Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French & Italian

First Advisor

Christopher Braider

Second Advisor

Suzanne Magnanini

Third Advisor

Andrea Frisch

Fourth Advisor

Andy Cowell

Fifth Advisor

Carole Newlands


This dissertation examines the epic genre and its mutations from poetic and political perspectives during the sixteenth century. Renaissance poetic treatises acknowledged epic as the highest poetic form and the greatest aspiration of poets. A French imitation of the Aeneid would be the mark of national greatness, a poem to confirm France as the literary, cultural, and political successor to ancient Rome. It would both capture and foster national sentiment for a nation with imperial ambitions. However, any attempts to compose such a work either produce mediocre poetry or are so mutated in form that they can barely be labeled epic.

The three texts that form the focal point of this dissertation (Pierre de Ronsard’s Franciade, Joachim du Bellay’s Antiquitez de Rome, and Agrippa d’Aubigné’s Tragiques) provide different angles to approach this problem. The Franciade represents an incomplete attempt at a strict imitation of the Aeneid, written by a court poet under the patronage of the king. As a relatively short sonnet sequence, the Antiquitez may be a surprising inclusion in a discussion on epic, but the text is set apart by its ability to draw on epic themes to lament the lost Roman Empire while providing a warning to France as a nation on the brink of civil war. As a Protestant account of the Wars of Religion, the Tragiques allows consideration of the conflict between national and religious sentiment as d’Aubigné ignores national and generic constraints to compose a text that is itself martial action.

This thesis uses David Quint’s theories of epic’s politicization to explain France’s failure to produce its long-awaited epic. I conclude that despite the professed desire for a Virgilian epic, the political and social circumstances of sixteenth-century France render a true epic impossible. Politically, there is no victory and no empire, only the decent into civil war rather than emergence from one. The Reformation divides French society along faction lines, replacing a collective sense of Frenchness with the collectivity of distinct religious groups that transcends political boundaries. In sum, a study of epic’s politicization can illuminate Renaissance French conceptions of national identity.