Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

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Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

This page intentionally left blank Stages and Histories, 1553–1797 AMY WYGANT University of Glasgow, UK © Amy Wy

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Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France Stages and Histories, 1553–1797

AMY WYGANT University of Glasgow, UK

© Amy Wygant 2007 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Amy Wygant has asserted her moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Gower House Croft Road Aldershot Hampshire GU11 3HR England

Ashgate Publishing Company Suite 420 101 Cherry Street Burlington, VT 05401-4405 USA

Ashgate website: British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Wygant, Amy Medea, magic, and modernity in France: stages and histories, 1553–1797 1. Medea (Greek mythology) in literature 2. French drama – 18th century – History and criticism 3. French drama – 17th century – History and criticism 4. French drama – 16th century – History and criticism 5. Narcissism in literature 6. Magic in literature I. Title 842’.009351 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Wygant, Amy Medea, magic, and modernity in France: stages and histories, 1553–1797 / by Amy Wygant. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-7546-5924-2 (alk. paper) 1. French drama–History and criticism. 2. Medea (Greek mythology) in literature. 3. Magic in literature. I. Title. PQ509.W9 2007 842’.009351–dc22 2006101310

ISBN 978-0-7546-5924-2

Printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall.

Contents List of Figures Acknowledgments Introduction: Stages and Histories

vii ix 1


Glamour and its Discontents



Medean Renaissance



Of Glammatology



The Question of Illusion



Narcissus, and the Devils of Loudun



The Magic of Modernity




Bibliography Index

197 215

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List of Figures 1.1







“Fatorum arcana resignat,” Baltasar de Beaujoyeulx, Balet comique de la Royne, faict aux nopces de Monsieur le Duc de Joyeuse & madamoyselle de Vaudemont sa soeur. Paris: Adrien Le Roy, Robert Ballard, and Mamert Patisson, 1582. Courtesy of Special Collections, F.W. Olin Library, Mills College.


“Médée rajeunit Eson,” Bernard Salomon, La Metamorphose d’Ovide figuree, 1557. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library.


“A Good Look,” Sunday Times, Style, 15 August 2004. Photo N. Stylianou.


Girolamo Macchietti, “Medea and Aeson,” Studiolo of Francesco I de’Medici, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. © 1990 Photo Scala, Florence.


“Medea and Pelias” [sic]. Enameled panel. V&A Images, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


“Medea and Aeson,” Ludovico Dolce, Le Trasformationi, 1558. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale.


“A celuy qui a grevé les siens, ne fault que autruy se fie,” Andrea Alciati, Livret des emblems. Paris: Chrétien Wechel, 1536. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library.



“Philautia,” Andrea Alciati, Emblematum libellus. Venice: Aldus, 1546, p. 38v. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library. 137


“Amour de soy mesme,” Andrea Alciati, Emblemes d’Alciat de nouveau translatez en François. Lyons: Macé Bonhomme, 1549, p. 91. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library. 138




Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Narcissus, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome. © 1990 Photo Scala, Florence. Courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali.


Salvador Dalí, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Tate Modern, London. © Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, DACS, London.



Eugène Delacroix, Médée furieuse, 1838. Lille, musée des Beaux-Arts. (C) Photo RMN – © Philippe Bernard. 193


Eugène Delacroix, Croquis pour Médée. Lille, musée des Beaux-Arts. (C) Photo RMN – © Jacques Quecq d’Henripret.


Acknowledgments My heartfelt thanks go to those who have helped. In Britain, I am fortunate to have caught the lively and generous interest of those at the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama at the University of Oxford, including Edith Hall, Fiona Macintosh, and Peter Brown, and for invitations to present talks I remain grateful to them, as well as to Richard Parish and Wes Williams at Oxford, Anne Simon and Heike Bartel at Bristol, Tom Conley at Harvard, and Joe Carson at St Andrews. In Glasgow, I have depended upon the friendship and scholarship of Alison Phipps in German, Catherine Steel in classics, and Vicky Price in theater. My colleague in French, John Campbell, has contributed one lengthy lunch per year for ten years, and will probably never realize how much it has meant. Meanwhile, Lorna Milne at St. Andrews, Susan Bainbrigge at Edinburgh, and Women in French in Scotland (WIFIS) have facilitated the maintenance of ironic distance. For quick but decisive delvings into matters Medean, I am indebted to the unfailing generosity of Alain Viala, the elegant thoughtfulness of Michael Moriarty, and the editorial zeal of Jan Clarke, who once pulled me out of the doldrums. Elizabeth Moles has allowed me to profit from her wide critical reading, and Michael Sheringham once dropped a helpful hint about demons at a French Studies conference. In the US, Abby Zanger has followed the project from its beginnings, and it owes much to her fierce but kind, pointed but gentle criticisms, and to her steady support. John Lyons offered imagination and its structures; Rüdiger Campe was nothing less than the condition of possibility. This project would have fallen at the first hurdle without the early encouragement of Milad Doueihi, Daniel S. Russell, Wilda Anderson, and Rainer Nägele. Much of what I know I learned from my students, and it is a pleasure here to thank the members of the “Stagecraft, Witchcraft” seminar at Johns Hopkins, the “Dangerous Women” graduate students at the University of Southern California, and the witchcraft honors module students at Glasgow for their cheerful acceptance of my obsessions, not to say possessions, and their searching questions. The thought of Moira Egan, in particular, served constantly to remind me that this is about poetry, after all. The staff of the Department of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library, have been wonderfully helpful, and I thank in particular the Keeper, David Weston, for his generosity and his effortless erudition. For their consummate professionalism in all aspects of the process of publication, I remain grateful to Erika Gaffney and Barbara Pretty at Ashgate Publishing. For financial support, I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship program at the Johns Hopkins University, the National Endowment for the Humanities and its program of fellowships for university teachers, the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Faculty Strategic Research Fund at the University of Glasgow.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Parts of Chapter 1 appeared as “Magic, Glamour, Curses” in Amy Wygant, ed., The Meanings of Magic from the Bible to Buffalo Bill (Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2006), and portions of Chapter 2 also appeared there as “The Golden Fleece and Harry Potter.” Some of the Chapter 4 material was published as “D’Aubignac, Demonologist II: St Anthony and the Satyr” in Seventeenth-Century French Studies 24 (2002), pp. 71–85; an article published as “La Mesnardière and the Demon” in Johns Lyons and Cara Welsh, eds., Le Savoir au XVIIe siècle. Actes du 34e congrès de la North American Society for Seventeenth-Century French Literature (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2003) contained portions of Chapter 5. This book is for Philip Snowdon, the calm, the steadfast, the joyful, the graceful, with love. Amy Wygant July 2007

Introduction: Stages and Histories The filmmaker Oliver Stone once tried to explain why his film Alexander had proven to be a total flop, a costly turkey. Nixon and JFK had been natural subjects for Stone, who is perhaps best known for his obsession with conspiracies and concealment. But Alexander was his history film: “Alexander was the first westerner who really went to the east. He didn’t come back with the loot, he stayed, he became eastern. It’s the ultimate merging of the two, it’s the world order, the world-government concept.”1 But long before Alexander, legend tells of a pre-Homeric foray to the east that also figures in Stone’s film. It was made by Medea’s hero Jason to her home in Colchis, and she was the loot brought back to Greece, along with the fleece of a golden ram, her Jason indeed not being interested in world government but only in that of his own homeland. And Medea does make an appearance in Stone’s film. Alexander’s mother Olympias is a threatening, sloe-eyed and slinky, sexually oozing creature, and when the young Alexander is taken to learn his mythology from terrifying images on the walls of a cavern, the boy is shown pictures of Medea knifing her children. His alarmed reaction is, “My mother would never hurt me.” Stone’s explanation for the film’s lack of success goes precisely to this infanticidal threat: “I got off on the wrong foot in that first scene that has snakes in the bed. People were taken aback by that. That’s not going to go down in Ohio.” For in the bed, as well as the snakes, were the young Alexander and his snake-loving Medean mother. The argument of this book forms a precise counterweight to Stone’s claim about his film. For this book is about Medea, a mother who killed her children, and it seeks to explain the obsession with her story, which has been elaborately reworked in hundreds of paintings, plays, novels, and films from Greek and Latin antiquity, through medieval epic, to early modern opera and emblem, to the paintings of Delacroix, to the recordings of Maria Callas. Her figure has been the subject of philosophical discussions, political pamphlets and even medical treatises.2 There seems to be no end to it: witness, for example, Fiona Shaw’s triumphant performances of Euripides’ 1 Bryan Appleyard, “Conspiracy Theories Play No Part,” Sunday Times, Culture (13 August 2006), pp. 6–7 (p. 6). 2 Those interested in a chronology and listing of the vast corpus of Medea settings may refer to Léon Mallinger, Médée. Étude de littérature comparée (Louvain, 1897; Geneva: Slatkine, 1971), and to the Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, ed. J.D. Reid (2 vols., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). Marianne McDonald, “Medea as Politician and Diva: Riding the Dragon into the Future,” in James J. Clauss and Sarah Iles Johnston (eds.), Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Philosophy, and Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 297–323, and Edith Hall, Fiona Macintosh, and Oliver Taplin (eds.), Medea in Performance 1500–2000 (Oxford: European Humanities Research Centre, 2000) supply references to continue the chronology beyond the final listing of the Oxford Guide. The forthcoming volume, Medea: Mutations and Permutations of a Myth, Heike Bartel and Anne Simon (eds), promises to update research in progress to 2006.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Medea in Dublin, London, and New York in 2002–2003, Liz Lochhead’s Scottish Medea for theatrebabel in 2000, and Company East’s transvestite kabuki Medea at the 2001 Edinburgh Festival fringe, mounted at the ironically named La MaMa in New York City in January, 2007.3 An Ohio Medea would undoubtably surface eventually.4 My sense is that Stone’s flop had nothing to do with the snakes, and that his comment is most noticeably about the deployment of “Ohio” in the political imaginary. The present study asks what, then, an audience would have seen in Medea’s magic, her witchcraft, and her murderous rage. How can it be explained that we have returned to her again and again? Its answer is that this mother who is turned into a virgin again by the child-murders – “rapta virginitas redit,” says Seneca’s Medea – is the mirror of an audience whose narcissism finds its exact image in her. In a moment heavy with the weight both of Ovid’s Narcissus and of Lacan’s mirror stage, Pierre Corneille put the great witch onto the stage in 1635 in his first tragedy, and the magic of the witch’s glamour, something she did, became the magic of the audience’s glamour, something they had. Through the magic of narcissism, which is always a magic of representation, modernity became itself in the mirror of the witch. Thus, like the magic of culture, traceable to the French seventeenth century and analyzable in the map and embellishment of the French formal garden, personal magic, the magic of narcissism, has a history which becomes visible in seventeenthcentury France. It was there and then that the glamour of the witch became glamour as such. We are modern because of the spells we cast. And this we learned from the witch, the witch-mother who killed her children. On the one hand, then, this is a study of the reception histories of a particularly powerful antique, Renaissance, and modernist trope. So it is just as well perhaps to pause and hear the story at the outset. Her Story Medea was born a princess in the land of Colchis, in Asia Minor. Her father was the king Aaetes, son of the Sun, and her mother was Ocean. As a priestess, she ministered to the cult of the Golden Fleece, the skin of a magical ram brought to Colchis by Phryxus, who was fleeing the violence of his stepmother. The rule of Aaetes depended upon this object. Protecting it was a fiery dragon and other magical charms. One day there appeared in Colchis a great Greek hero, Jason, leader of a band of extraordinary Greeks. Long before the whole question of Troy, they had undertaken this first perilous voyage to the East in the Argo, a magical talking ship. Jason had 3 , accessed 26 October 2006. 4 The fugitive slave Margaret Garner was discovered in 1856 in Cincinnati, Ohio, moments after she had murdered one of her children. The incident inspired Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s oil painting, which was eventually photolithographed and published in Harper’s Weekly (1867) as “The Modern Medea.” See Leslie Furth, “‘The Modern Medea’ and Race Matters: Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s ‘Margaret Garner,’” American Art 12 (1998), pp. 35–57.

Introduction: Stages and Histories


come for the fabulous Fleece, having been promised by his evil uncle Pelias that his own kingdom of Iolcus, usurped by Pelias from Jason’s father Aeson, would be restored to Jason if the fleece were brought back. It was love at first sight. Medea used her magical powers to help Jason plow the field of Mars by harnessing firebreathing bulls, kill the warriors who sprang up from the furrows, and lull the dragon guarding the fleece to sleep. The two of them snatched the fleece and kidnapped Medea’s brother Absyrtus. They then murdered him and scattered his body parts upon the waves in order to delay pursuit by obliging their pursuers to collect them for proper burial. Medea and Jason eventually landed in Greece. Pelias then refused to keep his part of the bargain. Medea, having busied herself rejuvenating Jason’s aged father Aeson with her magical powers, then promised the daughters of Pelias to do the same for their father, on the model of an old ram that she cut into pieces, threw into a steaming cauldron, and that then leapt out of it alive and transformed into a young lamb. The daughters were understandably appalled when, having cut their father into pieces, the analogous result was not obtained. Medea had tricked them into killing their own father, and Medea and Jason were obliged to flee once more. They were taken in by Creon, king of Corinth, a descendant of the house of Sisyphus. By whatever means and mechanisms, his daughter, variously named Glauke or Creusa, became engaged to marry Jason, and threatened by Medea’s powers, Creon decreed that she be banished. Medea, incensed by this faithlessness and now a mother of two children who would necessarily be left behind, asked Creon for one day’s grace in order to prepare her departure, and this was granted, grudgingly. She used it to burn the king’s daughter alive by means of a poisoned dress and crown, sent to her as a gift from Medea. Creon in most versions of the story caught fire and died as well, and the palace went up in flames. Medea then murdered her two children in fury and despair, and perhaps more generally in the knowledge of what happens to stepchildren. She flew away from Corinth, either to Athens in the chariot of her grandfather the Sun, as Euripides tells, or to some nameless place where there are no gods in a dragon-drawn chariot, according to Seneca. In Athens, she was sheltered by King Aegeus, in return for her promise to help end his state of childlessness. But unbeknownst to him, he already had a son. This was Theseus, already famed for his heroic monster killing, who arrived incognito in Athens and threatened Aegeus’s rule. Ever helpful, Medea was prepared to poison Theseus at a state banquet, but at the moment when Theseus drew his sword to cut the meat, Aegeus recognized it as the very sword that he had left long ago in Troezen for his unborn child. He dashed the cup of poison from Medea’s hand, embraced his son (Medea’s potential stepson), and Medea, once again involved in child-killing, was obliged to flee Athens. Some sources say that she then returned to Colchis, and that her own son, Medus, founded the kingdom of the Medes. As a history of reception, this study claims that the story of the ancient figure of Medea distinguishes itself from that of other great female figures of antiquity. Whereas the stories of Dido, Lucretia, Sappho, Antigone, and Helen all end with death or center on strategic disappearance, the ending of Medea’s tragedy shows her to be very


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

much alive, somehow transfigured, and possibly even triumphant. In the version of Euripides, first seen in Athens in 431 BC, she appears at the end in the theatrical space reserved for the gods, institutes a festival to commemorate the lives of the two children whom she has killed, thus completing her revenge upon her husband Jason, whose new princess bride and father-in-law she has just reduced to flame and ashes, prophesies Jason’s unheroic death, and ominously, departs Corinth for Athens itself. This ending, which caused Euripides to be accused of having accepted money from the Corinthians, the actual killers of the children, to shift the blame for the murders onto Medea,5 has been the reef upon which modernity has shattered itself as it has set out, over and over again, to write Medea’s story. It forms one aspect of the “Medean exception,” for it has meant that Medea has not fit neatly into the structures that have governed and generated the reception of other strong women of Greek and Latin antiquity. Those structures have most frequently depended conceptually upon that of Helen, whose story, although chronologically posterior to Medea’s, provides the clearest example. Helen may or may not have gone to Troy. But whether she was or was not actually there matters little. In either case, she was for the warriors only ever a phantom over which they fought, and that, on the one hand, made sense of their divisions and, on the other, affirmed their community.6 This phantom absence around which a community of reception is organized is symptomatic of the history that Joan DeJean has analyzed for the case of Sappho, and it is related to what she has called “coming of age,” in which aspiring male poets are first inspired by the strong antique female figure of Sappho, and then proceed to reject her and transform her into the stereotypical humiliated woman, abandoned and undone by her male lover.7 For Antigone, George Steiner has read the “transforming echo” of the tragedy in Hegel’s Phenomenology, and has analyzed the critical and interpretive bond formed by the figure of Antigone between Hegel, Hölderlin, and Schelling.8 Other strong women of antiquity, because the ends of their stories are their deaths, are transformed, and are available for transformation, when their stories of ancient heroism are taken up by

5 See Denis L. Page (ed.), Euripides: Medea (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938), p. xxv. Classicists have brought iconographical, anthropological, and philological tools to bear upon the question of the infanticide. See James J. Clauss and Sarah Iles Johnston (eds.), Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Philosophy, and Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997). Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique (3rd edn., Rotterdam: Bohm, 1720) repeats the accusation that the Corinthians paid Euripides to pin the murders on Medea, s.v. “Euripide;” in our time, Christa Wolf’s Medea: A Modern Retelling, trans. John Cullen (London: Virago, 1998) ends with a mob of Corinthians killing the children, and Medea’s observation that “They’re at pains to assure that even posterity will call me a child murderess” (p. 186). 6 Mihoko Suzuki, Metamorphoses of Helen: Authority, Difference, and the Epic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989). 7 Joan DeJean, Fictions of Sappho 1546–1937 (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1989). 8 George Steiner, Antigones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 42.

Introduction: Stages and Histories


modernity and viewed through the lens of Christian teaching and doctrine. Thus we have the pluralisms and reversals of The Rapes of Lucretia and Énée et Didon.9 But no one has ever, to my knowledge, attempted to pluralize Medea in the vein of these Fictions, Metamorphoses, Rapes, and Antigones.10 Indeed, the 2000 collection of essays addressing her figure,11 while sketching out the facets of her story spotlit by her many retellings – she is witch, infanticide, abandoned wife, protofeminist, outsider, and “modern amalgam” – nevertheless insists upon her ultimate and essential integrity: “It is futile to ask which is the ‘real’ Medea […] because the character and role are truly one.”12 Medea is unavailable as an absence around which her reception can organize itself and into which pluralisms can cascade and reversals occur. Those who take up her story cannot stare into the blank space that she has left and see themselves because what she leaves behind is not blank, but rather overwritten with violence,13 barbarism,14 and the passion of the “freedom fighter.”15 Indeed, it is the place to which she is going that is “beyond good and evil,” according to Martha Nussbaum,16 and that, if the final cry of Seneca’s Jason to his Medea is to be taken into account, is empty: “testare nullos esse, qua veheris, deos.” “Goe through the ample spaces wyde, infect the poysoned Ayre. / Beare witnesse grace of God is none in place of thy repayre,” concluded Seneca’s first English-language 9 Ian Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia: A Myth and its Transformations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982); René Martin (ed.), Énée et Didon. Naissance, fonctionnement et survie d’un mythe (Paris: CNRS, 1990). 10 Comparatist studies of Medea include Mallinger, Médée. Étude de littérature comparée; Hugo Meyer, Medeia und die Pelliaden. Eine attische Novelle und ihre Entstehung. Ein Versuch zur Sagenforschung auf archäologische Grundlage (Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider, 1980); Ruth Morse, The Medieval Medea (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1994); André Arcellaschi, Médée dans le théâtre latin d’Ennius à Sénèque (Rome: École française de Rome, 1990); Vassiliki Gaggadis-Robin, Jason et Médée sur les sarcophages d’époque impériale (Rome: École française de Rome, 1994); A. Moreau, Le Mythe de Jason et Médée: le va-nu-pied et la sorcière (Paris: Belles lettres, 1994); Henri Joseph Guillaume Patin, Etudes sur les tragiques grecs ou examen critique d’Eschyle, de Sophocle, et d’Euripide (3 vols., Paris: Hachette, 1841); Ludwig Schiller, Medea im Drama alter und neuer Zeit (Ansbach: n.p., 1865); Françoise Bardon and Henry Bardon, “Médée rajeunissant Éson,” in Jacqueline Bibauw (ed.), Hommages à Marcel Ranard (Brussels: Latomus, 1969), pp. 83–93. One exception to this rule is the chapter “Some Medieval Medeas” in Morse, which takes up the rhetorical status of Medea as exemplum. 11 Hall, Macintosh, and Taplin (eds.), Medea in Performance 1500–2000. 12 Fiona Macintosh, “Introduction: The Performer in Performance,” in ibid., pp. 1–31 (p. 2). 13 Médée et la violence. Colloque international organisé à l’Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1996), Pallas 45 (1996). 14 In Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-definition through Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), Edith Hall argued that Medea was originally Greek, and that she was created as a barbarian by the tragedy of Euripides. On this point, for which much of the evidence is iconographical, see Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, “Medea at a Shifting Distance: Images and Euripidean Tragedy,” in Clauss and Johnston (eds.), Medea, pp. 253–96. 15 Marianne McDonald, “Medea as Politician and Diva,” p. 302. 16 Martha C. Nussbaum, “Serpents in the Soul: A Reading of Seneca’s Medea,” in Clauss and Johnston (eds.), Medea, pp. 219–49 (p. 240).

Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

6 17

translation. “I can think of no other play,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “which reserves such a shock for the last word: deos.”18 Extraordinarily, then, it has occurred to no one to theorize the possibility of Medeas, for it is closer to the actual state of affairs and of far greater interest to understand that there is but Medea, a figure whose future is not nearly as troubling as is the stunning impossibility that she creates of her present. That Jason will have no grandsons is far less troubling than is the blunt fact that it is, in short, impossible to love Medea. What is then rendered impossible for her reception history is that she be, like Antigone, Sappho, Helen, Dido, or Lucretia, the absent object of desire. Steiner formulates Kirkegaard’s relation to Hegelian philosophy in these terms: “Kirkegaard’s antenae alerted him to Hegel’s infatuation (the word is not too strong) with Sophocles’ Antigone. […] To make her his was to search out and challenge the Hegelian system at its nerve-centre.”19 But no one, since, perhaps, the Latin poets, of whose “passion commune” for Medea André Arcellaschi has written,20 has been infatuated in any simple way with Medea. Any work on her figure must bring some kind of understanding to this state of affairs. The “why” of this fabulous proliferation of representations of the unlovable has been debated by scholars in both general and specific terms. In general terms, Steiner concluded that the astonishing survival of “the seminal presences given to us by Hellas” is parallel to the survival of grammar: almost nothing has been added to either field since the Greeks.21 In a Medea-specific debate, Sarah Iles Johnston argued that “In seeking to understand the powerful hold that Medea has had upon our imaginations for almost three millennia, we must embrace her complexity and look within it for the secret of her longevity.”22 This explanation has, however, the logical problem of circularity – Medea has had a long and complex history of reception, and this is the secret of her longevity and complexity. – and the scholarly problem of lack of specificity: about what strong ancient woman could it not be said with justification that her figure is complex? Edith Hall indeed responded to this assertion with the claim that “the editors are fundamentally mistaken in thinking that this narrative complexity explains Medea’s attraction in modernity. On the contrary, the reason lies in her simplicity. Medea has survived because her children didn’t.”23 Now the terms of this debate, with its focus on the “why,” and its arguments over the “because,” are probably unavoidable in any discussion of Medea’s figure. But if the usual structures of passion and infatuation that produce the reception of other strong female figures of antiquity do not govern Medea, and if they have not 17 J. Studley, Seneca: His Tenne Tragedies Translated into Englysh (London: Thomas Marsh, 1581), pp. 119–39 (p. 139). 18 T.S. Eliot, “Seneca in Elizabethan Translation,” Selected Essays (London and Boston, MA: Faber and Faber, 1932), pp. 65–105 (p. 73). 19 Steiner, Antigones, p. 66. 20 Arcellaschi, Médée dans le théâtre latin, p. 445. 21 Steiner, Antigones, p. 121. 22 Sarah Iles Johnston, “Introduction,” in Clauss and Johnston (eds.), Medea, pp. 3–17 (pp. 6–7). 23 Edith Hall, “The Archetypal Anti-mother,” Times Literary Supplement (14 February 1997), pp. 4–5 (p. 4).

Introduction: Stages and Histories


created Medeas as they have created Antigones, Sapphos, and Helens, then what structure, mechanism, activity, or situational particularity may be said to generate her repetitiveness? What does it mean that she is the content of modernity’s repeating nightmare? Is there a model of attention and of attentions paid to Medea that will stand outside of the intertextual? Could it be that love is more complicated than that? While on the one hand, then, this study may be read as a contribution to the reception history of the figure of Medea, it nevertheless, on the other, attempts to push its argument further, to ask what assumptions, exactly, govern the very notion of reception in this disturbing case. Firstly, it asks who or what was receiving, and takes on the notoriously difficult problem of audience behavior and of the ephemeral group constituted by those who come together to spectate, a problem whose evidence and historicity for early modern France is admirably set out by Jeffrey Ravel.24 This properly historical tact is one way to put some pressure on the easy notion of reception. But secondly, this study argues that if more usual intertextual processes harnessing something like infatuation do not cover the steady, protean, and obsessive recourse to Medea’s deeply troubling figure, then the love of audiences for her must be more profoundly rooted, and responsive to something that seems particularly powerful and pertinent to us now. Medea, that is, seems to perform cultural history more generally. Chapter 1 looks at Medea’s cultural construction as a witch. The symbols of a powerful magic of binding and loosing are identified with her aunt Circé in the 1581 French court spectacle the Balet comique de la royne, and those arcane symbols may be observed as well in the magical Medean episode of the rejuvenation of Aeson. Medea, I argue, is casting the glamour, a word that originally meant a witch’s spell, a fettering of the eyes, an illusion. Glamour’s curious transition from being something a woman does to being something that she has is traced through the history of cosmetics to argue that the glamour of the witch has become a general poetics of appearance. We have become, gradually, over a period of long centuries, Medean, and the magic of the witch, itself indefinable, has come to define us. It has also, I argue, come to play a structural role in what political analysts call “soft power,” and what I here call “cultural magic,” that is, the power attributed to an entire culture, through its products of manufacturing and ideology, to seduce and persuade. Entire cultures can, for good or ill, be magical, and it is worth being alert to accusations of cultural witchcraft, for all of the reasons that brought the witch terrifyingly into being, and gave her powers over the mind, in the first place. An understanding of this persuasiveness, and of Medea’s apparently limitless seductions, might well situate itself in the psychoanalytic theory of the auto-erotic mother–child dyad. If the fantasy governing Medean proliferation were the fantasy of return to the mother, then this, however, would only be banal. But what if – and this is emphatically not banal – that mother is murderous? Chapter 4 will pick up this strand. Chapter 2 has to contend with the implications of an inauguration that is already, however, a repetition. What does it mean that the 1553 tragedy of Jean Bastier de La 24 Jeffrey S. Ravel, The Contested Parterre: Public Theater and French Political Culture, 1680–1791 (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1999).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Péruse, La Médée, was “the first” Medea tragedy of the French sixteenth century? How can our writing about the history of her figure accommodate this fact, and what philosophy of history is implied in periodizing concepts such as the “modernity?” While Stephen Toulmin and others have offered persuasive formulations of the birth and lifespan of modernity – neatly marked in Toulmin’s case by two emblematic deaths – I have preferred to work with the notion of the threshold that floats and remains somehow forever embryonic. To illustrate this possibility, I offer a double reading of Medea’s figure in the sixteenth century. On the one hand, Medea is the operator of renaissance. If we wish to read her as a mise en abyme of the humanist project of the rebirth of antiquity, then there is ample material that will permit us to do so. When she rejuvenates Aeson in the illustrated Ovid, the Wunderkammer tradition, and the medical treatise, she is an easily legible figure of two histories yet to be written: that of the Renaissance as nineteenth-century historiography formulated it, and that of the dawning prestige of a nascent medical science, to whose etymology her name was supposedly related. The old is made new again, the dead, dusty, and impotent is brought back to full operational power, and from the standpoint of the ghosts of her future, Medea represents clearly, if paradoxically, a rebirth. But there is another reading of Medea, one that went nowhere, that represented an historical dead end, or perhaps just a threshold that has yet to announce itself: she was an alchemical symbol, and her magic participated in the practice of alchemy. Her figure, then, would be alive with a nebulous magical meaning that slumbered for centuries, to be reawakened only when its energy became pertinent and interesting in our own, magicalized age. At the same time, her meaning would have been pinned down as the zero degree of an intellectual history of the Renaissance, and of a medical science whose prestige continues to matter. From the midst of this historical chiasmus, I offer a new reading of the 1553 tragedy of La Péruse. Much as we may wish to place our critical weight on the mystery of motivation, Medea’s great and murderous deliberation scene of love and necessity, it appears that our early modern brother-readers did not place the same accent on this material. For La Péruse, this second chapter argues, the story of Medea was about défiance, the quality of circumspection necessary to survive in an actively hostile world. The fourth-act chorus takes her side, and the way is then opened up for all of the future heroic images of Medea-the-freedom-fighter. But a more tantalizing nascence is also to be understood in the reconfiguring of the tragedy’s axis to focus on Medea and Glauque, Jason’s doomed princess bride. Glauque and Medea, both equally deceived in La Péruse by “la greque parolle,” “the Greek word,” become the lesbian pair in Freud’s Dora case history, and an infatuated analytic pair in Christa Wolf’s 1998 novel, and so assure that any nascence we might wish to identify in the sixteenth-century tragedy is unconventional. Here, I suggest, the thresholds of history, and the trajectories of cultural objects, move most importantly within histories of the self. Failure to appreciate this properly early modern accent on the Medean problem of défiance has led, I argue in Chapter 3, to a failure to appreciate the extent to which Pierre Corneille was wrapped in this same problematic: the question of why, exactly, kings and heroes would let her loose on her evil path. For the first time we have some information about audience reaction to Medea in connection with Corneille’s tragedy,

Introduction: Stages and Histories


and the core contradiction of her figure emerges already in full flight: in a logic of jubilation and mirroring, the audience and the author take her side. Her crimes great and small, those prosecutable under the law and those worthy only of human pity, are taken by the audience onto itself in a complex of reactions that I call glammatology, a neologism meant to reference not only glamour’s old meaning as grammar, but also the loving reading whose object she was. On the one hand, the social body is glamorized, and Corneille reports its stunned reaction. On the other, the glamorized public glamorizes Medea, who is congruent in several respects with the theory that lead to witchcraft accusations beyond the theatrical stage. Fundamentally grounded in religious structures, the witchcraft context means that Jason’s suicide becomes not a heroic death, but rather a horrifying act placing him beyond the pale of Christian society. If modernity emerges in part, as John Lyons has argued, as a reaction against the horror of antiquity, then it must be argued that Jason is here confined to the retrograde past. Medea belongs to the future that her theatrical public imagines for itself. Her horrors are left behind; they become somehow non-horrors. The next two chapters investigate the mechanics of this astonishing rehabilitation. This begs the question of “what happened” when Corneille put Medea on the stage. Must we necessarily rely on print culture, as have the extensive analyses of Joan DeJean and Hélène Merlin, in order to understand how a modern public emerged from the culture and process of theater-going? In Chapter 4, I bring considerations of group narcissism to bear on Medea’s Corneillian power. Medeaspecific explanations – Why a woman? Why a mother, and why a murderous one? – seem to be provided in one sense by a certain line of psychoanalytic thinking about casual groups constituted by ephemeral events. And the anachronism of bringing psychoanalysis into the picture is here supplemented by a strictly contemporary structure: illusion, for the seventeenth century, had nothing necessarily to do with the stage, but rather referred most commonly to the traps and snares of the devil. In the most important treatise on the theater of the first half of the century, d’Aubignac’s Pratique du théâtre, I discover devilish illusion, for d’Aubignac, before writing on the practice of the stage, was the author of a treatise containing an important demonological chapter. It thus becomes possible to halt for a moment the common critical slide between staged illusion and illusion as such, in order to be precise about both. In fact, not only did d’Aubignac begin his career as a demonologist, but also the other most commonly read theorist of the first half of the century, Pilet de La Mesnardière, used a demonological treatise as a platform for his own career move from medicine to poetics. In an argument that very much pleased Richelieu, La Mesnardière argued for the power and presence of the devils of the possessed nuns of Loudun. And d’Aubignac, as it happens, also went to Loudun, also described what he saw there, and also underwent a highly theatricalized experience. It is at Loudun, I argue in Chapter 5, that he first encountered the theatrical space that he would later, in the Pratique, call the “kingdom of disorder.” This audience that already, in 1635, then, took the side of Corneille’s great Medea may be approached from the direction of psychoanalysis, and from the strictly contemporary direction of demonology. There is another tell-tale, I argue in Chapter 5, that permits us to understand its yearnings, and that is the history


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

of Ovid’s handsome boy, Narcissus. Here, I trace the curious reversal in the wellknown story from the desire of the youth for his own image in the water of the pool, to the desire of the water for him. Whereas it had once been Narcissus who had come to the pool, thirsting, in just those years during which an audience for tragedy would emerge in France, it was the pool that thirsted for him. The story thus becomes a general model of an audience thirsting for representation, and its double-sidedness is congruent with the structure of glammatology for which I wish to argue. Equally, in this contemporary structure of narcissism, the magic of representation courses to and fro. By 1646, the infection of the audience with the desire of Narcissus became explicit, as Scudéry’s series of ekphrases in the Cabinet claims that whoever sees him falls in love, “and falls harder than he has fallen for himself.” There is, perhaps not surprisingly, a double danger surrounding the kind of analysis that I attempt here. On the one hand, it risks flattening the event and pinning it to a conceptual mounting. On the other hand, however, unless the historical point be pinned down, what is necessarily speculative runs the risk of becoming overly so, and accordingly unconvincing, indeed delirious. What I think to have shown in the course of an argument spanning five chapters is not just that intertextuality as a model of how a powerful textual complex moves through time is not satisfying enough with respect to Medea. The dialectic of signifiers lacks the cultural specificity necessary to understand why a murderous mother would be thought a good candidate for the starring role of a play.25 That specificity, I hope to have shown, may be read both in the psychoanalysis of groups, largely although not wholly anachronistic, and the poetics and practice of the theater of the first half of the seventeenth century, as carefully synchronic as sources permit. Movements from both of these sides of the historical ethos come to rest on the point of the magical, theatricalized, mother-nonmother whose specificity is Medea. What is then in the eye of the beholder is that which falls des astres, disaster, a narcissism pandemic.26 And this indeed would be one name for the French Revolution. In my final chapter, I look into what became of magic’s ancient carrier during this least magical of eras. If the problem of historical balance, the need both to admit readings which will “fit” the concerns and suppositions of a Medean work’s contemporaries, and at the same time to understand why our own sympathies allow us to hear accents perhaps inaudible to them, then this balancing act is a Medean microcosm of the problem of understanding the French Revolution in general. Is Cherubini’s 1797 opera Médée best understood as a function of the history of women and their doings in the revolutionary decade? Or is it rather a history of aesthetics that offers the most 25 A general dissatisfaction with the notion of intertextuality runs as well through the analysis of modernity and early modern texts in Nicholas D. Paige’s Being Interior: Autobiography and the Contradictions of Modernity in Seventeenth-Century France (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001). Intertextuality cannot account for the new, Paige complains, nor is it capable of taking into account the material conditions of representation. He notes that it was impossible for the great Jesuit exorcist Jean-Joseph Surin to “live within the comforts of intertextuality”; pp. 50, 69, 180. 26 This historical development will eventually respond fully to Blanchot’s pointed question: “Qu’est-ce qui ne serait pas narcissique?” Maurice Blanchot, L’Écriture du désastre (Paris: Gallimard, 1980), p. 192.

Introduction: Stages and Histories


telling context? Is she, as has been claimed, a terrorist? My final move is to give the historical witness its due and to read the press clippings. Not interested in Medea the child-killer in the slightest, the press had eyes only for the glamour of a woman. That woman was the creator of the role, Julie-Angelique Scio, who, as the papers all report, used her slight frame and golden voice to its magical, charismatic best. No magician, still less a sans-culotte, Scio’s Medea explicitly attracted all of the fear and trembling, the projection and, yes, the love, which had forever been implicit in Medea’s figure, but whose wands and potions, by this time, were beside the point on the stage as such. On the stage of history, however, to use a powerful metaphor and one authorized by a certain Revolutionary consciousness, history itself was indeed magical, and this study concludes with an analysis of the great wit of Diderot, and his three references to Medea’s activities with cauldron and spell. “Well, she asked for it.” Blaming the victim has been a general political and social concern at least since the 1960s in the US, when the phrase emerged in the context of the race relations debate. Perhaps the phrase has since operated most powerfully in feminist arguments about rape. When Seneca’s Medea indeed claims that this is what happened to her, and that her child-killing erases the violence done to her, “rapta virginitas redit,” “my ravished virginity is restored,” she claims this relevance for herself. Relevance is generally considered to be a good thing. It puts bums on seats, it creates a cozy sense of comfort, it certainly seems to inspire students. As I write, a local bi-weekly events guide advertises Schiller’s Mary Stuart as “thrillingly, dangerously, contemporary,” and Brecht’s Mother Courage as a “very relevant night out.” It allows that Jason and the Argonauts captures “preoccupations of our existence which recur in most cultures.”27 And sadly, the universalism of this latter comment is belied by another of today’s news items: Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric has declared that women who wear makeup and do not cover their heads invite sexual assault.28 This long-standing battle obviously is not won, and Medea’s relevance in her victimhood is clear enough. Indeed, in a broader discussion of the contemporary interest in Greek tragedy, Edith Hall has speculated that its ancient struggles speak to us because, like us, Greek tragic heroes are “survivors in the most modern sense of the term.”29 I would like to end, however, on a note that is a bit less grim. The word “relevant” is etymologically not, as we might assume, a cousin of “relate,” but instead belongs to the same family as “relieve,” as in “to set free from a burden, obligation, grievance, etc.”30 When we sense that spirit that we call “relevance,” the idea is not 27 The List Glasgow and Edinburgh Events Guide 561 (19 October–2 November 2006): 80, 82, 83. 28 , accessed 26 October 2006. 29 Edith Hall, “Introduction: Why Greek Tragedy in the Late Twentieth Century?” in Edith Hall, Fiona Macintosh, and Amanda Wrigley (eds.), Dionysus Since 69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millennium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 1–46 (p. 45). 30 “Relieve,” Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

that it reduplicates us or connects to us, but instead that it cures our pain and sets us free. Now the other side of the coin if the victim is blamed is that the perpetrator is exonerated. If we operate a lexical replacement, however, of exoneration in the realm of the law with forgiveness in the realm of the spirit, then we seem to have arrived at a history of Medea. While it is true that she commits every kind of horrific crime, audiences, from the very first information that we have about them in France, seem to have forgiven her, and this is a movement that I think to have discovered from her first appearance in a French tragedy. By the time of Delacroix’s great canvas, with a brief discussion of which I close, it would be impossible to tell, if we did not already know the story, if the beautiful mother were killing her children or protecting them. To a harsh mind, this would be unacceptable, and indeed incomprehensible. There is something irremediably strange in it, this love for a child-murderess that this study has certainly not fully explained, and nor, I suspect, will any other. Medea glows in all her historical strangeness as a mark of the human capacity to forgive. This is her relevance, our freedom, and with any luck at all, our future.

Chapter 1

Glamour and its Discontents I begin not with Medea, but with her great and terrible and gorgeous aunt Circé. She is the Homeric bewitching, singing, pharmacist-seductress.1 The goddess of metamorphoses, she was once considered by Jean Rousset to be the icon of all that is transformed, fleeting, in motion, and, in a word, baroque,2 and she is the star of the Renaissance spectacle of power, the Balet comique de la royne.3 Circé would today gleefully avail herself of text messaging, for she is a weaver and a singer, and so is the very vision of text and its seductions. Homer tells that Ulysses’ men, blown off course by their own greed, are lured into her palace and turned into pigs because they did not suspect her theatrical, magical, drugged trap. Ulysses saves them, but only by means of counter-magical drugs given to him by a god, and by accepting the invitation to her bed. When his crew become men again, they are younger, more handsome, and taller than before. The Balet comique was staged in the Great Hall of the Louvre on 15 October 1581 as part of the celebrations for the wedding of the sister-in-law of the French king Henri III to one of his special favorites, his constant companion, bodyguard, and probable lover, Anne d’Arques, later duc de Joyeuse.4 The king was a notorious cross-dresser and face painter. Agrippa d’Aubigné observed that “A premier abord chacun était en peine / S’il voyait un Roy femme, ou bien un homme Reyne”5 (“Upon seeing him, everyone wondered if it was a male queen or a female king”). Henri had yet to produce an heir with his queen, the “de la royne” of the entertainment, and in fact, he was never to do so. On that night, the power of the king and the power of the enchantress literally faced each other across the hall. She is called woman, sorcière, and fairy, and her interventions are effected by “murmures magiques.” She is a dazzling object, and her captives have lost themselves to her. Her powers and drugs now serve not to effect transformations, for the men are already animals when the ballet begins, but instead to stop the performance. The touch of her staff immobilizes dancers and musicians, and the Homeric drug, moly, is powerless against it. The geometric

1 Homer, The Odyssey, trans. E.V. Rieu (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991). 2 Jean Rousset, La Littérature de l’âge baroque en France. Circé et la paon (Paris: José Corti, 1954). 3 Margaret M. McGowan, “The Spectacle of Power,” in Denis Hollier (ed.), A New History of French Literature (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 243–8. 4 Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx, Le Balet comique de la Royne, facsim. edn. Margaret M. McGowen (Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval & Early Renaissance Studies, 1982). 5 Agrippa d’Aubigné, Les Tragiques (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1968), II, ll. 795–6.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

dance, representation of a society and a politics that cohere and mirror an orderly universe, is undone by Circé.6 Only the goddess Minerva can keep the spectacle on course by countering the Medusa-effect of the witch, and by explaining to us what “Circé” means: to be her captive is to be captive to voluptuousness and pleasure, and “Circé en France aujourduy reste seule à combattre” (“In France today, Circé alone must be fought”). In the king and Circé, one image of voluptuousness and pleasure confronts another across the hall. The contest between the epic witch and the made-up son of Catherine de Medicis, the witch-queen queen mother, is really no contest, however, and in the end Jupiter strikes Circé with lightning, Minerva takes Circé’s magic staff, and she presents both it and the defeated Circé to the king. Circé sits down at his feet, and all the performers dance a grand geometrical ballet of the order of the universe restored. The dance is not quite the end, though. A medal presentation ceremony ensues, the Queen first giving the king a medal on which a dolphin was pictured. This was not difficult to read, as the word for the heir to the throne in French, dauphin, also signified the sea creature, “dolphin.” And indeed, “lors chacun print pour augure assuré de celuy que Dieu leur donnera pour le bon-heur de ce royaume” (“Everyone took [this dolphin] to be a sure omen of [the dauphin] that God would give them for the happiness of the kingdom”). When all the Naiades had finished giving medals of sea creatures to various gentlemen of the court (for Naiades are water nymphs), and the four Dryades had distributed medals of forest creatures (for Dryades are wood nymphs), there were, however, still two ladies left to make their presentations: those playing Minerva and Circé. Minerva, the only goddess who could defeat Circé, gives her medal, an image of Apollo, to the queen mother, a clear indication of who, exactly, is expected to defeat the forces of pleasure and voluptuousness in France. The great and glittering Circé then gives something very special to the Cardinal de Bourbon. Charles de Bourbon at this point in history is an inoffensive and untroublesome prelate. As a Catholic Bourbon, however, his claim to inherit the throne upon the death of the childless Henri III will later be seized upon by Henri de Guise and the Catholic League, and at 61 years of age, in 1584, he will be recognized by the League as Charles X, the successor to the throne of France.7 Circé’s gift to him is a medal of a book, open to a double-page spread, on which we can see quasigeometrical marks, circles, a hexagon, acute and right angles, and the odd scribble (see Figure 1.1). The accompanying motto is “Fatorum arcana resignat.” The verb “resigno –are” means “to loosen or open,”8 so this phrase translates as “It opens the secrets of the fates.” But a further clue to what this book might signify is provided by

6 Mark Franco, Dance as Text: Ideologies of the Baroque Body (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 63. 7 Mack P. Holt, The Duke of Anjou and the Politique Struggle during the Wars of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 205–12; Michel Pernot, Les Guerres de Religion en France 1559–1598 (Paris: Sedes, 1987), pp. 52, 85, n. 9. 8 “Resigno –are,” Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), def. 1b.

Glamour and its Discontents

Figure 1.1


“Fatorum arcana resignat,” Baltasar de Beaujoyeulx, Balet comique de la Royne, faict aux nopces de Monsieur le Duc de Joyeuse & madamoyselle de Vaudemont sa soeur. Paris: Adrien Le Roy, Robert Ballard, and Mamert Patisson, 1582

a slightly different emphasis permitted by the verb, “resigno,” which can also mean “to remove the binding force.”9 The sixteenth century shared the conceptual categories of binding and loosing and their connection with magic with ancient Mediterranean culture, which had, as John Gager has put it, “a dark little secret.”10 These were the defixiones or katadesmoi, “curse tablets.” Written primarily on lead, and usually containing a verb of binding, they sought to inflict harm or death, defeat in war or athletic competitions, mental suffering, involuntary celibacy, and general lack of success upon whomever was named. The writing on them frequently included nonstandard forms of speech such as the so-called voces mysticae, words not recognizable as belonging to any language commonly used as the time, triangles, squares, “wings,” and other geometric shapes made up of letters, and signs and symbols known as charaktêres. The curse tablets were widespread, probably “worked” in some sense, cut across all social classes, and 9 “Resigno –are,” ibid., def. 1. 10 John Gager (ed.), Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 3.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

were used during a continuous history of more than twelve hundred years, from about the fourth century BC to the eighth century AD. When Jesus tells his followers in Matthew 17:19 that “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” his followers may well have understood a reference to this custom, as Gager has argued.11 The curse of binding persisted in sixteenth-century France in the widespread custom of the “nouements d’aiguillettes,” thought to be practiced by witches to cause impotence,12 and viewed with notable skepticism by Montaigne.13 And although there seems to have been a renaissance of curse tablets written on lead as well as paper in seventeenth-century England,14 collections of curses in general shifted media in the early modern period, from lead tablets to books.15 In French, these books had been known since the thirteenth century as grimoires, secret books of witchcraft and spells. The word today still refers to obscure language or an illegible scrawl. In its history is grammar: it was an alteration of grammaire, in the sense of “Latin grammar” which, by the thirteenth century, was unintelligible to common people.16 In its future is glamour, for our English-language word is its derivative.17 On the medal given by Circé to the Cardinal de Bourbon, then, was a book of spells, a grimoire, open to a page filled with charaktêres. We don’t know quite why the cardinal was chosen as its recipient, but speculation could start with his clear alignment with the Italianate party at court and in the Church, the association of magic with Italianism, not least in the person of the queen mother, and the likely influence of the composer/organizer of the evening’s entertainment, Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx, a.k.a. Baldassaro de Belgioioso.18 What is clear is that the gift was the image of a book of powerful magic, meant to unlock secrets and counter the magic of binding with its own magic of loosing, unlocking, and opening. That another powerful enchantress, granddaughter of the Sun and barbarian princess, Circé’s niece

11 John Gager, “Curse Tablets and Binding Spells in the Greco-Roman World,” in Amy Wygant (ed.), The Meanings of Magic from the Bible to Buffalo Bill (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2006), pp. 69–87. 12 Henri Gelin, “Les Noueries d’aiguillette en Poitu,” Revue des études rabelaisiennes 8 (1910), pp. 122–33. 13 “Je suis encore de cette opinion, que ces plaisantes liaisons, dequoy nostre monde se voit si entravé, qu’il ne se parle d’autre chose, ce sont volontiers des impressions de l’apprehension et de la crainte” (“I remain of the opinion that these funny bonds, by which our society is so fettered as to speak of nothing else, are usually the effects of apprehension and fear”); Michel de Montaigne, “De la force de l’imagination,” in Pierre Villey (ed.), Les Essais de Montaigne (2 vols., Paris: PUF, 1978), vol. 1, p. 99. 14 Ralph Merrifield, The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic (London: B.T. Batsford, 1987), pp. 147–58. 15 Gager (ed.), Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World, pp. 28–9. 16 “Grimoire,” Oscar Bloch and Walther von Wartburg, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française (7th edn., Paris: PUF, 1986). 17 “Glamour,” Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edn., Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1989). 18 Henry Heller, Anti-Italianism in Sixteenth-Century France (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), pp. 174–5, 183.

Glamour and its Discontents


Medea, was considered to be equally adept in this area is clear from a contemporary image. Medea’s checkered career, which will be much to the point in what follows here, included powerfully magical episodes, and one of them, a very particular kind of metamorphosis, is told is Book 7 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Medea and her fiercely beloved hero, Jason, have returned to Jason’s home, Iolchus, with the Golden Fleece stolen from Medea’s father and with blood on their hands. Medea’s brother Absyrtus had been killed by Medea and his body hacked into pieces that were then strewn about in order that their pursuers would lose time collecting them. Jason’s uncle Pelias has, however, reneged on the deal that they had made. He has refused to relinquish the throne of Iolchis in favor of Jason in return for the Fleece. The subsequent fate of Pelias, at Medea’s hands, is the matter of another grisly episode that turns upon Medea’s ability to restore youth and vigor to the aged. Perhaps it ran in the family: her aunt Circé, we recall, returned Ulysses’ sailors to him younger, taller, and more handsome than before. At any rate, Jason asks Medea to restore his aged father Aeson to the rude good health of vigorous youth, and Medea’s rebirthing, resurrection, or rejuvenation of Aeson – the distinctions are crucial, and will figure again when we begin in Chapter 2 to question Medea’s meaning in sixteenth-century culture – was figured visually as a magic spell. The image accompanying this return to youthfulness of Aeson in Bernard Salomon’s 1557 La Metamorphose d’Ovide figuree (see Figure 1.2)19 had a long and successful career that included subsequent appearances in Italian and German illustrated Ovids, and in the Art des emblèmes of the greatest iconographic historian of seventeenth-century France, Claude-François Menestrier.20 For Medea’s visual images in the context of the history of art, this particular image introduced a paradigm change that would provide a reference for the next century-and-a-half of representations of this theme.21 Here she is young, beautiful, and scantily dressed. She stirs a vat of hot liquid, and gazes down upon the prostrate figure of Aeson, who is nude and limp. There is a square altar surrounded by seven enormous flaming torches. The altar itself is a reference to Ovid’s account, although an inexact one: in Ovid, there are two altars set up by Medea, one to her tutelary goddess Hecate, and the other to Youth. The Salomon image not only merges the two into one, but also shows the altar’s table inscribed with charaktêres, two concentric circles, a crosshairs, and two graphemes that are indistinct. Whatever magic was contained in Circé’s grimoire, then, is here being practiced as well by Medea. Another way to put this would be to say that Medea is casting the glamour, and it would be well now to look into the strange career of this word. A glamour was originally a spell cast by a witch to deceive the eyes. The first meaning of “glamour” in the Oxford English Dictionary is “magic, enchantment, 19 Bernard Salomon, La Metamorphose d’Ovide figuree (Lyons: Ian de Tournes, 1557). 20 Françoise Bardon and Henry Bardon, “Médée rajeunissant Éson,” in Jacqueline Bibauw (ed.), Homages à Marcel Renard (Brussels: Latomus, 1969), pp. 83–93. 21 Ekaterini Kepetzis, Medea in der Bildenden Kunst vom Mittlealter zur Neuzeit. “So im Herzen bedrängt erglühte verderblicke Liebe” (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1997), pp. 119–41.


Figure 1.2

Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

“Médée rajeunit Eson,” Bernard Salomon, La Metamorphose d’Ovide figuree, 1557

spell, esp. in the phrase to cast the glamour over one.”22 In German, its first meaning is still “der Zauber; das Blendwerk” (“magic; a blinding, dazzling, or deceiving”).23 The word was originally Scottish. Like grimoire, it was a corrupt form of “grammar” or “grammarye,” meaning learning in general and occult learning in particular. Its early references come from Robert Burns, who claimed in a 1789 poem that the rotund Francis Grose the antiquarian would out-conjure “Ye gipsy-gang that deal in glamour, / And you, deep-read in hell’s black grammar, / Warlocks and Witches,”24 and from Walter Scott’s 1805 “Lay of the Last Minstrel”:

22 “Glamour,” Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1989). 23 “Glamour,” Cassell’s German–English, English–German Dictionary (New York: Macmillan, 1978). 24 Robert Burns, “On the late Captain Grose’s peregrinations thro’ Scotland, collecting the antiquities of that kingdom,” The Complete Illustrated Poems, Songs & Ballads of Robert Burns (London: Lomond Books, 1990), pp. 230–32 (p. 230).

Glamour and its Discontents


It had much of glamour might, Could make a ladye seem a knight; The cobwebs on a dungeon wall Seem tapestry in lordly hall; A nut-shell seem a gilded barge, And sheeling seem a palace large, And youth seem age, and age seem youth – All was delusion, nought was truth.25 When the notorious late fifteenth-century witch-hunting manual the Malleus maleficarum came to be translated into English by Montague Summers in 1928, “glamour” suggested itself as a gloss on the original’s “prestigia,” defined in part I, question 9, “Whether Witches may work some Prestidigitatory Illusions so that the Male Organ appears to be entirely removed and separate from the Body”: A glamour is nothing but a certain delusion of the senses, and especially of the eyes. And for this reason it is also called a prestige, from prestringo, since the sight of the eyes is so fettered that things seem to be other than they are. […] The devil can cast a glamour over the senses of a man. Wherefore there is no difficulty in his concealing the virile member by some prestige or glamour.26

A “glamour,” then, was a witch’s weapon, a way of altering the true appearance of things, ontologically on the side of seeming, the alteration of nature, counterfeiters, and cosmetics. In England, there was a rancorous debate over women’s use of cosmetics, called not “makeup,” which seems to have come into use in the second half of the nineteenth century, but rather “paint,” and the anti-cosmetics treatises aligned facepainting with witchcraft and general ungodliness. A 1616 treatise by Thomas Tuke was “Against Painting and Tincturing of Women. Wherein the abominable sinnes of Murther and Poysening, Pride and Ambition, Adultery and Witchcraft are set foorth & discovered. Whereunto is added the Picture of a Picture, or, the Character of a Painted Woman.”27 Face-painting, it was argued, lead to prostitution, which was the cause of all of England’s ills, including the plague. This was its history-bound 25 Walter Scott, Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott (London: Macmillan, 1878), p. 24. 26 Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger [sic], The Malleus maleficarum, ed. and trans. Montague Summers (New York: Dover, 1971), pp. 59–60; Malleus maleficarum ([Paris]: Jean Petit, [1497]), pp. 136–8. The latest scholarly translation of the Malleus, which secures the now generally accepted thesis that Kramer was its sole author, is a 2000 translation into German from the original Latin. It struggles with the key terms in this passage, offering “Blendwerk,” for “prestigium,” and a selection of terms for “prestringo,” all requiring careful references in notes to the original. Heinrich Kramer (Institoris), Der Hexenhammer. Malleus Maleficarum, trans. Wolfgang Behringer, Günter Jerouschek, and Werner Tschacher, ed. Günter Jerouschek and Wolfgang Behringer (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2000), pp. 270–71. 27 Thomas Tuke, Against Painting and Tincturing of Women. Wherein the abominable sinnes of Murther and Poysening, Pride and Ambition, Adultery and Witchcraft are set foorth & discovered. Whereunto is added the Picture of a Picture, or, the Character of a Painted Woman (London: Edward Marchant, 1616).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

danger, one from which we can now feel a happy distance, one at which we can look with a curious eye. But there was another, trans-historical danger of face-painting. It posed the possibility that a woman or man could take identity into her or his own hands, redefine the God-given order of the cosmos, transform and re-fashion the self. The self-transforming face painter blurred the boundary between creature and creator.28 Tuke claims that “she is a creature, that had need to be twice defined, for though shee bee the creature of God, as she is a woman, yet she is her owne creatrisse, as a picture” (p. 57). A reference to the witch-hunt that resulted from this uneasiness comes from as late as 1916. Richard Le Gallienne, writing in McClure’s Magazine and referring to “a friend” who refused to date a woman who used face powder, allowed that: I suppose that there are other human anachronisms like my friend still existing here and there, survivals from the days of the thumb-screw and the ducking-stool, but they must be very lonely, and I hardly know where they would look for wives. […] The innocence of the powder-puff has been discovered.29

Here, then, and not so long ago, makeup was still a matter of guilt or innocence, drowning and torture. In France, women’s painting was aligned with painting in general, and fell under the same condemnation as did painterly color in the debate over the use of line and color that consumed the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in the late seventeenth century. That is, color was opposed to the primacy of the idea, which was expressed by drawing. Color was that part of painting that seduced from afar and produced an unstable pleasure that did not last. Up close, the illusion produced by color is destroyed and the real existence of the paint is revealed as matter itself. It was this matter, the body of the canvas or the woman, that was mistrusted, part of a general suspicion that condemned everything that appeared unstable, changeable, or transitory.30 In the century’s earliest dictionary, Cotgrave’s Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, the general suspicion of face painting, said to have been introduced into France in the sixteenth century by the reputed witch and poisoner Catherine de Medicis, was already fully deployed: Farder: To paint, colour, disguise, tricke up, set out with false beauties, to polish with a borrowed luster, to use pretences, to deceive the eares, or bleare the eyes with faire but counterfeit matters. De toute femme qui se farde donne toy soigneusement garde: Pro. Take heed of any woman that doth paint.31

28 Frances E. Dolen, “‘Taking the Pencil out of God’s Hand’: Art, Nature, and the FacePainting Debate in Early Modern England,” PMLA 108 (1993), pp. 224–39. 29 Richard Le Gallienne, “On the Use and Abuse of Complexions,” McClure’s Magazine (September 1916), p. 31. 30 Jacqueline Lichtenstein, La couleur éloquente (Paris: Flammarion: 1989); idem, “Making Up Representation: The Risks of Femininity,” Representations 20 (1987), pp. 77–87. 31 Randal Cotgrave, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, 1611 (Menston: Scolar Press, 1968).

Glamour and its Discontents


Furetière’s dictionary, while defining cosmetique as a matter for medical doctors (“terme, dont les Medecins se servent en parlant des remedes & des fards qui servent à l’embellissement du visage, & à entretenir le teint frais”; “term used by doctors for treatments and colorings that improve the appearance of the face and keep the complexion fresh”), warns under the entry for farder that “les femmes qui se fardent deviennent ridées avant le temps”32 (“women who use face paint get premature wrinkles”). So much for this first, archaic, definition of “glamour”: the attempt to deceive the eyes with paint or potions participated in an ancient fear of female power, and reflected the need for the face to reveal true identity and to disclose in an unproblematic way true thought and feeling. Hence the Scott poem’s anxiety that the glamour could “make a ladye seem a knight” and tamper with the aging process, making “youth seem age and age seem youth.” Clearly, in the OED’s second definition of “glamour,” “a magical or fictitious beauty attaching to any person or object,” an entire esthetics, since this is now about beauty and no longer explicitly about the devil, resides in the “magical or fictitious.” “Or” is the locus of anxious indecision, as well as an historical pivot or turning point between glamour’s witchcraft and its fictions. The meaning of “glamour” with which we will be most familiar, “charm, attractiveness, physical allure, esp. feminine beauty,” is documented by the OED only from the 1930s, and this move from glamour’s being something that women do to being something that women have coincided with an historic transformation in feminine appearance, and participated in a larger cultural contest over women’s identity. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, makeup had begun to move from the stage into everyday life, and the admiration for actresses and professional beauties had begun to provide a standard for female appearance. But the rise of the mass-market cosmetics industry in the 1920s, led by US corporations such as Maybelline and Revlon, as well as, crucially, the consolidation of the Hollywood film industry into four large and efficient factories, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, Fox, and Warner Brothers, provided a new platform for glamour’s invasion of our perceptions. On the one hand, the golden age of Hollywood cinema purveyed an unexamined notion of the glamorous. One credulous publication, which is mainly about dresses, Those Glorious Glamour Years: Classic Hollywood Costume Design of the 1930s, begins breathlessly: “Of all the words associated with Hollywood, the one most often used to conjure its unique image is the magic term ‘glamour.’”33 “In the Thirties glamour was the core adjective to any feminine star’s aura,” it further observes, and, indeed, “glamour” seems to have been one of the buzz words of the decade.34 But on the other hand, glamour was a commodity. The big Hollywood studios were “glamour factories,” production-line, profit-making concerns whose product

32 Antoine Furetière, Dictionnaire universel (La Haye: Husson et al., 1727). 33 Margaret J. Bailey, Those Glorious Glamour Years: Classic Hollywood Costume Design of the 1930s (London: Columbus, 1982), p. 7. 34 Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998), p. 151.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

was motion pictures and glamour.35 This business-like system made Hollywood into the glamour capital of the world, and an MGM screenwriter was able to observe that, “When Metro did a short with Joan Crawford dragging a fifteen- or twentythousand-dollar mink coat along the ground, every woman in the audience thought, ‘Boy, would I like to do that! That’s the way to live.’ Glamour’s what the movies sold, that was their business.”36 On the ground in Hollywood, this quality of glamour seems indeed to have had much to do with attire, dresses, and “dressing up.” But it was also, as the screenwriter observed, a “way to live.” The social scene was described by Englishwoman Pamela Mason as: “There were parties every night, and everybody dressed up and it was very glamorous.”37 But one of the ways in which the women in the audiences for Hollywood films appropriated the quality of glamour for themselves was through the use of makeup. The film stars purveyed a painted look that had formerly been associated with prostitutes, and Hollywood makeup technicians such as Max Factor eventually sold products originally formulated for the film studio employees, such as Pan-Cake makeup, introduced in 1938, nationwide. Magazines for middle-class women, as well as movie and romance magazines aimed at working-class and young women, exploited the links between motion pictures and cosmetics with beauty hints columns and advertising featuring screen stars. A full-page advertisement in Vogue in the 1930s suggested that “The difference between your lips and those of the glamorous cinema star is that you use a blunt lipstick while she uses a lipbrush,” and promised that the Cinema Sable lip brush would “draw real cinema lips on you with all the deftness of a Hollywood make-up man, so that your lips will appear as perfect and as beautiful as those you see on the screen.”38 Capping a decade of women’s being hammered by this kind of aspirational glamour, Glamour Magazine was launched on 7 March 1939. The self-fashioning of personal identity, trigger for centuries of fulminations, condemnations, and indeed executions, was now glamour’s gift and indeed imperative to ordinary women, and makeup promised personal transformation. Vogue in 1933 described the scenario: “Beauty today [...] is no longer left to fate. It is born more often than not in the mind of a homely little girl looking in the mirror at herself for the first time seriously, gritting her teeth, and making up her mind that she is going to launch a thousand ships as well as Helen.”39 Crucially, makeup now was a thought process and a moral issue, a matter of courage and determination, the gritting of teeth: Vogue’s “little girl” makes up firstly her mind, and only secondly her face. And equally crucially, the cosmetic remains a matter of taking on and defeating fate, just as had Circé’s grimoire.

35 Ronald L. Davis, The Glamour Factory: Inside Hollywood’s Big Studio System (Dallas, TX: Southern Methodist University Press: 1993). 36 Ibid., p. 368. 37 Ibid., p. 328. 38 Richard Corson, Fashions in Makeup from Ancient to Modern Times (London: Peter Owen, 1972), p. 516. 39 Ibid., p. 508.

