FOL. 1 r°: Coat of arms:
This coat of arms has defied any identification. It is not listed in
Patrice de Clinchamps. 2006. Dictionnaire et Armorial de la Noblesse [...]. Tome deuxième: Familles de D à K. Paris: Patrice du Puy:
Pp. 564-565: 2 entries for "Fontenay (de)" with 2 coats of arms that in no way resemble the one in the ms. No entry for "Fonteny".
Henri Jougla de Morenas, ed. 1952. Grand Armorial de France. Supplément. Paris: Société du Grand Armorial de France:
In the section "Additions et Corrections aux armes et généalogies des six volumes du G. A. de F.", p. 254: DE FONTENY. – Voir: Le Pelley. Reference does not help.
In: Claude Le Cellyer. 1662. Le novveav Armorial vniversel; Contenant les Armes et Blazons des Maisons Nobles & Illustres de France […]. Paris: E. Loyson,
the following 17th-century term can be gleaned: "chef danché" for the jagged partition. There is no "Fonteny" in the table of contents. The closest any of the hundreds of coats of arms gets to the one in this ms. is that of
Fol. 142. bis: Iean de Fontenay, Commandeur de l’Ordre de St. Michel, Protonotoire du St. Siege [sic] Apostolique […]. Charles de Fontenay aduocat en parlement et Pierre de Fontenay Con.er du Roy et ses Conseils […]. - The arms have TWO leopards, one above the other, in the lower 2/3 of the coat of arms; there are 3 flowers in the top portion. The helmet and feathers are much more elaborate than those in the ms.
An examination of this coat of arms by Dr. Christian Heitzmann, Director of the Manuscript Collection of the Herzog August Bibliothek, and Prof. emeritus Dr. Gotthardt Frühsorge, a specialist in heraldry, has not yielded any palpable results, either. A Fonteny family is not known in heraldry; the individual components (a "leopardized lion" with its face toward the viewer ["en face"]) straddling the line of eight peaks are heraldic main stays that cannot lead to any identification as the lower part of the coat of arms is left empty: It does not graphically indicate any heraldic color, another missing element. In addition, the decoration of the helmet appears to be incomplete.
There is general agreement that this incomplete coat of arms, which cannot be assigned to any family or nobility, is yet another "enigmatic" element within the entire manuscript. Its appearance right before the first folio may well set the tone for what is to follow.
Fol. 1 v° bears a 26-line text written in the same hand as the substantive corrections in the sonnets and also hardly legible; next to the text there is a monogram that the editor of the Wolfenbüttel catalog tentatively read as "J D F". In several instances there seem to be alternate opening lines to some of the sonnets, which could mean that Fonteny—if indeed this page were in his handwriting—played with alternate versions. On the whole this page does not seem important except for the possible "J D F" initials. (So far I have not found any other manuscripts attributed to Fonteny that would help with this identification).
Fol. 2 r°: INDEX "tablettes" (writing pads—slate writing pads, as the context yields)
This first sonnet is probably more enigmatic to modern readers than to Fonteny’s contemporaries, who would have immediately interpreted the writing pad as a reusable slate notepad. With this identification established the entire sequence of sexual allusions is much less of a riddle.
Fol. 3 r°: INDEX "noix" (nuts—from the context black walnuts)
Once this has been established, the overall meaning of this sonnet—the fate of black walnuts that are pried open, resulting in medicinal liquid and substance oozing from their insides—is clear. But there are again two concerns to be noted: The nuts are opened in a sexually suggestive manner, and once more we read of "maints choses gros et longs" that are pushed inside the nuts in order to force them open—and that after three coats or robes have been torn open. The result, a liquid that heals abdominal pain (walnut oil, it would seem), is extracted from between ""nos cuisses"" , the loins of the nuts, virtually giving birth to this oily substance that can also reduce Vulcan’s pains—in other words, burns—and can even be used for lighting purposes at night. The last few lines are somewhat enigmatic although contemporary readers probably were aware of the healing powers of walnut oil and of the potential use of such oils for illumination.
