Du Bellay, Joachim

Assigned: Du Bellay, Joachim. From The Defence and Enrichment of the French Language (227-36). Also read the editors’ introduction (224-26).

From The Defence and Enrichment of the French Language (1549)

Book 1, Ch. 1: The Origin of Languages

1. On 227 (“If Nature {of whom a person of great renown}…”), what distinction between nature and language does du Bellay make? From what source, in his view, does language spring, and how is language further developed and shaped? How does the distinction Du Bellay makes reflect his hopes for human culture? Which group of “learned men” does he hope to convert to his point of view about the capacity of the French language, and why does he not care about the views of the other group he identifies?

Book 1, Ch. 2: That the French Language Should Not Be Called Barbarous

2. On 227-28 (“To begin, then, to broach the subject…”), what analysis of the pejorative term “barbarous” does du Bellay offer by way of undercutting its application to Rome’s ancient opponents (including the Gauls, who at the time lived in what is now modern-day France)? How does he go on to recalibrate the traditional view of Roman power, or imperium? How might this reworking be described as a precursor of modern “comparative culture” and ideological critiques of imperialism? Finally, according to du Bellay, why are so many glorious Gallic deeds no longer known, while Rome’s imperial acts are famous even in the sixteenth century? (228)

Book 1, Ch. 3: Why the French Language Is Not as Rich as Greek and Latin

3. On 229-30 (“And if our language is not as copious…”), why, according to du Bellay, isn’t sixteenth-century French as rich in resources as Latin? How does he enlist a horticultural (i.e., gardening) metaphor to help him explain why Latin developed into such a remarkably supple and powerful language? What hopes does Du Bellay express that French may one day take its place alongside the classical languages in quality?

Book 1, Ch. 4: That the French Language Is Not as Poor as Many Judge It

4. On 230 (“I do not, however, consider…”), how does du Bellay characterize the strength and potential of the French language in his own time, the mid-sixteenth century? What role does translation and inter-linguistic exchange seem to have played in the improvement of French? To what extent, in addition, does du Bellay emphasize here and elsewhere the importance of France’s King Francis I, who reigned from 1515 to his death in 1547 (only a few years before du Bellay’s Defense was written), in the development of the French language? (To help you in responding, find a reliable source or two on this humanist monarch to help you understand why du Bellay attributes such significance to him as a patron of language and the arts.)

Book 1, Ch. 5: That Translations Are Not Sufficient to Give Perfection to the French Language

5. On 231-32 (“Nevertheless this very praiseworthy labor…”), du Bellay writes that as Cicero said, the best orators must be masters of “invention” (231; finding valid arguments based on one’s broad-ranging learning) and “elocution” (essentially, style, word choice, figures, the “how” one says things). To meet the demands of these two “parts of speaking well” (231), orators must know the classical languages thoroughly. Why, according to du Bellay, is translating Greek and Latin classics (or for that matter, texts in modern languages like Italian or German) into French not sufficient to guarantee the continued growth and refinement of the French language?

Book 1, Ch. 6: Of Bad Translators and of Not Translating Poets

6. On 232-33 (“But what shall I say of some…”), what further criticisms does du Bellay make of translation, and in particular of bad translators? What disservice do they do both to the classical texts they attempt and to their own native language? Why is poetry especially difficult to translate, and in fact all but impossible to render from one language into another? On the whole, what motivations does du Bellay attribute to those who spend their time on translation?

Book 1, Ch. 7: How the Romans Enriched Their Language

7. On 233 (“If the Romans {someone will say}…”), since du Bellay does not put much faith in translation as a vehicle for improving one’s native language, what is his preferred vehicle for such improvement? How does he use Cicero as an example of the right approach to take with one’s literary predecessors and models—what relationship did Cicero cultivate with Greek texts and authors in order to improve his own abilities in Latin? In what sense might du Bellay be giving us the strongest possible “Renaissance” statement about the proper approach to cultural transmission, one that relies on something other than facile copying of the ancients?

Book 2, Chapter 3: That Natural Talent Is Not Enough for Him Who in Poetry Would Produce a Work Worthy of Immortality

8. On 234 (“But since there are good and bad models…”), what advice does du Bellay offer young poets who would earn fame by advancing the quality of the French language? How does he address the longstanding argument about whether poets are born or made such by study? Why does he disown the notion that if one is born with sufficient talent, study and craft are unnecessary?

Book 2, Chapter 4: What Kinds of Poems the French Poet Should Choose

9. On 235-36 (“First, then, O future Poet, read…”), what poetic genres and subjects does du Bellay recommend as best suited to advance the development of French poetry? What kinds of poetry should aspiring French authors avoid in this quest, and why? On the whole, what principle seems to be guiding du Bellay in making the choices that he makes?

10. General question: In our selection from The Defence and Enrichment of the French Language, Joachim du Bellay advocates strongly for a patriotic connection between the French language and the Kingdom of France. Yet, as a humanist author who writes during the French Renaissance, he also promotes mainly the ancient Greek and Roman classics as the best possible models for “imitation” or “emulation” and isn’t overly fond of native French poetic forms. To what extent are these two major impulses (patriotism and a humanism that tends towards internationalism, ranging as it does across national boundaries and temporal constraints) compatible? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake