Vol 8 (2018)

“La Nef” di Élémir Bourges e i suoi modelli epici

Matteo Verzelletti
Sacro Cuore Catholic university
Published July 31, 2019
  • Élémir Bourges,
  • La Nef,
  • Prometheus’ reception,
  • Symbolism,
  • Hesiod,
  • Homer
  • ...More


Fellow of the widely-known poet Stéphane Mallarmé and many other Symbolist artists, Élémir Bourges was born in Manosque in 1952 and died in Auteuil, near Versailles, in 1925. He spent the last three decades of his life writing a book meant to be his masterpiece: La Nef, an enormous reinterpretation of the classical myth of Prometheus in which Bourges explored and exposed three millennia of theology from Veda to 20th century’s agnosticism, including Greek philosophy, Christianism, theism and materialism.

Since its publishing in 1922, the book was virtually ignored until nowadays, although in his ambitious and unavoidable study Le thème de Promethée dans la littérature européenne Raymond Trousson claimed it represents the most important Promethean work from Shelley’s Prometheus unbound until the middle of the 20th century.

Critics such as Louis Buzzini and André Lebois mainly intended La Nef as a re-writing of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound; it is a correct remark, since Aeschylus was one of Bourges’ favourite readings; by the way, Buzzini and Lebois were wrong in underestimating the hints Élémir Bourges took from other Greek sources, like archaic epic.

In this paper, I focused notably on the elements Bourges took from Homeric poems and Hesiod’s Theogony. A deep and philological comparison between La Nef and the Greek texts shows these poems were a real cornerstone for the French author, since many episodes (Scylla and Carybdis, the meeting of Achilles and Priamus), characters (Gea) and locations (the Abyss) have strong and accurate echoes in many pages of the book.

Especially the episode of Uranus’ emasculation by Kronos – misunderstood by Lebois in his critical review of La Nef – is told by the author by means of distinctive lexical choices that show, with no doubt, that Bourges read Hesiod’s Greek text of Th. 175.