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La Pléiade

The Pléiade was a group of 16th-century French poets whose principal members were Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay and Jean-Antoine de Baïf. They were named after the original Pleiade, a group of seven Alexandrian poets (3rd century B.C.), corresponding to the seven stars of the Pleiades constellation.

The initial 'brigade' came together at the Collège de Coqueret under the tutelege of the famous Hellenist and Latinist Jean Dorat. Among the names associated with the Pléiade are Etienne Jodelle, Pontus de Tyard, Rémy Belleau, Jacques Peletier du Mans, Jean de la Péruse and Guillaume des Autels, as well as many others hovering around the outer circles of the group.

Ronsard was generally regarded as the leader of the 'brigade', but their 'manifesto' was penned by Du Bellay ('La Deffense et illustration de la langue françoyse' 1549). In it, Du Bellay detailed a literary philosophy that was unashamedly elitist. The group aimed to break with earlier traditions of French poetry (especially Marot and the grands rhétoriqueurs), and to attempt to ennoble the French language by imitating the Ancients. To this end Du Bellay recommends vernacular innovation of Greek and Roman poetic forms, emulation of specific models, and the creation of neologisms based on Greek and Latin. Among the models favoured by the Pléiade were Pindar, Anacreon, Alcaeus and other poets of the Greek Anthology, as well as Virgil, Horace and Ovid. The ideal was not one of slavish imitation, but of a poet so well-versed in the entire corpus of Ancient literature (Du Bellay uses the metaphor of 'digestion') that he would be able to convert it into an entirely new and rich poetic language in the vernacular.