By A cura di Ludovica Koch
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Additional resources for Beowulf
Only continual vigilance, a self-imposed but rewarding discipline, can allow a modern reader to temporarily “lose sight of his century” and to imagine without “prejudice” such remote peoples and cultures, to “enter without trouble into their diﬀerent tastes, and to grant to each [separate historical period] the qualities proper to it” (“entre[r] sans peine dans leurs goûts diﬀérents, [et] rendre à chacun ce qui lui est propre”; 100–101). Historicism and Universalism In the middle of what is called the French “Classical” age, Longepierre ’s impassioned call for modern readers of ancient texts to awake to their profound diﬀerence—and, in the process, to cultivate a strenuously histo28 * c h a p t e r o n e ricizing self-discipline—should, I think, go a long way in dismantling a rather deadly commonplace of literary history, according to which, to cite an exemplary formula by Auerbach, “the age [of Louis XIV] felt itself to be in accord with the golden ages of antique civilization” (Mimesis 389).
On a déjà l’esprit éclairé par ces mêmes découvertes [des anciens] que l’on a devant les yeux [ . . ] et si nous surpassons le premier inventeur, c’est lui qui nous a aidés lui-même à le surpasser. Ainsi il a toujours sa part à la gloire de notre ouvrage. (OC 2:418)¹⁷ The model of progress by a gradual accrual of knowledge blurs ancient / modern distinctions by substantially minimizing, if not entirely eliminating, any radical alterations through time of human capacities. After all, a basic consistency is a necessary requirement for such accumulation.
So it is that in the passage we have seen in which Fontenelle honors the ancients, he wryly proceeds: I would go so far in my fairness in this regard [of the debt to ancients], that I take into account an infinity of misconceptions that they have had, of poor reasonings they have made, and of the idiocies they have said. [ . . ] We are obliged to the Ancients for having exhausted for us almost all of the misconceptions and errors that can possibly be made. Je pousse si loin l’équité dont je suis sur cet article, que je tiens même compte aux anciens d’une infinité de vues fausses qu’ils ont eues, de mauvais raisonnements qu’ils ont faits, de sottises qu’ils ont dites.
Beowulf by A cura di Ludovica Koch