Fol. 4 r°: INDEX "bague" (ring)
Fol. 5 r°: INDEX "tuiles" (tiles—large roof tiles when the context is considered)
This is the first sonnet where a modern reader lacks a number of clues that contemporaries of Fonteny may have detected right away. As such the poem is indeed "enigmatic"—we do not recognize the game in which a broken roof tile would have been used (there are no clues in relevant handbooks on French historical games although rounded tiles may have been used in games somewhat similar to modern "boules" as devised by Rabelais’ Gargantua), and the meaning of the last line—perfectly legible—is not clear, either: The tile is finally left behind and can be broken and used all over in such a game.
Fol. 6 r°: INDEX "cloches" (bells)
Fol. 7 r°: INDEX "glace" (ice)
After the previous sonnet’s possibly referring to homosexuality this poem reverts back to allusions to women and their intimate parts. In a surprising, not to say ingenious way Fonteny connects the physical changes that water undergoes when it turns into ice and uses this new state to indulge in rather clear insinuations before ending the sonnet on a historical note.
Fol. 8 r°: INDEX "passementier" (a passementier, maker of [dress] trimmings)
This is one of the densest and most successfully ambiguous sonnets Fonteny has included in the entire sequence—while not creating an overt riddle the text nonetheless invites the reader to go beyond the primary level and decode the underlying sexual undertones.
Fol. 9 r°: INDEX "canne" (reed [plant])
The sonnet describes Syrinx’s life in the water where—safe from Pan’s pursuits—nothing can really unearth her, neither wind nor love’s tempests. Only when she is very wet is she pulled out and dried in the sun—but contrary to expectations she begins a new life as a musical instrument that spreads joy among men. But she cannot accomplish that on her own and needs to be played upon. This is where a double entendre is introduced—she needs to be kissed and touched or, as the hastily penned alternate last line spells out more clearly: She needs to feel the mouth and fingers of her master.
A seventeenth-century audience would of course be aware of the reference to Ovid’s Syrinx; the sonnet thus did not really contain a riddle for Fonteny’s contemporaries in the quatrains while today’s audience can profit from such a reference. On the contrary the (Freudian) association with the reed stalk as a male sexual symbol—clearly visible to the modern reader in the accompanying engraving—undercuts the sonnet’s use of a female narrator.
Fol. 10 r°: INDEX "caillou" (pebble, stone)
While the couplet of Fonteny’s sonnet therefore may or may not have been enigmatic for his contemporaries, the last quatrain contains the first riddle of the entire collection. Rather abruptly the author switches from the earlier classical references to a simple deletion of letters in the title word, "caillou". Following Bernasconi’s classification (Bernasconi 1964, 42-43), we are dealing with a logogriphe—or, to be precise, a sort of apocope as not only one but the two final letters of the word are to be deleted. Cancelling these two—namely "ou"—yields the name of the bird shown in the engraving, "une caille". Thus even the heaviest pebbles can fly into the skies—but as if to undercut this lofty upward movement the poem ends on a more prosaic note in both alternate last lines as this same bird could also end up on the dinner table.
Fol. 11 r°: INDEX "cigne" (swan)
Fonteny here uses the figure of the swan as the unifying element that connects two mythological accounts, that of Leda's rape which brought about a momentous change in her life and ended in her seeking refuge in the waters, and the one of the fate of Phaeton who incurred Zeus's wrath for having misguided the chariot of the sun. The common denominator is the figure of the swan into which Leda was transformed here on earth while Phaeton was immortalized in the skies in the constellation of the swan. As if to emphasize the eternal strife among the gods, Fonteny introduces what appears to be a vindication of Leda: Not only does her re-incarnation result in the supreme beauty of her white feathers and neck, but also in her beautiful song. And then—much in line with the overall theme of the enigma—the author adds another dimension to the swan's beauty when he works in a riddle in the last two lines: Even in death, Phoebus/Apollo has mankind benefit from the swan's beauty. It is not too difficult to solve the imbedded enigma: From a swan's remains, learned men can use the once so beautiful feathers to sign their names (with swan quills), and swan oil can illuminate their nights. This is a surprising ending to a sonnet relying heavily on mythological associations—the riddle brings the matter back "down to earth", so to speak.
