1902 Encyclopedia > Julius Caesar Scaliger and Joseph Justus Scaliger

(Scaliger Family)

SCALIGER. For some account of the great Delia Scala (Lat. Scaliger) family, the reader is referred to the article VERONA. The name has also been borne by two scholars of extraordinary eminence in the world of letters.

I. JULIUS CAESAR SCALIGER (1484-1558), so distinguished by his learning and talents that, according to De Thou, no one of the ancients could be placed above him and the age in which he lived could not show his equal, was, according to his own account, a scion of the illustrious house of La Scala, for a hundred and fifty years princes of Verona, and was born in 1484 at the castle of La Rocca on the Lago de Garda. At the age of twelve he was presented to his kinsman the emperor Maximilian, and placed by him among his pages. He remained for seventeen years in the service of the emperor, following him in his expeditions through half Europe, and distinguishing himself no less by personal bravery as a soldier than by military skill as a captain. But he was unmindful neither of letters, in which he had the most eminent scholars of the day as his instructors, nor of art, which he studied with considerable success under Albert Dürer. In 1512 he fought at the battle of Ravenina, where his father and elder brother were killed. He there displayed prodigies of valour, and received the highest honours of chivalry from his imperial cousin, the emperor conferring upon him with his own hands the spurs, the collar, and the eagle of gold. But this was the only reward he obtained for his long and faithful devotion. He left the service of Maximilian, and after a brief employment by another kinsman, the duke of Ferrara, he decided to quit the military life, and in 1514 entered as a student at the university of Bologna. He determined to take holy orders, in the expectation that he would become in due time cardinal, and then be elected pope, when he would wrest from the Venetians his principality of Verona, of which the republic had despoiled his ancestors. But, though he soon gave up this design, he remained at the university until 1519. The next six years he passed at the castle of Vico Nuova, in Piedmont, as a guest of the family of La Rovere, at first dividing his time between military expeditions in the summer, in which he achieved great successes, and study, chiefly of medicine and natural history, in the winter, until a severe attack of rheumatic gout brought his military career to a close. Henceforth his life was wholly devoted to study. In 1525 he accompanied M. A. de la Rovere, bishop of Agen, to that city as his physician. Such is the outline of his own account of his early life. It was not until some time after his death that the enemies of his son first alleged that he was not of the family of La Scala, but was the son of Benedetto Bordone, an illuminator or schoolmaster of Verona; that he was educated at Padua, where he took the degree of M.D.; and that his story of his life and adventures before arriving at Agen was a tissue of fables. It certainly is supported by no other evidence than his own statements, some of which are inconsistent with well-ascertained facts.

The remaining thirty-two years of his life were passed almost wholly at Agen, in the full light of contemporary history. They were without adventure, almost without incident, but it was in them that he achieved so much distinction that at his death in 1558 he had the highest scientific and literary reputation of any man in Europe. A few days after his arrival at Agen he fell in love with a charming orphan of thirteen, Andiette de la Roque Lobejac. Her friends objected to her marriage with an unknown adventurer, but in 1528 he had obtained so much success as a physician that the objections of her family were overcome, and at forty-five he married Andiette, who was then sixteen. The marriage proved a complete success; it was followed by twenty-nine years of almost uninterrupted happiness, and by the birth of fifteen children.

A charge of heresy in 1538, of which he was acquitted by his friendly judges, one of whom was his friend Arnoul Le Ferron, was almost the only event of interest during these twenty-nine years, except the publication of his books, and the quarrels and criticisms to which they gave rise.

