BMCR 2023.01.32

Marc-Antoine Muret, lecteur de Tacite: éditer et commenter les Annales à la Renaissance

, Marc-Antoine Muret, lecteur de Tacite: éditer et commenter les Annales à la Renaissance. Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 635. Geneva: Droz, 2022. Pp. 616. ISBN 9782600058605

In publishing her doctoral dissertation on Muret (1526-1585), the author has benefitted not only that scholar of the sixteenth century, but all readers and teachers of Tacitus, and in particular those engaged in the study of the fortuna of the historian in the Renaissance and later periods and the history of classical scholarship in general.

After an opening chapter summarizing the tradition of Tacitus’ works from antiquity to the first printed edition, the book is divided into three parts: Tacitus before Muret (editions, commentaries and translations, and Tacitus in the tradition of historiography and pedagogy); Muret’s work on Tacitus (textual criticism, his inaugural lecture on the Annals, and his commentary on them); and the rewards and contributions of Muret (to the text of the Annals, to the rehabilitation of the historian, to a possible renewed conception of history, and the initial success of his work). Each part has a conclusion, and there is a general conclusion at the end.

As her extensive bibliography and notes attest, Muret has not been overlooked in the history of scholarship; but those studies have often been biased in favor of other figures (she particularly faults the bias toward Justus Lipsius of J. Ruysschaert and others), and did not take into full account the various documentation, especially in manuscripts and books from Muret’s personal library available in France and in Rome and the Vatican, stemming from his time teaching in the Studium Urbis in 1580-81. His contributions to the correction of Tacitus’ text are here illustrated with careful collection of readings set forth in table form, and his reading and interpretation of the historian is given ample documentation by carefully chosen and extensive excerpts from his inaugural lecture, his Variae Lectiones, and his commentaries on the text, in each case with the Latin text following her French translation.

Already a notable presence in his native France and acknowledged as an accomplished orator and Latin stylist in the Ciceronian tradition, Muret left France for Italy in his late 20s and flourished there with the support of church authorities. While back in Paris in 1561 as part of an ecclesiastical mission, he was introduced to the writings of Tacitus and began to read him avidly in 1562 until his death in 1585. This resulted in textual research, seven chapters of his Variae Lectiones after the appearance of Lipsius’ Tacitus in 1574, his teaching of Tacitus at the university in Rome, the ‘Studium Urbis’, beginning with the inaugural lectures in 1580, his editions of Annales I-II for those courses, the commentaries published after his death (1604), and his marginal notations from his personal copies published by Ruhnken (1789) and Frottscher (1834-41). In those works he gave evidence of an approach more varied than that of his predecessors, who offered simple glossing of the text or a single focus such as juridical, and that he brought a complex set of disciplines to bear on the explication of the text: historical, literary, political, juridical, and philological, which without being systematic nevertheless complemented each other to good effect.

As Claire summarizes the rewards and contributions to the text, to the rehabilitation of Tacitus, and to a new conception of history, she first makes a careful analysis of Muret’s readings from selected passages and concludes that his contribution to the improvement of the text of Tacitus was greater than was claimed for him by analysts in the 19th century. Though he was still operating on conjectural emendation, and much of his improvement remained hidden in his marginal notes on his own copies, the text of Tacitus was significantly improved by his contributions. Secondly, with a principal focus on the inaugural lecture of 1580, she reviews Muret’s praise of Tacitus, his summary of the objections made by the scholarly world to his presence in the curriculum, and his defense of the historian’s content and his language. Those objections were threefold: the historian’s unflattering view of Rome and thus his lack of educative value; his carelessness about the truth and his hostility to Christianity; and a style that is hard to read and to understand. On these points Muret demonstrates that there is no good justification for considering Tacitus as contrary to the Ciceronian precepts for history-writing, and that his style is effective and allowable within Cicero’s broad view. As for the question whether Muret is a Tacitist like the readers who abounded in the following period, she points to the effect on Muret of coming to the reading of Tacitus in 1562 at a time of religious wars, lending support to the idea of similitudo temporum. Muret shows a tendency toward a political reading of Tacitus in both the inaugural lecture and the Commentarii. Muret admits that Tacitus offers exempla useful to those who govern, but he does not theorize on the political thought of the historian. In 1580, he is at the hinge-pin between philology and political reading; he comes from the former, but announces the coming wave of Tacitism.

The final section of the book explores fully the success and influence of Muret’s work. Already at the beginning of the 17th century, the evidence from the Notae of Curzio Pichena and those of Valens Acidalius is presented in detail, as is the evidence for the circulation in manuscript of the inaugural lecture and the notes from his university course. Muret’s influence on his pupil Lipsius is explored in detail through selected passages, burrowing behind Lipsius’ avoidance of any mention of Muret; while that on his pupil Montaigne is briefly considered. As with Lipsius, Muret’s influence on Fulvio Orsini is argued despite any mention of him in the latter’s work. And the favorable presence of Muret in the 1608 collection of Tacitus commentaries is noted. Lastly, the relation between Muret and Tacitus and the Jesuits is again explored through careful selection of relevant passages; despite their hostility to the historian, there was a change toward acceptance of him in the curriculum in the 1590s.

At the close of the General Conclusion there is a passionate and detailed discussion of the significance of this rehabilitation of Muret as textual critic for the nature and content of apparatus critici more generally with regard to early scholars from the Renaissance onward. All of these points are carefully laid out and ample material is provided for readers to form their own opinions, on specific details as well as on the more general presentation of Muret and his reading of Tacitus for a renewed scholarly interest.