Glamour and its Discontents


By the 1940s, this courage of the ordinary woman to change herself through the use of makeup would become a US national strategic concern, as journalists worried that a “national glamour shortage would seriously lower national morale.”40 “The nation can hardly afford to have Johnny come marching home on leave to find his girl friend looking and feeling like somebody in the low phase of manic depression.”41 Lipstick was worn as a badge of courage, and an advertisement in a 1943 Ladies’ Home Journal claimed that “[Lipstick] symbolizes one of the reasons why we are fighting.”42 As for the sex wars, advertising in the 1920s and 1930s had advocated the use of makeup as a means of getting and keeping a husband, and so participated in a long-standing cultural attempt to control women’s sexuality through the promotion of heterosexual romance and marriage. It was historically ironic, for the acquisition of a husband through the use of the arts of cosmetics and makeup had long been a matter of intense suspicion, and indeed of legislation. In the late eighteenth century, the English Parliament passed a law that All women, of whatever age, rank, profession or degree, whether virgins, maids, or widows, that shall from and after this act impose upon, seduce or betray into matrimony any of His Majesty’s subjects by the use of scents, paints, cosmetics, washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes, or bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanors, and that the marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.43

Further, there is some indication that women themselves, no matter what the advertising media might have been urging upon them, used makeup and cosmetics as part of acts of female sociability, and not as a strategy to inspire male desire. The beauty industry in the US had been founded by women, and had been successful in its early days because women sold products to each other through such methods as door-to-door selling, the traditional retail trade having proved hostile to them. As late as the 1990s in the UK, Anita Roddick, who founded The Body Shop in 1976, claimed that “we want to spark conversations with our customers, not browbeat them to buy.”44 The retreat from the sex wars into a female language of beauty, however, was appropriated and recuperated for heterosexual norms by an influential Revlon advertising campaign in the early 1950s. “Glamor” was the name both for the campaign’s appeal, and for the prize in a contest in which all the contestants were women. Revlon’s “Fire and Ice” campaign in 1952 was a spectacular advertising and media success.45 Its powerful image was of a beautiful black-haired, blue-eyed 40 J.C. Furnas, “Glamour Goes to War,” Saturday Evening Post (29 November 1941), pp. 18–19. 41 Ibid., p. 19. 42 Peiss, Hope in a Jar, p. 241. 43 Corson, Fashions in Makeup, p. 245. 44 Anita Roddick, Body and Soul: Profits with Principles. The Amazing Success Story of Anita Roddick and The Body Shop (New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1991), p. 25. 45 “It’s the Ad that Sells Cosmetics,” Business Week (13 December 1952), pp. 63–9 (p. 69).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

model, wearing diamond drop earrings, slinky silver sequins, and a billowing puff of a red cape.46 She stares directly out at the reader, and wears lipstick and nail polish meant “for you who love to flirt with fire, who dare to skate upon thin ice.” The fullpage image is accompanied by a “psychological quiz” asking “Are you made for ‘Fire and Ice?’” and headed by a paragraph that wonders: What is the American girl made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice? Not since the days of the Gibson Girl! There’s a new American beauty. [...] Men find her slightly, delightfully baffling. Sometimes a little maddening. Yet they admit that she’s easily the most exciting woman in all the world! She’s the 1952 American beauty, with a foolproof formula for melting a male!

The quiz included 15 questions, personally chosen for their “provocative” nature by Martin Revson, Revlon’s vice-president in charge of sales, from a list drawn up by Revlon’s advertising agency.47 “Have you ever danced with your shoes off?” “Do you secretly hope that the next man you meet will be a psychiatrist?” “Would you streak your hair with platinum without consulting your husband?” If the reader “honestly” answered at least eight of the questions affirmatively, according to the concluding copy, then she was “made of ‘Fire and Ice,’” “a daring projection of your own hidden personality!” The moment defined by this image and text is called by the historian of beauty culture in the US one of “pure glamour,”48 and at the time, Business Week called this one of the most effective advertising campaigns in cosmetics history, combining “dignity, class, and glamor.”49 Moreover, the inspiration behind the campaign had been the Revlon creative team’s suspicion that US women were ready for a change, tired not only of the constricting fashions of Dior’s New Look, but also of the incursions of “the ‘other woman.’” “In this case, however, the other women were the European glamor girls. Brought to the U.S. by the boatload for movies, plays and nightclubs, they had even begun to usurp the spotlight on the social scene.”50 This sense that US women were engaged in a battle with Europeans arriving “by the boatload” laden with glamour explains the ad’s otherwise puzzling insistence on US supremacy and its cheerleader-like tone. A postwar war was being fought, not for territory or resources, but rather for glamour, something not “nice,” but rather baffling, maddening, hidden, and fundamentally psychological, “a daring projection of your own hidden personality!” “Glamour,” seemingly, had thus become the name of a general poetics of appearance. “Pure glamour” was a way of being, no longer a technique, strategy, or product. This is a new, we might say democratic, form of its magic, generally broadcast, suffusing appearances, defined anecdotally not systematically, but nevertheless governing its domain just as surely as did the old magic of the witch’s 46 “Are you made for ‘Fire and Ice?’” Advertisement, Mademoiselle (November 1952), pp. 26–7 (p. 27). 47 “It’s the Ad that Sells Cosmetics,” p. 66. 48 Peiss, Hope in a Jar, p. 251. 49 “It’s the Ad that Sells Cosmetics,” p. 63. 50 Ibid., p. 65.

Glamour and its Discontents


glamour. And it continues to do so today, as we can observe in a latter-day “Fire and Ice” image from the mass-market media. The model sits in an exotic wicker chair (in fact, the setting is the Abbey Road Pub in London), looking out at the beholder with narrowed eyes (see Figure 1.3).51 Her legs are crossed, signifying what that usually signifies: Ice. She is wearing a red dress and a red necklace; she has red hair and red lips. Her hat is an anti-halo: a round, white circle balanced and floating on her mop of curly hair, not secured to her head. It has one erect feather and is shadowed by a non-functional black net veil, remnant of a different esthetic. This anti-angel wears gold high-heeled shoes and is seated on a gold cushion. She is lit from behind, by means of an intensely bright light that shines out at the beholder from just underneath her seat. She is sitting on the Sun: Fire. The copy accompanying this icon asks, “How to do effortless glamour?” and then proceeds to describe the effort involved: “Deck yourself out in a silk dress, a pair of gold heels and a divine hat. Then sit in a chair in the corner and pretend you haven’t noticed that everyone’s staring at you.” Like the glamour of the early modern witch, then, this is glamour that the woman “does,” not a quality that she has. That she is “decked out” means in the first place that she is covered, “adorned with finery,” or, as Cotgrave would have had it, “tricked up, set out with false beauties.” Also, the woman “decked out” is a ship, a vessel of hope and dreams vulnerable to reef and weather, and so ontologically on the side of changeability and fickle fate. She has appropriated sacred signifiers for her own use: her hat is precisely “divine,” and some alchemist has, through dint of sacrifice and virtue, changed her shoes to gold. Acting the part of glamour, she has chosen her setting, “a chair in the corner,” in which she can “pretend.” This is not magic: her bits and bobs cost a grand total of £987, and the accompanying small print gives numbers that we can phone to acquire them. And it is not effortless. Or is it? What the woman has done seems greater than the sum of her efforts. That is, like the witch, she has somehow, by some mysterious tele-means not reducible to £987 of attire, exerted power over the eyes: “everyone’s staring at you.” She has transfigured space, changing her seat in “a corner” into the center of attention, the object of the collective gaze. As the Malleus maleficarum defined it: “The sight of the eyes is so fettered that things seem to be other than they are.” This is not necessarily about a heterosexual conquest. The woman has fettered the eyes not just of men, but of “everyone.” “Don’t stare! It’s impolite!” She negates the training of civility, and reduces us to children, indeed to brutes. Ruminants, welcome to the palace of Circé, welcome to the land of Medea, welcome to your local pub, where, along with “everywhere” else, appearance is now fashioned along the lines of a power that is truly and correctly, if indefinably, called “magical.” A glance at any dictionary will show how the word “magic” is usually defined. There you will see that it means something approximating “the attempt to influence events (this, from the more disbelieving of definers; for others, it is “the art of influencing”) or act upon objects in a way that seems unnatural and counter-intuitive,

51 “A Good Look,” Sunday Times, Style (15 August 2004), p. 3.


Figure 1.3

Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

“A Good Look,” Sunday Times, Style, 15 August 2004

Glamour and its Discontents



and that calls upon the aid of superhuman spirits.” But the nature of magic, I would say, is to be powerful precisely because it eludes and exceeds definition. In our own time, it seems that an all-pervasive and undefined recourse to the notion of magic has invaded mass-market media. Without needing to bother with definitions, indeed while itself becoming a definition of the most unlikely objects and activities, “magic” has become a central paradigm in our speaking, writing, and thinking, our representations of ourselves and our souls, our ways of acquiring knowledge, the process of creation, and our connection with the universe. Magic has become a hermeneutic tool and provides, in all of its powerful, hieratic indefinability a general model of interpretation. A quick trawl through a Sunday newspaper could find “a central pit where you can watch the chefs prestidigitate” in a restaurant review,53 a lament for the lost “magic touch” of multimillionaire composer Andrew Lloyd Webber,54 and a claim that author Cornelia Funke leads “a life as magical as her children’s bestsellers.”55 The travel section will generally include at least one description of a “magical” mass-market tourism destination (actual fairy sightings optional), and the home interiors pages may well promote “magical” lighting that you can purchase at Walmart. At one point in the history of slang, my undergraduate students actually responded with the single word, “magic,” when they wanted to indicate their general assent to some idea or suggestion. Around that time, I felt I could claim that “Ours Is a Magical Age.”56 The cosmos, it seems, has been generally enchanted. Far from allowing us to define magic, however, this general enchantment seems to have produced an historical moment at which magic defines us. We could certainly ask, nevertheless, why it is the case that magic seems to be everywhere. As a paradigm for interpretation, it is by no means obvious, and is certainly not timeless. The tremendously influential historian of magic J.G. Frazer declared that the Age of Magic had long ago been succeeded by the Age of Religion on the way to the Age of Science.57 Did Jacqueline Lichtenstein not claim in La couleur éloquente that pre-Enlightenment Europe saw the world through a different hermeneutic: the grammar, power, and controversies of painting?58 And did magic not die a death in the Enlightenment? Our present acquiescence to the magical has a history, and oddly, that history might best be understood not by defining what we might mean by “magic,” but instead by putting some critical pressure on the “everywhere” that it seems to inhabit. This “everywhere” is the Greek cosmos, which inhabits a semantic field that includes “glamour,” “charisma,” and “makeup,” as 52 “Magic,” Chambers Twentieth-century Dictionary (Edinburgh: Chambers, 1972); “Magic,” Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edn., Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1989). 53 A.A. Gill, “Table Talk: Roka,” Sunday Times, Style (15 August 2004), pp. 46–7. 54 A. Sierz, “Can Lloyd Webber’s Ghostly ‘Woman in White’ Banish the Spectre of his Recent West End Failures?” Sunday Times, Culture (15 August 2004), pp. 6–7 (p. 6). 55 A. Burnside, “A Life as Magical as her Children’s Bestsellers,” Sunday Times, Ecosse (15 August 2004), p. 10. 56 Amy Wygant, “Ours Is a Magical Age,” E-Sharp, , accessed 24 July 2006. 57 J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, abridged R. Fraser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994). 58 Lichtenstein, La couleur éloquente.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

well as cosmetics, and whose members always seek to name a paradoxical situation. That is, cosmos is world, but this cosmos is nothing but ornament, cosmetics, the variable arranging of our bodies as a function of changing fashion in order that they might embellish, decorate, and inspire desire.59 Our makeup is our character, our constitution, the set of qualities that composes us, and yet it is at the same time the paint that conceals rather than elucidates truth. Charisma is not essentially a political quality, yet no politician can be elected without it, nor may any teacher, the magus, actually teach. In a line that runs from cosmos to cosmetics, then, there is in the first place this magic as a general poetics of appearance that we have just been looking into, “glamour.” But when this logic of cosmetics is pushed to the socio-political, there is, secondly, a magic of culture that seeks to ensure that our “everywhere” will be broadcast to everywhere else. At the end of March 2002, the world ostensibly heard from Osama bin Laden for the first time since shortly after the 9/11 atrocities. The communication took the form of an email sent from a server in Karachi to the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds, and it read in part, “then came the New York military expedition to set afire the homes of today’s Hubal, crushing its towers, disgracing its arrogance, undoing its magic, stripping all the banners that marched behind it and proclaiming the beginning of its downfall, God willing” (emphasis added).60 This is a tall order, and it is worth asking what, or again, where the magic that is explicitly evoked here might be. Again, the movies are instructive. Hollywood films from the first half of the twentieth century inspired desire not just among US women for the lips promised by the Cinema Sable lip brush, but also among many other audiences for an entire panoply of objects drawn from US material culture. Those in other countries began attempting to imitate the “way to live” that the images on the screen literally magnified. If certain kitchen appliances, gardening tools, or typewriters were shown in a film, “orders soon began pouring in from Rumania, Bolivia, Tasmania, and from all over the world.”61 The objects on the screen were powerful advertising, and an entire sub-genre of the industry arose: “product placement.” But the objects were also an advertisement for US economic success, and their desirability testified to an undefined power of the commercial imagination, greater than the political. This power itself, although complicated and open to the same kind of analysis as is that of the glamour of appearance, was nothing new. Sara Melzer has elaborated its attraction in the context of the France’s colonizing project in the New World.62 And it was operative, for example, in the French formal garden in the seventeenth century. Chandra Mukerji has pointed out in Territorial Ambitions and the Gardens

59 Vasilis Papageorgiou, Euripides’ Medea and Cosmetics (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1986). 60 , accessed 28 March 2002. 61 Davis, The Glamour Factory, p. 6. 62 Sara Melzer, “The Magic of French Culture: Transforming ‘Savages’ into French Catholics in Seventeenth-century France,” in Amy Wygant (ed.), The Meanings of Magic from the Bible to Buffalo Bill (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2006), pp. 136–60.

Glamour and its Discontents


of Versailles that there is nothing necessarily obvious about a nation’s being defined by the geographical territory it occupies.63 Before the early modern period, an empire was known by its linking of centers of power, not its domination of an area. The new territorial state of early modernity was the first to be defined by its boundaries, and it was only then that cartographers were first commissioned to make images of states and estates. The formal garden was a microcosm of this new configuration of earth-based rather than heaven-based power, a showcase for the manufactured products, engineering and military prowess, habits of dress and social choreography, comportment, and above all, domination of the land that its periphery encompassed. In this respect, the formal garden was the Hollywood movie of its day: it signaled what others were required to understand about the political unit that had produced it. In the case of “France,” the garden meant to show that “France” was a location, and also to signal that any ambiguity about its boundaries would be regarded as an excuse to go to war. The Hollywood movie, however, was not about territorial boundaries, but about non-locatable cultural ones whose one goal was to undo and scatter themselves. Easily exportable, aggressively marketed, it held out the scintillating possibility that all “outsiders” could become “insiders” if only they could acquire the right props. And its major unexamined assumption was that its audiences would want to become “insiders” and live within a valence that the French call “sweetness of life,” and that the Hollywood scriptwriter called “the way to live.” The movies believed and traded, that is, in their own cultural magic. Historically, it is no accident that the major cinema-specific resistance to this unexamined magical attractiveness came from the place where cultural magic seems to have been invented and has been most beautifully and tellingly analyzed (I think of Roland Barthes): France. Under these conditions, what constitutes resistance in general, and what is an excuse to go to war if territorial boundaries have ceased to be the point? Some think that cultural magic can and should be undone. Others think that cultural magic, like the magic of appearance, can and should be democratized, and that accusations of cultural witchcraft, like accusations of witchcraft as such, belong to a dark ages of the mind best consigned to the past. It is not long before the word “magic” crops up in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. Freud had sent a copy of his thoughts on the origin of religious systems, published in 1927 as The Future of an Illusion, to his long-time correspondent the Nobel-prize-winning French author Romain Rolland, and Rolland had responded with a note saying that it was really a pity that Freud had not understood the true source of religious feeling. That feeling, according to Rolland, was not to be located, as Freud had argued, in the child’s need for the protection of the father against external forces, but rather in a peculiar, constantly present feeling, common, Rolland assumed, in millions of people. “It is a feeling that he would like to call a sensation

63 Chandra Mukerji, Territorial Ambitions and the Gardens of Versailles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

of ‘eternity,’ a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded – as it were, ‘oceanic.’”64 Freud, heavily invested in his claim about the paternal source of religion, which he had elaborated not only in The Future of Illusion, but also much earlier in Totem and Taboo, responded that he had never experienced this oceanic feeling himself, and found it difficult to deal scientifically with feelings. He aligns magic with his friend Rolland’s position: Rolland is the author, Freud points out, of a poem praising “the magic of illusion.”65 In this little book, then, which will go on to describe the discontent with which we all must live, having been forced by civilization to renounce our instinctual drives, the first discontent is this one: Freud’s own unhappiness, discomfort, uneasiness, and disquiet over an entire series of “unscientific” notions associated with feelings, magic, and illusion. Part of this discontent must surely have been that Freud perceived himself as having no magic, no personal charm or charisma that would have eased his difficulties in life. During his long engagement, he wrote to his fiancée Martha: “I consider it a great misfortune that Nature has not granted me that indefinite something which attracts people. I believe it is this lack more than any other which has deprived me of a rosy existence.”66 But some of his discontent here must also stem from his refusal to look into the old and murky place where the oceanic feeling might arise. In the face of the powerful need for the father occasioned by the infant’s helplessness, Freud claims, “the part played by the oceanic feeling, which might seek something like the restoration of limitless narcissism, is ousted from a place in the foreground” (“vom Vordergrund abgedrängt”).67 The clear outlines of the origin of religious feeling can be traced back as far as the feeling of helplessness. However, “there may be something further behind that, but for the present it is wrapped in obscurity” (“aber das verhüllt einstweilen der Nebel”).68 With this, Freud abandons any attempt to analyze the deepest sources of religious feeling and everything that he has placed on its side, illusion, the oceanic feeling, and magic. The need for religion arrives in the infant’s life as the full-blown monotheism of a male father-god, a function of the triangular Oedipal scenario, and at a moment when the castration complex has already instilled in the male child the beginnings of the superego, which guarantees the reign of law, symbolism, and the social order. “Further behind that,” to primary narcissism and the auto-erotic mother–child dyad, is a place wrapped in fog. But oddly, that place was precisely one that was, during the period of the writing of Civilization and its Discontents, undergoing wide-ranging and transformative investigations, both by Freud himself and by his associates in London. In 1925, Freud had crystallized his thoughts on the pre-Oedipal psychic life of girls in a short paper 64 Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York and London: Norton, 1961), p. 11. 65 Ibid., p. 12. 66 Sigmund Freud, Letters of Sigmund Freud, 1873–1939, ed. Ernst L. Freud, trans. Tania and James Stern (New York: Dover, 1992), p. 199. 67 Freud, Civilization, p. 19. 68 Ibid.

Glamour and its Discontents


that was to become infamous for its discussion of “penis envy,” but that nevertheless claimed that, for girls, the installation of the super-ego is a relatively long and fragile process. What, then, of the girl’s need for protection? To whom or to what does she look if her superego is not robustly father-attached?69 In London, Melanie Klein and Ernest Jones claimed that there is a primary, feminine phase for both sexes. The work of Klein, in particular, refocused the understanding of the infant’s inner world almost exclusively on the relation to the mother. The dissemination of Klein’s ideas in popular psychology could be said to have toppled the father and promoted maternal relationships and images, the breast, childbirth, and separation, as primary concerns both in analytic practice and in everyday life.70 Thus, the “restoration of limitless narcissism” posited by Freud and just as quickly removed from the foreground of the question seems, in the wake of Freud, to have become general. It precisely means a fantasy of return to the mother, return to a moment when the child’s body and the mother’s are one, and when there is no knowledge of the act or the actors that created the child. This is not the place to decide where religion arises in the history of the mind of a child or in history as such, although it can be noted at least that this question much occupied Julia Kristeva in a series of investigations in psychoanalysis and history.71 But it does seem, however, that on the side of magic, illusion, and the ocean, this series of images and concepts under which the discontented author of Civilization and its Discontents drew a line, is arguably not just the mother, but also the narcissist-child who loves her. “Ô que ma quille éclate! Ô que j’aille à la mer!”72 What follows here, then, will be an investigation of magic, an investigation of the long reception history of Medea, and an investigation of our modernity. Too many “m’s,” perhaps, for the purposes of a strictly rational hygiene. But there might be just enough poetry in it, on the other hand, to lead us to the mother, la mer, la mère, and, fatally, la chimère.

69 Sigmund Freud, “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (24 vols., London: The Hogarth Press, 1953–74), vol. 19, pp. 241–58. 70 Lisa Appignanesi and John Forrester, Freud’s Women (London: Virago, 1993), pp. 430–54. 71 Julia Kristeva, Histoires d’amour (Paris: Denoël, 1983). 72 Arthur Rimbaud, “Le bateau ivre,” Poésies complètes (Paris: Poche, 1984), pp. 88–91 (p. 90).

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Chapter 2

Medean Renaissance Thoroughly Modern Medea In The Medieval Medea, Ruth Morse showed the tensions that developed when the antique Medea was taken up after antiquity had ended. Reactions to harm, she argued, and reactions to reactions to harm, changed when the antique heroic code, “Hurt your enemies; help your friends,” was challenged by the injunction to love thy neighbor and to turn the other cheek. The literary treatment of the historical examples of Jason and Medea led to shifts in notions of gendered behavior and of the split between reason and emotion, and there developed the problem of Medea’s end, with Christine de Pizan’s remark in the Livre de la Mutacion de Fortune that Medea’s story ended when she killed not only the children, but also Jason, and, some say, herself.1 Morse’s point is that the story of Medea and Jason was for the Middle Ages a secular tale of history, not a myth, and because the medieval notion of the cycle of human ambition and the buffetings of fortune differed from antiquity’s notion of the hero’s fortunes and fall, this story was specifically not tragedy. What medieval writers wrote, Morse argues, was necessarily not tragedy, but rather sorrow, and this necessity arose from their understanding that, with the story of Medea, they were in the presence of secular chronology, not mythical time. The story of Jason and the Argonauts as an historical event has indeed had a certain afterlife well beyond the period that we think of as mainly medieval, and it is only logical to imagine that, if this is history, Medea’s subsequent troubles in Corinth are too. As recently as 1925, Janet Ruth Bacon found it of interest to assert that “in its original form the Argonaut story was a narrative of a real voyage in the Euxine Sea, made by Minyans of Thessaly in the late 14th or early 13th century B.C.”2 In May 1984, a 54-foot Argo, built without nails and patterned on ancient Aegean vessels, was sailed from Volos, ancient Iolcus, to the Phasis river in ancient Colchis, which is today the Rioni. The leader of the voyage was seeking “corroboration” for the Argonautic voyage, and found it not only in the success of the effort, but also in the existence of a ram cult, a bull cult, and a cigarette brand called Golden Fleece along the Rioni.3 But essays in historical documentation have not been the primary concern of those who have taken up the story of Medea in modernity. From the last Medea text whose concerns were arguably within the medieval continuum of histories of 1 Ruth Morse, The Medieval Medea (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1994), p. 101. 2 Janet Ruth Bacon, The Voyage of the Argonauts (London: Methuen, 1925), p. 168. 3 T. Severin, “Jason’s Voyage: In Search of the Golden Fleece,” National Geographic 186 (1985), pp. 407–21 (p. 420).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Medea, Raoul Lefèvre’s Histoire de Jason from about 1460,4 to the translation of Euripides’ Medea by the great Scottish humanist George Buchanan, printed in 1544,5 a certain kind of refocusing occurred. It was tragedy that concerned Buchanan, and it is as a tragedy that Medea appeared to modernity in 1553 in La Médée of Buchanan’s student, Jean Bastier de La Péruse (1529–1554).6 There is always a little satisfaction in claiming that one event or another is inaugural, and it could be argued that the tragedy of La Péruse opened up a set of identifiable concerns that marked out the course of Medea’s images to the present. But an understanding of what kind of statement that would be seems desirable at this point, even if such an understanding is likely to remain partial. This is so because a philosophy of history rests upon the term, “modernity,” and some awareness of its agenda and assumptions might at least serve as a garde-fou in what follows. For the history of ideas, Stephen Toulmin sketched out “the problem about modernity.”7 A number of points for fixing its beginning recommend themselves: Gutenberg’s adoption of movable type, Luther’s rebellion against the Catholic Church, the rise of industry, the American or French revolutions, or even perhaps the rise of “modernism” in the fine arts and literature at the end of the nineteenth century. But Toulmin settles upon the intellectual turn that led to the beginnings of a change in the history of science around 1630 as modernity’s most plausible starting point, and this allows him elegantly to mark out the period, characterized for him by the quest for certainty through rational means and the political dominance of nationstates, through two emblematic assassinations, that of Henri IV in 1610 and that of Kennedy in 1963. In the first half of the seventeenth century, then, something turned around; it turned around quite suddenly by the standards of intellectual history; and it did so in the midst of what were “among the most uncomfortable, and even frantic, years in all European history.”8 In the blink of an eye, philosophy lost interest in transitory practical knowledge – the oral, the particular, the local, and the timely – and took up the quest for permanence in the written, the universal, the general, and the timeless.9 Modernity for Toulmin, then, is born in pain and crisis, and is a reaction not just to war and religious conflict, but also to the tolerance and pluralism, the readiness to live with uncertainty, ambiguity, and differences of opinion, which seemed to have made a hash of things. To tell the story of Medea with Toulmin’s assistance would then be to look for birth pangs around 1630 or so, and to have a 4 Morse, The Medeival Medea, ch. 4, “The Romance of Jason.” 5 George Buchanan, trans. Medea. Hecuba, et Iphigenia in Aulide, Euripidis tragoediae, in latinum tralatae Erasmo Roterodamo interprete. Medea eiusdem, Georgio Buchanano Scoto interprete (Paris: Ex officina Michaëlis Vascosani, 1544). 6 Jean-Bastier de La Péruse, La Médée, ed. J.A. Coleman (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1985). On the tragedy’s date of composition, see p. vi; Médée, in Enea Balmas and Michel Dassonville (eds.), La Tragédie à l’époque d’Henri II et de Charles IX (Florence and Paris: Olschki and PUF, 1985), vol. 1, pp. 121–73; Médée, ed. Marie-Madeleine Fragonard (Mugron: José Freijóo, 1990). 7 Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (New York: Free Press, 1990), pp. 5–44. 8 Ibid., p. 16. 9 Ibid., pp. 30–35.

Medean Renaissance


sense that the sixteenth-century Medea tragedy is a point away from which her story will turn, a kind of pre-history of the story of modern Medea. The notion of “pre-history” evokes Terence Cave’s Pré-histoires, whose subtitle, Textes troublés au seuil de la modernité, might seem at first, for the history of literature, to confirm Toulmin’s judgment by placing sixteenth-century texts at a threshold, a borderline and liminal place, prior to some cut-off event that would then be “modernity.”10 But Cave’s notion of the story of passing time told as history is more delicately counter-intuitive. He seems to locate a modernity that surrounds and hovers and lurks close by his sixteenth-century texts, a modernity that could have gone either way. The great conceptual changes of early modernity appear as such only in hindsight, and they might not be the most interesting frame within which to read. Any text, that is, risked being either a dead end or only a drop in the bucket, and it is perhaps more interesting to read that risk than it is to uncover a first. The threshold is everywhere, all the time, and generally unnoticed, and this hovering sense restores to Cave’s historical reading some of the qualities that modernity itself, as Toulmin claimed, rejected: a tolerance for uncertainty and the plural, and tolerance as such. If Medea’s story is to be told here accompanied by this sense of the ghosts of the future, the inkling that texts influence their predecessors, then her sixteenthcentury history is not embryonic in the sense of a birth that must then necessarily occur. This is instead an embryo that floats in history. The history of the words themselves, “modern” and “modernity,” is suitably unsatisfying, and provides an excellent cautionary tale of reading, for at first glance, the modernity of the sixteenth century seems to have been convinced that it was modern. The question, however, goes to what the status of this conviction might have been. The OED’s meaning, “Of or pertaining to the present and recent times, as distinguished from the remote past,” depends upon a distinction between “this time” and the “remote past.” For the history of art, Panofsky, in a famous and influential essay, pointed to Vasari as a formulator of this distinction: “In Vasari’s terminology, this word no longer denotes a style opposed to the ‘buona maniera greca antica’; it denotes, instead, the ‘buona maniera greca antica’ revived in contradistinction to the ‘buona maniera greca antica’ itself.”11 The notion of the modern as a contradiction and a paradox, an originary revival, is an altogether different matter, however, from its use as a periodizing term. In an opening chapter, Panofsky attempted to sort out the mess involved in calling the sixteenth century a Renaissance, arguing that the Renaissance was correct in believing that it was a renaissance, thus pronouncing upon a debate that had been raging for the forty or fifty years preceding his Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art.12

10 Terence Cave, Pré-histoires. Textes troublés au seuil de la modernité (Geneva: Droz, 1999). 11 Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1960), pp. 34–5. 12 Ibid., pp. 1–14. For the necessary bibliography, see p. 5, n. 1, and Johan Huizinga, “Das Problem der Renaissance,” Wege der Kulturgeschichte (Munich: Drei Masken, 1930), pp. 89–139 (p. 91, n. 1).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Can the consciousness of the “modern,” then, be separated from the practice of a “revival” in Panofsky’s terms, or, in short, of renaissance? Cave was convinced that it could, and claims that “Renaissance” is worth avoiding for its connotations of luminosity and its echoes of the “publicity campaign” undertaken by sixteenthcentury scholars.13 The confusion arises because at least two historical lenses interpose themselves between the texts concerned and us. In the first place, sixteenthcentury scholars seem to have imagined their own practice as involving rebirthing of some sort. Vasari, for example, used la rinascità as a term for the rebirth of art,14 and in France, the naturalist Pierre Belon wrote in 1553 of the “eureuse & desirable renaisance” of “toutes especes de bonnes disciplines.”15 But secondly, the term’s use as a designation of a particular historical field with certain distinguishing characteristics is a product the nineteenth century. The first time that it was used to designate an independent cultural concept linked with modernity was, according to Johan Huizinga, in 1829, in Balzac’s Le Bal de Sceau,16 where it served to characterize the conversation of the overly indulged youngest daughter of the Comte de Fontaine: “Elle raisonnait facilement sur la peinture italienne ou flamande, sur le Moyen Age ou la Renaissance, jugeait à tort et à travers les livres anciens ou nouveaux, et faisait ressortir avec une cruelle grâce d’esprit les défauts d’un ouvrage.”17 (“She held forth glibly on Italian and Flemish painting, on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, issued ill-considered and incorrect pronouncements on books ancient and modern, and brought out the faults of any work with scathing and witty grace.”) Huizinga argued that, while Bayle and Voltaire, for example, certainly used the word to designate events in the history of Italy, its specificity in the eighteenth century was no more than that of “Decline and Fall” or “Beginnings and Early Period,” or other terms having no necessarily specific content.18 Renaissance as a powerful historical tool, one having, among other things, a key signature (C major, according to Huizinga19), was a creation of the nineteenth century. So, despite its undeniable interest in the discussions generated by the publication of Burckhardt’s Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy in 1860,20 that interest is mainly historiographical. Thinking about rebirth for sixteenth-century scholars may have been something like thinking about “retro” in twenty-first century fashion. It is a self-conscious revivalist gesture, a nod to resurrection, a kind of homage to a past that is, generally for good reason, dead and buried. The resurrection will never be exact, no matter how many vintage clothing shops one haunts, and the interest and creativity of the project lies in the gap that renders a strict resurrection impossible. 13 Cave, Pré-histoires, p. 11. 14 Quoted in Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences, p. 31. 15 Pierre Belon, Les Observations de plusieurs singularitez et choses memorables, trouvées en Grece, Asie, Iudée, Egypte, Arabe, & autres pays estranges (Paris: Corrozet, 1553), dedication, unnumbered pages. 16 Huizinga, “Das Problem,” p. 101. 17 Honoré de Balzac, La Maison du Chat-qui-pelote, suivi de Le Bal de Sceaux, La Vendetta, La Bourse (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), p. 105. 18 Huizinga, “Das Problem,” p. 100. 19 Ibid., p. 89. 20 For the necessary bibliography, see Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences, p. 5, n. 4.

Medean Renaissance


We may fervently hope that our allotted span will not be called by our future ghosts “The Retro Age,” and indeed that historical periodization might lose its interest as a tool for thinking and be replaced by something more supple. For it is one thing to acquire a “new” op art dress, but quite another to imagine the dress as an index into an all-embracing cultural stance. And yet something makes us wish to acquire that dress, or to wear our grandmother’s furs, or to take pleasure in Dior blue. That something connects to the past in a particular way, and it may lead on to a future beyond a threshold that is currently there for the few who have eyes to see, but that is as yet imperceptible to most of us. This is the situation of the sixteenth-century Medea tragedy of La Péruse. The argument that antiquity is being born again in it is both absolutely correct and at the same time more tentative, a disservice, perhaps, to reading it in the end. The last thing that this argument should be, at any rate, is encouragement for a kind of genre-evolutionary thinking that, as Lancaster long ago demonstrated, is not only unhelpful, but indeed mistaken.21 His main interest, French classical tragedy, needs to be considered as a function of its own time and place. It did not evolve from the drama of the sixteenth century. The La Péruse Médée is not of retrospective interest only, a mere forerunner of what is really interesting, that is, “modern” French seventeenth-century tragedy; but neither does it represent only a break with the “medieval” past, an inaugural moment that will eventually lead to what is really interesting, that is, French seventeenth-century tragedy.22 Its thresholds are ’round about it, not just fore and aft. Alchemical Medea A good example of the delicacy, the ability to hover, of this threshold is that the tradition of Medea’s figure includes a well-known episode that could indeed be imagined as a renaissance. Taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book VII, the “Rejuvenation of Aeson,” already briefly touched upon here in Chapter 1, was a powerful theme in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century visual art, and was believed to transcribe the struggle of medicine against age, the etymologies of which were believed to be related to the names of Medea and her father-in-law Aeson.23 We have seen one facet of its meaning, with the casting of the glamour by a Medea whose altar was inscribed with the charaktêres of a grimoire. Something of its additional

21 H.C. Lancaster, “The Introduction of the Unities into the French Drama of the Seventeenth Century,” MLN 44 (1929), pp. 207–17. 22 This problem was taken into account in Donald Stone, Jr., French Humanist Tragedy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1974), which declared that “a significant break with the past came in the seventeenth century, not the sixteenth” (p. 1). By 1990, the “Renaissance” had become the title for Gillian Jondorf’s major study of the corpus, French Renaissance Tragedy: The Dramatic Word (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), which discusses Corneille and Racine. 23 Françoise Bardon and Henry Bardon, “Médée rajeunissant Éson,” in Jacqueline Bibauw (ed.), Hommages à Marcel Ranard (Brussels: Latomus, 1969), pp. 83–93 (p. 84, n. 2).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

power may be seen in the painting “Medea and Aeson,” for the Studiolo of Francesco I de’Medici in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence (see Figure 2.1).24 The Studiolo was one of the final projects undertaken by the aging Vasari.25 Originally entered by a single door leading from the private apartments of the Prince, it was a small, windowless room in the style of a Wunderkammer, containing precious medicines, jewels, medals, and cut stones, as well as 34 panel paintings and eight statuettes. The room was reconstructed by Giovanni Poggi and Alfredo Lensi following the discovery in 1908 of a series of six letters written to Vasari from the intellectual adviser to the Medici court, Vincenzo Borghini, setting out the iconographical program of the room. Borghini’s idea was to illustrate “l’ingengo e l’arte” applied to the elements of nature; accordingly, the four walls were to represent the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water, with an upper row of paintings on square panels showing the generic form of the elements, and their technological, industrial and natural aspects, and a lower row of paintings on oval panels showing specific examples of these elements in legend or mythology. Macchietti’s oval Medea and Aeson is today hung on the wall dedicated to the element of fire, and paired with his rectangular Baths of Pozzuoli. This is indeed the medicinal Medea, “raffinata e bella come una Madonna del Parmigianino,”26 stirring the liquid with which she will replace the blood that she will drain from Aeson’s body with, according to Ovid, a withered stick of an olive branch, which has become green and new. In the foreground, as in Ovid, flowers and soft grass spring up where froth from her cauldron has boiled over. The altar upon which the old man’s throat will be slit is dominated by the statues of tripleformed Hecate, and Youth. And if Aeson’s body, apart from its graying beard, looks little in need of rejuvenation in the Macchietti painting, the sign of the problem that Medea’s operation will address is clearer in a related image from the Salting collection of Limoges painted enamels in the Victoria and Albert Museum (see Figure 2.2).27 Here, Aeson’s limpness is openly displayed and forms a clear contrast with the soft body of Youth, holding an erect palm frond. In the image accompanying 24 Studiolo as a term for the room was only generally used after its reconstruction in 1910. With one exception, it is called stanzino or scrittoio in the documents. See Michael Rinehart, “A Document for the Studiolo of Francesco I,” in Mosche Barasch and Lucy Freeman Sandler (eds.), Art the Ape of Nature. Studies in Honor of H.W. Janson (New York and Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Abrams and Prentice-Hall, 1981), p. 279. 25 On the Studiolo, see Rinehart, “A Document;” Scott Schaefer, “Europe and Beyond: On Some Paintings for Francesco’s Studiolo,” in Giancarlo Garfagnini (ed.), Firenze e la Toscana dei Medici nell’Europa del ’500 (3 vols., Florence: Olschki, 1983), vol. 3, pp. 925–38; Scott Schaefer, “The Studiolo of Francesco I dei Medici: A Checklist of the Known Drawings,” Master Drawings 20 (1982), pp. 125–30; Harvey Hamburgh, “Naldini’s Allegory of Dreams in the Studiolo of Francesco de’Medici,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 27 (1996), pp. 679–704; Mario Bucci, Lo Studiolo di Francesco I (Florence: Sadea Editori, 1965); Walter Vitzthum, Lo Studiolo di Francesco a Firenze (Milan: Fratelli Fabri, 1965). 26 Bucci, Lo Studiolo, unnumbered pages. 27 See H.P. Mitchell, “The Limoges Enamels in the Salting Collection,” The Burlington Magazine 20 (1911–12), pp. 77–89 (p. 84, where the image is misidentified as “Medea and Pelias”).

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Figure 2.1


Girolamo Macchietti, “Medea and Aeson,” Studiolo of Francesco I de’Medici, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence


Figure 2.2

Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

“Medea and Pelias” [sic]. Enameled panel

this passage in the 1558 edition of the most famous Italian sixteenth-century version of the Metmorphoses, Ludovico Dolce’s Le Trasformationi, a naked Medea actually straddles the body as she bends to slit Aeson’s throat (see Figure 2.3). The operation will be successful: “Quickly his beard and his hair lost their whiteness, and turned dark once more. The shriveled, neglected look of old age was dispelled and vanished, his pallor disappeared. New flesh filled out his sagging wrinkles, and his limbs grew young and strong. The old king marveled at the change in himself, recalling that this was the Aeson of forty years ago.”28 In France, La Metamorphose d’Ovide figuree of Bernard Salomon includes six images from Medea’s story as told in Ovid’s Book VII, and two of the series focus on Medea’s power to give life again.29 “Medee sorciere” shows Medea kneeling in prayer outside the walls of the city, beneath a crescent moon, one of the aspects of Hecate. Her hands clasped, she prays “aus astres” (“to the stars”) using “certeins mots sorciers lourds, / Mais concernans cette obscure science” (“particular words of heavy sorcery related to this obscure knowledge”). Her prayers answered, in the next image, “Medee rajeunit Eson” (see Figure 1.2), the body of Aeson stretched out in front of the imposing altar is explicitly, according to the accompanying verse, 28 Ovid, The Metamorphoses, trans. Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955), pp. 162–3. 29 Bernard Salomon, La Metamorphose d’Ovide figuree (Lyons: Ian de Tournes, 1557).

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Figure 2.3


“Medea and Aeson,” Ludovico Dolce, Le Trasformationi, 1558

“plein d’impuissance” (“fully impotent”). What happens next in the story, however, brings us to some kind of threshold, for in Ovid there is in fact no mention that Aeson actually dies before Medea rejuvenates him. She slits his throat, drains his blood, and refills his veins with her potion: “Aeson absorbed it, both by mouth and through the wound she had made.” Yet this moment in the text accompanying the Salomon image becomes, “Quand sa vie il termine, / Elle lui rend nouueau sang & jeunesse” (“When his life was ended, she restored youth and new blood to him”). Aeson must die before his Medean renaissance. The text, quite independent here of Ovid, is explicit on this point. What then can be made of this change, this tiny sixteenth-century textual detail that makes explicit what may have been implied, taken for granted, or simply passed over in the antique text? On the one hand, the messy episode of Medea rejuvenating Aeson may be said to be a figure both of sixteenth-century historical awareness and of the dawning prestige of medicine. As for medical practice, by 1630, there appeared in Lyon a treatise of practical and theoretical advice, L’Art de vivre longuement, sous le nom de Médée.30 The treatise offered advice about what to eat, how to exercise and rest, when to sleep and wake, when to engage in sexual activity and excrete waste, and what to do about “perturbations de l’âme”: love, joy, sadness, fear, and anger. Its purpose is “de faire reverdir les aages de l’homme, de mesme que Médée fist rajeuner Aeson, non, comme on dit, par le soulphre, & le Bitume,31 mais par ses utiles enseignemens,

30 P. Jacquelot, L’Art de vivre longuement, sous le nom de Médée, laquelle enseigne les facultez des choses qui sont continuellement en nostre usage, & d’où naissent les maladies (Lyons: Louis Teste-fort, 1630). 31 Pliny’s Natural History 2, 109, describes Medea’s poisons and supposes that there is a Medea-stone: inflammable bitumen; Horace, Epodes, 82, mentions “bitumen atris ignibus,” and in the tragedy of Hosidius Geta, Medea herself speaks of “nigrum bitumen” (v. 378). See André Arcellaschi, Médée dans le théâtre latin d’Ennius à Sénèque (Rome: École française de Rome, 1990), p. 430.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

& par la moderation de son regime”32 (“to revivify men of all ages, just as Medea rejuvenated Aeson, not with sulphur and bitumen, as the story goes, but with this useful advice, and a moderate life style”). Medea presides over this treatise as an extended metaphor, and reference is made not just to the Aeson episode, but to the Argonautic expedition as well, in the dedication to Charles de l’Orme, “counseiller du Roy et premier Medecin de Monsieur”: “Si elle [la Médée] n’a autant de charmes, au moins a-elle autant de passion en vostre endroict, que l’ancienne Colchide envers son Argonaute, & espere heureuse la conqueste de sa toison, qui est la conservation de la santé humain”33 (“If this book isn’t exactly as charming as Medea, it is just as passionate about you as was Medea about her Jason, and she is most hopeful that her fleece, which is the preservation of health, will be won”). There is, then, a Medean model of health and wellbeing that has everything to do with the rejuvenation of Aeson. Her infanticide seems completely beside the point, and the ghosts of her future read her as a figure of a nascent medical science. Equally, but in a much more complicated way, the body of Aeson as the body of antiquity, and its rebirth under Medean auspices seems to have little to do with her career as a child murderess, and this returns us to the problem of renaissance and of the Renaissance. I have pointed out that, in the illustrated Ovid tradition of the story, the interesting divergence is not about birth or rebirth, but rather about death. The fact of Aeson’s dying is a sixteenth-century addition to the text of Ovid as we find it translated and accompanying the Salomon image. Now, in the early pages of Science and Civic Life in the Italian Renaissance, first published in 1965, Eugenio Garin described the Renaissance as a burial: “It did amount to a solemn burial of a dead, if noble, interpretation of reality. […] People, instead of being conscious of a beginning, were dimly aware that something was ending.”34 This is an historical dynamic formulated also by Thomas Greene as the light in Troy: “The ubiquitous imagery of disinterment, resurrection, and renascence needed a death and burial to justify itself; without the myth of medieval entombment, its imagery, which is to say its self-understanding, had no force.”35 Garin indeed saw that the myth of rebirth was built upon the death that results from definition, closure, and divorce: “In defining the character of antiquity, in severing it from the culture of the day, Renaissance humanists reduced it to something dead. It closed a world up, and then rediscovered it at the very point at which it was most dead.”36 If Garin and others are right in arguing for this structure, then Aeson as the generalized body of antiquity must indeed die before being brought back to life by a Medea who represents precisely the “new convergence between rational

32 Jacquelot, L’Art de vivre longuement, p. 2r. 33 Ibid., pp. 2v–3r. 34 Eugenio Garin, Science and Civic Life in the Italian Renaissance, trans. Peter Munz (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1978), pp. 2–3. 35 Thomas M. Greene, The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1982), p. 3. 36 Garin, Science and Civic Life, p. 19.

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understanding and occult forces” that enabled the project of rebirth. This conceptual imperative would be, then, one way to understand the reason why the notion of Aeson’s dying was important to the sixteenth-century text, and it marks precisely the distance, and begins to explains the urgency of the italics, between the “revived” and the “itself” in Panofsky’s explanation of Vasari’s term “modern” (page 35, above). “Notre thème était trop compliqué pour survivre à l’humanisme de la Renaissance” (“Our theme was too complicated to survive beyond the Renaissance and its humanism”) concluded Françoise and Henry Bardon in their survey article of the theme of Medea and Aeson.38 And yet the theme’s apparent complication or simplicity, like that of the broader Medea story, seems less crucial to its interest than is its ability to figure an urgent historical and cultural project. When that project is completed, set aside, or given up as a bad job, “Medea Rejuvenating Aeson” becomes far less interesting than Medea killing her children and riding off indemnified. The specificity of the notion of a Medean renaissance in the episode of the rejuvenation of Aeson had gone beyond the generally renascent to a precise historical-critical structure of sixteenth-century thought. Antiquity’s throat had first to be slit. It had to be stopped from speaking and to be quite dead before it could then be revived. But this Medean power was accompanied by an enormous anxiety. There is a thematic reason, that is, that the one line from Ovid’s tragedy of Medea that is preserved in Quintilian is: “Servare potui, perdere an possim rogas?” 39 (“If I was able to save him, can I not destroy him as well?”). Unlike another powerful, productive, and far more pessimistic humanist myth of renaissance, that of Orpheus, Medea never looks back. Her story does not conclude with her being torn to pieces; she remains intact, and even, she claims, is turned into a virgin again by her actions in Corinth: “rapta virginitas redit” 40 (“my ravished virginity is restored”). To see the rejuvenation of Aeson and the interest in it as a figure of these two histories yet to be written, that of medical science and that of the Renaissance, is a first reading, then, one that seeks a posterity for Medea’s story. But what if, on the other hand, it is equally possible to understand this episode as a figure of something that had no, or little posterity? What if Medea is an alchemist? The stone of the alchemists, the philosophers’ stone, had the ability to confer not only unlimited wealth upon its possessor, but also eternal life. In the popular imagination, however, the point of alchemy was the obtaining of gold, and this made the Golden Fleece self-evidently the image of the goal of the work. And it remained so, from the eighteenth-century Dictionnaire mytho-hermétique of Pernety, “Cette toison est le symbole de la matiere du grand oeuvre”41 (“this fleece is the symbol of

37 Ibid., p. 163. 38 Bardon and Bardon, “Médée rajeunissant Éson,” p. 93. 39 Quintilian, Institutionum oratorium libri XII (Paris: R. Stephani, 1542), book 8, ch. 5, 421. 40 Seneca, Medea, in Seneca’s Tragedies, trans. Frank Justus Miller (2 vols., London and New York: Heinemann and Putnam, 1917), vol. 1, pp. 226–315 (p. 309, l. 984). 41 A. Pernety, Dictionnaire mytho-hermétique (Paris: Bauche, 1758), def. “Toison d’or.”


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

the subject of the great work”), to the most recent alchemical dictionary, in which the golden fleece is “the goal of the opus alchymicum.”42 Indeed, there circulated in manuscript from the beginning of the sixteenth century, a collection of alchemical treatises entitled Aureum vellus, whose author was reportedly Salomon Trismosin, the teacher, or so claims a later title page, of Paracelsus.43 The treatises were gathered together at the end of the sixteenth century as a compendium, Aureum vellus oder guldin Schatz und Kunstkammer, one of the first alchemical treatises not to be issued in Latin.44 From the compendium of alchemical treatises of the Aureum vellus, one treatise only, the Splendor solis, was translated into French, paraphrased, and published in 1612 as La Toison d’or ou la fleur des thresors. The title page of the French, that is, partially translates the German title for the complete collection, but the French text is a translation of only about sixty pages of some four hundred in the original. So a book of practical alchemy comes into the French language called “the golden fleece.” The translator’s fifteenpage prologue and commentary on the two-page German Vorrede, moreover, is an extended metaphor of the conquering of the fleece by Jason and the Argonauts: “Les vagues replis de la Toison doree” (“the deep folds of the golden fleece”) are like “ce Dedale inespuisable” (“this endless labyrinth”) that is the alchemical work,45 and that requires valor and virtuous application: Apres mille travaux les sages Argonautes, conduits entre les ondes par la puissante main des longues Destinees, conquirent seuls en fin cette riche Toison, à la pointe de la valeur, armee & secourue: de l’industrie, de l’experience & la patience, vrays conducteurs de la bonace expressement requise à ce divin effect.46 (The brave Argonauts, led over the waves by the powerful hand of destiny, after performing many deeds finally conquered the rich Fleece thanks to their own valour, armed and aided by hard work, experience, and patience, which are the real foundation of the calm expressly required for this divine effect.)

The reference to the golden fleece indeed frames the treatise in its French version, which concludes by positioning the conquest of this fleece firstly as a matter for initiates only, and secondly as a matter of grace even for the Knights of the Fleece: Car elle [la toison] prend son temps pour se laisser vaincre à la fidelle perseverance de ces sages Cavalliers de la Toyson, auxquels seuls elle se communique, non indifferamment à tous, & non tousiours encor, ains en certaine saison, puis qu’elle attend son temps; que

42 L. Abraham, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), def. “golden fleece.” 43 Salomon Trismosin, La Toyson d’or ou la fleur des thresors. Traduict d’Alemand en François, & commenté en forme de Paraphrase sur chasque Chapitre par L.I. (Paris: Sevestre, 1612). 44 Salomon Trismosin, Aureum vellus oder guldin Schatz und Kunstkammer (2 vols., Rorschach am Bodensee: n.p, 1598). 45 Trismosin, La Toyson d’or, p. 3. 46 Ibid., pp. 9–10.

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les espics blonds tournent à maturité, que le fruict de la terre se soit ia conservé plusieurs annees, & que les cerveaux posez de ses coheritiers soient capables de ce dot nuptial.47 (For the Fleece allows itself to be conquered only in its own good time by the faithful perseverance of these clever Knights of the Fleece. And it gives itself only to them, not indiscriminately to everyone, and even then not always, but only when its season comes, when the golden grain ripens, when the fruits of the earth have lain uncorrupted for years, and when the settled minds of its inheritors have shown themselves adequate to receive this wedding dowry.)

This passage contains a beautiful series of metaphors of the alchemical project. The grain turns precisely to gold in its own good time and season, and the immensely dense reference to the wedding dowry in the text’s concluding lines leads directly to Medea. It references firstly the history of the creation by Philippe le Bon of Burgundy in 1429 of the knightly order of the Golden Fleece, and his marriage to Isabelle of Portugal in the same year.48 Secondly, the image refers to the symbology of the alchemical process, which utilizes the figure of marriage to describe the various combinations of elements and colors that the work requires: “The first marriage is performed in the crucible; the second, in the glass.”49 Finally, the most ancient reference for this wedding dowry is, of course, Medea, who brought it with her from her barbarian land to secure the future of Jason’s rule in Iolcus. Medea was thus cast as the rich royal bride bringing treasure and greatness to her new land.50 By the mid-seventeenth century, the vast machine play written by Pierre Corneille for the wedding celebrations of Louis XIV was none other than La Conquête de la Toison d’or.51 This symbology did apparently occasionally get out of hand,52 and Corneille certainly took care that his plot not equate Louis’s new queen too precisely with Medea. But the danger that Jason’s ignoble end, outdone, robbed of posterity by Medea, and killed by a falling timber of the rotting Argo, would be considered part of the story of his glorious triumphs over Medea’s father and homeland did not seem to outweigh the enormous politico-symbological advantage of this single episode. The alchemical literature from the Renaissance to the present has already been combed through for references to the golden fleece, and these may be found in Antoine 47 Ibid., pp. 217–18. 48 Antoine Faivre, Toison d’or et alchimie (Milan: Archè: 1990), pp. 20, 23. The connection between the image of Medea and late medieval marriage practices is emphasized in Ekaterini Kepetzis, Medea in der Bildenden Kunst vom Mittlealter zur Neuzeit. “So im Herzen bedrängt erglühte verderblicke Liebe” (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1997), pp. 93–104. 49 J.W. Hamilton-Jones (ed.), Bacstrom’s Alchemical Anthology (London: John N. Watkins, 1960), p. 149. 50 Morse, The Medieval Medea, pp. 153–66. 51 Abby Zanger, Scenes from the Marriage of Louis XIV: Nuptial Fictions and the Making of Absolutist Power (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 98–130; Amy Wygant, “Corneille, Rubens, and the Heroic Emblem,” Emblematica 9 (1995), pp. 111–32; Amy Wygant, “Pierre Corneille’s Medea-Machine,” Romanic Review 85 (1994), pp. 535–50. 52 Morse, The Medieval Medea, p. 163.


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Faivre’s 1990 study Toison d’or et alchimie.53 Faivre notes that the allegorization of Greek myths was a characteristic trait of Renaissance thinking, and that the story of Jason and the fleece is not unusual in this.54 This perhaps glosses over the specificity of the story of the Argonautic journey, that is, that it was often considered to be not myth but rather history, a pre-Homeric foray to the east.55 But it is nevertheless undoubtedly generally true, as is Faivre’s observation that even in the first third of the seventeenth century, when the hermeneutic of the fleece was relatively prominent, references to it rarely go beyond the generally allusive.56 However, it is precisely the status of alchemical allusion that seems interesting to try to understand, and in this connection, there is a history that Faivre did not take on, the history of the alchemical Medea. This history works to depict Medea as the operator of the grand alchemical work. She is at once the alchemist, effecting Aeson’s death and his rebirth, and the figure of the alchemical process. Eighteenth-century commentators are explicit about this. Pernety’s Dictionnaire mytho-hermétique observes that: “la Toison d’or conquise est la poudre de projection, & la médecine universelle, de laquelle Médée fit usage pour rajeunir Eson, pere de Jason son amant”57 (“The golden fleece, once conquered, is the transforming substance and the universal medicine that Medea used to rejuvenate Aeson, the father of Jason, her lover”). Nor does it stop there. Some late evidence exists to suggest that Medea’s Senecan and Euripidean tragedy in Corinth was also read alchemically. The name of its author, Ehrd de Naxagorus, is probably a pseudonym.58 In the Aureum vellus, oder, Güldenes Vliess, Medea’s rejuvenation of Aeson is cited as a clear example of her alchemy, and at the same time, she is identified with the moon, an element internal to the alchemical work: “Kurz, man hat in Opere Philosophico auch so eine Medeam, welche von den Weisen ihre Luna genennt wird” (p. 32) (“In sum, there is also in the alchemical work a Medea, which the alchemists call their moon”). Medea’s figuration as a chemical had by this time a certain history. René Alleau described an inscription on a marble plaque, dated 1680, in the square Victor-Emmanuel in Rome, left over from the destruction of the villa of the marquis Palombara. It reads, “Villae Ianuam Trahendo Recludens Iason Obtinet Locuples Vellus Medeae” (“Pushing open the door of the villa, Jason discovers and conquers the precious fleece of Medea”), the first letters of which in the Latin spell vitriolum, vitriol, the secret shining crystalline body that symbolizes the philosopher’s crude matter.59 The inscription is described as well in a manual of practical alchemy

53 Faivre, Toison d’or. 54 Ibid., p. 29. 55 Morse, The Medieval Medea, p. 102. 56 Faivre, Toison d’or, p. 48. 57 Pernety, Dictionnaire, def. “Toison d’or.” 58 Ehrd de Naxagorus, Aureum vellus, oder, Güldenes Vliess (Frankfurt am Main: Stock, Erben, and Schilling, 1733). 59 René Alleau, Aspects de l’alchimie traditionnelle. Textes et symboles alchimiques (Paris: Minuit, 1953), pp. 11–12; Abraham, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, def. “vitriol.”

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by Eugène Canseliet, one of the best-known of the twentieth-century French alchemists.60 These late references accordingly hint that there was in place at an earlier time a conceptual structure within which the elements of Medea’s story could be given technical alchemical meanings within a broadly alchemical narrative, and the text of Naxagorus pursues this. Firstly, any mention of fire, the central alchemical mystery, was apt to attract a technical, work-internal reading. The fire-breathing bulls that Jason had had to harness in order to plough the champ de Mars, for example, had been read in the 1695 Dictionnaire hermétique of Ledoux as a lesson: “ce qui nous enseigne que le feu doit être ménagé adroitement, & que les Sages prennent les narines pour les registres du fourneau”61 (“[…] which teaches us that fire must be handled skillfully, and that the learned understand the nostrils to be the dampers of the furnace”). And further, if Jason decides to marry Hypsipyle [sic] in Corinth, this plot event demonstrates that the material must change in the course of the work, and take on other names, because the original material must marry many times.62 So why stop at the details of the Argonautic voyage? Why not include in the alchemical reading the details of Medea’s tragedy in Corinth? For Naxagorus, then, the burning dress by means of which Medea assassinates her husband Jason’s new princess bride does not represent a grisly killing, but rather a part of the alchemical work. When Medea then flies off to Athens in a car pulled by two dragons [sic], this flight is a representation of the spiritus mercurii, which must rise through the air in the alembic.63 It may well be, then, that “The Rejuvenation of Aeson,” for all that it lends itself to a reading that would make of it an index both into a dimly formulated historical project of renaissance and into a precise figure for the Renaissance, was instead an antiquarian example of a philosophy now lost, an alchemical desire. This is our safeguard, our garde-fou: a model, perhaps, of a double edge for reading “the first” of Medea’s tragedies in modernity. The tragedy of La Péruse would then be both alive with an alchemical energy now utterly unrecoverable, and dead, a place only to be haunted by future ghosts of modernity. Exceptional Medea, Redux By way of introduction, I mentioned that the figure of Medea distinguishes itself from other great antique female characters because she lives on in triumph at the end of her story in Corinth. There is a second face to her distinctiveness, however. As we have seen, the visual and textual tradition of Medea rejuvenating Aeson seemed capable of producing not only a Medea as the picture of health, but also a Medea as the picture of the global project of renaissance. These productions made no reference at all either to her notorious later career, in which she does to death 60 Eugène Canseliet, L’Alchimie expliquée sur ses textes classiques (Paris: J.J. Pauvert, 1972), p. 202. 61 Ledoux (dit de Claves), Dictionnaire hermétique (Paris: D’Houry, 1695; Paris: Gutenberg Reprints, 1979), def. “Toison d’or.” 62 Naxagorus, Aureum vellus, pp. 47–8. 63 Ibid., pp. 46–7.


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Jason’s uncle Pelias, the innocent children, and others, or to her notorious earlier career, in which she had killed her brother Absyrtus and hacked his body to bits. Equally, we have seen that this kind of tunnel vision resulted in her figure’s being of enormous political use, and over considerable stretches of time, in order to figure and support, of all things, dynastic marriage. Philippe le Bon or Louis XIV could be Jason the subject, not as an integrated narrative moving through time, but rather as a static image at one particular moment in time, Jason divorced from his divorce, so to speak. The ability to shelter within discrete plot segments cut off one from another, the disinterest in connecting Medea the graceful young alchemist/seductress/source of the fountain of youth, with Medea the child murderess, we might call a kind of schizomythia. The mythical personality, that is, was multiple. A second aspect of the Medean exception that is characteristic of the sixteenth century is her tragic character’s explicit resistance to this cleavage. The tradition of the rejuvenation of Aeson is not unusual in its being treated as a static, discreet topos, available for extraction from the general narration of Medea’s career, and available for interpretation that considers only the woodcut of the particular event, not the movie of the life.64 To take another example that will become important later in this discussion, the image of the infamous Pandora, likened to Eve for her bringing to man of all woes, was read as well by the French sixteenth century as the “all-gifted,” a positive idea of the perfect blend or fusion of all things.65 So the organizers of the program for the entry of Henri II into Paris in 1549, for example, used, at the center of a construction in perspective facing the Châtelet, the image of Pandora accompanied by her vessel, and the theme of Paris as “Lutetia Nova Pandora.”66 This state of affairs, “schizomythia,” the multiple personalities of the mythical figure, was precisely not a disorder in the period under consideration. Rather, it was the result of habits of reading, of interpretations, in bono and in malum, of rhetorical training, and of interpersonal experience on the part of readers. Surely, treatment of myth and notions of personal subjectivity reflected one another. At the height of the historical debate concerning “The Renaissance,” Huizinga focused on the implications of the conviction that “Grundzug und Wesen der Renaissance bleibt der Individualismus” (p. 132) (“Individualism remains the fundamental feature and the essence of the Renaissance”). But what, exactly, was this individualism, how was it constituted, and what, in short, was the significance of diachronic identity for the Renaissance subject? In the 1980s, scholars began to argue that the Renaissance subject was an estranged, fractured, non-self-identical construction, disjunct in time

64 But see Kepetzis, Medea in der Bildenden Kunst, esp. figs. 9 and 10, pp. 266–7, for pre-Alciati woodcuts that depict multiple events in the Medea story, including the rejuvenation. Kepetzis’s image-historical point, that Salomon marks a paradigm change, influenced by the emblem, in the visual culture of Medea’s figure, is persuasive (pp. 122–3). 65 Erwin Panofsky and Dora Panofsky, Pandora’s Box: The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol (New York: Pantheon, 1956). 66 Ian D. McFarlane (ed.), The Entry of Henri II into Paris 16 June 1549 (Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval & Early Renaissance Studies, 1982), pp. 43–4, facsim. 12v–13r.

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from itself, and recognizable only with difficulty, if at all, over the passage of years.67 The most interesting question for the Renaissance subject, it began to seem, was not “Who?”, but instead “How?” How, exactly, did that subject fashion itself?68 This refocusing of scholarly attention produced a convergence between the experience of myth and the personal experience of the Renaissance subject. But the problem with this understanding of the subjectivity of the sixteenth century as it relates to Medea, the difficulty that constitutes the second aspect of the Medean exception, is her resistance to this schizomythia. The tragedy of Medea in Corinth in the Senecan version, which was, in spite of poetic protestations to the contrary,69 the baseline tragic Medea text for the sixteenth century,70 may be said to be precisely about the integration of her subjectivity, the gathering up of her past, its accommodation to her present, and its looking toward the future. Three lines of text from Seneca’s tragedy consolidate Medea’s identity for herself. The first of them follows her nurse’s observation that the worst-case scenario is indeed upon them: “Abiere Colchi, coniugis nulla est fides / nihilque superest opibus e tantis tibi”71 (“The Colchians are no longer on thy side, thy husband’s vows have failed, and there is nothing left of all thy wealth”). Medea’s reply, which is the only one of these three Senecan lines that La Péruse translated, and which inspired Corneille to a translation made famous by Boileau’s singling it out as an example of the sublime,72 is, starkly, “Medea superest” (“Medea remains”). What remains, then, and that which Corneille sublimely translated as one word, “Moi,” is redefined but five lines later as what will be: to her nurse’s advice that she fear the king and flee Corinth, and at the very sound of her own name, pronounced by the nurse, Medea says simply “Fiam”73 (“[Medea] will I be”). And thirdly, at the moment, late in the action, when she has heard the messenger’s report of suffering and death at the palace, and when she must steel herself to kill her children, the coming-into-focus

67 Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1983). 68 Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980). 69 The prestigious comparison was always to Euripides, not Seneca. So an ode on the Médée by Berruier tells of La Péruse going to Greece, saving Euripides, and bringing him home to France (La Péruse, Médée, ed. Colman, pp. 65–6); Ronsard’s epitaph for La Péruse declares that tragedy is in mourning for him, and for Euripides (ibid., pp. 68–9). 70 See Richard Griffiths, The Dramatic Technique of Antoine de Montchrestien: Rhetoric and Style in French Renaissance Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), esp. “Seneca Rather than Euripides,” pp. 31–2; Karl Böhm, Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Einflusses Seneca’s auf die in der Zeit von 1552 bis 1562 erschienenen französischen Tragödien (Erlangen and Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1902), esp. ch. 1, “Die Seneca-Tragödien und ihre Überlieferung,” pp. 8–26, for a comparison between the numbers of editions of the three Greek tragedians and editions of Seneca to 1562. 71 Seneca, Medea, 164–5. 72 Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, “Réflexions critiques,” in Charles-H. Boudhors (ed.), Dialogues, Réflexions critiques, Œuvres diverses (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1960), p. 167. 73 Seneca, Medea, 171.


