Terence Cave

2009 Balzan Prize for Literature since 1500

For his outstanding contributions to a new understanding of Renaissance literature and of the influence of Aristotelian poetics in modern European literature

Terence Cave is Emeritus Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Research Fellow of St John’s College Oxford. With his study The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance, first published in 1979 and subsequently translated into French, he gave a wholly new direction to studies of Renaissance literature and of its modes of writing. Starting with the rhetorical concept of copia, he succeeded in showing, through a series of precise individual studies, how this new vision of an abundance that overstepped the bounds of all forms of conventional order may be seen as a response to new modes of experience, thereby throwing light on the fundamental character of the Renaissance in the sixteenth century. This argument represented a radical reformulation of the traditional humanistic understanding of the Renaissance. The study is admirable for its innovative force, its erudition, its argumentative rigour and its expository elegance.

Cave’s second major work is Recognitions. A Study in Poetics, where he demonstrated that the much-neglected concept of anagnorisis (recognition) in Aristotelian poetics provides an ideal point of entry to central aspects of the history and theory of post-classical drama, and, much later, of the novel. In the process, Cave uncovers a precise line of continuity running from ancient drama to the rediscovery of this element of poetics during the Italian Renaissance.

For its wide European horizons and historical-literary and theoretical acumen, this work has often been compared with Erich Auerbach’s famous Mimesis. These two opera magna are accompanied by many high-quality individual studies that bear witness to Cave’s standing as one of the most authoritative contemporary scholars of literature.

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