La puce de Madame Des-Roches

La puce de Madame Des-Roches

La puce de Madame Des-Roches

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Gordon 1582 .P84

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 (Abel 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 Etienne 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.”