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of her past and its integration and overcoming for the purposes of the present is formulated as a kind of Medean cogito: “Medea nunc sum”74 (“Now I am Medea”). The interest of this situation generally, then, is that, in Medea, the sixteenthcentury playwright found a subject that was resistant to the notions of disjunct individualism and fractured subjectivity that scholarship has shown were most probably available to him. Her figure, on the one hand, conveniently embodied the notion of renaissance and was a point upon which to focus all of the anxieties about rebirth, revival, repetition, innovation, and identity connected with this project. She is the agent of renaissance, the one who can, as she wishes, either restore the antique and the dead to life, or abandon it to death at the hands of those who love it most. But on the other hand, Medea’s tragedy is in one important way the tragedy of her becoming herself, the spectacle of a rapidly integrating subjectivity. Her tragedy is resistant to a schizomythic reading. How, then, does La Médée of La Péruse interact with and transform the models provided by the tragedies of Euripides and Seneca? How does this tragedy, the second to be written in French in the sixteenth century and the first to be printed, cope with the resistances and exceptions of Medea? La Péruse: Greeks Bearing Gifts We know that La Péruse had available to him the Medea of Euripides in Buchanan’s Latin translation, and Seneca’s Medea, and we know as well that he was familiar with the first tragedy written in French, Jodelle’s Cléopâtre captive, because La Péruse took part in its performances in 1553.75 From Euripides we find in the Médée the character of the governor of the children, who does not appear in Seneca, and the name of Creon’s daughter, Glauque, who is called “Creusa” in Seneca.76 So since we may accordingly be quite certain that La Péruse read Euripides, if only in Buchanan’s Latin, the question would be: what did he read? Scholars of Euripides’ tragedy have offered explanations for the fascination of its Medea that have been as various as those offered to explain the fascination of her character in general. Editing the tragedy for the Clarendon Press in 1938, D.L. Page found that it was a tragedy about patriotism, and that its title character was a witch: “Because [Medea] was a foreigner, she could kill her children; because she was

74 Ibid., 910. 75 Still useful for biographical details is Nicolas Banachévitch, Jean Bastier de la Péruse. Étude biographique et littéraire (Paris, 1923; Geneva: Slatkine, 1970). 76 Creon’s daughter is not named in Euripides’ tragedy, but her name could have been found by La Péruse in the Argumentum of Buchanan’s translation (p. 3r). The Senecan name, Creusa, links the daughter specifically to the father Creon, and narrows the genealogy, which is referred to more broadly by the name Glauca. That is, Glaucos was the son of Sisyphus, founder of the royal line of Corinth. Glaukos is “light blue, a flash” in Greek, and the Greeks called Athena the goddess “with the brilliant gaze,” glaukopis. Her screech-owl (glaux) attracts and terrifies other birds with the fixity of its eye. See Marcel Detienne and JeanPierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, trans. Janet Lloyd (Brighton and Atlantic Highlands, NJ: The Harvester Press and Humanities Press, 1978), pp. 182; 185, n. 3; 192.

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a witch, she could escape in a magic chariot.” A generation later, Bernard Knox found that Medea is very far from being a witch.78 So sure is she that the gods are on her side, and so confident is she in the final measures that she takes to justify her revenge, institute a cult for her dead children, utter prophesy, and announce her own departure and destination, that it must be entirely appropriate that she appear in the theatrical space reserved for the gods, the roof of the stage building, or the mechane. As the theos in a machine, Knox points out, she is no Hellenic witch on a glorified broomstick, but rather one who displays the properties and travels in the conveyance of a god. But by 1989, Helene Foley was able to argue that Medea’s most important conceptual structure was not to be a god, but rather to be a hero.79 The point of the tragedy, according to Foley, is the point that Medea makes about a specifically masculine heroic code: “Help your friends; hurt your enemies.” That is, both the shallow ethics of Jason and Creon, and the heroic “friends–enemies” ethic of the archaic past are shown to be folly by a Medea who acts not like a classical woman, but rather like a Sophoclean hero when he feels he has been wronged. What Medea must do at all costs, Foley argued, is to avoid championing reason, which is what the hated Jason does. This leads Foley to focus on the problematic lines 1056–80, Medea’s great speech of deliberation over the question of her children’s murders, and the most problematic of those lines, 1079, “My passion is stronger than my rational deliberations.” But the Greek for “rational deliberations,” boulemata, can refer both to plans to save the children, and to plans to kill them.80 And the word for “passion,” thumos, is also widely interpretable, having heroic overtones and notions of intelligence, pride, and spirit, as well as anger. Charles Segal has suggested, for lines 1078–80: “I understand the evils that I am going to do, but thumos (vengeful anger, passion, emotional energy) has control over my plans, thumos which is the cause of greatest woes to mortals.”81 It is a striking fact, then, that these lines, which fascinated and inspired visual artists from Timomachus, who may have been copied on a wall-painting at Herculaneum,82 to Delacroix, and which were used throughout antiquity both to argue that the human soul possesses an irrational as well as a rational element, and to argue that the human soul is unitary,83 were simply not translated by La Péruse. In response to the news from the palace and as mental preparation for her murder of the 77 Denis L. Page (ed.), Medea (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938), p. xx. 78 Bernard Knox, “The Medea of Euripides,” Word and Action: Essays on the Ancient Theater (Baltimore, MD and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), pp. 295–322. 79 Helene Foley, “Medea’s Divided Self,” Classical Antiquity 9 (1989), pp. 61–85. 80 Ibid., pp. 67–8. 81 For a bibliography of scholarship on this passage, see Charles Segal, “Euripides’ Medea: Vengeance, Reversal and Closure,” Médée et la violence. Colloque organisé à l’Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1996), pp. 15–44 (p. 24, n. 27). 82 Verena Zinzerling-Paul, “Zum Bild der Medea in der antiken Kunst,” Klio 61 (1979), pp. 407–36. 83 John M. Dillon, “Medea Among the Philosophers,” in James J. Clauss and Sarah Iles Johnston (eds.), Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Philosophy, and Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 211–18.


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children, his Medea says only: “Que reste il plus, sinon massacrer les fiz / Qu’avec ce déloial, malheureuse, je fis” (1157–8) (“There is nothing to do but massacre the boys / Whom I made, wretch that I am, with that traitor”). These lines in Euripides, on the one hand, seem to tell of one aspect of the great trans-historical project of the Euripidean Medea: the working out of the soul’s passions and wisdom’s counsel. The split with which she struggles was occasionally even reified in the splitting of Medea into two separate figures, as on the Ancône sarcophagus.84 Le Père Brumoy gave the passage in the eighteenth century as: “Mais la rage a banni la raison; & jusqu’où le désespoir ne porte-t’il pas les humains?”85 (“But rage has banished reason, and to what extremes does despair not lead us?”). By the nineteenth century, its complications had collapsed into translations such as “la passion est plus forte que les conseils de ma raison”86 (“passion is stronger than my reason’s counsel”). But on the other hand, this trans-historical project was of no particular urgency when French tragedy was inventing itself in the sixteenth century. Whatever its positioning of Medea for modernity, and be its Medea witch, god, hero, woman, or man, the great central struggle of the antique Greek Medea was not its business. There is simply nothing left to do, says the Medea of La Péruse, but kill the boys. As for the Senecan model, we have seen above that of Seneca’s three markers of Medean subjectivity, Medea superest, Medea fiam, and Medea nunc sum, La Péruse translated only the first. Seneca’s great spectacle of Medea becoming herself was then also not, we can safely say, the central interest of the French tragedy. And yet the frères Parfaict in the eighteenth century thought, perhaps correctly according to notions of translation current at the time, that the Médée of La Péruse “n’est qu’une traduction de la Médée de Sénèque”87 (“is nothing but a translation of Seneca”). This opinion was repeated in the literature88 until in 1923 Banachévitch devoted 50 pages of his study of La Péruse to showing that, according to notions of translation current in his time, the Médée “n’est pas une simple traduction de la Médée de Sénèque”89 (“is not a simple translation of Seneca’s Medea”). James Coleman has more recently studied the matter in detail, and has found that only about a quarter of the lines of La

84 Vassiliki Gaggadis-Robin, Jason et Médée sur les sarcophages d’époque impériale (Rome: École française de Rome, 1994), pp. 158–60. 85 Pierre Brumoy, Le théâtre des grecs (3 vols., Paris: Rollin and Coignard, 1730), vol. 2, p. 479. 86 Henri Joseph Guillaume Patin, Etudes sur les tragiques grecs ou examen critique d’Eschyle, de Sophocle, et d’Euripide (3 vols., Paris: Hachette, 1841), vol. 2, pp. 395–7. 87 François Parfaict and Claude Parfaict, Histoire du théâtre françois depuis son origine jusqu’à présent (Amsterdam: Aux Depens de la compagnie, 1735; Geneva: Slatkine, 1967), vol. 3, pp. 299–300. 88 See E. Faguet, La Tragédie française au XVIe siécle (1883; Leipzig and Paris: H. Welter, 1897): “La Médée de La Péruse est la Médée de Sénèque. […] Sénèque est suivi pas à pas. L’oeuvre de La Péruse n’est donc intéressante à étudier qu’au point de vue de style” (p. 91). See also James C. Coleman, “Les Sources antiques de Médée,” in La Péruse, Médée, ed. Marie-Madeleine Fragonard, pp. 75–110 (p. 76, n. 5). 89 Banachévitch, Jean Bastier de la Péruse, p. 92.

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Péruse have a Senecan model. He calls the Médée neither translation nor imitation, but rather “transformation.”90 As for what La Péruse read when he read his Seneca, it is worth remembering that, for La Péruse, Seneca the philosopher and Seneca the tragedian would have been two quite separate figures, as the identity between them was established only in 1924, thus countering opinion accepted since the fifth century AD.91 The great conflict of Stoic philosophy and tragic aesthetics that has been productive of much insightful commentary in recent critical thinking about Senecan tragedy would thus not have been urgent for the sixteenth century. That is, Martha Nussbaum has been able to demonstrate the deep ambivalence of the tragedy with respect to Stoic philosophy by reading a single word, piger, from Seneca’s great choral ode to the good life, the Act 2 chorus that was read as a prophesy of his father’s voyage of discovery by Ferdinand Columbus.92 This settled life, in an age before sea travel brought crime and suffering, is characterized by the Senecan text as piger, which, as Nussbaum points out, is however not necessarily positive. It is sometimes translated as “inactive,” and can also mean “stagnant.” The tragic text thus presents a nonchoice to Stoic philosophy: valorize passion and daring, and the result is crime and murderous anger; valorize purity, and the result is a kind of flatness and the death of virtue, as well as the impossibility of tragedy itself. It is necessarily the case, then, that “like the serpent, tragedy sneaks up on Stoic morality with its own sense of drama.”93 Piger is translated by La Péruse quite simply as “contant”: “O que celui est sage / Qui vît chés soi contant, / Et l’étranger rivage / Connoître ne pretant!”94 (“Oh wise is the one / Who lives happily at home, / And never dreams of seeing / Foreign shores!”). All of the nuances and difficulties of the word are thus written over; it can safely be said that this is not a text concerned to work out the complicated and contradictory interface of tragedy and Stoic philosophy. Nor can a case be made for a reading of the Médée such as that advanced by Arcellaschi for Seneca’s Medea. Arcellaschi speculated that, Rome having burned on 18 July 64, Seneca may well have known of Nero’s plans and have set them theatrically, in advance.95 But although the urgent political connections of Jodelle’s Cléopâtre captive have been demonstrated both with respect to context96 and with respect to theory,97 no actual performance of the Médée is known before 1572, and it is not even certain the tragedy of La Péruse was performed at that time, which was at any rate almost twenty years after the author’s 90 Coleman, “Les Sources antiques de Médée,” p. 93. 91 Arcellaschi, Médée dans le théâtre latin, p. 325. 92 Martha C. Nussbaum, “Serpents in the Soul: A Reading of Seneca’s Medea,” in Clauss and Johnston (eds.), Medea, pp. 219–49. 93 Ibid., p. 247. 94 La Péruse, Médée, ed. Coleman, ll. 283–6. 95 Arcellaschi, Médée dans le théâtre latin, p. 342. 96 Etienne Jodelle, Cléopâtre captive, in Enea Balmas and Michel Dassonville (eds.), La Tragédie à l’époque d’Henri II et de Charles IX (Florence and Paris: Olschki and PUF, 1985), vol. 1, pp. 55–67. 97 G.R. Garner, “Tragedy, Sovereignty and the Sign: Jodelle’s Cléopâtre captive,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 5 (1978), pp. 245–79.

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54 98

death. An argument for a politicized agenda for the Médée would thus be on shaky ground at best. As for additional influences, Coleman and others have pointed out various contextual factors involved: one word from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a scene from the twelfth of his Heroides, Ronsard.99 It has been convincingly argued that the Nichomachean Ethics, which Muret taught from 1551 in the Collège de Boncourt, provided the model both for the heroism and for the anger of the Medea of La Péruse.100 It is clear, then, that the pressing concerns that scholars have identified as being those of the Euripidean and Senecan models of La Péruse cannot be said, for various reasons, to be those of the sixteenth-century text. The Médée, that is, is not overly concerned with Stoic philosophy or with the Medean constellation of what came to be known as reason and passion. A political reading of the play would suffer from sheer lack of historical data. Other contexts figure, but do not seem to be determining. Where, then, shall we look for those threshold moments that betray a risk taken by this text, a risk that would be legible either as a flash in the pan or as a deposit invested in the modern course of the problematic of Medea? We must necessarily read the text itself closely in order to find them, and they are most likely to be found in those passages that are inspired by no antique or contemporary source, but rather are additions and changes new to the sixteenth-century text. My reading here will work backwards from the most radical of those changes, the ending of Act 5, to show how this ending is prepared by the Act 4 chorus, and to show, finally, how Creon’s monologue opening Act 3 doubly characterizes him, both rhetorically and plot-specifically, as her enemy. Perhaps the change in the long tradition of Medea endings is at first sight the most striking. For the last word here is, extraordinarily, given to Medea. The final act of La Péruse has just produced a spectacle of violent physicality, the killing of the children on the stage, in violation of ancient precept,101 and much to the disapproval of its immediate posterity.102 Medea finishes the job, prophesies Jason’s unheroic death, and then delivers the take-home thought, which is not, as in Euripides, a general reflection upon the unforeseen, or, as in Seneca, a curse, but rather the transformation of her Jason into a rhetorical device, an example. His, not Medea’s, is the exemplarity to be retained:

98 Banachévitch, Jean Bastier de la Péruse, p. 149. 99 Coleman, “Les Sources antiques de Médée,” pp. 108–10. 100 Sylviane Bokoam, “Jodelle, La Péruse et le commentaire de Marc-Antoine Muret à l’Éthique à Nicomaque d’Aristote: Colère et magnanimité,” L’Information littéraire 42, no. 3 (1990), pp. 3–6. 101 “Medea / Must not butcher her boys in front of the people”; Horace, “The Art of Poetry,” trans. Smith Palmer Bovie, The Satires and Epistles of Horace (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1959), 184–5. 102 Guillaume Colletet, “Vie de I. Batier de La Peruse,” in E. Gellibert des Sequins (ed.), Oeuvres poétiques (Paris: Jouaust, 1867), pp. 251–70 (pp. 261–2).

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Qui aura desormais de faus amant le blasme, A l’exemple de toi, se garde du danger Par qui j’apran mon sexe à se pouvoir vanger.103 (From this moment on, whoever is charged as a false lover, Should remember your example, and beware the danger By means of which I teach women the capacity for vengeance.) What has thus been rejected in this ending is the opportunity to show, through Medea, the terrible effects of passion and anger. Jason’s passion is held up here at the end as the source of all the trouble. The moral of the play is turned around, and Jason becomes the understandable figure of current concern, the “faus amant,” not Medea. In contemporizing Jason, the text of La Péruse follows a certain longstanding tendency to claim Jason as the marker of the present. In the repertoire of Roman sarcophagii that depict Jason and Medea, for example, Medea retains her mythological dress and attributes, while Jason is frequently dressed as a Roman officer.104 The problematic appropriation of Jason as the figure of the Burgundian court, and as the model for the exploits of Louis XIV, has been mentioned above. The commonsense explanation for this fastening upon Jason as “us,” “whoever,” the “Qui” of line 1204, as the figure, that is, of contemporaneity, and indeed of futurity – “Qui aura desormais” – would be that it places Medea and her childmurdering beyond the possibility of inclusion. In the “sex-war opera” that is the tragedy of Medea,105 sides must be taken, and taking Medea’s is unthinkable. And yet this need to depict a Medea wholly beyond redemption may not be the reason for the play’s allowing her terrifyingly to condemn Jason to ignoble exemplarity at the end. The reason might indeed be precisely the reverse, and in order to trace this logic back, we may read the much-maligned Act 4 chorus. If nothing else, this great chorus, the ode to Deffiance, forms the second of the play’s bookends: 108 lines in length, it exactly matches the 108 lines of the first chorus, and thus forms the structural conclusion of the play. After this reformulation and pronouncement, nothing is left but the brief and well-known events of Act 5, and the conclusion of the plot. And yet, the play’s readers have been repelled, and with notable uniformity, by the ode’s content. “L’idée que l’homme sage doit se méfier toute sa vie, s’il veut échapper aux pires malheurs,” wrote Banachévitch, “est démesurément amplifée dans ces cent quatre [sic] vers qui sont souvent obscurs et assez médiocres, et qui donnent une assez mauvaise idée de ce qu’eût été La Péruse poète tragique laissé à sa seule inspiration”106 (“The idea that a wise man needs to be constantly suspicious if he wants to escape the worst is amplified out of all proportion in these one hundred and four lines [sic], which are far-fetched and less than brilliant, and which bode ill for La Péruse as a poet inspired only by his own 103 La Péruse, Médée, ed. Coleman, ll. 1204–6. 104 Gaggadis-Robin, Jason et Médée sur les sarcophages, p. 192. 105 Tony Harrison, Medea: A Sex-War Opera, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, New York, 1985. 106 Banachévitch, Jean Bastier de la Péruse, p. 130.


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thoughts”). Jondorf thought that “the obscurity of parts of the ode could be seen as a deliberate erudite display,”107 and speculates that the chorus is there merely as a dramaturgical device to “beguile the wait” as the poisoned crown is presented to Glauque. “Deffiance” is, in her analysis, a “rather inglorious quality.”108 Michael Dassonville claimed that “La véritable ode à la défiance qui clôt l’acte IV n’est qu’un hors-d’œuvre lyrique qui n’est pathétique que si on évoque le destin qui attendait l’auteur”109 (“The veritable ode to suspicion ending act four is nothing but a lyrical interlude that is only touching if we think of the destiny in wait for its author”), by which he refers to the description of fever attacking a young man in lines 1015–20 and to the death of La Péruse from the plague at the age of 25. Even were the ode not of such clear structural importance as to call attention by itself to its substance, this disinclination of its readers to read it would alone recommend it to our attention. Clearly, something about these lines has refused to translate itself to the play’s most intent readers. If thresholds had a smell, there would be a whiff of one here. As has often been remarked, the source of the chorus’s opening lament (949–72) on the departure of justice (“Equité”) and wisdom (“Sagesse”) from the world is Hesiod’s Works and Days.110 The fifth age, an age of iron, has come upon men, and “Then verily off to Olympus from the wide-pathed earth, veiling their fair faces with white robes, Decency and Moral Disapproval will go to join the family of the immortals, abandoning mankind.”111 But what has not been noticed with respect to the text of La Péruse is that this opening is a reference as well to the first stasimon of the Medea of Euripides, 35 lines of profound sympathy for Medea on the part of the chorus (ll. 410–45). Women have been maligned in stories, they argue, because men have been the storytellers. Medea has been wronged, a victim of evil in a corrupt world, and “Good faith has gone, and no more remains / In great Greece a sense of shame. / It has flown away to the sky” (ll. 439–41). This chorus supports a reading of the ancient Greek Jason as indeed an adulterer, but more importantly, as a breaker of oaths. For the gods care little about human sexual practices; they are, however, powerfully interested in acts undertaken in their name. So this double nexus of reference by La Péruse, in which the earth is left in irreversible moral decline by the flight of reverence and just retribution to Olympus, establishes, in the first place, a stronger reading of Euripides than has in the past been acknowledged. 107 Jondorf, French Renaissance Tragedy, p. 76. On the question of the erudite reference, see Robert J. Clements, Critical Theory and Practice of the Pléiade (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942), esp. ch. 3, “Clarity and Obscurity,” pp. 84–121. In addition to the kinds of obscurity inherited by the Pléiade poets, Clements identifies (p. 105) a new kind of wilful unintelligibility arising from the use or misuse of erudition, around mid-century. Peletier’s comment on this is: “Si pour quelque bonne alusion, le Lecteur ét tard a comprandre: qu’il s’an acuse, e non pas l’Auteur” (“If the cost of some lovely allusion is that the reader finds it hard to understand, he should blame himself, not the author”). Jacques Peletier du Mans, L’Art poëtique (Lyons: Ian de Tournes e Guil. Gazeau, 1555), p. 48. 108 Ibid., p. 75. 109 La Péruse, Médée, ed. Enea Balmas and Dassonville, p. 128. 110 Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, trans. M.L. West (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). 111 Ibid.

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Secondly, it imports into the sixteenth-century text a deep sympathy for Medea. She exists in a world bereft of justice, and her flight at the tragedy’s end in her dragon chariot is, in one important way, a local and visual recapitulation of Hesiod’s story.112 She becomes, herself, the paradoxical embodiment of Equité and Sagesse, fleeing. The fallen state of Greece having led to her mistreatment, the following address to “sage Deffiance” (ll. 973–1038) outlines the survival skills necessary under these circumstances not only for the Greeks, but also for Medea herself. For this “Deffiance,” the quality necessary to predict and avoid surprise attack, is at one and the same time the quality that Medea needs in order to cope with the fallen world of the Greeks, and the quality that the Greeks need in order to cope with Medea’s craft. It has much in common, further, with what Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant called “an informed prudence,” that is, Metis, which is the Medean quality par excellence.113 Metis is the name of the daughter of Ocean, Zeus’ first wife, who conceived Athena and was swallowed by Zeus. Metis as a quality refers to practical ability, craft, magic, herbs, fraud, deceit, tricks, and resourcefulness of every kind. Metis is shimmering and diverse, and her weapons are premeditation, surprise attack, and a cunning that operates through disguise. Zeus, having swallowed Metis, possessed this quality in the highest degree, and his only worthy opponent was Prometheus, the “foreseeing” one,114 who had the wily prudence essential in a battle whose outcome is uncertain. Pandora was the final trick that confirmed the superiority of the king of the gods over the Titan, the bait that Epimetheus and all mankind fell for, the unexpected trap from which there is no escape. Pindar mentions Medea, along with Sisyphus, as defining the nature of metis.115 And since it is the descendants of Sisyphus who rule Corinth, the battle characterized by metis in which Zeus and Prometheus engaged is structurally analogous to the struggle between Medea and the house of Creon. It would in any case be clear that the story of Zeus sending Pandora to Prometheus, and when Prometheus was too cautious, on to his brother Epimetheus by means of the messenger Mercury, is being set by this choral ode in parallel with the story of Medea sending a poisoned crown to Glauque by means of her children. But it is far from clear that the ode judges Medea guilty in the matter of this great struggle, for, further, the logic of the situation is that the global quality of Pandora’s “box,” that is, deceptiveness of appearance, is the quality of Jason: it is he who comes to Medea to “farder sa malice” (l. 844) (“cover up his malice”), thus taking on all the cosmetic qualities of deception, of rhetoric, and of the untrustworthy difference between the outside of the box and its contents.

112 Anne Burnett, “Medea and the Tragedy of Revenge,” Classical Philology 68 (1973), pp. 1–24 (pp. 19–20). 113 Detienne and Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, trans. Janet Lloyd. 114 The derivation of the name of Prometheus is uncertain. But for the Greeks there was a connection with prometheia, “foresight,” just as, in the case of his brother Epimetheus, the connection was with epimetheia, “afterthought” (ibid., p. 93, n. 7). 115 Ibid., p. 189.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Uniquely in the version of La Péruse, he it is who suggests that their children take the poisoned crown to the princess (l. 916). Accordingly, when the chorus draws out the moral of the story (l. 1039–50), the scene has already been set for the stumbling block to appear. Who, exactly, needs to be warned against trickery here? And indeed, having scorned the foolishness of those who believe in appearances, who “croire en la feinte mine / des hommes” (ll. 1041–2) (“believe in the false bearing of people”), the chorus then bewails he who “de son malveillant / Peut accepter le faussemblant, / Et la Gréque parolle” (ll. 1048–50) (“out of carelessness accepts deception and the words of a Greek”). By this point, it is then stunningly clear that, in issuing a warning against Greek words, the chorus has indeed produced a Euripidean sympathy for Medea. If the chorus were following the Senecan Medea plot, which ends with her being cursed, it ought to be issuing a warning about Medea to the Greek Jason and his Greek princess. But now, according to a Medea plot that will give her the last word, the chorus issues a warning to Medea, whose side the chorus has taken, about Greeks and about their words. “Il est Grec,” Cotgrave says by way of definition, “He is a most craftie, or subtill Courtier.”116 Much of the problematic of Medea is thus poised on these lines. Again, La Péruse is shown to be a much closer student of Euripides than is generally thought, for the Euripidean Medea analyses the heart of her problem as precisely “the words of a Greek”: My mistake was made the time I left behind me My father’s house, and trusted the words of a Greek, Who, with heaven’s help, will pay me the price for that.117 And, one of the major themes of Medea, her untrustworthy status as barbarian woman, is complicated and reversed. The version of La Péruse suggests that the danger is not the outsider, the barbarian woman, but rather the insider, the Greek man, Greeks, and specifically the Greek word. The children, who, in spite of their parentage, are necessarily the children of Medea when they are delivering the poisoned gift, are in the version of La Péruse sent by Jason, and they are the cosmetic that turns the crown into a Pandora’s box. In the ode’s closing verse (ll. 1051–6), Glauque is addressed as “fille à Creon,” and thus narrowly constructed as her father’s daughter, almost a Latin Creusa, rather than as broadly Greek and a member of the house of Sisyphus, which genealogy would be referenced by the name “Glauque.” The ode thus draws back from her Greekness, from her inclusion in the warning about Greek words, and isolates her for the bite of the final image: but that image, the snake in the grass, would speak with the flickering tongue of Jason’s deceptive rhetoric well before the moment when Medea’s poison would issue from its fang. 116 Randal Cotgrave, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611) (Menston: Scolar Press, 1968). 117 Euripides, The Medea, trans. Rex Warner, in David Grene and Richard Lattimore (eds.), The Complete Greek Tragedies (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1955), ll. 800–02.

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“La Gréque parolle,” however, is just that which sixteenth-century tragedy claims as its highest validating principle. “Pregne pour patron Euripide e Sofocle Gréz,” advises Peletier: antre léquez Quintillian lesse an suspans la superiorite: fesant ce pandant (comme il ét vrei) Sofocle plus grave de stil e plus hautein: mes Euripide plus santancieus e plus filosofique. Des Latin nous n’avons que Seneque: qui n’est pas guere magnifique: eincoes pesant e obscur, e tenant beaucoup du changement de la Latinite: toutefois santancieus, e imitable avec jugement.118 (Take as your models the Greeks Euripides and Sophocles. Quintilian rates them equal in merit, although he rightly points out that the style of Sophocles is more weighty and elevated, while Euripides is more sententious and philosophical. From the Latin writers we have only Seneca, who lacks pomp. He is heavy and obscure, and suffers greatly from the changes introduced into Latin culture. But his sententious side may be imitated judiciously.)

The Greek word, not the Latin, is that through which the tragedy claims legitimacy. And the advice offered by the chorus to Glauque, a Greek, and to Medea, a nonGreek, and as a general observation, is that “la Gréque parolle” be rejected, that the gift, colored by Greek words, be refused. This is not a neutral statement in any case, and it is particularly irksome if we wish to read this tragedy in terms of a conventional Renaissance project of reviving antiquity. We might venture to say that the advice that is being offered here strikes a subversive note, a warning to its own future ghosts: just as Medea has been fooled once but most emphatically will not be fooled twice by “la Gréque parolle,” so modernity should not be fooled twice. In terms of Renaissance anxiety, then, what is brought into focus by the warning against “la Gréque parolle” is, in the first place, a topos on the order of “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” Indeed, the story of Pandora, found in Hesiod,119 is related by Erasmus in connection with the proverb, Hostium munera non munera (“the gifts of enemies are not gifts”).120 The gift to be rejected, then, is the fallen Greek word of the present. This figural and indeed Biblical problem – the Greeks of the past, like the Hebrews of the past, are our ancestors, but their present representatives are to be regarded only with suspicion and disdain – goes to the problem of descendants, of the possibility of inauguration, and of a mode of comprehensibility that the sixteenth century called imitation. Medea, warned against Greeks, and determined not to believe a second time in Greek words, is, in short, both a profound gesture of imitation on the part of the sixteenth-century poet, and at the same time, on the side of the new, just as Hesiod’s Pandora, sent to men as an origin, the first woman, is something new, and at the same time, an imitation of the qualities of goddesses.121 In suggesting in this Act 4 chorus that Medea has been wronged, that she is coping according to a certain strategy within the limits of the fallen world around her, and that she is 118 Peletier, L’Art poëtique, pp. 72–3. 119 Theogony, 521–616, Works and Days, 57–101. 120 Panofsky and Panofsky, Pandora’s Box, pp. 14–26. 121 This is the analysis of Pietro Pucci, Hesiod and the Language of Poetry (Baltimore, MD and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), esp. ch. 4, “Pandora,” pp. 82–115.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

worthy of concern, this chorus also suggests that Medea is new, that her situation is founded upon the Greek word, but that she must be profoundly suspicious of it, and must reject that word if she is to live. This may be horrifying, but it is understandable in the psychologizing terms of a whole personality. Medea’s character is understood in terms of motivation: she has been wronged, and will react accordingly. The logic has less to do with judgment than with the possibility of change and resolution, and, in short, of a cure. If only Creon’s daughter would not accept the poisoned gift! Medea, it seems, has become a case history. And her psychology once established, the political readings of the next four centuries are free to follow. The way is clear, in other words, for her to become a freedom fighter. This psychologizing understanding is to be distinguished from the understanding of her character represented by Creon, who at the beginning of Act 3 pronounces a monologue that is the third of the three extended passages having no Greek or Latin model to be analyzed here. This monologue is precisely structured in order to present a moralizing and sententious formulation of Medea and her projects. That is, Creon pronounces 21 lines (ll. 567–88) in which he laments his inability to read signs and portents – the hooting of an owl upon his palace, wine turned to blood, holy water blackened – with Medea positioned as the last and greatest of these signs (ll. 587–8). And the monologue closes perfectly symmetrically with 21 lines (ll. 595–616) in which he confirms his decision to banish Medea, and twice uses the verb that is her brand, brasser, to brew (l. 607, l. 616). This verb when conjugated can conveniently be rhymed with menasse (l. 608), and thus used to convict by the logic of the rhyme Medea’s witchcraft. But the heart of the monologue is formed by six lines (ll. 589–94) divided into three sententious pronouncements. The first, “Qui une fois à vice a voulu s’adonner / Une et une autre-fois ne craint d’i retourner” (ll. 589–90) (“Anyone who gives himself up to vice once / doesn’t fear to do it time and time again”), expresses exactly the moral of the emblem of Medea as we find it in Alciati. In the emblem, Medea is pictured as a statue in a niche, outdoors (see Figure 2.4). The point of her sword is in one child’s breast, and the other lies dead at her feet. A bird is building its nest on her head. In Palmer’s Two Hundred Poosies, the moral of the emblem is translated as: Why buyldst thy neste, thou selly birde, in fell Medea’s throne? Thynkste thow, she will thi yonge ones spare that favorde not her owne?122 Both the emblem and Creon’s sententious lines thus express a moralizing understanding of the Medea problem: if she has killed once, as indeed she has, she will kill again. This, as Morse has indicated, is an assumption about cyclic patterns in human behavior with which medieval Medea stories were much concerned.123 122 Thomas Palmer, The Emblems of Thomas Palmer: Two Hundred Poosies, Sloane MS 3794, ed. John Manning (New York: AMS Press, 1988), no. 90. 123 Morse, The Medieval Medea, p. 11.

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Figure 2.4


“A celuy qui a grevé les siens, ne fault que autruy se fie,” Andrea Alciati, Livret des emblems. Paris: Chrétien Wechel, 1536

Creon’s sententious pronouncement, following this tradition, is not an attempt at analysis. Its force and power are that of repetition and confirmation of a well-known and unarguable world-view: once a killer, always a killer. He continues, at the very center of his monologue, with the mighty secular theme and image of fortune’s wheel, “Des Rois et grans seigneurs la Fortune se joüe, / Et tourne à leur malheur le plus souvant la roüe” (ll. 591–2) (“Dame Fortune trifles with kings and great lords, / And her wheel turns most often to their detriment”), and in his third and final sententious pronouncement, pride goes before a fall: “Le foudre rue bas les plus superbes tours, / Mais le toit du berger, sans peur, dure ses jours” (ll. 593–4) (“Lightning brings down the highest towers, / But the shepherd’s rooftop need not fear; it lasts”). This, then, is the hub of specifically sixteenth-century Creonic thinking, the carefully crafted, poetically fortified, expression of a certain kind of law and authority. These are the words of a Greek as the sixteenth-century playwright imagined them. This locked-in symmetry and historically complacent sententiousness, in terms both of rhetoric and of plot, is what is against Medea. The contrast, in its understanding of the character of Medea, with the Act 4 chorus, which, as we have seen, is for her, could not be greater. On the one hand, then, there is much to be read in the tragedy of La Péruse that is nascent. Born here, we could say, is an easily legible and peculiarly modern


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

consciousness of Medea the underdog, the force of the future to be reckoned with, and reckoned with precisely by those who and by that which has made her. Readings based on gender, nation, and race are opened up. So, in Henri LeNormand’s Asie, first performed in 1931, Medea is the princess Katha Naham Moun (a trilingual pun on Medea’s alchemical identity) of the Indo-Chinese Sibang people, Creusa is the blonde Aimée, and Jason the thrusting colonial businessman De Mezzana. The princess causes the children to eat poisoned jam and throws herself out of a window rather than allow the children to be raised in France by a Mezzana who declares: “J’en ferai des garçons blancs”124 (“I’ll make white boys of them”). In 1935, Countee Cullen, the “poet laureate” of the Harlem Renaissance, produced a translation of Euripides in which an African Medea is betrayed by a white man, and Willy Kyrkland also set a black Medea against a white male nemesis in Medea fran Mbongo in 1967.125 Medea has been a Mexican woman abandoned by her American lover, an Irish woman oppressed by an Englishman,126 and in late 2004, an Irish traveler living in a caravan oppressed by mainstream settled Irish people in Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats.127 But a much less easily legible and somehow more tantalizing nascence, one having to do with the very possibility of birth itself, is to be read in La Péruse’s tragedy. This is the hint of a link between Medea and Glauque, both of whom, the Act 4 chorus suggests, have been horribly deceived by the Greek word. I have claimed that this chorus creates Medea as a case history, and have suggested that the chorus engages in analysis and aims at a cure. The subject of its anxiety, and the act during which it is dramaturgically intended to “beguile the wait” according to Jondorf, is the deadly meeting between Medea’s gift and the daughter of Creon. The relationship between Medea and Creon’s daughter is the subject of the only reference to the story of Medea by Freud. The reference occurs in the fragment of the case history of Dora, in the course of explanations about the homosexual love that Dora, who was also attracted to Frau K.’s husband, felt for Frau K., who, meanwhile, was involved with Dora’s father. It emerged in the course of the analysis that “the young woman [Frau K.] and the scarcely grown girl [Dora] had lived for years on a footing of the closest intimacy,” sharing a bedroom and confidences of the most intimate kind.128 “Medea,” writes Freud, “had been quite content that Creusa should make friends with her two children; and she certainly did nothing to interfere with the relations between the girl 124 Henri LeNormand, Asie, in Théâtre complet (Paris: Albin Michel, 1938), vol. 9, pp. 7–147 (p. 39). 125 Lillian Corti, The Myth of Medea and the Murder of Children (Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1998), pp. 178–216. 126 Marianne McDonald, “Medea as Politician and Diva: Riding the Dragon into the Future,” in James J. Clauss and Sarah Iles Johnston (eds.), Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Philosophy, and Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 297–323. 127 Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats, dir. Dominic Cooke, perf. Holly Hunter, Wyndhams Theatre, London, 28 December 2004. 128 Sigmund Freud, “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905 [1901]),” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1953), vol. 5, pp. 3–122 (p. 61).

Medean Renaissance



and the children’s father.” This would cast Frau K. as Medea, Dora as Creusa, and either Dora’s father, to whom Frau K. was attracted, or Herr K., to whom Dora was attracted, as Jason. Dora had indeed acted as a mother to the K. children, teaching them, and offering them a substitute for their own mother’s slight affections.130 But the blurring of the “Jason” identity is significant: that the fit of Freud’s analogy is loose here gestures to the fact that Jason is hardly the point. If this reference strikes a loud false note, however, to those familiar with Medea’s story, this is because Freud refers here neither to Euripides nor to Seneca, but to the Medea tragedy that formed the third part of the trilogy Das Goldene Vlies by Franz Grillparzer, first performed in Vienna in 1821.131 In Grillparzer’s version, Medea does indeed idealize and make a doomed attempt to befriend Kreusa, and she is powerless to prevent Kreusa’s wooing of the children away from her, although she never ceases to insist that she, Medea, is their mother. Given the choice by Jason of taking one of the two boys with her into exile, she calls to both, but they cling in fear to Kreusa and are taken away. Medea ends Act 3 with “Let me die! My children!”132 So while is it perhaps not completely correct to claim that Medea is “quite content that Creusa should make friends with her two children,” Freud’s brief comment goes nevertheless to the heart of the matter: the most interesting relationship in Grillparzer’s play is between the two women. The Medea story does not occur to Freud in connection with the death of children, although opportunities for making this kind of connection were not lacking: the first dream begins precisely with a house on fire, a beautiful box, and the death of two children – “‘I refuse to let myself and my two children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case’”133 – and the analysis comes to an end of sorts when one of the K. children dies and Dora pays a visit of condolence to the parents.134 Rather, Freud’s interest is in the intense, indeed homosexual, relationship between Frau K. and Dora. It is this love that interests Freud, to whose tardy discovery he attributes the lack of success of the analysis, and to whose omission he attributes his “complete perplexity” in the cases of his early career.135 The name of Jason never appears in the discussion. The turn to the Medea–Creusa axis is not unique to Grillparzer or to Freud, and the decline of interest in Jason can be seen both in changes of detail and in fundamental plot changes. Christa Wolf has written of a Medea who is a confidant, perhaps a lover, and perhaps an analyst of her Glauca. At any rate, she is certainly the object of transference love: “‘I really don’t know how she got me talking. I mean, talking about what I’d forgotten, it only came back to me the instant I told her about it. Maybe I’m making that up now, I said. That doesn’t matter, she said, my

129 Ibid., p. 61. 130 Ibid., p. 37. 131 Franz Grillparzer, Medea. Trauerspiel in fünf Aufzügen (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1971); see Corti, The Myth of Medea, pp. xi, 121–8. 132 Grillparzer, Medea, p. 227. 133 Freud, “Fragment of an Analysis,” p. 64. 134 Ibid., p. 121. 135 Ibid., p. 120, n. 1.

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64 136

head lay in her lap.’” The Lunga notte di Medea of Corrado Alvaro begins with a lesbian scene in which two servants discuss the fact that one of them has slept with a man. “Use de ta magie et fais-moi devinir un garçon” (“Use your magic and turn me into a boy”), the rejected one asks Medea in the French version produced as a radio play in 1953.137 When Creusa dies by throwing herself from the tower of the palace, Medea’s comment to Creon is: “Ta fille a vu ce que cela signifie être épouse et mère. D’un seul coup, elle a vu à l’oeuvre la trahison et le mensonge. Elle a refusé de devenir femme!”138 (“Your daughter saw what it means to be a wife and mother. All at once she saw treachery and deceit in action. She refused to become a wife!”).One indexical detail of this turn to the exclusively feminine has been the tendency to give Medea a daughter. When Scotland’s Liz Lochhead adapted Euripides’ Medea for Glasgow’s theatrebabel in 2000, Medea had three children, one of whom was a little girl.139 In By the Bog of Cats, not only is Hester Swane’s only child a lassie named Josie, but also Hester’s present derangement, according to the plot, has been caused by her mother’s abandonment of her, Hester’s terrible inability to remember her, and her absolute conviction that her mother will return one day to the Bog of Cats. The Act 4 chorus of La Péruse sets Medea and Glauque in parallel: beginning with violence done to Medea, the chorus ends with violence done to Glauque. Although she is her murderess, Medea is Glauque’s sister in this; they are equally dealing death and done to death by the words of a Greek. The argument supported by this chorus is not that the sixteenth-century text anticipates Freud, or that the violence of Act 5 somehow does not count. Rather, I mean to suggest that, in choosing in this chorus to turn to the relationship between Medea and Glauque, La Péruse turns toward a notion of subjectivity that can properly be called modern. What is Greek and what is barbarian, what is violent and that which heals violence, are conceptualized from within a logic that includes only women, in which Jason is but a cardboard figure. The second Medean exception, her integrating subjectivity in an age of schizomythia, here demonstrates its effectiveness and reveals the agenda that it set. In causing the antique text to live again, there is a new Medea for modernity, one capable of shifting emphases and refigured axes. The death of the children, brutally staged by La Péruse, is not the logical consequence of how Medea acts (“once a killer, always a killer”). It is rather the logical consequence of a new textual and cultural project of declaring what Medea is: the secret sharer of Glauque. But what of the first Medean exception, the inability of her readers to read themselves in her absence and death, and in short, to organize a reception history for her as a function of their love for her? Perhaps love, I suggested, is more complicated than that, and Hester Swane’s desperate longing for reunification with her mother, and her refusal that she should replicate herself in a living girl-child, puts paid to 136 Christa Wolf, Medea: A Modern Retelling, trans. John Cullen (London: Virago, 1998), p. 112. 137 Corrado Alvaro, La Longue nuit de Médée, trans. Charles Vildrac and Suzanne Ruchat, France Illustration 140 (1953), pp. 1–24. 138 Ibid., p. 24. 139 Liz Lochhead, Medea, dir. Graham McLaren, perf. Maureen Beattie, The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 17 March 2000.

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any notion of conventional nascence. It is no accident that the inventor of the word “intertextuality” was the same Julia Kristeva who wrote tellingly and at length of narcissism in Histoires d’amour: “De pouvoir recevoir les mots de l’autre, de les assimiler, répéter, reproduire, je deviens comme lui: Un. Un sujet de l’énonciation. Par identification-osmose psychique. Par amour”140 (“To be able to receive the words of the other, to assimilate, repeat, and reproduce them, I become like him [it]. One. One subject of enunciation. Through psychic identification-osmosis. Through love”). The thresholds of the tragedy of La Péruse are within as well as without. They live clearly and infamously in the history of the other; but they live as well in the history of the self.

140 Julia Kristeva, Histoires d’amour (Paris: Denoël, 1983), pp. 37–8.

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Chapter 3

Of Glammatology Medea’s Public The figure of Medea in Pierre Corneille’s first tragedy, Médée, from 1635, is a brew: on the one hand, she is a stage-specific magician who wields a magic wand that unlocks closed doors, breaks chains, arrests physical movement, and produces plot movement. In this, she is related, as Jean Rousset long ago pointed out, to her aunt Circé, as well as to any number of other magicians in any number of other genres.1 On the other hand, she is the witch who was the focus of intense early modern theological and cultural anxiety. To this potent brew can be added the very particular chronology of Corneille’s Médée. Between the time of the play’s première in 1635 and its first printing in 1639, Le Cid in 1637 had created the controversy that brought forcibly to Corneille’s attention that “the rules” were his business as a playwright. His struggle with and critique of this culture of regularity was to continue through his most extensive statement on dramatic theory, the three Discours of 1660, and beyond.2 In the four intervening years, Corneille had discovered that, while Medea’s poisonings, murders, and what he describes in the 1639 dedication as “le crime en son char de triomphe”3 (“crime itself in a triumphal chariot”) were successful but relatively unremarkable on the tragic stage, the suggestion that a young woman might marry her father’s killer produced a real critical controversy. It was his Chimène, not his Médée, who was called by Scudéry in the Observations sur le Cid, “ce Monstre.”4 The world of the stage, that is, seems to have changed, and changed unpleasantly as far as Corneille was concerned, in a breathtakingly short space of time. Scholarly opinions on the cultural meaning of the “Querelle du Cid” vary. Shortly after the success of Le Cid, Corneille published some apparently self-congratulatory lines of poetry in the Excuse à Ariste, and some, following the lead of Armand Gasté’s discussion in the late nineteenth century of the ensuing firestorm,5 have assumed that general irritation with Corneille’s vanity and the jealousy of rival playwrights 1 Jean Rousset, La Littérature de l’âge baroque en France. Circé et le paon (Paris: José Corti, 1954); Noémie Courtès, L’écriture de l’enchantement. Magie et magiciens dans la littérature française du XVIIe siècle (Paris: Champion, 2004). 2 For an important discussion of the poetics of the rule, see John Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder: The Theory of Tragedy in Classical France (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1999), esp. ch. 1, “Regularity: Articulating the Aesthetic,” pp. 1–42. 3 Pierre Corneille, Médée. Tragédie, in André Stegman (ed.), Oeuvres complètes (Paris: Seuil, 1963), pp. 173–92 (p. 173). 4 Armand Gasté, La Querelle du Cid. Pièces et pamphlets publiés d’après les originaux avec une introduction (Paris: 1898; Geneva: Slatkine, 1970), p. 82. 5 Ibid., pp. 9–15.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

sparked the quarrel. “War was declared,” claimed Gasté.6 Milorad R. Margitic has more recently elaborated this point and read the Querelle as a battle over social class. Corneille, an upstart commoner, had mistakenly believed that his success was due to personal merit, a notion that was intrinsically threatening to the social hierarchy topped by the aristocracy. His failure to understand proper aristocratic behavior would then explain why his depiction of it in his play was faulty, according to his opponents.7 Indeed, criticism at the time focused largely on the dishonorable actions of Chimène, and this focus is given a feminist reading in Claire Carlin’s account of the Querelle.8 What is fascinating about these readings of the Querelle, however, is that the motivations for it in these accounts are trans-historical. Jealousy, class struggle, the superb resistance of the feminine to a system of representation that is essentially masculine: this is the human condition, then and now, and there is no denying the truth of it. However, a much stranger, and properly historical, meaning of the Querelle is suggested by Hélène Merlin and Joan DeJean. In “La Querelle du Cid: De la république des lettres au public,” a central chapter of her major study Public et littérature en France au XVIIe siècle, Merlin is fascinated with the fact that the play continued to be extremely well attended, in spite of the critical machinery massed against it. Corneille was thus enjoying a popular stage success, while his detractors’ strategy was to redefine the public as that group that read plays in the silence of their cabinets.9 According to the opposition, before its printing, a play could not really have a public, because its public must be those who read it, using the faculty of rational judgment, and not responding, as did the theatrical audience, to the production of pleasure. The force of the Querelle, then, was to return control of public opinion to a medium that could be governed, and to fix the author as a functionary of the state.10 It did not create the notion of a public in the sense that Merlin wishes to understand it, that is, a mobile social-political arena that, as she argues elsewhere, was precipitated at the start of the wars of religion,11 but it helped to impose one definition of it. In the course of a discussion in which her attention is mainly focused elsewhere, “The Invention of a Public for Literature,” DeJean notices in passing that it is in the context of the Querelle that the expression “le public” seems to occur for the first time in the sense of an audience.12 When the Académie Française finally delivered 6 Ibid., p. 15. 7 Milorad R. Margitic, “Sociological Aspects of La Querelle du Cid,” in Sylvie Romanowski and Monique Bilezikian (eds.), Homage to Paul Bénichou (Birmingham, AL: Summa Publications, 1994), pp. 59–74. 8 Claire Carlin, “Who’s Afraid of Chimène? An Irigarayan Reading of la Querelle du Cid,” Women Reading Corneille. Feminist Psychocriticisms of Le Cid (New York: Peter Lang, 2000), pp. 85–103. 9 Hélène Merlin, Public et littérature en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1994), p. 173. 10 Ibid., p. 234. 11 Hélène Merlin, “Le devenir démoniaque du corps politique sous les guerres de religion,” Frénésie 9 (1990), pp. 57–75. 12 Joan DeJean, Ancients Against Moderns: Culture Wars and the Making of a Fin de Siècle (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 35.

Of Glammatology


its verdict on Corneille’s play in the Sentiments de l’Académie Française sur la tragi-comédie du Cid, the word is used twice in the first sentence alone: “Ceux qui par quelque desir de gloire donnent leurs Ouvrages au Public ne doivent pas trouver estrange que le Public s’en fasse le Juge”13 (“Anyone who presents a work to the public out of some desire for glory should not find it odd that that public sets itself up in judgment of it”). A threatening entity is this public; it will judge, and it will give tremendous power to whoever can claim it as an ally. DeJean mentions once again that “Le Cid generated the controversy from which ‘the public’ first emerged in the modern literary sense”,14 but the energy of her discussion is concentrated in the book-length argument that she makes concerning “fins de siècle,” and so it veers off in this case towards the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes at the end of the century. And crucially, DeJean, relying upon dictionary definitions from the end of the century, places her accent upon print culture, as had Merlin’s analysis. Furetière does indeed say that “un Auteur donne ses Ouvrages au public, quand il les fait imprimer, & que la lecture en est abandonnée à tout le monde”15 (“An author gives his works to the public when he has them printed and anyone at all can read them”). But how did it happen that, by about 1637, “the public” emerged so powerfully as an audience, and as a variously populated arena whose opinion should be respected and courted? Whatever the response –and it is well here to remember Alain Viala’s caution that “Aussi faut-il se défaire non seulement de l’idée d’un public homogène, mais aussi de l’idée d’un public ‘préexistant:’ le public littéraire a pris corps et forme en même temps que prenait forme et consistance le champ littéraire”16 (“Thus we musn’t think either that this public was homogenous or that it already existed: the literary public took shape at the same time as did the literary field”) – Medea is in the middle of it. For by 1639, Corneille had been forcibly encouraged to think about the possible interactions between his Medea and her newly important public in ways that would surely never have occurred to him when he was adapting the Senecan and Euripidean texts for the 1635 première. One of his conclusions was that the problem of exemplarity, the great project of the sixteenth-century tragedy to issue warnings to princes, simply did not apply to the case of Medea, nor did he wish to unleash any more Sentiments de l’Académie or of anyone else: Je vous donne Médée, toute méchante qu’elle est, et ne vous dirai rien pour sa justification. Je vous la donne pour telle que vous la voulez prendre, sans tâcher à prévenir ou violenter vos sentiments par un étalage des précepts de l’art .17

13 Gasté, La Querelle du Cid, p. 355. 14 DeJean, Ancients Against Moderns, p. 55. 15 Antoine Furetière, Dictionnaire universel (La Haye: Husson et al., 1727), def. 2. 16 Alain Viala, Naissance de l’écrivain. Sociologie de la littérature à l’âge classique (Paris: Minuit, 1985), p. 124. 17 Corneille, Médée, p. 173.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France (I give you Medea in all her evil glory and will make no attempt to justify her. She is what you make of her, and I won’t try to predict or change your feelings by trotting out a few artistic principles.)

Dramatic poetry’s status with respect to the example has been muddied; it does not hold up its actions as lessons to be learned: “Aussi nous décrit-elle [la poésie] indifféremment les bonnes et mauvaises actions, sans nous proposer les dernières pour exemple” (“Thus does poetry describe both the good and the bad, without proposing that the latter should be exemplary”). And not only are princes not to treat plays as advice in any simple way, but neither is the newly empowered public necessarily expected to take a lesson from the play: “Il n’est pas question d’avertir ici le public que celles [les mauvaises actions] de cette tragédie ne sont pas à imiter: elles paraissent assez à découvert pour n’en faire envie à personne” (“This is not a matter of warning the public that what happens in this tragedy should not be copied: Its events are plain enough to discourage anyone from doing so”). It is difficult to escape the conclusion that, in writing the dedication to his Médée, Corneille had a subtext: he continued to respond to his attackers’ opinions about Le Cid. One of Scudéry’s most forcefully expressed arguments, that is, had been that it was exactly plays like this one that caused Plato to ban all poetry from his Republic, for it depicted evil, and therefore encouraged evil in its audience: “Il est une instruction au mal, un aiguillon pour nous y pousser”18 (“This is a lesson in evil, something to goad us on to do it”). Rubbish, Corneille responds, nobody goes away from the theater convinced that the actions represented there are simplistically to be replicated. Indeed, there was a precedent for this subtext in the case of La Suivante, published on 9 September 1637, in the midst of the Querelle, whose dedication seems to be an ill-tempered discussion of Le Cid.19 In this dedication, as well as in that of the Médée, Corneille’s argument and justification come down firmly on the side of pleasure, thus carrying on the debate – Should theater instruct its audience, or entertain it? – that had been raging since he first began to write for the theater, around 1630.20 Pleasing the audience, Corneille claims, is the playwright’s first task: “Notre premier but doit être de plaire à la Cour et au peuple” (“Our first goal must be to please the court and the people”), concluded the dedication to La Suivante, and the dedication to Médée reads like a pleasure manifesto: [Le but] de la poésie dramatique est de plaire, et les règles qu’elle nous prescrit ne sont que des adresses pour en faciliter les moyens au poète, et non pas des raisons qui puissent persuader aux spectateurs qu’une chose soit agréable quand elle leur déplaît.21 (The goal of dramatic poetry is to please, and its prescribed rules are only advice to help the poet do this, not reasons for the spectators to be persuaded to like something that they really don’t.”)

18 Gasté, La Querelle du Cid, pp. 80–81. 19 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, pp. 126–7. 20 Georges Forestier, Essai de génétique théâtrale. Corneille à l’oeuvre (Paris: Klincksieck, 1996), pp. 348–52. 21 Corneille, Médée, p. 173.

Of Glammatology


On 15 January 1639, two months before the printing of the Médée on 16 March, Chapelain wrote in a well-known letter to Balzac, “[Corneille] ne fait plus rien. […] Il ne parle plus que de règles et que des choses qu’il eût pu répondre aux Académiciens”22 (“Corneille is at a standstill. He only ever talks about the rules and things he could have said to the French Academy”). To the extent, then, that Corneille’s Medea had become, by 1639, a Medea-Chimène, we can say that the great question of the public, one key aspect of an emerging notion of modernity, had become crucial to it. On the one hand, we have the figure of Medea, disastrously ancient and clearly ungovernable. On the other, we have one locus of an emerging notion of modernity, the public, and the stage’s creation of its own public, as well as the public’s reflection on the stage. This double reflection seems to be of great concern in general to successful playwrights. Without necessarily arguing that it is an eternal concern, it is one that seems at least to have weighed upon one of the most successful twenty-first-century playwrights, Tom Stoppard. He formulated it as “pragmatism”: “There’s a high degree of pragmatism in theatre. When the play is being performed, you’re looking for a certain kind of match, for a certain sense of there being a common reference between the play and the audience.”23 Medea operates in this double reflection as a disruptor on one major point of theatrical theory bound up with the public, the question of vraisemblance. “Le vraysemblable,” René Rapin was able to write by 1674, “est tout ce qui est conforme à l’opinion du public”24 (“The vraisemblable is anything that conforms to the public’s opinion”). This is intense circularity. Something is vraisemblable if the public finds it to be so. And the public is just that group that finds a certain class of event to be vraisemblable. But “il n’est pas vraisemblable que Médée tue ses enfants” (“it is not vraisemblable for Medea to kill her children”), wrote Corneille in the 1660 Discours.25 All obviously depends upon the quality and definition of this “public,” but also something else, a disruptor, allows an escape from the logical circle. The successful playwright’s ability to find “a certain kind” of correspondence between his stage and his audience, this “certain sense” that the audience already knows what he is going to tell them, seems in the case of Medea to be founded upon a strange escape from the communal logic of the staged representation and the public. She corresponds; she pleases; the public loves her. But she is at the same time completely and by definition improbable, invraisemblable. The Glammatology This strange logic that disrupts the vraisemblable and encompasses glamour (of the witch), as well as pleasure (of the public), is a Medean logic, a “glammatology.” 22 Jean Chapelain, “Lettre à M. de Balzac,” Opuscules critiques (Paris: Droz, 1936), pp. 400–402 (p. 402). 23 Bryan Appleyard, “It’s the Thought that Counts,” Sunday Times, Culture (8 June 2003), pp. 10–11 (p. 11). 24 René Rapin, Les Réflexions sur la poétique de ce temps et sur les ouvrages des poètes anciens et modernes, ed. E.T. Dubois (Geneva: Droz, 1970), p. 39. 25 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 822.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

What the witch does, we remember, is to cast the “glamour,” a derivative of “grammar,” and an etymological relative of the “grimoire.” The fettering of the eyes so that “things seem to be other than they are,” as the Malleus maleficarum claimed,26 has implications in general for the status of staged illusion. But the casting of the glamour also means in particular that the audience must be silenced. There is a model for this silencing in a 1579 edition of Jacques Grévin’s translation of Jean Wier’s demonology treatise. In it, Wier tells the story that when the Emperor Maximillian wanted to see the antique heroes Achilles and Hector, a certain magician was called and promised to produce them: moyennant que l’on sonnait mot, tandis que ces personnages aparoistroyent. […] Lors il fit un grand cerne, & enferma dedans l’Empereur assis en sa chaire; puis commença à lire tout bas quelques paroles dedans un petit livre. Toute soudain Hector heurte si rudement à la porte que tout le palais trembla.27 (providing that they didn’t utter a peep while these characters were materializing. […] At which point he made a great circle and sat the Emperor down within it on his throne; then he began very softly to read some words in a little book. Suddenly Hector banged on the door so loudly that the entire palace shook.)

The theatricality of this little episode is evident: there are the Greek and Trojan heroes, ready again to do battle, but only if the audience will cooperate by sitting down, within a certain magical circle, quietly. The magician, meanwhile, reads from a “grimoire,” and whispers something unspecified. The magician can talk, but not the audience, and that audience, further, has been reduced to a gaze of one, the Emperor himself. The story offers as well a particularly clear example of the creation and definition of the audience by the staged illusion. For the magician does indeed produce not only Hector but also Achilles, both of whom salute the Emperor and disappear. When King David then appears, however, he does not acknowledge the Emperor, says the magician, because his empire is greater than that of the Emperor, and of all others, in excellence. Maximillian is thus placed in a political and theological hierarchy, the moral of which he is, in turn, literally and figuratively uniquely placed to observe. There would be a history of silence to be written for the early modern period. We remember Merlin’s point about the importance of the silence of the cabinet for the readers of the newly contested public. In Jean Wier’s little story, silence is demanded by the magician of his audience, but also Wier’s treatise describes the silence given by the devil to accused witches who must endure torture. A magic spell supposedly offered protection from confessing under torture to “ceux, qui ayans commis quelque crime capital, pensent par un escrit, ou par paroles prononcees ne 26 Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger [sic], The Malleus maleficarum, ed. and trans. Montague Summers (New York: Dover, 1971), p. 59. 27 Jean Wier, Histoires, disputes et discours, des illusions et impostures des diables, des magiciens infames, sorciers & impoisonneurs, trans. Jacques Grévin (Jacques Chouet, 1579), p. 61.

Of Glammatology


devoir enduere aucun mal, ni estre contraints de parler dessus la question & gehenne. Ils sont confermez en ce mal par le diable”28 (“… those who, having committed some capital offence, think that, by means of writing or spoken words, they neither feel pain nor are forced to talk under torture. They are sustained in this evil by the devil”). Seemingly, there can be a magical, even diabolical, aspect to silence. In the story of the Emperor Maximillian, it is particularly clear that the representation founded upon the silence of the audience is a two-way street: only the Emperor has eyes to see and the status to convoke the antique heroes, but at the same time, his status is defined by what he sees. He is put in his place doubly by the ancients, both within the magical circle of the event he is attending, and within the history of kingship. In this operation, two glammatological movements are conflated: the audience is reduced to an audience of one, and it is silenced. The concentration and reduction of the audience to an audience of one is, for the French seventeenth century, a development of great interest for the relations maintained by the stage with the political power of absolutism, embodied in the monarch himself or his most powerful representative. There exists in the Bibliothèque Nationale a manuscript of the object of Corneille’s ire, the Sentimens de l’Académie Françoise sur la tragi-comédie du Cid. It is in the hand of Chapelain, with marginal notes by Richelieu himself,29 and it is impossible not to imagine that Corneille had Richelieu’s power and interest very much present to mind when he came, in January 1641, to dedicate Horace to him. According to Corneille, it has now become easy to learn how to write plays, because the playwright no longer needs to read anything other than Richelieu’s face, the face from which all rules derive: Nous n’avons plus besoin d’autre étude pour les [les conaissances] acquérir que d’attacher nos yeux sur V. É. […] C’est là que, lisant sur son visage ce qui lui plaît et ce qui ne lui plaît pas, nous nous instruisons avec certitude de ce qui est bon et de ce qui est mauvais, et tirons des règles infaillibles de ce qu’il faut suivre et de ce qu’il faut éviter.30 (We need no longer study anything in order to acquire skill and knowledge, but instead we fix our eyes on Your Highness. Our solid instruction concerning the good and the bad comes from reading on your face what pleases and what does not. It is there that we learn infallible rules for what must be done and what must not.)

The face of Richelieu has become itself a text upon which the playwright fixes his eyes and reads, and it effects a general telescoping. Not only are all rules hyperlinked to it, but also time is radically condensed: “C’est là que j’ai souvent appris en deux heures ce que mes livres n’eussent pu m’apprendre en dix ans” (“It is there that I have frequently learned in two hours what I couldn’t learn from my books in ten years”). Further, this magical face has irresistibly appropriated all pleasure for itself, taking over and usurping the pleasure of the people: “Vous avez ennobli le but de l’art, puisqu’au lieu de celui de plaire au peuple […], vous nous avez donné celui de 28 Ibid., p. 505. 29 Gasté, La Querelle du Cid, p. 355. 30 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 248.

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vous plaire et de vous divertir” (“You have ennobled the goal of art, for instead of pleasing the people, you have given us the goal of pleasing and entertaining you”). From the depths of the wellspring of this face, then, the playwright may learn how to pass from pleasing the people, whom the face has surpassed, to gaining the applause of the public: “C’est là que j’ai puisé ce qui m’a valu l’applaudissement du public” (“It is there that I discovered how to gain the public’s applause”). The reduction of the audience to the eyes of political power is here part of a larger, three-part movement. According to Corneille, the audience was once “le peuple,” and here his usage may agree with Furetière’s comment that: “Peuple se dit encore plus particulierement par opposition à ceux qui sont nobles, riches, ou éclairez. Le peuple est peuple par tout, c’est-à-dire, sot, remuant, aimant les nouveautés”31 (“The people are always the people, which is to say foolish, restless, and fond of novelty”). The face of Richelieu then restricts this potential audience to itself alone. But the result of and the third movement in this process is then the surprising, seemingly ex nihilo, constitution of a public, distinct from the people, whose response to the poet’s concentration upon the face has been limited to the emission of a voiceless sound of appreciation, applause. The voice of the people and their voicing of their pleasure are gone. The reflection of this concentration of political power on the stage was the subject of a beautiful contribution made in 1954 by Jean Starobinski. In “Sur Corneille,” Starobinski discussed what he called the “effet de présence,” a baroque commonplace through which absolute power emanates simply from someone’s presence, either on or off the stage.32 “Louis n’a qu’à paraître” (“Louis has only to appear”) would be the summary of this effect in its political guise: “La présence suscite un effect qui est une sorte de prodige et qui pourtant n’a rien que de naturel”33 (“An effect arises from this presence that is at once miraculous and, at the same time, perfectly natural”). Starobinski connected this effect, a secular form of seizure before the sacred, to a negative pole of the magic of the staged witch and magician. The movement of magic in Corneille’s theater was then a process of interiorization from Médée and L’Illusion to the individual heroic spirit in the late works. The “effet de présence,” we could then say, is an example of prestige in the etymological sense defined by the Malleus Maleficarum, a fettering of the eyes. It participates fully in the double logic of the glamour. Here, Richelieu has this prestigious power, and the public reflects it. Corneille is very clear about this doubling. Let us now see if we can read behind the fact of this structure to its mechanics, to a moment, that is, when Medea’s magic and the people’s pleasure glamorized both the witch and her onlookers. The Chorus So the connection between the absolute power of the audience of one and the witch’s magic was made long ago. What has received rather less attention over the years, however, is a shadowy, parallel equation: the absence from the tragedy of the voice 31 Furetière, Dictionnaire universel, def. 3. 32 Jean Starobinski, “Sur Corneille,” Les Temps Modernes 10 (1954), pp. 713–29. 33 Ibid., p. 713.

