Natale Conti, Mythologia, 1567-1627 : un laboratoire éditorial

Jean Baudoin (1584?-1650)

Frontispiece of the first edition

Natale Conti

André Wechel

Johannes Opsopoeus

Friedrich Sylburg

Jean de Monlyard


Frontispiece of the 1627 edition
© Gallica - BnF

Jean Baudoin has not yet revealed all his secrets and many remain in the dark in several regards. Born in Pradelles in the Vivarais region, undoubtedly in 1584, he died in 1650 in Paris.

Baudoin must have been introduced to Queen Marguerite de Valois— at the time exiled in Usson—in 1605 at the latest, after traveling to Italy, Spain and Germany to finish his training and cultural education. He then became attaché to the queen as lector, and several archival documents show that he taught her Spanish. He remained in Marguerite's service until her death in 1615 when he started to build up a solid reputation as a translator. Consequently, upon Marie de Medici's order, he was sent to England in the early 1620's for two years to translate Philip Sydney's The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadiainto French.[1] Presumably, it was this translation that opened the way for him to be granted the title of interpreter of foreign languages to the king.

In 1627, Baudoin broke into Richelieu's circle via his devotees. Thus, he dedicated La Mythologie by Conti to Charles de Créquy, Field Marshal of France, who took part in all the battles undertaken by Louis XIII and Richelieu. He became the cardinal's protegé in 1631 as we find mention of him as Groom of the Chamber. He became part of a literary circle and was appointed as historiographer in 1633. While serving in Richelieu's Cabinet, Baudoin was also attaché to Chancellor Séguier. The Chancellery's accounts from 1635 show six hundred pounds paid to “Sieur Baudoin, historiographer, for having read books for approval before priviledge by the royal stationer”[2] participating then in the vast reorganization of royal censorship undertaken by Séguier in 1633. At that time, Baudoin was also appointed to the Académie française upon its founding and he helped write its statutes. He benefited from the patronage of two of the most powerful people in France up until Richelieu's death, then Séguier's patronage until his own death, contradicting the clichés portraying him as a translator who worked fami, non famae — by famine, not fame,[3] which has led some historians to believe that he died destitute. In truth, although lacking in family fortune and ecclesiast

86 works can be attributed to Baudoin, of which 60 translations and 19 personal works. His translations were transcribed from five languages: Ancient Greek, English, Spanish, Italian and Latin. At the onset of his career he essentially published translations of religious works circulating the new Tridentine decree. In that period, he also transcribed his first translation of Justus Lipsius before revisiting him in the anthology: Le prince parfait et ses qualitez les plus éminentes. Avec les conseils et des exemples moraux et politiques tirez de Juste Lipse et des plus célèbres autheurs anciens et modernes — which was seemingly his last publication.[4] Most of his publications were political and historical, essentially translations taken from ancient classical history or devoted to contemporary history. We can find works by Suetonius, Seneca, Tacitus, Davila... He was often faulted for his lack of respect for the original source material, for borrowing from past translations, and for misunderstanding the subtleties of the authors' philosophies he was translating. Baudoin, with great intellectual honesty, did admit to using previous texts in his early works. Seeing himself as more than a translator, he wanted to be an interpreter: his translations were not faithful to the text because he was matching them with French tastes, as they were at the time. He never hesitated to adapt the books he was translating, conforming his own intellectual process to the humanist current of the late 16th century. His wish was to make the fundamental contemporary European texts available to the greatest number, works like Jerusalem Delivered by Tasso, and the writings of Francis Bacon — for whose works he became the exclusive translator — and The Royal Commentaries of the Inca by Garcilaso de la Vega. It was he who brought the iconological genre to France with his adaptation of Iconologia by Cesar Ripa in 1636 and 1644.

Figurative thought is also omnipresent in Baudoin's work. His first attempt at iconography came about relatively early, when he tried his hand at symbolic analysis in Les feux de joye pour la resjouissance publique, par la Declaration de la majorite du Roy in 1614.[5] In this short work, which was dedicated to celebrate the coming-of-age of Louis XIII, Baudoin consecrated himself to rendering a symbolic interpretation of the bonfire celebrations given in the capital. To reveal the hidden meaning of fireworks, Baudoin relied on Pierio Valeriano's “hieroglyphical” interpretation which was a regular resource in his work.[6] Baudoin's approach to literary symbolism was without a doubt helped along by his extensive experience in translation, going from one language to the other. In this case, it was going from literary translations to the language of symbols. Baudoin was also attracted to literary symbolism because it harbored a considerable humanist heritage for which he showed a keen interest, as seen in his translations of Justus Lipsius. He is above all else a hermeneut, and in that sense visual interpretation is comparable to going from one language to another: for him it is the translation from the word to the image.

