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Anne Dacier

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( Née Lefèvre)

The wife of André Dacier, born at Saumur in 1651; died 17 April 1720. She received the same instruction as her brother and at the age of twenty-three published an edition of fragments from the Alexandrian poet Callimachus (Paris, 1674). She divided her time between translations (Anacreon and Sappho, 1681; several plays by Plautus and Aristophanes, 1683-1684; Terence, 1688; Plutarch's "Lives" in her husband's translations, "The Iliad", 1699, "The Odyssey", 1708) and the editions of the collection Ad usum Delphini (Florus, 1674); Dictys and Dares, 1684, and Aurelius Victor, 1681). She had a certain vigour that her husband lacked; "In intellectual productions common to both," says an epigram used by Boileau, "she is the father." In the notice of Dacier in the "Siècle de Louis XIV" Voltaire declares: "Madame Dacier is one of the prodigies of the century of Louis XIV ," However, she was no bluestocking and refused to give her opinion in scholarly debates, agreeing with Sophocles that "silence is the ornament of women." She reared her three children admirably.

But Madame Dacier belongs to the history of French literature and, in a measure, to the history of ideas because of her participation in the dispute about the ancients and moderns. In 1699 Madame Dacier published a translation of "The Iliad" with a preface which was a reply to Homer's critics. It was only in 1713 that Houdart de la Motte, a wit and unpoetic versifier, published a translation of "The Iliad" in verse. The poem was reduced to twelve cantos, all its so-called prolixity was eliminated and it was revised in accordance with eighteenth century taste and made "reasonable and elegant". Madame Dacier refuted this attack in "Les causes de la corruption du goût" (Paris, 1714). The dogmatic part of this work consists of an analysis of the "Dialogue on Orators" by Tacitus and Madame Dacier added clever remarks on the influence of climates. La Motte replied humourously and courteously in his "Réflexions sur la critique" (Paris, 1714). In the course of the same year Fénelon, in his letter on the doings of the French Academy, ably and solidly defended the ancients, thus rendering their supporters a signal service. But the quarrel was prolonged, and in 1716 the Jesuit Hardouin published an apology for Homer. It was a new system of interpreting "The Iliad" and Madame Dacier attacked it in "Homère défendu contre l'apologie du P. Hardouin on suite des causes de la corruption du goût" (Paris, 1716).

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