsard’s Hymnes: a literary and iconographical study (Tempe, AZ.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1997); Anne-Pascale Pouey-Mounou, L’Imaginaire cosmologique de Ronsard (Geneva: Droz, 2002).

9. “Experientia” “consist in reports, mostly impersonal, of things sensed.” Propositions to be held by faith are “codified and warranted by the decisions of patriarchs, popes, synods, and councils, decisions not only on questions of faith but the manner of their resolution, and in particular the authority of texts.” Both determine the data of natural philosophy (Dennis Des Chene, Life’s Form. Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2000), 23, 45).

10. See, for example, Emily Michael, “Renaissance Theories of Body, Soul, and Mind,” Psyche and Soma. Physicians and metaphysicians on the mind-body problem from Antiquity to Enlightenment, ed. John P. Wright and Paul Potter (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 147-172.

11. I am using mind rather than soul in order to account for Scève’s eclectic display of Aristotelian souls and the mental faculties of the brain, the Platonic ascent of the soul, or the immortal Soul.

12. Maurice Scève, Microcosme, ed. Enzo Giudici (Paris: Vrin, 1976), 3, v.25-6.

13. Significantly in books two and three, that are less directly based on the biblical source: “Par son intelligence, et par sa voulenté,/ Dont à bien, ou à mal, l’homme est entalenté” (Microcosme, 2, v.83-4; “Through his intelligence and his will/ That equips man for good or evil”). Later, Adam recognizes: “Me sentant intellect avecques voulonté/ A tout bien, à tout mal pront, et entalenté” (3, v.943; “I feel in me intellect with will/ readying and enabling me for all good and all bad”).

14. Jean Céard also mentions this passage in “Sens, coeur, raison, mémoire dans Délie: la psychologie de Scève,” in Françoise Charpentier, Lire Maurice Scève, Cahiers textuel 33/44, 1987, 15-25.

15. Plato, Republic 10.620a, in Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997). For a reading of orphic elements in Scève’s poetry, see James Helgeson, Harmonie divine et subjectivité poétique chez Maurice Scève (Geneva: Droz, 2001), 39-75.

16. I do not entirely agree with Cynthia Skenazi’s assessment that in the Microcosme Scève takes up the motifs of his Délie in order to rework them in a purely Christian spirit (Maurice Scève et la pensée chrétienne (Geneva: Droz, 1992), 45). I rather take my cue from Hans Staub’s connection of Scève and Cusanus (Le curieux désir. Scève et Peletier du Mans poètes de la connaissance (Geneva: Droz, 1967), 85-126) and from Enzio Giudici’s introduction to his edition of Microcosme (33-4); both scholars emphasize the civil and, as it were, non-theological nature of Scève’s poem.

17. For a short account of this poet’s life and multiple talents, see Sophie Arnaud, La voix de la nature dans l’oeuvre de Jacques Peletier du Mans (Paris: Champion, 2005), 19-21.

18. Sonnet 55 is a philosophical sonnet that plays with notions of divine talent, the finite, the infinite, and conjecture (Jacques Peletier du Mans, L’Amour des Amours, ed. Jean-Charles Monferran (Paris: Société des Textes Français Modernes, 1996), 68-9). As Hans Staub has proposed, it may be based on Cusa’s notion of conjecture (Le curieux désir, 21). In sonnet 57, a first and a second soul make up the celestial soul, that is, the princess of the sonnet (L’Amour des amours, 69-70).

19. “Donques voyant la France lasse/ De voler d’une ele si basse,/ Et chercher plus haute largeur,/ J’è levé plus haut ma volée,/ D’une ele qu’amour m’à colée,/ Pour de l’Er me faire nageur” (“A Madame Marguerite, Ode,” L’Amour des Amours, 193); “Seeing France tired/ Of flying on so low a wing/ And of looking for higher spheres,/ I have lifted higher my flight,/ With a wing that love gave me,/ In order to swim in the Air.”

20. In Matteo Palmieri’s Città di vita (Northampton, Mass.: Smith College, 1927-8) Book 1, Chapter 5 (“Quivi ne campi elysii fu raccolta…”).

