From 1515 to 1559. – During the reigns of Francis I and Henry II The movement of intellectual and moral renewal which began in the last decades of the century becomes clear and self-conscious, so as to become one of the characteristic aspects of national life. XV. Many of the causes that provoked it continue to act: the decline of the institutions that represented the spirit of the Middle Ages; the expansion of culture following the progress of the press; the greatest and best knowledge of the ancient literary and philosophical heritage; the more frequent contacts with Italy, that is with a more refined civilization, in possession of a literature and a superior art, continuers of the Greco-Roman tradition; the awareness of one’s own cultural inferiority and aspiration to a literary and artistic splendor that was in harmony with the greatness of France. The generation that enters the scene with Francis I already has masters, in the highest sense of the word: Erasmus, G. Budé, Lefèvre d’Étaples. It is the period to which the name really belongs Renaissance, if by that name we mean not the simple revival of studies and a more fervent revival of the Greco-Roman literary traditions, not, vaguely, all the modern pre-classical literature, not all of the sixteenth century, but the era of courageous revisions and attempts daring to found the whole life of the spirit on new foundations.
Against the scholars who by revealing ancient civilization open new horizons to thought and arm reason with new audacities, against the press that secures knowledge and gains culture, that is, spiritual freedom, an ever greater number of enthusiastic recruits, the depositories of the old doctrines, the University, the Sorbonne, and a large part of the clergy. The fires of Berquin (1529), of Dolet (1546), the persecutions of the Sorbonne against a Lefèvre, against Margaret of Navarre herself, the escapes of Rabelais, of Marot, of the Estienne, to limit ourselves to a few examples, are not only episodes of the struggle against the reform. The struggle is against all rebirth; against the book that is its expression, and the famous edict of 13 January 1535 which ordered the closure of all bookstores and prohibited “d’primer aucune chose sous peine de la hart” has almost a symbolic value. Add the inertia of the past. The Middle Ages, spirits and forms, still remain a living and close reality. The delightful biography of Baiardo written by the “Loyal Serviteur” (1527), has the same ideal background as the Chanson de Roland: fidelity to God and to the Prince. According to NATUREGNOSIS, the Roman de la Rose continues to be reprinted. The old adventure novels keep an audience and the translation of the Spanish Amadigi di Gaula made by Herberay des Essarts (1540-1556) has a huge success. The real theater remains medieval: the mysteries do not manage to disappear completely even after they were banned by a parliamentary decree (1548). The fame of the Cretins, the Molinets and the Bouchets endured for a long time. Le grand et vray art de pleine rhétorique by Fabri, theoretical expression of the Rhétoriqueurs school still has six editions between 1522 and 1544. The Renaissance is, in short, the revolt of an elite and in more ways than one, those same intelligences remain linked to the Middle Ages which then attempted to open up a new path in the various fields. But that elite it is becoming more and more numerous and interprets ever more widespread needs. The movement of ideas, the desire for the new are at their peak. The vastness of aspirations, love for life, the joyful sense of the possibilities open to will and reason, the anxiety to convert the conquests already achieved by humanity into real wealth for the individual and the nation are striking. The projects and works are impressive. “All disciplines restituted, les langues instaurées”, says Rabelais around 1533. The state gives its support to all the initiatives: with Francis I royal patronage is transformed into a real state program for the restoration of culture. Particular importance is given. to languages that open up access to ancient knowledge; ignorance of the Greek is considered shameful in a scholar; Hebrew takes its place among the classical languages; among the first readers of the Collège royal – of which Francis I laid the foundations in 1530 precisely to welcome new science, that is philology, before the medieval theological tradition – there is Guillaume Postel, a lover of peregrine languages, that is Arab, Chaldean, etc. We publish grammars, dictionary (capital il Thesaurus linguae latinae by Robert Estienne I, 1532-36). The prints of ancient texts, especially Greek ones, are multiplying. The research and collection of manuscripts continues. It is the age above all of the translations, performed and accepted as contributions to the great restoration dreamed of, encouraged by the state, placed by the public above the original works. Most of the Latin authors are turned into French, many of the Greek ones. The quantity of works translated from Italian is remarkable. Because Italy never ceases to excite and feed the movement with its books, with the personal action of its philologists, its artists, its poets: the court of Francis I – to which Leonardo belongs for a few years, where he becomes delfina in 1536 Caterina de ‘Medici, where Alamanni excelled as a poet – it was then a magnificent center of irradiation for the multiform spirits of the Italian Renaissance. The translations of this period are almost never pure artistic exercises: they are real enrichments of the French spirit and often mark historically important dates. Extremely significant, to cite a few examples, the version of the New and Old Testament (1523 and 1528-30), of the Cortegiano (1537), of Plato’s Dialogues (from 1544), of Leo Ebreo’s Dialogues on love(1549). One of the great literary events of the time are Plutarch’s Lives popularized by Amyot (1559).