Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns

The quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns (French: querelle des Anciens et des Modernes) was a literary and artistic quarrel that heated up in the early 1690s and shook the Académie française. It opposed two sides:
  • the Ancients (Anciens), led by Boileau, who supported the merits of the ancient writers and contended that a writer could do no better than imitate the great examples that had been fixed for all time. By constraining his choice of subjects to those drawn from the literature of Antiquity, Jean Racine showed himself as much one of the Ancients, as his restriction of his tragedies to the classical unities derived by the neoclassicists from Aristotle's Poetics: the unities of place, of time—a single day— and of action.
  • the Moderns (Modernes), who opened fire first, with Perrault's '"Le siècle de Louis le Grand"' ("The Century of Louis the Great," 1687), in which he supported the merits of the authors of the century of Louis XIV and expressed the Moderns' stance in a nutshell:
''La docte Antiquité dans toute sa durée
''A l'égal de nos jours ne fut point éclairée."


"Learned Antiquity, through all its extent, Was never enlightened to equal our times."[1] Fontenelle quickly followed with his Digression sur les anciens et les modernes (1688), in which he took the Modern side, pressing the argument that modern scholarship allowed modern man to surpass the ancients in knowledge.

In the opening years of the next century Marivaux was to show himself truly a Modern in establishing quite a new genre of theatre, unknown to the Ancients, of sentimental comedy (comédie larmoyante) in which the impending tragedy was resolved at the end, amid reconciliations and floods of tears.

The Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns was a cover, often a witty one, for deeper opposed views. The very idea of Progress was under attack on the one side, and Authority on the other. The new antiquarian interests led to critical reassessment of the products of Antiquity that would eventually bring Scripture itself under the magnifying glass of some Moderns. The attack on authority in literary criticism had analogues in the rise of scientific inquiry, and the Moderns' challenge to authority in literature foreshadowed and later extension of challenging inquiry in systems of politics as well as religion.

In contemporary Britain, the quarrel was taken less seriously. Sir William Temple argued against the Modern position in his essay "On Ancient and Modern Learning" (where he incidentally repeated the commonplace, originally from Bernard of Chartres, that we see more only because we are dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants). Temple's essay prompted a small flurry of responses. Among others, two men who took the side opposing Temple were Richard Bentley (classicist and editor) and William Wotton (critic).

The entire discussion in England was over by 1696, and yet it seems to have fired Jonathan Swift's imagination. Swift saw in the opposing camps of Ancients and Moderns a shorthand of two general ways of looking at the world, that he developed in his satire A Tale of a Tub, composed between 1694 and 1697 and published in 1704, long after the initial salvos were over in France. Swift's controversial and polarizing satire provided a framework for other satirists in his circle of the Scriblerians, and the Moderns against the Ancients is employed as one distinction between political and cultural forces.

Notes

1. ^ Perrault's poem was published in 1687 in François de Callières's Histoire poetique de la guerre nouvellement declarée entre les anciens et les modernes ("Poetic history of the war recently declared between the ancients and the moderns"), which was not itself strictly partisan of one side or the other..

References

  • Joan DeJean, Ancients against Moderns: Culture Wars and the Making of a Fin de Siecle, Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1997.
  • Levent Yılmaz, Le temps moderne : Variations sur les Anciens et les contemporains, Paris: Editions Gallimard, 2004.

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French (français, pronounced [fʁɑ̃ˈsɛ]) is a Romance language originally spoken in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, and today by about 300 million people around the world as either
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Literature literally "acquaintance with letters" (from Latin littera letter) as in the first sense given in the Oxford English Dictionary, or works of art, which in Western culture are mainly prose, both fiction and non-fiction, drama and poetry.
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L'Académie française, or the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII.
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Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (November 1 1636 - March 13, 1711), commonly called Boileau, was a French poet and critic.

