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‘La cuisse rompue’: Reading Amyot’s Plutarch with Sidney and Greville

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Abstract

When Sidney, in Greville’s account of his last days, ‘calls for […] that song which himself had entitled La cuisse rompue’, he is alluding to an essay from Plutarch’s Moralia (in Amyot’s French translation) that we already know to be a key source for The Defence of Poesy: ‘On the Fortune of the Romans’. The gesture aligns Sidney with the Roman hero Horatius, and invokes the Plutarchan question of whether historical events owe more to fate or the exercise of virtue, a question Sidney explores in various guises throughout his writings. In tracing Sidney’s engagements with Plutarch, I foreground the theory of exemplary reading and emulative living that is central to the Defence, to Greville’s account of Sidney, and to any explanation of why Sidney would be quoting Plutarch on his deathbed. A related instance is Sidney’s battlefield refusal of drink as an imitation of Plutarch’s account of Alexander the Great. Plutarch explores the same question of fortune or virtue in the case of Alexander in another essay, which we also know Sidney to have read. Both Plutarchan texts, in their form and especially in their Renaissance reception, are incomplete and have this incompletion paratextually foregrounded; they also share a concern with reading the marks on bodies as signs. The nexus pointed to in the ‘cuisse rompue’ allusion therefore takes us to the heart of Sidney’s fascination with rupture and its centrality to his early reception.

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Sidney Journal

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Journal ISSN

1192-1757

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International Sidney Society

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