Fol. 12 r°: INDEX "bouteille" (bottle)
This is a sonnet without any mythological allusions; Fonteny’s contemporaries would not consider the reference to the bottle or flask particularly enigmatic although 21st-century readers could profit from a reference to bottles such as the former Chianti flasks to appreciate the allusions in the first quatrain. These allusions become more obvious in the second quatrain and the couplet when the owner’s insatiable thirst for wine—or the need to see the flask filled to the top—along with his refusal to let the wine age in the bottle are clearly equated with a woman’s conception, pregnancy, and abortion. The last quatrain ends the sonnet on a more conciliatory note—the bottle has resigned herself to her fate and will even take care of her master, after all.
Fol. 13 r°: INDEX "chesne d[‘]or" (a golden chain)
The sonnet pales in comparison with others; the initial play on the homophones raises expectations that cannot be sustained even though the switch from a golden necklace to a prisoner’s chain is unexpected and introduces a new, surprising association. In some ways Fonteny plays on the existential ambivalence that he—and many other courtiers or noblemen associated with the court—must have felt in such an environment.
Fol. 14 r°: INDEX "erisson" (modern French "le hérisson"—porcupine, hedgehog)
"The Lord God answered: 'The dog with the prickly back, with the long and thin muzzle, the dog Vanghapara, which evil-speaking people call the Duzaka; this is the good creature among the creatures of the Good Spirit that from midnight till the sun is up goes and kills thousands of the creatures of the Evil Spirit. And whosoever, O Zoroaster! shall kill the dog with the prickly back, with the long and thin muzzle, the dog Vanghapara, which evil-speaking people call the Duzaka, kills his own soul for nine generations, nor shall he find a way over the Chinwad bridge, unless he has, while alive, atoned for his sin.'" 3
The porcupine (the dog with the prickly back) was included among the protected household dogs by the followers of Zoroaster—therefore any injuries to it would have been condemned and severely punished. Overall this reference to Zoroaster in France in 1600 occurs at a time when the only sources of Zoroaster were vague references in classical authors like Aristotle, Pliny, Plato, and later Laertius and Suidas; around 1600, there were no contemporary materials yet in print.
Fol. 15 r°: INDEX "clef" (modern French mostly "la clé" [key] although "clef" is still used)
Fol. 16 r°: INDEX "neige" (snow)
The reader has to adjust only three letters in the Latin word sought, the word for (masses of) snow, which is nix, nivis (there is a Middle French form of nyver, "grande quantité de neige tombée à la fois" [great masses of snow fallen at the same time], which works even better) (Wartburg 1955, VII:156-157). The second part of the riddle requires the reader to adjust the three letters that form the root of the new word, namely niv-, which produces the term for a bird "of a dissimilar color", as the text suggests, namely niverau (masc., or niverolle, fem.), the snow finch (pinson de neige) (Littré 1957, V:742).
Compared with the first riddle in this sonnet sequence, fol. 10 r° (caillou), this second one demands greater participation: Readers have to do more than just drop two letters from the original word (caillou) to arrive at the new term, caille. In fol. 16 r°/sonnet 15 they need to refer back to the Latin word for snow, nix/nivis, which—etymologically related to 17th-century neige, as Middle French nyver would indicate—certainly was part of the vocabulary of Fonteny’s educated readers. The resulting word—snow finch—is that of a bird, which is an excellent complement to the wintery masses of snow in the beginning of the poem. Many subspecies have white underparts and extensive white panels in the wings, which transform the bird in flight, thus tying in with the whiteness of swans in line 12. Nonetheless, their overall color is "dissimilar" as its upperparts and heads are mostly grey; some species even sport a pretty orange beak in winter.