In 1531 he printed his first oration against Erasmus, in defence of Cicero and the Ciceronians. It is a piece of vigorous invective, displaying, like all his subsequent writings, an astonishing knowledge and command of the Latin language, and much brilliant rhetoric, but full of vulgar abuse, and completely missing the point of the Ciceronianus of Erasmus. The writer's indignation at finding it treated with silent contempt by the great scholar, who thought it was the work of a personal enemy—Aleander —caused him to write a second oration, more violent, more abusive, with more self-glorification, but with less real merit than the first. The orations were followed by a prodigious quantity of Latin verse, which appeared in successive volumes in 1533, 1534, 1539, 1546, and 1574; of these, a friendly critic, Mr Pattison, is obliged to approve the judgment of Huet, who says: "par ses poesies brutes et informes Scaliger a deshonoré le Parnasse; " yet their numerous editions show that they commended themselves not only to his contemporaries but to succeeding scholars. A brief tract on comic metres (De Comicis Dimensionibus) and a work De Causis Linguae Latinae—_ the earliest Latin grammar on scientific principles, and following a scientific method—were his only other purely literary works published in his lifetime. His Poetics was left unpublished, and only appeared in 1561 after his death. With many paradoxes, with many criticisms which are below contempt, and many indecent displays of violent personal animosity,—especially in his reference to the unfortunate Dolet, over whose death he gloated with brutal malignity,—it yet contains much acute criticism, .and shows that for the first time a writer had appeared who had formed an adequate idea of what such a treatise ought to be, and how it ought to be written.

But it is as a philosopher and a man of science that J. C. Scaliger ought to be judged. His tastes were for metaphysics and physics rather than for literature. Classical studies he regarded as an agreeable relaxation from severer pursuits. Whatever the truth or fable of the first forty years of his life, he had certainly been a most close and accurate observer, and had made himself acquainted with many curious and little-known phenomena, which he had stored up in a most tenacious memory, and which he was able to make use of with profit. His scientific writings are all in the form of commentaries, and it was not until his seventieth year that (with the exception of a brief tract on the De Insomniis of Hippocrates) he felt that any of them were sufficiently complete to be given to the world. In 1556 he printed his Dialogue on the De Plantis attributed to Aristotle, and in 1557 his Exercitationes on the work of Cardan, De Subtilitate. His other scientific works, Commentaries on Theophrastus's History of Plants and Aristotle's History of Animals, he left in a more or less unfinished state, and they were not printed until after his death. They are all marked by the same characteristics : arrogant dogmatism, violence of language, irritable vanity, a constant tendency to self-glorification, which we expect to find only in the charlatan and the impostor, are in him combined with extensive real knowledge, with acute reasoning, with an observation of facts and details almost unparalleled. He displays everywhere what Naude calls "an intellect teeming with heroic thought." But he is only the naturalist of his own time. That he anticipated in any manner the inductive philosophy cannot be contended; his botanical studies did not lead him, like his contemporary Gesner, to any idea of a natural system of classification, and he rejected with the utmost arrogance and violence of language the discoveries of Copernicus. In metaphysics and in natural history Aristotle was a law to him, and in medicine Galen, but he was not a slave to the text or the details of either. He has thoroughly mastered their principles, and is able to see when his masters are not true to themselves. He corrects Aristotle by himself. He is in that stage of learning when the attempt is made to harmonize the written word with the actual facts of nature, and the result is that his works have no real scientific value. Their interest is only historical. His Exercitationes upon the De Subtilitate of Cardan (1557) is the book by which Scaliger is best known as a philosopher. Its numerous editions bear witness to its popularity, and until the final fall of Aristotle's physics it continued a popular text-book; as late as the middle of the seventeenth century an elaborate commentary upon it was published by Sperling, a professor at Wittenberg. We are astonished at the encyclopaedic wealth of knowledge which the Exercitationes display, at the vigour of the author's style, at the accuracy of his observations, but are obliged to agree with Naude that he has committed more faults than he has discovered in Cardan, and with Nisard that his object seems to be to deny all that Cardan affirms and to affirm all that Cardan denies. Yet it is no light praise that writers like Leibnitz and Sir William Hamilton recognize J. C. Scaliger as the best modern exponent of the physics and metaphysics of Aristotle. He died at Agen 21st October 1558.

