Plutarch among the moderns

Outside of very specialized circles, there is no longer much interest in Plutarch. His work, singular and abundant, nevertheless played a major role in the constitution of humanism during the Renaissance.

Of all the authors of Greek Antiquity, Plutarch (died around 125 AD) was, during the Renaissance, the one who benefited from the most constant and varied fortune. This is saying something when we consider the importance that European Humanism attached to the rediscovery of the ancient world, and in particular to the Greek heritage, the privileged domain of this rediscovery. Printed and reprinted, translated and retranslated, cited, imitated, discussed, summarized, how, reinvented, the polygraph of Chronius played a considerable role in the formation of the modern mind, particularly in France. More than fifty years after Robert Aulotte's reference book (Amyot and Plutarch. The Tradition of Moralia in France in XVIe centuryGeneva, Droz, 1965), whose philological contributions remain decisive, Olivier Guerrier invites us to rethink the debt contracted by French humanism towards Plutarch, from a slightly different perspective: that of a hermeneutic of his intellectual posterity, in the panorama of which Montaigne, a reader without a paragon, undoubtedly offers the most remarkable example.

Rereading Plutarch (with Renaissance eyes)

Singular faces of the humanist Plutarch addresses the abundant question of the modern reception of Plutarch not only through its scholarly side (establishment of the Greek text, annotated copies, competing Latin versions, history of editions), but, as from an oblique viewaccording to the words of Trials, by giving pride of place to its double passage in French: first, by the complete translation of the work given by Jacques Amyot; then, by its reinvention under the pen of Montaigne, an assiduous reader of Amyot and who confesses to being able to difficult to get rid of Plutarchto the point of never stopping thigh or wing pull when he writes his Trials. The work does not aim for exhaustiveness, because such a task would have gone beyond the limits of a book which is also, in its way, an essay loose parts. After a first part which recapitulates the importance and specificities of the French Plutarch, a second proceeds by probing into corpora more or less contemporary with Montaigne, in the wind of a Renaissance at large, from Rabelais Descartes, via La Botie, Verville, Charron or Naud, in whose prose the author traces the recurrence of some of the motifs dear to the polygraph, whether thematic, stylistic or conceptual.

Our contemporaries, even if they come from a course of Classical Letters, no longer grant Plutarch the preponderant authority that was his during the Renaissance. Our canon of ancient authors, established under the Third Republic on the basis of a preference given to the so-called periods classics (a preference modeled by the history of art, as renewed by Winckelmann and his successors), has considerably reduced what the generation of Guillaume Bud with him called the encyclopedia monuments of Antiquity, where polygraphers, historians, technical writers, jurists, rhetoricians, doctors and compilers of all kinds still had a central place. This explains why the authors favored by Renaissance writers (Aristotle and Plato, of course, but also Pline, Plutarch, Lucian of Samosata, Sutone or Aulus-Gella) are no longer quite those that, today, high school students frequent. priority. Where humanists saw in Plutarch's double textual continent (Lives And Moralia) a vast sum of knowledge and practical philosophy, and so to speak a recapitulation of older knowledge, an essential textual microcosm whose reading must be as imperative as it is exhaustive, the Chronen is most often presented to us as the writer of a Hellnit late (since he spoke Greek, in the early days of the Roman Empire) or, at best, as one historian among others. This, at the cost of reducing his work to only its half, certainly the best known today: the Livessay parallels the exception of the other part of its OperaTHE Moraliathese Moral and men's works (Amyot) which one would be wrong to believe contain only moral insights. However, if the Lives play the role of an essential textual model during the Renaissance, we can consider that the humanists prized at least as much the mixed pamphlets, a heterogeneous collection of lines, dialogues, apophthegms and other various forms, such as the table talk. In this matter, Montaigne is no exception, as confirmed by his very numerous direct borrowings from Plutarch (more than 500!), of which more than half Moralia. For the author of Trialsthe Plutarchian corpus is a textual mirror with which he never ceases to dress(er) commerceand in which he constantly finds himself, like another himself whose dizziness his pen would try to capture, that of a writer free everywhere such as seems to him (more than any other, with the exception of Senecus perhaps) the polygraph of Chronius.

