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The Judgment of Palaemon

The Contest between Neo-Latin and Vernacular Poetry in Renaissance France


Philip Ford

In Virgil's third Eclogue, Palaemon concludes the poetry competition between Menalcas and Damoetas by saying that he cannot choose between them, a judgment that is emblematic of the contest between Neo-Latin and vernacular poetry in Renaissance France. Both forms of poetry draw on similar roots, both are equally accomplished, and the contest between them is largely amicable. The Judgment of Palaemon illustrates the almost symbiotic relationship between Renaissance Latin and French poetry, while exploring poets' motivation for choosing one language over another, the different challenges each form of writing involved, and the extent of the collaboration between different language communities. It focuses on some of the major writers of the period, as well as less well known ones, and on genres specific to humanist poetry. It shows that composing in Latin was often considered more natural, at a time when many Frenchmen's mother tongue was a non-standard French dialect or distinct language.