Of Glammatology


of the people, figured in the chorus, and its own possible connections with the problematic of witchcraft and magic. Between the Médée of La Péruse and that of Corneille, the great witchcraft persecutions intervened, the years between 1580 and 1630 seeing the majority of the trials in most areas.34 But also, in developments surely not unrelated to the witch craze, society and politics had been buffeted and torn apart by a self-described “Age of Iron,” what Stephen Toulmin, we will recall, termed, “among the most uncomfortable, and even frantic, years in all European history.”35 While over-population had seemed to threaten in the second half of the sixteenth century, the Thirty Years War was a demographic catastrophe. There was a sharp decline in living standards and individual security, and from the late sixteenth century to around 1630, Europe suffered a “little ice age,” a period of unusually bitter winters and cold wet summers and autumns in which grain rotted and harvests were poor. At the same time, the communal impulse in tragedy, as expressed by the chorus, seems to have petered out. The chorus in sixteenth-century humanist tragedy had been its most distinguishing feature, its link with its own project of revival, and the mark that the voices of antique authors were being heard in French. But choruses began to be eliminated from performances at the end of the sixteenth century, especially when finances were limited and actors or singers scarce.36 The forces involved in fact had never necessarily been enormous. We know, for example, that the performance of a Médée in 1572 at Parthenay utilized “quatre habitants” (“four local residents”) who performed “le premier, le deuxième, le troisième et le quartième coheur”37 (“the first, second, third, and fourth choruses”). All of Monchrestien’s six tragedies, the last from 1604, have choruses. But Hardy’s tragedies, except for Didon and Timoclée, either have no chorus at all, or reduce it to a few isolated entrances. About the Didon, Hardy commented that: “les Choeurs y sont obmis, comme superflus à la representation, & de trop de fatigue à refondre”38 (“the choruses have been left out because they are superfluous in performance and too much trouble to rewrite”), presumably meaning that the choruses, which are certainly there on the page, have become reading matter only, and that there is little point in abridging them for performance. So the issue that these two points, Medea’s glamour and the newly constituted public of Corneille’s first tragedy, sandwich is the disappearance of the chorus in spoken tragedy. The chorus, that is, is spoken tragedy’s canary in the mineshaft with respect to the vast social and political changes implicated in the notion of modernity, which became specific in the creation of a public. The witch, the chorus, the public: perhaps the correct image for their interactivity in the spoken tragedy is not that of

34 Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft (London: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 292. 35 Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (New York: Free Press, 1990), p. 16. 36 Bénédicte Louvat-Molozay, Théâtre et musique. Dramaturgie de l’insertion musicale dans le théâtre français (1550–1680) (Paris: Champion, 2002), pp. 210–11. 37 R. Lebègue, “Le Repertoire d’une troupe française à la fin du XVIe siècle,” Revue d’histoire du théâtre 1 (1948–49), pp. 9–24. 38 Alexandre Hardy, Théâtre, ed. E. Stengel (Geneva: Slatkine, 1967), p. 45.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

the sandwich, but rather that of the pincer movement, the chorus’s voice weakened from both glammatological directions. That the chorus is the figure of the community’s voice, that it expresses a “communal impulse,” is, however, an assumption with a long history, and it is perhaps best to start with the Greeks. In an article first published in 1968, and that continues to be cited as authoritative,39 Jean-Pierre Vernant argued that ancient Greek tragedy was properly an invention. It was a new kind of spectacle that arose, flourished, and degenerated in little more than a century. This was because it characterized a particular moment in the history of the city, one at which juridical and political thought, embodied in the chorus, confronted the mythical and heroic tradition, embodied in the masked, individual actors. The chorus was a collective character, whose role consisted of expressing the fears, hopes, judgments, and feelings of the spectators who made up the civic community. They discuss the problem of the hero, confronting ancient myth with new ways of thinking, which mark the arrival of the law within the framework of the city. If the heroic past is either too close to be properly questioned or too distant to matter, then tragedy loses its urgency, and this explains its limited lifespan. It is no accident that the final sentence of Vernant’s article includes the word “public”: “L’homme de théâtre peut bien continuer d’écrire des pièces, en inventer lui-même la trame suivant un modèle qu’il croit confirme aux oeuvres de ses grands devanciers. Chez lui, dans son public, dans toute la culture grecque, le ressort tragique est brisé” (p. 17) (“The playwright might well continue to write plays and to invent their plots by following a path supposedly laid down by his great predecessors. But in him, in his public, and in Greek culture as a whole, the bond with the tragedy had been broken”). More recently, David Wiles has seconded this close connection between the tragic chorus and its spectators, arguing that the Platonic concern with festival rather than with text provides the necessary context for understanding the problem of the chorus as that of the general production of space.40 For Plato, tragedy was a form of choral dance, and the chorus were accordingly actors and onlookers in the scenic space, and at the same time fellow-citizens. They played a part in the tragedy, and at the same time were worshippers of Dionysus in an Athenian festival. One of the functions within the broader educative task of the stage was refreshment. The audience were on holiday, and the stage was their re-creation: “By having these gods [the Muses, Apollo, and Dionysus] to share their holidays, men were made whole again, and thanks to them, we find refreshment in the celebration of these festivals.”41 For the Plato of the Laws, then, the chorus of tragedy was the culmination of a process of communal self-display and self-definition. The governing spatial paradigm was that of a community gathered around an altar, and the choral figures, too small and 39 Suzanne Saïd, “Mythes et tragédies: les leçons de l’Antiquité,” in Gilles Declercq and Michelle Rosellini (eds.), Jean Racine 1699–1999. Actes du Colloque Île-de-France – La Ferté-Milon 25–30 mai 1999 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2004), pp. 493–516 (p. 516). 40 David Wiles, Tragedy in Athens: Performance Space and Theatrical Meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). 41 Plato, The Laws, trans. Trevor J. Saunders (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), p. 86.

Of Glammatology


far away for psychological detail to be registered by the audience, did not offer philosophical reflection or an emotional model. Rather, like the marching band during the half-time show at a football game, the function of the chorus was to create meaning by movement patterns in a large open space.42 It was not just Vernant who remarked upon the brevity of the historical moment from which tragedy in Athens emerged. Denis Page began his comments on Euripides’s Medea by pointing out that Athens entered into warfare immediately upon achieving domination over the Greek world: “Athens had no Victorian Age.”43 If this particular problem of the individual and the collective that tragedy explores and that the chorus comprehended by its dance and song was so fragile and perishable as to have been transformed so quickly, what, then, might the sixteenthcentury playwright have understood about the chorus and its relationship with its audience? The medieval Church had radically repositioned the worshipper, who faced east towards Jerusalem, or heavenward. The spatiality and the communality of the Christian standing in front of an altar offered the theater a radically different model from that of the fifth-century Greek who stood in a circle around an altar, and whose temple drew the worshipper inwards. Centripetal movement, attention, and meaning-making had been replaced by something else. For the chorus and its relationship with the audience, this was bound to have consequences. The situation was murky from the beginning. Translators such as Peletier du Mans seem to have hesitated over even the pronunciation of the word for “chorus.” Horace, whose Art of Poetry was widely read on the question, and whose advice was that the chorus should be treated as one of the actors,44 was widely misunderstood due to a manuscript variant that led to actoris being read as autoris.45 Peletier du Mans, who translated Horace in 1545, wrote in the 1555 Art poëtique: Le Chore en la Tragédie (nous disons Choeur aux Eglises) est une multitude de gens, soit homme ou femme, parlant tous ensemble. Il doit toujours être du parti de l’Auteur: c’est-àdire, qu’il doit donner à connaître le sens et le jugement du Poète: parler sentencieusement, craindre les Dieux, reprendre les Vices, menacer les méchants, admonester à la vertu: Et le tout doit faire succinctement et résolument.46 (The tragic chorus [in church, we say “choir”] is a collection of people, men or women, who all speak together. It should always share the author’s sentiments, that is, communicate his meaning and opinions, speak in weighty formulations, fear the gods, denounce vice, threaten evildoers, and promote virtue. All this it must do firmly and in few words.)

The choral voice of morality and devotion, warning and recompense, had thus, by the mid-sixteenth century, come unmoored from anything like the great communal 42 Wiles, Tragedy in Athens, p. 121. 43 Euripides, Medea, ed. Denis L. Page (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938), p. ix. 44 Horace, The Art of Poetry, in Smith Palmer Bovie (trans.), The Satires and Epistles of Horace (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1959), ll. 193–4. 45 Richard Griffiths, The Dramatic Technique of Antoine de Montchrestien: Rhetoric and Style in French Renaissance Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), p. 143. 46 Jacques Peletier du Mans, L’Art poëtique (Lyons: Ian de Tournes e Guil. Gazeau, 1555), p. 72.


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antique organ of wisdom and witnessing. Instead, it was the voice of authority. And this particular reading of Horace was long-lived: Vauquelin de la Fresnaye’s L’Art poétique, printed for the first time in 1605 although written around 1574, is, on this point, broadly a translation of Horace: “Le Chœur de la vertu doit estre la defence / Du parti de l’autheur repreneur de l’offence”47 (“The chorus must be the defender of virtue / It must denounce misdeeds on the part of the author”). Daigaliers’s L’Art poétique françois, from 1579, reprinted in 1597, quotes these lines from Horace as: “Authoris partes chorus, officiumque virile, / Defendat.”48 But this voice of authority seems to have been, in the sixteenth century and long before, problematic as far as the spectators were concerned. In another widely read text, the De tragoedia et comoedia of the fourth-century Roman grammarian Donatus, we find this explanation for the absence of the chorus in New Comedy: For when the spectator had been made more fastidious [fastidiosor] by leisure [otioso] and then, when the play was handed over from actors to singers, took to getting up and going away, this state of affairs warned the poets first to leave out the choruses […] whence it is difficult in their works to separate the five acts into which their plays are divided.49

According to Donatus, then, the disappearance of the chorus was linked to a change in taste, for the first meaning of fastidiosus is “displaying aversion to food, squeamish.”50 This change in taste, further, was caused by an increase in leisure, otium. The spectator had experienced an increase in unoccupied or spare time, freedom from business or work,51 and, we might speculate, no longer necessarily required the theater to fulfill the recreative function advocated by the Greeks. This led to a practical problem: how could the acts be distinguished one from another? The freedom that came with leisure produced a reaction to the stage that is in many ways non-obvious: an aversion to the music of the chorus on the stage, which caused the spectator to get up and walk away. Donatus does not say that leisure, for example, made men more sociable. Leisure made them instead more critical, more discriminating. It was not that the chorus was ignored. Rather, it was actively disliked, and this in turn produced a properly dramaturgical problem, the inability to tell one act from another. So, in this key text, the economic state of the spectator is linked to the ability of the chorus to hold his attention. When that state changed, the chorus was its barometer. This link between the chorus and the social condition of the audience is part of a broader concern in the sixteenth century about how the playwright may take account of the fact that his audience is composed of French people, and not of ancient Greeks 47 Vauquelin de la Fresnaye, L’ Art poétique, 1605, ed. Georges Pellissier (1885) (Geneva: Slatkine, 1970), pp. 467–8. 48 Pierre de Laudun Daigaliers, L’ Art poétique françois (1597) (Geneva: Slatkine, 1971), p. 291. 49 Aelius Donatus, De tragoedia et comoedia, in H.W. Lawton (ed.), Handbook of French Renaissance Dramatic Theory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1949), pp. 2–21 (p. 7). 50 “Fastidiosus,” Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), def. 1. 51 “Otium,” ibid.

Of Glammatology


or Romans. Writing in the 1548 Art poétique françois, Thomas Sébillet makes this distinction, and marks the difference simply by autrement: Mais en ce avons nous comme en toutes choses suivy notre naturel, qui est de prendre dés choses estrangéres non tout ce que nous y voions, ains seulement que nous jugeons faire pour nous, et estre a notre avantage. Car en la Moralité nous traittons, comme les Grecz et Latins en leurs Tragédies, narrations de fais illustres, magnanimes et vertueus, ou vrays, ou au moins vraysemblables: et en prenons autrement ce que fait a l’information de nos moeurs et vie, sans nous assugettir a douleur ou plaisir d’ussue.52 (But in this as in all things we follow our natural bent, which means that we don’t take everything in foreign works just as we find it, but only what we can use to our own advantage. For, as did the Greeks and the Romans in their tragedies, in our morality plays we deal with stories of great, generous, and virtuous deeds, and they are either true or at least could be true. But when it comes to our own life and our customs, and we depict things differently and we do not feel compelled to end happily, or sadly.)

The distinction between what is French and what is ancient, Sébillet goes on to claim, is directly related to political and patronage systems, and to the necessity of earning. Whether the audience is the monarch or a paying crowd, if you eliminate the factor of an interested public and turn theater into private enterprise, the result will fall far short of perfection: Véritablement nous sommes loin reculéz de la perféction antique, a cause que la faveur populaire desirée en premiére ambition par lés anciens Grecz et Romains, est morte entre nous, qui avons Monarques et Princes héréditaires; et qui ne nous soucions de gaigner suffrages par spéctacles et jeus de sumptueuses despenses, ains au contraire faisons lés jeus pour y gaigner, et en faire profit. Par ce moien demourans nos jeus actes et entreprises privées, et conséquemment sordides, nous en arrestons plus a nous en acquitter, qu’a lés consommer en leur perféction.53 (We are indeed far removed from the perfections of antiquity, because the main ambition of the ancient Greeks and Romans was popular acclaim, and this is now dead. We have monarchs and hereditary princes, and we are not out to win votes with our spectacles and expensive displays but instead to earn money and turn a profit. So our plays are private affairs and accordingly they are a bit sordid, since we are trying more to acquit ourselves well than to achieve consummate perfection.)

For Jacques Grévin, in the “Brief discours” first printed in 1561, this question of the political state of the spectator is specific to the chorus.54 In the tragedy to which it serves as a preface, César, Grévin has renamed the chorus “Gendarmes de César.” Accordingly, we would presumably find local singers from the church choir, accustomed perhaps to representing singers, and, in a general way, as Grévin puts it, 52 Thomas Sébillet, Art poétique françois, ed. Félix Gaiffe (Paris: Nizet, 1988), pp. 161–2. 53 Ibid., pp. 162–3. 54 Jacques Grévin, “Brief discours pour l’intelligence de ce theatre,” in Jeffrey Foster (ed.), César. Édition critique (Paris: Nizet, 1974), pp. 45–52.


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“le simple peuple,” transformed into the tyrant’s bodyguard. The visual link between the spectators and the chorus is thus broken. But, says Grévin, this is done in the interest of avoiding an improbable assumption: that a revolutionary mob sings. What is more, the chorus was usually badly rehearsed: J’ay eu en ceci esgard que je ne parloy pas aux Grecs, n’y aux Romains, mais aux François, lesquels ne se plaisent pas beaucoup en ces chantres mal exercitez, ainsi que j’ay souventesfois observé aux autres endroicts ou l’on en a mis en jeu. D’avantage puis qu’il est ainsi que la Tragedie n’est autre chose qu’une representation de verité, ou de ce qui en ha apparence, il me semble que ce pendant que là ou les troubles (tels que lon les descrit) sont advenues es Republiques, le simple peuple n’avoit pas grande occasion de chanter: et par consequent, que lon ne doit faire chanter non plus en les representant, qu’en la verité mesme.55 (I was aware that I was not speaking to Greeks or Romans but to French people, who don’t like badly rehearsed singers. I’ve often encountered them in other places where they were put onto the stage. What’s more, since tragedy is a representation of truth, or at least its appearance, it seems to me that when a republic experiences unrest (as it is described), the simple folk don’t really have much occasion to sing. So they should no more be represented as singing on stage than they are in actual truth.)

Something is clearly happening here. Whereas the ancients included music and dance as part of the recreative function of the tragedy, the moderns have a problem with this. Precisely, singers do not seem to re-create the audience. The criterion for the status of the chorus changes. No longer is it meant to be the audience’s mirror on stage, but instead it is a function, as is the rest of the tragedy, of vraisemblance. This change creates a series of technical, dramaturgical problems that can be read especially in prefaces to plays, at moments, that is, when authors are most concerned to justify their practice. For Jean de La Taille, whose “De l’art de la tragédie” appeared at the head of Saül (1572), the inclusion of the chorus is a function of the distribution of the tragic subject. Just as a tragedy must have five acts, and begin in medias res, so must it have a chorus: “Il faut qu’il y ait un choeur, c’est à dire, une assemblée d’hommes ou de femmes, qui à la fin de l’acte discourent sur ce qui aura esté dit devant”56 (“There must be a chorus, that is, a group of men or women who comment at the end of the act on what has been said before”). But comments from Théodore de Bèze, prefacing the Abraham sacrifiant, accuse the Greeks and Romans of using “manières de parler trop éloignées du commun […] principalement in leurs Chorus.”57 (“language too far removed from common speech, especially in their choruses”). And Robert Garnier, in the “Argument de la tragecomedie de Bradamante,” from 1580, in eliminating the chorus, is concerned only with the requirements of performance and the problem of time: 55 Ibid., p. 47. 56 Jean de La Taille, “Préface,” in H.W. Lawton (ed.), Handbook of French Renaissance Dramatic Theory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1949), p. 72. 57 Théodore de Bèze, “Theodore de Beze aux lecteurs,” in Enea Balmas and Michel Dassonville (eds.), La Tragédie à l’époque d’Henri II et de Charles IX (Florence and Paris: Olschki and PUF, 1985), vol. 1, pp. 17–19 (pp. 18–19).

Of Glammatology


Et par-ce qu’il n’y a point de choeurs, comme aux Tragedies precedentes, pour la distinction des Actes: Celuy qui voudrait faire representer cette Bradamante, sera s’il luy plaist adverty d’user d’entremets, et les interposer entre les Actes pour ne les confondre, et ne mettre en continuation de propos ce qui requiert quelque distance de temps.58 (Since there are no choruses to separate the acts as there were in previous tragedies, whoever wants to stage Bradamante will be well advised to use entr’actes and to place them between the acts to avoid confusion and a continuous staging of a plot that requires breaks with respect to time.)

As the practice of the chorus becomes variable, the authority of the ancients begins to impose itself more widely in France, with the appearance of Scaliger’s Poétique in 1561 and Castelvetro’s Italian translation in 1571.59 Indeed, in the 1579 Art Poétique françois, Daigaliers devoted an entire chapter of his fifth book to the chorus, and his point was that, for very practical reasons having precisely to do with the people’s recreation, the chorus is necessary to tragedy: “Les choeurs selon Viperan au lieu susdict doibvent estre chantez en musique […] Les personnages sont jeunes gens qui disent apres chacun acte de peur que le Theatre ne demeurast vuide et que le people fut distraict”60 (“According to Viperanus in the passage quoted above, the choruses must be sung. The characters are young people who speak following each act so that the stage does not remain empty and the people are diverted”). While Hardy, as we have seen, still feels it necessary to justify and explain the omission of the chorus, by 1628, in the “Préface” to Jean de Schélandre’s Tyr et Sidon (1608) by François Ogier,61 something new begins to happen to the problem of the chorus: it begins to be associated with the developing polemic of “the rules.” Ogier, prefacing a tragi-comedy, was much concerned with asserting that modern playwrights do not have to follow rules that applied to Greek and Roman tragedy. Greek tragedies, he claims, are all alike, and full of choruses and messengers, because poets wrote in order to satisfy the appetites and tastes of the people and the judges, and the Romans did nothing more than to copy them. But the methods of the ancients should be adjusted and accommodated to current requirements, something that Aristotle himself, who believed that the playwright should not ignore the character of the spectators, would have recommended: S’il [Aristotle] eût fait des lois pour une pièce qui eût dû être représentée devant un peuple impatient et amateur de changement et de nouveauté, comme nous sommes, il se fût bien gardé de nous ennuyer par ces marrés si fréquents et si importuns de Messagers, ni de faire

58 Robert Garnier, “Argument de la tragecomedie de Bradamante,” Œuvres complètes (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1949), vol. 1, pp. 111–16 (p. 116). 59 Françoise Charpentier, “Invention d’une dramaturgie: Jodelle, La Péruse,” Littératures 22 (1990), pp. 7–22. 60 Daigaliers, L’ Art poétique françois, p. 290. 61 François Ogier, “Préface au Lecteur,” in Giovanni Dotoli (ed.), Temps des préfaces. Le Débat théâtral en France de Hardy à la Querelle du “Cid” (Paris: Klincksieck, 1996), pp. 181–91.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France réciter près de cent cinquante vers tout d’une tire à un choeur, comme fait Euripide en son Iphigénie en Aulide.62 (If Aristotle had drafted laws for a play meant to be staged before an impatient crowd looking for change and novelty, like us, he would have been quite careful not to bore us with frequent and taxing messengers droning on, or with a chorus of a hundred and fifty lines in a row, as Euripides did in his Iphigenia at Aulis.)

Ogier is against the inclusion of choruses, “qui sont toujours désagréables, en quelque quantité ou qualité qu’ils paraissent” (“which are always disagreeable, no matter how short or how good they are”), and it is clear that the esthetics of popular pleasure that was soon to be repeated in Corneille’s dedication to the Médée is fully deployed in his argument. But the people who are to be pleased are restless, and they demand change and novelty. What they don’t want is, firstly, the narration of the messenger, and secondly, the chorus that goes on at patient and sustained length, something that they themselves, presumably, are incapable of doing in all of their impatience. In sheer length of concentration, that is, the chorus is unlike them, and what they want to see on the stage is their like. The trope for change and novelty on the baroque stage is magic. “Le théâtre change” is both what the stage of machine play and opera does, and what the magician, with a magic wand, causes it to do. My argument here is that the glammatology is a logic of replacement: magic, as the mirror of the audience’s love of novelty and change, and its hatred, to presume the reverse, of stasis, takes the place on the stage of spoken tragedy that the chorus, formerly the wise communal voice, once occupied. The social body is glamorized, and, stunned into silence, emerges at the end of this process as the only social body henceforth of interest to spoken tragedy, that is, not the pleasure-loving people, but rather the public. A public stunned is rather convenient for an absolutist politics. Events need not necessarily have taken this course. For, once the problem of the chorus had been related by Ogier in 1628 to the tragedy’s observation of the ancients’ rules, and to the people’s lack of pleasure in them, the way was open to ask the question, “Who is this ‘nous’?” as in Ogier’s “comme nous sommes.” This was precisely the question posed by Jean Chapelain, future principal author of the Sentiments de l’Académie Française, in the “Lettre sur la règle des vingt-quatre heures” of 29 November 1630.63 Chapelain does not agree that the only goal of the tragedy is the production of pleasure: Si le goût du siècle avait réduit le théâtre à ne plus fournir que le plaisir et qu’il en eût retranché le profit pour lequel principalement il a été jadis inventé, tant s’en faut qu’il le fallût suivre dans cette vicieuse réformation, qu’au contraire on ne devrait point avoir de plus grand soin que de le ramener à son institution ancienne.64

62 Ibid., p. 189. 63 Jean Chapelin, “Lettre sur la règle des vingt-quatre heures,” Opuscules critiques (Paris: Droz, 1936), pp. 113–26. 64 Ibid., pp. 123–4.

Of Glammatology


(If current taste had reduced the theater to furnishing only pleasure, and if it had eliminated the profit for which the theater was once mainly invented, the last thing we should do is to go along with this vicious reformulation. On the contrary: our greatest care should be to re-establish its former status.)

This element in the theater’s aesthetics, profit or utilité, argues for the restitution to the theater of its ancient forms, inclusive of choruses, messengers, and music. That done, the goal of the theater can indeed be pleasure, but the pleasure of a very particular group of spectators, “ceux qui savent discerner les faux plaisirs d’avec les véritables”65 (“those who know how to distinguish false pleasures from real ones”). To be avoided is the kind of pleasure that is “extrêmement rustique et du tout incapable de toucher les esprits nés à la politesse et à la civilité” (“extremely rustic and completely incapable of touching minds born to politeness and civility”). The poet must tread a very fine line between something that Chapelain calls “s’accomoder à l’inclination de l’assistance” (“accommodating the expectations of those present”) and pandering to his audience’s vices. He advises against doing anything “pour complaire aux idiots et à cette racaille qui passe en apparence pour le vrai peuple et qui n’est en effet que sa lie et son rebut” (“to pander to the idiots and that mob that seems like the real people but that in fact is only the dregs and the scum”). The real people, then, that audience that will emerge on the far side of the Querelle du Cid and through the filter of the face of Richelieu as the public, would, Chapelain implies, be happy enough to sit through a 150-line chorus, even were it sung. These real people, who know what real pleasures are, find their mirror in the powerful moral communal voice of the chorus. It is only the dregs who clamor for magic. The chorus in Chapelain’s formulation is on the side of the ancients, the side of order, vraisemblance, and truth, which is also the side of politeness and civility, and above all, of the rules. In 1630, we can safely say, Corneille had never heard of the rules, for in the 1660 Examen of Mélite he began: “Cette pièce fut mon coup d’essai, et elle n’a garde d’être dans les règles, puisque je ne savais pas alors qu’il y en eût”66 (“This play was my trial piece, and it took no account of the rules, because at that time I didn’t know there were any”). And when Corneille turns for the first time to tragedy in 1635, it will be to grapple with magic, with the witch, and, not incidentally, with the absence of the chorus. Corneille’s Médée When Corneille looked back upon his tragedy in the course of the 1660 Examen, its Greek and Roman models imposed themselves as primary considerations. Euripides and Seneca staged the tragedy in a public square, where, he points out, Euripides even had his Medea announce loudly to the assembled chorus that she was going to wreak the havoc for which she is known, without its occurring to a single one of

65 Ibid., p. 124. 66 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 28.

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them to go and tell the king.67 These problems of vraisemblance, however, can be overcome by introducing a change of scene, and at 4.1, Medea casts her spell over the fatal dress in “sa grotte magique.”68 A further problem with his models, however, has caused Corneille to make more extensive adjustments, and these adjustments concern precisely the subject of the Act 4 chorus of La Péruse, that is, défiance: Tous les deux [Euripides and Seneca] m’ont semblé donner trop peu de défiance à Créon des présents de cette magicienne, offensée au dernier point, qu’il temoigne craindre chez l’un et chez l’autre et dont il a d’autant plus de lieu de se défier qu’elle lui demande instamment un jour de délai pour se préparer à partir, et qu’il croit qu’elle ne le demande que pour machiner quelque chose contre lui et troubler les noces de sa fille.69 (It seemed to me that Euripides and Seneca didn’t make Creon suspicious enough of the gifts of this magician, who is mightily offended and whom he clearly fears in both Euripides and Seneca. And Creon had even more reason to be suspicious when Medea asked for a day’s grace to prepare her departure, particularly since he thought that she was only asking this in order to plot against him and disrupt his daughter’s wedding.)

There is then, according to Corneille, a macro-problem of défiance to be found in both of the antique sources. La Péruse had responded to this very problem by composing his chorus warning the daughter of Creon to beware the gifts of enemies. This warning, of course, only makes the problem worse. In addition to all of the other reasons for which Creon really should have been more careful but wasn’t, is added the voices of his own subjects bewailing a world in which défiance is in short supply. Corneille responds to this macro-problem, which he identifies as Creon’s, not his daughter’s, lack of défiance, by adjusting and elaborating his plot. In this, he operates within an arithmetic of addition and subtraction that he makes explicit in the 1660 Discours: “Le retranchement que nous avons fait des chœurs nous oblige à remplir nos poèmes de plus d’épisodes qu’ils [les Grecs] ne faisaient”70 (“Subtracting the choruses means that we must fill up our tragic poems with more episodes than the Greeks had”). Subtract the choruses, and the sheer problem of quantity, the need for the tragedy to fill up a certain amount of time, is productive of additional incident. Corneille is entirely forthcoming about some of these changes that he has introduced into his Médée, but about at least one of them, he is not. Firstly, Corneille says that he has caused it to be Creusa’s idea that Medea’s dress be given to her, indeed that she desire it passionately. At a stroke, then, Corneille has muddied the old moral of the story, “Beware the gifts of enemies,” for the dress is no longer a gift, but rather a kind of tribute exacted by the new bride. Secondly, it is here Creon’s idea that Medea be given an extra day to prepare her departure after he has banished her, a gesture meant to make the ruler less of a tyrant as well as less necessarily suspicious of the uses to which Medea will put this period of grace.

67 68 69 70

Corneille, Médée, p. 173. Ibid., p. 185. Ibid., p. 174. Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 822.

Of Glammatology


And finally, although there is no mention of this as a consequence of Creon’s lack of défiance, Corneille adds a plot detail in which the défiance urgently counseled by a new character, Pollux, causes Creon to imagine trying the dress out on a criminal already condemned to death for some other crime. If the prisoner survives wearing it, then so should his daughter. This bizarre scene deserves to be closely read. Medea’s enchantment scene opens Act 4, and by its change of setting to her magic grotto, announces the particular character of the fourth act of tragedy, which was understood, according to Daigaliers, to feature “les menaces & appareils”71 (threats and devices”). Indeed, the closing scenes of Act 4 include the imprisoned Aegeus’s breaking into lyric meter, and Medea’s waving of her magic wand in order to free him from his chains, as well as her presentation to him of a magic ring that renders him invisible. These opening and closing scenes of stage machines, enchantment, and even a kind of bitter comedy as Aegeus holds himself up to ridicule as the stock figure of the old man in love, frame the two episodic scenes (4.2, 4.3) about défiance. These scenes are based on no model in Euripides or Seneca. And they include a new character, functioning in a new and very particular way. Pollux, one of the heroes of the Argonautic expedition, opens the play and speaks the first words in Act 1, Scene 1 of the Médée, “Que je sens à la fois de surprise et de joie!” (“I feel such joy and surprise all at once!”). Just passing through, he is, as Corneille tells us in the Discours,72 on his way to attend the wedding of his sister,73 when he unexpectedly encounters Jason and learns that this is Jason’s wedding day as well. It is a tease, this specter of the double wedding of comedy held up at the very beginning of Corneille’s first tragedy, and the character of Pollux in the first scene is doubly formulaic: His reunion with Jason gives to the tragedy the joyous beginning that its theory required;74 and he is the standard persona protatica, who, as Donatus mentions in his commentary on Terence,75 appears in the first scene only to hear the exposition of the subject and does not reappear thereafter. Pollux is indeed, according to Corneille’s 1660 Discours, a “personnage protatique,” but this category of character and this method of beginning is “fort artificieuse,” according to Corneille, and “je voudrais pour sa perfection que ces mêmes personnages servissent encore à quelque autre chose dans la pièce, et qu’ils fussent introduits par quelque autre occasion que celle d’écouter ce récit. Pollux dans Médée est de cette nature”76 (“I think that these same characters should serve some other purpose in the play and be introduced at other moments than just those of listening to others recite. Pollux in Medea functions in this way”). This autre occasion is the two central scenes of Act 4, and from having been the most formulaic

71 Daigaliers, L’ Art poétique françois, p. 288. 72 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 829. 73 The ill-fated Helen of Troy, although this is not mentioned until line 1324. 74 “Le commencement de la tragedie est ioyeux & la fin est triste; le commencement de la comedie est triste, & la fin est ioyeuse” (Daigaliers, L’ Art poétique françois, p. 286) (“The beginning of a tragedy is joyous and the ending is sad; the beginning of a comedy is sad and the ending is joyous”). 75 Donatus, De tragoedia et comoedia, pp. 16–19. 76 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 829.


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of characters in the tragedy’s opening scene, Pollux goes to being the least. From his appearance in 1.1 to his innovative reappearance, he has been busy. In the mean time, he has defeated Medea’s eventual savior, King Aegeus, in battle, thus saving Creusa from the clutches of Aegeus and preserving the momentum of the plot. In the conversation that opens 4.2, Creon and Pollux, having entered post-battle with a group of soldiers, proceed to construct each other as military heroes, Pollux addressing Creon as “Grand Roi,” and Creon addressing Pollux as “Invincible héros.” According to Creon, Pollux has been Rodrigue-like in his energy: “C’est vous seul aujourd’hui dont la main vengeresse/ Rend à Créon sa fille, à Jason sa maîtresse, / Met Ægée en prison et son orgueil à bas/ Et fait mordre la terre à ses meilleurs soldats” (“Today, it has been your avenging hand that has returned Creon’s daughter to him, reunited Jason and his mistress, thrown Aegeus into prison and destroyed his pride, and caused his best soldiers to bite the dust”). Even Corneille’s unusually spineless Jason, who displays throughout anything but Sophoclean heroism,77 and who has passively had his mistress restored to him in Creon’s estimation, is included in the scene’s generalized construction of the heroic, for according to Pollux, in an extraordinarily dense image, Creon and Jason have been Ajax-like in their exemplarity: “Pareils à deux lions dont l’ardente furie/ Dépeuple en un moment toute une bergerie” (“Just like two lions whose burning fury in a single moment decimates a whole sheep-fold”). With this image, we are firmly in the world of yesteryear. Not only does the image produce an untroubled notion of exemplarity, “L’exemple glorieux de vos faits plus qu’humains” (“the glorious example of your superhuman deeds”), but also the specific image of the assault on the sheep-fold evokes the ancient Sophoclean heroism of Ajax, who, frustrated in his wish to have the armor of Achilles, confuses animals with soldiers, and massacres the flocks destined to feed the Greek army. This form of substituted sacrifice is, according to René Girard, the very organizing principle of tragedy, and the frenzied killing of the sheep by Ajax is strictly parallel to the killing by Medea of her children. Each, unable to attain the actual object of hatred, substitutes something or someone else. The act of Medea is to ritual infanticide what the massacre of the flocks by Ajax is to animal sacrifice.78 At the same time as this image encapsulates the sacrificial logic of tragedy, however, this very concentrated point of the scene also picks up and projects the plot: Like Ajax, Creon will go mad and fall on his sword, a death that is unique to Corneille’s tragedy, as, in Euripides and Seneca, Creon dies the same fiery death as his daughter, consumed by the flames of the poisoned dress. The furie of the lions is uncomfortably close to the fureur with which Creon will name his Ajax-like madness in 5.3.1366, “Fuyez, ou ma fureur vous prendra pour Médée” (“Be gone, or in my rage I will take you for Medea”), a scene in which he chases his mute servants from 77 “J’accommode ma flamme au bien de mes affaires” (“I manage to have affairs only with those who can help me”), he had preened in 1.1.30. Mitchell Greenberg argues that Jason creates politics through his sexuality, not his heroism, and calls him “a new Priapus”; Corneille, Classicism, and the Ruses of Symmetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 28. 78 René Girard, La Violence et le sacré (Paris: Grasset, 1972), pp. 20–21.

Of Glammatology


the stage, laying about him with his sword. And that this fury of the lions is ardente begins an etymology of burning with which these two scenes will toy throughout. This notion of the etymological toy opens up the possibility that the punning play of these two scenes – Creusa’s nurse will report that Creusa “brûle d’envie” to don the fatal dress – is, on the one hand, a setting of fire in language meant to predict, and thus to warn against, the fatality of the gift. On the level of language, it is a manifestation of défiance. But on the other hand, the lack of subtlety, particularly of line 1146 with its construction of Creusa’s “burning desire,” suggests that these two antique heroes might well be, within the particular character of this fourth act, buffoons. The punning play on the meta-level indeed continues in Ajax’s assault on the livestock with the notion of being able to depopulate a sheep-fold, that it be literally “unpeopled,” for we have accordingly the image of a stage of action without its people. There is a final suggestion as well of genre warfare here: A bergerie is one possible term for the pastorale, a stage genre then at the height of its popularity. Jacques Scherer counted 33 pastorales published in the decade 1630–39, as opposed to 38 tragedies. In the next decade, the number of published pastorales would drop to zero.79 The narrative force of this construction of heroism is to attempt to declare the play finished. Its method, however, is flawed, for the hero so constructed then proceeds to misjudge the power of a great antique theme, the wheel of fortune. After having rhymed, in a fantasy of conclusiveness and for the only time in the Médée, victoire and gloire, Creon misjudges and underestimates the power of Fortune, the general lesson to kingship. The battle has been won, in his opinion, by a miracle. A menacing fate is delicately counterbalanced by the arrival of an accidental tourist: “Voyez, brave guerrier, comme votre arrivée/ Au jour de nos malheurs se trouve réservée / Et qu’au point que le sort osait nous menacer,/ Ils [les Dieux] nous ont envoyé de quoi le terraser” (“So you see, brave warrior, how your arrival coincided with this unhappy day, and that just when fate dared to threaten us, the gods sent us the means to defeat it”). God’s in His Heaven, and all’s right with the world! “Que prudemment les Dieux savent tout ordonner!” But it is folly to imagine that Fortune’s wheel has stopped its ceaseless spinning: “Qu’avons-nous plus à craindre et quel destin jaloux, / Tant que nous vous aurons, s’osera prendre à nous?” (“What more have we to fear, and what jealous destiny could take hold of us, as long as we have you?”). What Creon imagines to be a rhetorical question is in fact the lever that precipitates catastrophe, for, in response to it, Pollux first himself takes on the sententious voice of moral in the tragedy, and then assumes the voice of the chorus. And Pollux indeed supplies the answer to Creon’s question about what exactly they have to fear with the proper name of “Médée,” standing starkly at the end of an Alexandrine, and so congruent both substantively and formally with Medea’s “Moi,” made famous by Boileau as an example of the French sublime.80 The theme of the discourse of Pollux in these two scenes now switches from his recent military action to apprehension, fear, and suspicion, in short, to the range 79 Jacques Scherer, La Dramaturgie classique en France (Paris: Nizet, 1948), p. 459. 80 Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, “Réflexions critiques,” in Charles-H. Boudhors (ed.), Dialogues, Réflexions critiques, Œuvres diverses (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1960).


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of postures covered by défiance. He begins, “Appréhendez pourtant, grand prince” (“But take heed, great prince”) and “Je crains” (“I fear”), and is driven to exclamation by Creon’s blindness: “Si vous ne craignez rien, que je vous trouve à plaindre!” (“If you fear nothing, I do find you woeful!”). And finally, as the weight in the structural middle of the act, Pollux enunciates the great Erasmian moral of the Renaissance Medea: “J’eus toujours pour suspects les dons des ennemis” (“I have always been suspicious of the gifts of enemies”). He announces the moral in the first person, and recalls its place in the timeless and the sententious with toujours. The stakes are high and the matter is serious: it is something upon which Pollux is willing to bet his life: “Et veux bien m’exposer au plus cruel trépas/ Si ce rare présent n’est un mortel appas” (“If this rare gift is not a deadly lure, then you may put me to death in the cruelest possible way”). The communal warning voice of the chorus has been concentrated in the newly composed character. Were it possible simply to categorize Pollux as a confidant, our job would be done here, for it was long ago taken as a given that the confidant on the seventeenth-century stage assumes the function of the missing chorus in spoken tragedy.81 Further, this clear chorus function of Pollux has led his readers to make the same assumption as that which was widely made concerning the chorus at the time, that is, that it represents the voice of the author. Corti observes that we must “assume a special affinity between the dramatist, or any man of letters, with a congenial, detached fellow who understands the meaning of what will happen before it actually happens.”82 However, Scherer was careful to point out that a logic of replacement is not really possible, for ancient tragedy, as well as Renaissance tragedy, had both confidants and choruses. The disappearance of the chorus in the seventeenth century is a separate matter, and it is highly unlikely that the chorus, an institution associated with an outmoded dramaturgy, would be simply replicated in a new character by those seeking to create a modern theater.83 Further, it is unclear that Pollux should be understood as a confidant. Scherer mentions him as a personnage secondaire only,84 and Worth-Stylianou omits him from the list that she compiles of confidants on the stage.85 Corneille never describes him as a confidant. So it is perhaps not surprising that this character resists a point-for-point mapping onto the absence of the chorus. The voice of Pollux seems capable of taking on the logic not only of the chorus, but also of both mortal enemies, Creon and Medea. At lines 1139-42, at Creon’s suggestion that Medea would never endanger her children, who are hostages to her behavior at the moment, Pollux produces her deadly infanticidal logic in advance: “Peut-être que contre eux s’étend sa trahison, / Qu’elle ne les prend plus que pour ceux de Jason / Et qu’elle s’imagine, en haine de leur père, / Que n’étant plus sa 81 Scherer, La Dramaturgie classique, p. 39. 82 Lillian Corti, The Myth of Medea and the Murder of Children (Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1998), p. 100. 83 Scherer, La Dramaturgie classique, pp. 39–40. 84 Ibid., p. 36. 85 Valerie Worth-Stylianou, Confidential Strategies: The Evolving Role of the Confidant in French Tragic Drama (Geneva: Droz, 1999), p. 15.

Of Glammatology


femme, elle n’est plus leur mère” (“Perhaps her treachery extends to her children, and she thinks that they are no longer hers, but only Jason’s. Perhaps she imagines, in her hatred of their father, that since she is no longer his wife, neither is she any longer their mother”). Pollux thus predicts the logic of “no longer,” “ne … plus,” that Medea will produce in 5.2. For the children, having been returned to her by her enemy, are no longer hers: “Ils viennent de sa part et ne sont plus à moi” (“They have been sent on his behalf. They’re no longer mine”). In addition, the fear and apprehension of Medea that Pollux displays in these scenes is based upon the antique conceptions of character that were the domain of Creon in the sixteenth-century tragedy. “Once a killer, always a killer” was, as we have seen, the basis for the Act 3 monologue of Creon in the tragedy of La Péruse, and at its structural center was the sententious, “Qui une fois à vice a voulu s’adonner / Une et une autre-fois ne craint d’i retourner.” But now the producer of this logic is no longer the monarch, but rather Pollux, who, attempting precisely to convince the monarch with what was once monarchical logic, says: Après l’assassinat d’un monarque et d’un frère, Peut-il être de sang qu’elle épargne ou révère? Accoutumée au meurtre et savante en poison, Voyez ce qu’elle a fait pour acquérir Jason Et ne présumez pas, quoi que Jason vous die, Que pour le conserver elle soit moins hardie. (After killing a king and a brother, whose blood would she not hate and spill? She knows all about murder and poisoning – just look what she did to get Jason. Whatever Jason tells you, do not assume that to keep him she will be any less brazen.)

This analysis of the criminal mind was, as we saw in the sixteenth-century tragedy, opposed to the developing notion of character motivation, and to the sympathy for Medea expressed by the fourth-act chorus of La Péruse. In short, Corneille’s Pollux speaks the words of a Greek, and at the same time, takes on the voice of those who warn against them. A shape-shifter, his voice in these two scenes is that of the barbarian woman, ancient authority, and the missing chorus. A fuzzy target is Pollux, and the complications that his character presents are probably available because no audience projection needs to latch onto him as its mirror. That mirror on this stage is situated elsewhere. The end point of the scene is the curious experiment. We might at first think that this experiment were a kind of Cartesian intrusion into the tragedy, a methodological discourse meant to subject the glamour, the witch’s spell, to experimental rationality. The experiment is indeed Creon’s attempt to cheat chance and to harmonize the antithetical poles of the défiance of his adviser (“vos soupçons”) and his daughter’s bliss (“son contentement”): “Sans rien mettre au hasard, je saurai dextrement / Accorder vos soupçons et son contentement” (“Without putting anything at risk, I can easily allay your suspicions and assure her happiness”). He plans to carry out a test on a female criminal named Nise who has, according to Creon, nothing to lose since she is already condemned to die, and whose death by flaming dress would in any case be no miscarriage of justice. Indeed, she should be happy thus


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

to die serving her king: “Nise, pour ses forfaits destinée à mourir, / Ne peut par cette éprouve injustement périr: / Heureuse si sa mort nous rendait ce service, / De nous en découvrir le funeste artifice!” And with a methodical concern for the reporting of the lab results, Corneille includes in the Act 5 messenger’s account that: “Votre robe a fait peur, et sur Nise éprouvée, / En dépit des soupçons, sans péril s’est trouvée” (“Your dress was frightening, but when Nise tried it on, it was harmless”). Seemingly, then, this is a moral tale: evil triumphs over good; a kind of proto-science goes down to defeat when pitted against the occult. And indeed, in this apparent confrontation between two kinds of knowledge systems, Medea’s has had the upper hand from the beginning: At the end of 4.1, when her nurse had worried that she herself might be consumed in the dress’s fatal fires, Medea had assured her that “mon charme la modère / Et lui défend d’agir que sur elle et son père” (“my spell controls it and makes it act only on Créuse and her father”). If Creon’s improvised experiment has no antique source, neither does it have any posterity: it is unique in the long tradition of rewritings of the tragedy of Medea. It is never the task of experimental rationality to defeat her; no author will ever again even attempt to suggest that it might. What is a concern, on the other hand, is that Medea’s magic be consistent with the theatrical doctrine of the verisimilar. “Why didn’t the dress’s poison consume everyone who touched it?” is a question indeed posed in Pellegrin’s critique of Longepierre’s Médée in 1729: “Le poison de cette robe fatale ne doit agir que sur Creüse et sur Créon: Voilà un privilege exclusif, qui me paroît au-dessus de la Magie ordinaire”86 (“The poison of this fatal dress can only act on Creüse and Créon. That’s certainly an exclusive privilege, and one that goes beyond ordinary magic”). And while the trial of the dress on Nise is not ever found again in Medea tragedies, Longepierre’s Médée, which was to have a long and successful eighteenth-century career, is careful that this detail of the exclusivity of the poison be tidy. In her Act 4 invocation to Hecate, Medea prays, “Et qu’au gré de mes vœux, impuissante ou fatale, / Elle [la flamme] dévore seuls Créon et ma Rivale” (“And let the flame, be it fatal or not, at my bidding devour only Creon and my rival”). That this detail of the tragedy raises the issue of the verisimilar is betrayed by Pellegrin’s criticism, for the “ordinary” is one of the four categories of the verisimilar.87 Corneille writes in the Discours of two divisions, “L’une en vraisemblable général et particulier, l’autre en ordinaire et extraordinaire.”88 But the problem with this detail of the poison as smart bomb, so to speak, of Medea’s ability to effect a surgical strike, is that, according to Pellegrin, it escapes the ordinary. What is at stake, then, in Creon’s proposed experiment is not anything like the laws of nature, which were never in any case held to apply to the tragedy; rather, the question is whether the enemy’s gift will or will not conform to a specifically theatrical theory of the verisimilar. In this micro-problem of vraisemblance, it is clear that Corneille was concerned that it would so conform. 86 L’Abbé Pellegrin, Dissertation sur la Médée de Longepierre, in Emmanuel Minel (ed.), Longepierre. Médée (Paris: Champion, 2000), pp. 185–98 (p. 196). 87 Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder, p. 90. 88 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 838.

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As for the macro-problem, however, Corneille, the only successfully practicing playwright to express himself on this subject, was in addition the only theorist to declare that the tragic subject should not be verisimilar. And first among the nonverisimilar tragic subjects, we recall, was that of Medea: “Il n’est pas vraisemblable que Médée tue ses enfants, que Clytemnestre assassine son mari, qu’Oreste poignarde sa mère, mais l’histoire le dit, et la représentation de ces grands crimes ne trouve point d’incrédules” (“It is not vraisemblable for Medea to kill her children, for Clytemnestra to assassinate her husband, or for Orestes to stab his mother. But that’s how the story goes, and performances of these grand crimes are not ever disbelieved”), he wrote in the 1660 Discours.89 While micro-level vraisemblance was a clear consideration, the tragic subject must go “au delà du vraisemblable” to attain a category that Corneille calls the necessary, and that John Lyons has discussed at length as “the doctrine of the necessary.”90 A lover must obtain his mistress, a politically ambitious man must have a crown, the offended must obtain vengeance. What they accordingly must do is the necessary, which indeed overrides the verisimilar, whose domain is the linking of actions and their logical succession. That Medea’s infanticide is not verisimilar is thus not, according to Corneille, anything like a crushing criticism. Instead, the plot of the tragedy of Medea represents “what is required by art, rather than by life or by that corrected vision of life that is the verisimilar.”91 Even the famous Aristotelian criticism of the ending of Euripides’ Medea, that it is effected by a machine rather than emerging from the story itself,92 is considered by Corneille to be nothing more than a problem of the verisimilar, which he groups with the poisoning of the dress as sufficiently motivated by the fact that Medea has, after all, magical powers: Il me semble que c’en est un assez grand fondement que de l’avoir faite magicienne, et d’en avoir rapporté dans le poème des actions autant au-dessus des forces de la nature que celle-là. Après ce qu’elle a fait pour Jason à Colchos, après qu’elle a rajeuni son père Éson depuis son retour, après qu’elle a attaché des feux invisibles au présent qu’elle a fait à Créuse, ce char volant n’est point hors de la vraisemblance, et ce poème n’a point besoin d’autre préparation pour cet effet extraordinaire. (It seems to me that it is enough that I made her a magician. In the tragedy, she does other things that are equally beyond the powers of nature. After what she did for Jason in Colchos, her rejuvenation of his father Aeson, and the invisible fire that she put into Creusa’s gift, this flying chariot is not improbable, and the tragedy doesn’t need any further explanation for this extraordinary effect.)

Creon’s experiment, his attempt to accord his daughter’s foolish and naïve vanity and his one-man chorus’s canny and circumspect inklings, of course fails. Its nod to verisimilitude is a poor match for the juggernaut of Medean necessity, and in this, the episode is a kind of reply in advance to all of the academic criticism that was soon to be unleashed against Corneille. But there is a finer point to be made about this bizarre and unique plot detail that attempts so unsuccessfully to cure a 89 90 91 92

Ibid., p. 822. Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder, p. 111. Ibid., p. 111. Aristotle, Poetics, 1454b.


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hang-over from the ancients, Creon’s lack of défiance, and it is a point that refers us to a second stage, that of witchcraft. This is not a test of the dress so much as it is a test of the audience. What, exactly, are they prepared to find believable? The doctrine of the verisimilar of course creates a world of the stage, but it also creates an audience for its own conventions. It works upon an assumption about what the audience is prepared to accept as possible. In this, it is exactly analogous to the conceptual structure of witchcraft. Scholars are unanimous in declaring that, just as the verisimilitude of the stage is supremely unconcerned with the laws of nature, so the theory of witchcraft never bore any relation to objective fact or to the natural world: never was there “any such thing” as witchcraft.93 Witchcraft was the early modern period’s ultimate constructed crime, dependant utterly upon a certain structure of event that its audience was prepared to find believable. In the matter of the witch’s techniques of bewitchment, for example, it was a common belief that the Devil supplied a powder that allowed the witch to cause harm. But did this powder work automatically? It was clear that it had no effect on the witch herself. In some cases, the powder was dangerous to anyone else, but sometimes it affected only certain targets.94 The question of vraisemblance, then, is one that translates to the stage from the “practice” of witchcraft with no loss of meaning. That Nise lived, Corneille’s audience would be prepared to believe; only much later, long after the height of the witch persecutions had passed, was this plot detail considered to be questionable. Becoming the Witch The voice previously that of the chorus is betrayed in Corneille’s Médée, then, only by the problem of défiance, which had been the subject of the final chorus of the tragedy of La Péruse. This does not exactly require some demonstration that Corneille actually knew the previous Médée, but there is some slim associative evidence that he did. The works of La Péruse went through eight editions in four French cities in the sixty years after his death, including at least three and perhaps four in Rouen.95 But a more suggestive link between Corneille and La Péruse can be imagined in Corneille’s acquaintance with the academician, translator, playwright, and theorist, Guillaume Colletet. Colletet, remarkable as far as his contemporaries were concerned for having married in succession three of his own serving girls, of whom he was particularly besotted with the last,96 enjoyed the patronage of Richelieu, and was one of five 93 Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 1–10. 94 Briggs, Witches and Neighbors, p. 111. 95 In 1596, 1598, 1613, and one undated edition whose provenance is perhaps Rouen. See Banachévitch, Jean Bastier de La Péruse, p. 64. 96 Claudine Colletet seems to have passed herself off as the author of poetry composed by her husband, and was the object of the affections of La Fontaine, from whom we have verse in her praise as well as the mocking, “Les oracles ont cessé: / Colletet est trépassé.” Jean de La Fontaine, Œuvres complètes, ed. Jean Marmier (Paris: Seuil, 1965), p. 456.

Of Glammatology


authors, including Corneille, who collaborated on the Comédie des Tuileries in 1635, the year as well, we recall, of the première of the Médée.97 He was the author of the approximately four hundred entries of the Vies des Poëts français, including the “Vie de I. Batier de La Peruse,” published for the first time in the 1867 edition of the Œuvres poétiques of La Péruse.98 We know that Colletet owned or had access to a copy of the Médée of La Péruse, because he bases the information in his “Vie” concerning the poet’s birthplace on manuscript notes by Roger Masonnier on a copy of the tragedy that is now in Glasgow University Library. 99 We know further that Colletet had a low opinion of sixteenth-century tragedy. La Péruse is included in a general condemnation that is also an early form of parallel. Following a pattern of historical criticism that was by this time well established,100 Colletet equates posteriority with superiority: Les belles pieces de theatre que ces derniers années ont produites tesmoignent bien l’advantage que nostre siecle a sur les siecles precedens. Nos Didons, nos Cleopatres, nos Medées, valent bien les leurs; et je dirois volontiers que ce sont des reynes au prix de ces esclaves. Tout est noble, riche et pompeux dans les notres, et dans les leurs tout est bas, tout est lasche, et, si je l’ose dire, tout meprisable, si cet excellent esprit Scevole de Saincte-Marthe n’en avoit, par ses soins, reparé les plus visibles defauts (260). (The impressive plays that have been produced in the last few years clearly show the progress our century has made when compared with past centuries. Our Didos, Cleopatras, and Medeas are just as good as theirs, and I would certainly say that ours are queens compared to their slaves. In ours, everything is noble, sumptuous, and full of pomp; in theirs, all is lowly, craven, and we might even have said despicable if the excellent mind of Scévolle de Saint-Marthe hadn’t carefully fixed the worst problems.)

And we know, finally, that Colletet’s specific objections to the tragedy of La Péruse were firstly that its title contained the “epithete estrange,” “Tue-Enfant,”101 and secondly that the Medea of La Péruse kills the children on the stage.102 97 Biographie universelle (Paris: A. Thoisnier Desplaces, 1844). 98 Jean Bastier de La Péruse, Œuvres poétiques, ed. E. Gellibert des Sequins (Paris: Jouaust, 1867), pp. 251–70. 99 Roger Masonnier, manuscript notes in Jean de la Péruse, La Medee, Tragedie (Poitiers: De Marnefz and Bouchetz, 1556), Special Collections BC4-i.11, Glasgow University Library, Glasgow; La Péruse, La Médée, ed. Coleman, p. 78, n. 6. 100 Emmanuelle Mortgat-Longuet, “Aux origines du parallèle Corneille-Racine: une question de temps,” in Declercq and Rosellini (eds.), Jean Racine 1699–1999, pp. 703–17 (pp. 705–6). 101 La Péruse, Œuvres poétiques, p. 269. The Art poëtique of Peletier du Mans had expressly recommended precisely this construction of adjectives: “L’ingenieus Eciteur aura non seulemant liberte, mes aussi meritera louange, de se mettre an devoer de peupler le Royaume Francoes de tez suplimans: Que’z font les moz de legitime composicoin: comme Atlas Porte-ciel, L’Er Portenue, l’Aquilon Portefroed” (p. 38) (“An ingenious author will set about populating the Kingdom of France with additions. He is free to do so, and indeed praiseworthy. This means putting together words that have some claim to go together, like ‘Atlas Sky-Carrier,’ ‘Sky Cloud-Carrier,’ ‘Wind Cold-Carrier’”). 102 Ibid., pp. 261–2.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Corneille’s Medea does no such thing. When Jason urges, “Ne perdons point de temps, courons chez la sorcière” (l. 1509) (“There is no time to lose, we must run to the witch’s house”), we might well expect this accusation of witchcraft to emerge in response to Medea’s infanticide. For the image of the witch is popularly that of the bad mother, a mother who kills and sometimes even eats children instead of nourishing and protecting them. The biblical witch of Endor in Jean de La Taille’s Saül attracts to herself precisely this non-biblical accusation from the spirit of Samuel whom she has raised from the dead. Not only does she cause the milk of the neighborhood cows to dry up, but also she frightens “les meres lamentans de leurs enfans la mort” (3.1.735–9) (“mothers lamenting the death of their children”). But far from bringing the infanticide onto the stage as had La Péruse, the death of the children is reduced to a four-line report in Corneille (ll. 1539–42), and it is Jason himself who in fact thinks of killing them first (ll. 1535–6). The tragedy produces this epithet, “la sorcière,” not in response to her killing of the children, but rather in response to stagecraft that is new to the tragedy of Corneille, the bringing on to the stage of Créon and Créuse to die. Medea is no longer principally “Tue-Enfant.” And the accusation of sorcery is coupled with a declaration of impatience: “Ne perdons point de temps” (“Let’s not lose any time”). These two linked moments can be unfolded in two directions. Firstly, it is a curious fact that the Medea whose sixteenth-century history includes an episode of renaissance lends herself equally neatly to one summary figure of the seventeenth-century stage, the witch. On the one hand, there is, as we have seen, a stage-specificity to Pierre Corneille’s Medean witch, shading her into a kind of comfortable, vaguely kitsch, magician figure. With her magic wand and her special powers over the natural world to paralyze and transform, she is the stage-specific figure of metamorphosis and magic. But coming at the end of the half century that saw the largest concentration of witch trials in European history, Corneille’s Médée also exhibits a more dangerous theatricality that goes beyond the theatrical stage. Louis Marin preferred to claim this theatricality for a theory of the political, another domain based strictly upon representation. His reading of the Médée followed upon his introduction to Naudé’s 1639 Considérations politiques sur les coups d’État,103 and it is indeed a coup d’état that Medea seems to be staging here, and that elicits the accusation of witchcraft from Jason. But coming as it does specifically in response to the murder of Créuse, it reproduces an equally long-standing early modern assumption about behavior and desire that is not restricted to staged illusion. We find, for example, in the Malleus Maleficarum, mention of: henchmen and knights who have leisure for vice, and seduce women, and then wish to cast them off when they desire to marry an honest woman. But they can rarely do this without incurring the vengeance of some witchcraft upon themselves or their wives. For when those women see themselves despised, they persist in tormenting not so much the husband as the wife.104

103 Gabriel Naudé, Considérations politiques sur les coups d’état (Paris: Les éditions de Paris, 1988). 104 Kramer and Sprenger [sic], The Malleus maleficarum, p. 139.

Of Glammatology


Medea may well be an expression of the originary violence of the political, as Marin so beautifully wrote, but an immediate, specific, and culturally urgent point is also that that structure in Corneille’s last act collides not just with the magical, but more precisely with the demonological, and produces a Medean witch for modernity. What interests Jason most immediately following the deaths of Créuse and Créon, and his accusation of witchcraft against Medea is torture. Torture was a feature of the entire early modern judicial system, not just of the witch trials alone, as Lyndal Roper points out in Witch Craze.105 In the context of a witchcraft accusation, the application of torture was subject to strict procedural guidelines, a thorough discussion of which, for example, occupies almost two hundred pages of the Jesuit demonologist Martin Del Rio’s Disquisitionum Magicarum Libri Sex, which first appeared in French as Les Controverses et recherches magiques in 1595.106 The judge must not order torture if the truth can be otherwise obtained; no one can be tortured more than three times; no one under the age of 14 can be tortured; and those under 25, as well as the aged, must be treated less severely.107 In the records of the Paris Parlement consulted by Alfred Soman, for the period 1565–1640 there is “only” one death reported in the torture chamber, and one accused witch who died in prison two days later.108 But we know as well that the inherent sadism of the psychology of interrogation could infect these and other strictures. If the Paris Parlement used torture much more cautiously than did many lower provincial courts, vicious abuses nevertheless persisted throughout the seventeenth century. In the Cautio Criminalis, published in 1631, Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, writing from long experience of ministering to condemned witches in Germany, observed that many interrogators “lust after such unmerciful tortures and when torturing they spare another’s body as little as their own conscience.”109 The Paris Parlement was obliged to send to the galleys for life the hangman Rocroi, who killed over three hundred accused witches in the Ardennes for profit.110 It is in this position that Corneille’s Jason seems to find himself. He calls Medea a witch, claims that her death will release his imprisoned soul, mentions her demons, and asks Cléone and Theudas to remove the dead bodies of Créuse and Créon from the stage. And there is something else they can do for him:

105 Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 46. 106 Martin Anton Del Rio, Les Controverses et recherches magiques de Martin Delrio, trans. André Du Chesne (Paris: Regnauld Chaudiere, 1611). 107 Ibid., pp. 771–6. 108 Alfred Soman, “The Parlement of Paris and the Great Witch Hunt (1565–1640),” Sixteenth Century Journal 9 (1978), pp. 31–44 (p. 41). 109 Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, Cautio Criminalis, or a Book on Witch Trials, trans. Marcus Hellyer (Charlottesville, VA and London: University of Virginia Press, 2003), p. 89. 110 Soman, “The Parlement of Paris,” p. 40; William Monter, “Toads and Eucharists: The Male Witches of Normandy, 1564–1660,” French Historical Studies 20 (1997), pp. 563–95 (p. 593).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France Préparez seulement des gênes, des bourreaux, Devenez inventifs en supplices nouveaux, Qui la fassent mourir tant de fois sur leur tombe, Que son coupable sang leur vaille une hécatombe. (1515–18) (Prepare the racks and the executioners, invent new tortures that will make her die so many times on their tomb that their deaths will cost a hundred deaths of her guilty blood.)

What is more, if this torture in the here-and-now does not satisfy the spirits of those she has killed, Jason himself will go torture her in the after-life with the fiery wheel of Ixion and the entrail-pecking vulture of the giant Tityus, whom Corneille could have found within three sentences of each other in Ovid’s account of the Abode of the Accursed in Metamorphoses, Book 4:111 Je serai la seconde et mon esprit fidèle Ira gêner là-bas son âme criminelle, Ira faire assembler pour sa punition Les peines de Titye à celles d’Ixion. (1521–4) (I will be the second victim, and my faithful ghost will go to the underworld to torment her criminal soul. To punish her, I will add the pain of Tityus to that of Ixion.)

The recourse to the ancients, however, is only momentary, and Corneille’s Jason is immediately returned to a logic of the present as it occurs to him, extraordinarily, to kill the children. He imagines sacrificing them (immoler) upon the tomb of Créuse and Créon, and constructs them doubly as instruments: first as instruments of their mother in the matter of the delivery of the dress, “Instruments des fureurs d’une mère insensée,” and then as instruments affected by and effecting torture, “Que la sorcière en vous commence de souffrir, / Que son premier tourment soit de vous voir mourir” (“May the witch in you begin to suffer, and may her first torment be to see you die”). It was widely believed in the early modern period that witchcraft traveled in the blood. Received wisdom knew it to be hereditary, and learned demonologists were convinced that witches passed on their secret arts to their children. In the archival records consulted by Lyndal Roper, there is a pattern of paired mother–daughter accusations.112 Jason’s accusation of sorcery against Medea, then, his invocation of torture, and his expression of a transmission theory that could be found in both high and low contemporary culture, has the effect of hauling Corneille’s last act into the sociological present of witchcraft. The contemporaneity of his tragedy and the outbreak of demonic possessions at Loudun has been noticed before.113 But the import of this for the tragedy is perhaps most tellingly glossed by Roper, who, including a note to Michel de Certeau’s great study of Loudun, notes that “witchcraft was more than a language for expressing what could not otherwise be said. It created a symbolic 111 Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955), p. 106. 112 Roper, Witch Craze, pp. 97, 173. 113 Corti, The Myth of Medea, pp. 92–4.