Throughout his career, Jean Baudoin would embellish the annotations to his translations with references to the Fable and his translations of Francis Bacon; notably, La Sagesse mysterieuse des Anciens takes him one step closer, guiding him little by little towards allegorical literature.[7] In 1627, at the printing house of Pierre Chevalier and Samuel Thiboust he published a new and updated edition of Montlyard's translation of Mythologiae libri decem by Natale Conti entitled Mythologie ou Explication des Fables, Œuvre d’éminente Doctrine, et d’agreable Lecture. Cy-devant traduitte du Latin de Noël le comte par J. de Montlyard. Exactement reveuë en cette dernière Edition, et augmentée d’un Traitté des Muses ; De plusieurs remarques fort curieuses ; De diverses Moralitez touchant les principaux Dieux ; Et d’un Abbrégé de leurs Images. This publication in particular can be explained by Baudoin's manifest interest in mythology as a literary genre, as it unveiled classical wisdom , enabling him to bestow teachings about moral codes. To this translation he added, Mythologie, Divisées en IIII. Traictez, Recueillis des Anciens Autheurs. Contrary to Conti, who had already composed a genuine, original work by compiling the different classical ancient sources and in so doing, building the most exhaustive presentations as possible of each divinity, Baudoin juxtaposed several texts, or excerpts of texts by classical authors or mythographers. He completed thus a compendium of Natale Conti through the writings of other classical mythographers, or those of his contemporaries. He added a treatise consecrated to the Muses and their genealogy, translated from Lilio Giraldi; the Observations curieuses sur divers sujets de la Mythologie, Recueillies du I. Livre de C. Jul. Hygin ; l’Explication Physique et Morale, des Principalles allegories des Poetes, Prise de Phornutus, Autheur Grec; Abbregé des Images des Dieux, Tiré du Philosophe Albricus. All of these texts come from a partial translation of a mythology collection published for the first time in Paris in 1578 regrouping books by Hyginus, Albricus, Apollodorus, Aratus, Fulgentius, and also Cornutus.[9]

Baudoin considered the Fable as a language which permitted him to address his readers via an indirect , more pleasant, and even playful form, that was nonetheless capable of revealing the truth. That explains why his foray into figurative literature was followed subsequently by his translation of aesopic fables starting in 1631. In 1636, he published Iconologia by Cesare Ripa for the first time in France.[10] More than a translation, this adaptation gave a new perspective to his career, since it was allegorical vocabulary that brought him to the emblem through the publication of his Recueil d'Emblemes divers.

Baudoin's interest in mythology and even more in Iconologia likely came from the the fact that his books could serve as accepted references permitting him in practice to constitute an illustrated common library through his works on figurative literature; this is corroborated by the unexpected success of Iconologia which, after four centuries, is still used by students as a manual. Figurative literature gave him the opportunity to offer artists an actual working vocabulary in service to encomiastic discourse. Indeed, by adapting Iconologiaby Cesare Ripa, Jean Baudoin helped to bring allegorical vocabulary to the service of French art. This translation was the capstone of his career as far as figurative literature was concerned, and it became a cornerstone to a new form of elogy to the monarchy. Even if allegory was traditionally used to valorize those in power, this was the first time that it was codified and explicitly destined for this kind of rhetoric. Thanks to his adaptation of Iconologia, Baudoin could offer artists new representations built on vocabulary from classical Antiquity, which allowed them to reestablish panegyric codes while verifying their adequacy to modern thought.

Finally, it was via allegorical vocabulary that Baudoin came to the emblem, with the publication of Recueil d'Emblemes divers in 1638-1639.[11] Indeed, Baudoin was one of the restorers of the emblematic genre in France and in French, a form that had been forgotten since the time of Georgette de Montenay and Theodore Bèze. In order to writeRecueil d'Emblemes divers, and to express his own philosophy, Baudoin fed his mind with the thoughts of the authors he translated. His readings were formed of juxtaposed fragments, producing a mosaic which complied with the etymology and the prototypic definition of emblem. Literary sources of the emblems in Recueil show that Baudouin relied on the auctoritates to justify his own assertions and that often these authors procured for him the central subject of the emblem. His borrowings from previous compilations of emblems, his familiarity with the works of Bacon and Conti, and the Fables of Aesop the Phrygian do not refute this mode of invention. If Baudoin drew from multiple sources to devise this work — literary, emblematic, classical, modern, Latin, and vernacular — the compilation perfectly embodies his intellectual, political and moral preoccupations. With these emblems, Baudoin created a true theater of the world on whose stage human passions could play out. As he stated in the preface, his objective was still to edify the reader, the emblem being a “depiction meant for instruction”.

