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The Symbolic Literature of the Renaissance

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Accademia Degli Intronati Dieci paradosse Milan: Giovanni Antonio degli Antoni, 1564


Agrippa, Henry Cornelius Paradoxe sur L'incertitude, vanite N.P., 1623

Anon Foure Paradoxes London: Thomas Purfoote, ca. 1570

First original book of paradoxes in English
1. A byshop and a minister is all one
2 A byshoppe or deacon shoulde not bee called Grace, Lord, or exercise such authoritie
3 A popish priest is no lawful minister of the gospel
4 Canon chauncellours, & officials are no meete officers in the churche of God


Barnfield, Richard The Encomion of Lady Pecunia London : G. S. for Iohn Iaggard, 1598

Full Title: The Encomion of Lady Pecunia: or the Praise of Money
Description: Written in verse
Location: Bodleian Library
Source: 2010 reproduction ISBN-10 #1171310927

Cicero, Marcus Tullus Paradoxa Paris: Ascensius, 1532

Another edition Augsburg: Weissenhorn, 1538.
First English translation: The paradox of Marcus Tullius Cicero .. translated by R Whitinton 1534
2nd English edition trans. Thomas Newton 1569 and another ed. 1577.

Dekker, T A paradox in praise of serjeants 1607
-------------The praise of the gout 1617
-------------Paradoxon de morbo Gallico 1662
-------------Paradoxa hydrostatica 1669

De Pontaymeri, Alexandre Paradoxe Apologétique


De Vienne, Philibert Philosophe de Court Lyon: Jean de Tournes, 1547

First edition. Second edition Paris: by Estienne Groulleau under the imprint of Jan Baptiste, 1548. Subsequent edition London: by Henry Binneman for Lucas Harrison and George Byshop, 1575.
This short text belongs to a branch of paradoxical literature devoted to criticizing Italian court manners. De Vienne presents Le Philosophe de court as a treatise in which the artifice of court life is ironically depicted as a superior philosophy to the great movements of ancient thought. This artifice worked all too well, since his irony was lost on many of his contemporaries (a good indication that his work was unusually radical for its time). It was also taken at face value by modern criticism until Claude-Albert Mayer's seminal article on the work in 1951. Since then, critics have been in basic agreement that it is a particularly successful example of the mock-encomium genre.
Sources: Roberts, Hugh Dogs' tales: representations of ancient Cynicism in French Renaissance texts Rodopi, 2006
Mayer, C.A. "L'Honnête homme. Molière and Philibert de Vienne's 'Philosophe de Court'" The Modern Language Review Vol. 46, No. 2 (Apr., 1951), pp. 196-217 (JSTOR)


Donne, John Iuvenilia: or certain Paradoxes and Problems London: E.P. for Henry Seyle, 1633

First edition. Contains 11 paradoxes and 10 problems. Full text available at luminarium.org
Source: http://www.luminarium.org/editions/renascence/juvenilia.htm


Dornau, Caspar Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Socraticae Joco-seriae Hanau: 1619

Du Bellay  Hymne de la surdité  1556

Description: Dedicated to Ronsard, as it parodies the solemn Hymnes, Ronsard's collection of 1555. It also satirizes the corruption of contemporary Roman life and the commonly held perception of du Bellay's facilité as opposed to Ronsard's gravité. The poem is a celebration at once both humorous and affectionate of the friendship between du Bellay and Ronsard, in which the bond of common deafness serves to cement the literary ambitions of the two poets. It is also a reflection of the scientific spirit of the age, for du Bellay's meticulous account of how hearing functions reads like a learned medical treatise strangely at odds with the tongue-in-cheel humor of the rest of the poem.
Source: McAdoo, Jane "Renaissance Studies" Volume 8, Issue 2, page 198.


Dunton, John Athenian Sport: or, Two thousand Paradoxes merrily argued London: for B. Bragg, 1707

The paradoxes include: "Content is the greatest misery"; "To imprison a debtor is to set him at liberty"; "Every man is corporally born twice" and "'Tis the pleasantest life to be always in danger". Eight of the Paradoxes were reprinted from John Donne's "Paradoxes and Problems".
Read Athenian Sport online at Google Books
Dunton was a respected London bookseller and a reputed eccentric. His memoirs are also available online at Google Books.
Source: A R Heath (Great Britain). Online auction description Parks No. 339.


Dyer, Sir Edward The Prayse of Nothing 1585

Description: The authorship of this prose pamphlet is called into question by Alexander Grosart in his preface to Writings in Verse and Prose of Sir Edward Dyer. John Alexander Collier had previously asserted Dyer's authorship based on the title page inscription "E.D", which Grosart believes to be slim grounds for any claims of authorship. His skepticism is supported by Collier's prolific double career producing forgeries and false attributions of great works.
Source: Freeman, Arthur and Janet Ing Freeman John Payne Collier: Scholarship and Forgery in the Nineteenth Century, Volumes 1 & 2, Volumes 1-2 Yale University Press, 2004 p.950

Erasmus, Desiderius Morias Egkomion Basle: Genathianus, 1676

1st Illustrated Edition
First English translation The praise of folie translated by Thomas Chaloner 1549