Fonteny’s second, more complicated riddle is thus a small masterpiece; the resulting word not only is perfectly interwoven with the entire sonnet but also shows the author’s keen observation of the world around him, especially since snow finches occur in altitudes above 2000 meters.
Fol. 17 r°: INDEX "pluye" (rain)
First the readers are called upon to recognize Gaia, the earth goddess, who gave birth to Uranos, whose seeds brought forth all the seas, lakes, and rivers. (With him she also produced the six male and six female Titans, among them Kronos. Uranos liked all of them, but he hated the following six children so much that Gaia bore him—whom he continued to rape (nightly)—that he hid them in the underworld. Ultimately Gaia urged the Titans to rein in Uranos, and one of them, Kronos, cut off his male member, overpowered him and freed his siblings—whom he nonetheless flung back into the underworld after a while.
Kronos in turn feared for his own life as he knew of a prophecy that foretold his own death by the hands of one of his children. For this reason he swallowed the five children his wife, Rhe(i)a, bore him. Angered by this she finally consulted Gaia, and the women decided to substitute a large stone for the sixth child, Zeus, whom Rheia hid in a cave on Crete. There he was nursed by a goat, Amalthea. [See also sonnet 18 below]. Ultimately it was Zeus who, following the advice of his wife, Metis, administered an emetic to Kronos, which caused him to regurgitate the stone and the five children he had swallowed. Together with Zeus all of them overpowered the aging Kronos, and Zeus became the new ruler of the gods of the Olymp. - (In ancient Greece Zeus Hymettos was also known as the god of rain).4
In the first quatrain, Fonteny’s version of the fate of Gaia conflates the details of Uranos as the creator—with Gaia—of seas and lakes (and, by extension, the rains) with that of Gaia’s purported fear of Uranos’s (nightly) rapes and her flight from him after she had devised his mutilation. The poet sees rain as swelling up the breasts of this mother earth until the heavens push the rains to fall anew, which seems to be amenable to them.
The next section of the poem—up to the third quatrain— changes the tone and relates some of the results of heavy rainfall, be they frustrating for travelers when their roads are washed out or for people at harvest time. In the last quatrain Fonteny returns to Greek mythology, first in very general terms when he suggests that even Bacchus’s wines may suffer from such rains, though not always. In the final two lines, there is another reference that may be difficult to decipher for modern readers: The poet invokes the story of old Deucalion and the Greek myth of the Flood. He alludes to the account of the deluge that Zeus unleashed upon mankind, whereupon Prometheus—Deucalion’s father—warned his son to build an ark. In it they outwitted the torrents of rain for nine days before landing on top of a Greek mountain.
With its two rounds of references to Greek mythology this sonnet may well have been rather enigmatic even for contemporaries of Fonteny—modern readers will find it difficult as so much of the classical material is only alluded to.
Fol. 18 r°: INDEX "tauernier" (innkeeper)
It goes without saying that filling a wine barrel is less exciting—or exhilarating—than enjoying the pleasures that a lady of ill repute generously offers, not to speak of the "pleasures" described in the rest of the poem. But this may well be the "enigmatic" message of sonnet no. 18, which otherwise does not seem to contain any riddles … .
Fol. 19 r°: INDEX "cheure" ("la chèvre", goat)
After this reference to her mythological ancestry the (she-)goat describes her various exploits in the second quatrain and the couplet, where she highlights her talents as a climber and the leader of herds. As has occurred in other sonnets, the poem ends on a somewhat more utilitarian—not to say down-to-earth— note when the goat proudly advertises the fact that in Turkey her hair is interwoven with camel hair into highly coveted camel hair fabric (in order to stretch the yield of camel hair fibers as the material would otherwise be even more expensive). This cloth, she claims, is every bit as useful as velours (or velvet) from Touraine, where the once famous cloth industry rebounded after a 1599 edict of Henry IV allowing weavers from Tours to produce all sorts of fabrics, including "velours rouges, violets et tannés". (These fabrics were mentioned among others in Cardinal Richelieu’s political testament, as quoted by Casimir Chevalier [1869, 146-147]). It almost seems as if the narrator regretted that the velours made at Tours did not similarly include goats’ hair in the French production process, thus further enhancing her standing … .
