Renaissance Postscripts

Responding to Ovid’s Heroides in Sixteenth-Century France

Paul White

Text and Context


Feb 2009
Literary Criticism/Ancient & Classical; Literary Criticism/Medieval
274 pp. 6x9

$29.95 paper 978-0-8142-5701-2
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Renaissance Postscripts is an engaging and erudite study based on wide-ranging, scrupulous research . . . . [I]ts invitation to turn back to the Heroides will be hard to resist.” —French History

“The book’s scholarship is exemplary, and thoughtfully treats an impressive range of issues: philology, gender, history and myth, ethics and morality, rhetoric and poetics. . . . In brief, Renaissance Postscripts is a valuable comparatist study, a book that reveals the versatility of the Heroides in the Renaissance and illuminates the complex processes of reception, imitation and ‘writing back’ to antiquity.” —Renaissance Quarterly

Renaissance Postscripts is impressive and ably proves that the response poems, strongly represented in the sixteenth century, are key to a deeper appreciation of the reception of the Heroides.” —Ralph J. Hexter, professor of classics and comparative literature, and president, Hampshire College

“White succeeds admirably in maintaining a balance between literary theory and literary history in his discussion of the unusual textual problems in the Heroides. As letters, the Heroides responded to the Renaissance interest in epistolography, but they proved unusually difficult to classify; they offered compositional models which nevertheless stubbornly refused to rest in the ethical pigeonholes of their sixteenth-century readers. White shows how in spite of editors, commentators, translators, and authors of supplements, the boundaries of the Heroides remain permeable.” —Craig Kallendorf, professor of English and classics, Texas A&M University

Ovid’s Heroides, a collection consisting mainly of poetic love letters sent by mythological heroines to their absent lovers, held a particular fascination for Renaissance readers. To understand their responses to these letters, we must ask exactly how and in what contexts those readers first encountered them: were they read in Latin or in the vernacular; as source texts for the learning of grammar and history or as love poetry; as epistolary and rhetorical models or as moral examples?

Renaissance Postscripts: Responding to Ovid’s Heroides in Sixteenth-Century France by Paul White offers an account of the wide variety of responses to the Heroides within the realm of humanist education, in the works of both Latin commentators and French translators, and as an example of a particular mode of imitation. The author examines how humanists shaped the discourse of Ovid’s heroines and heroes to pedagogical ends and analyzes even the woodcuts that illustrated various editions. This study traces comparative readings of French translations through a period noted for important shifts in attitudes to the text and to poetic translation in general and offers an important history of the “reply epistle”—a mode of imitation attempted both in Latin and the vernacular. Renaissance Postscripts shows that while the Heroides was a versatile text that could serve a wide range of pedagogical and literary purposes, it was also a text that resisted the attempts of its interpreters to have the final word.

Paul White is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of French, University of Cambridge.