Estienne, Charles Paradoxes Paris: Charles Estienne, 1553

First published anonymously by the author in 1553, this book proved to be a best-seller. Seventeen editions are listed in the sixteenth century, as well as two in the seventeenth. Estienne took all but three paradoxes from Ortensio Lando's Italian language Paradossi Lyon: 1543 and adapted them for French readers. He toned down Lando's anti-clerical humour (Paris in 1553 was not as tolerant as Lyon in 1543), instead giving rein to some social criticism of his own, and replaced many of Lando's Italian instances with French, Flemish, or even English examples. He also added a paradox of his own invention, that 'litigation is a thing most useful and necessary to the life of men', which at moments rises to a lyricism of the absurd that would hardly have disgraced Rabelais. A subsequent edtion was published in 1561 by Maurice Menier, on which the most comprehensive modern edition Paradoxes ed. by Trevor Peach Geneve: Droz. 1998 is based.
Source: Armstrong, Elizabeth "Paradoxes." The Modern Language Review 25 Jan, 2011.

Peach's critical edition includes an extensive list of editions. We have included several below, arranged by date:

  • 1553 Paris: Estienne
  • 1553 Poitiers: Jean de Marnef
  • 1553 Paris: Estienne
  • 1554 Paris: Estienne
  • 1554 Partial edition. Martin Caen & Pierre Philippe
  • 1554 Rouen: Robert Masselin for Martin Le Mesgissier
  • 1554 Paris: [Marin Masselin for Fr. Regnault =] Magdaleine Boursette
  • 1554 Rouen: Jehan Petit for Martin Le Mesgissier
  • 1554 Lyon: Barthélemy Frein for Jean Temporal
  • 1555 Lyon: Jean Temporal
  • 1557 Paris: [Marin Masselin for Fr. Regnault =] Magdaleine Boursette
  • 1559 Lyon: Nicolas Perrineau for Jean Temporal
  • 1561 Lyon: Nicolas Perrineau for Jean Temporal
  • 1573 Paris: Nicolas Bonfons
  • 1576 Lyon: Benoist Rigaud
  • 1583 Rouen: Nicolas Lescuyer
  • 1603 Paris: Jean Micard/Antoine du Brueil/Fleury Bourriquant/Nicolas Rousset
  • 1638 Rouen: J. Caillové


Fleming, Abraham A Paradoxe London: H. Denham, 1579

Full Title: A Paradoxe, Proving by reason and example, that Baldnesse is much better than bushie haire, &c. Written by that excellent Philosopher Synesius, Bishop of Thebes, or (as some say) Cyren. A Prettie pamplet, to peruse, and replenished with recreation. Englished by Abraham Fleming. Hereunto is annexed the pleasant tale of Hemetes the Heremite, pronounced before the Queenes Maiestie. Newly recognised both in Latine and English, by the said A.F.
A translation of Calvitii Encomium, with an address to the reader, by Fleming. Based on a prior English translation by John Free, published at Basle in 1519, 1520, and 1521.
Sources: University of Saskatchewan Fleming bibliography page
White, William Notes and Queries Volume 1 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1850 p.85
Stephen, Sir Leslie and Lee, Sir Sidney Dictionary of National Biography Smith Elder, & Co, 1896 Volume 45, p. 238


Franck, Sebastian Paradoxa ducenta octoginta Germany: 1534-1542 [?]

Second enlarged and corrected edition. First edition Ulm: 1534
Description: Franck here recoups in paradox a positive inversion of the unresolvable contradictions of theology, transforming Luther's teaching of the unknown God into a mystical omnipresence: "God is and effects all in all, except for sin". Moreover, "The being of all things is God himself". In order to confirm this, Franck cites Tauler's Theologia Germanica and Augustine. The absolute freedom of the God who is "all in all" becomes the religious foundation for the idea of free will and free opinion in the age of multiple jurisductions and entrenched boundaries: "Thoughts and the will are both toll free: no one may hinder their movement," writes Franck. The exaltation of God is accompanied by an open-ended revaluation of the human creatures in whom God is all in all.
Sources: Weeks, Andrew Valentin Weigel (1533-1588): German religious dissenter, speculative theorist, and advocate of tolerance SUNY Press, 2000, p. 5
Full text available online in German at Google Books


Freher, Dionysius Andreas Paradoxa Emblemata ms. c.1730

Modern edition Edinburgh: Magnum Opus Hermetic Sourceworks, 1983. A collection of 153 Emblems executed by Dionysius Andreas Freher (1649 - 1728) a Christian mystic and writer on alchemy, best known for his writings on Jacob Boehme. The emblems, each of which are accompanied by a short text, are sequential. Each "focuses on a simple fundamental spiritual statement," but they also form a sequence, and can serve as a "coherent integrated system of interior exercises." The 1983 edition reproduces the emblems, with English-language captions, from Add. Ms. 5789 in the British Library: "Paradoxa, Emblemata, Aenigmata, Hieroglyphica, de Uno, Toto, Puncto, Centro." Done into manuscript by his disciple Leuchter, after Freher's passing (circa. 1730).
Sources: Weiser Antiquarian Books, Maine, USA – Catalog 81
Thompson Rare Books, BC, Canada – Catalog 26


