Janus-faced poems, or: Marot's double speech

Two poems by Marot, both dating from the time of his exile and both addressed to Renée de France (Duchess of Ferrara, and famous/notorious for the francophone and Evangelical court she held in Italy) exist in two versions: one overtly Evangelical, the other politically and religiously correct: the Avant–naissance (a solemn chant celebrating the imminent birth of Renée’s third child) and an Epistle to Renée, send from Venice to Ferrara, which at first sight reports the beauties and vices of Venice.The overtly Evangelical versions have some extras, including sharp anti–papal passages and vehement attacks on the existing Church as such. That these passages are absent in the official version is not much of a surprise, since these edulcorated versions are known from the Recueil offered in 1538 to the Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency, who was combative and intransigent in matters of religion. Whether either version was known in Marot’s days cannot be said, except that the official (i.e., purged) version of the Avant–naissance appeared in print in 1547.[1]

  • In the Avant–naissance the imminent birth of Renée’s child heralds a new era (a typical topos referring embroidering on and referring to Virgil’s aurea aetas). This era will be an age of enlightenment (‘la grand lumière,’ vv. 4–5, returning in the concluding line: v. 74). In one version this new light is coming from two sources: the Renaissance of the Arts (vv. 19–28) and the Reformation of the Church (vv. 51–60). The last is characterised by the unveiling of the Truth (‘verité revellée’ v. 51) and the concordant destruction of the papal tyranny (phrases like ‘beste sans raison’; ‘grand enemy de ta noble maison’; ‘triple creste’ vv. 55–8 are passed in review).[2] This passage was simply omitted in the version offered to Montmorency, who was not a fan of the Pope either, but would never have accepted an equation of the Pope with the Antichrist as presented in this passage.

  • Marot’s Epistle to Renée envoyée de Venize has a similar twofold redaction, with an even more elaborate and explicit attack on the corruption in/of the Church, a corruption originating once more in Rome. In this epistle the splendours of Venice are evoked, but this literary exercise mainly is a pretext to embark on a critique of the materialism, lack of love for the neighbour (charity) and the general low moral standards (acceptance of fornication) of the Venetians, based on their epicurism. This harangue as such was a topos, but in the longer version the root of evil is not sought in epicurism, but in the total depravation of the Church and its worship.

The two versions of the texts speak for themselves if juxtaposed; and then just read and compare. Since in critical editions this generally is not possible (one has to construct the alternative text based on footnotes or endnotes, or - in the best case: in an appendix), I decided to publish them on the internet, where in matters of layout much more is possible than in paperprint.

[1] In the appendix to Epigrammes de Clement Marot, faictz à l’imitation de Martial (Poitiers, J. and E. de Marnef, 1547), Mayer n° 154.

[2] This reference to the Pope equates Rome with Babylon that is going to fall (Rev. 17–18). The ‘triple creste’ unequivocally equates the beast from the Apocalypse (Rev. 13) with the Pope, since it refers to the papal crown, the tiara. Cf. the depiction of ‘La Fée nommee Rommaine’ in the Deploration de Florimond Robertet.