Barthélémy Aneau (c1510 – 1561)
(Click on the call number to view the digital facsimile of the book.)
- Alector, : histoire fabuleuse, / traduicte en Fr¯açois d'un fragment diuers, trouué non entier, mais entrerompu, & sans forme de principe. A Lyon : Ar [sic] Pierre Fradin, 1560.
- Picta poesis. Ab authore denuò recognita. Vt pictura poesis erit. Lugduni : Apud Ludouicum & Carolum Pesnot, 1564.
- Art poëtique françois, : pour l'instruction des ieunes studieux, & encor' peu auancez en la poësie françoise. : Auec le Quintil Horatian, sur la defense & illustration de la langue françoise. (Thomas Sebillet's Art poétique, with Aneau's Quintil). A Lyon : Par Iean Temporal, 1556.
Barthélémy Aneau (c1510 - 1561)
Writer, translator, and schoolmaster, Barthélemy Aneau was born around 1510 in Bourges, where he is thought to have studied Greek and law at the university before moving to the thriving Renaissance city of Lyon in the 1530s. There he interacted with men and women of similar Humanist backgrounds: poets, printers, doctors. He enjoyed a successful career as a learned and respected regent and then as principal of the Collège de la Trinité.
Several of his texts, covering a wide range of genres, have continued to be edited into the twenty-first century. Critics discuss him as a writer and translator of emblem books, as the author of Le Quintil Horatian—a critique of Joachim Du Bellay’s Deffence et Illustration de la langue francoyse—and as the author of a proto-novel, Alector ou le coq, and yet his name does not rank among the canonic Renaissance literary figures. This is due in part to his criticism of Du Bellay whose later glory unfairly earned Aneau the reputation of a reactionary intellectual, especially among twentieth-century critics who approach Aneau through studies of the Pléiade. A more comprehensive study of Aneau’s works reveals, on the contrary, an author with a penchant for literary experimentation, a writer who explores the interplay among a variety of genres, but also among different signs of representation (word, image, music). Contemporaries who inspired his writing belong accordingly to a diverse group of intellectuals: notable among them, Clément Marot, Philipp Melanchthon, and Andrea Alciato. Unable to find a wealthy patron, Aneau continued to teach as he wrote, with one hiatus, from 1551 to 1558, during which he returned to the study of law, composed two emblem books, and tried his hand at printing. The works of this professional pedagogue retain, not surprisingly, a didactic dimension that some critics dismiss as pedantic. Finally, Aneau’s interest in alchemy and in prisca theologia (a genealogy of religious truths that are said to have been transmitted through pagan figures), as well as his mysterious death (as a casualty of the religious violence rife in Lyon in the 1560s), have tainted his legacy with a suggestion of religious unorthodoxy.
Championed neither by the Calvinists nor by the Catholics, neither by the Pléiade nor by the circle of poets in Lyon, Aneau’s literary works have suffered neglect. Difficult to classify and harder still to interpret, they nonetheless continue to intrigue readers. Since the late 1980s he has received more positive critical attention, thanks to the developing field of emblem literature criticism, to a renewed interest in the poetic debates around 1550, to a modern edition of Aneau’s proto-novel, Alector, and even, in 1996, to a book by Brigitte Biot analyzing Aneau’s life and works.
Alector ou le coq
First published in 1560 and re-edited by Marie Madeleine Fontaine in an outstanding two-volume scholarly edition in 2000, Alector ou le coq is, according to Barthélemy Aneau, an "histoire fabuleuse." This eclectic collage of prose narrative, chivalric romance, allegory, utopia, and Humanist pedagogic exercise recalls Rabelais’s books in its delirium, dense intertextuality, and emphasis on eating and drinking well. If it does not display a linguistic verve equal to that of Rabelais, it adds instead references to alchemy and to the emblem literature fashionable in Lyon during the 1540s and 1550s. Although his humor is less ribald, Aneau’s moral and philosophical musings, like Rabelais’s, are also punctuated by comic moments.
Alector ou le coq explicitly challenges the linearity of traditional narrative. Flashbacks, interrupted stories, alternating narrators and narratees, and unintegrated textual fragments at the beginning of the book constitute what Aneau calls his “oeuvre sans chef.” This deceptively loose structure belies the careful construction of the work and Aneau’s deliberate use of suspense. Despite its erudition and self-conscious non-linearity, the narrative remains eminently readable. Indeed, the characters themselves debate what makes a story clear, verisimilar, and pleasurable.
As ambiguous as the prefaces to Aneau’s other publications, the dedicatory epistle that precedes Alector nonetheless suggests what this “histoire fabuleuse” offers the reader. When an apparently straightforward courtier’s letter transforms the authorial voice into that of his character, Alector, it anticipates the blending of narrative voices as well as the active role of the reader in the fiction to follow. In addition to playing the role of Alector, Aneau also assumes the stance of a translator of mysterious textual fragments, as opposed to an author of fiction. In so doing, he forces the readers to reflect on his debt to both classical and French literary traditions and on the challenges authors face when incorporating both into a coherent, contemporary narrative. Sadly, although the epistle ends with the promise of a sequel, Aneau’s death at the hands of a mob in 1561 brought the adventures of Alector, too, to an end.
Materials on this page were generously contributed by Emily Thompson, Webster University (2008).