21. Helmut Zander, Geschichte der Seelenwanderung in Europa (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1999), 236-47.

22. Giordano Bruno, The cabala of Pegasus, tr. Sidney L. Sondergard and Madison U. Sowell (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2002), 148.

23. “Pour me garder de m’etonner/ Au regard de ces creus abimes,/ E an ces grans partours sublimes/ Garder mon cerveau de tourner,/ El’ me conforte e m’ilumine/ De l’er fecond de sa clerte,/ E de mes yeus la liberte/ De loin an loin elle termine” (L’Amour des Amours, 105 v.17-24).

24. In all quotes, emphasis is mine.

25. L’Amour des Amours, 110 v.129-111 v.152.

26. “Genie” can mean “âme,” “esprit,” “ombre d’un mort” (Edmond Huguet, Dictonnaire de la langue française du seizième siècle).

27. “Naïf” signifies “natif,” “originaire,” “naturel,” “exact,” “ressemblant,” “vrai,” or “donné par la nature” (Huguet, Dictionnaire).

28. Jean Céard, La nature et les prodiges: l’insolite au 16e siècle, en France (Geneva: Droz, 1996 (1977)), 192-94.

29. See Stephen Murphy, “Ronsard, Petrarca, Ennius, and Poetic Metempsychosis,” Romance Notes 32 (1991): 93-99; Michel Simonin, “Ronsard et l’exil de l’âme,” CAIEF 43 (1991): 25-44.

30. Pierre de Ronsard, Hymnes, ed. Albert Py (Geneva: Droz, 1978), 195 vv.153-64.

31. “Mais si quelqu’un les tente au nom du TRESPUISSANT,/ Ils vont hurlant, criant, tremblant, & fremissant,…” (Hymnes, 202 vv.413-4).

32. La nature et les prodiges, 208, 209, 213, 220.

33. Hymnes,164 v.21-4.

34. Gorgias 493a, Phaidros 250c, Laws 958c, Phaidon 80, Phaidros 248e-249b.

35. Hymnes, 230 v.48-56.

36. “C’est une grand’ Déesse” (Ibid., 230 v.41).

37. “O que d’estre ja mors nous seroit un grand bien,/ Si nous considerions que nous ne sommes rien/ Qu’une terre animée & qu’une vivante ombre,/ Le suject de douleur, de misere & d’ancombre!/ Voire, & que nous passons en miserables maux/ Le reste (ô crevecoeur!) de tous les animaux” (Ibid., 233 v.141-6).

38. Ibid., 196 vv.201-6.

39. “Ilz sont participans de DIEU, & des humains:/ De DIEU, comme immortelz, & de nous, comme pleins/ De toutes passions: ilz desirent, ilz craignent,/ Ilz veulent conçevoir, ilz ayment & dedaignent” (Ibid., 195 vv.157-60).

40. Albert-Marie Schmidt, La Poésie scientifique en France au XVIe siècle, 81 and 92. See also Pierre de Ronsard, Oeuvres Complètes (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), Vol.2, pp.1444 for a definition of the demons.

41. Michael Sonntag, “Gefährte der Seele, Träger des Lebens. Die medizinischen Spiritus im sechzehnten Jahrhundert,” Die Seele. Ihre Geschichte im Abendland, ed. Gerd Jüttemann, Michael Sonntag, Christoph Wulf (Weinheim: Psychologie Verlags Union, 1991), 172.

42. Pierre de Ronsard, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Paul Laumonier (Paris: Didier, 1953), 39 vv.1-10.

43. “De Dieu vient l’ame, & come il est parfait/ L’ame est parfaite, intouchable, immortelle,/ Come venant d’une Essence eternelle:/ L’Ame n’a doncq commencement ni bout:/ Car la Partie ensuit tousjours le Tout” (Ibid., vv.14-8).

44. “Mere benigne, à gros tetins foeconde, Au large sein...” (Ibid., v.24).

