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Pierre Coustau's Pegme,
Barthélemy Molin, 1560


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM372

Coustau’s Pegma/Pegme marks a significant structural development in the evolution of the early emblem book. Aneau had already introduced short commentaries into his French translations of Alciato’s emblem book in 1549, but Coustau takes this process much further by accompanying each emblem in his original Latin Pegma of 1555 by a very substantial ‘narratio philosophica’ running to two or even three pages in length, which goes far beyond simple commentary. The ‘narrationes’ are fully worked-out self-contained discursive essays on the subject (very Montaigne-ish in style), complementing rather than glossing the short Latin verse of the emblem proper. When Lanteaume de Romieu produced a first French translation of the work in 1555, he did not include these ‘narrationes’, but clearly he or Bonhomme had second thoughts about the wisdom of this, and in this second edition of 1560 (reproduced here) French ‘narrations philosophiques’ accompany each emblem, thereby making the structure and content of the French version conform to that of the original 1555 Latin version. Like Alciato, Coustau was a jurist, and although this is overall a generalist emblem book clearly influenced by that of Alciato, many of his emblems relate specifically to legal issues.

Pierre Coustau

Very few facts are known about Coustau. Born in Paris, trained as a jurisconsult, he spent some time in Vienne and in Lyon, where he must have met Macé Bonhomme. Like Alciato, he wrote exclusively in Latin. Other than his Pegma, only two other works are known to be by him, a treatise on Roman law (Adversiorum ex Pandectis Iustiniani imperatoris liber prior, ad quinque et viginti antecedentes libros, authore Petro Costalio) published by Bonhomme in 1554, the year before the Pegma, and a poem in celebration of peace, Petri Costalii de pace carmen published in Paris in 1559. Valerie Hayaert has argued persuasively, however, that Coustau may have operated under two different Latin versions of his name, using one version (Petrus Costalius) when operating in the juridical and emblematic fields, but another version (Petrus Costus) for works on rabbinical and biblical exegesis (among which would figure Typus Messiae et Christi Domini ex veterum prophetarum praesensionibus contra Judaeorum, authore Petro Costo, published by Bonhomme in 1554).

Publication History

(for more information F.201-202)

Although the Pegma and the first edition of its French translation were published in 1555, the work was clearly planned well before this, since the privileges which Bonhomme acquired to publish both versions of the work are dated March 1553. Beginning in 1549 and continuing into the 1550s, Bonhomme, in partnership with Guillaume Rouille, had been producing highly decorative editions of Alciato not just in the original Latin and in French but also in Spanish and Italian, and his editions of Coustau’s Pegma/Pegme are clearly intended to fit this model, since the privilege to the Latin Pegma refers to Bonhomme having incurred expense not only in getting the woodblocks made (probably by his preferred artist, Pierre Eskreich) but also in having the text translated into ‘langues vulgaires’. In fact it was translated only into French. Both the original Latin and the French translation by Lanteaume de Romieu were published almost simultaneously in January 1555. The delay between the obtaining of the privilege and the publication of the work may possibly be due to the time that it took for Bonhomme to get the woodblocks made, and possibly also to the time it took for him to get the French translation made, since he may well have seen advantage in publishing the two versions at the same time, as he did in 1552 with his Latin and French editions of Aneau’s Picta poesis/Imagination poetique. Unusually Coustau’s original Latin text was never republished subsequently whereas the French version ran to a second edition in 1560 (reproduced here) link to bibl descr, shared between Macé Bonhomme himself, his son Michel Bonhomme, and Barthélemy Molin.

Pierre Coustau’s Pegme, Lyons, Barthélemy Molin, 1560

The Pegme contains 119 emblems, of which 95 are illustrated. The structure of the emblems in this 1560 edition follows the traditional tripartite model of title, woodcut figure and verse, as in the 1555 first edition of the translation, but with the addition here of the ‘narrations philosophiques’ accompanying each emblem which had not been included in the first edition. Unlike the original Latin version where only the emblems were encased in decorative frameworks, and the discursive ‘narrationes’ were unadorned, here every page is encased in a decorative framework. Each emblem has a double title, in which one part notes the lesson to be derived, while the other identifies the (usually classical) source.

GUL: SM372: K7rvo-K8ro. Actual page height: 157mm.
GUL: SM372: K7rvo-K8ro. Actual page height: 157mm.

Coustau wrote exclusively in Latin, and – unlike the other two French writers of bilingual emblem books, La Perrière and Aneau, he did not himself translate his Latin emblems into French. This task was entrusted to Lanteaume de Romieu about whom nothing is known other than that he came from Arles. Coustau’s Latin emblem book is an exceptionally erudite one, designed for an educated audience, and producing a meaningful text for a less educated vernacular readership clearly posed a challenge to the translator. Romieu’s French translations of the emblems are (like Aneau’s translations of his Picta poesis emblems) about 30% longer than the original Latin, but unlike Aneau’s translations which generally used this extra length to expand and clarify the content of the original, Coustau's translator tends to adopt the strategy used by Alciato’s first French translator, Jean Lefevre, of producing a simplified rewrite rather than a literal translation. In contrast his French translations of the narrations philosophiques follow closely the text of the original Latin and make little concession to the less sophisticated cultural background of the vernacular reader.

Select Secondary Bibliography

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2002): entries F.200-202 cover editions of Coustau; this edition is entered as F.202 [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

Pierre Coustau, Le Pegme (New York: Garland, 1979). Facsimile reprint.

Irene Bergal, ‘Pierre Coustau’s Pegme: From emblem to essay’, in Lapidary Inscriptions: Renaissance Essays for Donald A. Stone Jr, ed. Barbara Bowen and Jerry Nash, French Forum Monographs (Lexington KY: French Forum Monographs, 1991) pp.113-22.

Valerie Hayaert, ‘Pierre Coustau’s Le Pegme (1555): emblematics and legal humanism’, Emblematica 14 (2005) 55-99

Valerie Hayaert, ‘La fleur de Rhododaphné et le péril de l’exegèse biblique selon Pierre Coustau 1555’ in Flore au Paradis, ed. Paulette Choné and Bénédicte Gaulard (Glasgow: Glasgow Emblem Studies, 2005) pp. 169-94

Alison Saunders, ‘“Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando?” or: The curious case of Pierre Coustau’s Pegma’, in An Interregnum of the Sign, The Emblematic Age in France. Essays in Honour of Daniel S. Russell, ed. David Graham (Glasgow: Glasgow Emblem Studies, 2001) pp. 29-48.

Page written by Alison Saunders.


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