Of Glammatology


world in which those conflicts could be lived, and where others could be drawn in to act in a religious drama” (p. 194). The construction of Medea as a witch may in one way be said to have the effect of throwing Corneille’s tragedy precisely into the framework of a religious drama. If this were the case, it would help to explain the text’s hesitation over Jason’s suicide, a stage direction that was added only in 1644.114 In most traditions of his story, Jason dies in post-tragic time, ignominiously killed when a rotting timber from the Argo falls on his head. He certainly does not kill himself in either of Corneille’s ancient sources. This killing, then, is more a modern suicide than it is a case of a tragic hero dying by his own hand. For a contemporary character, caught up in structures fundamentally underpinned by religious meanings, to commit suicide, a crime excluding one forever from the community of fellow Christians, is only horrific. Shades of Chimène, we might think: another dramatic character doing something monstrous. Indeed, the second way in which Jason’s line can be unfolded is in the direction of the horrible. Horror, as John Lyons has pointed out, is an underemphasized aspect of early seventeenth-century tragedy, which “included copious incidents of staged violence, dismemberment, and cannibalism.”115 The scene (5.5) that will declare Medea to be a witch in fact begins with Jason’s declaring that the dead and dying are a “spectacle d’horreur” before his eyes. Vision, horror’s special sensory domain, is emphasized, with references to sight occurring four times in the scene’s first two lines alone. Jason’s first intervention ends with his urging the dying Créuse to live on in order to see Medea punished: “Et que ce scorpion sur la plaie écrasé, / Fournisse le remède au mal qu’il a causé” (“May the scorpion crushed in the wound be the remedy for the pain it has caused”). This spectacle of the dying, Corneille’s 1660 Examen points out, is a non-Aristotelian moment, unproductive of the pity that was to become the goal of tragedy: “Mais à dire le vrai, il n’a pas l’effet que demande la tragédie et ces deux mourants importunent plus par leurs cris et par leurs gémissements, qu’ils ne font pitié par leur malheur”116 (“But to be honest, this scene doesn’t produce the effect required by tragedy, and the cries and moans of the dying king and princess are just irritating. Their misfortune does not make us pity them”). What, then, is it for? This gory spectacle is, according to Corneille in his 1660 Examen, just something to fill up his fifth act: “Ce spectacle de mourants m’était nécessaire pour remplir mon cinquième acte, qui sans cela n’eût pu atteindre à la longueur ordinaire des nôtres” (“I needed this spectacle of death to fill up my fifth act. Otherwise, it would not have been as long as we expect a fifth act to be.”) We may then hear in his “des nôtres” something like a comparison with the tragedy of La Péruse and its 149-line fifth act,117

114 Pierre Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Georges Couton (3 vols., Paris: Gallimard, 1980), vol. 1, p. 594, n. 1. 115 John D. Lyons, “The Decorum of Horror: A Reading of La Mesnardière’s Poëtique,” in Romanowski and Bilezikian (eds.), Homage to Paul Bénichou, pp. 27–41 (p. 28); Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder, pp. 55–76. 116 Corneille, Médée, p. 175. 117 The numbers of lines comprising the fifth acts of La Péruse, Seneca, and Corneille are 149, 250, 335.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

and it is in this context of lengthiness that Jason becomes impatient. The hemistich “Ne perdons point de temps,” immediately preceding “courons chez la sorcière,” the witchcraft accusation, is not anything like a logical or necessary comment at that point in the final act. There is no suggestion, from anyone, that waiting around is a good idea. Instead, this comment from Jason is about dramaturgy. It is the second time that a character has needed to move the action along. Creon’s final judgment on what had been taking place in the middle scenes of the fourth act was that it had all been a waste of breath: “et ne consumons plus / De temps ni de discours en débats superflus” (4.3.1159–60) (“and let’s not spend any more time or any more talk in superfluous debate”). But according to whom was this discussion superfluous? As we have seen, according to Corneille in his own Examen of the play, the problem of défiance calls for major plot adjustments, and follows in importance only the question of the chorus and the unity of place. Could this voice of Creon here, then, be perhaps the voice of Ogier’s “peuple impatient et amateur de changement et de nouveauté”? The audience, it seems, is prepared to find Medea’s poisoned dress within the limits of believability, but they will not be prepared to hear of this at length. The rowdy audience is momentarily mirrored in the impatience of the king, who is then, accordingly, doomed. The king has become not his public, but rather his restless people, and this is fatal. He will soon die a fiery death; from being a consumer of time and discourse, he will become the one who is consumed by madness and flame. Jason also will soon die. His “Ne perdons point de temps, courons chez la sorcière” makes explicit the impatience and restlessness of the audience, and links it with the realization that Medea’s character will never be encompassed by her explicitly magical powers, no matter how great they be. She may display the accoutrements of a stage magician, but her character escapes that cozy pigeonhole, just as she will escape on her dragon chariot at the last. The seventeenth-century theoretical struggle for decorum in the tragedy and against horror that, Lyons argued, is “in part, a battle of modernity against the horror of antiquity”118 is a battle here lost, for the sake, it seems, of underlining Medea’s witchcraft and its spectacular status. For when Corneille removes the death of the children from the stage, and reduces the infanticide to four lines of text, the act is summarized by déjà”: “Lève les yeux, perfide, et reconnais ce bras / Qui t’a déjà vengé de ces petits ingrats: / Ce poignard que tu vois vient de chasser leurs âmes / Et noyer dans leur sang les restes de nos flammes” (“Look up, you cheat, and realize that this is the arm that has already taken vengeance on those little beggars. This very dagger has just dispatched their souls and drowned in their blood the embers of our love”). This is already history, horrifying history, and will never have the proper political efficacy of terror, which looks always towards the future. Jason’s response to the death of the children is precisely to disrupt the privileged relationship between horror and spectacle, as in spectacle d’horreur, claiming exactly the opposite: this is not spectacle, but rather nature: “Horreur de la nature, exécrable tigresse!” (“Nature’s horror, execrable tigress!”). The killing of children was understandably regarded with special horror at this time when populations struggled against disease and the devastation of war to 118 Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder, p. 58.

Of Glammatology


maintain their numbers. Some scholars argue that it was just for this reason that nurturing motherhood began to be socially constructed as “natural.” In France, there was from 1556 a special statute for infanticide, while no royal edict referred to witchcraft before 1682. In judging witchcraft appeals, the tendency of the Paris Parlement was towards leniency, while for infanticide, 70 per cent of the appeals from death sentences were confirmed. Soman called this situation “the great infanticide craze.”119 Rublack noted that official retribution for infanticide was much more likely than it was for the far more common instances of male violence that resulted in murder or manslaughter. Motherly aggression increasingly came to be seen as contrary to a social and cultural construction of good motherhood, a natural and stable attribute of the feminine.120 While the crime of witchcraft and the crime of child murder were frequently linked, it is entirely consistent with contemporary social concerns that here Corneille’s Medea becomes nature’s horror, a fierce and cruel animal, for killing the children, while Jason, to whom the idea had first occurred, would have been performing a just sacrifice. Is this tragedy then Colletet’s “noble, riche, et pompeux” as opposed to the Renaissance tragedy’s “bas, lache, et méprisable”? Is this dramaturgy what makes Corneille’s Medea a queen, while the Renaissance Medea is but a slave? Well, slave she certainly was not. We can at least say that Corneille’s Medea engages in open battle with royalty, and wins, and that this was exactly what anyone with a proper attitude of défiance would have feared. Those in the audience, we know, excused her and felt compassion for her, which is one way of saying that they identified with her, and found in her their mirror. Doing what she did, Corneille claimed, was not their desire; rather, it seems, they desired to be what she was. Corneille’s 1660 Examen is explicit about this: Ils [the dying Créuse and Créon] semblent l’avoir mérité par l’injustice qu’ils ont faite à Médée, qui attire si bien de son côté toute la faveur de l’auditoire qu’on excuse sa vengeance après l’indigne traitement qu’elle a reçu de Créon et de son mari et qu’on a plus de compassion du désespoir où ils l’ont réduite que de tout ce qu’elle leur fait souffrir (p. 175). (Creon and Creusa seem to deserve what they got because of their injustices towards Medea, who is so good at eliciting the audience’s sympathy that they excuse her revenge after the ignominious treatment she suffered at the hands of Creon and her husband. They feel more compassion for Medea, reduced to utter despair by Creon and Jason, than for what she made those two suffer.)

And what she was, the position into which her regicides had hoisted or debased her, was an accused witch. The next question, then, would be: what does it mean that the audience, this public that was to emerge as such a powerful reference, as judge and most important ally of the successful playwright, favored the witch?

119 Soman, “The Parlement of Paris,” p. 36, n. 8. 120 Ulinka Rublack, The Crimes of Women in Early Modern Germany (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 165.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

There would be three preliminary answers to this question, which the next chapters will take up more fully and more technically. Firstly, we recall the commonsense notion that Corneille was absolutely correct when he pointed out, as a function of the polemic of Le Cid, and thinking undoubtably of Chimène’s non-standard wedding arrangements, that the audience does not leave the theater simplistically intending to imitate the actions seen there, and that no one would ever dream of imitating Medea’s infanticides: “Il n’est point question d’avertir ici le public que celles [les mauvaises actions] de cette tragédie ne sont pas à imiter: elles paraissent assez à découvert pour n’en faire envie à personne” (“This is not a matter of warning the public that what happens in this tragedy should not be copied: Its events are plain enough to discourage anyone from doing so”). But this commonsense notion requires nuance, and should perhaps be understood at a different level. Let us recall, for example, his analogous statement on Oedipus: Oedipus, he says in the 1660 Discours, will excite our pity but not our fear, because: “je ne pense pas qu’à le voir représenter, aucun de ceux qui le plaignent s’avise de craindre de tuer son père ou d’épouser sa mère”121 (“I wouldn’t say that after having seen it, anyone who pities Oedipus would decide to kill his own father, or marry his own mother”). This assertion of an Oedipus without an Oedipus complex should give us pause, and it might be compared to the following, from US scenographer Robert Wilson, who staged a series of Medea operas for the 1984 Lyons opera season: En 1967, j’ai travaillé avec un psychologue américain, spécialiste des enfants. Il avait filmé un certain nombre de mères au moment où elles se précipitaient vers leur bébé qui se mettait à pleurer, pour le prendre dans leurs bras et le consoler. En regardant, ensuite, ce film image par image, on s’est aperçu que, dans huit cas sur dix, au cours de cet acte d’amour spontané, l’expression des mères était quasiment monstueuse, meurtrière. Elle montre la complexité de nos réactions inconscientes.122 (In 1967, I was working with an American child psychologist. He had filmed a number of mothers at the moment when they were hurrying to their crying baby to take the child in their arms and offer comfort. Afterwards, looking at the film frame by frame, we realized that in eight out of ten cases, in the midst of this act of spontaneous love, the expression on the mothers’ faces was murderous, almost monstrous. That expression demonstrates the complexity of our unconscious reactions.)

But, for Corneille, the story of Oedipus was not about the well-known Freudian plot details, but rather about oracles. If we are afraid of anything after seeing the story of Oedipus, Corneille asserts, we should be afraid of consulting oracles in order to learn what the future may hold, for precisely this knowledge will inevitably lead us into its traps. Oddly, then, Corneille is not anti-Oedipus, but he uses the example of Oedipus to position himself as anti-witchcraft, for the pagan oracle was for the early modern period equivalent to sorcery. One notable earlier witch on the stage, the witch of

121 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 832. 122 Médée. Wilson ( Éditions BEBA et Opéra de Lyon, n.d), unnumbered pages.

Of Glammatology


Endor in Jean de La Taille’s Saül, was called “La Pitonesse,” and was consulted by Saül in order to learn his future.123 Equally, for Corneille the story of Medea does not seem to be about her dealing of death, but rather about his audience’s identification with her, and his own as well. For when Corneille sent the 1648 edition of his collected theater to Constantin Huygens, he included a letter telling Huygens that “vous n’y trouverez rien de supportable qu’une Médée, qui veritablement a pris quelque chose d’assez bon à celle de Sénèque”124 (“There’s nothing interesting here except a Medea, which really takes some rather good cues from Seneca’s”). His Latin poem to Huygens twice points out that his Medea was a crowd-pleaser. Old and young were stunned by her, he claims (“In scena juvenis stupet senexque”), and “une nombreuse assemblée l’a approuvée sans murmure hostile” (“Frequens murmure non malo probavit / Coetus”) (“a large audience approved of her without a single whisper of disapproval”). These comments, interestingly, point to the audience’s lack of sound in response to the great witch. They were stunned; they emitted not a peep of a hostile murmur. In combination with Corneille’s comments from the 1660 Examen, these comments seem to wrap Medea up in the audience’s love, Corneille’s love for his own work on the fierce witch, and not incidentally, in his love of himself, to which the Excuse à Ariste, believed to have been written in 1634–35, amply testified as far as some of his contemporaries were concerned. It is true that, in coming from Normandy, Corneille hailed from the most notable center of masculine witchcraft in western Europe, and that, seen from Paris, Normandy was a singularly superstitious place, preoccupied with hanging shepherds for sorcery.125 But this is not to argue for a simple mapping of Corneille’s narcissism onto his witch and her stunned public. Rather, it is to suggest that, almost by default, in the absence, that is, of a chorus or of any character that would singly replace it, the stunning effect of the tragic stage focused, or was refocused, on the witch. Secondly, we could return to the question of food, the fastidiosor of Donatus, which, we recall from our earlier discussion of the chorus, has as its first meaning “aversion to food, squeamish.” “When the spectator had been made more fastidious by leisure, and then, when the play was handed over from actors to singers, took to getting up and going away, this state of affairs warned the poets first to leave out the choruses.” It seems that a cuisine has as much to do with the creation of a public as does a stage. One of Britain’s foremost restaurant critics and food writers, A.A. Gill, has observed that: It’s not cooks or ingredients that make great food, it’s hungry people. […] I don’t mean that everyone eats together, or that they can afford the same, but that the national recipe book is held by all in common, that everyone will have experienced the same cooking. […]

123 Jean De La Taille, Saül le furieux, La Famine, ou les Gabeonites. Tragédies, ed. Elliott Forsyth (Paris: Didier, 1968). 124 Corneille, Oeuvres complètes, p. 853. 125 Monter, “Toads and Eucharists.”


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France Food should be a parable and a simile of the country it feeds. And the greatest example of that is the food of the French.126

Taste, that is, is in some sense always collective taste, and its power to cohere a disparate group, create a general desire, and invest its objects with an aspiration held in common by a nation, or a class, is a mystery as central to the history of food as it is to the history of Medea. Perhaps it is no accident that the cauldron and the brew, as well as the chorus, are central to that history. Finally, there is the question of what, exactly, can be known of this process, and how it can be known. DeJean and Merlin, both of whom have written so beautifully and extensively on the question, have placed the accent upon print culture. But is there no other way to determine what Corneille’s audience saw when he put his great witch onto the stage? The answer to that question will occupy the next two chapters, which will attempt to see beyond and behind this great love, the glammatology.

126 A.A. Gill, “Table Talk: Le Vacherin,” Sunday Times, Style (3 April 2005), pp. 48–9 (p. 49).

Chapter 4

The Question of Illusion Illusion and Psychoanalysis The previous chapters have suggested an historical dynamic that would benefit from some precision. Why does Medea, odious, nevertheless proliferate wildly in representation? The great complex of questions centering on the figure of Medea will be unable to do more than circle aimlessly around her representations unless some better understanding is brought to bear upon what happened when Corneille put her onto the stage in his first tragedy. The properly historical excursus upon which the present chapter will embark suggests itself so forcefully in the case of Corneille’s tragedy for two reasons. In the first place, the 1635 Médée is the first setting of Medea’s tragedy in Corinth that might exist in relation to an earlier but still arguably modern Medea tragedy, that of La Péruse. For the first time, an argument from the assumptions of a theory of “influence,” “intersubjectivity,” or “intertextuality” has the possibility not only of being determining, but also of participating in a complexity that would go beyond that of “ancient versus modern.” Secondly, although we may well imagine that the tragedy of La Péruse was at some point performed, Corneille’s is the first one that we can be certain played to an audience. The matter of the audience is important because, by asking “What happened?”, what, in other words, the status of the event was, the question becomes one about the emergence of the new into history and its relation to the collectivity represented, in both senses, by its audience. The historian Alain Bourreau, evoking the parthenogenesis that will be much to the point in the development that follows here, once called this kind of event a celibate or singular novelty and the collectivity its privileged site: “Le collectif devient alors le lieu de l’émergence, de la nouveauté celibataire, de l’histoire pure”1 (“The collective then becomes the site of emergence, of celibate novelty, of pure history”). This project, to question how the mighty thematic of Medea moved through historical agents over time, and to take Corneille’s tragedy as the point beyond which is it not possible to move without, if not an answer to, at least a better understanding of the question, is not at first glance a very promising one. Unless new archival material surfaces, we will probably never know what the material conditions of its representation were. John Lough long ago brought together the scattered and fragmented references, which, as he pointed out, are confusing and contradictory,

1 Alain Bourreau, “Propositions pour une histoire restreinte des mentalités,” Annales ESC 6 (1989), pp. 1491–504 (p. 1502).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

and, for the first half of the century, rare.2 There is no evidence about audience size or composition; it cannot be concluded that respectable women did not attend, or that the nobility was not present. The prices of tickets do not tell us who actually bought them. Those documents among the twenty million wills, marriage contracts, inventories, rental agreements, sales, and so on, found in the French National Archives and published by Alan Howe, tell us much about the activities of actors and the careers of individuals, but very little about Corneille, and nothing at all about Médée.3 Jan Clarke has come to some extremely useful conclusions about the Guénégaud,4 but these concern the period for which she analyzes the accounts, the 1670s, and to extrapolate backwards, before the post-Fronde transformations in the business of the theater,5 would be pure speculation. Christian Biet has developed the implications of the stage’s being used for audience seating for the first time in Le Cid, but this is to place a marker at that event and its ambient Querelle, which seems to have transformed the gesture of bringing a play to the stage in far-reaching ways.6 Nevertheless, scholars are agreed that between about 1625 and about 1635, a change took place in this audience about which next to nothing strictly material is known. Lough had no reservations about relating it to an “improvement in the type of play” (p. 43), Alain Viala once linked it to “la naissance de l’écrivain,” Jeffrey Ravel’s analysis of the origins of the parterre depends upon the notion of the 1630s as a “pivotal decade,”7 and recent scholarship has focused on the emergence of a powerful fiction of a homogenous literary-critical public that we know had a busy political, economic, and cultural career in front of it.8 Louis Marin as well was specific about the change he wished to identify. In the course of his beautiful reading of Corneille’s Médée, he was convinced that in the first half of the seventeenth century, the question of political power became disengaged from any notion of a fundamental right, and that the tragedy henceforth became that place where the theory of the political, its foundational violence, could be shown and the consent of the governed obtained.9 2 John Lough, Paris Theatre Audiences in the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries (London: Oxford University Press, 1957). 3 Alan Howe, Le Théâtre professionnel à Paris 1600–1649 (Paris: Centre historique des Archives nationales, 2000). 4 Jan Clarke, The Guénégaud Theatre in Paris (1673–1680) (Lewiston, NY, Queenstown, ON, and Lampeter: Edwin Mellon Press, 1998), vol. 1. 5 Alain Viala, Naissance de l’écrivain. Sociologie de la littérature à l’âge classique (Paris: Minuit, 1985), pp. 98–110. 6 Christian Biet, “L’avenir des illusions ou le théâtre et l’illusion perdue,” L’Illusion au XVIIe siècle. Littératures classiques 44 (2000), pp. 175–214. 7 Jeffrey S. Ravel, The Contested Parterre: Public Theater and French Political Culture, 1680–1791 (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1999), p. 75. 8 See Roger Chartier, Les Origines culturelles de la Révolution française (Paris: Seuil, 1990); Joan DeJean, Ancients against Moderns: Culture Wars and the Making of a Fin de Siècle (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997); Hélène Merlin, Public et littérature en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1994). 9 Louis Marin, “Théâtralité et pouvoir, magie, machination, machine: Médée de Corneille,” in Christian Lazzeri and Dominique Reynié (eds.), Le Pouvoir de la raison d’état

The Question of Illusion


So, without naïvely assuming any fullness of presence, we can at least say that there is a general feeling among those who have looked into the matter that something did happen to this context around the time of the Médée, and we can well imagine that Corneille’s première was somehow related to this change. Why the change occurred, as opposed to the bare historical claim that it did occur, is not exactly anybody’s guess, but it has certainly prompted some powerful and productive exercises in speculation. Lough was convinced that it could not be explained by a change in the composition of theater audiences.10 There was not, that is, one kind of audience, untutored and lowly, before some kind of watershed, and another audience, sophisticated and aristocratic, afterwards. And curiously, at moments of formulation in historicist discourse and political philosophy on the subject, the register shifts to psychoanalysis. With respect to the general possibility of the emergence of the new from the collectivity, we find at the end of Alain Bourreau’s line of thinking that “l’historien se trouve dans la position du psychanalyste, jeté dans une parole qui est à la fois symptôme, action et réalité”11 (“The historian is in the position of psychoanalyst, cast into speech that is at once symptom, action, and reality”) with respect specifically to this willed reconstitution of a public from a political body shredded by the chaos of the wars of religion, Hélène Merlin writes that: “il faut désormais compter avec la pensée du nouveau, du devenir, des contraintes historiques – avec le ‘blessure narcissique’ du corps politique, dont le miroir ne pourra plus être tendu dans un rêve de spécularité aussi harmonieuse”12 (“From then on, notions of the new, of becoming, of historical pressures, of the ‘narcissistic wound’ in the body politic have to be taken into account. No longer could the mirror be held up in such an unproblematic dream of specularity”). The collectivity taken as a subject by Bourreau and the public taken up at length by Merlin must be carefully distinguished from an actual audience sitting, or standing, in Corneille’s theater. The historian and the political philosopher take as object a notion that is at once purely theoretical and properly effective. Neither this collectivity nor this public, that is, exists as a locatable entity. We will never find an image or a text in which it is contained. Yet as a discursive field, the notion of the public has locatable effects. In its name, governments rise and fall, individuals are coerced, entertainments triumph or flop, arguments for the real are produced. The task of “l’histoire restreinte des mentalités,” according to Bourreau, is to designate, describe, and situate statements produced in the vicinity of words that he calls examples of the énoncé,13 and of which, Merlin claims, “public” is one. This would probably include, for example, the history of classicism, made dependent by René Bray, as Merlin points out, on a notion of the public as the paradigmatic name for the French social and political elite, the incarnation of French genius.14

(Paris: PUF, 1992), pp. 231–59. 10 Lough, Paris Theatre Audiences, p. 43. 11 Bourreau, “Propositions,” p. 1502. 12 Merlin, Public et littérature, p. 105. 13 Bourreau, “Propositions,” p. 1497. 14 Merlin, Public et littérature, pp. 17–18.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

In the face of this wonderfully sophisticated theoretical thinking about historical collectivities, I would like to take a step back, however, to think again about the theater audience as a function of the “what happened” when Corneille staged Médée. Is it necessarily the case, as Merlin and DeJean have assumed, that this question must be attached to print culture? Even in the absence of material remains, there are at least two things that we can say for sure about the theater audience. Firstly, it matters very much what this collectivity is called. Perhaps the name given to a collection of people is particularly performative. We will remember d’Aubignac’s bothering to insist in the Pratique du théâtre that this collection is called “Spectateurs, ou Regardans, & non pas, Auditeurs.”15 Secondly, the most basic assumption that can be made about this collectivity is that a number of people came together, in the same place, at the same time, and that they stayed together more or less for the duration of the spectacle. It could be called, that is, a group, and, given the turn of both historicist thinking and political philosophy to psychoanalysis at crucial moments of formulation in arguments taking up groups constituted not just by spectacle but by a whole range of political, cultural, and discursive assumptions, it may be useful to see what psychoanalysis has had to say about how groups function. As it happens, groups function, according to a certain line of psychoanalytic thinking that will be followed below, to produce illusion. So the question, given that theater historians know practically nothing for certain about this audience, must necessarily go to the very nature of illusion if it is to go anywhere at all. The writings of Freud take up the question of the group at moments that seem fragile both for the history of psychoanalysis and for the course of his own thought. Totem und Tabu,16 Freud’s first extended development of the individual as a Hordentier, (‘herd animal’) appeared for the first time in book form in 1913, as Freud was preparing to grapple with the structures of his own horde: Zur Geschichte der psychoanalytischen Bewegung,17 displaying all of the fragility of the moment when the founder or author of a theory or movement comes to write its history, appeared in 1914, along with the great narcissism text that will mainly concern us here. His most extended comment on the group is Massenpsychologie und Ich-analyse, from 1921.18 Here Freud reads Gustave Le Bon’s Psychologie des foules, Trotter’s Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, Sighele’s La Foule criminelle, and McDougall’s The Group Mind.19 He complains that these texts are unsatisfactory in various ways, and that group 15 François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, La Pratique du théâtre, ed. Hélène Baby (Paris: Champion, 2001), p. 407. 16 Sigmund Freud, Gesammelte Werke (18 vols., London: Imago, 1940–52), vol. 9; The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey (24 vols., London: Hogarth Press, 1953–74), vol. 13, pp. vii–162. 17 Freud, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 10, pp. 43–113; Standard Edition, vol. 14, pp. 1–66. 18 Freud, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 13, pp. 71–161; Standard Edition, vol. 18, pp. 65–144 . 19 Gustave Le Bon, Psychologie des foules (1895) (Paris: PUF, 2002); Wilfred Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, 1916–1919 (Oxford and London: Oxford University Press and Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1953); Scipio Sighele, La Foule criminelle. Essai de psychologie collective (2nd edn., Paris: Alcan, 1901); William McDougall, The Group Mind: A Sketch of the Principles of Collective Psychology with Some Attempt to Apply them to the

The Question of Illusion


psychology does not have either a developed theoretical base, or even definitions of terms that would seem to be basic. But Freud nevertheless forges ahead and sketches out in this text what looks for all the world like the first description of the superego. There is, he writes, a critical agency within the ego that may cut itself off from the rest of the ego, and whose functions are self-observation, the censorship of dreams, the moral conscience, and repressions.20 The ego enters into the relation of an object with respect to the new agency that has developed out of it, and all the possibilities of interplay between an external object and the ego can be repeated on this new stage, within the ego itself.21 The ego, that is, like the group, requires a leader. Indeed, Freud’s main criticism of Le Bon had been his lack of attention to the group’s leader and to historically weighty, relatively stable groups, as opposed to transient groups constituted by a single event. What Freud calls this leader agency in the 1921 text is not, however, the superego, but rather the ego ideal, a term he had first used in the 1914 Zur Einführung des Narzissmus.22 Narcissism, Freud had claimed, could be the name for the attitude of the individual whose libido and interest have been withdrawn from the objects of the external world, taking as love object the self. The target of this self-love is the agency that Freud called “new,” this “neue ideale Ich,”23 projected before the individual as the substitute for the lost, perfect narcissism of childhood, in which he was his own ideal. The aim of the narcissist with respect to object choice is, not surprisingly, to be loved. But the person in love forfeits some narcissism, which can only be replaced by being loved in return, and filling up the tank once more: “Wer liebt, hat sozusagen ein Stück seines Narzißmus eingebüßt und kann es erst durch das Geliebtwerden ersetzt erhalten”24 (“Anyone in love has forfeited a piece of narcissism, if you will, and can only replace it by obtaining love in return”). With this notion of a kind of economy of the libido in narcissism, we reach a dense and knotty moment in Freud’s essay, which seems to call for some kind of odd magical tele-transfer of narcissism between narcissist and object. What, exactly, is this narcissism that can be broken into pieces, Stücke? Indeed, René Girard once claimed that Freud seems here to mistake a strategy for something like an essence.25 But Interpretation of National Life and Character (2nd edn., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927). 20 Freud, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 13, pp. 109–10. 21 Ibid., p. 130. 22 Freud, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 10, pp. 137–70; Standard Edition, vol. 14, pp. 67–102. 23 Freud, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 10, p. 161. 24 Ibid., p. 166. 25 René Girard, Des Choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde (Paris: Grasset, 1978), pp. 510–29. Girard reads Freud’s narcissism text as a moralizing one, in which Freud is blind to his own mimetic desire for the eternal feminine. What Freud called narcissism, then, would be nothing more than perfectly banal coquetry, and his response to it would be the naïve desire of a man who had long before renounced sexual relations with his wife. Freud’s turn to representation, however, is not read by Girard, and as will become clear, in one particular reading of the group culture to which the narcissism text gives a theoretical foundation, the scapegoat may appear, but is a by-product and non-essential to the group trajectory. Therefore, this text might well remain profoundly illegible from within Girard’s system.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Freud’s text is extremely careful about this dynamic. The subject of this discussion is not the actual establishment of a happy love once more, but instead, as Freud later corrected his own text, its representation. The libido that fills up the tank can only be gained by being withdrawn from its objects, and this return does not establish a happy love, as Freud wrote in the first edition of his paper (“stellt gleichsam wieder eine glücklicke Liebe her”26), but rather represents it, as all editions after the first edition read (“stellt gleichsam wieder eine glücklicke Liebe dar”). If there is magic in the narcissist’s love, then that magic is the magic of representation. The final paragraph of the narcissism essay turns to society and the problem of the group. In it, some readers have seen not an embryonic superego, but rather something else. The ego ideal projected before the narcissist, Freud writes, has a social side (“einen sozialen Anteil”); it is also the common ideal of a family, a class, or a nation, and in Freud’s wake, psychoanalysts have registered some of the implications of this claim. That is, it seems to have become clear to certain psychoanalysts working in Paris in the early 1970s that the notion of the ego ideal that Freud developed in his important narcissism text can not be said to lead in a simple linear way to the moment when it will finally emerge full-blown and transformed into the superego.27 There is a distinction to be drawn, for the Ichideal aims to recover lost omnipotence, while the superego emerges from the castration complex; the first tends towards the restoration of illusion, while the second promotes reality. And equally importantly, the superego, a function of the Oedipus complex, cuts the child off from the mother, while the Ichideal tends toward fusion.28 Freud’s emphasis in the 1921 group psychology paper had been on groups such as the Church and the army, and one of his criticisms of Le Bon, we recall, was that his emphasis had been on what we might call the casual group, one brought together temporarily for some shortlived purpose. Freud’s theoretical interests were not particularly served by this kind of group, and in an important transitional paragraph, he speculates that Le Bon’s restricting himself to it was an effect of the French Revolution.29 Indeed, with this political-sociological nexus in Le Bon’s text, the “inconsient à la française,” as it has 26 Sigmund Freud, “Zur Einführung des Narzissmus,”Jahrbuch der Psychoanalyse 6 (1914), pp. 1–24 (p. 23). 27 A discussion of the biographical and institutional context in which psychoanalysis was practiced during this period may be found in Elisabeth Roudinesco, Histoire de la psychanalyse en France 1885–1985 (2 vols., Paris: Fayard, 1994). On Anzieu, see vol. 2, pp. 125–35; on Chasseguet-Smirgel, see vol. 2, pp. 520, 593–6; on the Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, see vol. 2, pp. 626–7. 28 Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Essai sur l’idéal du moi (Paris: PUF, 1973), pp. 87–100. 29 Freud, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 13, p. 83. Le Bon does indeed reach repeatedly for examples drawn from Revolutionary history. Napoleon figures largely, Robespierre appears as the example of a marginal figure become a group leader devoted to an idea or cause, and the events of 1793 are cited as an example of heroism and self-sacrifice possible in good crowds (Le Bon, Psychologie des foules, p. 30). Le Bon’s examples range from the Crusades to Ferdinand de Lesseps, and he seems to have thought that the group is the generalized agent of history: “Si les foules avaient raisonné souvent et consulté leurs intérêts immédiats, aucune civilisation ne se fût développée peut-être à la surface de notre planète, et l’humanité n’aurait pas d’histoire” (ibid.) (“If crowds had stopped to think and taken their own immediate

The Question of Illusion



been called, we arrive at the heart of the fear and disdain of the group. But Freud’s text is less interested in instability and historical cataclysm than it is in the products of the stable group, among which, he notes, we could include language, folk song, myth, and potentially most if not all works of individual genius, which would be only a registering and perfecting of accomplishments already achieved by the group.31 In this kind of group, people desire all to be equal, and to be able to identify with and love both each other and a single superior father or hero. But this is patently not true of all groups, and this is perhaps the moment to register Freud’s claim that Le Bon’s fascination with the dangerous, impatient group has something to do with a particularly French politics. Le Bon did in fact believe in a collective soul of the crowd, “l’âme d’une race,”32 a kind of lowest common denominator to which individuals in groups are reduced, and he did think that there was something like an essentially French crowd. Napoleon’s success, for example, could be attributed to his understanding of the psychology of the French crowd; his failure could be ascribed to his lack of understanding of the crowds of other nations.33 But, for Le Bon, the range of images and attributes that serve as tools to think about the crowd, “impulsivité, mobilité, irritabilité,”34 relate less to its being French than to its being female. While Le Bon never claims that all crowds are French, he does claim that they are women: “Les foules sont partout féminines, mais les plus féminines de toutes sont les foules latines”35 (“Everywhere, crowds are feminine, but the most feminine of all are Latin crowds”). Indeed, more recent psychoanalytic thinking about the group has seen that, with respect to its imagery, the crowd is not just a female, but quite specifically a mother. With the crowd, we can assemble a set of images and qualities that come together and make sense if we see them as dominated by the mother imago: La foule, entend-on dire, est femme, capricieuse, changeante, sentimentale, prête à se donner au premier venu qui sait lui plaire ou la forcer, la foule est un stupéfiant qui endort la raison, libère l’imagination, l’émotion, l’instinct […] la foule encore est un nourrisson qui […] réclame à manger, à boire, à mordre, […] tout ce qu’a décrit Le Bon ne prend son sens que par la présense de cette imago.36 (Crowds, they say, are women. They are capricious, fickle, dominated by feeling, ready to give themselves to the first one who can seduce them or take them by force. The crowd is a drug that frees the imagination, the emotions, and the instincts, and stifles reason. Further, it is a helpless baby that demands food, drink, and something to chew on. Everything observed by Le Bon makes sense only in the presence of this imago.) interests into consideration, it is quite possible that no civilization would ever have developed on the surface of the planet, and humanity wouldn’t have history”). 30 Roudinesco, Histoire de la psychanalyse, vol. 1, pp. 178, 213–21. 31 Freud, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 13, p. 82. 32 Le Bon, Psychologie des foules, p. 12. 33 Ibid., p. 4. 34 Ibid., p. 17. 35 Ibid., p. 19. 36 Didier Anzieu, “Etude psychanalytique des groupes réels,” Les Temps modernes 242 (1966), pp. 56–73 (p. 70).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

But is there then some way of thinking about both the horrifying and the uplifting actions of the group that would not be just a repetition of all of the popular imagery of the mother imago, and that would go beyond simply registering the imago’s presence to explain its powerful connection with the group? Freud’s narcissism text perhaps provides a platform, and it seems that the explanation of this connection goes to the very nature of illusion. In a 1971 article in the Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, Didier Anzieu brought forward a number of case studies that enabled him to postulate the existence, in addition to the great social illusions of the religious, the artistic, and the philosophical taken up by Freud, of a fourth kind of social illusion, that of the group. In a group in which l’illusion groupale can be observed, there is a chronological regression to primary narcissism, a topical regression that aims at fusion with an all-powerful mother, and a regression to archaic modes of expression, mytho-poetic thought, wordplay, and the figurative. In such a group, individual narcissism is threatened, and accordingly a group narcissism and a group ego ideal is put into place to compensate for the threat to the individual. This is, precisely, the esprit de corps of a group body threatened with dismemberment.37 Of particular interest in a group of this kind is the structure of leadership. Le Bon had thought that leadership in groups works by means of ideas in which the leaders are themselves fanatical believers. The leader is invested with what he called, in a locution heavy, as we know, with the historical weight of the Malleus maleficarum, “prestige,”38 which paralyzes the group’s critical faculty and fills it with wonder and respect.39 Freud’s comment on this prestige was that it seems to work like some kind of magnetic magic40 (“der Wirkung eines magnetischen Zaubers”). W.R. Bion, in group analyses conducted at the Tavistock Clinic in the 1930s and 1940s, and reported in Experiences in Groups and Other Papers in 1961, had noticed that, when the psychoanalyst declines to accept automatic leadership of a group driven by what he called a “basic assumption,” it will always choose as its leader its most seriously ill member. This produces, understandably, subsequent problems, and explains, according to Bion, why the great religious leader is always thought to be mad or possessed by a devil.41 It is as though the group thinks that, if it is not in fact led by a madman, then it should be. Indeed, the very desire for a leader, an important aspect of what Bion called “a characteristic culture of the group,”42 is problematic. In a strikingly precise recapitulation of Le Bon’s claim that “les foules n’ont jamais eu soif de vérités […] qui sait les illusionner est aisément leur maître; qui tente de les désillusionner est toujours leur victime”43 (“Crowds have never thirsted after truth. Whoever can give them illusions easily masters them; whoever tries to disillusion

37 38 39 40 41 p. 121. 42 43

Ibid., p. 92. See above, Chapter 1, page XXX. Le Bon, Psychologie des foules, pp. 76–82. Freud, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 13, p. 87. W.R. Bion, Experiences in Groups and Other Papers (London: Routledge, 1961), Ibid., p. 55. Le Bon, Psychologie des foules, p. 64.

The Question of Illusion


them will always be their victim”), Chasseguet-Smirgel noted that “La foule a moins soif d’un maître que soif d’illusions […] Le meneur, c’est Caliostro”44 (“Crowds thirst less for a leader than they do for illusions. The leader is a Caliostro”). The leader is the promoter of illusion, the intermediary between the group and ideology, behind which there is always assumed a narcissistic fantasy of reunion with the mother. The leader pushes the group to prefer “the false” (the illusion) over “the true.” The culture of the group is additionally characterized by self-defense against sexual knowledge, generation, and birth. The resulting parthenogenetic fantasy, meanwhile, is exemplified by Descartes: “discutant des preuves de l’existence de Dieu, [il] reformule l’argument ontologique en disant que Dieu est, car il est cause de lui-même”45 (“Descartes’ proofs of the existence of God reformulate the ontological argument by claiming that God is, because he is the cause of himself”). This willed non-knowledge of the sexual act was formulated by a group participant as: “Pour moi, le groupe est le mère et Anzieu la père.”46 So we have firstly Freud’s introduction to narcissism, a platform that is very carefully situated by him within the field of representation, and of which he is, not incidentally, “la père,” having written to Abraham that the “Narcissism” went through a difficult labor and birth: “Ich schicke Ihnen morgen den Narzissmus, der eine schwere Geburt war.”47 Secondly, we have a theory of the group, deriving from the narcissism text, which puts in place a scenario in which the leader is a magician, and the group’s narcissism relates to its desire for reunification in the body of an allpowerful mother. This theory of the group does indeed seem to address the question of the very nature of illusion, and it supplies an answer to that question that reads beautifully in tandem with the long history of Medea: the nature of the illusion that is generated by groups is in a very deep and fundamental way the illusion of the mother. In this light, we could say that “what happened” when Corneille put Medea on the stage in 1635 was that the audience saw “le mère.” A casual, transitory group constituted only by the spectacle, that is, came together, as Chasseguet-Smirgel wrote, thirsting. Not thirsting for a hero, particularly, but rather for illusion and for a magician to mediate between the body of the group and the body of the mother. And what it saw in the figure of Medea on the stage was exactly what Narcissus saw when he came, thirsting, to the pool and, as Ovid puts it, “while he seeks to slake his thirst another thirst springs up, and while he drinks he is smitten by the sight of the beautiful form he sees.”48 What the group saw, then, was itself. Its specular image was Corneille’s sorcière and mother. Merlin’s “blessure narcissique du corps politique”

44 Chasseguet-Smirgel, Essai sur l’idéal du moi, p. 92. 45 Anzieu, “Etude psychanalytique,” p. 85. 46 Ibid., p. 86. The kernel of this formulation is untranslatable: it involves a grammatically incorrect masculine-gendered definite article for the feminine noun mère (“mother”) and the symmetrical feminine-gendered definite article for the masculine noun père (“father”). Further, grammatical gender and gender as sexual distinction are here conflated. 47 Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham, Briefe 1907–1926, ed. Hilda C. Abraham and Ernst L. Freud (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1965), p. 163. 48 Ovid, The Metamorphoses, trans. Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955), p. 85, modified.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

inflicted by the historical knowledge of rupture, division, and war generated an ideal, found its moment of jubilation, and set the seal of the fate of Narcissus upon itself. So this particular line of psychoanalytic thinking about casual groups constituted by ephemeral events seems to lend itself to several Medea-specific explanations. Because group narcissism tends toward fusion with the mother, we understand not just why the figure of a woman would be properly effective, but also why that woman’s status as a mother would be important. We understand, further, why the embodiment of a powerful magic on the stage, Corneille’s sorcière filled with Le Bon’s “prestige,” would have the persuasive force of tautology at a historical moment when sacred authority has faltered and the political body has been demonized.49 Finally, to the irreducible kernel of Medea: the group’s denial of sexual knowledge and resultant assumptions of parthenogenesis are mirrored in the Medea who, as Seneca’s tragedy claimed, is turned into a virgin again by her killing of the children. The function of her violence is to fulfill both of the group’s opposing requirements: that it be its mother’s child again, but that that mother be exempt from having given birth to it. When Corneille takes up Medea again for the 1660 Conquête de la toison d’or, written for the royal wedding celebrations, it will be precisely to write an account of a fantastic parthenogenesis of the political body.50 These profoundly consonant structures, I would say, take us some way toward understanding the great question of Medea’s wild proliferation in representation: with respect to the theory that we have just been looking into, she is, in a strong technical sense, the ideal illusion. By her, that is, the theater audience was constituted in an elaborate moment of self-recognition. Were we to formulate the “what happened” in the terms supplied by group psychoanalysis, we would say that Corneille’s pivotal understanding was the understanding of illusion itself, that his audience, that is, was a group characterized by narcissism and its pursuit of the ego ideal, not by the castration complex, the superego, and the domination of the real. Only much later will he write of Oedipus, and he will specifically deny to his Oedipe, as we have seen, any possibility of mirroring its audience in the technically Freudian sense. Illusion and Demons This question of the event, however, the “what happened,” is not one that is atemporal or time-blind. If the theory of the psychoanalysis of casual groups brings some much-needed specificity to the core problem, the nature of illusion, we must still wonder how helpful this specificity really is. The question may be made more precise by asking what the nature of illusion was in 1635. Corneille’s great sorcière certainly participates, as scholars have long understood, in a history of the magician-witch-sorcerer on the stage as a figure and embodiment of the power of the stage itself, the power, that is, of illusion. But to slide from the stage 49 Hélène Merlin, “Le devenir démoniaque du corps politique sous les guerres de religion,” Frénésie 9 (1990), pp. 57–75. 50 Amy Wygant, “Pierre Corneille’s Medea-Machine,” Romanic Review 85 (1994), pp. 535–50. Abby Zanger, Scenes from the Marriage of Louis XIV: Nuptial Fictions and the Making of Absolutist Power (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 117–30.

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to the illusion is precisely to assume the connection that in fact requires analysis. Again, if we are going to move beyond the figural and the suggestive, it seems that, having brought some specificity to the question of the nature of illusion generated by certain kinds of groups, it would be well to ask what the nature of illusion on the stage of 1635 was. The project is to interrupt the logic that leads from the stage to the staged illusion, to see what its determining metaphors and structures were. This is by no means an unjustified move with respect to a properly early modern notion of the nature of illusion because, as far as the dictionaries and theoretical treatises of the time are concerned, illusion and the stage were not fundamentally linked. Seventeenth-century dictionaries, from Cotgrave through that of the Académie française, never mention the theater in entries on illusion. Instead, illusion is linked with imposture and trickery, tromperie, particularly with the fooling of the eyes, and, according to the dictionary of the Académie française, “Il se dit plus ordinairement des tromperies que font les demons en faisant paroistre aux sens interieurs ou exterieurs les choses autrement qu’elles ne sont” (“It usually refers to the tricks of demons when they cause things to seem different to either the interior or the exterior senses from what they really are”). In Furetière, we find as well: “Illusion se dit aussi des artifices du Demon qui fait paroistre ce qui n’est pas. […] Il a tenté les hermites sous diverses formes qui n’estoient que des illusions”51 (“‘Illusion’ is used as well for the artifices of the devil, who causes things to appear that aren’t really there. He tempted the hermits in various guises that were only illusions”). In this, the dictionary definitions of the day follow a long tradition, both classical and Patristic, that equate illusion with the devil’s sport, its Latin root being illudere, and with a kind of rhetorical gap between the appearance of what is said and its essence.52 When we turn to the theory of the stage in the first half of the century and to its two most extended statements, Pilet de la Mesnardière’s Poëtique and the abbé d’Aubignac’s Pratique du théâtre, we find, on the one hand, that the word “illusion” appears rarely.53 But on the other hand, it is historically the case that both La Mesnardière and d’Aubignac were expert in one explicitly seventeenth-century field of illusion-making before becoming the authors of treatises on the stage. They were both, that is, the authors of demonology treatises, and it is from an understanding of what the theoretical concerns of these “early” works of both authors were that we will be able better to understand what staged illusion became. Scholars have been engaged in reevaluating the poetics of seventeenth-century French tragedy for some time now, and it has lately seemed interesting to point out the radical modernity of a theatrical theory that was once read as respectfully obedient, harmonious, and derivative. With John Lyons’s formulation of a “kingdom of disorder,” the close reading of theatrical theory has changed its determining image from that of the playwright as a good soldier following universally acknowledged

51 Dictionnaires des XVIe et XVIIe siècles, CD-ROM (Paris: Champion, 1998). 52 Marian Hobson, The Object of Art: The Theory of Illusion in Eighteenth-century France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 18–28. 53 Georges Forestier, “Introduction,” L’Illusion au XVIIe siècle. Littératures classiques 44 (2002), pp. 7–12.


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Aristotelian orders to that of a modernist, creative theory that is irremediably strange, historically dissonant, insistently excrescent.54 One of the principal texts involved in this general rereading is the Pratique du théâtre of François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, long considered to have been a founding document of the theory of the seventeenth-century stage.55 Published in 1657, although begun as early as 1642, the Pratique was reprinted in 1715 in Amsterdam, in 1927 in Algiers and Paris, and, in a series edited by the leading figures of the School of Constance, including Hans Robert Jauss, in 1971 in Munich.56 As this itinerary of publication begins to suggest, the abbé’s treatise has seemed pertinent and urgent only intermittently. It was, however, re-edited by Hélène Baby in 2001,57 and scholars have been concerned to arrive at an understanding of what is meant when d’Aubignac uses the notions of vraisemblance, bienséance, le merveilleux, and couleur, and most importantly for my purposes here, of the place of the spectator in his poetics.58 As for the abbé and his biography, his historical fortunes seem to wane whenever those of his polemical target and privileged example, Pierre Corneille, wax. This was certainly the case during the great revival of interest in neoclassical theater in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, and d’Aubignac’s nineteenthcentury biographer began with the observation that the abbé was “un ‘dédaigné,’ un ‘grotesque;’ son nom est synonyme de pédantisme et d’étroitesse d’esprit”59 (“A ridiculous, grotesque figure. His name is synonymous with pedantry and lack of vision”). But Alain Viala has analyzed the course of d’Aubignac’s ultimately unsuccessful career – his failure to be admitted to the Académie française or to obtain royal patronage for his own academy, the flops of his plays on the stage, and his loss of the support of the powerful salons – not as the result of pedantry or a blinkered outlook, but rather as a result of bad timing: D’Aubignac was caught between a first 54 John D. Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder: The Theory of Tragedy in Classical France (West Layfayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1999). 55 For important readings of the Pratique’s rhetoric, see Hugh M. Davidson, “Pratique et rhétorique du théâtre: Etude sur le vocabulaire et la méthode de d’Aubignac,” in Marc Fumaroli and Jean Mesnard (eds.), Critique et création littériares en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris: CNRS, 1977), pp. 169–81; Georges Forestier, “D’une poétique politique: La Pratique du théâtre de l’abbé d’Aubignac ou la rationalité absolue de la représentation classique,” in Inventaire, lecture, invention. Mélanges de critique et d’histoire littéraires offerts à Bernard Beugnot (Montréal: Département d’Etudes françaises de l’Université de Montréal, 1999), pp. 229–46. 56 Charles Arnaud mentions a 1669 reprinting in Paris by Denys Thierry; Arnaud, Etude sur la vie et les œuvres de l’abbé d’Aubignac et sur les théories dramatiques au XVIIe siècle (Paris: 1888; Geneva: Slatkine, 1970), p. 6. 57 Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, La Pratique du théâtre, ed. Hélène Baby (Paris: Champion, 2001). 58 See Forestier, “D’une poétique politique”; Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder; Mark Franko, “Act and Voice in Neo-Classical Theatrical Theory: D’Aubignac’s Pratique and Corneille’s Illusion,” Romanic Review 78 (1987), pp. 311–26; Timothy Murray, “Non-representation in La Pratique du théâtre,” Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature IX, no. 16 (1982), pp. 57–74; idem, Theatrical Legitimation: Allegories of Genius in Seventeenth-century England and France (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 166–91. 59 Arnaud, Etude sur la vie, p. 1.

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generation that created the artistic institutions of the age, and a second that then consolidated them; he missed the first great wave of academic power, and in spite of his being a client of the most powerful patron of his day, the Cardinal de Richelieu, his career never quite took off.60 And what was d’Aubignac doing when so many private academies, including that which would become the Académie française, were being founded in the second half of the 1620s? The answer is that he was writing a treatise on satyrs, apes, monsters, and demons. Identified on the title page of Des Satyres brutes, monstres, et démons, published in 1627 in Paris by Nicolas Buon,61 as “Advocat en parlement,” d’Aubignac was proving himself to be a true grandson of his famous grandfather, the sixteenth-century physician and teratologist Ambroise Paré, best known for his monster treatise, Des Monstres et prodiges.62 It is safe to say that d’Aubignac’s satyr treatise has been very little read. It has been mentioned by an historian of demonology for its comments on the witch’s sabbath,63 but as an “early work,” and a rebarbative one at that, it has not seemed pertinent to scholars of seventeenth-century theater. It was re-edited in 1888, at which point it was, according to its editor, “connu seulement des curieux”64 (“known only to enthusiasts”). D’Aubignac’s readers seem to have judged that his satyr book somehow does not pertain to his theater, and that it does not form part of a coherent body of work. But this “early work” appeared in a new edition in 2003, so perhaps it will find new readers among those currently fascinated by the struggles of interiority and the alarming possibilities of the mind.65 So illusion, as the dictionaries insist, was demonic. Elsewhere, I have tried to show that the monster, taken up in the central chapter of d’Aubignac’s satyr book, persists in the Pratique, both as that which must be ejected, the monstrous irregularities of French theatrical history, and as the constitutive figure of what d’Aubignac calls the discours pathéthique, the representation of the passions on the stage. There is a specifically monstrous formal energy, I claimed, that the theater of modernity cannot do without. Far from emphasizing the gaps and discontinuities between the “early work” and the mature statement of theatrical theory, this seemed to show that the troubling images and unresolved difficulties of the first, “early” work haunt the formulations of the second, and that both the substance and the structures of 60 Viala, La Naissance, pp. 187–99. 61 François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac. Des Satyres brutes, monstres, et démons. De leur nature et adoration (Paris: Nicolas Buon, 1627). The placing of a comma after “Satyres” in the title is problematic. While the 1627 edition includes it in the citation of the title in the Privilège, a reading of the treatise would suggest that the comma is not necessary. That is, the treatise argues that there are no satyrs as such, but only satyres brutes (apes), satyres monstres, and satyres démons. 62 Ambroise Paré, Des Monstres et prodiges, ed. Jean Céard (Geneva: Droz, 1971). 63 Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 23. 64 François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, monstres, et démons. De leur nature et adoration, ed. Alcide Bonneau (Paris: Isadore Liseux, 1888), p. v. 65 François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, monstres, et démons, ed. Gilles Banderier (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2003). All further citations will be to this edition.


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the “old,” retrospective text persist in the midst of the “new,” prescriptive one.66 D’Aubignac’s fourth chapter, “Des Satyres démons” (pp. 122–79), suggests that this entanglement persists, for it is the most explicitly demonological and, at the same time, the most explicitly theatrical of the discussions in the satyr book. Some satyrs, d’Aubignac has argued, are monsters, but others are demons. Certain cases are clear enough, says d’Aubignac, particularly those mentioned in classical sources, but others require a closer look. This is particularly true of the appearance of the satyr to St. Anthony in the desert as reported by St. Jerome. The conclusion to be drawn from this report is not that St. Anthony saw a satyr, but rather that he saw a demon, and one fully equipped with all the subtleties and illusions of his ilk. In line with the general seventeenth-century decline and fall of the satyr, d’Aubignac’s text sits squarely in the orthodox center of the trajectory that this immensely troubling narrative will take. By the end of the century, the dictionary of Moreri will cite the story again, and grouping it with stories of live satyrs being brought to Alexandria, will observe that “il y a lieu de croire que toutes ces histoires sont fabuleuses ou que ce sont des illusions du Demon”67 (“There is reason to believe that all these stories either are fables, or else they are the devil’s illusions”). Teratology and demonology had been linked in people’s minds long before d’Aubignac came to publish his satyr book in 1627.68 With bodily deformity and moral depravity unproblematically identified, and with demons everywhere begetting monsters,69 monsters were demons and demons were monsters.70 So when d’Aubignac then writes in his fourth chapter, the longest and most elaborately argued in the book, that some satyr monsters are in fact satyr demons, it is not epistemologically surprising. Indeed, his chapter begins with a series of perfectly predictable and historically contiguous topoi that connect seamlessly with sixteenthcentury projects and anxieties. God, d’Aubignac writes, is one and all-powerful, “les Hébreux appellaient Dieu Machom ou Hammachom, c’est-à-dire, Lieu, comme toute chose étant en luy, et luy en toute chose”71 (“The Hebrews called God ‘Machom’ or ‘Hammachom,’ that is ‘Place,’ since all is in him, and he is in all”). In one dense move, d’Aubignac manages to appeal firstly to the cult of unity, the worship of a single God, in a single Church, through a single faith. Secondly, etymology furnishes an unproblematically convincing argument. If the word for “God” in fact means “place,” then God must be place, the site of all sites. Lastly, the invocation of Hebrew, considered to be the universal language of humanity, adamic and Cratylian 66 Amy Wygant, “D’Aubignac, Demonologist, I: Monkeys and Monsters,” SeventeenthCentury French Studies 23 (2001), pp. 143–64. 67 Louis Moreri, Le Grand dictionnaire historique (6th edn., Utrecht, Leyden, Amsterdam: Halma and van de Water, vander Aa, and Mortier, 1692). 68 Georges Canguilhem, “La monstruosité et le monstrueux,” Diogène 40 (1952), pp. 29–43 (pp. 30–31). 69 Walter Stephens, Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002). 70 Zakiya Hanafi, The Monster in the Machine: Magic, Medicine, and the Marvelous in the Time of the Scientific Revolution (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2000), pp. 40–50. 71 D’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, p. 122.

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in its identity of word and thing, signals that d’Aubignac’s text participates in the nostalgic search for the linguistic paradise lost that had consumed much reflection on language in the sixteenth century.72 If God is a unity, then the devil must be multiplicity, and this logic, again one that is anything but unprecedented, allows d’Aubignac’s text to go on to claim that some satyrs, particularly those associated with pagan religion and its multiple gods, are very obviously demons. The matter is far less obvious in other cases, including the appearance of satyrs at the nocturnal witches’ Sabbath. But the most difficult case, and the heart of d’Aubignac’s chapter, is the appearance of the satyr to St Anthony in the desert, and it is in the course of this discussion that his text makes space for itself under the weight of authority and inheritance, and things become more interesting. The biblical references to Christ’s temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13) provided a christological model for one kind of interaction with the demonic, and the temptation of St. Anthony Abbot on his way to meet St. Paul the Hermit in the Egyptian desert was the focus of tremendous iconographic energy throughout the early modern period.73 There are “Temptations” from Hieronymous Bosch and Nikolaus Manuel Deutsch, Cranach, Martin de Vos, and Sassetta, the Isenheim altarpiece of Grünewald, and a particularly spectacular engraving by Martin Schöngauer that Michelangelo reportedly copied and colored in during his youth in Florence.74 In them, the saint is sometimes shown being raised up into the air by zoomorphic demons, which is perhaps an iconographic confusion, and perhaps an indictment of false pride and of the belief that it is sufficient to be elevated to the sky to be worthy of heaven.75 He is sometimes approached by an anthropomorphic demon, a beautiful, albeit horned and clawed, woman. In the “Temptation” of Pieter Breugel the Elder, a gigantic empty skull of madness threatens. In many, devils beat the saint with sticks and tear at his hair and clothing.76 72 Claude Dubois, Mythe et langage au seizième siècle (Lyons: Ducros, 1970); MarieLuce Demonet, Les Voix du signe. Nature et origine du langage à la Renaissance, 1480– 1580 (Paris: Champion, 1992); James J. Bono, The Word of God and the Languages of Man: Interpreting Nature in Early Modern Science and Medicine (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995). 73 A. Pigler, Barokthemen. Eine Auswahl von Verzeichnissen sur Ikonographie des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts (2 vols., Budapest: Verlag der ungarischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1956), vol. 2, pp. 413–17; Enrico Castelli, Le Démoniaque dans l’art. Sa signification philosophique, trans. E. Valenziani (Paris: Vrin, 1958); Jurgis Baltrušaitis, Réveils et prodiges. Le gothique fantastique (Paris: Armand Colin, 1960), pp. 288–93. 74 Baltrušaitis, Réveils et prodiges, p. 289. 75 The confusion would be with a thirteenth-century St. Guthlac, who was carried up by demons and then re-descended into hell (ibid., pp. 288–9). Stephens claims that the airborne saint “implies the indisputable physical reality of the encounter” (Stephens, Demon Lovers, p. 114). 76 For early modern demonology, St. Anthony’s temptation is accordingly not an example of demonic possession, but rather of obsession. Furetière defines the verb obseder as “qui se dit originairement des Démons, qui sans entrer dans le corps d’une personne, le tourmentent et l’assiegent au dehors. Les Theologiens mettent bien de la difference entre les gens possedez, & ceux qui ne sont qu’obsedez.” On this distinction and its importance for the events at Loudun in the 1630s, see Nicholas D. Paige, Being Interior: Autobiography and the


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Within this energetic iconographical context, d’Aubignac’s fourth chapter selects for analysis an episode of the saint’s journey that is much less commonly represented visually than are his ferocious temptations. For his story, which was known from the Vitae of St. Jerome (392), tells not only of St. Anthony’s temptations, but also of his meeting in the desert, after a night during which it was revealed to him that he must go seek St. Paul, with first a centaur and then a satyr.77 Depictions of these meetings are comparatively rare. A fifteenth-century edition of the travels of Mandeville includes the story of the satyr in the Egyptian desert, although the hermit is there unnamed,78 and a manuscript Life of St. Anthony in the Malta Public Library, Valetta, shows both centaur and satyr.79 In contrast, then, to the story of the temptations, which carries a tremendously visual suggestiveness, the meeting with the beasts has the problem of language at its heart. As d’Aubignac tells the story, the saint sets out to find St. Paul and first meets a centaur, “auquel il ne tint pas long propos, parce qu’il ne jettait que ie ne sais quels accents barbares et inarticulés, et que d’une legère course il disparut soudain à ses yeux”80 (“to whom he did not talk long, because the centaur’s language was somehow barbarous and unarticulated, and he suddenly vanished from the saint’s gaze, racing quickly away”). He next comes upon the satyr, goat below and horned man above, who offers him dates and tells the saint perfectly comprehensibly that he is a mortal inhabitant of the desert, nominated as an envoy by his fellow creatures to ask St. Anthony to pray to the one God, savior of the world, for them. At these words, the good saint denounced the idolatry of the Alexandrians, upon which “cette bête hideuse, d’une vitesse ailée, se desroba de devant ses yeux”81 (“this hideous beast, as though on wings, sped out of his sight”). The story’s emphasis, in d’Aubignac’s telling of it, is upon an identification between the satyr and the city of Alexandria where, we will remember, the Arian heresy originated: “Le bon vieillard prit subiet de détester l’idolâtrie des Alexandrins, qui adoraient pour dieux toutes sortes de monstres prodigieux et étranges”82 (“The gentle old man was inspired to denounce the idolatry of the Alexandrians, who worshipped as gods all kinds of strange and portentous monsters”). D’Aubignac’s comments go to his doubt that it could possibly be the case that St. Anthony in fact encountered either a monkey or a satyr monster. How, in the first place, did the satyr know where to find St. Anthony? The saint was wandering through the vast isolation of the desert, and was only doing so because a revelation the night before had sent him on the journey to St. Paul. Also, if this were indeed a satyr monster, a being born of an irregular coupling, how could there be a whole troupe Contradictions of Modernity in Seventeenth-Century France (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), pp. 185–6. 77 Jerome, “Vita S. Pauli primi eremitae,” in J.-P. Migne (ed.), Patrologiae, cursus completus, series latina (221 vols., Paris: Garnier, 1883), vol. 23. pp. 18–30 (p. 23). 78 John Mandeville, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (New York: Dover, 1964), p. 32. 79 Rose Graham (ed.), A Picture Book of the Life of Saint Anthony the Abbot (Oxford: The Roxburghe Club, 1937), pp. 84r–v. 80 D’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, p. 146. 81 Ibid., p. 147. 82 Ibid.

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of them in the desert? The offspring of such unions are, like the mule, invariably sterile. And why did the satyr not pray to God directly instead of asking St. Anthony to do so? Any “voie indirecte et tortueuse dans le discours de ce Satyre”83 (“snarled and roundabout line in this satyr’s discourse”) is automatically suspicious. But the question that convincingly for d’Aubignac throws the entire narrative out of the realm of the monstrous and into the sphere of the demonological is one of language: how could the saint understand the speech of a beast? The language of animals was an aspect of linguistic theory much discussed in the sixteenth century, and narratives that dreamed of a return to a golden age frequently featured understandable animal speech. The search for an originary, adamic language became confused with the search for a natural language, and “natural” in this case meant the languages of children, the New World, the Far East, and animals.84 D’Aubignac’s grandfather Ambroise Paré reported both that animals could speak human language, and that humans could speak animal language;85 and biblical narratives of the talking serpent in Genesis (3:1–5) and of Balaam’s ass (Numbers 22:22–35) provided scriptural authority for collective longing for a return to an original and natural state of language. Indeed, the story of St. Anthony and the satyr was open to exactly this emphasis in other early modern translations and retellings that, it must be said, are more faithful to Jerome’s Latin than is d’Aubignac’s version. The satyr’s words, in an anonymous translation from 1630, brought tears of joy to St. Anthony’s eyes: “Or aged travayler did abundantly bedew his face with tears which the greatnes of his joy sent forth, as the interpretors of his hart: for he reioyced in the glory of Christ and the destruction of Sathan.”86 The emphasis here is upon the wondrous fact that the satyr’s language was comprehensible, and upon the disjunction between the talking beast and the devilish city: “‘Wo be to thee, o thou adulterous City, to which the Divells of the wole world resors. What remains now for thee to say? Beasts publish Christ, and thou worshipet Monsters, insteed of God.’” The key passage in the 1495 Caxton translation is: “‘The beestes confessen the name of god. And thou worshyppest the devylles.’” Jerome is there “admerveylled” that he can understand beast language.87 But d’Aubignac’s project with respect to language, as his version of the little story would predict, does not admit the talking beast. Animals emphatically cannot speak, he claims, no miracle has occurred to give voice to a brute beast, and in order

83 Ibid., p. 172. 84 Dubois, Mythe et langage; Mathew Senior, “‘When Beasts Spoke’: Animal Speech and Classical Reason in Descartes and La Fontaine, ” in Jennifer Ham and Mathew Senior (eds.), Animal Acts: Configuring the Human in Western History (New York and London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 61–84. 85 Ambroise Paré, Livre des animaux et de l’excellence de l’homme. Animaux, monstres et prodiges (Paris: Club français du livre, 1954), pp. 63–95 (87, 94). 86 Jerome, Certaine selected epistles of S. Heirome, as also the lives of Saint Paul the first hermite. Translated into English (n.p.: 1630), p. 6. 87 Jerome, Vitas [sic] Patrum. The moost vertuouse hysterye of the […] lyves of holdy Faders lyvynge in deserte, trans. Wyllyam Caxton (Westmynstre: Wynkyn de Worde, 1495), f. xxxr.


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to make this point, d’Aubignac’s text must contradict one of the most celebrated ecclesiastical figures of the preceding generation, Caesar Baronius: [Le Cardinal Baronius] dit que ce Satyre était un animal irraisonnable, c’est-à-dire, un de ces singes dont nous avons parlé, et que la voix de l’homme et le discours de raison dont il usa, lui fut donné par miracle, comme il est arrivé souvent par la permission de Dieu, que les animaux ont fait toutes sortes d’actions humaines et raisonnables, pour secourir en leurs nécessités les premiers anachoretes et saints personnages dans les lieux écartés de toute fréquentation.88 (Cardinal Baronius said that this satyr was an animal without reason, one of these monkeys that we have been discussing, and that a human voice and the ability to reason were given to him miraculously. It often happened that God enabled animals to do all sorts of things that seemed human and showed the ability to reason in order to help the early hermits and holy men in remote places.)