2. JOSEPH JUSTUS SCALIGER (1540-1609), the greatest scholar of modern times, was the tenth child and third son of Julius Caesar Scaliger and Andiette de la Boque Lobejac (see above). Born at Agen in 1540, he was sent when twelve years of age, with two younger brothers, to the college of Guienne at Bordeaux, then under the direction of Jean Gelida. An outbreak of the plague in 1555 caused the boys to return home, and for the next few years Joseph was his father's constant companion and amanuensis. The composition of Latin verse was the chief amusement of Julius in his later years, and he daily dictated to his son from eighty to a hundred lines, and sometimes more. Joseph was also required each day to write a Latin theme or declamation, but in other respects he seems to have been left to his own devices. The Latin verse of Julius, faulty as it is in all that constitutes poetry, yet displays a more extensive knowledge of the Latin language, and a greater command of its resources, than is to be found in the verse of any of his contemporaries; and this constant practice in writing and reading or speaking Latin, under the supervision of one who knew the language thoroughly, was probably the foundation of Joseph's Latin scholarship. But the companionship of his father was worth more to him than any mere instruction. He learned from Julius what real knowledge was, and that it did not consist in discussions on words and phrases; and to his father he owed it that he was not a mere scholar, but something more—an acute observer, never losing sight of the actual world, and aiming not so much at correcting texts as at laying the foundation of a science of historical criticism.

In 1558, on the death of his father, he proceeded to Paris, and spent four years at the university there. Of his life at Paris we know but little. Hitherto he had not studied Greek. Now he felt that not to know Greek was to know nothing. It was in the literature of Greece that he must look for the true key of antiquity, and he forthwith began to attend the lectures of Turnebus. But after two months he found out his mistake. He had much to learn before he could be in a position to profit by the lectures of the greatest Greek scholar of the time. He shut himself up in his chamber, and determined to teach himself. He read Homer in twenty-one days, and then went through all the other Greek poets, orators, and historians, forming a grammar for himself as he went along. From Greek, at the suggestion of Postel, he proceeded to attack Hebrew, and then Arabic; of both he acquired a respectable knowledge, though not the critical mastery which he possessed in Latin and Greek. The name of Dorat then stood as high as that of Turnebus as a Greek scholar, and far higher as a professor. He has left nothing to justify his reputation as a scholar; but as a teacher he undoubtedly possessed the highest qualifications. He was able not only to impart knowledge, but to kindle enthusiasm for his subject in the minds of his hearers and pupils. It was to Dorat that Scaliger owed the home which he found for the next thirty years of his life. In 1563 the professor recommended him to Louis de Chastaigner, the young lord of La Roche Pozay, as a companion in his travels. A close friendship sprung up between the two young men, which remained unbroken till the death of Louis in 1595. The travellers first proceeded to Rome. Here they found Muretus, who, when at Bordeaux and Toulouse, had been a great favourite and occasional visitor of Julius Caesar at Agen. Muretus soon recognized Scaliger's merits, and devoted himself to making his stay at Rome as agreeable as possible, introducing him to all the men that were worth knowing. After visiting a large part of Italy, the travellers passed to England and Scotland, taking as it would seem La Roche Pozay on their way, for Scaliger's preface to his first book, the Conjectanea in Varronem, is dated there in December 1564. Scaliger formed an unfavourable opinion of the English. Their inhuman disposition, and inhospitable treatment of foreigners, especially impressed him. He was also disappointed in finding few Greek manuscripts and few learned men. It was not until a much later period that he became intimate with Richard Thompson and other Englishmen. In the course of his travels he had become a Protestant. His father, though he lived and died in the communion of the Church of Rome, had been suspected of heresy, and it is probable that Joseph's sympathies were early enlisted on the side of Protestantism. On his return to France he spent three years with the Chastaigners, accompanying them to their different chateaux in Poitou, as the calls of the civil war required their presence. In 1570 he accepted the invitation of Cujas, and proceeded to Valence to study jurisprudence under the greatest living jurist. Here he remained three years, profiting not only by the lectures but even more by the library of Cujas, which filled no less than seven or eight rooms and included five hundred manuscripts.

