Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

October 2002


Published in Strategic Rewriting. EMF: Studies in Early Modern France, volume 8. Edited by David Lee Rubin, (Charlottesville: Rookwood Press, 2002), pp. 42-73. Used by permission.


Jean de La Ceppède's Théorèmes ( 1613, 1622), raise intriguing issues concerning the question of generic adaptation. Elsewhere, I have shown that the Théorèmes can be classified under the rubric of the lyric not merely because the text consists of 520 sonnets on Christ's Passion, but because these sonnets, both individually, and within the collective context of the sonnet sequence, often represent appropriations of common Renaissance lyric subgenres such as the blason, the baiser, and the pastoral/pastourelle. La Ceppède's structural adaptation of the lyric is supplemented by the presence of the je/poète who internalizes the narrative as he recounts it. Thematically, La Ceppède illustrates the lyric dimension of the Théorèmes by accentuating the relationship between the lover and the beloved, with the poet often assuming the former role and Christ the latter. Nonetheless, La Ceppède's reliance on lyric form and theme does not preclude him from incorporating key elements of the epic genre into his work. While the substantial length of the Théorèmes in and of itself does not qualify it as an epic text, the scale of the work. which depicts Christ as the hero of a cosmic drama, where humanity's very existence is at stake, clearly lends a sense of urgency and grandeur indicative of epic. In addition, the references La Ceppède makes to Homer, Virgil, and Ovid in his annotations suggest a desire to imitate epic models so as to lend a sense of literary authority to the Théorèmes. Though this study will not include an exhaustive analysis of La Ceppède's allusions to epic poets, it will show how La Ceppède adapts certain structural, stylistic, and thematic elements of classical epic in order to suit his devotional project of representing literature as an instrument of salvation. Structurally, La Ceppède constructs an "epic" narrative composed of codependent episodes which lend unity and coherence to the various incidents that constitute the text's action. In turn, this "action" is recounted by the narrator who follows the Dantesque tradition of establishing a voice that is both impersonal and personal in nature. Like Homer, Virgil, and Milton, the presentation of La Ceppède's narrative is "classical" in the sense that there are several moments when the récit seemingly relates supernatural, absolute truths recounted by a dispassionate narrator. Yet, the contemplative nature of the poet's work projects an internal, almost autobiographical reality that is often relative, unstable, and subjective. The goal of the narrator's internalization is to heighten the identification between Christ, the poet, and the reader. Part of La Ceppède's "rewriting" of the epic lies in his focus on the meditant, be he the poet or the reader. The result is what Lance Donaldson-Evans calls an “Épopée méditative.” La Ceppède thus creates a new kind of epic protagonist, one who experiences the principal hero's ordeal. Donaldson-Evans mentions this idea, but does not develop it to any great length. It is thus my goal to examine in detail the comparisons and contrasts between La Ceppède's "meditative epic" and other versions of the genre.