Baronius was a key figure in the Catholic Church’s drive to regain its pre-Reformation prestige through the assumption of control of its own history.89 The 12 volumes of his Annales, which had appeared between 1588 and 1607, struck what was considered to be a significant blow against the Magdeburg Centuries, the culmination of attempts by Lutheran writers to explain the history of the Christian religion in such a way as to authorize and justify Protestant positions in dogma and religious practice. The first volume of the Annales was a European best-seller; the Plantin Press raised the price by a third and still sold out, and Baronius became a celebrity. “Ils l’ont lu et relu avec des transports incroyables,” according to Bremond, “si bien que l’on ne saurait exagérer l’importance de cet œuvre dans le développement du catholicisme moderne”90 (“He was read and re-read with such unbelievable enthusiasm that the importance of this work in the development of modern Catholicism cannot be exaggerated”). Pope John XXIII, in his biography of Baronius, noted that: “the enthusiasm with which the Annales were received and which surrounded the person of Baronius in all of Europe is almost incredible. The appearance of the first volume gave such a relief to everyone, as if an enormous danger threatening the fatherland had been magically removed. The Pope, kings, scholars, and Catholics from every country turned their eyes and thoughts to Baronius.”91 If Baronius said, then, that God had worked a miracle and that a beast had spoken to St. Anthony, d’Aubignac took a not inconsiderable risk in positioning himself to contradict him. The stakes at this moment in the text are high. What exactly are they? D’Aubignac’s objection to the position of Baronius is that the entire episode of the talking satyr is not vraisemblable: “Il est hors de toute vraisemblance et contraire à la piété, de penser que par miracle, Dieu voulut donner à des bêtes 88 D’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, p. 154. 89 “Baronius, Caesar, ven.” New Catholic Encyclopedia (15 vols., Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, 1967); Cyriac K. Pullapilly, Caesar Baronius, CounterReformation Historian (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975). 90 Henri Bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu’à nos jours (Paris: A. Colin, 1967), vol. 1, p. 233. 91 Quoted in Pullapilly, Caesar Baronius, p. 54.

The Question of Illusion



brutes, la voix humaine et le discours de raison” (“It is completely improbable and impious to think that God worked a miracle to give a human voice and the ability to reason to dumb animals”). D’Aubignac thus invokes at this crucial moment the one technical concept that will be determining for the theatrical procedure of the seventeenth century, both when it is advocated as the ground of illusionist practice in the Pratique, and when it is demoted to the status of ornament to a plot that may or may not itself be vraisemblable in the Discours of Pierre Corneille.93 The accusation of lack of vraisemblance seems at this moment in the text, it might be objected, not to be particularly technical, nor is it overtly connected to the stage. But as a tool, the notion of vraisemblance initially functions here much as it will in the esthetic practice of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that is, to prescribe and consolidate generic expectations.94 For d’Aubignac’s first point is that to allow a speaking animal in a life of the saint would be to throw the entire episode into the realm of the fable. It is only in fables that animals hold councils to discuss their collective fate and nominate envoys: “Ne pourroit-on pas recevoir les fables d’Esope pour autant d’histoires?”95 (“Couldn’t we just as well consider the fables of Aesop to be equally historical?”). This, in other words, is the wrong genre for talking animals. Secondly, if an animal were speaking in this episode, then what it was saying, that is, that it was concerned with its own eternal salvation, produces a contradiction, for if it is an animal, then it precisely has no soul to be saved.96 And finally, on the subject of the miracle, it is all very well for other animals miraculously to assist saints. A crow brought St. Paul his daily bread, and lions dug the grave in which he was buried. But this was a question of giving assistance to the good hermit, and what kind of help did the satyr give to St. Anthony? All that the satyr did was to produce lies and blasphemy, and to frighten the saint and require him to cling to the truth of the God whom he served. It is this series of points that leads d’Aubignac to conclude that the speaking animal is “hors de toute vraisemblance,” and while taking place in the context of a long-standing sixteenth-century discussion of the language of beasts, the reasoning indeed does take its distance from that discussion. It has a Cartesian tonality, and it is indeed Descartes who will later and famously deny the possibility of speech to animals in the Discours de la méthode.97 But the point is not just to deny that St. Anthony could have met a satyr monster or a monkey in the Egyptian desert. All of this considerable polemical energy is directed towards positing an alternative, and completely vraisemblable, explanation for the encounter with the satyr. With the conclusion of d’Aubignac’s line of argument the 92 D’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, p. 159. 93 H.T. Barnwell, “Some Reflections on Corneille’s Theory of Vraisemblance as Formulated in the Discours,” Forum for Modern Language Studies 1 (1965), pp. 295–310. 94 Lack of vraisemblance was equated with failure to satisfy the expectations of a particular genre. By the eighteenth century, the patchwork that was opera was particularly likely to be called both monstrous and not vraisemblable. See Charles Dill, Monstrous Opera: Rameau and the Tragic Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998). 95 D’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, pp. 156–7. 96 Ibid., p. 157. 97 René Descartes, Discours de la méthode, in Charles Adam and Paul Tannery (eds.), Oeuvres (12 vols., Paris: Cerf, 1902), vol. 6, pp. 1–78 (pp. 57–8).


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suggestion of a technical, theatrical connection returns, for this conclusion functions, as theatrical vraisemblance functions, to anchor the story of the satyr in its proper genre. It all comes right in the end if the proper, vraisemblable explanation is supplied for this oddly asymmetrical encounter: “Reste donc à conclure que ce Satyre était un démon”98 (“The only possible conclusion is that this satyr was a demon”). If the satyr is in fact a demon, then everything “makes sense” within the discourse of the demonological, and all of the anomalies of the story are smoothed out. What happened to St. Anthony accords perfectly with known satanic procedures, beginning with that of weakening the target before setting the final trap. Thus, the centaur had been sent first, “afin que la scène étant preparée par l’effroi de ce premier spectre, il [Satan] pût jouer son personnage plus dextrement”99 (“so that the stage having been set by the fear of this first apparition, Satan could play his character to greater effect”). Also, everyone knows that, of all the world’s wildernesses, deep forests, and inaccessible wastelands, the setting of the story, the desert of La Thebaïde, “semble avoir été choisi sur tous les autres par les démons”100 (“seems to have been chosen above all others by the demons”). The satyr’s offer of dates to the famished saint is a perfect example of the devil’s wiliness: “C’est la coutume de Satan de battre les hommes par le côté plus faible”101 (“It’s Satan’s habit to attack people on their weakest side”), and his twisted request that the saint pray for him and his troupe betrays the lies and complexities that are normal “en la bouche impie des démons”102 (“in the impious mouths of demons”). And we could note that if this is a demon, it, and the centaur that prepared its way, would both make very poor dramatic characters. They come and go for no apparent reason, having no way of knowing, unless they are the devil’s satellites, where to find St. Anthony in the desert vastness, and disappearing “d’une vistesse ailée de devant ses yeux” the instant St. Anthony began to denounce the idolatry of the Alexandrians. The demonic offers no narrative continuity, wandering in and out of the scene with no apparent motivation, its entrances and exits unaccounted for. It exists according to an entirely different set of spatial properties from those that control the saint; rationally determined place is violated, and it is clear that if God is unity of place, then the demon is not just multiplicity and division in general, but specifically division of place. So in the battle between saint and demon, we have both a retrospective, etymological argument about what God is, and a prospective, rationalist one about what the devil must be. Lack of unity seems somehow fundamentally to be connected to the demonological. The satyr must be a demon because it is generically, logically, and spatially not vraisemblable that it be anything else. I have claimed, however, that, in contrast with the explosively visual status of St. Anthony’s temptations, this little episode is primarily about language, the language of beasts and those of the devil, the Hebrews, and the saint. And it will have been apparent that if there is trouble in this text, that trouble takes the form of a certain 98 D’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, p. 159. 99 Ibid., p. 160. 100 Ibid., p.162. 101 Ibid., p.166. 102 Ibid., p. 173.

The Question of Illusion


kind of pre-haunting by technical theatrical terminology. If we are dealing with specters here, then the most evident one is the specter of the stage. God is posited as unity of place, the only thoroughly modern, non-Aristotelian unity among those that animated dramatic theory and upon which the Pratique will insist. The vraisemblable is the lever that d’Aubignac’s text uses to hoist his argument into the discourse of the demonological, and it will be the essential theoretical dogma of the Pratique. Even the centaur’s task is described as preparing “la scène” so that the devil might “jouer son personnage” more easily.103 But this terminological palimpsest that seems to show through the text of his analysis is, I would say, only a sign of a much broader and more interesting critical stance. In his claim that it is the demonological that is vraisemblable, d’Aubignac by definition excludes any necessary relationship to experience. Demonology, as Stuart Clark points out at considerable length, is a discourse transmitted by texts that participate in general epistemological assumptions, notably that of oppositionalism, having nothing necessarily to do with experience of the world of objects. What d’Aubignac’s text accomplishes, then, in calling the demon vraisemblable is the establishment of a link between two discourse-to-discourse relationships, that of demonology and that of the vraisemblable. This discourse-to-discourse shortcircuiting of experience is exactly what scholars have most lately been interested in analyzing both in the matter of demonology and in the matter of theatrical vraisemblance. Timothy Murray once called the Pratique “demoniacal to the core,”104 and it is perhaps possible now to look more closely into what that might mean. Murray’s reading of the Pratique was informed by Michael Fried’s pioneering study of painting and theatrical theory in the French eighteenth century, Absorption and Theatricality. Fried’s work marked a turn in art historical scholarship, for it argued that the self-absorption of certain painted figures, notably in Chardin, in a strong narrative action excluded the viewer from participation in that action, much as theatrical theory, notably of Diderot, demanded exclusion of participation by the audience in the representation. This produced a double absorption, with the figure in the painting or on the stage being absorbed just as the audience was absorbed in its absorption. With Fried’s work, the question of art and performativity was beautifully formulated, and its consequences have yet to be worked out. For Murray, however, an opportunity was created by the almost complete ahistoricity of Fried’s argument. While Fried’s analysis convincingly demonstrated the link between performance theory and painting in the eighteenth century, it never even posed the question of whether this situation were unique, or whether there were historical precedent for it. Murray’s reading of the Pratique goes exactly to this point. What Fried formulated as “absorption,” Murray called “non-representation,” and in analyzing the exclusion from the representation and consequent seduction of the audience, he managed to see something important and valid in the Pratique. That is, d’Aubignac theorizes a theater of invisibility and absence, the point of which is not to present on stage an action or object that is more usually seen elsewhere. Instead, this theater is 103 Ibid., p. 160. 104 Timothy Murray, “Non-representation in La Pratique du théâtre,” Papers On French Seventeenth-Century Literature IX, no. 16 (1982), pp. 57–74 (p. 73).


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meant to be originarily hyper-real. It does not imitate, but rather excludes the real. Murray would most probably have known nothing of d’Aubignac’s early work on demonology, but it is in this sense, as I understand it, that he called this theater demoniacal, for the discourse of demonology is certainly the most powerful example in the early modern period of a construction based upon complete exclusion of the real. The theater is second only to it. The technical procedure of this non-representation of reality is vraisemblance, which, as has long been understood, presents not the real, but that which is commonly agreed to be real. The passage generally quoted in support of this point is “Le vraysemblable est tout ce qui est conforme à l’opinion du public” (“The vraisemblable is everything that conforms to the public’s opinion”) from the Réflexions of René Rapin, the eminent theorist of the generation following.105 Georges Forestier, however, once worked on this problem from the opposite chronological direction, reading Chapelain’s Lettre sur la régle des vingt-quatre heures, from 1630, and Les Sentiments de l’Académie française sur Le Cid, from 1637, and the structure that he found, which he called a “paradoxe classique,” reveals an awareness of exactly that productive, seductive short-circuit of the real that Murray’s analysis had emphasized.106 The technical and ontological status of this stage does not go to the relation between signifiant and signifié, or, as Forestier puts is, between représentant and représenté. Instead, the truth of this theater is within the représentant itself, between what represents and the fact of representation, between the stage and the action of spectating.107 Vraisemblance corrects the real in order to give a perfect illusion of the real in this theater. In this kernel of insight, we have a number of major theoretical implications. The notion of intertextuality is compromised, for what is most important about the taking up of a theme or character is not a dialectical movement among its appearances in texts. And it would seem that the texts of Chapelain read by Forestier form a kind of link, both chronologically and conceptually, between the satyr book and the Pratique. The original name of this discourse-to-discourse structure within the work of d’Aubignac, in other words, is the demon, a perfectly illusory and perfectly vraisemblable presence whose theatrical dimension is implicit. Further, that demon is of course explicit in the Pratique, where d’Aubignac famously writes that the stage is that place “où règne le Démon de l’inquiétude, du trouble et du désordre”108 (“where the demon of anxiety, agitation, and disorder reigns”). Now it is around this explicit demon that claims having to do with the nature of some seventeenth-century line that, once crossed, allows no going back, revolve. Lately, the word “modern” has been much in evidence in these discussions.

105 René Rapin, Les Réflexions sur la poétique de ce temps et sur les ouvrages des poètes ancienes et modernes, ed. E.T. Dubois (Geneva: Droz, 1970), p. 39. For a series of powerful comments on the theory of vraisemblance, see Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder, esp. ch. 3, “The Tragic Story,” pp. 83–139. 106 Georges Forestier, “Imitation et vraisemblance absolue. Réflexions sur un paradoxe classique,” Poétique 82 (1990), pp. 187–202. 107 Ibid., p. 190. 108 D’Aubignac, La Pratique du théâtre, p. 430.

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Murray, in whose analysis the passage about the demon figures prominently, called the Pratique a “modern” text, and explicitly denied that it should be read as a classicizing one (p. 58). John Lyons writes that “a modern theater was the goal of the major writers of dramatic theory in seventeenth-century France,”109 and both the title of his book and this claim for a first modernity are based on this very passage from the Pratique: “This disorder and anxiety can describe the theory of the new, modern tragedy.”110 What reigns in the kingdom of Lyons’s title, and accordingly at the heart of this theatrical modernity, is d’Aubignac’s demon. Here, then, we have found the filler for the gap between illusion and staged illusion, a slide that is far from obvious in seventeenth-century epistemology as it may be read in the dictionary definitions. If one kind of illusion is literally, by definition, diabolical illusion, and if the terms and structures of the diabolical are then taken up by theatrical theory, then the pratique du théâtre may be understood in all of its power, menace, and historical contingency.

109 Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder, p. x (original emphasis). 110 Ibid., p. xi.

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Chapter 5

Narcissus, and the Devils of Loudun Narcissus I This study has been converging on the figure of Narcissus, both on a general conceptual level and in its detail. That is, “what happened” when Corneille put Medea on the stage in his first tragedy was that an audience saw in her motherhood-nonmotherhood and her witchcraft an illusion which was perfect not only in properly psychoanalytic terms but also with respect to the seventeenth-century understanding of illusion as fundamentally demonic. That moment, further, can be understood as an index into a particularly persistent notion of modernity. The pivot of this thesis must accordingly be that when the audience saw all this on that stage, it saw itself. Further, the “itself” which it saw took such powerful hold because, on the one hand, the resulting illusion supplied an image to replace one lost when the political body of France was shredded by civil war, and, on the other, this illusion was utterly fantastic and magically purveyed, in the way that psychoanalytic theory tells us the ego ideal is. This thesis then depends upon the possibility of mirroring between audience and stage, which, it follows, would be the specificity of Forestier’s intramural representational relation: “La vérité est placée non dans le rapport entre le representé et le représentant, mais à l’intérieur du représentant”1 (“Truth situates itself not in the relationship between what is represented and what represents it, but within the representer”). The previous chapters have argued that Corneille’s 1635 Medea-event was the nouveauté célibataire of this history. But there are two problems with this formulation, the first being that, as ever, the small satisfaction of searching for origins and claiming to identify a “first” should not be the point. The argument here goes not to the location of some kind of origin of a culture of narcissism, but rather to its emergence in and collision with the strange ideologeme of politics and fantasy, the public. Secondly, narcissism seems potentially to be an anachronistic imposition on this moment, and an environment of narcissism would seem to be particularly difficult to establish in any satisfactory way. The once-trendy-sounding Culture of Narcissism is pop psychology at best.2 But things become more satisfactorily complicated when we realize that the question has arisen for scholars: does narcissism move through time as well, was it invented at a particular moment, and is it too an event which has a history? Kristeva argued that it did. The relatively late appearance of Ovid’s story of 1 Georges Forestier, “Imitation et vraisemblance absolue. Réflexions sur un paradoxe classique,” Poétique 82 (1990), pp. 187–202 (p. 190). 2 Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York: Norton, 1979).


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Narcissus, there being no Greek elaboration of the tale, and its historical coincidence with Christianity’s generalized injunction that the believer mirror Christ, signaled, she claimed, the appearance of what Ovid indeed called a “new madness” with which the properly modern subject pays for interiority.3 This question of the historicity of narcissism is bound up with that of psychoanalysis in general, and deserves to be investigated at length, but elsewhere. It is certainly the case, however that there is a history of Narcissus, and of the precise way in which the stage of 1635 turned to all of the play of Narcissus. So, it would be well here to look into both the early modern anthropology of the mirror and the passion of self-love caught in representations of Ovid’s huntsman, Richelet’s beau garçon, the disastrous Narcissus. His Story Narcissus was born from the rape of one body of water, a river nymph named Liriope, by another, the river Cephesis. A dreadful prophesy greeted his birth, but the sources do not agree on what it was. He would live, so said the blind seer, until the moment when he either saw himself or knew himself. The difference matters. Either way, he is doomed. When he was 16 years old, no longer boy nor yet man, a hunter with nets, his beauty was such that all youths and all maidens desired him. But he was impervious to their love. In particular Echo, an unfortunate nymph who could communicate only by repeating the words of others, suffered for love of him. The situation was so grievous that one rejected youth cursed Narcissus, praying that he himself would suffer as others were suffering for his fearsome pride. The goddess Nemesis heard this righteous prayer, and one day while out hunting, Narcissus came upon a dark, still pool. Bending down to slake his thirst, he saw his own reflection in its silvery water. He seems not to have understood what he saw, or perhaps he couldn’t quite see it, for in some versions of the story the water in the pool is rippled and flowing. All that we know is that he was stunned into immobility at that moment, and nevermore was he able to leave the water’s edge. All versions agree that it is the death of him. Sometimes his desire for the tantalizing image is such that he leaps into the pool and drowns in himself and in its watery depths. Other versions have it that his beautiful body simply wasted away, a melting or evaporating of that splendid form, and that, when the nymphs came to collect it for his funeral rites, it was nowhere to be found. In its place they found the waxy white narcissus, a flower with narcotic properties, associated with death and its rituals, dark, dank, woodsy places, and stillness. While it is indeed the case, as Gérard Genette long ago noticed,4 that running water was the baroque idea of a good esthetic underpinning, the pool of Narcissus had to have been perfectly still for the story to work as Ovid tells it. His text is very precise 3 Julia Kristeva, Histoires d’amour (Paris: Denoël, 1983), pp. 131–53; Charles Shepherdson, “Telling Tales of Love: Philosophy, Literature, and Psychoanalysis,” Diacritics 30 (2000), pp. 89–105. 4 Gérard Genette, “Complexe de narcisse,” in Figures I (Paris: Seuil, 1966), pp. 21–8.

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about this: “There was a clear pool with silvery bright water, to which no shepherds ever came, or she-goats feeding on the mountain-side or any other cattle, whose smooth surface neither bird nor beast nor falling bough ever ruffled.”5 And it seems as well that Dante read this aspect of the pool strongly, for in Inferno the reference to Narcissus is associated with dropsy, la grave idropesì,6 which causes the body to be overwhelmed with stagnant water and at the same time tortured by thirst.7 In the early modern period, there were, on the one hand, strongly literary uses of the pool and of the mirror. The sorcerer of pastorale will reveal the image of true love in a mirror, and, in L’Astrée, the “Fontaine de la Vérité d’Amour” reveals invisible presences, hidden feelings, and secrets in the depths of souls.8 But the stagnant water mirror had as well one very practical and widespread usage that should concern us here, for it was used to find something that had been lost. The practice of divination by means of a mirror, catoptromancy, is first mentioned in Aristophanes.9 Any object with a polished, reflective surface can act as a mirror; catoptromancy can be practiced with the aid of a sword, a shield, an ivory object, a fingernail, or an egg, and the use of a glass flask or a basin filled with water, lecanomancy, is one of its contributing techniques. Catoptromancy mixes magic and religion: fingernails might be oiled with holy cream to make them shinier, for example. And why might one consult a catoptromancer? One reason was to recover lost property, for the oldest extant formula calls for the face of a thief to appear in the mirror. Further, this use of catoptromancy seems to have been particularly characteristic and widespread in early modern France. In the course of an extended discussion of various kinds of divination, why they are prohibited, the differences between oracles and prophets of God, and the correct attitude to adopt toward the future, Pierre Massé’s 1579 De l’imposture et tromperie des diables mentions various kinds of hydromancy. Sometimes water is put into a glass bottle and viewed by a child, which practice is then called gastromancy because of the size of the bottle’s “ventricule,” and sometimes water is poured into a basin.10 “I’ay veu de ieunes folz ès Colleges à Paris,” he writes, “qui profanans nostre eau beneiste en abusoient à divination: comme si quelque chose avoit este perdue: pour sçavoir celuy qui l’avoit prinse ou desrobee”11 (“I’ve known wild young men in Paris colleges who abuse holy water for the profane purpose of divination. If something is stolen, they 5 Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Mary Innes (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955), p. 85, modified. 6 Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy. Inferno, trans. Charles S. Singleton (2 vols., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), vol. 1, canto 30, ll. 52, 128. 7 Roger Dragonetti, “Dante et Narcisse ou les faux-monnayeurs de l’image,” Revue des études italiennes 11 (1965), pp. 85–146. 8 Genette, “Complexe de narcisse,” p. 25. 9 Armand Delatte, La Catoptromancie grecque et ses dérivés (Liège and Paris: VaillantCarmanne and Droz, 1932). 10 Pierre Massé, De l’imposture et tromperie des diables, devins, enchanteurs, sorciers, nouers d’esguillettes, chevilleurs, necromanciens, chiromanciens, & autres qui par telle invocation Diabolique, ars Magiques & Superstitions abusent le peuple (Paris: Jean Poupy, 1579), p. 31v. 11 Ibid., p. 32v.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

discover who took it or made off with it”). It seems that the practice was to get a “bassin ou un plat profond,” to write the names of those suspects on “ecriteaux,” and to put them into the water. One of the “ieunes folz” then picks a name out of the water, and that person is held to be the thief. “Divination speculaire se faict pour mesme, & semblable fin. On dit qu’elle est auiourd’huy fort commune en la France, & par icelle on voit, & sont representees en des mirouers les images, & figures des choses occultes, & cachees, & desquelles on faict inquisition” (“Divination by means of a mirror is practiced for the same purpose. It is said to be very common in France today. What you can see represented in mirrors are images and figures of what you’re asking about, what is hidden and covered over”). One of the early modern meanings of coming to a mirror, then, is about the reestablishment of a material universe broken by having lost something. There is an other to whom one has unwillingly given up something, and, in order to reestablish normal conditions, one wants it back. Magic is the middle term in a process, an early modern mirror moment that was about the past and its losses. But there was also another reading of the moment when one comes to the mirror that was about the future and its losses. History and futurity met in the figure of Narcissus. Ovid’s story had undergone radical re-reading and survived alongside concurrent versions long before the time that Narcissus was taken up by the early modern period.12 The omni-desirability of Narcissus, the love, as in Ovid, of all youths and maidens for him, had been rendered dubious when Pausanias decided that it was utterly unlikely that anyone would fall in love with his own image. Narcissus must have seen in the pool the image of his own long-lost twin sister, and, gazing upon the image in the water, which he knew very well to be himself, obtained nevertheless some consolation.13 In the early modern period, this version is taken up by Pontus de Tyard in the Douze fables de fleuves ou fontaines, where “Narcisse fut amoureux d’une sienne seur, qui avoit esté nee avec luy d’une mesme ventree”14 (“Narcissus was in love with his own sister, who had been born with him, from the same womb”). The refusal to read the homosexual content will indeed continue until Freud restores it with a vengeance: Puget de la Serre’s Narcissus sees “une Nymphe” or “une Deesse,”15 and by the time that Rousseau puts a foppish Narcissus on the stage, he falls in love not with himself in his mirror, but instead with a portrait of himself represented as a woman.16 The reference to Narcissus in the third-century Enneades of Plotinus (I.6.8.8) supplied a very powerfully logical ending to the story, which would thereafter run 12 Louise Vinge, The Narcissus Theme in Western European Literature up to the Early Nineteenth Century, trans. Robert Kewsnap (Lund: Gleerups, 1967); Jane Davidson Reid, The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300–1990s (2 vols., New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), vol. 2, pp. 692–702. 13 Pausanias, Description of Greece, trans. W.H.S. Jones (5 vols., Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press and Heinemann, 1975), IX, 31, 6–9. 14 Pontus de Tyard, Douze fablfs [sic] de fleuves ou fontaines, avec la description pour la peinture, & les Epigrammes (Paris: Iean Richer, 1586), pp. 15v–16v. 15 Jean Puget de la Serre, “Les Amours de Narcisse,” Les Amours des déesses (Paris: Joseph Guerreau, 1627), p. 690. 16 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Narcisse, ou l’amant de lui-même (Geneva: n.p., 1781).

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concurrently with that found in Ovid. That is, Ovid’s Narcissus does not die at a determined moment so much as he gradually melts away: “As the yellow wax melts before a gentle heat, as hoar frost melts before the warm sun, so does he, wasted with love, pine away, and is slowly consumed by its hidden fire.”18 When the nymphs sought his remains for burial, “his body was nowhere to be found. In place of his body they find a flower, its yellow center girt with white petals.”19 The most powerful memory of Ovid’s ending from the early modern period is undoubtably Poussin’s “Echo et Narcisse” in the Louvre, its tree of life rising from the waxy dead body with flowers in its hair.20 This beautifully christological moment of waning and absence is changed by the reference in Plotinus to suicidal drowning, creating a logic of action and representation to parallel that of the yokel who rushed onto the stage to save Desdemona from the Moor. The reference to Narcissus in Plotinus is not, that is, a condemnation of illusion in general, but rather of the failure to understand what illusion is. The water in the reference in Plotinus is flowing; Narcissus is “a dupe, who sank into the depths of the current and was swept away into nothingness.”21 His ending thus has a double dynamic: the fractured, forever partial image produced by the action of the water, and the action of the youth, which is theatrical in a way that Ovid’s ending never was. In the dictionaries of early modern France, the connection between action and the image remains. The only entry on Narcissus that goes beyond a description of the flower is to be found in Richelet. His Narcissus has become generic, a generalized term for a beau garçon, and what he sees in the pool is not an image but his very self: “Nom d’un beau garçon qui se voiant dans une fontaine devint amoureux de luy-même” (“Name of a handsome youth who fell in love with himself upon seeing himself in a pool”). He then does not drown, but more philologically, “& fut changé en une fleur qui porte son nom” (“and was changed into a flower named after him”). Furetière has no entry for “Narcisse,” but under both “Image” and “Portrait” we find a reference to his story, “Narcisse devint amoreux de luy en voyant son image dans une fonteine” (“Narcissus fell in love with himself upon seeing his image in a pool”), and when that image becomes a portrait, he drowns: “Narcisse voyant son portrait dans l’eau, en devint amoureux, & se noya”22 (“Narcissus, seeing his portrait in the water, fell in love with it, and drowned himself”). This Narcissus of Plotinus who, on the one hand, then, is a general figure of an audience fatally taken in by the power of illusion, is also a specific symbol of the effects of illusion as the seventeenth century understood them, that is, as bedevilment. For in Plotinus, Narcissus is opposed to Ulysses, who succeeded in returning to 17 Pierre Hadot, “Le mythe de Narcisse et son interprétation par Plotin,” Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse 13 (1976), pp. 81–108. 18 Ovid, Metamorphoses, p. 87, modified. 19 Ibid., modified. 20 On Poussin and the theme of Narcissus, see Hubert Damisch, “D’un Narcisse l’autre,” Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse 13 (1976), pp. 109–46; Stephen Bann, The True Vine: On Visual Representation and the Western Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 127–56. 21 Vinge, The Narcissus Theme, p. 37. 22 Dictionnaires des XVIe et XVIIe siècles. CD-ROM (Paris: Champion, 1998).


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his country and in fleeing the witchcraft of Medea’s aunt Circé.23 The Narcissus of Plotinus is, in contrast, taken in, hypnotized, fascinated, and moved to fatal action by the partial, imperfect reality of the image. This suggestion that Narcissus figures the audience bewitched and undone by the represented image is reinforced and complicated in the Eikones of Philostratus, also from the third century, and given its first translation into a vernacular by Blaise de Vigenère in 1578.24 Les images ou tableaus de platte peinture represent in prose a gallery of paintings, among which is a Narcissus caught at the very instant that he confronts the image in the pool.25 This point in the story is a comparatist matter that should detain us momentarily, for much of the epistemology of Narcissus takes its distance from the easy and familiar at this juncture in the story. That is, according to Ovid, the seer Tiresias had foreseen that Narcissus would live only so long as he did not know himself, and, at the first sight of the watery reflection, there is precisely no moment of self-recognition. Narcissus is turned to stone and does not know: “He looks in speechless wonder at himself and hangs there motionless in the same expression, like a statue carved from Parian marble. […] What he sees he knows not.” This is an Ovidian moment the sensitivity of which can respond fully to readings that are not particularly concerned with its history. It is the point of departure of Blanchot’s powerful reading of the disaster of Narcissus, for example (pp. 191–6).26 But there is no opportunity in any early modern version of the story to read anything like a Lacanian moment of jubilation before the mirror, which would in any case be, as Hubert Damisch pointed out, a “phantasme rétrospectif.”27 Instead, from Narcissus’s misrecognition is sometimes drawn a moral conclusion about the error of trusting the fallen senses of the body. His seeing himself and his not knowing himself are conflated and understood as two parts of a causative relationship. In the 1550 Description poetique de l’Histoire du beau Narcissus of François Habert, we find: Il y en a beaucoup de telz qui perissent comme narcisse, pource qu’ils se voyent, & ne se cognoissent pas. La raison est aveuglee, quand l’appetit gouverne, l’affection est dangereuse qui ne suit que l’apparence: & les vertus vaincues par vice sont miserables. Donques ce que chasscun doit le plus appeter, est la notice de l’interieur de soy.28 (There are many who perish as did Narcissus, because they see themselves but don’t know themselves. When the appetites take charge, reason is blinded, and dangerous is the attachment that only judges by appearances. Misery results when virtue is conquered by vice. Therefore, everyone must pay the closest attention to what happens within himself.)

23 Hadot, “Le mythe de Narcisse,” p. 101. 24 Philostratus, Les Images ou tableaus de platte peinture (1597), trans. Blaise de Vigenère (Paris: Champion, 1995). 25 Ibid., 1, 23. 26 Maurice Blanchot, L’Écriture du désastre (Paris: Gallimard, 1980), pp. 191–6. 27 Damisch, “D’un Narcisse l’autre,” p. 114. 28 François Habert (Habert de Berry), Description poetique de l’Histoire du beau Narcisse (Lyons: Balthazar Arnoullet, 1550), p. 2.

Narcissus, and the Devils of Loudun


There is in Puget de La Serre an extraordinary insistence on the blinding of Narcissus: “Tellement que pour estre esploüys, par trop de lumiere, ils [ses yeux] sont devenus aveugles, aveugles dis-ie veritablement, puis qu’ils ne se cognoissent pas eux-mesmes”29 (“Too much light dazzled his eyes, and they were blinded, yes, really blinded, because they didn’t know themselves”). And, to return to Vigenère’s Philostratus, the question of knowing is there completely absorbed by vision: in the “Argument” of the painting, the prediction of Tiresias is that Narcissus will live “jusqu’à ce qu’il se fust vue luy mesme”30 (“until he sees himself”), and there is no element of misrecognition remaining in the story’s ending: “Il apperceut dedans l’eau sa figure, dont il devint sur le champ si desesperement amoureux, qu’il secha de langeur sur la place mesme, et fut converti en une fleur, qui jusques aujourd’huy porte le mesme nom” (“He perceived his face in the water and immediately fell so desperately in love that he languished and died on the spot and was turned into a flower that bears his name to this day”). The publication history of Vigenère’s translation interacts with this displacement onto vision in a way that suits the chronology of my argument here. That is, for as long as Vigenère lived, the re-publications of Les Images contained no images. And, as Françoise Graziani, the editor of the 1597 facsimile edition, observes, there is little doubt that this was deliberate.31 Habert’s insistence upon interiority summarizes this argument: “Car celuy qui s’acommode à tous obiets, suit seulement son umbre, & sa memoire faut quand l’apparence s’esvanouyst: ou si quelque recordation luy en demeure, elle luy est plustost passion, que soulagement”32 (“For anyone who is fixated on objects only ever pursues shadows, and memory fails when the object disappears. Or, if some memory of it does remain, it’s no comfort, but rather torment”). However, following the appearance of the great illustrated edition of Les Images in 1614, the text then went through seven editions in a little more than twenty years. Its readership, that is, was literally no longer buying the argument that the seeing evoked by the genre of the ekphrasis had to remain in the reader’s imagination. Readers were falling into what had formerly been considered to be the error of Narcissus, and in the prefatory material to the illustrated Philostratus, the presence of the concrete image is justified at length. In the 1630 dedication to the Prince de Condé, the printer, the widow L’Angelier, turns the notion of the ombre on its head. Whereas for the 1550 Narcissus, the shadowy immateriality had been in the sensible world, that shade is now to be found in the interior that had formerly been the epistemological guarantee: “Or, pour contenter les curieux, j’ai pris le dessein d’attirer & reduire cette speculative & intellectuelle à une demonstration certaine, & où l’oeil pusse arrester & fixer les ombres vagues de l’imaginative”33 (“In order to satisfy enthusiasts, I decided to distill what required thought and remained speculative. The result was clear and demonstrable, and enabled the eye to capture 29 Puget de la Serre, “Les Amours de Narcisse,” p. 969. 30 Philostratus, Les Images, p. 341. 31 Ibid., p. xxxix. 32 Habert, Description poetique, p. 2. 33 Philostratus, Les Images ou tableaux de platte peinture, trans. Blaise de Vigenère (Paris: L’Angelier, 1630), unnumbered pages.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

and retain the vague shadows of the imaginative faculty”). The interior valued by the 1550 Narcissus is now incomplete and lacking without pictures: Aussi semble il deffectueux, de vouloir escrire ou parler des tableaux sans peinture, d’autant qu’encore que l’invention despende de l’esprit, & par consequent elle puisse estre communiquée par le discours: Si est-ce qu’en ce qui concerne les imaginations de ces idées, elles n’ont autre fin que d’estre representées par le crayon, le pinceau, ou le burin. (Thus it seemed inadequate to write or speak of pictures without painting them, even though their conception depends upon the mind and so can be expressed in words. As for the actual mental impressions of these ideas, the whole point of them is to be represented, whether by brush, drawing pencil, or engraver’s stylus.)

Further, the Advertissement claims that this addition to the text of the visual image is a matter precisely of the public, of making public, and of action: Mais comme cela ne regarde que l’oeil de l’Ame, lequel encore ne peut estre si pleinement satisfait par le discours, comme par l’action ou la representation d’une chose, dont l’oeil corporel luy donne une parfaite connoissance, la pourtraiture sembloit bien estre requise à ce riche ouvrage, pour le faire paroistre plus pompeux au public. (This is a matter of the mind’s eye alone, which cannot be so completely satisfied by words alone, as it is by the representation or the acting out of something that the physical eye enables it to know completely. Therefore, this rich work seemed to require images in order to appear with suitable pomp before the public.)

In just those years from which the audience for tragedy would emerge, then, a concrete visual image, literal seeing, was that for which they, in Vigenère’s words of Philostratus, thirsted.34 The point is that it is no longer the water that is a spectacle for Narcissus. Instead, the water is now the audience for which the beautiful youth is the star of the play. In a stunning reversal which figures precisely the historical dynamic of the audience otherwise so difficult of access, it is in the end the water which is silent and attentive to Narcissus, and which indeed thirsts for his beauty: “car le Damoisel s’est planté sur le bord de l’eau coye et tranquille, voire tout attentive à luy, comme si elle estoit alterée, & eust soif de son excellente beauté”35 (“for the young man planted himself on the edge of the quiet, still water, which was attentive to him, as if it were parched and thirsty for his surpassing beauty”). The specificity of the Narcissus ekphrasis, further, is its ability to reduplicate and thematize its central conceit of the undecidability of realism in representation. That is, many of the ekphrases in Philostratus’ gallery play with the notion of the real in the paintings. The audience for the “Midas,” for example, is told to be quiet in front of its sleeping satyr, “de peur qu’il ne se resveille, & ne defface ce que nous 34 For an astute analysis of the post-Fronde development of the text–image relation, and all the necessary bibliography, see Abby Zanger, “On the Threshold of Print and Performance: How Prints Mattered to Bodies of/at Work in Molière’s Published Corpus,” Word & Image 17 (2001), pp. 25–41. 35 Philostratus, Les Images, p. 344.

Narcissus, and the Devils of Loudun



contemplons” (“for fear of waking him and ruining what we’re seeing”). In the “Narcissus,” there is a honeybee visiting the narcissi, but whether it is a real bee fooled by the realism of the flowers in the painting, or a painted bee fooling us the viewers is not decided. The difference in the “Narcissus,” however, is that this indecision is then taken to be his theme, for: “tu n’as sceu descouvrir quelle estoit la fraude & tromperie que tu as vue en cette fontaine” (“you couldn’t uncover the trickery and fraud that you saw in this pool”). The internal thematic of the story thus makes of it a general model for an audience thirsting for visual representation. Beginning, “the pool paints Narcissus, and the painting represents both the pool and everything of Narcissus,” it led Alberti to claim in Della pittura that the Narcissus myth is the master image of painting itself: “Painting is nothing other than to embrace with art the surface of the pool” (“abbracciare con arte quella ini superficie del fonte”).37 But if painting is this impossible embracing, the deadly embracing of Narcissus is like that of the auditors of Philostratus, who think, such is the power of the ekphrasis, that they are contemplating paintings which exist only in their imaginations, and then even forget that this is about painting and think that they are hearing stories about events and people who move and act. Dialog is supplied, as are stage directions. A number of the ekphrases, including the Narcissus, have what the Advertissement calls “quelque moralité,” in the form of a theatrical dialog added to the images, and one of the conceits of realism in the ekphrases is that the figures in the paintings move. Narcissus, for example, is “tout debout sur un pied, puis sur l’autre” (“standing about and shifting from one foot to the other”). The paintings in the Gallery, as Pierre Hadot pointed out, engender hypnos,38 as does the narcissus flower, whose name is in fact etymologically related to “narcotic,” and not to “Narcissus.”39 The specific quality of this hypnotism is not only to make its auditors see the moving image and to hear it speak, but also to mirror its desire. By the time that Georges de Scudéry includes a Narcissus in his series of ekphrases, the 1646 Cabinet, this infection of the audience with the desire of Narcissus is explicit: “Quiconque regarde auiourd’huy / Ce narcisse en graces extréme;/ Devient plus amoureux de luy, / Qu’il ne le paroist

36 Ibid., p. 185. 37 Leon Battista Alberti, Della pittura, ed Luigi Malle (Florence: Sanni, 1950), p. 78; Bann, The True Vine, p. 128. 38 Philostratus, La Galerie de tableaux, trans. Auguste Bougot (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1991), p. vii. 39 Readers of Pliny would know, in the words of Corneille’s Dictionnaire, “que les Medecins se servent de deux sortes de Narcisse. Celuy qui a la fleur verte, dit-il, est contraire à l’estomac; aussi provoque-t’il à vomir & lasche le ventre, estant ennemi des nerfs, & appesentissant la teste. Il a pris son nom de navrkh, Torpor, Pesanteur, assoupissement, & non du beau Garçon appellé Narcisse, que la fable dit avoit esté changé en cette fleur” (“Medical doctors make use of two kinds of narcissus. Pliny says that the one with green flowers irritates the stomach, provokes vomiting and loosens the bowels. It sooths nervousness and causes drowsiness. Its name comes from ‘navrkh,’ meaning ‘torpor, heaviness, a drugged state,’ and not from the handsome boy named Narcissus, who was turned into this flower according to the myth”).

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136 40

de soy mesme” (“Whoever now sees this Narcissus full of grace falls in love with him, and falls harder than he has fallen for himself”). It is an odd fact, then, that neither the anthropology of the mirror nor the inheritance from antiquity specific to the figure of Narcissus is overwhelmingly concerned with the condemnation of self-love. Having surveyed the appearances of Narcissus up to about the fifteenth century, Vigne concludes that “the error is seen as the fundamental motif of the theme because in those cases where Narcissus is used as an example or is otherwise mentioned, he is never used as an illustration of conscious love for one’s own self or of arrogance, nor is he associated with the idea of self-knowledge or with any problem of identity.”41 These Narcissi, that is, are not particularly narcissistic. Instead, there is a figure of Narcissus as an umbrella term for an audience drugged by ekphrasis-induced imagination, Narcissus as the bewitchment of the forever partial illusion, and the mirror not as a trope of vanity, but instead as a practice of recovery. The condemnation of his figure for its selflove and vanity does come, but paradoxically, that condemnation, new as it is, is all entangled with an overwhelming anxiety about the emergence of the new into history. It is in the emblem, which became the first pan-European text-image form in the sixteenth century, that Narcissus becomes a dangerous figure of everything new. He is leaning contemplatively on a staff, both legs and arms defensively crossed, and gazing into a circular, man-made, perfectly still pool, in the 1546 Aldus edition of Alciati’s Emblematum libellus (see Figure. 5.1).42 The “Narcissus” is preceded by “Ira” and followed by “Lascivia” in a series of vices, and its motto is “Philautia,” a word with a history of meanings clustering around “self-love” in Cicero and Erasmus.43 At least four versions of the emblems appeared in Lyons in 1549–50.44 All include the “Narcissus,” although the edition of the publishers Jean de Tournes and Guillaume Gazeau places it among the other vices at the end, with no pictura. However, in the editions produced by the publishing partnership of Guillaume Rouille and Macé Bonhomme, there is a new Narcissus, a pictura showing a youth in profile, his hair oddly standing on end and his image gazing back at him from a rippled pool in the midst of a wild woodsy landscape (see Figure 5.2). In the accompanying text expanding upon “Philautia,” a motto now sometimes written in Greek,45 it is excessive auto-eroticism which, in the first place, leads to stupor: “Quod nimium tua forma tibi Narcisse placebat, / In florem, et noti est versa 40 Georges de Scudéry, Le Cabinet. Premiere partie (Geneva: Minkoff, 1973), p. 31. 41 Vinge, The Narcissus Theme, p. 41. 42 Andrea Alciati, Emblematum libellus (Venice: Aldus, 1546). 43 Jean Lafond, “L’amour-propre de La Rochefoucauld (MS1). Histoire d’un thème et d’une forme,” in Ulrich Döring, Antiope Lyroudias, and Rainer Zaiser (eds.), Ouverture et dialogue (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1988), pp. 263–76 (p. 265). 44 Andrea Alciati, Emblemata D. A. Alciati (Lyons: Macé Bonhomme, 1550); idem, Emblematum libri duo (Lyons: Jean de Tournes and Guillaume Gazeau, 1549); idem, Emblemes d’Alciat (Lyons: Guillaume Rouille, 1549); idem, Emblemes d’Alciat de nouveau translatez en François (Lyons: Macé Bonhomme, 1549). 45 Alciati, Emblemata D. A. Alciati, p. 77.

Narcissus, and the Devils of Loudun

Figure 5.1


“Philautia,” Andrea Alciati, Emblematum libellus. Venice: Aldus, 1546, p. 38v.


Figure 5.2

Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

“Amour de soy mesme,” Andrea Alciati, Emblemes d’Alciat de nouveau translatez en François. Lyons: Macé Bonhomme, 1549, p. 91

stoporis olus” (“Narcissus, you were changed into a flower, a sleep-inducing herb, because you were overly taken with your own figure”). So far, so good, and the condemnation of excessive pleasure and the developing vanitas motif are consonant with a moralizing tradition which might well suddenly be inspired to avail itself of Narcissus. But the text’s leap then to the perdition of the learned and innovation in doctrine does not follow in any obvious way. That is, the emblem’s philautia brings it into connection with the question of self-love as found in Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch, and as it was taken up by Rabelais and Erasmus. The condemnation of humanist pride is entangled with Augustine’s denial of virtue to pagans, and with the Christian condemnation of any spiritual attainment that does not proceed from grace.46 So the learned are lost when they reject the methods of the ancients and hunt for new doctrines that are productive only of phantasms:

46 Jean Lafond, La Rochefoucauld. Augustinisme et littérature (Paris: Klincksieck, 1986), pp. 64–8, 75–6; Benedetta Papasogli, Le “Fond du coeur”: Figures de l’espace intérieur au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Champion, 2000), pp. 173–9.

Narcissus, and the Devils of Loudun


Ingenij est marcor, cludesque philautia: doctos Quae pessum plures datque deditque viros. Qui verterum abiecta methodo, nova dogmata quaerunt, Nilque suas praeter tradere phantasias. (Self-love causes genius to decline and die. Such love has led to the loss of many of the learned, and destroyed many a man. Whoever rejects ancient methods and casts about for new doctrine has nothing to offer but his own fantasies.)

Narcissus, it seems, has become a figure of the losses of the future, and the very word, “new,” which is explicitly “nova dogmata” in the Latin of the Aldus edition is so sensitive in the context of sixteenth-century France that, in the translation into French of the Rouille and Macé Bonhomme editions in 1549, the new doctrine is written over as “autre voye.” The unspeakable logic seems to be: the disastrous effect of the pride of the new, excessively auto-erotic Narcissus is not primarily that he rejects all suitors as had Ovid’s Narcissus, but instead that he takes his own vain imaginings seriously. He then stands for the site of the general emergence of the new, which is always fatal. Indeed, it is of imagination that Puget de la Serre’s Narcissus explicitly dies, as he asks his image if “tu veux que ie meure, luy dit-il d’imagination, grande Deesse?”47 (“Great goddess, do you wish me to die of imagination?”). Where, we might well wonder, does this animus come from? What is the specificity of the figure of Narcissus such that it should bear the awful historical weight of the new that emerged in sixteenth-century Europe and consequences fatal to so many? My sense is that the condemnation of Narcissus is related to the fatal attraction generated by exclusion from representation, and if this is correct, it would take us straight back to Freud, theatricality, and to the site of the emergence of the singularity from history – that is, the crowd. Precisely the point at which René Girard found reason to claim that Freud had mistaken mere coquetry for a non-existent and non-theoretically sustainable narcissism was the passage in the Introduction to Narcissism in which Freud observed that the great attraction of certain beautiful women is their complete selfsufficiency. It seems, Freud noted, that a person’s narcissism exercises a great power over those whose own narcissism is given up in the quest of the love object. The charm of a child comes to a large extent from its narcissism, its self-sufficiency and inaccessibility, as does that of certain animals who seem quite oblivious to us, like cats and the great beasts of prey. Great criminals and comics, he continues, force our interest for the same reason. What about the child, the cat, Charlie Chaplin, and the criminal, then? Are they all to be read as nothing more than coquettes? And what about Narcissus? The great “Narcissus” in the Galleria Corsini, Rome, is of uncertain attribution and insecure date. It was attributed to Caravaggio only in 1916, by Roberto Longhi, 47 Puget de la Serre, “Les Amours de Narcisse,” p. 731. The phantasme, one word for the optical image in general, was also specifically a dangerous demonic apparition, a copy of truth whose intention was to mislead, as opposed to an immediate manifestation of divinity, its epiphany. See Marian Hobson, The Object of Art: The Theory of Illusion in Eighteenthcentury France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 20–22.


Figure 5.3

Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio, Narcissus, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

who placed it in the late sixteenth century (see Figure 5.3). There is no contemporary reference to it, and we do not know for whom it was painted. Art historians generally point out that, if it is by Caravaggio, it would be an extraordinary work within his oeuvre, which never otherwise takes up a mythological subject. It is a relatively small painting of a Roman boy caught at the moment of fascination by the image in the water. His brow is furrowed in distress, his lips parted, and his eyes in shadow so that we cannot see whether or not he sees. Depending upon how we choose to read the shape of his embracing arms and their reflection, the painting opens itself either to the past or to the future: Mieke Bal reads their shape as rectangular, and accordingly as an image-internal quotation of the painting’s frame, an instance of self-referentiality.48 Hubert Damisch sees in the same formation a circle, and relates it to a practice of medieval demonology in which demons were called to appear in a mirror held by a virgin child in the middle of a circle traced upon 48 Mieke Bal, Quoting Caravaggio: Contemporary Art, Preposterous History (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 245.

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the ground. Unlikely-sounding at first, the reading of Damisch would nevertheless place this “Narcissus” in a unique and fascinating relation to the Aldus emblem’s pictura. If a magical demonological practice is being evoked by both images, that is, it would explain both why the emblem’s pool is a man-made, perfectly circular one, for this would be the magical circle traced upon the ground, and why the posture of its Narcissus is defensive, for what he sees would be both terrifying and demonic. The relation between the two images would be unique, for apart from the Aldus emblem, this painting seems to be the only early modern Narcissus image in which the water in the pool conforms to Ovid’s tale and is still. That is, starting with the earliest post-antique visual image of Narcissus, an early sixteenth-century millefleurs tapestry from Tours,50 visual artists are otherwise unanimous in representing the water in his pool as moving. In the tapestry, two streams of water flow from the fountain into the basin; the pool in the pictura of the early Lyons editions of Alciati has a small stream running into it; the image supplied for the Vigenère Philostratus is rippled by water pouring into the pool from a statue of Diana. But no hint of movement disturbs the moment of Caravaggio’s boy. This is not about the fleeting, mobile baroque image, the transitory nature of the sensible world, the seduction of the partial. And it is not based on perspective; no movement of the eye is coerced by a vanishing point. This painting is not about constructing a privileged vantage point for one spectator, but instead avails itself of an entirely different, and perhaps new, method of interaction with its viewer. Overwhelmingly, that is, the boy is absorbed in himself, an absorption, we will remember, which Michael Fried claimed as the basis of the theatricality of certain eighteenth-century paintings, and which Timothy Murray, for d’Aubignac’s Pratique du théâtre, called a fundamentally demonic non-representation. The theatricality of this absorption has everything to do with its effect upon the spectator. Setting up a mechanics of exclusion from representation, absorption creates a desire to look, to watch, to enter in to the play of the child, the cat, or the comic. This structure describes possession, the desire to enter into something, and this Narcissus, I am arguing, is the image of narcissism, his pool a demonic, hyper-real theater that is both his spectator, whose bedevilment is the specular mode of operation of spectating itself, and his mirror. Ovid’s pool does not accept or drink or engulf, it rather repulses or rejects as though it were protected by some kind of force field. In the 1550 “Narcissus” of Habert, it is explicitly compared to the body of a virgin. The pool itself is self-absorbed, comically or criminally, as is then the boy, as are then we. Hinged between past and future, the celibate new, auto-engendered, arises here.

49 Damisch, “D’un Narcisse l’autre,” p. 110. 50 Ella S. Siple, “Art in America – French Gothic Tapestries of about 1500,” The Burlington Magazine 53 (1928), pp. 144–6.


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The Devil and Loudun I There is another, equally culturally weighty, structure, however, into which the notion of possession can be slotted: the practice of demonology. The emphasis I have placed thus far on practice has been deliberate. The pratique du théâtre as a disruptive, modernist theory, and the practice of specularity in the theater structured, as I have argued, by an emerging narcissistic stance, have a fundamental importance. But what, then, of the theater’s poétique? Hippolyte-Jules Pilet de la Mesnardière, whose Poëtique appeared in 1640,51 trained and practiced as a physician before turning to poetics, and in this datum resides a fascinating example of early modern knowledge transfer.52 La Mesnardière translated his career, his place of residence, and his political energy and efforts from the practice of medicine to the science of poetry, and the hinge text in this remarkable chiasmatic movement was a demonology treatise, the Traitté de la mélancholie.53 This treatise made La Mesnardière’s career. It appeared in 1635, argued that the nuns involved in the famous possession cases of Loudun were not ill but rather were possessed by demons, and attracted to its author the attention and patronage of Richelieu. And, while Michel de Certeau has left a beautiful reading of the demonology treatise,54 and John Lyons in Kingdom of Disorder has re-read the Poëtique to powerful effect,55 the connection between them has not been pursued by scholars. In what follows, I will be interested in tracing the movement between demonology and modernity that the demonology treatise seems to have precipitated. How, exactly, did it happen that a modern theater was historically and at its theoretical ground a theater of the possessed? It will not be news to scholars that the medical discourse surrounding the Loudun trails centered on the philosophical and diagnostic problem of the imagination, for Michel de Certeau has been over this ground. Briefly, following the sentencing and execution of the priest Urbain Grandier in 1634, Marc Duncan, a Scots physician living and practicing in nearby Saumur, claimed in his Discours sur la possession des Religieuses Ursulines de Lodun that the nuns were not in fact possessed by demons, but rather were victims of their own melancholic dispositions.56 Their melancholy was aided and abetted by a strong imaginative force that was given free reign by the power of the exorcists’ suggestions alone, and was alone productive of their symptoms: “Quand les Medecins et Philosophes disent que les paroles ne peuvent 51 Hippolyte-Jules Pilet de la Mesnardière, La Poëtique (1640) (Geneva: Slatkine, 1972). 52 For the biography, see Helen Reese Reese, La Mesnardière’s Poëtique: Sources and Dramatic Theories (Baltimore, MD, London, and Oxford: Johns Hopkins Press, 1937). 53 Hippolyte-Jules Pilet de la Mesnardière, Traitté de la mélancholie, sçavoir si elle est la cause des effets que l’on remarque dans les possédées de Loudun, tiré des Réflexions de M. [La Mesnardière] sur le Discours de M.D. [Duncan] (La Flèche: M. Guyot and G. Laboe, 1635). 54 Michel de Certeau, La Possession de Loudun (Paris: Julliard, 1970), pp. 127–60. 55 John D. Lyons, Kingdom of Disorder: The Theory of Tragedy in Classical France (West Layfayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1999). 56 [Marc Duncan], Discours de la possession des Religieuses Ursulines de Lodun (n.p.: 1634).

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rien sur les maladies, il faut excepter celles qui dependent de la melancholie et de l’imagination blessee”57 (“Doctors and philosophers claim that words have no power to cause or cure illnesses, but an exception must be made for those illness that result from melancholy or a damaged imagination”). Further, there was nothing in the case to prove that they were not faking the symptoms of possession, which other nuns had been known to do. They spent entirely too much time fasting, depriving themselves of sleep, and meditating on the pains of hell, and “la frequentation ordinaire des hommes pourroit servir de preservatif contre tels maux”58 (“normal interaction with men could guard against such complaints”). They were, in short, demonic hypochondriacs who were, on some level, actually enjoying all the attention: “Le bruict de leur possession estant epandu au loing les tirera de l’obscurité dans laquelle elles vivoyent auparavent”59 (“Word of their possession was spread far and wide, and they emerged from the obscurity in which they had hitherto lived”). In taking up this position, Duncan joined an established discourse, for melancholia was the standard alternative diagnosis in cases of diabolic possession.60 But Duncan’s treatise nevertheless did not please Richelieu, the full force of whose political might had been marshaled in order to obtain Grandier’s conviction and assure his death. La Mesnardière leapt into the fray with the 1635 Traitté de la mélancholie, claiming that Duncan’s observation of the nuns’ symptoms had been faulty. The necessarily hidden cause of their trouble could only be concluded from its visible effects. And the nuns are so modest, their words and actions so normal when they are not agitated that “le mal est dans leurs Corps sans qu’il en soit incommodé, & que les extravagances & les furies qui les saississent souvent sont les effets d’une chose qui n’agît point comme les autres”61 (“the evil remains in their bodies quite comfortably, and the rantings and madness that often seize them are the effects of something that doesn’t behave like other things”). The theory of occult diseases had been elaborated by the great sixteenth-century court physician, Jean Fernel.62 Fernel had argued that imbalances of the Galenic humors insufficiently explained disease, and that, especially in virulent disease, there was an occult factor, beyond comprehension, which required an occult cure. Fernelians were accordingly disposed to find for demonic possession, and, in this light, La Mesnardière’s Traitté reads like a Fernelian tract: he decides that humoral imbalance does not explain the nuns’ suffering, declares that the etiology of this disease is hidden, asserts his own observational autonomy in determining exactly what its effects are, and finds for possession. However, when he takes on Duncan’s claims about the power of the imagination to excite the nuns’ illness, La Mesnardière wades into the problem of representation, and, in order to argue effectively with Duncan, he must deny the fabled power of 57 Ibid., p. 53. 58 Ibid., pp. 13–14. 59 Ibid., p. 11. 60 Laurence Brockliss and Colin Jones, The Medical World of Early Modern France (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 80. 61 La Mesnardière, Traitté de la mélancholie, p. 36. 62 Brockliss and Jones, The Medical World, pp. 128–38.


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the imagination to provoke disease. This was, in part, considered to be a specifically medical problem. Montaigne’s “De la force de l’imagination” joins a long tradition in beginning with questions of its power to cause illness,63 and it was only in the nineteenth century that entries on “imagination” disappeared from medical dictionaries.64 As La Mesnardière recounts Duncan’s argument, the role of the imagination would be to awaken and reveal the effects of the misbehaving humor when the nuns saw the exorcists’ instruments and heard their words. This, however, would require the imagination to be a power precisely divine, capable of causing a melancholic to be possessed through the sheer force of believing herself to be so.65 It is only the thought of God that is this spectacularly effective, claims La Mesnardière, not the thought of his creatures: “Autrement il s’en suivroit que si je m’imaginois estre le chateau de Sablé, je deviendrois incontinent ce que je penserois estre”66 (“Otherwise, it would follow that if I imagined myself to be Sablé castle, I would immediately turn into it”). Having said what the imagination is not, La Mesnardière then turns to the problem of what in fact it is. The imagination is “une Faculté de l’Ame,”67 and, with this reference, La Mesnardière broadens his discussion to scholastic philosophy, and to the hierarchy of the powers of the human soul according to Aquinas. That is, the imagination is the second of the four interior senses, which, together with the five exterior senses, compose the sensitive power, and is itself midway between the powers of the body, that is, the five senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and vision, and the intellective power, which works without bodily organs.68 The imagination is in charge of representing objects in their absence, and conserving their impressions by means of physical, material traces. It does not directly receive sense impressions – that is the task of the “common sense,” where the five exterior senses converge and are synthesized – nor does it judge these impressions, which is up to the estimativa, nor is it charged with recalling images, the duty of memory. The imagination is the storage vault and the gatekeeper of the mind, a searchable image archive. In his work on the imagination in Pascal, Gérard Ferreyrolles summarizes, then, the vast conceptual space which separates the early modern notion of the imagination from our own: for us, the imagination is the faculty which permits us to escape the world; for the seventeenth century, it was the faculty which allows us to know the world. Today, the real is opposed to the imagination; then, it was only and literally through the imagination that the real could be grasped.69 This is why, according to La Mesnardière, the nuns could not be possessed through the power of the imagination. The imagination, by itself, was incapable of producing any effect whatsoever, never mind the spectacular symptoms manifested by them. 63 Michel de Montaigne, “De la force de l’imagination,” in Pierre Villey (ed.), Les essais de Michel de Montaigne (2 vols., Paris: PUF, 1924), vol. 1, pp. 97–106. 64 Gérard Ferreyrolles, Les Reines du monde. L’imagination et la coutume chez Pascal (Paris: Champion, 1995), p. 124, n. 5. 65 La Mesnardière, Traitté de la mélancholie, pp. 44–5. 66 Ibid., p. 47. 67 Ibid., p. 53. 68 Ferreyrolles, Les Reines du monde, p. 127. 69 Ibid., p. 132.

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The discussion seems to have been closed by an Apologie pour Mr. Duncam, which appeared in 1636 and argued that Duncan had been right, even though he was wrong.70 Duncan had been right, that is, about the nuns’ melancholy, but careful not to fall foul of Richelieu, the Apologie claims as well that he had been writing at a time when “plusieurs signes, qui ont depuis confirmé la possession, n’avoit point encore paru”71 (“there hadn’t yet appeared several symptoms which have since confirmed the diagnosis of possession”). By this time, however, La Mesnardière, who had been on the side of the angels all along in this controversy, might well already have moved to Paris. He was called to be médecin ordinaire to Richelieu and also to Gaston d’Orléans.72 Historians of medicine suppose that the medical establishments of leading court figures took something of the same form as that of the king’s household, in which the médecins ordinaires lived outside the court and led a life that was not secure in the ways we might suppose. The pay was probably little. But a medical position in a powerful household was a recognized step in a project of steady social advancement. Many apothecaries and surgeons were able to educate their sons as physicians, who then accumulated enough capital to purchase medical positions at court and eventually to buy for their own sons ennobling offices in the parliaments.73 This trajectory was to all appearances one upon which La Mesnardière, whose father was a surgeon,74 had embarked. What, then, suggested that poetry, not medicine, or in addition to medicine, would, at this point in the mid-to-late 1630s, be the fast-track field of knowledge? In a letter to Balzac of 6 November 1639, Chapelain recognized the fact as extraordinary that a doctor had become a poet, and advanced the opinion that it was in fact patronage, not poetry, which was at stake: Cest une chose assés marveilleuse qu’un médecin […] qui n’a songé aux vers que depuis qu’il a veu que c’estoit une porte pour avoir entrée auprès de Son Emce ducale, soit devenu tout d’un coup poète.75 (It is a wonder that a doctor, who only became interested in verse when he saw that it would establish him in Richelieu’s good graces, has suddenly become a poet.)

In practical terms, then, it appears that La Mesnardière simply acted with an eye to the main chance. The signposts of medicine’s dawning epistemological prestige remained invisible or insufficiently determining. Poetry was the future. We would not expect, however, that La Mesnardière would arrive in that future without some

70 Apologie pour Mr. Duncam, docteur en medecine, dans laquelle les plus rares effects de la melacholie et de l’imagination sont expliquez. Contre les Reflexions, du Sieur de la Mre. Par le Sr. de la F.M. (La Fleche: George Griveau, [1636]). 71 Ibid., p. 99. 72 Reese, La Mesnardière’s Poëtique, p. 16. 73 Brockliss and Jones, The Medical World, pp. 241, 321–4. 74 Reese, La Mesnardière’s Poëtique, p. 15. 75 Jean Chapelain, Lettres de Jean Chapelain, ed. P. Tamizey de Larroque (2 vols., Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1880), vol. 1, pp. 522–3.

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baggage. In this case, it is the theory of the imagination, which had governed his arguments in the demonology treatise on the Loudun possessions, which he carries with him. In order to argue that the nuns were truly possessed and not merely melancholic, La Mesnardière had had to emphasize the ineffectual status of the imagination. Its power to have all kinds of physical effects – Montaigne’s essay, availing itself of the rabbit topos, claims that rabbits are born white in the mountains because the mother rabbits’ imaginations are impressed with all that snow – had had to be denied. This is a problem for a poetics, for it is precisely to the imagination, as La Mesnardière’s opening pages acknowledge, that poetry would seem to appeal.76 However, the Poëtique moves swiftly to an indictment of the ingestive, hungry imagination: “L’Imagination ne se repaist que d’apparences, ne respire que les délices, ne se nourrit que de fleurs”77 (“The imagination feeds only on appearance, inhales only delight, takes only blossoms for nourishment”). This formulation is thoroughly negative. Not only does it assert that the imagination feeds on the insubstantial, but the very notion expressed by the verb repaistre implies in and of itself insubstantiality. The word appears 35 times in the century’s dictionaries from Cotgrave to that of the Académie française in 1694, and beyond its literal meaning of “eating,” its figural meanings are almost uniquely of the kind “repaistre les gens de vaines esperances” (Furetière, s.v. “amuser”), “se repaistre de vent, de chimeres” (Furetière, s.v. “vent”), “repaistre quelqu’un de fumées” (Académie française, s.v. “repaistre”), and so on.78 Indeed, the force of the argument throughout is that the imagination should be inert, a stock of imprints there only to be found and understood by the intellective power of the soul. Otherwise, things go badly wrong and poetry’s project is misled by an imagination which is vain, distracted by surfaces, “amoureuse des brillans, de l’éclat, & des parures”79 (“a lover of glitz, glitter, and finery”) and utterly seduced, as are the simple people, by vision: “Si le peuple a quelque part en ces Spectacles illustres, c’est seulement par la veue”80 (“If the people take part in these renowned spectacles, they do so only by being on-lookers”). Neither the imagination, that is, nor the people, should be properly active. Indeed, the people should see the tragedy in the same way as they see the bodies of monarchs, “qui se laissent voir aux Peuples afin d’en estre admirez”81 (“who allow the people to see them so that they might be admired”). It is easy to see that this is a poetics for a political body at risk, for a political body threatened with the aftereffects of an historical dismemberment, and which is in need not of a minor sticking plaster but of a total body transplant in the form of a political transformation which would begin with the powers of the soul. It is a poetics beautifully calculated, as was the demonology treatise, to appeal to and support Richelieu’s political agenda. And the thorniest problem for this poetics is 76 77 78 79 80 81

La Mesnardière, La Poëtique, pp. 1–3. Ibid., p. 3. Dictionnaires des XVIe et XVIIe siècles. CD-ROM (Paris: Champion, 1998). La Mesnardière, La Poëtique, p. 359. Ibid., p. N. Ibid., p. O.