The massacre of St Bartholomew—occurring as he was about to accompany the bishop of Valence on an embassy to Poland—induced him with other Huguenots to retire to Geneva, where he was received with open arms, and was appointed a professor in the academy. He lectured on the Organon of Aristotle and the De Finibus of Cicero with much satisfaction to the students but with little to himself. He hated lecturing, and was bored to death with the importunities of the fanatical preachers; and in 1574 he returned to France, and made his home for the next twenty years in the chateaux of his friend the lord of La Roche Pozay. Of his life during this period we have for the first time interesting details and notices in the Lettres françaises inédites de Joseph Scaliger, edited by M. Tamizey de Larroque (Agen, 1881), a volume which adds much to our knowledge of Scaliger's life. Constantly moving from chateau to chateau through Poitou and the Limousin, as the exigencies of the civil war required, occasionally taking his turn as a guard when the chateau was attacked, at least on one occasion trailing a pike on an expedition against the Leaguers, with no access to libraries, and frequently separated even from his own books, his life during this period seems in one aspect most unsuited to study. He had, however, what so few contemporary scholars possessed—leisure, and freedom from pecuniary cares. In general he could devote his whole time to study; and it was during this period of his life that he composed and published the books which showed how far he was in advance of all his contemporaries as a scholar and a critic, and that with him a new school of historical criticism had arisen. His editions of the Catalecta (1574), of Festus (1576), of Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius (1577), are the work of a man who writes not only books of instruction for learners, but who is determined himself to discover and communicate to others the real meaning and force of his author. Discarding the trivial remarks and groundless suggestions which we find in the editions of nearly all his contemporaries and predecessors, he first laid down and applied sound rules of criticism and emendation, and changed textual criticism, from a series of haphazard and frequently baseless guesses, into a "rational procedure subject to fixed laws" (Pattison). But these works, while proving Scaliger's right to the foremost place among his contemporaries as far as Latin scholarship and criticism were concerned, did not go beyond mere scholarship. It was reserved for his edition of Manilius (1579), and his De Emendatione Temporum (1583), to revolutionize all the received ideas of the chronology of ancient history,—to show for the first time that ancient chronology was of the highest importance as a corrector as well as a supplement to historical narrative, that ancient history is not confined to that of the Greeks and Romans, but also comprises that of the Persians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians, hitherto neglected as absolutely worthless, and that of the Jews, hitherto treated as a thing apart and too sacred to be mixed up with the others, and that the historical narratives and fragments of each of these, and their several systems of chronology, must be carefully and critically compared together, if any true and general conclusions on ancient history are to be arrived at. It is this which constitutes his true glory, and which places Scaliger on so immeasurably higher an eminence than any of his contemporaries. Yet, while the scholars of his time admitted his pre-eminence, neither they nor those who immediately followed seem to have appreciated his real merit, but to have considered his emendatory criticism, and his skill in Greek, as constituting his claim to special greatness. "Scaliger's great works in historical criticism had overstepped any power of appreciation which the succeeding age possessed" (Pattison). His commentary on Manilius is really a treatise on the astronomy of the ancients, and it forms an introduction to the De Emendatione Temporum, in which he examines by the light of modern and Copernican science the ancient system as applied to epochs, calendars, and computations of time, showing upon what principles they were based.

In the remaining twenty-four years of his life he at once corrected and enlarged the basis which he had laid in the De Emendatione. With incredible patience, sometimes with a happy audacity of conjecture which itself is almost genius, he succeeded in reconstructing the lost Chronicle of Eusebius—one of the most precious remains of antiquity, and of the highest value for ancient chronology. This he printed in 1606 in his Thesaurus Temporum, in which he collected, restored, and arranged every chronological relic extant in Greek or Latin. In 1590 Lipsius retired from Leyden, where for twelve years he had been professor of Roman history and antiquities. The university and its protectors, the states-general of Holland and the prince of Orange, resolved to obtain Scaliger as his successor. He declined their offer. He hated the thought of lecturing, and there were those among his friends who erroneously believed that with the success of Henry IV. learning would flourish, and Protestantism be no bar to distinction and advancement. The invitation was renewed in the most gratifying and flattering manner a year later. Scaliger would not be required to lecture. The university only wished for his presence. He would be in all respects the master of his time. This offer Scaliger provisionally accepted. About the middle of 1593 he started for Holland, where he passed the remaining thirteen years of his life, never returning to France. His reception at Leyden was all that he could wish. A handsome income was assured to him. He was treated with the highest consideration. His rank as a prince of Verona was recognized. Placed midway between The Hague and Amsterdam, he was able to obtain, besides the learned circle of Leyden, the advantages of the best society of both these capitals. For Scaliger was no hermit buried among his books; he was fond of social intercourse with persons of merit and intelligence, and was himself a good talker.

