The language of identity: Henri Estienne's anti-Italian polemics

Citation metadata

Date: Annual 2015
Publisher: Pace University Dba: Pace University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 8,863 words
Lexile Measure: 1430L

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

France and Italy experienced a mutual cultural and linguistic intertwining beginning in at least the early medieval period. Paul Meyer shows that in the thirteenth century, the French language enjoyed an elevated status in northern Italy. (1) However, by the turn of the sixteenth century, the situation had changed completely, as the rapid cultural evolution of the Italian Renaissance during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had outstripped the pace of progress in France. Royal military campaigns in Italy between 1494 and 1525 left three successive French monarchs--Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francois I--impressed by the sophistication of their neighbors. (2) These kings and the noblemen who accompanied them returned to France bearing not only the memories and impressions they had forged during their visits but also books, works of art, and other artifacts. Italian artists soon followed, many through the already Italianate city of Lyon. Leonardo da Vinci and Benvenuto Cellini, for instance, were among those who came to live and work in France at the invitation of Francois I. (3)

The influence of the Italians intensified even further with the marriage of the French prince, the future Henri II, son of Francois I, to Catherine de Medici in 1533. (4) The ascension of Henri II to the throne in 1547 brought increasing numbers of Italians not only into France but into the fold of the French court. (5) Some of the French began to resent this foreign presence, expressing what we would today identify as nascent nationalistic sentiments. Signs of hostility by the French toward Italians surfaced throughout the Renaissance, increasing in intensity and volume in the later part of the sixteenth century, but are by no means absent even during the medieval period. (6) Despite the oft-cited desire among the French intellectual class of the Renaissance to travel to Italy, and Rome in particular, as a fundamental part of an erudite education, strong countercurrents lurked close to the surface. (7) Many courtiers, however, quickly embraced the growing Italianism and affected a language heavily characterized by both Italian words and French words recomposed so as to incorporate fragments of Italian. (8)

A number of prominent voices discouraged their French countrymen from having anything to do with the Italians, urging instead greater respect for French national culture. Among those who began to protest against the intrusion of Italianism in France, particularly with regard to language, a certain Parisian printer, Henri Estienne (1528-1598), distinguished himself by his fervor and for his compelling articulation of the argument in support of the purity of the French language. The son of Robert Estienne (1503-1559), a renowned printer and scholar, Henri Estienne developed from a young age a curiosity and love for languages and books. (9) However, as a boy, Henri may have acquired other persuasions that would later color his opinion of all things Italian. The Estienne family printing business was originally created by Robert's father, Henri the elder. Robert inherited the business over his two brothers and took it upon himself to complete...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A450999506