Comparative Literature | The Renaissance: Miscellany from Erasmus to Montaigne
C525 | 29230 | Prof. Eric MacPhail


M 4:00-6:00


This course will explore the heterogeneous and composite tradition of
the miscellany, sometimes known as the unsystematic alternative to the
encyclopedia.  In sixteenth-century Europe, the miscellany is not a
discrete genre but rather a confluence of genres including not only
reference manuals, philological notes, and bibliographical
compilations, but also travel narratives, epistolary collections,
symposia, and every conceivable compendium of sayings, anecdotes,
examples, and curiosities, natural, cultural, and verbal.  From this
turbid confluence issue two of the principal literary forms of
modernity: the essay and the novel.  We will begin our study by
examining the esthetic of the miscellany as expressed in the preface
to Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights and reappropriated for Renaissance
humanism by Angelo Poliziano in the preface to his Miscellaneorum
Centuria Prima.  Then we will study in chronological order three of
the most popular and important books of the European Renaissance: the
Adages of Desiderius Erasmus, the Silva de varia lección of Pedro
Mexía, and the Essays of Michel de Montaigne.  Each of these works
will be read for its own sake, but taken together they constitute a
genealogy of the essay and allow us to appreciate Les Essais in a
context rarely explored by Montaigne studies.  As epilogue, we will
look at the prologue to the first part of Don Quijote, in order to try
to gauge how the miscellany helps to inform Cervantes’ foundation of
the novel.  Since the three main readings are in Latin, Spanish, and
French, students are required to have a competent reading knowledge of
at least one of those languages.  The course bibliography, as opposed
to the succinct reading list, should encourage a variety of research
projects spanning such diverse fields as classics, patristic studies,
philosophy, ethnography, Romance and English literature, and the
history of the book.  Throughout the semester, we will take advantage
of the prodigious resources of the Lilly Library both through class
sessions and individual research.  At the end of the semester, each
student will write a fifteen to twenty page term paper on a topic
chosen in consultation with the professor.