Literary Hard Labour: lyric and autobiography in Joachim du Bellay
In scholarship on sixteenth-century France, Hercules is most widely known as the Lucianesque figure, the ‘Gallic Hercules’ who found his way into the hearts and minds of humanists, who, as R.E. Hollowell put it, ‘saw in [him] a ready-made literary and artistic device to glorify their language, their literature, and their monarchy’. In a less-determined geographical and national context, Erasmus focuses in his adage ‘Herculei labores’ not on the image of the man but on the commonplace of his travails: these can mean ‘something great and manifold’, but also may designate those efforts which mostly benefit others and bring little profit to the doer. Indeed, in the course of the long explanatory note on the adage, Erasmus quickly dispenses with typical lessons for teaching the king before turning to himself and underscoring his thankless devotion to collecting ancient wisdom. ‘Anyone,’ he concludes, ‘who cares for the restoration of literature must have a truly “Herculean” spirit.’ This chapter will explore the light such an Erasmean perspective could shed on the works of the sixteenth-century French poet Joachim Du Bellay, in particular on his most famous poetic collection. The collection engages with several mythological characters, most notably with Odysseus, but also Jason and Hercules. Considered to be paragons of wisdom in the period, they appear in association with King Henri II because of the prevailing royal iconography.
The Exemplary Hercules – chapter 8