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Link to an image of this page  Link to an image of this page  [B6r f14r]

Insani gladius.

The madman’s sword

Setigeri medius stabat gregis ensifer Aiax, [1]
Caede suum credens caedere Tantalidas.[2]
Hostia sic tanquam sus succedanea[3] poenas
Pro Laertiade,[4] pro caveaque dabat.
Nescit obesse suis furor hostibus, errat ab ictu,
Consiliique impos in sua damna ruit.

Ajax was standing sword in hand in the midst of the bristled herd, thinking that in killing the pigs he was killing the descendants of Tantalus. The victim, like the substitute pig, was paying the penalty for the son of Laertes and for the assembled crowd. Madness does not know how to disadvantage its real foes; it misdirects its blows, and, lacking judgement, rushes headlong to its own destruction.

Notes:

1.  In Ajax’ madness, he slaughtered a herd of sheep, thinking them to be the Greeks. The two largest rams he took to be Agamemnon and Menelaus. See Zenobius, Proverbs, 1.43; Horace, Satires, 2.3.197-8; Erasmus, Adagia, 646 (Aiacis risus) - Erasmus makes the animals pigs, which Alciato here follows.

2.  Tantalidas, ‘the descendants of Tantalus’ i.e. Agamemnon and Menelaus, whom Ajax blamed for his humiliation.

3.  A substitute animal was sacrificed when the first offering was rejected by the gods or, as here, in place of the proper victim. See Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.6.5.

4.  pro Laërtiade, ‘for the son of Laërtes’, i.e. Odysseus, to whom the Greek assembly awarded the splendid armour of the dead Achilles, not to Ajax.


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Link to an image of this page  Link to an image of this page  [P4r p231]

Eloquence difficile.[1]

L’herbe bailla Mercure à Ulysses,
Contrepoison aulx breuvages Circes.[2]
Moly s’appelle, & ha noire racine,
Fleur blanche, & rouge, à trouver bien insigne.
Pure eloquence, est d’attraction pleine,
Mais à plusieurs est oeuvre de grand peine.

Par l’herbe Moly en Homere de noire racine, fleur blanche,
& purpurine, tresdifficile à trouver: est entendue eloquence, au
commencement obscure, puys florissante, claire, & honorée.
Mais difficile à acquerir, sinon aulx bons espritz laquelle sur-
monte toute malice, & obtient grand grace à celluy qui l’ha.

Notes:

1.  In the 1549 French edition, this emblem has no woodcut.

2.  See Homer, Odyssey, 10.270ff. for the story of the encounter of Ulysses and his crew with the sorceress Circe on the island of Aeaea. The plant moly is described ibid, 302-6. See Emblem 70 ([A58a070]), for the effect of Circe’s poisoned cup. Cf. Erasmus, De Copia (Loeb edition, 1.91 D), where moly is interpreted as wisdom rather than eloquence. Cf. Coustau, ‘In herbam Moly, ex Homero’ ([FCPb073]).


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