French and Italian | Studies in Sixteenth-Century French Literature
F620 | 28842 | Mac Phail, Eric


Topic: The Renaissance Miscellany from Erasmus to Montaigne. This
course joint-listed with REN R502 and CMLT C525. 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 aesthetic 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.