45. Michael Stadler, “Weltseele und Kosmos, Seele und Körper,” in Die Seele. Ihre Geschichte im Abendland, 189.

46. Jean Céard, La nature et les prodiges, 220-4.

47. “Il doit d’un second Dieu former le bastiment” (Guillaume de Salluste du Bartas, La Sepmaine, ed. Yvonne Bellenger (Paris: Nizet, 1981), 6.460). “Or ce docte Imager, pour son oeuvre animer,/ Ne prit de l’air, du feu, de terre, de la mer,/ Une cinquiesme essence, ains poussant son haleine,/ Il fit comme couler de la vive fontaine/ De sa Divinité quelque petit ruisseau/ Dans les sacrez conduits de ce fresle vaisseau” (6.709-14). (Emphasis is mine.) I have found very helpful the concordance in La Bibliothèque de Du Bartas, ed. James Dauphiné and Marie-Luce Demonet (Paris: Champion, 1994).

48. “Averne” comes from Lake Avernus, the entrance to the underworld in the Aeneid (6.237).

49. “Mais ce qui plus encor à nostre Ayeul agrée,/ Est le frequent commerce, et hantise sacrée,/ Que son ame et son corps avoient diversement/ Avec Dieu, qui d’Eden fait un clair Firmament” (Seconde Sepmaine (1584), ed. Yvonne Bellenger (Paris: Société des Textes Français modernes, 1991), 1.333-6). For the cosmic journey, see: “Hé! qui sera celuy qui me donra des aeles,/ A fin que devançant les vistes arondeles,/ En moins d’un tourne-main je vole, audacieux,/ Des cieux jusqu’aux enfers, des enfers jusqu’aux cieux?” (Seconde Sepmaine, 2.1-4); “Ce sera toy, mon Dieu, mon Dieu, ce sera toy,/ Qui sublimant mon ame au fourneau de la foy,... (Seconde Sepmaine, 2.23-4); “Où suis-je transporté? Je ne suis plus au monde...” (Seconde Sepmaine, 3.1).

50. La Sepmaine, 6.735-42.

51. La Génération de l’homme et le temple de l’âme avec Autres oeuvres Poëtiques extraittes de l’Esculape de René Bretonnayau medecin, natif de Vernantes en Anjou. A Paris, pour Abel l’Angelier, au premier pillier de la grand’salle du Palays. MDLXXXIII. Avec privilege du Roy. “Génération” here means both “generation, fabrication” and “nation, race, descendance” (Huguet, Dictionnaire).

52. Albert-Marie Schmidt, La Poésie scientifique en France au XVIe siècle, 282-4.

53. “Mais arriere bien loin, ô vous trouppe infidelle,/ Qui vous figurez l’ame une chose mortelle. [...] Retournez vous veautrer, pourceaux, dedans l’ordure/ D’un Protagore Athee, & d’un sale Epicure,...” (56r).

54. See in particular also Ebreo’s Dialoghi d’amore. For a general survey of Bretonnayau’s work, see Andrzej Dziedzic, “Entre l’art de guérir et l’art d’écrire: René Bretonnayau,” Mosaic 35:2 (2002), 73-91.

55. The Illustrations from the Works of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, ed. J.B. Saunders and C. D. O’Malley (New York: Dover Publications, 1973), 52-3.

56. The soft, spongy, or cancellated substance between the plates of the skull (

57. Julius Rocca, Galen on the Brain (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003), 97. The Illustrations from the Works of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 52-3.

58. Les Essais, 2.12 538 a.

Dorothea Heitsch, former Associate Professor of French at Shippensburg University and currently lecturer in French in the Department of Romance Languages at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, is the author of Practising Reform in Montaigne’s Essais (Brill, 2000). She has co-edited, with Jean-François Vallée, a collection of essays entitled Printed Voices: The Renaissance Culture of Dialogue (Toronto, 2004). She has published articles on Montaigne, Marie de Gournay, Antoine de la Sale, Leone Ebreo, and Hélisenne de Crenne. She is finishing a book manuscript on Empiricism and Literature and is Representative of Fixed-Term Faculty on the MLA Executive Council (2010-2014).

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Three (2010): Digital Archives