Under the Influence of Saturn: The Renaissance Poet as the Melancholic Prophet
In his Problema XXX, I, Aristoteles asks the question: “Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholics?"
This article is concerned with how, during the French Renaissance, poets such as Pierre de Ronsard (1524-85) and Joachim du Bellay (1522-60) began, in the traces of “Nostradamus”, Michel de Nostredame (1503-66), to investigate this "problem" in their search for genius, heroism, and creativity. They both fitted into the humanist poetic tradition inspired the Neo-Platonism of Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), at the head of the long line of modern exegetes of the Aristotelian passage.
According to Ficino, the idea of melancholy touched on advanced, complex theories not only on madness, spleen and depression: At the same time this temper, associated to the deep influence of Saturn, was also connected to ambition and fantasy as well as to intellectual and physical achievement. In this context, the concept of melancholy became an explanatory trope of humanism.
The article begins with some explanations on Neo-Platonism as the basic philosophy underlying much of French Renaissance poetry and art, and on Ficino’s enthusiasm for Saturn and Melancholy, linked together, as a precondition of the exceptional.
It is then demonstrated how the poetic theories of the Pléiade gradually led on to a prophetically inspired poetry with Nostradamus as a role model. In their poetic world, both Ronsard and du Bellay wanted to explore the image of the poet as a prophet. They turned to the ancients for inspiration, and investigated the poets way to divination through communication with divine sources and oracles as Plato described it. Hopefully, the article will cast some fresh light on a number of challenging poems written in the 1550s and 60s in France.
Uppsala: Lärdomshistoriska Samfundet , 2009. 69-90 p.