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La puce de Madame Des-Roches. ; Qui est vn recueil de diuers poëmes
Grecs, Latins & François, / composez par plusieurs doctes
personnages aux grans iours tenus à Poitiers l'an M.D.LXXIX.
A Paris : Pour Abel l'Angelier ... , 1582
ABOUT THIS EDITION
The publication of La Puce de Madame des-Roches spanned
two years, 1582-1583. Most extant editions of the
book have a 1583 title page. The copy in the Douglas Gordon
Collection is from 1582. In their catalog of the
editions of Abel L'Angelier and Françoise
de Louvain, Jean Balsamo and Michel Simonin indicate
only three copies of the 1582 printing available
in other libraries (all in France), compared to eighteen copies from
1583 available in libraries in France, England, and the United States
L'Angelier et Françoise
de Louvain (1574-1620) ,
Geneva: Droz, 2002).
La Puce de Madame des-Roches collects poems in French, Latin,
and several other languages in praise of a flea that had perched on Catherine
Des Roches's breast. In September 1579, a coalition of lawyers and judges
from Paris traveled to Poitiers for the Grands Jours . These
special court sessions were designed to alleviate courts that were overcrowded
with cases from the ongoing civil wars, known as the Wars of Religion
. One member of the delegation, the humanist lawyer Estienne Pasquier,
promptly paid a visit to Madeleine and Catherine Des Roches. He had heard
of the women, whose first book, Les Oeuvres , had been published
in Paris the previous year. In a letter to his friend Pierre Pithou,
Pasquier described their first meeting this way: as he and Catherine
Des Roches talked, he noticed a flea on her breast. He proposed that
they each write a poem praising the lucky insect. She agreed, and surprised
him with the speed and quality of her response. Their two compositions
launched a contest among the salon visitors.
Pasquier's letter and many of the flea poems circulated in manuscript.
They were collected and published three years later, in 1582. La
Puce de Madame des-Roches captures the jocular spirit of the salon.
The poets favor witty wordplays and elaborate anagrams. Many of the poems
by men depict the flea exploring Catherine's imagined body. By extension,
the flea encomia also praise the female body. La Puce follows
in the tradition of the blasons anatomiques , epigrammatic poems
praising individual female body parts. Clément Marot introduced
the first blason and launched a poetic competition in the 1530s.
The flea contest recalls that earlier one, which Maurice Scève
won with his blason of the eyebrow, “Le Sourcil.”
open the anthology and reveal the circumstances of
the publication of the book. In the first, the compiler
Jacques de Soudrai addresses his benefactor, named only as “Ant. de la
presents the published volume as the fulfillment
of a promise to this man, who had apparently enjoyed
the poems that he had seen in manuscript. Sourdrai
uses the typical strategy of humility to downplay
his role, pointing out that he was not able to collect all of the poems.
This expression of inadequacy also entices the reader with the suggestion
that more flea poems may be published in the future.
The second preface, addressed to the reader, excerpts and revises
Pasquier's letter, changing the first person “je” to the third person “il” and
omitting all proper names. The voice is generally
taken to be that of the printer Abel L'Angelier.
The preface recounts the flea episode, then
explains the composition of the first two poems.
It stresses the similarities in the actions
of Catherine Des Roches and Estienne Pasquier, who react simultaneously,
almost in unison, to his suggestion that they compose poems on
the flea. The end of the preface notes that the puce poets
may be displeased to see the book, which L'Angelier apparently published
without their permission.
After the prefaces and a series of liminary poems, the book
opens with Catherine Des Roches's flea encomium. She deflects the bodily
praise that characterizes the male-authored poems by inventing a mythological
story. The flea had once been a nymph who was pursued, against her wishes,
by the god of the forest, Pan. The goddess Diana transformed the nymph
into a flea. It now continues to flee Pan's insistent pursuit. Des Roches's
creation, a chaste flea, provides a striking contrast to the sexual advances
that the insect makes in poems by Pasquier and others.
flea poem follows. The poet identifies the flea as
his rival, and follows the drunken insect in an imaginary exploration
of the female body. The catalog of female body parts recalls the blasons anatomiques .
Pasquier imagines that he is the flea, and he depicts an erotic siege
of Catherine's body.
La Puce offers a textual equivalent of the salon
interactions. It groups poems by different
authors, who “speak” to one
another. A translation or imitation follows
the original, for example, or a poem responds to a
theme or idea from the preceding poem. Here a
French translation follows Latin verses by Pasquier,
who praises Catherine Des Roches. She responds with
an epigram of the same length and rhyme scheme, a technique
common to the genre of poetic response. Des Roches
reprinted her responses from La Puce in the volume that she
and her mother published the following year, Les Secondes oeuvres .
In a response to Latin verse by Claude Binet in which
he praises Catherine Des Roches, she seems to deflect
this praise. She depicts herself blushing because she
is unworthy of his portrait. The poem illustrates the convention of humility--real
or feigned--in response to praise. Des Roches refers to herself
as “Rochette” and “ROCHE,” puns
on the physical reference to rocks in the name “Des Roches.” Such
wordplays are a poetic convention of this
period and appear throughout La Puce .
The last third of the anthology is made up of poems
on topics other than the flea. The title page to the
section indicates that the subject of these poems is
the Grands Jours , or that
they were composed during the court sessions.
They include several poems of varying length
in Latin, a sonnet cycle in French by Odet
on the ruins at nearby Lusignan, and poems
that remind the reader of the judicial context
of their composition.
Materials on this page
were generously contributed by
Kendall Tarte, Wake Forest University (2004).
Return to Madeleine & Catherine Des Roches
Go to Les Secondes oeuvres page and digital facsimile
Return to Gordon Project Home