Harington, Sir John The Metamorphosis of Ajax 1596

The title of the work plays on "a jakes," the colloquial name for a privy in early modern England, and the legend of Ajax's blood turning into a flower from Ovid's Metamorphoses. The play on words is fitting for Harington's text which proposes the design for a new and improved – a metamorphosed – jakes. What he details is in essence a flush toilet, and it's thought that the common English use of the word "john" to mean toilet is in reference to John Harinton. First published in 1596 as a work in three parts. A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax; An Anatomie of the Metamorpho-sed Ajax; and An Apologie. The first two parts were also issued separately as trade publications at the same time. Although published under the pen name Misacmos, Harington was unequivocally the author of the first and third parts; An Anatomie is attributed to Thomas Combe, Harington's personal servant and fellow poet-translator. In addition to the regular pamphlets, Harington presented his friends with large-paper presentation copies with annotations.
Sources: Jorgensen, Dolly "The Metamorphosis of Ajax, jakes, and early modern urban sanitation" University of Texas, Early English Studies
Leland, John "A Joyful Noise: 'The Metamorphosis of Ajax' as Spiritual Tract" South Atlantic Review Vol. 47, No. 2 (May, 1982), pp. 53-62


Harvey, Gabriel A New Prayse of the Old Asse London: John Wolfe, 1593

Full text available online through Google Books

Landon, Ortensio Paradossi Lyon: 1543


Lippus, (Aur. [Brandolini] called) Christiana Paradoxa Rome: Francesco Minitius Calvus, 1531

The author was an Augustinian at Florence at the end of the 15th cent. The curious title-border, partly copied from one of A. Fritag's (Rome 1493), is the same as used in Bulla Leonis X (in No. 594) dated 1516, but curiously here is in earlier state in spite of later date.
Source: Leighton, J. & J. Early printed books arranged by presses London: 1916. Full text available online at archive.org


Montaigne Apologie de Raymond de Sebond Bordeaux: 1580

Second edition 1582. Raymond Sebond was a Spanish theologian (possibly a Catalan) who wrote a book called Natural Theology or The Book of Creatures, written in the 1420s or 30s. The book, written in scholastic Latin, aims to firmly establish one in the Catholic faith, free of wavering and doubt. In Montaigne's hands, Sebond's method shows enlightened Christians that revealed truths and the book of Nature properly read say the same things. The Apology is divided into two sections which correspond to two assertions of Sebond. The first is that man, when properly enlightened can read the book of Nature correctly. The second is that without God's grace, man can never read the book of Nature correctly. The longest of his essays, Apology for Raymond Sebond contains Montaigne's famous motto, "What do I know?"

Munday, Anthony The defence of Contraries: Paradoxes against Common Opinion

Translation of twelve of Lando’s Paradossi

---------------------The paine of pleasure 1580

An examination of 23 ‘pleasures’ all of which involve a counterbalancing pain.


Osborn, Francis A Miscellany of sundry Essayes and Paradoxes London: John Grismond, 1659

The collective edition of 1673 (available to read and download at Google Books) was brought (without much result) to the notice of the House of Lords on 13 March 1676, on the ground that its incidental vindication of a republican form of government in England rendered it a seditious and treasonable publication. Reissues followed in 1682 (8th edit.), 1689 (9th edit.), 1701 (10th edit.), and 1722, in 2 vols. (11th edit.)
Sources: Stephen, Sir Leslie and Lee, Sir Sidney Dictionary of National Biography

Palmer, Herbert The Character of a Christian in Paradoxes and Seeming Contradictions London: N.P., 1656

Pontaymeri Paradoxe apologique 1594


Sandford, James The Mirrour of Madnes London: Thomas Marshe, 1576

Description: This book resembles in design Erasmus's Praise of Folly (Brydges, Censura, iii. 17). A few verses are included; copies are at Lambeth and in the Capell collection at Trinity College, Cambridge
Source: Stephen, Sir Leslie and Lee, Sir Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900, Volume 50


Silver, George Paradoxes of Defence London: for Edward Blount, 1599

George Silver discusses the folly of Italian rapier play, as opposed to the English sword. He provides some thoughts on the proper use of sword and buckler, two-handed sword, dagger, various pole-arms, and pike. His most valuable contribution is his dissertation on combative theory in terms of the true and false fights, the four grounds and four governors. Contains viii and 72 pages including three woodcuts. Reprinted with an introduction by Cyril Matthey London: George Bell & Sons, 1898.


Statilius, Nicolaus Paradoxa Venice: Bernardinus Venetus de Vitalibus, 1500

British Isles: London, British Library (IA.24351); Oxford Bodley
Italy: Treviso C (imperfect, wanting quire A, f. B1)
Austria: Wien, ONB (Ink 15.G.50)
U.S.A: San Marino CA, The Huntington Library

Venning Ralph Orthodox Paradoxes 1654

A book on the paradoxical nature of Christianity. First edition was in 1647; thereafter five editions in five years.