At Montaigne's bedside: Amyot, learned translator

The book by Olivier Guerrier, subtitled around Amyot and the reception of Moralia and Lives the Renaissancebrings back some insights into the profession try by its author first in the form of articles (the list is given on p. 20-21). The work is also the culmination of a path of thought and writing during which Montaigne (Meeting and recognition. The Trials or the game of chance and truthParis, Classiques Garnier, 2016), Plutarch and Amyot (Moralia And Moral works the RenaissanceParis, H. Champion, 2008; Plutarch from the classical age to XIXe century – Presences, interferences and dynamicsGrenoble, J. Millon, 2012; Plutarch: editions, translations, paratextsUniversity of Coimbra, 2017; The Language of Jacques Amyot, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2018) have counted more than any other writer. To understand the author's trajectory more precisely, we can also read online on the site The Life of the Classicsan interview given by Olivier Guerrier on the occasion of the publication of his Singular faces.

After an update on the corpus of Plutarch, its transmission and its first Italian reception, it is the figure of Jacques Amyot and his work of learned translator what concerns the first part of the work. The translations of Lives (1559) then Moral and men's works (1572) honor a very great French-speaking writer. These masterpieces invite us to consider that in more than one faithful interpreter (he has certainly heard the true imagination of the author () he has at least not lent him anything which contradicts it or which dedicates it, according to Montaigne), Amyot was a Hellist of the first caliber, who meticulously annotated his Greek text to establish the original letter with as much acribia as possible. Olivier Guerrier places the philologist both in his abundant library, but also in the debates on translation, history and fiction which animated his era. An analysis inspired by Amyot's choices (lexical and more generally semantic, but also stylistic, even syntactic) allows us to understand to what extent, under the pen of Montaigne, this French version was able to supplant not only the original text, but the available Latin translations of its time and this, to the point of pushing the author of Trialsconsciously or not, somewhat minimize the role of the translator (not without him gives(r) the palm, it is true). Thus we find Montaigne inclined to put on stage, most often, his direct head-head, and as if without filter, with the author Plutarch, leaves the readable dream as in itself (although the author of Trials confessed, certainly with a little false modesty, does not understand anything in Greek!). But could his translator have been nothing more than a neutral and transparent intermediary??

In order to do justice to the genius actor actor of the illustration of the French language required by his time, but also to measure what the gesture of translating necessarily implies, without neglecting the deviations, the displacements or the necessary metamorphoses, Olivier Guerrier seeks to underline the specificity of Amyot's choices, born from the meeting between philological probit and concern for naturalize the Botien in the kingdom of France. He reveals in Amyot an outstanding prose writer and a thinker (of prudence, of fantasy or fortune) which leaves its linguistic mark on the reflection led by Plutarch. It shows how, in France (and as far as England), it was Amyot who modeled the reception of Plutarch from the end of the XVIe century. Indeed, its double sum in vernacular makes the fortune of booksellers; it is often reprinted, copied, enriched with paratextual contributions. A particular status is granted to the way in which the Protestant pastor Simon Goulart appropriates Amyot's work, by providing his translation with a whole apparatus of summaries, indexes and marginal notes which map its scope and facilitate its apprehension (not without guiding its reading). ).

Fortunes of an inexhaustible corpus

The second half of the work offers several cavalier insights into this or that aspect of the Plutarchian universe, as the writers of the Renaissance were able to replay them: thus of the future of Precepts of marriagein Greek, Latin, Italian and French, but also in verse and prose; or the little ball of the Greeks (or in Greek, pile in Latin), willingly naturalized in a tennis ball in the France of the last Valois; or even the fortune of lapophthegma, this memorable which serves as a signature of the Plutarchian tradition, and whose humanist Europe so enjoyed the encounter energetic, particularly drastic instigation, brilliant compiler; or the question of the Greek demons (daimons) in a world that has become Christian, whether we are curious about the resources of paganism or suspicious of heretical inclinations which could go as far as dmonomania what a Jean Bodin fears among wizards; or, finally, of the place given by Plutarch to the animal in his Moralia (and of which Montaigne will know how to make his honey so well in the Apology by Raymond Sebond), thanks to reflections which still seem to us to be extremely topical.

Throughout these readings, which represent so many textbook cases, Olivier Guerrier reconstructs the forma mentis French literati of the first modernity. His multilingual attention to the detail of the texts nourishes a cultural history which sheds new lights, sometimes fanciful or fantastic, always accurate and innovative. Such concern for singularity literary is valid for method in its own right. She offers this test not only her approval that of the encounter, a key word of which Olivier Guerrier has also made all the polysmy but also its critical relevance shine. For this is indeed how Humanism had already rediscovered Plutarch: gradually and piecemeal, with patience for detail, in a marvelous fascination with the richness and variety of an inexhaustible corpus.