For the first seven years of his residence at Leyden his reputation was at its highest point. His literary dictatorship was unquestioned. It was greater in kind and in extent than that of any man since the revival of letters— greater even than that of Erasmus had been. From his throne at Leyden he ruled the learned world, and a word from him could make or mar a rising reputation. The electric force of his genius drew to him all the rising talent of the republic. He was surrounded by young men eager to, listen to and profit by his conversation, and he enjoyed nothing better than to discuss with them the books they were reading, and the men who wrote them, and to open up by his suggestive remarks the true methods and objects of philological and historical study. He encouraged Grotius when only a youth of sixteen to edit Capella; the early death of the younger Douza he wept as that of a beloved son; Daniel Heinsius, from being his favourite pupil, became his most intimate friend. But Scaliger had made numerous enemies. He hated ignorance, but he hated still more half learning, and most of all dishonesty in argument or in quotation. Himself the soul of honour and truthfulness, with a single aim in all his writings, namely, to arrive at the truth, he had no toleration for the disingenuous arguments, and the mis-statements of facts, of those who wrote to support a theory or to defend an unsound cause. Neither in his conversation nor in his writings did he conceal his contempt for the ignorant and the dishonest. His pungent sarcasms were soon carried to the ears of the persons of whom they were uttered, and his pen was not less bitter than his tongue. He resembles his father in his arrogant tone towards those whom he despises and those whom he hates, and he despises and hates all who differ from him. He is conscious of his power as a literary dictator, and not always sufficiently cautious or sufficiently gentle in its exercise. Nor, it must be admitted, was Scaliger always right. He trusted much to his memory, which was occasionally treacherous. His emendations, if frequently happy, were sometimes absurd. In laying the foundations of a science of ancient chronology, he relied sometimes upon groundless, sometimes even upon absurd hypotheses, frequently upon an imperfect induction of facts. Sometimes he misunderstood the astronomical science of the ancients, sometimes that of Copernicus and Tycho Brahe. And he was no mathematician. But his enemies were not merely those whose errors he had exposed, and whose hostility he had excited by the violence of his language. The results of his system of historical criticism had been adverse to the Catholic controversialists, and to the authenticity of many of the documents upon which they had been accustomed to rely. The Jesuits, who aspired to be the expounders of antiquity, the source of all scholarship and criticism, perceived that the writings and authority of Scaliger were the most formidable barrier to their claims. It was the day of conversions. Muretus in the latter part of his life professed the strictest orthodoxy ; Lipsius had been reconciled to the Church of Rome; Casaubon was supposed to be wavering; but Scaliger was known to be hopeless, and as long as his supremacy was unquestioned the Protestants had the victory in learning and scholarship. A determined attempt must be made, if not to answer his criticisms, or to disprove his statements, yet to attack him as a man, and to destroy his reputation. This was no easy task, for his moral character was absolutely spotless.

