Rebecca Kingston’s research draws on materials in Bodleian Rare Books collections that illuminate emerging patterns of political language and political ideas in early modern Europe. Here are three of the titles she has consulted, and will discuss in her upcoming Royal Bank of Canada Foundation Lecture at the Weston Library, ‘Eloquence vault mieulx que force’: Vernacular Translations of Plutarch and Political Argument in Renaissance France. [26 May]
The Roman historian Lucian described a Celtic god, Ogmios, as ‘the Gallic Hercules’. Alciatus’s Emblems portrays ‘l’Hercule gaulois’ in a way that emphasises that the strength of this god is not in youth or bodily vigour, but in eloquence. A chain passes from the tongue of Ogmios to the ears of his followers. In the French translation by Jean LeFevre, the accompanying verse is titled ‘Eloquence vault mieux que force,’ and draws attention to ‘… ce qui la marqu[er] de si grand gloire / Que mener gens enchainez a sa langue / Entendre veult: qu’il feist tant bien harengue / Que les Francois pour ses ditz de merveilles’
The cleric and diplomat Claude de Seyssel (1468-1540) translated Plutarch’s Lives of Antony and Demetrius into the French vernacular: these were individuals whose seeming virtues degenerated, in the changing context of their own times, into political vices. In acknowledging the dangers of kingship conceived as personal rule, Seyssel’s work of political advice to the French king Louis XII, La grant monarchie de France, differed from the writings of his contemporary Niccolo Machiavelli, in firmly placing the king within a necessary structure of the Church, laws, and administration.
Geoffroy Tory (born c. 1480) invoked the theme of ‘l’Hercule gaulois’ in his famous work Champ fleury (1529) as part of a broader defense of the beauty and force of the French vernacular. As official printer to King Francis I, and the translator of several classical works into French, including writings by Plutarch, Tory was also deemed to have been influential in the 1539 Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts wherein all legal acts and contracts had to be issued in French.
Rebecca Kingston is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. She works in the history of French political thought (1500-1800) and on the emotions in political theory. She is author of Montesquieu and the parlement of Bordeaux (1996), Public Passion (2011) and has edited a number of volumes in both of her areas of research. As RBC Bodleian Fellow she is working on a monograph looking at the changing conceptions of the ‘public’/ ‘la chose publique’ through vernacular translations of Plutarch and early modern French and English political theory. Her talk will explore the concept of la chose publique through the Plutarch translations and political reflections of early 16th century political thinkers in France.