Scève. Delie.

Maurice Scève. Delie.

Maurice Scève


(Click on the call number to view the digital facsimile of the book.)

Gordon 1564 .S47

Delie. : Obiect de plus haulte vertu.

Paris : Nicolas du Chemin, 1564.

Paradin. Deuises ... (1557), p.204

Emblem attributed to Dame Laure from Claude Paradin. Devises heroïques

Gordon 1557 .P37

Maurice Scève played a central role in the intellectual life of his native city of Lyon. He was a member of the wealthy bourgeoisie and became a cleric, but we know little else about his life. While in Avignon in 1533, Scève reportedly discovered the tomb of Petrarch’s Laura. Jean de Tournes describes this discovery in the dedication to his 1545 French translation of Petrarch’s Rime Sparse. Questions of authenticity and veracity aside, the reported uncovering of Laura’s tomb conveys both an enthusiasm for local archaeology and Petrarch’s fame in France.

First published in Lyon in 1544, Scève’s Délie, is the first sequence of French love poetry in the tradition of Petrarch’s Rime Sparse.

In 1536, Scève submitted two poems, “Le Sourcil” (The Eyebrow) and “La Larme” (The Tear), for a competition of blasons anatomiques (brief, epigrammatic descriptions praising parts of the female anatomy) launched by Clément Marot in Ferrara. Scève’s poem, “Le Sourcil,” won the competition and was first published with other blasons in 1536 in Lyon. Scève contributed three more blasons to the 1539 edition. The images here are from Gordon 1543 .B53, an early and very rare illustrated edition of the blasons and contreblasons.

Scève. ... entree ... Lyon ... Henry

Maurice Scève. La magnificence de la superbe et triumphante entree de la noble & antique cité de Lyon faicte au treschrestien Roy de France Henry ...

Gordon 1549 .M3

Other works by Scève include translations of Juan de Flores, La deplorable fin de Flamete (1535), a Spanish novel inspired by Boccaccio, and Saulsaye, Eglogue de la vie solitaire (1547). Scève was also in charge of organizing the celebrations for the entry of Henri II into Lyon in 1548; his account of the event was published by Guillaume Rouille in 1549, along with woodcut illustrations by Bernard Salomon (Gordon 1549 .M3). The Microcosme (1562), Scève’s final published work, is an epic poem in three books describing the progress of humanity from the biblical creation of the world to the sixteenth century. There is no documentation of the last years of the poet’s life.

Delie object de plus hault vertu was first published in 1544 in Lyon by Sulpice Sabon for the bookseller, Antoine Constantin. The subsequent 1564 edition, published in Lyon by Nicolas Du Chemin, follows the first edition closely, but moves the initial huitain (“A SA DELIE”) to the very end of the volume and includes an index of figures and first lines. The woodcut figures present significant changes from one edition to the other. The Délie has a mathematical layout; many suggestions have been made about its significance and about the relationship between text and image inasmuch as this work has a visual and spatial component. The Délie is composed of one decasyllabic huitain (an epigram of eight lines of verse), 449 decasyllabic dizains (epigrams of ten lines of verse), fifty woodcut emblems (each with a motto and a figure, surrounded by an ornamental border) which appear at regular intervals.


Scève’s Délie is a syncretic work, which bears the mark of the poet’s erudition and high concept of poetry. The work conveys the thoughts and feelings of a lover suffering from unrequited love and striving for perfection. Throughout the Délie, love is an obsessive and complex experience in which the sacred and the profane are intertwined. The question of Délie’s identity has tantalized critics; some have assimilated her to the Lyonnese poet Pernette Du Guillet, whose posthumous Rymes sometimes echo Scève’s Délie. La Croix du Maine, in contrast, saw the name “Délie” as the anagram of “L’Idée” (Idea), and stressed the Neo-platonic aspects of the lover’s quest. Yet, Délie eludes any attempt to define her; her composite persona combines references to Petrarch’s Rime Sparse and Petrarchan poetry, the Bible and Christian literature, classical texts and iconography, mythology, French and Neo-Latin sources. The concise quality of the dizains, and their convoluted syntax contribute to the complexity of this fascinating work.

Regarding the 1564 edition:

As noted in A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, vol. 2 (by Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, and Alison Saunders), the title page of this edition (F.521) exists in three states. The Gordon copy's title page indicates the name of the printer, Nicolas du Chemin.

Materials in this section were generously contributed by Cynthia Skenazi, University of California, Santa Barbara (2007).