Neo-Latin Poetics (Aline Smeesters – Margaux Dusausoit)


General objectives

This work package will reconsider the tradition of Neo-Latin Poetics against a scholastic background. These treatises situate themselves in the direct filiation of Ancient Poetics (Aristotle’s Poetics, Horatius’De arte poetica) and they also heavily draw on the Ancient rhetorical tradition (the Rhetorica ad Herennium, Cicero’s rhetorical works, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, the Rhetores graeci...). At first sight, this tradition has little to do with scholasticism. However, Julius Caesar Scaliger’s Poetices Libri septem (1561), which is  recognized as the leading Neo-Latin Poetics of the second half of the sixteenth century, is pervaded by Aristotelian philosophical references, at both levels of the vocabulary and of the methods of analysis of the poetical object.

Our aim will be, first to try to get a better understanding of Scaliger’s approach, and secondly to consider its potential impact on the large corpus of post-Scaligerian (and in particular Jesuit) poetics, in order to shed light on the role played by scholasticism in the construction of early modern poetical paradigms.

Part I – Margaux Dusausoit

This part of the project will focus on the Poetices libri septem (1561) of Julius Caesar Scaliger. As modern scholars have already acknowledged, Scaliger’s Poetics is pervaded by words and concepts coming from the field of philosophy. Indeed, Scaliger tried to describe poetry with Aristotelian concepts (e.g. the theory of the four causes), and more rarely with Platonist ones. However, a systematic and in-depth account of the philosophical dimension of his Poetics is still lacking. Therefore, in the first instance, we will select and analyze a series of passages from the Poetics related to the clusters of scholastic questions which are at the core of the Schol’Art project (that is: the relation between genesis and poesis, the Divine creation and image-making, and the theory of human knowledge). Then, we will compare these passages to other works of Scaliger, in particular the Exotericae exercitationes (1557) and the De causis linguae latinae (1540). This comparison will be done at the three levels of words, ideas and underlying frames of thought and will finally be enlarged to Scaliger’s most probable sources in both fields of poetics and philosophy. This research should lead to a better understanding of Scaliger’s poetical and philosophical approach, but also, more widely, of the modes of circulation of concepts between these two fields of knowledge in the middle of the 16th century, and at the crossroad between France and Italy.

Part II – Aline Smeesters

The case of Scaliger’s Poetics is interesting, not only in itself, but also because of its well-attested reception: it has been the leading Neo-Latin Poetics of the second half of the sixteenth century and beyond. A second part of the inquiry will consist in checking if and how the scholastic component of Scaliger’s Poetics has been taken into account by his readers and followers – be they authors of poetical treatises themselves, or Neo-Latin poets practicing the poetical genres described by Scaliger in scholastic terms. This part of the research will mainly focus on Jesuit productions.


In the field of Neo-Latin poetical treatises (and in particular the Jesuit post-Scaligerian Poetics, such as, for instance, the ones by Alessandro Donati s.j. (Rome, 1631) or Laurent le Brun s.j. (Paris, 1655)), our main research questions will be the following ones: did the very particular scholastic framework proposed by Scaliger, with his distinction between the words as matter, and the things/ideas as form of poetry, have any reception? In which measure has his scholastic-marked vocabulary been taken over by his followers? Does the authors’ own philosophical orientation (mainly the Thomist trend in the case of the Society of Jesus) shine through in some way in this kind of production, be it in a Scaligerian line or not?


As for the poetical practice, a particular interest will be given to Neo-Latin poems pertaining to the genres of the epithalamium and genethliacum – two genres whose description by Scaliger included philosophical praises of Nature as a generative power. We will check if this topic has been taken over in the actual poems composed in the following century (and notably in the copious Jesuit Neo-Latin birth- and marriage poetry), and, if it is the case, in which measure a scholastic component is discernible under the poetical dress. Previous research performed by Aline Smeesters has already allowed her to identify the presence of an allegory of Nature as goddess of generation in several Jesuit celebrations written at the occasion of the birth of Louis XIV (1638). The ARC project will be the occasion to deepen this question and to enlarge the inquiry to Jesuit epithalams (marriage poems) as well.


See bibliography