It is because Baudoin discerned the universality of symbolic language that he became interested in figurative literature.

Signature de Jean Baudoin, archives nationales

Jean Baudoin's signature
@ archives nationales

[1] L’Arcadie de la comtesse de Pembrok, mise en nostre langue de l’anglois de messire Philippes Sidney par Jean Baudoin, Paris, T. du Bray, 1624-1625.
[2] Ms. Fr. 18625, 1635.
[3] J.-P. Nicéron, op. cit., p. 200.
[4] J. Baudoin, Le Prince Parfait et ses qualitez les plus eminentes. Avec des conseils et des exemples moraux et politiques tirez des œuvres de Juste Lipse et des plus célèbres autheurs anciens et modernes, Paris, C. Besongne, 1650.
[5] Les feux de joye pour la resjouissance publique, par la Declaration de la Majorité du Roy, en sa Cour du Parlement de Paris, le jeudy deuxiesme de ce mois d’Octobre 1614, Ensemble les Merveilles du Ciel, envoyées le mesme jour à sa Majesté, Paris, A. du Breuil, 1614.
[6] A new translation of the Hieroglyphica was given the following year by Jean de Montlyart (Lyon, Paul Frellon, 1615); the work, a monumental volume, arranged thematically in a very ingenious way, was increasingly regarded as a manual and had lost none of its relevance.
[7] La sagesse Mystérieuse des Anciens, Ombragée du voile des Fables, appliquées moralement aux secrets de l’Estat et de la Nature, par messire François Bacon, de la traduction de J. Baudoin, Paris, F. Julliot, 1619.
[8] Mythologie ou Explication des Fables, Œuvre d’éminente Doctrine, et d’agreable Lecture. Cy-devant trduitte du Latin de Noël le comte par J. de Montlyard. Exactement reveuë en cette dernière Edition, et augmentée d’un Traitté des Muses ; De plusieurs remarques fort curieuses ; De diverses Moralitez touchant les principaux Dieux ; Et d’un Abbrégé de leurs Images, Paris, P. Chevalier et S. Thiboust, 1627.
[9] Fabularum liber... nunc denuo excusus, ejusdem poeticon astronomicon libri quatuor, quibus accesserunt similis argumenti : Palaephati De fabulosis narrationibus liber I.F. Fulgentii Placiadis... Mythologiarum libri III, Ejusdem De vocum antiquarum interpretatione liber I. Phornuti De natura deorum... speculatio. Albrici... De deorum imaginibus liber. Arati... Fragmentum, Germanico Caesare interprete. Ejusdem phaenomena graece... Procli De sphaera libellus, graece et latine. Apollodori Bibliotheces sive de deorum origine. Lilii G. Gyraldi De Musis syntagma, Paris, Jean Parant, 1578.
[10] Iconologie, ou, Explication nouvelle de plusieurs images, emblemes et autres figures Hyerogliphiques des Vertus, des Vices, des Arts, des Sciences, des Causes naturelles, des Humeurs differentes, et des Passions humaines. Œuvre necessaire à toute sorte d’esprits, et particulierement à ceus qui aspirent à estre, ou qui sont Orateurs, Poetes, Sculpteurs, Peintres, Ingenieurs, Autheurs de Medailles, de Devises, de Ballets, et de Poëmes Drammatiques. Tirée des Recherches et des Figures de Cesar Ripa, Desseignées et gravées par Jacques de Brie, et moralisées par J. Baudoin, Paris, J. De Bie, 1636.
[11] J. Baudoin, Recueil d’emblèmes divers, Avec des discours moraux, philosophiques et politiques. Tirez de divers Autheurs Anciens et Modernes, Paris : Jacques Villery, 1638-1639.

Marie Chaufour
translated by Erin Curran

See the presentation of the 1627 edition.

Read Baudoin's Dedication to Charles de Créquy.

Read Baudoin's "Préface sur le sujet de cette Œuvre".

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