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4 Rhapsody in Prose

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Chapter Summary

Walter Ong entitled his justly celebrated and richly suggestive study of the commonplace tradition in Renaissance Europe "Commonplace Rhapsody". Following Ong's lead, this chapter pursues the inquiry into metaphors of sewing and unraveling in humanist prose with particular attention to how Montaigne reflects on his own labor as he stitches and unstitches his essays. In humanist Latin, the noun rhapsodus is rare and appears to be pejorative in the majority of cases. The rhapsodus is the author of a rhapsodia or rapsodia, which often designates some sort of compendium or collection of historical examples. Apart from the use of rhapsodus for classificatory purposes, Renaissance humanists included the term in their polemical vocabulary. Erasmus offers an example of the polemical use of the term in his Dialogus Ciceronianus where he condemns the Ciceronians who use pagan words to develop a Christian argument.

Keywords: Christian argument; Erasmus; humanist prose; pagan words; Renaissance humanists; rhapsody; Walter Ong



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