Fol. 20 r°: INDEX "nuee" (modern French "le nuage", cloud, although "la nuée" is still used in composites such as "nuée d’orage", [thunder] storm cloud)
As we have seen on other occasions, the third quatrain has the narrator leave the world of the gods and return to earth, where the cloud has to confess to the limits of its influence: While it tried to get involved in Zeus’s tryst with Amphytrion it has to accept the fact that it cannot prevent humans from avoiding its blackest aspects and simply disappear as long as they last. Overall this is a pleasant sonnet that differs somewhat from others in a formal aspect as it uses several enjambements across structural breaks, such as after the second quatrain and again after the couplet—which may account for the smooth flow of a poem that lacks dramatic action.
Fol. 21 r°: INDEX "chauue souris" (bat)
This is one of the easier sonnets whose merit may lie in the dramatic reversal of fortune that a shameful act brought upon a once princely woman. As such the poem is clear and raises no questions.
Fol. 22 r°: INDEX "poisson en l’eau" (a fish in the water)
Fonteny’s contemporaries would have easily "deciphered" the detailed fishing lore in this sonnet, which is problematic for a 21st-century reader for its lack of "obvious" mythological references that often allow for easy interpretation. As such the poem may be much more enigmatic now than it had been when it was penned under the rather crude woodcut—which precludes any thought of a tortoise and its "house" that might otherwise come up (and will be the subject of sonnet 34, after all).
Fol. 23 r°: INDEX "ballon ou eteuf" (customary 17th-century spelling is "esteuf"—small leather ball used in the "jeu de paume", the indoor tennis game of the period)
The ball (referring to "balle", feminine) relates that, subject to the whims of fortune, (it)/she is sometimes kicked up high, at others is lying low idly. She is moved about by adults and children, at times high, at times low, depending on how she is being pushed around. (5) She is round and firm, white and smooth, without any hair on the outside, but full of curly and darkish hair on the inside, which one cannot see. The more of that she has the more she is sought out and cuddled. (9) Although she has no legs one has her jump, although she has no wings she flies. (11) But after all the pleasure that she thereby gives the master whom she serves pins her against a wall while playing with her and afterwards locks her up in an obscure hole so that he can make money.
However, the poem can be read on a secondary, sexual level when the vehicle of the ball is interpreted as a woman. The second quatrain takes on another dimension with this underlying ambiguity. It carries over into the last four lines where ball’s owner handles his plaything in a way that can be interpreted as an indication of (forced) intercourse and total domination when he decides to lock her up in order to cash in on it. This reading of the sonnet on a secondary level brings tension to what otherwise would appear to be a poem with a rather straightforward narrative. It is then that Fonteny’s seemingly philosophical deliberations are pitted against an undercurrent that should not surprise within the framework of the entire sonnet sequence.
Fol. 24 r°: INDEX "areignee" (spider)
The couplet dramatically describes this process of transformation while the last quatrain ends the poem on a more descriptive note when it details the animal’s ingenious application of Arachne’s former weaving techniques to the production of deadly spider webs, thereby assuring its survival.
Fol. 25 r°: INDEX "limacon" [sic] for "limaçon" (snail).
Fol. 26 r°: INDEX "fumee" (smoke)
This poem mostly defines the qualities of smoke—which is always connected with fire and thus associated with one of the elemental powers—in negative terms. Solely one god—Vulcan—shares his wealth with fire and smoke as he depends on them, while humans ban smoke from their homes. In this light the fire in the engraving may well represent a sacrificial offering whose downward spiraling plume of smoke would indicate that Vulcan did not accept the sacrifice.