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theatrical language, to which the third of the three weighty central chapters anchoring the Poëtique is devoted, the language of the passions posing the greatest poetic, and certainly political, danger. It is striking that, just as d’Aubignac turned in the face of this difficult problem to the monstrous structure of a natural–unnatural combining which had been elaborated in his early demonology treatise, so La Mesnardière reaches back at this moment for a conceptual structure which had been crucial to demonological diagnosis. There was little enough to draw upon otherwise. The passage from Aristotle that discusses the representation of the passions recommends that the poet who wishes to write of anger become himself angry, and observes that one who is distressed best conveys distress.82 But in the following sentence, with which scholars have frequently tinkered, judging it to be corrupt or just plain wrong, the text says either that the poet is unbalanced, beside himself, and a madman, or that there are two kinds of poet: the mad one who becomes each character in succession in order accurately to represent, and one who is “the man of high gifts [who] retains his critical sense.” For this latter phrase, La Mesnardière had read in Castelvetro’s commentary, persona ingegnosa, a person “with intellect,” and indeed, Castelvetro rejects any idea that the poet should be mad, claims that the text is corrupt, and emends it to read: “Poetry is for the person of superior intellectual capacities rather than for the madman.”83 We will note that nowhere in this tangle is there any word in either Aristotle or Castelvetro that might refer to the imagination. In his discussion of the representation of passion, La Mesnardière seems to have read Castelvetro’s reference to ingegno as a reference to the intellective power of the soul as understood in medical discourse and scholastic philosophy. But the imagination would then become crucial to any elaboration of the process of representing. The imagination in this structure remains, as it had been in the case of the possessed nuns, the variously interpretable power which is open to definition and circumscription, because, dangerous as it is, the system is unable to function without it. And so to the practicalities: passionate discourse must avoid comparisons, conclusions drawn by means of argument, and les Sentences morales, for “Le Peuple aime les Sentences”84 (“The people like sententious couplets”). In order to do so, the poet must understand that “il est de l’Entendement comme de l’Imagination, ce mirror universel”85 (“What goes for the imagination, this universal mirror, goes for the understanding as well”). That is, what goes wrong with the searchable image archive will necessarily go wrong as well with the intellective force: Lors que cette Glace vivante n’est ternie d’aucunes vapeurs, nôtre Ame y voit les Images de tous les Objets sensibles selon leur estre naturel: de mesme que nous voyons nôtre visage dans l’eau tel qu’il est réellement, quand elle n’est point agitée. Mais lors que quelques fumées infectent la pureté de ce crystal merveilleux où nos Sens se vont décharger des 82 Aristotle, On Poetry and Style, trans. G.M.A. Grube (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 1455a. 83 Lodovico Castelvetro, Castelvetro on the Art of Poetry, trans. Andrew Bongiorno (Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1984), p. 40. 84 La Mesnardière, La Poëtique, p. 220. 85 Ibid., p. 336.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France espéces qu’ils ont tirées des choses materielles, nôtre ame n’y voit plus alors que des images confuses, desordonnées & difformes: ainsi que nôtre visage paroist monstrueux dessus l’eau, si elle est agitée du vent lors que nous nous y regardons.86 (When this living mirror is perfectly clear, the soul sees in it the images of all perceivable objects in their natural state. Similarly, when you see your face on the surface of calm water, that’s how your face really is. But sometimes fumes infect this marvelous crystal’s pure surface, where the senses deposit the elements drawn from material things. Then the soul sees only confused, distorted and disorganized images in the mirror. In the same way, your face would look monstrous in the water if the wind rippled the surface while you were looking.)

The passions, La Mesnardière concludes, are to the intellective force what fog is to the image storehouse, and what troubled waters are to Narcissus: “Or nous devons concevoir que les Passions violentes sont à nôtre Entendement ce qu’est une vapeur épaisse à nôtre Imagination, & ce qu’est l’agitation à l’eau qui nous sert de miroir”87 (“Thus we should understand that violent passions act on our understanding like a thick fog acts on our imagination, and like ripples act on the surface of the water that is our mirror”). The intellective force requires peace for its proper operation, and it loses its capacity for judgment if the imagination becomes active, “si quelques mouvemens excitez dans la Phantasie viennent à troubler le paix de cette Ame intelligente” (“if movements arising in the imagination end up disturbing the peace of the intellective soul”). And what happens then is what happens to civil order during time of war: “Elle fait de ses lumieres durant ces troubles intestins, ce que fait la Iustice humaine de l’authorité des Loix parmi le tumulte des armes, où il lui est impossible de faire éxécuter ses ordres”88 (“What happens to its understanding during these internal disturbances is just what happens to legal authority when there is armed unrest: the agency of justice is unable to have its commands carried out”). At the heart of the most difficult language problem of the theater of modernity, then, is the proper understanding of this problem as failed Narcissus, the monstrous face, political havoc. Baroque desire is sparked not by stasis, but rather by ripples, tumult, the fleeting and flowing. There follows, predictably, a critique of improperly conceived passionate discourse anchored by the governor’s report of the death of Hippolytus from Seneca, a critique which will, a generation later, be elaborated through Racine’s récit de Théramème and extend into the eighteenth century.89 But after circling back to take Seneca to task one final time, the Poëtique far less predictably veers off into questions of moral and physical health. There are indeed some who appreciate this kind of improperly conceived passionate discourse. They are to be found, however, among those “esprits adorez dans les Cabinets” (“wits beloved in private cabinets”), and with this evocation of a threatening and competing critical space, La Mesnardière’s text remembers that he 86 Ibid., pp. 336–7. 87 Ibid., p. 337. 88 Ibid., pp. 337–8. 89 Amy Wygant, Towards a Cultural Philology: Phèdre and the Construction of “Racine” (Oxford: European Humanities Research Centre, 1999), pp. 112–45.

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is a physician whose job is to diagnose. The cabinet shelters a competing aesthetic, and it is the archi-site of the private, a place where plays are read, as opposed to the proper site of dramatic poetry, which “est toujours sur la Scéne, & jamais dans le Cabinet”91 (“is always on the stage, and never in the private cabinet”). Further, it is vulnerable to a set of charges associated with that active, forceful imagination which had produced a misdiagnosis of melancholy at Loudun. The would-be critics who inhabit the cabinet admire only superficial attractiveness, and they are incapable of conducting a proper examination of nature, and of the state of the subject: “Ces excellens hommes admirent la pluspart des choses par la beauté des parolles, sans examiner leur nature, & l’état de celui qui parle” (“These fine chaps are mainly impressed by the beauty of the words. They never stop to examine their nature, or the state of the speaker”). Not only are they bad physicians, but also thinking, for them is not a matter of the intellective force. Instead, thinking is a matter of the imagination’s solitary pleasure, that unregulated “Imagination amoureuse des brillans, de l’éclat, & des parures” (“Imagination in love with glitz, glitter, and finery”). “Nous n’approuverons iamais,” the text summarizes in an apparently bizarre image, “qu’on nous serve des pierreries, & des perles liquéfiées, au lieu de viandes naturelles” (“We will never be happy if they serve us gems and liquid pearls instead of normal food”). On one level, however, this is a beautiful metaphorical synthesis that precisely avails itself of the properly early modern image warehouse. That is, La Mesnardière’s text has taken the hungry, ingestive imagination, whose verbs are repaistre, respirer, and se nourrir, has combined it with the imagination lover of jewels, “les brillans, l’éclat, et les parures,” and has come up with edible and drinkable jewels. The “beaux Esprits” of the cabinet, then, have been hoisted by their own petard: if it is the domain of taste that they claim, then they are reduced precisely to taste, the most lowly of the bodily senses, and the text closes on their opposite, “un Ecrivain iudicieux, qui observe tous les Précepts de cette agréable Science”92 (“a judicious author, who follows all the principles of this pleasing science”), and proceeds to the problem of representing the individual passions. Now it is perfectly banal that the point of this immense concern on the part of La Mesnardière’s text that the dramatic poet accurately diagnose the workings of the passions in language, that the poet, that is, be “un excellent Philosophe, tant Physician, que Moral” (“excellent in philosophy both practical and moral”), and not “un Genie aveugle & fougeux”93 (“a blind impetuous spirit”), is that “un Poëme 90 On the cabinet, see Barbara M. Benedict, Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001). 91 La Mesnardière, La Poëtique, p. 364. Hélène Merlin has long been interested in the cabinet’s setting up of a private space of reading opposed to the public space structured by representation, and, in Public et littérature en France au XVIIe siècle, she points out that one of the aims of the Querelle du Cid was to remove plays from the stage and its heteroclite audience ruled by pleasure to the cabinet and its public characterized by sober reflection (p. 173). See also her “Représentation du sabbat et représentation politique au XVIIe siècle: du sabbat au cabinet,” in Le Sabbat des sorciers, Xve–XVIIIe siècles (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 1993), pp. 111–26. 92 La Mesnardière, La Poëtique, p. 365. 93 Ibid., pp. 364–5.


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n’est point raisonnable s’il n’enchante & s’il n’eblouït la Raison de ses Auditeurs”94 (“Every reasonable poem must enchant and dazzle the reason of its listeners”). From observations of this ilk come, on the one hand, all the magicians of pastoral, tragicomedy, and opera generally, and a certain component of Medea’s figure as well: that is, her chant, her incantation which is the root of all enchantment, and her sorcerer’s prestige which has as its project, as we know, the fascination of the eyes for which éblouir would be one verb. But no one would call Medea raisonnable; indeed, the very nature of reason, whether it be opposed to passion, as some readings of her great deliberation scene would have it, or raison d’état, as others would argue, is in many ways what could be said to be at stake in her figure; and, the paradox of La Mesnardière’s formulation then takes us to the point where its specificity becomes more helpful. The point of the correct use of the poet’s intellective faculty is that the audience be prevented from using its own: “Il [le poète] ne lui [une ame] fait point éprouver les effets de sa Science, s’il ne la rend forcenée d’une forte & courte fureur qui l’arrache violemment de son assiette naturelle” (“The impact of the poet’s science on the soul is not properly felt unless the soul is subjected to a short sharp frenzy that jerks it violently out of its natural state”). Now to be “dans son assiette” or not has a specifically moral meaning in the century’s dictionaries,95 and it can form part of a properly medical description of a patient. In his Traitté, for example, La Mesnardière had cited among the observable symptoms of a melancholic “des consequences si mal tirées qu’elles temoignent que l’Esprit n’est pas dans une bonne assiette”96 (“the lack of ability to reason demonstrates that the mind is not in its proper state”). And fury is a symptom that is defining, one of the conditions of melancholy being “de n’estre iamois furieux”97 (“never to become frenzied”). This was a contested diagnostic point upon which turned much of the medical controversy over Loudun. According to La Mesnardière, the nuns’ furies must be effects caused by demonic possession, and here we arrive at the conceptual chiasmus operating between possession and poetry: for this is also a possession without which the poet’s effect on the theater audience is unsuccessful. The audience must be seized by “une forte & courte fureur,” and in Loudun, this was a possession that, to recall Michel de Certeau’s argument, was fundamentally theatrical. Of the scenario of possession played out by exorcist and nun, Duncan writes: “Il n’y a rien que la bonne opinion qu’on a de sa [the exorcist’s] prudhommie & sincereté, qui empesche de croire que les demandes & responces qui se font en public soyent des pieces concertées entr’eux & estudiées”98 (“Only a charitable opinion of the exorcist’s honesty and

94 Ibid., pp. 71–2. 95 Furetière, s.v. “Assiette:” “Assiette se dit figurément en choses spirituelles ou morales.” S.v. “Esmotion”: “Mouvement extraordinaire qui agite le corps ou l’esprit, & qui en trouble le temperament ou l’assiette.” Academie francaise, s.v. “Assiette:” “Il se dit fig. de l’estat et de la disposition de l’esprit. Il n’a pas l’esprit dans une bonne assiette. Il est fort inconstant, il n’a jamais l’esprit dans une assiette ferme” (Dictionnaires des XVIe et XVIIe siècles). 96 La Mesnardière, Traitté de la mélancholie, p. 16. 97 Ibid., p. 18. 98 [Duncan], Discours, p. 21.

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sincerity prevents one thinking that the questions asked and answers given in public are not plays that they have made up and learned”). In one way, La Mesnardière supplies here a medical description of the play’s effect on the audience which operates in the theoretical vicinity of catharsis, itself a properly medical term for purging. But the specificity here is that there are demons. This successful representation of the passions in the theater cannot do without the inert imagination, and the ideology of the inert imagination cannot do without demons because, if the imagination is a force, then the demons vanish and the diagnosis is melancholy. Within this poetics, dramatic poetry needs the demon just as much as, within a practice, the stage does. And, if the imagination cannot be said to have produced them, then the demon in the poetry and the demons in the hall circulate, match, and find a mirror in one another. Historically, then, it is in La Mesnardière’s Poëtique that fiendish illusion gains the condition of possibility to become illusion as such, and that the glamour of the witch is set on a course to become glamorous. The Devil and Loudun II As it happens, the abbé d’Aubignac went to Loudun as well. In September, 1637, when the Querelle du Cid, with all of its concern, as we have seen, to define and claim the public’s voice, was at its height, d’Aubignac was in Loudun, asked to judge the truth of another kind of performance, that of the possessed nuns.99 He confronted the exorcists, whom he considered on the whole to be charlatans, and braved their threats of unleashing the devils upon him.100 His comment on the nuns’ supposedly diabolical physical feats, one of which seems to have been the executing of a cheerleader-like split – “elle se trouva les jambes estandues en ligne droicte et touchant à terre des deux cuisses” (“her legs were extended in a straight line, both of her thighs touching the ground”) – is that “cela est difficile et pénible, mais non pas impossible”101 (“this is difficult and painful, but not impossible”). The hand of the mother superior of the Ursuline convent, Jeanne des Anges, upon which her demon had supposedly permanently inscribed “IOSEPH” upon exiting her body, is thought by d’Aubignac to be some kind of semi-permanent tattoo, which an alchemist might well know how to apply.102 Because the demons often supposedly lodged in the nuns’ stomachs and caused great pains, d’Aubignac speculates that they were perhaps having their menstrual periods.103 Nothing convinces him, and his report ends with the unqualified assertion that “tout ce jeu n’est que fourbe, imposture, détestation, et sacrilège”104 (“this entire performance is nothing but sacrilegious, detestable, deceitful, and false”). 99 François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, “Relation de M. Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, touchant les possédées de Loudun au mois de Septembre 1637,” in Robert Mandrou (ed.), Possession et sorcellerie au XVIIe siècle. Textes inédits (Paris: Fayard, 1979), pp. 134–94. 100 Ibid., pp. 168–70. 101 Ibid., p. 163. 102 Ibid., p. 153. 103 Ibid., p. 184. 104 Ibid., p. 194.


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The priests and nuns, perhaps understandably, rapidly grew tired of his criticisms and skepticism. They had exhibited themselves sufficiently, their demons claimed, to merit the belief of good Catholics, and as for atheists, nothing they could do would ever be enough. D’Aubignac’s response, that “cela m’estonna de voir que les démons preinent tant de peine pour instruire les meschants et pour destruire l’athéïsme et l’impiéte”105 (“it is rather surprising to think that demons would go to so much trouble to instruct sinners and stamp out atheism and impiety”) did not serve to smooth the situation over, and in the end, a letter appeared, written by the devil, accusing d’Aubignac of being a magician, a crime potentially punishable by death.106 This brings us to the complicated political status of d’Aubignac’s report. This is not a medicalized text; it is not mainly concerned with imagination or melancholy. Monkeys and monsters are nowhere to be found, and in the end, this is not really about demons either, since d’Aubignac is never convinced that demons are at work in Loudun. Its one overwhelming concern, it seems, is the question of who, exactly, believed in the demonic possessions, since he clearly didn’t, and indeed couldn’t. Who was the credulous audience? The suggestion has been advanced that d’Aubignac harmed his career irreparably by disbelieving in the devils of Loudun. In so doing, he took up a position contrary to that of Richelieu, who, we will remember, had supported the powerful nexus of forces pressing for the execution of Urbain Grandier in 1634.107 This is plausible, and we will remember as well La Mesnardière’s non-stop ticket to Paris and to the household of Richelieu, purchased with his support for the devils. But would d’Aubignac really have been so careless? There are other explanations for his unsatisfactory career, notably, we remember, that of Alain Viala, who suggested that d’Aubignac was simply born at the wrong time. There is a tantalizing suggestion as well that, like the great Jesuit exorcist Jean-Joseph Surin, d’Aubignac fell ill around the time of his Loudun experience, and still hadn’t recovered more than twentyfive years later. In 1663 he wrote that “je suis infirme […] il y a plus de vingt-cinq ans que je vis entre la maladie et la santé”108 (“I am ailing. For more than twentyfive years I have been ill on and off”), and in the “Relation” he reports that it was stomach trouble, “une colique à laquelle je suis sujet tous les mois depuis un an”109 (“a stomach upset that I’ve had once a month for a year”). But were d’Aubignac to have deliberately joined the anti-Richelieu camp, the strangest contradiction in the matter would be that it seems to have been Richelieu’s powerful and influential niece who both sent him to Loudun in the first place and perhaps literally saved his neck in the matter of the accusation of magic. This was Marie de Vignerot de Pontcourlay, Marquise de Combalet and Duchesse d’Aiguillon 105 Ibid., p.168. 106 Ibid., pp. 192–3. 107 François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, Des Satyres brutes, monstres, et démons, ed. Gilles Banderier (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2003), pp. 12–14. 108 François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, Dissertations contre Corneille, ed. Nicholas Hammond and Michael Hawcroft (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1995), p. 124. 109 D’Aubignac, “Relation,” p. 180.

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(1604–1675) who, d’Aubignac reports, never once doubted the truth of the possessions before going to Loudun, but who nevertheless sent him on ahead of her proposed visit to reconnoiter the situation.110 She had been Corneille’s dedicatee for Le Cid, and, as she was busily distributing Richelieu’s money to become one of the great benefactresses of the age, she had the cardinal’s ear. She was created duchesse d’Aiguillon in 1638, and this date provides a terminus a quo for d’Aubignac’s “Relation,” which circulated only in manuscript in his day. Her skillful and eminently courtly procedure in the matter of this devil’s letter was to advise d’Aubignac to do nothing and wait to see who or what was behind it. Meanwhile, she confided her strategy to her almoner, a believer in the possessions, and Richelieu’s eyes and ears in Loudun. Elsewhere in the report, d’Aubignac refers to him as “bon homme et non suspect de fourbe”111 (“a good man, with no hint of the cheat about him”). When the almoner reported to those from whom the letter had come that the duchesse supported d’Aubignac, “ils firent cesser entièrement cette horrible calomnie dès sa naissance et le diable […] n’en parla plus et l’histoire en est demurée là”112 (“they stopped this horrifying slander in its tracks, the devil spoke no more of it, and the affair progressed no further”). Perhaps rather than setting out to provoke the power of Richelieu and of his own patron, d’Aubignac set out here to pursue a project which evidently interested Richelieu very much, and which should not surprise us, given what the argument of this chapter has been. That is, d’Aubignac set out to redefine an audience for spectacle that would be a new kind of public. What kind of person would believe in the nuns’ performances of possession? Most crucially for d’Aubignac, it was his patron, the duchesse, who believed not just through religious faith, but also “Madame la duchesse néantmoins suit en cecy les sentimens publics et des personnes d’honneur qui en ont veu toutes les merveilles”113 (“The duchess went along with the opinions of the public and those of more elevated station who had seen all the marvelous events”). On the other hand, however, it is le peuple who also believe in the demons, and there is a sustained reflection in the “Relation” upon crowd phenomena and behavior. The point of this is to distance the sentimens publics from the panic and indeed the taste and smell, the stink, of le peuple, and to rely on vision alone. In response to the attempts of one of the exorcists, Monsieur Moran, to convince him of the truth of the possessions, d’Aubignac says simply that “J’estois venu pour voir, non pour ouyr”114 (“I’ve come to see, not listen”). The duchesse heard d’Aubignac out regarding his skepticism about the possessions, and then was ready to set off to Loudun to see for herself. The exorcism schedule was rearranged in order to allow her to see all of the possessed nuns and other girls and young women in one day, Saturday 26 September. She duly made the rounds, observing their physical contortions, bad behavior, and miraculous abilities to understand foreign languages. One of the proofs of possession was held to be 110 111 112 113 114

Ibid., pp. 144–5. Ibid., p. 156. Ibid., p. 193. Ibid., p. 165. Ibid., p. 151.


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that the body of a possessed nun became so heavy that no part of it could be lifted even by the strongest. But when the duchess was invited personally to try to lift the head of the mother superior during an exorcism, she managed this without any difficulty. She then dissembled, however, for “elle ne le voulust faire paroistre pour ne pas choquer tout le peuple qui estoit présent, ny les exorcistes qui faisoient grand cas de cette épreuve”115 (“She didn’t want to show that she could do this, because it would shock the people who were present and the exorcists, who set great store by this test”). When several others had done the same, and not caring who saw it, the duchess finally tells the exorcist: “Ne nous faite plus passer cela pour une preuve de possession”116 (“Don’t try to tell us that this is a proof of possession”), and d’Aubignac is on his way to achieving a redefinition of les sentimens publics. During his fact-finding mission, there had come a moment during an exorcism when d’Aubignac had been required to defy the powers of hell. A “demon” had spoken directly to him: “Tu fais bien l’arrogant mais si je me mets sur toy, je te montreray qui je suis”117 (“You can play the arrogant one, but if I take you on, I’ll show you who I am”). He responded that he did not fear, and stood his ground. But there was a terreur panique among the assembled crowd, “tous s’estants retirés en un coing de l’église avec cris et effroy presque incroyable”118 (“Everyone shrank into a corner of the church; the extent of their fear and their cries was hard to believe”). Upon leaving the church, d’Aubignac reflected upon the question of panic and the petit peuple: J’eus cette pensée que si la peur m’eust troublé l’esprit, elle m’eut faict fuir parmi les autres et qu’elle eut adjouté à ma fuitte la croyance que les démons me suivoient et peut estre me tourmentoient, si bien qu’envers une ame du petit peuple un pareil accident pouvoit faire un possédé.119 (It struck me that if I had allowed myself to become frightened, fear would have made me run like the others, and it would have made me think that demons were pursuing me and perhaps tormenting me. If this had happened to the mind of a simple person, such an event could have turned him into someone possessed.)

The power of suggestion troubles d’Aubignac as well. He knows that it works on the people: “Les réflexions que les exorcistes font en ces rencontres estonnent de telle façon le menu peuple qu’il pense voir l’enfer ou le paradis dans ces tableaux que ces filles leur mettent devant les yeux”120 (“The exorcists’ comments on these occasions amaze the simple people, and they think that they see hell or paradise in the pictures that these girls put before them”). And he fears that it will work on the duchess as well, for, from the moment of her arrival in Loudun, “Monsieur Moran et d’autres exorcistes commencèrent à l’accoster ou plustost à l’entreprendre en luy comptant

115 Ibid., p. 165. 116 Ibid., p. 166. 117 Ibid., p. 168. 118 Ibid., p. 169. 119 Ibid., pp. 169–70. 120 Ibid., p. 181.

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un nombre infiny de miracles” (“Monsieur Moran and the other exorcists started approaching her, or rather accosting her, telling her of innumerable miracles”). This, he fears, directly threatens the possibility of truly seeing, for it is “capable de prévenir les esprits et leur imprimer la croyance de la possession avant que d’en rien voir”122 (“capable of influencing the mind and impressing a belief in possession on it before ever seeing anything”). But her outing to Loudun is conducted by the duchesse much more like a scientific experiment than an act of faith. She examines each possessed woman carefully, and they trot out their most convincing behaviors for her, “ce qui faisoit dire aux malicieux que les démons faisoient rage pour plaire à Madame”123 (“which encouraged the nay-sayers to point out that the demons got very worked up in order to satisfy Madam”). D’Aubignac describes the day’s culminating scene as one of horror: le peuple allant et venant, courant à l’une puis à l’autre […] l’air eschauffé fumant et puant de l’odeur de l’ail commun à tous ceux du pays. […] Aussi est il vray que le plus fort esprit est émeu dans cet orage et le désordre du lieu met toutes les pensées en désordre. […] On croirait que c’est [cette église] une prison d’effroy, d’horreur et de supplices.124 (People were coming and going and running from one possessed girl to another. The air was thick and overheated and stank of the garlic that everybody in this region smells of. Thus it is perfectly true that this tempest disturbs the strongest mind, and the disorder of the place disorders all thought. You would think that this church were a prison of torture, horror, and fear.)

This, perhaps, is where d’Aubignac first encountered the kingdom of disorder, as well as its demon, which then would be not the stayr-demon who appeared to St. Anthony, an ancient demon who was an article of faith, but instead the demon in the theater audience, a modern demon who depended upon the crowd’s vision being inflected by panic and the power of suggestion. But as for the duchess, after a whole day of this she had acquired “assés de lumière pour voir que toute cette intrigue de l’enfer n’est pas si bien appuyée que l’on publie et qu’il n’y a pas lieu de condamner ceux qui demeurent encor douteux en cette croyance”125 (“sufficient enlightenment to see that this entire hellish affair is not as solidly established as is published abroad, and that condemning those who still have their doubts is not justified”). It seems, then, that d’Aubignac achieved his double distance. The duchess, representative of the sentimens publics, has been firstly led away from the horror, fear, and torture of the demon. Through lumière and the act of voir, she with her tremendous influence may be able, secondly, to inflect that “que l’on publie,” and distance the public space from the people and their panic, their garlic, their senseless,

121 Ibid., p. 186. 122 Ibid., p. 121. 123 Ibid., p. 188. 124 Ibid., p. 190. 125 Ibid.

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unpredictable movements. Henceforth, the sentimens publics will be engaged through seeing. Vision is the instrument, both jubilatory and fatal, of Narcissus. Narcissus II To gather up some of the threads, then, I am suggesting that “what happened” when Corneille put his Médée on the stage in 1635 was that a group of spectators found in her moving, magical image not just the perfect illusion in the terms that both psychoanalysis and early modern demonology define illusion to be, but that that group came to theater as to a mirror in which something lost, perhaps the image of a properly effective political body, could be found again. Further, the mechanism of this mirroring did not produce that which had been lost, but rather something new. Attached to Narcissus would be all of the properly early modern notions of the dreadful new, the imagination, the epistemology of seeing, and the logic of action prompted by illusion. He would then not be, as Damisch correctly observed,126 an emblem of painting, but rather the general figure of the relationship between image and audience that could be called modern. The absorption theorized by Fried was observed by Freud before him, and Narcissus becomes narcissistic at this moment, when that absorption becomes the fundamental mechanism of theatrical modernity. But the mode of this becoming is not triumph. There is a different kind of truth in the stone into which the untouchable Narcissus is turned in Ovid at the moment when he comes to the fountain. There he is the most touchable of art-works, sculpture: “like a statue carved from Parian marble,” his neck of ivory bent over the water. Throughout the first half of the French seventeenth century, a certain line of thinking connected self-love and petrification. The figure of Narcissus, it is true, escaped blanket condemnation. Puget de La Serre’s “Moralité sur la fable de Narcisse” does indeed rehearse the connection between his figure and excessive self-love: “De toutes les passions qui nous aveuglent les yeux de l’esprit, celle de l’Amour propre est la plus criminelle”127 (“Of all of the passions that blind our mind’s eye, self-love is the most criminal”). And further, this excessive amour-propre is the trigger for the construction of an idol: “Il est permis de s’aymer soy-mesme, mais non pas iusques au point d’en devenir idolatre, comme Narcisse” (“It is permissible to love oneself, but not to the point of idolatry, like Narcissus”). But in contrast to the condemnation to be found in the contemporary sacred polemics of amour-propre and amour pur, in the secular Narcissus we can see in historical retrospect the thin edge of the wedge: “Son trespas pourtant,” summarizes Puget de La Serre, “est plustost plein de gloire que de honte, puis qu’il meurt d’Amour”128 (“His death was nevertheless glorious rather than shameful because he died of love”). However, in the midst the of sacred elaboration of the theme of amour-propre, the tropes of Nicolas Caussin’s La Cour sainte, from 1624, are telling.129 Self126 Damisch, “D’un Narcisse l’autre,” p. 114. 127 Puget de la Serre, “Les Amours de Narcisse,” p. 737. 128 Ibid., p. 767. 129 Nicolas Caussin, La cour sainte (2 vols., Paris: Jean Dubray, 1664).

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interest is figured as demonic, a trope that is biblical and Augustinian, and heavy with implications for the structures of thought within which early modern cultures received foreign cultures.130 The tenth maxim of La Cour sainte is: “Que le propre interest est une tyrannie formée contre la Divinité, & que l’homme qui est le dieu de soy-mesme, est un Demon pour le reste du monde”131 (“Self-interest is a tyranny set up against God, and the person who is his own god is a demon to everyone else”). Also, Caussin’s text is littered with stone. The idolization of the self is about the erection of temples, and in order to worship, the worldly courtier “a fait un temple à un petit demon d’argent, qui est assez au milieu de son coeur”132 (“constructed a temple dedicated to a small demon of silver, who sits in the midst of his heart”). The theme of idolatry as demonic exists in parallel with biblical attacks on idolatry as sheer illusion, and these become conflated with the condemnation of self-illusion by Nicole, who later writes that “Par le moyen de cette illusion, il [l’homme] est toujours absent de lui-même, et présent à lui-même; il se regarde continuellement, et il ne se voit jamais veritablement, parcequ’il ne voit, au lieu de lui-même, que le vain fantôme qu’il s’est formé”133 (“This illusion means that a person is forever absent from himself as well as present to himself. He’s always looking at himself, and yet never truly sees, because instead of himself, he only ever sees the empty phantom that he’s made of himself”). This conflation of the phantom of self-illusion and the petrification of self-idolatry, then, returns us to the portrait of which Narcissus is in Furetière, we recall, the defining example. As it happens, we have a portrait of Narcissus precisely turned to stone from Salvador Dalí. Undoubtably one of the greatest events of Dalí’s life was his meeting with Sigmund Freud in London in 1938. And what did Dalí wish to discuss with Freud? It seems that he brought along his “Narcissus,” a double image of the boy kneeling over the pool, his prominent knee a distant memory of the Roman boy’s alarmingly foreshortened one, and of his body turned into a stone hand, the flower springing from a stone ball, formerly his head, poised on the tips of the fingers (see Figure 5.4). Stefan Zweig, who arranged the meeting between Dalí and Freud, wrote to Freud that “I think that since the old masters nobody has ever found colors like these, and in the details, however symbolical they may appear, I see a perfection compared with which all the paintings of our time seem to pale.”134 Conflicting reports exist of what happened that day. Edward James, who accompanied Dalí, wrote to Christopher Sykes that “Freud, aged 82, is adorable. He is full of sparkle though a little baffled at moments by having newly become a

130 Michael Moriarty, “Images and Idols,” Seventeenth-Century French Studies 25 (2003), pp. 1–20 (pp. 2–4). 131 Caussin, La cour sainte, vol. 1, p. 253. 132 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 254. 133 Pierre Nicole, Essais de morale, ed. Laurent Thirouin (Paris: PUF, 1999), p. 312; see also Moriarty, “Images and Idols,” p. 20; Béatrice Guion, “Songes et monsonges: la dénonciation de l’illusion dans l’augustinisme du Grand Siècle,” Littératures classiques 44 (2002), pp. 313–34 (p. 320). 134 Ian Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí (London: Faber and Faber, 1997), p. 381.

Figure 5.4

Salvador Dalí, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Tate Modern, London

Narcissus, and the Devils of Loudun



bit deaf. He talked to me for a long while.” It is nevertheless difficult to imagine that Freud, who was at this time mortally ill with cancer of the mouth, and for whom an artificial palate made speech painful and difficult, said a great deal during their interview. One of Dalí’s biographers, citing James’s letter to Sykes, does however report that James heard Freud whisper to Zweig in German: “That boy looks like a fanatic. Small wonder that they have civil war in Spain if they look like that.”136 And, as James had known German from childhood,137 there is some chance that he would have heard Freud’s comment accurately. What is certain is that Dalí spent the time intently sketching Freud’s cranium as a snail, a “morphological secret” which had been revealed to him when he had seen a picture of Freud in a newspaper while he, Dalí, had been eating snails in Sens. And, speaking of snails, on his way to meet Freud, Dalí when crossing the garden saw a bicycle leaning against a wall, and on the saddle was a red rubber hot-water bottle on the back of which crawled a snail. The sketches of Freud appear in The Secret Life. Zweig apparently prevented Freud from seeing them.138 Although Freud apparently said little or nothing to Dalí at the time, he wrote the next day to Zweig that the meeting had changed his opinion of surrealism in general: Until now I was inclined to regard the Surrealists – who seem to have adopted me as their patron saint – as one hundred per cent fools (or let’s rather say, as with alcohol, ninety-five per cent). This young Spaniard, with his ingenious fanatical eyes, and his undoubtably technically perfect mastership, has suggested to me a different estimate.139

And, Dalí’s “Narcissus” seems to have intrigued him: It would be very interesting to explore analytically the growth of a picture like this. From a critical point of view, one might still say that art by its definition would refuse enlarging its scope so widely, unless the quantitative relation of unconscious material and preconscious elaboration should be kept within certain limits. In any case these are serious problems from the psychological point of view.140

The meeting between Dalí and Freud has more recently been the point of departure for Terry Johnson’s Laurence Olivier Award-winning comedy from 1994, Hysteria, which played to packed houses in the autumn of 2000 in Paris in the mise en scène of John Malkovich. Although Johnson got the snails, the bicycle, and the painting all neatly tucked into his script, the title of the play is a complete misnomer, for it was certainly not hysteria, but rather paranoia about which Dalí was keen to talk to 135 John Lowe, Edward James, Poet-Patron-Eccentric: A Surrealist Life (London: Collins, 1991), p. 144. 136 Meredith Etherington-Smith, Dalí: A Biography (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992), p. 279. 137 Lowe, Edward James, p. 17. 138 Salvador Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, trans. Haakon M. Chevalier (London: Vision, 1948), pp. 23, 24 184. 139 Fleur Cowles, The Case of Salvador Dali (Boston, MA and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1959), p. 271. 140 Ibid., pp. 271–2.


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Freud. The “Narcissus” and its accompanying poem were “le premier poème et le premier tableau obtenus entièrement d’après l’application intégrale de la méthode paranoïaque-critique”141 (“the first poem and the first painting obtained completely according to the integral application of the paranoia-critical method”). It had been his article on paranoia, L’Ane pourri, which had brought Lacan to him in 1931, around the time that Dalí was elaborating his paranoia-critique and Lacan was writing his thesis, De la psychose paranoiaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité, which has been called the founding text of French psychoanalysis.142 The paranoia-critique was illustrated by the appearance of double images, “la représentation d’un objet qui, sans la moindre représentation anatomique ou figurative, soit en même temps la représentation d’un autre objet, dénué elle aussi de tout genre de déformation ou anormalité qui pourrait déceler quelque arrangement” (“the representation of an object which would, at the same time and without the slightest anatomical or figurative representation [sic?], be the representation of another object, itself devoid of any formal change or abnormality which might betray any adjustment”). The delirium of double seeing, then, is absolutely synchronic and coterminous with its interpretation. Paranoia is a creative activity. And, in historical-visual terms, the fascination of Dalí’s painting is its requirement that the viewer’s gaze become the pool, that it be absolutely immobile, with no ripples, no movement in order for the painting’s technique to be achieved. We are back to the still pool of the Aldus emblem and the Roman boy, demonic, and if the pool could see him, this would be its view: Si l’on regarde pendant quelque temps, avec un léger recule et une certaine “fixité distraite” la figure hypnotiquement immobile de Narcisse, celle-ce disparaît progressivement, jusqu’à devenir absolument invisible. La métamorphose du mythe a lieu à ce moment précis, car l’image du Narcisse est transformée subitement en l’image d’une main qui surgit de son propre reflet.143 (If you look for awhile, backing up a bit and almost staring, at the hypnotically immobile figure of Narcissus, it will disappear bit by bit until it becomes absolutely invisible. The metamorphosis that the myth talks about takes place at this exact moment, because the image of Narcissus is suddenly transformed into the image of a hand that rises up from its own reflection.)

The first concern of Dalí’s “Narcissus” is to collaborate with the viewer in effecting the metamorphosis that is its ancient task. The exclusion and erotic investment that, for the early modern Narcissus, was the mode of seduction, is here explicitly hypnotic and has as its goal his disappearance into stone and metamorphosis into a poetics of handiwork. This is a performance, a specifically narcissistic event requiring the collaboration of the spectators’ gaze. All of the concerns of theatricality, action, illusion, and the new become explicit in the gaze of the spectator, which here is

141 Salvador Dalí, Oui 2, L’archangélisme scientifique (Paris: Denoël, Gonthier, 1971), p. 95. 142 Roudinesco, Histoire de la psychanalyse, vol. 1, p. 129. 143 Dalí, Oui 2, p. 95.

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productive of a madness strangely congruent with metamorphosis itself: both really new and, at the same time, renewal.

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Chapter 6

The Magic of Modernity One difficult task for the historian of magic is to register the appearances of its carrier, the ancient witch Medea, through what is generally considered to be the least magical of historical moments, the long French eighteenth century. Unexpectedly and paradoxically in that great day of demythologizing and rationalizing, representations of Medea proliferate. The composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier set a Thomas Corneille livret in 1693,1 and in 1694 there appeared Longepierre’s tragedy, which was reissued at least fourteen times in the eighteenth century,2 enthusiasm for it kept high by the performances of the tragedienne Mlle Clairon. Her portrait as Medea by Carle Van Loo was the great success of the Salon of 1759, much to Diderot’s dismay: “Une petite Médée courte, raide, engoncée, surchargée d’étoffes, une Médée des coulisses”3 (“a short, stiff little Medea, awkward and drowning in her dress, a cardboard-cutout Medea”). Parodies appeared, in at least one of which Medea finally tells Jason not to worry about the murdered children, for they weren’t actually his.4 Medea danced in Jean-Georges Noverre’s hit tragic ballet Médée et Jason, staged in Stuttgart, Paris, Venice, and London from 1763,5 and a Medea systematically shorn of her magic, who unceremoniously stabbed herself to death after Jason refused to do the honors, is the Medea of Jean-Marie-Bernard Clément in 1779.6 Musicians who managed not only to keep their heads and survive the Terror, but also to profit from its drive to reorganize society from top to bottom, joined to form the new Conservatoire national de musique in 1795,7 and they knew her story well: François Joseph Gossec had rewritten Lully’s Thésée, the story of Medea’s exploits in Athens, in 1782. Luigi Cherubini, who had lived through the Revolution partly by strategically absenting himself from the capital, partly by playing the triangle in the military band of the National Guard, and partly by prudently abandoning the

1 Marc Antoine Charpentier, Médée. Tragédie lyrique en un prologue et cinq actes (Arles: Actes Sud, 1993). 2 Hilaire-Bernard de Roqueleyne, baron de Longepierre, Médée. Tragédie, ed. Emmanuel Minel (Paris: Champion, 2000), pp. 64–5. 3 Denis Diderot, Oeuvres complètes (20 vols., Paris: Garnier, 1875), vol. 10, p. 93. 4 Carolet, Médée et Jason, parodie nouvelle (Paris: La Veuve D’Hors, 1737). 5 Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts 1300–1990s, ed. J.D. Reid (2 vols., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), vol. 1, pp. 645–6. 6 Jean-Marie-Bernard Clément, Médée. Tragédie en trois actes (Paris: Moutard, 1779). 7 Jérôme Thiébaux, “De l’Institut national au Conservatoire. Ideologie et pédagogie révolutionnaire,” in Emmanuel Hondré (ed.), Le Conservatoire de musique de Paris. Regards sur une institution et son histoire (Paris: Association du bureau des étudiants du CNSMDP, 1995), pp. 39–57.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

writing of operas on themes of royal heroism, produced his Médée for the stage of the Théâtre Feydeau in 1797.8 What exactly Cherubini’s magical child-killer, who, in a change from the original staging, did eventually charge off through the airs, igniting the local temple on the way,9 was doing on the stage of the most reactionary of Directory theaters is a question which will need to be explored. Equally startling is her reappearance in the Age of Enlightenment as the medicinal Medea, the great destroyer and giver of life in the stories of Aeson and Pelias, whom Diderot first takes up in a 1771 letter to the English Parliamentarian John Wilkes.10 Far from being abandoned, it seems, magic’s ancient carrier is somehow consolidated and propelled, and even picks up velocity through modernity’s first cataclysm, the French Revolution. Medea in History Scholars have strained to understand Medea’s arts and meanings in the context of political tumult and its immediate aftermath. The Medea of Cherubini’s opera has been called “the terrifying symbol of the raging sans-culotte,” and “a cathartic object lesson of the fateful truth that pain and frustration, unjustly suffered, uncover the very worst in the soul of man.”11 Marianne McDonald, considering Cherubini’s to be a terrorist opera, wrote that “it is possible to interpret this [the infanticides] as an aesthetic impression of a feeling that the idealism of the French Revolution has turned into the aftermath: bloodshed and violent reprisals,”12 and for Fiona Macintosh, this Medea is “the spirit of the Revolution itself.”13 In what sense, we might wonder, are these observations true, and what does it mean if they do strike us as true? A claim seems to be staked here about the relationship between a powerful and complex aesthetic symbol system and a powerful and complex political context. Is there a specifically Revolutionary Medea? François Furet, the great revisionist historian of the French Revolution, reminds us that it is never a foregone conclusion that those who experience historical events are to be believed as guarantors of historical fact when they interpret their own actions. Their personal consciousness of the reasons for their actions, that is, might

8 Luigi Cherubini, Médée. Opéra en III actes (Paris: Imbault, 1797). 9 David Charlton, “Cherubini: A Critical Anthology, 1788–1801,” Research Chronicle 26 (1993), pp. 95–127 (p. 119). 10 Denis Diderot, Correspondance, ed. Georges Roth (16 vols., Paris: Minuit, 1962), vol. 8, pp. 223–4. 11 A. Ringer, “Cherubini’s Médée and the Spirit of French Revolutionary Opera,” in Gustave Reese and Robert J. Snow (eds), Essays in Musicology in Honor of Dragan Plamenac (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1969), pp. 281–99 (p. 288). 12 Marianne McDonald, “Medea è mobile: The Many Faces of Medea in Opera,” in Edith Hall, Fiona Macintosh, and Oliver Taplin (eds), Medea in Performance 1500–2000 (Oxford: European Humanities Research Centre, 2000), pp. 100–118 (p. 114). 13 Fiona Macintosh, “Introduction: The Performer in Performance,” in ibid., pp. 1–31 (p. 12).

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not be a simple and firm foundation for the history of those actions. He issued this caution on his way to a reconsideration of Tocqueville’s estimation of the status of the Revolution: The revolutionaries’ contention that their actions constituted a radical break with what had come before was but illusion, Tocqueville claimed. The Revolution was in fact a continuation and indeed the culmination of the ever-increasing administrative drive of the late monarchy, and nothing resembled France under Louis XVI so much as France under Louis-Philippe. For the historian in general, and for the historian of the Revolution in particular, the choice is a terrible one. It is a choice between writing a credulous history, one which takes historical players at their word and presumes that their meanings are transtemporally transparent, and writing an incredulous history, which considers the record of those who were there to be but one factor in some vaguely defined linear development. Let us firstly, then, acknowledge all of the problems of witnessing, and begin with the latter, which produces one kind of picture of Medea, a Medea in history, with the “in” read strongly. One historical context that suggests itself for Cherubini’s opera is that of the kinds of attitudes expressed about women during the revolutionary decade. It seems that Medea occupied Cherubini for much of that decade: he may have received the libretto of the Médée as early as 1790; he makes reference to a compositional plan in 1793.15 It would be easy to infer that Medea during this time was available to represent the dangers that the Revolution thought were posed by women, and this kind of inference could be as simple or as complex as one wished. Very simply, there was during the Revolution extreme suspicion of women who displayed what were considered to be masculine characteristics. When events took an explicitly anti-woman turn in the autumn of 1793 with the execution of Marie-Antoinette on 16 October, the banning of women’s clubs on 30 October, and the guillotining of both Olympe de Gouges and Mme Roland at the beginning of November, these latter were denounced as hommes-femmes, women who transgressed the boundaries of nature.16 Meanwhile, audiences had long been used to hearing from Medea’s figure such declarations as “Ne cherchez plus qu’en moy, / Le pouvoir d’un Pere & d’un Roy” (“From now on, look only to me for the power of a father and a king”) from Charpentier’s opera.17 Clément’s 1779 construction of her figure as “une femme que l’amour seul a conduite dans le crime; malheureuse & à plaindre, puisqu’elle est abandonée”18 (“a woman led by love alone into crime; she is unhappy and to be pitied because she has been abandoned”) thus contends with her appearance holding a bloody dagger and surrounded by Furies, as in the final scene of Cherubini’s opera. A good index into these contending drives to a naturalized familiarity and to an

14 François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Elborg Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 14. 15 Michael Fend, “Cherubini, Luigi,” New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd edn., 29 vols., London: Macmillan; New York: Grove’s Dictionaries, 2001). 16 Lynn Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 119–20. 17 Charpentier, Médée, p. 70. 18 Clément, Médée, p. iii.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

unnatural strangeness is a single Alexandrine, “Que les Meres partout frémissent à ta vue” (“Let mothers everywhere shiver at your sight”), directed by Medea toward Jason at the end of the Charpentier opera, said by Jason to Medea at the end of Clément’s tragedy, and once again, at the end of the century, hurled by Medea at Jason at the end of Cherubini’s opera. In a more complex way, Cherubini’s opera can be brought into relation with the argument of the historian Lynn Hunt that unconscious images of the family underlie revolutionary politics. Her model borrowed from Freud, and her work accordingly entitled The Family Romance of the French Revolution, she analyzed the death of the king as the killing of the father by the band of brothers that Freud imagined in Totem and Taboo. Ranging across genres from painting to the novel to Revolutionary pamphlets, she argued that the new model of politics evolved through the revolutionary experience depended upon a model of the family and of family life which limited mothers to the domestic activities of motherhood, rehabilitated fathers, but only if they were nurturers and guides rather than tyrants, and made children into the iconic figures of the new society of the 1790s. What Hunt analyzes for Directory politics as an anxiety about lineage had certainly been present in Medea’s story since antiquity. Several unusual aspects of Cherubini’s opera respond well to this kind of analysis. Firstly, interest in tragedy as a genre had been in part sustained through the revolutionary period by the subject of infanticide. For sixty years following its première in 1730, Voltaire’s Brutus led a relatively unremarkable and unsuccessful existence, but it was by all accounts its triumphal and turbulent revival in November 1790 that marked the most complete fusion between spectators and spectacle during the revolutionary period.19 While the tumultuous theater crowd identified with Brutus as patriot, it was also identifying with an infanticidal father. For Brutus was represented coming to terms with the flirting with treason of his own son, and choosing to have him executed, in spite of the fact that his guilt was not clearly proven and that the Roman senate would probably have pardoned him.20 In the crude opposition between tyranny and liberty, that is, infanticide is not only on the side of liberty, but also proof of it. Brutus was the most popular of Voltaire’s plays during the revolutionary period, and one of the more frequently performed plays on a variety of Parisian stages. Its popularity declined only after Thermidor. In 1797 there was only one performance.21 Cherubini’s opera thus moves along a thematic continuum of infanticide. It slots in to a set of assumptions according to which the regal imperative to place love of the bien public above love of the familial,22 to kill

19 John Renwick (ed.), “Brutus, tragédie,” in The Complete Works of Voltaire (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1998), vol. 5, pp. 1–308. 20 Marie-Hélène Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution: The Staging of Marat’s Death 1793– 1797, trans. Robert Hurley (Berkeley, CA and London: University of California Press, 1982), p. 92. 21 Renwick (ed.), “Brutus, tragédie,” p. 104, n. 141. 22 Pierre Du Ryer, Les Métamorphoses d’Ovide […] avec de nouvelles explications historiques, morales et politiques (Paris: Sommaville, 1660), p. 513.

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a child, as Agamemnon, for example, was willing to do, becomes the republican imperative to love the republic in the way that Brutus did. Secondly, the revolutionary shift in the affective center of gravity towards children and their identities as a way of thinking about the regeneration of society goes some way towards explaining the opera’s handling of an unstable plot detail: how, exactly, is blame for the children’s deaths to be apportioned? This question must have been on many minds generally at the time, for the eighteenth century had seen a dramatic rise in illegitimate births, and it tolerated massive abandonments to foundling homes or wet nurses of infants born outside marriage, with overwhelmingly fatal consequences.24 The revolutionary decade in particular had been an environment of death for children. In the face of dislocation, war, and famine, people abandoned them. The numbers of foundlings trebled and quadrupled; the figures from the Rouen hospital show that their death rates rose from seventy to ninety-five percent between 1793 and 1797. If a child were returned to the hospital because the wet nurse had not been paid by the government, death was certain.25 Who or what bore the guilt? This question had been implicit in Medea’s tragedy since antiquity, but it became urgent in the eighteenth century, and the context of the urgency was political. Across the Channel, in a different political context, Richard Glover’s mid-century Medea,26 as Edith Hall has pointed out, would probably have been acquitted by an English court, for there was a lively contemporary debate about whether “temporary phrenzy” absolved child-killing mothers of guilt.27 So, if Medea, to whom Glover gave a splendid mad scene,28 is not the murderer, who is? When Glover’s Jason learns that Medea has killed the children, his cry is, “Inhuman Creon!”29 One index into how the tragedy was understood in France on this exact point is provided by Henri Joseph Guillaume Patin, critic and lecturer at the École normale from 1815 to 1822, in the Etudes sur les tragiques grecs.30 His critique of Glover is that “le trop tendre et trop patient époux” (“the overly patient and caring husband”) speaks “avec une naïveté vraiment comique”31 (“out of truly hilarious naïveté”). And, the drift of this plot detail in Cherubini’s opera causes the first threat to the children to come not from Medea or Jason or indeed from Creon, but instead from 23 Amy Wygant, “Fire, Sacrifice, Iphigénie,” French Studies 60 (2006), pp. 305–19. 24 Madelyn Gutwirth, “The Engulfed Beloved: Representations of Dead and Dying Women in the Art and Literature of the Revolutionary Era,” in Sara Melzer and Leslie W. Rabine (eds), Rebel Daughters: Women and the French Revolution (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 198–227 (p. 201, n. 3). 25 Olwen H. Hufton, Women and the Limits of Citizenship in the French Revolution (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), pp. 82–3. 26 Richard Glover, Medea. A Tragedy (London: H. Woodfall, 1761). 27 Edith Hall, “Medea on the Eighteenth-century London Stage,” in Edith Hall, Fiona Macintosh, and Oliver Taplin (eds), Medea in Performance 1500–2000 (Oxford: European Humanities Research Centre, 2000), pp. 49–74 (pp. 53–4). 28 Glover, Medea, Act 4, Scene 3. 29 Ibid., Act 5, Scene 3. 30 Henri Joseph Guillaume Patin, Etudes sur les tragiques grecs ou examen critique d’Eschyle, de Sophocle, et d’Euripide (3 vols., Paris: Hachette, 1841). 31 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 425.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

the son of Pelias, who is en route to Corinth to avenge the death of his father. He demands the death not of Medea, however, but of the children, and he wants Creon to kill them: “Il voudrait sur ses fils étendre sa colère / Il les fait demander et d’un ton menaçant / Il prétend me forcer à repandre leur sang”32 (“He wanted her children to be caught up in his anger. He demanded that they be brought out, and in a threatening voice tried to force me to spill their blood”). The threat to the children comes not, as in the English play, from Jason’s own king, but in the French play, from a foreign one. The royalist audience at the Feydeau might well have been able to support this suggestion. Bonaparte had led a stunning campaign of military victories and pillages in Italy in 1796 and 1797, and Cherubini’s opera follows the scene of the suggestion of foreign aggression with a parade of Argonauts holding the golden fleece aloft in triumph and passing before Créon and Circé seated upon a throne.33 The reference is neat and obvious, for indeed, in the previous month, February 1797, the nearly worthless paper currency, the mandat territorial, whose devaluation had made normal private commerce all but impossible, had been abandoned.34 The return to a gold-based currency had been facilitated by loot from the army. Certain unusual plot details of Cherubini’s opera thus seem to respond to these various conceptual contexts. But this does not explain in any satisfactory way the enormous success accorded to the opera by the Directory audience. Another set of concerns may be brought to bear on this mystery: this may have been an audience which did not consider itself able to identify with the represented force which had for more than a century been calling for Medea’s head on stage, the people.35 The audience, then, would cohere in its enthusiasm around a different conceptual point. This matter is concentrated in the scene of Medea’s banishment by the king. In Charpentier’s opera, Creon tells Medea that she must leave his kingdom, not because, as was always the case in earlier versions, he fears for the safety of his daughter and himself, but rather because “his people” think that Medea is bad luck: “Il craint ce qu’avec vous vous traînez de malheurs”36 (“They are afraid of the unhappiness that you bring with you”). This, it transpires, is simply a ruse on Creon’s part. Medea at this point does not yet know that Jason is to marry Creusa, and a reason for sending her away must be trumped up. It is not a ruse in Longepierre’s tragedy. Medea, fully aware of what is afoot, accuses Creon of tyranny, to which he responds that “en vain m’opposerais-je aux voeux de mes sujets” (“in vain would I oppose the wishes of my subjects”). He tells Medea that no yoke is too strong for “un peuple audacieux” (“an audacious people”), and recommends that she save her own neck: “A ses cruels transports dérobez votre tête”37 (“Save your own neck from their overwhelming cruelty”).

32 Cherubini, Médée, Act 1, Scene 2. 33 Ibid., Act 1, Scene 3. 34 David Andress, The French Revolution and the People (London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2004), p. 243. 35 For a discussion of the common people of France in the final decades of the eighteenth century, see Andress, The French Revolution and the People. 36 Charpentier, Médée, Act 2, Scene 1. 37 Longepierre, Médée, Act 2, Scene 3.

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By 1797 and Cherubini’s setting, the people have become a revolutionary crowd whose will the king merely rubberstamps. Néris, the nurse, reports to Medea that “une troupe cruelle / Entoure le palais, demande votre mort. / Le roi même, du peuple approuve le transport. / Il vous cherche, il menace, il veut un sacrifice”38 (“a crowd has surrounded the palace and is demanding your death. They are transported with cruelty, and the king himself approves of it. They are hunting you, threatening, and looking for a sacrifice”). “The people,” that is, are represented as increasingly hostile to Medea as their theme develops in the tragedy. “The people” want her head. She attempts to assure them that she is not a terrorist. No Jacobin, she! “Peuple et roi de Corinthe, / Je ne viens point ici répandre la terreur”39 (“People and king of Corinth, I have not come here to spread terror”), but in the end it is Jason who has them on his side, as “Il s’arme et court vers le Temple avec le Peuple” (“He takes up arms and runs with the people toward the temple”) in an attempt to stop the infanticides. They call for “ce monstre sacrilege” (“this unholy monster”) to be punished, and display well-known crowd phenomena in the face of her occupation of both the temple and the tonic note. “Arrête!” He stops. “Le peuple recule d’effroi” (“the people shrink back in horror”), the temple burns, and “Le Peuple cherche à se sauver de toute part” (“the people flee in all directions”). Their last word is “Fuyons” (“Let’s get out of here”). No chorus could be further from the great antique voice of wisdom, witnessing, and authority. But if the audience in the Feydeau was a royalist and reactionary one, it necessarily opposed itself, as did Medea, to le peuple. If this audience were not “the people,” then who or what did they consider themselves to be? There was another mysterious force, never embodied and yet invested with supreme authority, never coinciding with any actual practice and yet controlling the destiny of the republic, and whose only unanimously recognized characteristic was that, like its seventeenth-century homologue, it was to be distinguished from the people, who were quick to err, untutored, and easily inflamed.40 This was the public. The 1797 Medea was hunted, and the hunters were opposed to the public, as well as to her. The history of l’opinion publique in the eighteenth century is contentious. It seems that “public opinion” became increasingly important in French political thinking from mid-century. From about 1770, it took on a more explicitly political meaning, its characteristics, constancy, neutrality, and rationality, making of it a body competent to judge government actions. The sites of its formation were the state-sponsored academies, salons, Masonic lodges, and so on, but, conveniently, it was otherwise amorphous and strictly unlocatable.41 “Public opinion” was a political and ideological construct, rather than a reference to anything actually locatable in society. Both the government and its opponents appealed to “the public” in order to 38 Cherubini, Médée, Act 2, Scene 2. 39 Ibid., Act 1, Scene 5. 40 Mona Ozouf, “‘Public Opinion’ at the End of the Old Regime,” in T.C.W. Blanning (ed.), The Rise and Fall of the French Revolution (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 90–110 (p. 97). 41 David Andress, French Society in Revolution, 1789–1799 (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1999), pp. 30–33.


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press claims that the monarchy could no longer make automatically.42 The hegemony of public opinion lasted barely a quarter of a century. The Jacobins very quickly dropped the expression in favor of esprit public or even conscience publique.43 But while it lasted, it allowed eighteenth-century commentators to claim that public opinion was both something new, and something old. As something new, it was a sign of social progress that distinguished the eighteenth century from the world of the ancients, among whom public opinion was unknown. Public opinion was constituted by reason, and its force derived from the progress of enlightenment.44 It was a new and early version of historicism, in which sooner or later a government of reason would arrive and the common consciousness of truth would be progressively assimilated.45 As something old, recourse to public opinion in an age of print culture was, according to Malesherbes in Les Remonstrances, a return to the efficacy of Charlemagne delivering decisions and justice to the entire country assembled together on the Champ de Mars, the king restored to direct communication with his people, and so a return to the primitive democracy of the Franks when they first appeared in Gaul.46 Public opinion, then, was “a liminal concept between absolutism, and Revolutionary will.” In a beautiful formulation and summary, Keith Baker writes that “within the space of public opinion, the French Revolution became possible.”47 However, the reader will already have been struck by the similarities between this amorphous, unlocatable, ideological construct of a social and political public based on the claims of eighteenth-century historical actors, and the cultural public that has been much to the point here in the discussion of the figure of Medea in the seventeenth century. We will remember that in Hélène Merlin’s extensive discussion of literature and the public in the seventeenth century, the public was equally unlocatable, amorphous, and open to appropriation by those who would act in its name. It was equally powerful, but in a different cultural sphere, that of what we now call “literature.” Indeed, Joan DeJean has worked out the late seventeenth-century course of the cultural controversy in which she sees the origin of a literary public.48 I hope to have shown here that that public was one that had long before taken onto itself, in a specifically narcissistic moment, the glamour of the witch. DeJean argued that historians prepared to believe that the public was a political invention of the eighteenth century were also prepared to believe the version of this history advanced by Jürgen Habermas, which is now problematic and which was based on lexicographic tools available in the 1960s, now outdated. Debates over such purely literary matters as the legitimacy of modern authors, DeJean noted, led to the use of the tools developed in the course of those debates for other purposes, including social and political ones 42 Keith M. Baker, Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 167–99. 43 Ozouf, “‘Public Opinion,’” p. 110. 44 Baker, Inventing the French Revolution, pp. 193–4. 45 Ozouf, “‘Public Opinion,’” p. 108. 46 Baker, Inventing the French Revolution, p. 187. 47 Ibid., p. 198. 48 Joan DeJean, Ancients against Moderns: Culture Wars and the Making of a Fin de Siècle (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

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that far transcended their specifically literary valence. The early uses of the power of the public, DeJean claimed, were not in the course of political confrontation or in “the sphere of commodity exchange and social labor,” as Habermas would have it. Instead, “the modern vocabulary of public exchange was initially most remarkable for its connotations of a sphere in which a socially and sexually diverse audience debated for the first time the meaning and the function of public culture.”50 There are good reasons why the continuity that DeJean posits would fail to be acknowledged or understood by the mid-eighteenth-century historical actors who were claiming that the “public” had been invented by themselves. They had a large stake, after all, in denying any possible connection between their project and a period that saw the height of absolute monarchical power. Further, there is a current, institutional reason why historians of the French eighteenth century influenced by the work of Habermas might be inclined to undertake analyses which buttress the notion that the eighteenth century invented the public, and not to read the seventeenthcentury sources invoked by DeJean, and this relates to disciplinary boundaries in Anglo-American university organization. However, if a continuity, marked out and channeled through the conceptual and lexical boundaries of “the public” is admitted, then the Directory audience’s reception of the figure of Medea becomes understandable. That is, the audience in the Feydeau, in the distinction between itself and the people who have become its enemies, a distinction that is inherent to the opera’s text, is both Medean and public in its self-consciousness. Its identification as a public, one that had been implicit in the seventeenth-century reception history, is here perfectly explicit. They are on Medea’s side. But it is time now for this argument to try to understand what historical witnesses actually saw and said in Medea’s case. Medean Poetics It is not necessarily the case that the historical context which seems obvious to us as readers at this distance in time, that is, the context of the transformations and upheavals of political life in the French eighteenth century, is the most important or determining history from within which to read the events of Medea’s reception history. It might seem boring to have to remind ourselves that authors of staged Medea tragedies seem to have continued, and insisted upon foregrounding, their interest in imitating the ancients. Clément, in doing his utmost to eliminate the magical incidents from his 1779 tragedy, claimed in the Préface to have done so “pour donner au Public une Tragédie qui pût lui retracer une idée de celles des Anciens”51 (“in order to put before the public a tragedy that could give it a good idea

49 Roger Chartier has emphasized this paradoxical transformation of a private space, organized to escape the norms and values of court and Church, into the place where the possibility of the all-powerful re-public was created; Chartier, Les Origines culturelles de la révolution française (Paris: Seuil, 1990). 50 DeJean, Ancients against Moderns, p. xv. 51 Clément, Médée, p. xiv.


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of the tragedies of the ancients”). He eliminated the character of Glauke because she does not appear in Euripides. The imitation of the ancients had as its stated goal, however, the production of a thoroughly contemporary kind of drama, “uniquement consacré à la peinture du coeur humain, & au développement des passions”52 (“completely devoted to depicting the human heart and to revealing the passions”). Its Medea is to be represented not as a witch, but instead as a woman in love, and the effect on the audience is meant to be a hybrid one, partly ancient and partly modern: the ancient Aristotelian effects of terror and pity remain, but they are joined by a third, modern concern, l’intérêt: “je ne vois pas comment un pareil caractere ne produiroit pas sur la Scene l’effet le plus tragique, & n’y exciteroit pas l’intérêt, la terreur & la pitié”53 (“It seems impossible to me that such a personality on the stage wouldn’t produce the highest tragic effect, and surely it would give rise to interest, terror, and pity”). On the one hand, this is a signal moment in the reception history of the witch. For here, audience identification with her character complex is made explicit as “interest,” the structure of surprise and sympathy basic to education and reception in the eighteenth century, as Alain Viala has suggested.54 And Clément claims that the weight of this new esthetic is capable of being carried by the character of Medea alone: “J’ai cru que le Personnage de Médée étoit un des ces caracteres qui avoient réellement la force tragique, & qui pouvoient soutenir seuls tout l’intérêt d’une Pièce”55 (“I believed that the character of Medea was among those personalities with real tragic force, and that she could sustain all alone the entire interest of a play”). But on the other hand, this hint of the consciousness of a kind of springboard effect, an ancient text bounced into its own future, seems banal. Is this not the very point of reception history, that ancient texts are always warped as a function of present anxieties and concerns? It might become more interesting, however, when we remind ourselves, firstly, that something seems fundamentally to have changed here: Clément rejects any suggestion of Medea’s witchcraft, including the ending’s dragon chariot, and insists upon representing her womanhood, and her human heart, which he considers it his task to paint. And secondly, in the case of Medea, authors were necessarily not just generally imitating the ancients, but rather were grappling with Euripides, Seneca having fallen disastrously out of fashion, not to recover for two centuries. The enchantment scene in Seneca was a particularly sore point. In the first half of the century, it is called by le père Brumoy in the tremendously influential Théâtre des grecs “cette effroïable guipure”56 (“this horrifying web”) and “cette dispensation de Pharmacie”57 (“this pharmaceutical dispensary”). For Clément, the scene is nothing

52 53 54 55 56 p. 494. 57

Ibid., p. iii. Ibid., p. iv. Alain Viala, Lettre à Rousseau sur l’intérêt littéraire (Paris: PUF, 2005). Clément, Médée, p. xi. Pierre Brumoy, Le Théâtre des grecs (3 vols, Paris: Rollin and Coignard, 1730), vol. 2, Ibid., vol. 2, p. 497.