After several scurrilous attacks by the Jesuit party, in which coarseness and violence were more conspicuous than ability, in 1607 a new and more successful attempt was made. Scaliger's weak point was his pride. Brought up by his father, whom he greatly reverenced, in the belief that he was a prince, of Verona, he never forgot this himself, nor suffered it to be forgotten by others. Naturally truthful, honourable, and virtuous in every respect, he conceived himself especially bound to be so on account of his illustrious ancestry. In 1594, in an evil hour for his happiness and his reputation, he published his Epistola de Vetustate et Splendore Gentis Scaligerae et J. C. Scaligeri Vita. In 1607 Gaspar Scioppius, then in the service of the Jesuits, whom he afterwards so bitterly libelled, published his Scaliger hypobolimaeus ("The Supposititious Scaliger"), a quarto volume of more than four hundred pages, written with consummate ability, in an admirable and incisive style, with the entire disregard for truth which Scioppius always displayed, and with all the power of that sarcasm in which he was an accomplished master. Every piece of gossip or scandal which could be raked together respecting Scaliger or his family is to be found there. The author professes to point out five hundred lies in the Epistola de Vetustate of Scaliger, but the main argument of the book is to show the falsity of his pretensions to be of the family of La Scala, and of the narrative of his father's early life, and to hold up both father and son to contempt and ridicule as impudent impostors. "No stronger proof," says Mr Pattison, "can be given of the impressions produced by this powerful philippic, dedicated to the defamation of an individual, than that it has been the source from which the biography of Scaliger, as it now stands in our biographical collections, has mainly flowed." To Scaliger the blow was crushing. Whatever the case as to Julius, Joseph had undoubtedly believed himself a prince of Verona, and in his Epistola had put forth with the most perfect good faith, and without inquiry, all that he had heard from his father as to his family and the early life of Julius. It was this good faith that laid the way for his humiliation. His Epistola is full of blunders and mistakes of fact, and, relying partly on his own memory partly on his father's good faith, he has not verified one of the statements of Julius, most of which, to speak most favourably, are characterized by rhodomontade, exaggeration, or inaccuracy. He immediately wrote a reply to Scioppius, entitled Confutatio Fabulae Burdonum. It is written, for Scaliger,, with unusual moderation and good taste, but perhaps for that very reason had not the success which its author wished and even expected. In the opinion of the highest and most competent authority, Mr Pattison, "as a refutation of Scioppius it is most complete"; but there are certainly grounds for dissenting, though with diffidence, from this judgment. Scaliger undoubtedly shows that Scioppius has committed more blunders than he has corrected, that his book literally bristles with pure lies, and baseless calumnies; but he does not succeed in adducing a single proof either of his father's descent from the La Scala family, or of any single event narrated by Julius as happening to himself or any member of his family prior to his arrival at Agen. Nor does he even attempt a refutation of what seems really to be the crucial point in the whole controversy, and which Scioppius had proved, as far as a negative can be proved,—namely, that William, the last prince of Verona, had no son Nicholas, the alleged grandfather of Julius, nor indeed any son who could have been such grandfather. But whether complete or not, the Confutatio had no success; the attack of the Jesuits was successful, far more so than they could possibly have hoped. Scioppius was wont to boast that his book had killed Scaliger. It certainly embittered the few remaining months of his life, and it is not improbable that the mortification which he suffered may have shortened his days. The Confutatio was his last work. Five months after it appeared, "on the 21st of January, 1609, at four in the morning, he fell asleep in Heinsius's arms. The aspiring spirit ascended before the Infinite. The most richly stored intellect which had ever spent itself in acquiring knowledge was in the presence of the Omniscient" (Pattison).

Of Joseph Scaliger the only biography in any way adequate is that of Jacob Bernays (Berlin, 1855). It was reviewed by the late Mark Pattison in an excellent article in the Quarterly Review, vol. cviii. (1860). Mr Pattison had made many MS. collections for a life of Joseph Scaliger on a much more extensive scale, which it is greatly to be regretted he left unfinished, and in too fragmentary a state to be published. The present writer has had access to and made much use of these MSS., which include a life of Julius Ceesar Scaliger written some years since. For the life of Joseph, besides the recently published letters above referred to, the two old collections of Latin and French letters and the two Scaligerana are the most important sources of information. For the life of Julius Caesar the letters edited by his son, those subsequently published in 1620 by the President de Maussac, the Scaligerana, and his own writings, which are full of autobiographical matter, are the chief authorities. M. De Bourousse de Lafibre's Étude sur Jules César de Lescale (Agen, 1860) and M. Mngen's Documents sur Julius Caesar Scaliger et sa famille (Agen, 1873) add important details for the lives of both father and son. The lives by M. Charles Nisard—that of Julius in Les Gladiateurs de la République des Lettres, and that of Joseph in Le Triumvirat Littéraire au seizième siècle—are equally unworthy of their author and their subjects. Julius is simply held up to ridicule, while the life of Joseph is almost wholly based on the book of Scioppius and the Scaligerana. A complete list of the works of Joseph will be found in his life by Bernays. (R. C. C. )

The above article was written by: Richard C. Christie.

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