Fol. 27 r°: INDEX "vipere" ([common] viper, adder)
Fol. 28 r°: INDEX "rat"
Fol. 29 r°: INDEX "poussin de l’euf" (chick coming out of its egg)
Fol. 30 r°: INDEX "grenouille" (frog)
(1) The narrator (feminine in French) relates that (it)/she had been a male but now is a female. What she has once rejected now houses her. The mother of the god who gives us the day makes her the new water nymph of the Lycian ponds. (5) She sometimes withdraws into what once was Syrinx(‘s territory) when the weather is icy and without idle chatting holding her back, but when the skies bring back spring her throat grows large and her voice gives her away. (9) Through her voice one finds out if it will soon rain. She has taught people how to swim and to move (11) in the water effortlessly and without danger. In short whoever would want to know who she was: "I have the color of a fool as my hallmark, and without a king having wed me I am always the queen".
This is the episode invoked in the first quatrain, which begins with the narrator suggesting that she had been one of the Lycian peasants involved but had now been transformed into the "new nymph" of this pond—which accounts for her change from male to female. The second quatrain describes her seasonal life—in the winter withdrawing to reed thickets where the nymph Syrinx had found refuge and remaining quiet while the advent of spring brings along the rebirth of her quaking voice. The couplet—with an enjambement to the first line of the last quatrain—comments on two features from which people can profit, namely a frog’s gift for weather forecasting and for demonstrating to humans how to paddle or swim—"froggy style"—and move around in the water at ease. The last two lines, however, are introduced with the narrator’s direct question to the readers that introduces yet another riddle in the sonnet sequence: The frog describes (its)/her color as that of a motley fool and prides herself on being a queen at all times—and that without ever having been wed to a king.
While the allusions to Ovid and Greek mythology have elucidated most of this sonnet, the last two lines—Fonteny’s riddle—remain problematic at first sight. The reference of the riddle’s protagonist as having the color of a fool is clear enough, and the fact that this same protagonist has been a queen at all times without having married a king may provide a clue. Fonteny once again may have used material from Ovid; in Book V of the Metamorphoses (585-645/864) there is the long account of the rape of Proserpine (the Greek Persephone) who in Sicily was abducted to the underworld by Pluto (Hades), the ruler of the nether region, but who was never wed to him. Yielding to the pleas of her mother, Ceres, Pluto finally releases Proserpine, who from then on is allowed to spend half of the year on earth and the other half in the underworld. And both the Greeks and Romans celebrated her return to earth in flower festivals, especially on Sicily, which could account for the "couleur d’un fou" that the queen supposedly sports, in other words garlands of flowers.5
Fonteny’s sonnet presents a riddle for which the reader has not been prepared; only the last two lines list the clues that may provide an answer—the colorful attire of a queen who has never been wed to a king. Contemporary readers of Fonteny’s may have easily discovered the clues in Ovid’s story of the rape of Proserpine, but a 21st-century reader will find it much more difficult to consider Proserpine the incarnation of the "new nymph" of the Lycian lakes.
Fol. 31 r°: INDEX "miroir"
Fol. 32 r°: INDEX "taulpe" (mole)
Fol. 33 r°: INDEX "meule" (millstone)
Fol. 34 r°: INDEX "marteau" (hammer)
Fol. 35 r°: INDEX "tortue" (turtle)
The last line of this last sonnet presents yet another riddle: "Many people have their souls protected with (the turtle’s) name" may be an allusion to the wearing of protective amulets made from tortoise shells in order to protect their souls—a custom that was widespread in Greek and Roman times.
Fol. 36 r°: INDEX "nauire" (ship)
Fol. 37 r°: INDEX "clou" (nail)
Fol. 38 r°: INDEX "sie" ("scie", saw)
Fol. 39 r°: INDEX "souflet" ("soufflet", bellows)
Fol. 40 r°: INDEX "Espoussettes" (modern French "époussette", small [dust] broom)
Fol. 41 r°: INDEX "rose"
Fol. 42 r°: INDEX "mule"
Fol. 43 r°: INDEX "vigne" (vine)
Fol. 44 r°: INDEX "taureau" (bull)