Dynamics of Neo-Latin and the Vernacular

White, Paul

The Complete Elegist?: the “Elegiae” of Marc-Antoine Muret (1552)

Muret’s collection of elegies engages in an intertextual dialogue with that  of Théodore de Bèze (1549) (the two were frequently paired in print publication). Muret confronts and attempts to resolve the anxieties and uncertainties of Bèze’s elegiac persona, whose ambivalence Muret replaces with a confident humanist vision of completion and textual fullness. The dominant mood is – entirely uncharacteristically of elegy – one of fulfilment and containment: the absence that is the hallmark of elegy is converted into presence. Bèze’s elegies were almost entirely Ovidian; Muret incorporates into his elegiac poetry a much fuller range of models, both classical and neo-Latin (thoroughly documented in Virginie Leroux’s recent edition), and what results is a sort of manifesto for the ‘complete elegist’, to be read in the context of wider debates about literary genre in both neo-Latin and the vernacular. The sense of fulfilment and presence in Muret’s elegies comes out through a saturating intertextuality, grounded in his scholarship, which evacuates division and uncertainty from the very genre of elegy.