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Exemplum: The Rhetoric of Example in Early Modern France and Italy

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    Book Description:

    Examples, crucial links between discourse and society's view of reality, have until now been largely neglected in literary criticism. In the first book-length study of the rhetoric of example, John Lyons situates this figure by comparing it with more frequently studied tropes such as metaphor and synecdoche, discusses meanings of the terms example and exemplum, and proposes a set of descriptive concepts for the study of example in early modern literature. Tracing its paradoxical nature back to Aristotle's Rhetoric, Lyons shows how exemplary rhetoric is caught between often competing aims of persuasive general statement and accurate representation. In French and Italian texts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries this dual task was rendered still more challenging by a transition to new sources of examples as the age of discovery brought increased emphasis on observation. The writers of this period were aware of a crisis in exemplary rhetoric, a situation in which serious questions were raised about how authors and audience would find a common ground in interpreting representative instances. Lyons's focus on the strategy of example leads to new readings of six major writers--Machiavelli, Marguerite de Navarre, Montaigne, Pascal, Descartes, and Marie de Lafayette.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6081-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 3-34)

    Exemplum, in medieval Latin, meant “a clearing in the woods.”¹ This sense of the term, often forgotten, sheds light on many characteristics of the rhetorical figure, example. Only the clearing gives form or boundary to the woods. Only the woods permit the existence of a clearing. Likewise, example depends on the larger mass of history and experience, yet without the “clearings” provided by example that mass would be formless and difficult to integrate into any controlling systematic discourse. Most of all, the clearing, theexemplum,posits an inside and an outside—in fact, the clearing creates an outside by its...

  2. CHAPTER I Machiavelli: Example and Origin
    (pp. 35-71)

    Examples for Machiavelli, as for Aristotle, are occurrences that reveal a general pattern across time. They link the past to the future, and thus allow us to make decisions in the present. A major problem, however, is that classical history, the source of most of Machiavelli’s examples, is surrounded by an aura not compatible with a level and dispassionate view of recurrent cause and effect. Machiavelli alludes several times to the way his contemporaries, influenced by the humanist enthusiasm for antiquity, divide time into a legendary, heroic past of exemplary, almost godlike individuals, and a fallen, ordinary present filled with...

  3. CHAPTER II The Heptameron and Unlearning from Example
    (pp. 72-117)

    It has long been a commonplace that the series ofexemplaused by medieval preachers are the basis of the medieval and Renaissance genre of the novella collection.¹ Marguerite de Navarre’s novellas, published as theHeptameron(1559), rise beyond this generic association of storytelling with example to mount a sustained, complex, and witty attack on the usefulness and even the possibility of creating examples. Even the simplest reading of theHeptameronmust see the narratives as attempts, by the fictive character-storytellers, to give examples, for the termexemplerecurs in their dialogue to designate the individual novellas. But as a...

  4. CHAPTER III Montaigne and the Economy of Example
    (pp. 118-153)

    When montaigne, in 1576, had a medal struck to bear the emblem that he had chosen, he united the form of a coin with the image of the instrument used for both justice and mercantile exchange: the balance.¹ Although this emblem is sometimes seen as a mere projection of the motto, “What do I know?” (“Que sais-je?”), Montaigne’s personal balancing between affirmations is bound up with the evaluation of the affirmations and examples of others. The emblematic medal thus represents an exchange in which the weighing of opinions and anecdotes is a major preoccupation. The balance is symbolic of...

  5. CHAPTER IV Descartes and Pascal: Self-Centered Examples
    (pp. 154-195)

    Descartes and Pascal take up example where Montaigne leaves it. Montaigne’s shift of emphasis from classical textual examples to the universal formation of example from the everyday provides a background to the almost total elimination of classical example in theDiscourse on Methodand in thePensées. Pascal is explicit in praising in the Essais Montaigne’s habit of taking ordinary subjects,Ies entretiens ordinaires de la vie, as his starting point.¹ Yet example becomes a source of problems in the work of both Descartes and Pascal because of the importance they attach to the role of the perceiver, the self,...

  6. CHAPTER V Marie de Lafayette: From Image to Act
    (pp. 196-236)

    For an example to function, it is not enough that it contain an accurate representation of an event or an object. It must link that event or object through language to time. The most accurate reproduction or model is useless if it is not clearly situated as finished or continuing or future. Aristotle based the effect ofparadeigmaon history and its cycles. On the other hand, Marguerite de Navarre, whoseHeptameronis explicitly referred to in Lafayette’sLa Princesse de Clèves, directly challenged history and its examples to assert the priority of the word in the inner experience of...

    (pp. 237-240)

    This study has aimed to show that example is more than a minor “technical” feature of literary texts in French and Italian literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Anyone who has followed this far will probably have been surprised at times by the entailments of example as they have been traced here, but I hope that the examples I have given have been persuasive and have permitted the kind of play between inside and outside views of example that Machiavelli, in his simile of the artist, describes as necessary for knowledge.

    To claim a limit for example by arguing...