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Pierre Coustau's Pegma,
Macé Bonhomme, 1555


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM371

Coustau’s Pegma 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 this 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 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.200)

Although the Pegma was published in 1555, the work was clearly planned well before this, since the privilege which Bonhomme acquired to publish the work is 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 edition of Coustau’s Pegma is clearly intended to fit this model, since the privilege 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 in a subsequent edition whereas the French version (Le Pegme) ran to a second edition in 1560.

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

The Pegma contains 122 emblems, of which 95 are illustrated and encased in decorative frames. The structure of the emblems follows the traditional tripartite model of title, woodcut figure and verse [motto/title; pictura; and primary text in our nomenclature], although the titles take a new form in that they are double titles, in which one part notes the lesson to be derived, while the other identifies the (usually classical) source.

GUL: SM372: K7v-K8r. Actual page height: 169mm.
GUL: SM372: K7v-K8r. Actual page height: 169mm.

The most innovative aspect of Coustau’s Pegma is the introduction of substantial ‘narrationes philosophicae’ accompanying each emblem, though interestingly this innovative structure is not replicated in the first (1555) edition of Lanteaume de Romieu’s French translation of the work. Here Romieu translates only the actual emblems, and edits out the ‘narrationes’, thus making the work look more like other emblem books of the period. However this was clearly perceived subsequently as a wrong judgement, and the 1560 edition of the Pegme in includes translations by Romieu of the ‘narrationes’ accompanying each emblem, thereby making the structure of the work replicate more faithfully that of the original Latin version in a way that the 1555 French version did not.

In this transcription, the lines emphasised by double quotes in the margin (indicating quotation, or near-quotation) are rendered in italic.

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.200 [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

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