(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Pluto receives the dead after they have been judged by Minos and Rhadamanthus. Minos expresses his surprise that recent arrivals from Europe are speaking in an extremely artificial and sentimental manner. Pluto attributes this odd style to the pernicious effect of the excessive gallantry in seventeenth century French works written by popular novelists and poets such as Madeleine de Scudéry, Marin Le Roy de Gomberville, La Calprenède, and Jean Chapelain. He assures the incredulous Minos that French writers have transformed famous military heroes and heroines such as Alexander the Great, King Cyrus of Persia, and even Joan of Arc into little more than sentimental lovers. Minos refuses to believe that intelligent readers will accept such grotesque distortions of historical reality. Rhadamanthus and Pluto try to prove to him that it is, unfortunately, true. Rhadamanthus then states that even longtime residents of Hades, including Sisyphus, Ixion, and Prometheus, have complained bitterly about the inane prattle of these new arrivals from France. Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Pluto ask Diogenes to persuade some of these French fictional characters to speak with them.

The first person who comes to see them is King Cyrus. Pluto knows a great deal about this historical figure because he has read Herodotus. Pluto has heard that classical learning is greatly admired in seventeenth century France, and he cannot believe that French writers would ignore such an eminent authority as Herodotus. This fictional Cyrus, however, has changed his name to Artamenes, and his main goal is not to conquer large areas in the Middle East but rather to find his beloved Mandana, who is abducted eight times in Madeleine de Scudéry’s very popular ten-volume romance, titled Artamène: Ou, Le Grand Cyrus (1649-1653; Artamenes: Or, The Grand Cyrus, 1653-1655). When Cyrus informs Pluto of his complete lack of interest in anything other than his love for Mandana, Pluto reaches the conclusion that this eminent military conqueror has become little more than a sentimental and foolish lover who weeps and whines incessantly about his failure to win the hand of Mandana in marriage.

After the departure of Cyrus, two famous...

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Borgerhoff, Elbert B. O. The Freedom of French Classicism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950. Contains a solid assessment of Boileau-Despréaux’s central importance. Describes the numerous connections between originality and imitation in French classicism.

Brody, Jules. Boileau and Longinus. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1958. A thoughtful study of Boileau-Despréaux’s aesthetic theory. Describes the originality and the limits of Boileau-Despréaux’s approach to literature.

Duggan, Anne E. “Boileau and Perrault: The Public Sphere and Female Folly.” In Salonnières, Furies, and Fairies: The Politics of Gender and Cultural Change in Absolutist France. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005. Traces Boileau-Despréaux’s hostility toward Madeleine de Scudéry and the cultural changes that she and other women writers promoted; describes how he expressed his animosity in The Heroes of Romances.

France, Peter. Rhetoric and Truth in France: Descartes to Diderot. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1972. Describes the central role of classical rhetoric in major French literary works during the classical era and the Enlightenment. Explains why Boileau-Despréaux and many other eminent French writers from his era were uncomfortable with those writers who imitated classical sources freely.

Gilby, Emma. Sublime Worlds: Early Modern French Literature. London: Legenda, 2006. Critical analysis of works by Boileau-Despréaux, Pierre Corneille, and Blaise Pascal in which the three authors explored the concept of sublimity.

Kerslake, Lawrence. Essays on the Sublime: Analyses of French Writings on the Sublime from Boileau to La Harpe. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Examines Boileau-Despréaux’s translation of, and preface to, Longinus’s essay On the Sublime, published in 1674, and other seventeenth and eighteenth century French texts that dealt with the concept of the sublimity.

Pocock, Gordon. Boileau and the Nature of Neo-Classicism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Explains Boileau-Despréaux’s reasoning for modern writers’ close imitation of ancient works. Develops an original reading of Boileau-Despréaux’s influential L’Art poétique(1674; Art of Poetry, 1683).

White, Julian Eugene. Nicolas Boileau. New York: Twayne, 1969. A lucid introduction in English to the life and times of Boileau-Despréaux. Annotated bibliography.