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but “noise,” “tout ce bruit pour empoisonner une robe” (“a lot of noise to poison a dress”). And Patin is able to remark with wit and malice in the Etudes sur les tragiques grecs that what goes for cookery goes just as well for sorcery: one should not see it being done.59 “Out of fashion,” then, perhaps does not do full justice to the force of the revulsion with which the magic of the Senecan Medea is pushed away. A core of untranslatability renders the Senecan version of enchantment useless. Eminently translatable, however, was the theater of Euripides. Of the three ancient Greek dramatists, Euripides generally, and his Medea particularly came increasingly to be claimed as the source of both modernity and revolution. The valorization of Euripides is bound up with a model of artistic decadence that began to seem increasingly persuasive as the century went on. In 1730, Brumoy could construct Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in an elaborate metaphor as waters of differing characters, a wild romantic torrent, a civilized, engineered canal that irrigates cultivated nature, and a winding river that seeks out natural beauty: Le premier comme l’inventeur & le Pere de la Tragédie est un torrent qui se roule à travers les rochers, les forests, les précipices. Le second est un canal qui arrose des jardins délicieux; & le troisième, une fleuve qui ne suit pas toujours sa course de droit fil, mais qui aime à serpenter des prairies émaillées de fleurs.60 (The first, as he was the father and inventor of the tragedy, is a rushing stream that runs through forests, over boulders and waterfalls. The second is a canal that waters enticing gardens. The third is a river that doesn’t always run straight, but instead likes to wind through meadows glistening with flowers.)

There is no clear historical drive in Brumoy’s description. His bodies of water could exist simultaneously or in reverse with no loss of meaning. But post-Revolution, the three Greek dramatists illustrate for Patin the natural and necessary history, indeed the inevitable movement, both of art and of the human spirit: Ainsi vont les arts et l’esprit humain qui les produit. On commence par des compositions simples et gigantesques; bientôt leurs traits rudes et démesurés se règlent, s’adoucissent; elles deviennent des modèles achevés d’élévation et de pureté; enfin arrive, par un progrès inevitable, cette brillante décadence, où la grandeur et la beauté font insensiblement place à la recherche de l’effet, à la vérité de l’imitation. Cela est naturel; cela est nécessaire.61 (That’s just the way art works, and so does the human spirit that produces it. At the beginning, there are simple, overwhelming compositions. Soon their crude and excessive aspects are tamed and begin to conform to rules; they become polished models of elevation and purity. Inevitably, there is a progression to a kind of brilliant decadence, in which, before you know it, grandeur and beauty give way to the desire to produce effects, to imitate exactly. This is both natural and necessary.)

58 59 60 61

Clément, Médée, p. vi. Patin, Etudes sur les tragiques grecs, vol. 2, p. 412. Brumoy, Le Théâtre des grecs, vol. 1, pp. clii–cliii. Patin, Etudes sur les tragiques grecs, vol. 1, p. 50.

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Euripides is thus placed in the position of brilliant decadence, the inevitable endpoint of an historical process. But crucially, his theater is double, characterized by “la double trace de la décadance et du renouvellement de l’art”62 (“signs both of the decadence and of the renewal of art”). This has made modernity possible: “Cette nouveauté hardie avait ouvert la route à l’art des modernes”63 (“This daring innovation opened the way for modern art”). And it is particularly his Medea that is modern in its depiction of the passions: Cette passion et ce pathétique, qui séparent surtout Euripide de ses devanciers, et le rapprochent des modernes, ce caractère vraiment distinctif de ses compositions, qui a commencé à nous apparaître dans son Hippolyte, se montre beaucoup plus encore dans sa Médée.64 (This passion, this feeling, which separate Euripides in particular from his predecessors and align him with the moderns, this truly distinctive character of his works, which can begin to be felt in his Hippolytus, is much more evident in his Medea.)

As for the irreducible kernel of the tragedy of Medea, the killing of the children, this is indeed a revolution according to Patin, a revolution which leads to fatal passion, emotion, and, in an analysis characterized by real historical pessimism, the defeat of liberty: Spectacle terrible et déchirant, où, par une révolution qui change la face de la scène grecque, nous voyons succéder, à l’antique fatalité du destin, la fatalité nouvelle de la passion; au triomphe de la liberté, sa défaite; au sentiment de la grandeur morale, l’émotion pathétique; pour tout dire en un mot, à Sophocle Euripide.65 (It is a terrible and wrenching spectacle, in which, by means of a revolution that changed the nature of Greek theater, a new fatality of passion replaced the old fatality of destiny, the defeat of liberty replaced its triumph, and heart-felt emotion replaced the feeling of moral grandeur. In a word, Euripides replaced Sophocles.)

If Medea is a general figure of a revolution in aesthetics, then, with the benefit of hindsight Patin can claim that that revolution situates itself in the infanticide, and that it creates the conditions of an artistic modernity understood within a framework of decadence. This formulation differs fundamentally, however, from the claim that Medea is the figure of the “raging sans-culotte.” The revolution of which Patin writes operates on a different conceptual level, one that both predicts the events of and summarizes the political. Who, then, witnessed these events, and what record was left concerning them? The answers to these questions produce a different picture of Medea.

62 63 64 65

Ibid., vol. 1, p. 42. Ibid. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 375. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 376.

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Medea at the Feydeau The Directory audience in the Feydeau was by all accounts capricious and unruly. One subscriber wrote to the interior ministry on 14 February 1796 to complain that “Ils poussent l’indécence au point à venir regarder les femmes honnêtes sous le nez, à salir les murailles par les charges qu’ils dessinent pendant le cours des pièces et à vexer tous ceux sur qui ils peuvent avoir prise”66 (“They are indecent to the point of staring decent women in the face; during the plays, they write on the walls and annoy everyone with whom they come into contact”). It was as well specifically a center for counter-revolutionary sentiment. The Feydeau had remained the most moderate of the theaters during the Terror, and it thus became the rallying place for the forces of reaction following Thermidor. This occasioned repeated warnings that there would be consequences for any play “tendant à dépraver l’esprit public et à réveiller la honteuse superstition de la royauté”67 (“showing any tendency to corrupt the public and reawaken shameful royalist superstitions”). Authors were forbidden to call money a louis or to have their characters say bonne année, or to represent the English favorably. The word Monsieur was banned, and any Catholic symbolism was forbidden.68 The Feydeau was the haunt of a new kind of youth culture, the jeunesse dorée (“gilded youth”), a faction opposed to the Jacobins, whose members affected brilliant and ostentatious dress, black arm bands as a sign of mourning for those killed in the Terror, and wigs.69 There had been an organized mutilation of busts of Marat beginning in 1795, and the Feydeau seems to have been at the center of the disturbances. In February 1796, the entire house had cheered a group of young men who climbed to the balcony, threw down the bust of Marat, and set up one of Rousseau in its place. The police tried in vain to stop them. On 27 February and throughout March, the theater was closed.70 Although this audience, if it was interested in reading anything at all, a matter which is far from clear considering the complaint of the subscriber quoted above, was certainly capable of reading Cherubini’s Medea as a sans-culotte, it seems, as far as we can tell, not to have done so. The archival records of the Feydeau are mostly lost, and almost no illustrations of plans of the sets survive, so we have to rely on press accounts for judging the audience’s response to what it saw. David Charlton has collected and published many of what we would now call the “reviews” of the opera which appeared in the contemporary Parisian press,71 and from these

66 Jacques Hérissay, Le Monde des théâtres pendant la Révolution 1789–1800 (Paris: Perrin, 1922), p. 331. 67 Ibid., p. 340. 68 Ibid., p. 344. 69 Marvin Carlson, The Theatre of the French Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 216. 70 Hérissay, Le Monde des théâtres, p. 331; Carlson, The Theatre of the French Revolution, pp. 219–20; Philippe Chaveau, Les Théâtres parisiens disparus (Paris: L’Amadier, 1999), p. 226. 71 Charlton, “Cherubini: A Critical Anthology.”

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references and others we can begin to understand how the opera was received in its early days and what anxieties and interests it provoked. We know that Cherubini’s opera was a hit: “Jamais première représentation n’attira plus de monde que l’on en vit hier au théâtre de la rue Feydeau” (“never has a first performance drawn a bigger audience than we saw yesterday at the Feydeau Theatre”), began one “D.S.” in the Courrier des spectacles on 14 March 1797.72 The next day’s Feuilleton de littérature reported that ‘L’opéra de Médée, joué sur ce théâtre, lundi dernier, a obtenu un brillant succès; le musicien, le poëte et le décorateur ont été appelés et couronnés par le public”73 (“The opera Medea, performed in this theater last Monday, was a great success. The composer, the librettist, and the set designer were brought out and awarded triumphal crowns by the public”). The same day’s Miroir reported “un brillant succès.”74 Several papers printed poems composed in honor of Cherubini, of the creator of the title role, Mme Scio, and of Medea herself. At least two individuals, signing themselves “un Abonné”75 (“a subscriber”) and “CHAT ……abonné”76 were inspired to write to the Parisian press and comment upon what they had seen at the Feydeau. But their points, if we were seeking to read revolution in Medea’s figure, are uniformly uncooperative, closer to what can only be called nitpicking than to cultural analysis. The “Abonné” begs to differ from the general cathexis of the audience, and wonders about “le moyen de s’isoler, lorsqu’on est par-tout entouré d’un feu électrique” (“how to take one’s distance when surrounded on all sides by an electrifying fire”). The critique goes to the dramaturgical technique – the parallel scenes of Medea’s rage and sadness at the ends of both acts two and three are flawed – the lack of lyricism in Cherubini’s music, and the lack of authenticity in the staging – “on apperçoit des balustrades & d’autres détails modernes qui ne doivent pas se trouver en Grèce” (“There were balustrades and other modern details that shouldn’t have been there, as this was Greece”). The “CHAT ……abonné” writes in much the same vein, pointing out that it makes little sense for the loving nurse Néris knowingly to bring the children to Medea only for them to be slaughtered. Further, it is, according to the CHAT, far too strange to be “tour-à-tour à l’opéra et à la tragédie” (“by turns hearing an opera and watching a stage play”), referring to the alternation of singing and spoken dialog that puzzled and provoked some of the professionals as well. These professionals, the “critics” of the Parisian press of the day, typically had government connections, and may well have been connected with the administration of the theaters whose productions they reviewed.77 Their experience was mainly

72 73 74 75 76 77

Ibid., p. 111. Ibid., p. 112. Ibid. Ibid., p. 115 (Le Déjeuner, 18 March 1797). Ibid., p. 117 (Courrier des spectacles, 3 April 1797). Ibid., p. 98.

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literary, and so their comments on music vague. The satirical review, Le Menteur, declared in its first issue (1797) that: Quoique nous ne sachions pas la musique, nous saurons néanmoins la juger parfaitement bien, et sans appel. Le lecteur admirerera sans doute des écrivains qui, ne sachant pas la gamme, n’en seront que plus ardens à prodiguer tous les termes de l’art.79 (Although we know nothing about music, we know perfectly well how to criticize it, and from our judgments there is no appeal. Our readers will doubtlessly be amazed at writers who couldn’t tell you what a scale is, but who trot out the rest of the terminology all the more enthusiastically.)

It seems, further, that ethical standards could be questionable. Le Menteur in the same issue announced that: Les acteurs qui nous admettront à leur table, les actrices qui nous admettront à leur lit, auront indulgence plénière. Ceux ou celles qui négligeront ces moyens de conciliation, ne pourront ni parler ni chanter, sans concourir notre disgrace, sans éprouver notre colère. (We will be most favorably disposed to actors who find us a place at their tables and to actresses who find us a place in their beds. Those who neglect these niceties will not be able to open their mouths, either to sing or to speak, without incurring our displeasure and feeling the effects of our anger.)

Among this group of writers, the great antique subject of Medea seems uniformly not to have inspired much enthusiasm at all. Theater reviews at this time were composed according to an almost unvarying scheme that gave a major place to recounting the plot and commenting on its literary worthiness,80 but the subject of Medea seems to have defeated this template. La Chabeaussière, reviewing for La Décade philosophique on 20 March 1797, calls this “un sujet terriblement connu” (“a subject terrifying in its familiarity”). “Le sujet dispense de toute analyse” (“The subject requires no analysis”), he decides.81 Le Déjeuner of 15 March points out that “tout le monde connoît le sujet de Médée […] nous nous croyons dispensés d’analyser son intrigue”82 (“Everybody knows the story of Medea. No analysis of the plot is required”). In the opinion of the reviewer of the Journal de Paris of 16 March, “Le sujet de Médée n’est pas, comme on sait, susceptible de beaucoup d’intérêt; les grands hommes qui l’ont déjà traité n’ont pu sauver la bassesse du rôle de Jason & l’atrocité des crimes de Médée”83 (“As everyone knows, the story of Medea can provide little interest. The great men who have already set it could 78 Belinda Cannone, La réception des opéras de Mozart dans la presse parisienne (1793–1829) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1991), p. 43. 79 Le Menteur 1 (1797), p. 2. 80 Cannone, La réception, p. 43. 81 Charlton, “Cherubini: A Critical Anthology,” p. 116. On La Chabeaussière, see Joanna Kitchin, Un Journal “philosophique”: La Décade (1794–1807) (Paris: Lettres modernes, 1965), pp. 237–44. 82 Charlton, “Cherubini: A Critical Anthology,” p. 112. 83 Ibid., p. 114.


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never successfully get beyond the role of Jason, which is vile, or Medea’s crimes, which are atrocious”). La Chabeaussière had also noted that the action presents ‘peu d’intérêt.”84 Only the Menteur, in its usual satirical, black-is-white mode, claims some value for the subject, but far from seeing Medea as a revolutionary, it sees her as a suffering mother: Le sujet de Médée peut-il jamais comporter la terreur? Une mère abandonnée, abreuvée de dégouts, accablée d’outrages, rotée au crime de tuer ses enfans; mais il n’y a rien de plus simple et de plus commun que tout cela.85 (Can the story of Medea ever inspire terror? A mother left all alone, mortified, subject to outrage upon outrage, pushed into the crime of killing her own children: how perfectly simple and utterly common.)

Why, then, did the audience enjoy the opera? It seems that, in the first place, they went purely for the spectacle. The scenic dimension was essential to Cherubini’s operas, and in setting itself up as a rival to the Opéra-Comique in the 1790s, the Feydeau had enlarged its chorus and orchestra, and spent much money bringing set design and stage decoration into a new age.86 Cherubini’s 1791 Lodoïska had been notable for its conflagration, its hero charging through flames to save the heroine as the walls crumbled, and his Eliza, ou le Voyage au mont Saint-Bernard (1794) had featured a very popular avalanche. Everyone, as the critics confirm, knew what to expect from the subject of Medea: more fire, and infernal apparitions. When Médée was premiered in Vienna in 1803, its lack of success, according to the reviewer in the Allgemeine musikalischer Zeitung was due to the production’s neglect of the great scenes of spectacle. It did not matter, apparently, that a well-known artist had constructed the sets: the third-act temple on the mountain looked like a wine hut in Klosterneuburg, and Medea’s magic wand, which should move Hades itself, patently produced nothing more than a paper cloud.87 In Paris, the CHAT had complained to the Courrier des spectacles that the original staging left out Medea’s final flight in the dragon chariot, causing her to sink into an infernal pit instead: “Pourquoi Médée s’abime-t-elle sous la terre avec les furies qui l’environnent? Il eût été aussi facile de la faire enlever dans l’air sur un char traîné par des dragons”88 (“Why does Medea sink down into the earth surrounded by furies? It would have been just as easy to have her rise up into the air on a chariot drawn by dragons”). This audience criticism seems to have had an effect: from the performance of 21 November 1797, the audience got its starry flight, and Medea went winging away from the closing generalized burning and destruction. Again, however, an attempt at interpreting this as a political issue would fail if the historical witness is to be believed, for this was not for the CHAT a 84 Ibid., p. 116. 85 Le Menteur 6 (1797), pp. 220–24 (p. 221). 86 David Charlton, French Opera 1730–1830: Meaning and Media (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), p. 42. 87 “Über die deutsche Oper in Wien,” Allgemeine musikalischer Zeitung 5 (1803), pp. 353–8 (p. 357). 88 Charlton, “Cherubini: A Critical Anthology,” p. 117.

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matter of revolutionary triumph but rather of poetics. What the CHAT wanted was that “la vérité de la fable” (“the truth of the myth”) be preserved. On another level, however, there was, we might say, a revolutionary impact on this preference for the spectacular. It may be clear that the Feydeau audience made Médée a success in part because of its appreciation of the machines and sets, but why, exactly would this be so? From what social or psychological necessity does the requirement for the spectacular arise? It would be a mistake to imagine that this audience was homogenous, for theatergoing as an act of the consolidation of social class had long before ceased to be possible. In January 1774, Grimm wrote that: le parterre était composé il y a quinze ans, de l’honnête bourgeoisie et des hommes de lettres, tous gens ayant fait leurs études, ayant des connaissances plus ou moins étendues, mais en ayant enfin. Le luxe les a fait monter aux secondes loges, qui ne jugent point, ou dont le jugement, au moins, reste sans influence: c’est le parterre seul qui décide du sort d’une pièce. Aujourd’hui cet aréopage est composeé de journaliers, de garçons perruquiers, de marmitons; qu’attendre de pareils sujets?89 (Fifteen years ago, decent bourgeois people and literary types made up the parterre. They all had some education and a bit of learning, some more, some less, but the point is that they had some. Increasing prosperity meant that they could afford seats upstairs, but from there they had no say in the success or failure of a play, because the parterre alone decides that. Now this supreme court of justice is made up of day-laborers, wigmakers’ assistants, and kitchen help. What are we meant to expect from such subjects?)

We can only imagine that Grimm’s hand-wringing would have become even more alarmed during the Revolutionary years, which saw an explosion of theatricality and a definitive disappearance of the class of connoisseurs that he was already mourning. By 1791, more than two hundred theaters had sprung up across Paris, and the Freedom of Theaters legislation in January of that year abolished the privileges of the royal theaters, and permitted any citizen to establish a public theater and to present in it plays of any kind.90 After Thermidor, social life began to readopt a certain kind of aristocratic behavior under the guise of “political liberty.” There were parties, balls, and salons again, and by 1797, royalists were enjoying a last hurrah. Not only were the jeunesse dorée much in evidence as a social force, but also the legislative elections of that year returned a substantial royalist group, destined, however, to be purged in a coup d’état in September.91 The life of the theater and the reappearance of food after the winter of terrible famine in 1794–95 went together, and Parisians could not get enough of either. The reason seems to be that a change in eating habits meant that 89 Maurice Descotes, Le Public de théâtre et son histoire (Paris: PUF, 1964), p. 213. 90 Frederick Brown, Theater and Revolution: The Culture of the French State (New York: Viking, 1980), p. 68. 91 Andress, French Society in Revolution, pp. 149–56; Lynn Hunt, David Lansky, and Paul Hanson, “The Failure of the Liberal Republic in France, 1795–1799: The Road to Brumaire,” in T.C.W. Blanning (ed.), The Rise and Fall of the French Revolution (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 468–93.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

workers were free to attend the theater in the evenings. The Journal de Paris of 12 March 1798 noted that: Autrefois on dînait de très bonne heure; le repas et le léger repos qui le suivait ne faisaient que partager le travail, qui se prolongeait souvent très tard. Aujourd’hui, la nature des occupations publiques et l’économie ont amené une division différente des moments de la journée. Une moitié de Paris est libre à six heures; on peut se donner et on se donne plus souvent le plaisir du spectacle.92 (It used to be that we dined very early. The meal and the short rest afterward were only a pause in the working day, which often went on until very late. But now the nature of public business and management have brought about a different division of the moments in the day. Half of Paris is free by six in the evening, so it is possible and indeed probable to indulge in a visit to the theater.)

Those in the luxury trades, goldsmiths, jewelers, and tapestry weavers, began life over again, many of them catering to those who had grown rich speculating in assignats, provisioning the army at black market rates, or looting estates. Ordinary people were capable of buying better food, and the sale of the wine cellars of the aristocrats who had fled made a taste for good wine more general. This expansion of taste, understood literally, was connected with and extended to the theater, as LouisSébastien Mercier’s Le Nouveau Paris makes clear: Jamais il n’y eut autant de spectacles, de concerts, de danses, de repas, de traiteurs, de limonadiers, de jardins publics, de feux d’artifice, de lycées, de journaux et de marchands de vin.93 (Never have there been so many performances, concerts, dances, dinners, caterers, cafés, public gardens, fireworks, lectures, newspapers, and wine sellers.)

For the theater, the new affluence and the expansion of taste meant a new tribunal, which was no longer concerned with judgment at all but instead with display. The 30 March 1796 Décade wrote that: “Nos loges et nos parquets n’offrent maintenant que des filles de boutique, des garçons serruriers ou des forts des Halles, qui viennent y perdre leur temps, et quelquefois y étaler leurs bijoux”94 (“Our boxes and lobbies now only offer up sales girls, locksmiths’ boys and porters from the Halles. They come to waste their time and sometimes to display their jewelry”). The changes in the Décade’s list of theater-goers from that of Grimm two decades earlier are striking: women, and dangerously public ones who work in shops at that, are included; the belly of Paris sends its representatives from les Halles; and the wigmakers’ apprentices, whose time was clearly up along with that of their patrons, have been replaced by locksmiths, much in demand in uncertain times.

92 Descotes, Le Public de théâtre, p. 214. 93 Louis-Sebastien Mercier, Le Nouveau Paris (6 vols., Paris: Fuchs, Pougens, and Cramer, an vii [1799]), vol. 6, p. 195. 94 Descotes, Le Public de théâtre, p. 215.

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In addition, in contrast to the expectations of the pre-revolutionary theater, these new theater-goers could not be counted upon to restrict themselves to the popular theater. Mercier notes: toutes les classes se confondent chez Nicolet, comme à l’Opéra. Le peuple, qui n’alloit autrefois que là se pique aujourd’hui de venir ici. […] La cherté de la main-d’oeuvre, fruit du régime révolutionnaire, a répandu dans les dernières classes une aisance inconnue jusqu’alors, qui permet à l’artisan de satisfaire ses anciens penchans pour la débauche, et l’espèce d’instinct qui l’entraîne vers des jouissances dont il ne se faisoit autrefois aucune idée (6: 197). (all social classes mingle at Nicolet’s just as they do at the opera. The simple people, who in the past only went to the one, pride themselves now on coming to the other. The high cost of labor, a result of the revolutionary regime, has meant that the lowest classes enjoy comforts that were previously unknown. The artisan can now satisfy his inclination for debauchery and indulge the sort of instinct that attracts him to pleasures he could never in the past have imagined.)

“Chez Nicolet,” then, among the acrobats and ropedancers, the farces and harlequinades on the Boulevard du Temple, one might encounter those who had previously only been seen at the great national theaters, and the reverse was also true. If Medea’s audience is then understood in this way which is fragmented and divisive, we might well wonder if any common visual or cultural project at all was possible among them, much less an explicitly revolutionary one. We can say that for this audience, its own recent past was a subject whose meanings were contentious, and that it might in fact not have been possible for them to arrive at a common understanding of what had happened. Mercier’s analysis in Le Nouveau Paris is that society had been torn to bits, and that consensus was a thing of the past: “Il seroit difficile de déterminer aujourd’hui quelle est l’opinion dominante. […] Il n’y a plus d’opinion publique, vu les déchiremens de la société”95 (“It would be difficult now to say what the dominant opinion is. There is no more public opinion, as society has been ripped to shreds”). Here we encounter the claim of radical novelty in history and society, for both the theater and history itself, Mercier claims, now cope with the post-revolutionary world only with great difficulty: Sans doute pour peindre tant de contrastes, il faudroit un historien comme Tacite, ou un poëte comme Shakspeare. S’il apparoissoit de mon vivant, ce Tacite, ce Shakspeare, je lui dirois: Fais ton idiôme, car tu as à peindre ce qui ne s’est jamais vu.96 (Surely, in order to depict such contrasts, we need an historian such as Tacitus, or a poet such as Shakespeare. If this Tacitus, this Shakespeare appeared in my lifetime, I would tell him, ‘Make up your own way of writing, because you have to describe things that have never before been seen.’”)

95 Mercier, Le Nouveau Paris, vol. 1, p. xvii. 96 Ibid., vol. 1, p. xxiii.


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However, it is possible to say one thing for sure about this audience: it was producing a vogue for magic. It has been forcefully argued by historians who have compiled the statistics on theatrical repertories, that revolutionary and Directory theater in general was not particularly revolutionary.97 The theater proved “more Rabelaisian than Robespierrist.”98 Whereas the ideology of the revolution called for the theater to be politicized, to be a school of good citizenship and republican mores, what audiences actually went to see seems to have had statistically more to do with entertainment than with edification. Spectacular magical and fantastic effects may, on the one hand, have been a reaction to the austere virtue promoted during the Terror. The Chronique of 6 July 1793, reviewing a Dalayrac opera, notes that “the more our political horizon darkens, the more the mind is in need of finding an illusion of pleasure at the theater.”99 But post-Thermidor, the vogue for magic was dark and bloody. Mercier reports that: Les spectres, les démons, les revenans, tout ce qui appartient à la magie noire, les nones ensanglantées, voilà ce qui remplace les flûtes orphiques de l’Opéra, ses dances enchanteresses, les chants d’Alceste et d’Antigone.100 (Specters, demons, ghosts, all the ingredients of black magic, bleeding nuns: this is what has replaced the orphic flutes of the opera, and all of its enchanting dances, its songs of Alcestis and Antigone.)

These ghosts and demons, he reports, “sont le reflet des journées révolutionnaires: le peuple se plait, dans la fantasmagorie, à voir l’ombre de Robespierre” (“are the reflection of the revolutionary marches. The people find pleasure in seeing Robespierre’s shade in these phantasmagoria”). And in a precious report of audience reaction, Mercier tells us that ‘le peuple familiarisé avec ces images fantastiques, s’y amuse d’autant plus, qu’il y croit moins; il en rit”101 (“The people have become used to these fantastic images, and they are all the more amused for believing in them less. They laugh at them”). So the point, as far as this audience was concerned, was not and could not be the condemnation of terroristic revolutionary violence through the figure of Medea, since she emphatically survives, and survives, as far as we can tell, by audience demand for a spectacular chariot ride, in the end. To her audience, inured to bloodshed, factionalism, upheaval and revenge, the plot with all of its infanticidal violence was of no particular interest. They wanted demons and black magic. They wanted to laugh. And they wanted to love a woman, not a witch. Based on the press reviews of Cherubini’s opera, we can argue that the audience was precisely not seeing the figure of Medea, but rather that of the singer-actress 97 Emmet Kennedy, Marie-Laurence Netter, James P. McGregor, and Mark V. Olson, Theatre, Opera and Audiences in Revolutionary Paris: Analysis and Repertory (Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1996). 98 Ibid., p. 90. 99 Ibid., pp. 82–3. 100 Mercier, Le Nouveau Paris, vol. 5, pp. 46–50. 101 Ibid., p. 49.

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who created the role, Julie-Angelique Scio. On the one hand, there was nothing whatsoever revolutionary about this concentration on the actress. Part of the template of an opera review throughout the period was a mention of the singers and dancers, who were criticized or praised with some conviction. A typical example of the style comes from the 22 March 1793 Affiches, annonces on the occasion of the première of Mozart’s Mariage de Figaro, which also included both singing and spoken dialog: M. Laïs a joué avec beaucoup de comique le rôle de Figaro; mais le Public a paru lui désirer un peu plus de légéreté dans le jeu & dans le débit. Quant à son chant, on connoit son goût & son excellente méthode, Mlle Gauvaudan cadette a mis de la finesse dans le rôle de Suzanne.102 (Laïs played Figaro with a great deal of comic verve, but the public seemed to desire more lightness of touch from him both in the action and in the delivery. As for his singing, he displayed his usual taste and method, both excellent. The younger Miss Gauvaudin played Susanna with finesse.)

But the press commentary on Scio, on the other hand, seems to exceed the formulaic to access details of her body and its failings, suggesting a more powerful transference that requires explanation. And that explanation may indeed situate itself in the revolutionary. In the first place, Scio was an unqualified success in the role. Twenty-nine years old in 1797, she had taken to the stage at the age of 18 after having run away from home with an officer of the Lille garrison who then abandoned her. Fétis tells us that “elle fut obligée de chercher des ressources au théâtre”103 (“she was obliged to provide for herself in the theater”). She created all of Cherubini’s main roles to great acclaim from 1794 to 1800, and was one of the Feydeau company’s main assets, equally gifted in singing, acting, and spoken declamation, and in either tragedy or comedy. Fétis praises “le tembre pur et métallique de sa voix, son instinct musical, l’expression de son chant et son intelligence de la scène” (“the pure, metallic timbre of her voice, her musical instinct, the expressiveness of her singing and her understanding of the stage”). As Médée, she “a entraîné tous les suffrages” (“carried off universal acclaim”), according to the 15 March Déjeuner.104 The details of her body in performance were however a matter of comment. Her success occurred, according to the Déjeuner, in spite of the fact that her “foible complexion semblait peu convenir aux rôles de force & de dignité” (“her weak constitution seemed little suited to strong, serious roles”). The “abonné,” writing to the Déjeuner on 18 March, observes, “que l’étendue de ses moyens ne réponde pas à des rôles aussi forts que ceux de Médée ou de Calypso”105 (“her range doesn’t extend to such strong roles as Medea or Calypso”). La Chabeaussière, in La Décade philosophique of 20 March, complained as well about her physicality: “Madame Scio n’a pas précisément la 102 Cannone, La réception, p. 147. 103 François-Joseph Fétis, Biographie unverselle des musiciens (2nd edn., 4 vols., Paris: Didot Frères, 1861–64). 104 Charlton, “Cherubini: A Critical Anthology,” p. 112. 105 Ibid., p. 115.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

force physique nécessaire à ces grands mouvemens”106 (“Madame Scio doesn’t really have the physical strength required for these grand gestures”). She was, it seems, shorter and slighter than the great tragedienne of the day, Mlle Raucourt: “Mme Scio eut à créer le rôle difficile de Médée; et, moins grande, moins fortement constituée que Mlle Raucour, elle avoit plus de difficultés à éprouver” (“Mme Scio was required to create the challenging role of Medea, and as she is shorter and less solidly put together than Miss Raucourt, it was more challenging for her”), wrote Ducray-Duminil in his parallel of the three Medeas of his time, Raucourt, Scio, and Augustine Lesage.107 Some time after the première and a successful run, it seems, Scio left Paris for the provinces and fell seriously ill, also a matter of comment in the press upon her return. The Censeur dramatique for 30 November mentions “une maladie aiguë, qui l’a mise aux portes du tombeau” (“an acute illness, which left her at death’s door”), and reports that she “n’avoit pas encore recouvré la plénitude de ses moyens, que sa maladie a dû nécessairement affoiblir. Elle paroissoit même très souffrante, et nous avons craint plus d’une fois qu’elle fût hors d’état d’achever son rôle”108 (“was not yet really back on form, and her illness must have considerably weakened her. Indeed, she seemed quite sickly, and more than once we feared that she was in no condition to complete the performance”). Ducray-Duminil reported that her voice upon her return was even purer and more beautiful than it had been prior to her absence and her illness. But she was obviously shaking, and he attributed it to nerves: “Mais je ne conçois pas cette timidité qui la faisoit trembler quelquefois d’une manière très-visible”109 (“But I still did not understand this shyness, which from time to time caused her quite obviously to tremble”). The subject of Medea, then, is of so little interest to the Directory audience that it is simply omitted from its usual place in the press reviews. But the actress who interprets Medea is a locus of keen concern, and an attractor of the audience’s fear. One critic projects upon her a case of nerves betrayed by her trembling. Another fears desertion: that she will have to abandon her audience in mid-performance. It seems that, while there is little evidence that viewers read Medea as a subject or a character, they were very closely watching Mme Scio. Medea, as Clément had radically advised in 1779, has become not a witch or magician. Further, there is no evidence whatsoever that she was considered to be in any way a sans-culotte. Rather, she is a woman, one whose body inspires anxiety because of its slightness, its illness, its omni-availability for the projection of affect, a body which here can be seen staging what Carolyn Abbate repeatedly called “the strange Jacobin uprising inherent in operatic performance itself.”110 What Clément had recommended in the Préface to his 1779 Médée as a means of inspiring the powerfully necessary intérêt, 106 Ibid., p. 116. 107 Ibid., p. 118. Courrier des spectacles, 2 September 1797. 108 Charlton, “Cherubini: A Critical Anthology,” pp. 119–20. 109 Ibid., p. 119. 110 Carolyn Abbate, “Opera; or, the Envoicing of Women,” in Ruth A. Solie (ed.), Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 225–58 (pp. 254, 258).

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that is, that Medea be woman, not witch, is made concrete through the lyrical throat and trembling body of Scio. That this is revolutionary is true on a very different level than that of an equation between the figure of Medea and historical participants in the French Revolution. Abbate’s comments are aimed at understanding what happens when an authorial operatic voice, usually male, is displaced onto a female singer, and her analysis is based on Salomé. So we might well wonder if the specificity of this comment is particularly helpful here. Perhaps it is just another example of a very common gender distribution of male composer and female singer. But Salomé, although no guillotine is in sight, is of course the story of a betrayal and a beheading, the story of what Abbate calls a “phallic woman,”111 and Abbate’s formulation of a “Jacobin revolution” which is implicit in the phenomenology of operatic performance occurs more than once in her argument, most notably at a crucial closing moment of formulation. So, while accepting Abbate’s analysis of the dynamic of audience identification which is commanded by the female performer, and which might well be called intérêt, we might see a different kind of revolution from the one that interests her. Rather than taking over the role and authority of Cherubini, who, as the press reports all glowingly acknowledge, shared public acclaim with her, Scio’s revolution is to take over the authority of the very subject itself. Medea in her becomes a woman, not a subject or theme, which, apart from the opportunities for spectacle that it presents, had lost interest for audiences of the day. Whereas Corneille’s audience had taken the side of Medea the character and Medea the witch against the hated Jason, Cherubini’s audience takes as the locus of its concern the singer, the woman, and, as we shall now see, the mother. The published score of Cherubini’s opera seems, if the analysis undertaken above has any force, to specify revolution on the level that we have just been looking into. Its dedication is “A Madame Scio, l’Editeur de la Partition de Médée,” and its first construction of Scio as the usurper of the opera is an exact statement of the Jacobin uprising upon which Abbate insisted: “Vous avés su de cet Ouvrage / Faire votre propriété / Toutes les beautés dont il brille/ C’est vous qui les faites valoir” (“You have been able to make this work your own. Its beauty shines out only because you make it do so”). But it is quite astonishing that the great singer is secondly constructed by this dedication as a good mother. It’s Mothers’ Day, and Scio is a mother doing her motherly duty, receiving a portrait of her child, a daughter: “Vous devez donc le recevoir/ Comme une Mère acceuille un Portrait de sa fille” (“So you must accept it as a mother accepts a painting of her daughter”). Even more strangely, the aspect of the character of Medea which is accented by the score’s prefatory material is her loving motherhood, for on the title page is a beautiful image of the moment in Act 3 which Medea tells Néris, “Cacheles!” (“Hide them!”), and begs Néris to remove the children from her increasingly murderous gaze. These prefatory efforts to emphasize the good mother, as though the infanticide that is the crux of the matter could be hidden or attenuated, serve to underline the collapse of the character Medea upon Mme Scio the singer. Scio is not

111 Ibid., p. 239, n. 26.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

just, as the reviews allowed, a slight trembling body, a Medea woman, but she is also a mother, a Medea mother, and we must allow, a good one. By allowing these things, that audiences read Medea on the stage as, firstly, a woman and, secondly, a good mother, two analytical tasks have been taken some way toward accomplishment here. Firstly, those whose words and actions are part of the historical record with regard to this episode of Medea’s reception history have been given their say, in so far as it is possible to do this outwith the constant selections and emphases of interpretation. But, we must ask with Furet, are they to be believed? Is their telos, a Medean good mother, believable? It had been perfectly possible in the 1766 edition of Chompré’s Dictionnaire abregé de la fable to define Medea simply as “grande magicienne.”112 After supplying the list of her pre-Corinthian misdeeds, Chompré notes that Medea “fit périr miserablement Créon & Creüse, & massacra de ses propres mains deux enfans, qu’elle avoit eus de Jason” (“caused Creon and Creusa to die a miserable death, and massacred with her own two hands the children she bore to Jason”). Only later did words begin to be minced, for within the space of a few years following Cherubini’s première, in Noël’s 1810 Dictionnaire de la fable, the entry “Médée” not only omits any mention of the deaths of the children in its opening recitation of the well-known events of the story, but also resurrects the charge that the Corinthians paid Euripides off “pour l’engager de mettre sur le compte de Médée le meurtre des jeunes princes”113 (“so he would make Medea responsible for the murder of the young princes”). As for her being a great magician, she learned from her mother Hecate the secrets of plants and other useful knowledge “dont elle se servait pour l’avantage des hommes” (“that she used to aid mankind”). This would then be a first kind of answer to the question of what kind of revolution is operational in Medea’s figure. It seems to be at this moment, that is, that the glamour of the witch becomes the glamour of the woman. Something that Medea used to do, becomes something that she has. And what she has is star quality, charisma, the undefined ability to attract every kind of projection, fear, hope, and love, to herself. Medea, that is, may have become in Mme Scio a carrier of a very different kind of magic, one that does not stand outside of herbs and potions and cosmetics, and that hovers in all of its indefinability around us to this day. Of all the eighteenthcentury Medeas, most of which have since fallen into relative obscurity, Cherubini’s is the most likely to come to our notice today, for, translated into Italian, its urgent, feverish, and largely furious spoken conversations set to music as recitatives in the nineteenth century, Cherubini’s opera was revived in the 1950s by Toscanini and the circle around the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino as a vehicle for the great diva Maria Callas. If Callas was able to bring this opera back into the repertoire, and if her recordings have sustained interest in it, then the kind of magical charisma attributed to Scio is the historical condition of that possibility. But there is a second kind of answer to the question, one that returns us to the old idea of Gustave Le Bon that the crowd is the operator of history. This is an historicism

112 Pierre Chompré, Dictionnaire abregé de la fable (10th edn., Paris: Saillant and Desaint, 1766). 113 F.J.M. Noël, Dictionnaire de la fable (3rd edn., 2 vols., Paris: Le Normant, 1810).

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which once attracted the infinite wit of Diderot. He thought that it governed the politics and society of his day, and he used Medea as its figure. Diderot’s Medea Diderot mentions Medea three times, the first in the letter to Wilkes of 14 November 1771,114 the second in the Réfutation d’Helvétius,115 and the third in one of his additions to the third edition of Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes, from 1780.116 Those scholars who have taken up the references stress their political macro-context, and rightly so.117 In January 1771, the coup d’état of the chancellor Maupeou had dissolved the provincial parlements and reorganized the Parlement de Paris. Since the parlements could refuse to register new laws and thus prevent their taking effect, they had gained the reputation in certain quarters of “defenders of the nation,” against royal whim, and indeed were helping to bring concepts like “the nation” into public discourse.118 Their dissolution was thus generally seen, although notably not by Voltaire, as an act of despotism, and a reinforcing of monarchical power. A climate of fear for such liberties as individuals felt themselves to have was created. There is indeed an immense pessimism in Diderot’s first two references to Medea. “On me demandoit un jour comment on rendoit la vigueur à une nation qui l’avoit perdue,” he wrote later that year to Wilkes, “Je répondis: comme Médée rendit la jeunesse à son père, en le dépeçant et en le faisant bouillir”119 (“One day I was asked how you restore vigor to a nation that has lost it. I answered: in the same way that Medea restored youth to her father. By chopping him up and boiling him”). But Louis XV died in 1774, the parlements were reconvened, and three of Diderot’s friends, Turgot, Malesherbes, and Sartine, were brought into the new government. Although it thus seemed for this brief moment that reform would come without violence, the Medea episode again occurred to Diderot in the Réfutation: “On demandait un jour comment on rendait les moeurs à un peuple corrompu. Je répondis, Comme Médée rendit la jeunesse à son père; en le dépeçant et en le faisant bouillir”120 (“They asked one day how you restore morality to a corrupt populace. I answered: in the same way that Medea restored youth to her father. By chopping him [them] up, and boiling him [them]”). 114 Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 8, pp. 223–4. 115 Denis Diderot, “Réfutation d’Helvétius,” in Oeuvres complètes (25 vols., Paris: Hermann, 2004), vol. 24, pp. 423–767 (p. 483). 116 Gianluigi Goggi (ed.), Denis Diderot. Pensées détachées. Contributions à l’Histoire des deux Indes (2 vols., Siena: Università di Siena, 1976), vol. 1, pp. 70–71. 117 Gianluigi Goggi, “Diderot et Médée dépeçant le vieil Éson,” in Anne-Marie Chouillet (ed.), Colloque international Diderot (Paris: Aux Amateurs de livres, 1985), pp. 173–83; Gerhardt Stenger, “Les Sortilèges de Médée et leur exploitation métaphorique dans l’oeuvre de Diderot,” in Paulette Ghiron-Bistagne (ed.), Medeia. Mélanges interdisciplinaires sur la figure de Médée. Cahiers du GITA 2 (1986), pp. 69–85. 118 Andress, French Society in Revolution, pp. 14–15. 119 Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 8, pp. 223–4. 120 Diderot, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 24, p. 483.


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We know, of course, that that moment of hope did not last. In May 1776, Malesherbes resigned and Turgot was sacked; in July, the North American colonies declared themselves independent of the British monarch. The French state’s expenditures continued to outstrip its revenues, and by the time that Diderot mentions Medea for the third time, it must have seemed that the writing was on the wall: La condition du restaurateur d’une nation corrompue est bien différente. C’est un architecte qui se propose de bâtir sur une aire couverte de ruines. C’est un médecin qui tente la guérison d’un cadavre gangréné. C’est un sage qui prêche la réforme à des endurcis. Il n’a que de la haine et des persécutions à obtenir de la génération présente. Il ne verra pas la génération future. Il produira peu de fruit, avec beaucoup de peine, pendant sa vie, et n’obtiendra que de stériles regrets après sa mort. Une nation ne se régénère que dans un bain de sang. C’est l’image du vieil Aeson, à qui Médée ne rendit la jeunesse qu’en le dépeçant et en le faisant bouillir. Quand elle est déchue, il n’appartient pas à un homme de la relever. Il semble que ce soit l’ouvrage d’une longue suite de révolutions. L’homme de génie passe trop vite, et ne laisse point de postérité.121 (He who would restore a corrupt nation is in a very different position. He is an architect proposing to build on a site covered in ruins; or a doctor trying to cure a gangrenous limb; or a sage preaching reform to hardened sinners. From his contemporaries he will get nothing but hatred and persecution, and he will never see the generation to come. During his life he will produce little, with great difficulty, and after his death he will be very little missed. It takes a bloodbath to regenerate a nation. This is the image of old Aeson, whose youth was restored when Medea chopped him up and boiled him. Once a nation has decayed, it is not up to one man to reestablish it. It seems that this is rather the work of a long series of revolutions. The man of genius is too fleeting, and leaves no posterity.)

It is true that these evocations of Medea seem to have an obvious referent to an historicism of decadence and renewal that is specifically political. Bringing them into relation with the happenings of their day relating to governance thus makes eminently good sense. Medea is, after all, called in the third reference not just a revolution, but a multi-pack of the revolutionary, “une longue suite de révolutions.” For the historian of Diderot, or the historian of revolution, it is good and sufficient to have shown this. But if we wish to trace here the usages of Medea as a carrier of magic in a time that seems to have tried to root out all traces of it, then there is a different kind of question to be explored. That is, how does Ovid’s tale of bodies, physical magic, become under Diderot’s pen the tale of political bodies? He knew his Ovid, but of course got the details curiously wrong. It was not her father whom Medea rejuvenated but rather Jason’s father, Aeson, so Diderot is accurate on this score in only the last of the three references; and she neither chopped him into pieces nor boiled him up, it being rather the daughters of Pelias who lamentably and misguidedly did that to their father. Following the analyses of Louis Marin with respect to absolute monarchy,122 it is clear that there had indeed been in the past a roi magician who ruled through 121 Goggi (ed.), Denis Diderot, vol. 1, pp. 70–71. 122 Louis Marin, “Le Roi magicien ou la fête du prince,” Le Portrait du roi (Paris, Minuit, 1981), pp. 236–50.

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a kind of sacred alchemical process, and whose central representational act was to die and to be born, phoenix-like, again. But what then will become of this magic of governance when the king is definitively dead and the will of the people rules? Can we speak usefully of a political magic of the nation? The letter to Wilkes is grounded in many of Diderot’s concerns about the representations and uses of bodies.123 It is his second letter to Wilkes within a month, and both letters have as their purpose the introduction and recommendation to Wilkes of an artist fleeing France. With the first, dated 19 October,124 Diderot introduces Marie-Catherine Biheron, a maker of anatomical wax models. Biheron was something of a protégée. Diderot had introduced friends and visitors to her cabinet, which she opened to the public every Wednesday to those paying three livres,125 and he had sent his daughter Angelique to her anatomy classes in Paris. The subject of Biheron for Diderot, given her profession, is generally about the body. More specifically, however, it was about maternity, for the function of her anatomy lessons as far as he was concerned was related to her expertise in obstetrics. Further, one of Biheron’s most famous models was of a woman with a hinged belly that opened up to reveal a fetus in the womb.126 But precisely this opening up to view of the body makes Biheron a subject for Diderot’s political observations as well, for it was this model for which she was commended by the Académie des sciences in 1770, probably occasioning the professional jealousy which made her flee to England. For Diderot, her flight is an index into the decadence of an empire, and he introduces her in the 19 October letter with this thought: “Il n’y a que deux instants intéressants dans la durée des empires: celui de leur grandeur et celui de leur décadence, surtout lorsque cette décadence naît de petites causes imprévues et s’accélère avec une grande rapidité” (“There are only two interesting moments in the lives of empires, those of their grandeur and of their decadence, most particularly when the decadence is caused by tiny, unforeseen things, and gathers speed rapidly”). France is collapsing like “un palais immense” (“an immense palace”), and “Alors les beaux-arts se sauvent de chez un peuple, comme on voit par un instinct divin les rats sortir d’une maison qui menace ruine” (“At that point the people of a nation lose their fine arts, which flee the scene like those rats who flee a building about to collapse, as if by some divinely-inspired instinct”). Biheron seems to be for Diderot not exactly one of the rats, but rather “une souris effarouchée qui sort de son trou” (“a terrified mouse emerging from its hole”). Less than a month later, Diderot finds himself again sending an artist, this time the portrait miniaturist Pierre Pasquier, to Wilkes in London. Again, this prompts him to a discussion of decadence, not of empires this time, but of un peuple: Ah, mon cher politique, les sciences et les arts nous quittent. Si leur naissance montre un peuple qui sort de la barbarie; leur progrès, un peuple qui s’achimine à la grandeur; leur splendeur, un peuple puissant, éclairé et florissant; leur mépris, leur indigence et leur

123 Angelica Goodden, Diderot and the Body (Oxford: Legenda, 2001). 124 Diderot, Correspondance, vol. 8, pp. 210–11. 125 Goodden, Diderot and the Body, p. 41. 126 Ibid., p. 43.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France dégradation doivent marquer un peuple qui descend et qui s’en retourne à la stupidité et à la misère. (Yes, my dear politico, the arts and sciences are leaving us. Their birth signals that a nation’s people are emerging from barbarity, and their progress shows a steady march towards greatness. At their splendid height, they characterize a flourishing, powerful, enlightened people. So when they become impoverished and degraded, that same people must be on the road to decline. They are returning to stupidity and misery.)

The first reference to Medea follows immediately, and its context of physicality is striking: “On me demandoit un jour comment on rendoit la vigueur à une nation qui l’avoit perdue. Je répondis: comme Médée rendit la jeunesse à son père, en le dépeçant et en le faisant bouillir.”127 This is about physical renewal and the vigor of the male body, and Diderot’s rhetoric of decadence is in movement here. Where he had written in his first letter to Wilkes that month of empires, palaces, and the divine, here it is un peuple which is in decline. With the reference to Medea only does the mode of renewal enter, but that renewal still goes exclusively, and at the expense of accuracy, through the father, since the object pronoun, le, can in each case only refer to son père. Finally, Diderot presents his Medea reference in the context of a mot d’esprit, the “on me demandoit un jour” setting up a scenario of impromptu brilliance that of course belies his rhetoric of decadence.128 Small changes in Diderot’s second reference to Medea move his rhetoric of decadence and renewal on: “On demandait un jour comment on rendait les moeurs à un peuple corrompu. Je répondis, Comme Médée rendit la jeunesse à son père; en le dépeçant et en le faisant bouillir.”129 Here the possibility of renewal is more generally broadcast and distanced even further from divinity, empires, palaces, and fathers. The question is now not directly addressed to Diderot, but is rather presented as a generalized musing: “On demandait.” The vigor of the male body is gone, replaced by “les moeurs.” And the necessity that the political process, as well as the magical process, go through the body of the king-father has undergone a critical blurring, as the object pronoun, le, may now stand for un peuple as well as son père. For we must not forget that Medea effects this rejuvenation by means of magic, alchemical, occult, and undefinable. The renewal of a people, Diderot must be saying, is fundamentally magical, and so the question will arise as to the nature of the magician, which seems to be the subject of his third reference to Medea. As Gianluigi Goggi pointed out, Diderot could have found the figure of Medea’s magical rejuvenation powers used to describe political renewal in Hobbes.130 Diderot read Hobbes’s De cive in Sorbière’s translation, Elements philosophiques du citoyen, where, however, the story is unmistakably about Pelias and his daughters, and the renewal process is thus doomed: 127 Trans. above, p. 187. 128 The article “Esprit” in the Encyclopédie notes that “de pareils traits plaisent à tout le monde, & characterisent l’esprit délicat d’une nation ingénieuse” (“everyone likes such sallies. They are characteristic of the subtle wit of an inventive nation”). 129 Trans. above, p. 187. 130 Goggi, “Diderot et Médée,” pp. 176–79.

The Magic of Modernity


Le vulgaire n’est pas moins fou que ces malheureuses filles de Pelée, lorsque voulant renouveler le gouvernement de l’État, à la persuasion de quelque ambitieux (qui se sert de son éloquence comme Médée se servait de sa Magie) après avoir divisé et déchiré la République, le plus souvent il la consume, plutôt qu’il ne la réforme, par un embrasement inextinguible.131 (The common people are no less mad than were those unhappy daughters of Pelias. They want reform in the governing of the state, having been swayed by some ambitious leader who uses his eloquence like Medea used her magic. And after having divided the republic and torn it apart, most often, rather than reforming it, they consume it in an inextinguishable blaze.)

In reading the passage from Hobbes, Diderot would have understood Hobbes’s double reference both to the story of the daughters of Pelias in Iolcus and to the tragedy of Medea in Corinth, for the “embrasement inextinguible” is of course the means by which she assassinates both her rival Glauke and Glauke’s father Kreon. Both are done to death by the inextinguishable flames of the poisoned dress of the sun, and all is destruction and ruin. Diderot of course turns this story around by shifting it to the Aeson episode, the successful rejuvenation, and further, Medea’s magic for Diderot is not an ultimately harmful rhetoric, but rather is linked through Biheron to the openness and uncovering, we might say the publicity, of the anatomist. This begs the question of how, exactly, this positive process is to be accomplished, and, as Hobbes does here in considering “quelque ambitieux,” as did Gustave Le Bon in considering the psychology of crowds, as did Didier Anzieu and others working on the psychoanalysis of groups in the 1970s, Diderot turns in his third Medea reference132 to the role of the leader. After giving three images for the “restaurateur d’une nation corrompue,” an architect who must first clear away ruins before building, a doctor who must first cut away dead tissue before healing, and a sage who must first soften up his hearers before preaching reform, Diderot explains why any leader of a nation’s rebirth will never be a good mother: “Il ne verra pas la génération future. Il produira peu de fruit, avec beaucoup de peine, pendant sa vie, et n’obtiendra que de stériles regrets après sa mort.” A good, nurturing, beloved mother is not what the historical process of renewal requires. The instability thus created has been analyzed at length by Marie-Hélène Huet.133 She notes that the possibility of the inheritance of power and authority is precisely what the revolution destroyed. Revolutionary paternity does not allow children, but at the same time its authority consists entirely of the symbolic children acting in concert as “the people.” Representation as a question of art and representation as a question of politics seem to share this dilemma, and an old story of infanticide might thus be used as a nexus of the two. Another name for the process

131 Thomas Hobbes, Elements philosophiques du citoyen, trans. S. Sorbière (Amsterdam: Jean Bleau, 1649), p. 183. 132 Trans. above, p. 188. 133 Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution, pp. 55–6.


Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France

that then results might be “magic,” we might here be in the presence of a political magic of the nation, and Diderot then brings us to it and to the bloodbath: Une nation ne se régénère que dans un bain de sang. C’est l’image du vieil Aeson, à qui Médée ne rendit la jeunesse qu’en le dépeçant et en le faisant bouillir. Quand elle est déchue, il n’appartient pas à un homme de la relever. Il semble que ce soit l’ouvrage d’une longue suite de révolutions. L’homme de génie passe trop vite, et ne laisse point de postérité.

No man, Diderot assures us, can accomplish the task of renewal. But he certainly does not mean to imply here that it is for a woman to do so. Instead, he implies that no one person can effect this kind of metamorphosis. It is not within any individual’s gift. The individual genius, unlike a monarch, leaves no progeny.134 The Terror that Diderot did not live to see thus complicated enormously all questions of political actions and actors, their genealogies and successions. But Diderot would certainly have denied that it represented renewal. Instead, the magical Medean work of renewal is the work of the historical process itself, “une longue suite de révolutions,” and here we might be reminded of Le Bon’s sense of a genius of the crowd, and its identification with history: “Si les foules avaient raisonné souvent et consulté leurs intérêts immédiates, aucune civilisation ne se fût développée peut-être à la surface de notre planète, et l’humanité n’aurait pas d’histoire.”135 The name of the magician, the crowd’s leader, then, might be “history.” Diderot’s representations and usages of Medea over the space of almost a decade provide a pointer to a certain level of understanding of what might have been seen in her figure. That is, she is understood not as a symbol or a lesson. Moralizing by means of her seems never to have been terribly effective. Instead, her image stood for the very possibility of violent but real change, both on the stage of history, and perhaps also on the stage as such. With Diderot’s lengthy occupation with her figure, we perhaps might glimpse one properly eighteenth-century form or imagination of historicity. To talk about a revolution is to talk about magic for Diderot. Magic is the historical process of renewal, a magician is its operator, and its birth, or rebirth, is in a radical surgery, an infusion of life, a national witchcraft.

134 The question of children was indeed to be a concern of the framers of the 1795 constitution. They reacted against the prominence of the bachelor leaders, Robespierre and Saint-Just for example, in the radical republic by requiring that all deputies in the upper house be either married or widowed (Hunt, The Family Romance, p. 163). 135 Gustave Le Bon, Psychologie des foules (1895) (Paris: PUF, 2002), p. 30. Trans. above, pp. 108–9, n. 29.

Postscript “Once a killer, always a killer.” “The gifts of enemies are not gifts.” Nothing could provide more of a contrast than Alciato’s image of “fell Medea,” the statue in a niche with a bird’s nest on its head (see Figure 2.4), and Delacroix’s 1838 Médée furieuse (see Figure P.1).

Figure P.1

Eugène Delacroix, Médée furieuse, 1838. Lille, musée des Beaux-Arts

Inspired, it is said, by another diva, the imperious and utterly convincing Giuditta Pasta in Simone Mayr’s opera, Médée à Corinthe,1 her head knifed in two, split, as is her will at this moment, by the shadow that attracted much comment at the time, she bares her breasts and becomes an anti-liberty leading the people. In this, and

1 Virginie Bernast, “Les sources littéraires et musicales de Médée furieuse,” in Arlette Sérullaz (ed.), Medée furieuse (Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001), pp. 32–44 (pp. 36–7).

Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France


in Delacroix’s last Médée, an oil from 1859 destroyed in Berlin during the Second World War, she wears a royal crown. Some of the early sketches link her with Saint Sebastian, and art historians tell us that among Delacroix’s references are Andrea del Sarto’s great La Charité in the Louvre and the figures of the women protecting their children in an engraving after Raphaël’s Massacre of the Innocents.2 Women protecting their children? Let us recall here that the glamour controls vision and produces visions. It fetters the eyes and makes them see what is not there. Who or what, then, murders the little boys? In an hallucinatory early sketch, there are two pursuers, evil Corinthians perhaps, or Jason’s men, who appear over her shoulder, at the mouth of the cave (see Figure P.2).

Figure P.2


Eugène Delacroix, Croquis pour Médée. Lille, musée des Beaux-Arts

Ibid., p. 46.



But “the mouth of the cave,” although properly, romantically spelunkular, and removing Medea from the city, its laws and cruel angles, seems not to be how Delacroix saw it. For at the bottom of the sketch he has written “Comme les,” and the next word is indistinct, either “peintures” or perhaps “fenêtres,” “à Maroc.” Her human pursuers vanished in the great oils, vanished in a new and modern, transitive, use of the verb, as a magician vanishes Tower Bridge, or a 747, Medea is pursued by light itself. Her mind is severed from her tongue and its speech by the same light, which is how I read her masking shadow. Or perhaps these are the shadowed eyes of Narcissus; we must not know whether or not she sees. It is that North African light which may indeed kill, as Paul Bowles seems to have known.3 Granddaughter of the Sun, she speeds not away in his vehicle, supplied for her convenience. Here she flees visions, misprisions, and chimeras, the fettered eye, deceiving light, illusion. She seems, in her sheltering of the babes, her knifing of them, indeed to be history escaping the clumsy historian, too slow to understand, or any text that resists the interpreting gaze, too quick to love her.

3 Paul Bowles, Collected Stories 1939–1976 (Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1979).

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Aegeus 3 Aeson 7, 8, 17, 37–47, 164 Alberti, Leon Battista 135 alchemy 37–47 Alvaro, Corrado 64 Anzieu, Didier 109–11, 191 Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics 54 Poetics 81 Balet comique de la royne 7, 13–17 Baronius, Caesar 120 Bayle, Pierre 4, n. 4 Bèze, Théodore de 80 Bion, W.R. 110 Boileau-Despréaux, Nicolas 87 Bowles, Paul 195 Brumoy 172, 173 Buchanan, George 34, 50 Burns, Robert 18 Callas, Maria 1, 186 Caravaggio 139–141 Carr, Marina 62, 64 catoptromancy 129–30 Caussin, Nicolas 156–7 Chapelin, Jean 71, 82–3, 124, 145 Charpentier, Marc-Antoine 163, 165, 166, 168 Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine 110–11 Cherubini, Luigi 10–11, 163–4, 165, 166, 167–8, 169, 185–6 chorus 74–83 Circé 7, 13–17, 22, 25, 132 163 Clairon 163 Clément, Jean-Marie-Bernard 163, 165, 166, 171–2, 184, 185 Colletet, Guillaume 54 n.102, 92–3, 99 Company East 2 Conservatoire national de musique 163 Corneille, Pierre 2, 8–9, 49

Le Cid 67–70, 83, 100, 104, 149 n.91, 151, 153 La Conquête de la Toison d’or 45, 112 Horace 73–4 Excuse d’Ariste 67, 101 Médée 68, 69–71, 75, 82, 83–92, 94–106, 111–12, 127, 156, 185 Mélite 83 Oedipe 112 La Suivante 70 cosmetics 19–26 Cullen, Countee 62 curse tablets 15–16 Daigaliers, Pierre de Laudun 78, 81, 85 Dalí, Salvador 157–61 D’Aubignac, François Hédelin, abbé 9, 114–15 Des Satyres brutes, monstres, et démons 115–23 Pratique du théâtre 106, 113, 114, 123–5, 141 “Relation de M. Hédelin” 151–6 Delacroix, Eugene 1, 193–5 Del Rio, Martin 95 demonology 142–56 Diderot, Denis 11, 163, 187–92 Dolce, Ludovico 40, 41 Donatus 78, 85, 101 Duncan, Marc 142–4, 150 Eliot, T.S. 6 emblem 60–61, 136–9, 141, 193 Euripides 4, 50–52, 56, 58, 62, 77, 172–4 Freud, Sigmund 8 Civilization and its Discontents 29–31 “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria” 62–3 Massenpsychologie und Ich-analyse 106–7, 108


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On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement 106 Totem and Taboo 106, 166 Zur Einführung des Narzissmus 107, 110, 111, 139 Furetière, Antoine de 131, 157 Garner, Margaret 2, n. 4 Garnier, Robert 80–81 Glover, Richard 167 Gossec, François Joseph 163 Grévin, Jacques 79–80 Grillparzer, Franz 63 Hardy, Alexandre 75 Habert 132, 141 Hesiod 56 Horace 77–8 Huygens, Constantin 101 imagination 143–4, 146, 149, 151 interest 172 Jacquelot, P. 41–2 James, Edward 157–9 Jason 55, 58, 63, 86 and the Argonauts 33, 44–6 and Pelias 2–3, 17, 48 and suicide 9, 97 jeunesse dorée 175, 179 Johnson, Terry 159 Kristeva, Julia 65, 127–8 Kyrkland, Willy 62 La Chabeaussière 177, 178, 183–4 La Péruse, Jean Bastier de 7–8, 34, 49 n.69, 50–65, 75, 84, 89, 92–3 La Taille, Jean de 80, 94, 100–101 Le Bon, Gustave 106, 107, 108,109, 110, 112, 186, 191, 192 Ledoux 47 LeNormand, Henri 62 Lochhead, Liz 2, 64 Longepierre, Hillare-Bernard de Roqueleyne, baron de 90, 163, 168 Loudun 9, 142–56 Macchietti, Girolamo 38–9

Malleus malificarum 19, 72, 74, 110 Mayr, Simone 193 Medus 3 metis 57–8 Montchrestien, Antoine de 75 Narcissus 10, 111, 127–41, 156–61, 195 Naxagorus, Ehrd de 46–7 Nicole, Pierre 157 Noverre, Jean-Georges 163 Ogier, François 81–2, 98 Ovid Heroides, 54 Medea 43 Metamorphoses 37–43, 54, 111, 130, 131, 139, 156 Pandora 48, 57–8 Paré, Ambroise 115, 119 Pasta, Giuditta 193 pastorale 87 Patin, Henri Joseph Guillaume 167, 173–4 Pausanias 130 Peletier du Mans, Jacques 77 Pernety, A. 43–4, 46 Philostratus 132–5, 141 Pilet de la Mesnardière, Hipployte-Jules 9, 113, 142–51 Plato 76 Plotinus 130–32 Pollux 85–92 Pontus de Tyard 130 public 67–71, 99–102, 169–71 Puget de la Serre 130, 133, 139, 156 Richelet 131 Salomon, Bernard 40–41, 42 Scio, Julie-Angelique 11, 182–6 Scott, Walter 18–19, 21 Scudéry, Georges de 135–6 Sébillet, Thomas 79 Seneca 2, 5, 11, 43, 49–50, 52–4, 112, 148, 172–3 Shaw, Fiona 1–2 Stone, Oliver 1 Stoppard, Tom 71 Sophocles 86

Index Spee von Langenfeld, Friedrich 95 theatrebabel 2 Théâtre Feydeau 164, 168, 169, 175–85 Theseus 3 Trismosin, Salomon 44–5 Van Loo, Carle 163 Vauquelin de la Fresnaye 78 Vigenère, Blaise de 132–5, 141

Vigenère, Blaise de 132–5, 141 vitriol 46 vraisemblance 71, 90–92, 120–24 Voltaire 166 Wier, Jean 72–3 Wolf, Christa 4, n. 5, 8, 63–4 Zweig, Stefan 157, 159