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The Renaissance Rediscovery of Intimacy

In 1345, when Petrarch recovered a lost collection of letters from Cicero to his best friend Atticus, he discovered an intimate Cicero, a man very different from either the well-known orator of the Roman forum or the measured spokesman for the ancient schools of philosophy. It was Petrarch’s encounter with this previously unknown Cicero and his letters that Kathy Eden argues fundamentally changed the way Europeans from the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries were expected to read and write.

The Renaissance Rediscovery of Intimacy explores the way ancient epistolary theory and practice were understood and imitated in the European Renaissance.Eden draws chiefly upon Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca—but also upon Plato, Demetrius, Quintilian, and many others—to show how the classical genre of the “familiar” letter emerged centuries later in the intimate styles of Petrarch, Erasmus, and Montaigne. Along the way, she reveals how the complex concept of intimacy in the Renaissance—leveraging the legal, affective, and stylistic dimensions of its prehistory in antiquity—pervades the literary production and reception of the period and sets the course for much that is modern in the literature of subsequent centuries. Eden’s important study will interest students and scholars in a number of areas, including classical, Renaissance, and early modern studies; comparative literature; and the history of reading, rhetoric, and writing.

180 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Ancient Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: Classical Languages, Romance Languages


“Kathy Eden’s elegant, concise, densely footnoted study marvellously explores how the combination of th[e] core ancient perception of the letter as intimate communication with the sense of the letter as a general paradigm of reading and writing worked on the imagination of the European Renaissance, once it gets into the system, at a particularly significant point, with Petrarch’s rediscovery and creative imitation of the private correspondence of Cicero.”

Michael Trapp | Times Literary Supplement

“[A]n intellectually stimulating journey from antiquity to the Renaissance and back. Continuously plotting and connecting the dots between her texts, combining relevant anticipation with useful retrospect, [Eden] paints a convincing triptych showcasing three major early-modern intellectuals.”

Jeroen De Keyser, KU Leuven | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“Readers will appreciate Eden’s lucid prose, and the book will richly reward scholars interested in rhetoric, reading, and writing, in classical antiquity, in the Renaissance, and in the cultural expression of intimacy. . . . Highly recommended.”

B. E. Brandt, South Dakota State University | Choice

“A splendidly thoughtful and erudite contribution to Renaissance scholarship.”

Comparative Literature Studies

The Renaissance Rediscovery of Intimacy is very well written, lucid, and consistently engaging. Kathy Eden has very carefully woven together the warp and woof of her major concerns in each chapter, anticipating what will follow and looking back to what has preceded, offering signposts and summaries, forecasts and conclusions, all with authority and verve. There are many ‘eureka’ moments here, and Eden allows her reader to participate fully in discovering them. A wonderful achievement.”

William J. Kennedy, Cornell University

“Presented with Kathy Eden’s customary concision, sustained focus, and meticulous scholarship, this new study of classical and early modern writing practices argues that the Renaissance remaking of the ‘intimate’ or ‘familiar’ style formed a key strand in the prehistory of modern individuality. Eden probes the social, legal, and hermeneutic implications of the cluster of classical terms used to characterize this style, which is understood not simply as an outgrowth of rhetoric, but crucially as an instrument of communication. What begins as a book about a rhetorical concept thus becomes in the end a cultural history with a remarkably rich anthropological resonance. The Renaissance Rediscovery of Intimacy is essential reading for anyone interested in the classical tradition, the history of rhetoric and style, and the cultural history of the individual.”—Terence Cave, St. John’s College, University of Oxford

Terence Cave, St. John’s College, University of Oxford

“Focusing on style, letter writing, and familiarity, Kathy Eden uncovers a rich vein of intertextuality in the literary theory and practice of Cicero, Seneca, Petrarch, Erasmus, and Montaigne. Her deft analysis of detail continually opens up new perspectives on the larger rhetorical and philosophical issues. She shows how careful reading and decorous writing create new ethical qualities of character and friendship in the Renaissance.”

Peter Mack, Director, Warburg Institute

Table of Contents

Introduction: Rediscovering Style
Chapter One: A Rhetoric of Intimacy in Antiquity
Chapter Two: A Rhetoric and Hermeneutics of Intimacy in Petrarch’s Familiares
Chapter Three: Familiaritas in Erasmian Rhetoric and Hermeneutics
Chapter Four: Reading and Writing Intimately in Montaigne’s Essais
Conclusion: Rediscovering Individuality
Bibliography of Secondary Sources

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