Biography

Boileau was born in the rue de Jérusalem, in Paris.
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Classical antiquity (also the classical era or classical period) is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
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Jean Racine (French IPA: [ʁa'sin]) (December 22, 1639 – April 21, 1699) was a French dramatist, one of the "big three" of 17th century France (along with Molière and Corneille).
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The classical unities or three unities are rules for drama derived from a mistaken interpretation of a particular passage in Aristotle's Poetics. In their neoclassical form they are as follows:
  1. The unity of action

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Neoclassicism (sometimes rendered as Neo-Classicism or Neo-classicism) is the name given to quite distinct movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw upon Western classical art and culture (usually that of
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Aristotle (Greek: Ἀριστοτέλης Aristotélēs) (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great.
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Aristotle's Poetics (Ποιητικός, c.335 BC)[1] aims to give an account of what he calls 'poetry' (for him, the term includes the lyric, the epos, and the drama).
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Charles Perrault (January 12, 1628 – May 16, 1703) was a French author who laid foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, and whose best known tales include Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), La Belle au bois dormant (
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Louis XIV (baptised as Louis-Dieudonné) (September 5, 1638 – September 1, 1715) ruled as King of France and of Navarre.

He acceded to the throne on May 14 1643, a few months before his fifth birthday, but did not assume actual personal control of the
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Classical antiquity (also the classical era or classical period) is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
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The Enlightenment (French: Siècle des Lumières; German: Aufklärung; Italian: Illuminismo; Portuguese:
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Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, also referred to as Bernard le Bouyer de Fontenelle (February 11, 1657–January 9, 1757) was a French author.

Fontenelle was born in Rouen, France (then the capital of Normandy).
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Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux (commonly referred to as Marivaux) (February 4, 1688 - February 12, 1763), French novelist and dramatist, was born at Paris.

He is considered the most important French playwright of the 18th century, writing numerous comedies for the
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Comédie larmoyante (French: tearful comedy) was a genre of French drama of the eighteenth century. In this type of sentimental comedy, the impending tragedy was resolved at the end, amid reconciliations and floods of tears.
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authority (Latin auctoritas, used in Roman law as opposed to potestas and imperium) is often used interchangeably with the term "power". However, their meanings differ: while "power" refers to the ability to achieve certain ends, "authority" refers to the
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An antiquarian or antiquary is one concerned with antiquities or things of the past. Also, and most often in modern usage, an antiquarian is a person who deals with or collects rare and ancient "antiquarian books".
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Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet (April 25, 1628 – January 27, 1699), statesman and essayist, son of Sir John Temple.
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Bernard of Chartres (Bernardus Carnotensis) (d. 1125 [1][2]) was a twelfth-century French Neo-Platonist philosopher, scholar, and administrator. The date and place of his birth are unknown, although it is believed that he was of Breton origin.
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Richard Bentley (January 27, 1662 — July 14, 1742) was an English theologian, classical scholar and critic.

Early life

Bentley was born at Oulton near Leeds, West Yorkshire.
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William Wotton (August 13, 1666 - February 13, 1727), was an English scholar, chiefly remembered for his remarkable abilities in learning languages and for his involvement in The Battle of the Books.

Early years

William Wotton was the second son of the Rev.
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Jonathan Swift (November 30, 1667 – October 19, 1745) was an Irish cleric, satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for Whigs then for Tories), and poet, famous for works like Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella
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Satire (from Latin satura, not from the Greek mythological figure satyr[1]) is a literary genre, chiefly literary and dramatic, in which human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision,
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A Tale of a Tub was the first major work written by Jonathan Swift, composed between 1694 and 1697 and published in 1704. It is probably his most difficult satire, and possibly his most masterly.
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François de Callières, sieur de Rochelay et de Gigny (Thorigny-sur-Vire, Lower Normandy, 14 May 1645 — Paris, 5 March 1717) was a member of the Académie française, a diplomat and writer, a special envoy of Louis XIV who was one of three French plenipotentiaries who signed the
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