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The Concept of ConversationFrom Cicero's Sermo to the Grand Siècle's Conversation$
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David Randall

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474430104

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474430104.001.0001

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Court, Salon and Republic of Letters

Court, Salon and Republic of Letters

(p.122) Chapter 5 Court, Salon and Republic of Letters
The Concept of Conversation

David Randall

Edinburgh University Press

The humanist educational project to educate the elite of Western Europe produced as one of its dizzy successes the application of conversation to the speech and behavior of nobleman at court. This, the development of the ideal of the courtier, took conversation from the leisurely retreat from the ancient political world to the courtly heart of the Renaissance political world. The salons of seventeenth-century France further transformed the conversational tradition of the court: in principle, the conversation of the salons began quietly to set itself to rival the world of oratory, to address itself to the same worldly subject matter. The Republic of Letters provided an alternate social matrix for sermo, scholarly rather than courtly—and one which migrated away from its Ciceronian roots towards the mode of Baylean critique. Where the courtly and scholarly traditions of sermo acted as complementary modes during the Renaissance, the increasing scope of salonnier conversation and the increasing abandonment of sermo by the Republic of Letters set them at odds with one another in the opening of the Enlightenment. Both now harbored universalizing ambitions, which would set these sibling modes to fierce conflict.

Keywords:   Sermo (conversation), courts, salons, Republic of Letters, rhetoric, women

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