Scaliger’s reputation was built on his works, not on his correspondence. These works may be placed into four categories.
Title page of Marcus Manilius, Astronomicon a Ios. Scaligero ex vetusto codice Gemblacensi infinitis mendis repurgatum. Eiusdem Iosephi Scaligeri notae etc. Leiden (Christophorus Raphelengius for Joannes Commelin) 1599-1600, with a handwritten dedication from Scaliger to the mathematician Henri de Monantheuil. Leiden University Library, 754 E 24. courtesy of the Leiden University Library/Scaliger Institute
The first category includes his poetry. He made a Latin translation of Lycophron’s Cassandra which is every bit as impenetrable as the original Greek. He translated Sophocles’ Oedipus and his Aiax, many poems from the Greek Anthology, and the Hymns attributed to Orpheus. He also produced a large body of Greek verse, including verse translations of a good number of Latin poems. He translated the so-called mimes of Publilius Syrus, and the Distichs of Cato into Greek. He also rendered a good part of Martial into Greek. His facility with Greek verse particularly impressed contemporaries. Throughout his life he responded to requests for occasional poems, and after his death his poetry was collected to form a sizeable volume. He wrote almost no French poetry.
Title page of Petrus Scriverius’ edition of Josephus Justus Scaliger, Poemata omnia, Leiden (Franciscus II Raphelengius) 1615. The book later came into the possession of Isaac Vossius, whose library was bought by the Leiden University Library, 562 G 18. courtesy Leiden University Library/Scaliger Institute
The second category of his works includes his textual scholarship. Under the patronage of La Rochepozay, he established himself as a scholar with a European reputation. His notes on Varro appeared first, in 1565. In the 1570s four important editions emerged: the remnants of the lexicon of Festus (1574-75); the poetry of Ausonius (1575); an edition of Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius (1577); and the long astronomical poem of the first-century author Manilius (1579). His profound knowledge of Latin and Greek made him a master of conjectural emendation. It is for this reason that his notes, letters and marginalia have been studied by generations of textual scholars.
Illustration: Title page of the second edition of Josephus Justus Scaliger, Opus de emendatione temporum, Leiden (Franciscus II Raphelengius) 1598, Leiden University Library, 420 B 1. courtesy of the Leiden University Library /Scaliger Institute.
The third category comprises his work on chronology. His edition of the text of Manilius had entailed a careful study of ancient astronomical science. Shortly after Pope Gregory’s reform of the calendar in 1582, he published his own work on calendar reform, De emendatione temporum (1583). His work on chronology culminated in 1606 in his greatest achievement, the Thesaurus temporum. This was initially conceived as a new edition of the Chronicon of Eusebius, but in its final form this work laid the foundations for modern understanding of the relationship between the numerous calendars of the ancient world.
Illustration: Title page of the second edition of Josephus Justus Scaliger, Opus de emendatione temporum, Leiden (Franciscus II Raphelengius) 1598, Leiden University Library, 420 B 1. courtesy of the Leiden University Library/ Scaliger Institute
The fourth and final category contains his controversial writings on his ancestry. Joseph ’s father had told him that he was a Della Scala, descended from the one-time lords of Verona . It is not clear how seriously Julius took this unlikely piece of genealogy, but it is certain that his son took it very seriously indeed. When Scaliger’s catholic critics realised how sensitive he was about his noble descent, they attacked it in public at great length. Scaliger responded with angry treatises of equal length. He seems to have died fully confident of his own nobility. (PB). The (partly) posthumously edited works of Scaliger include the Opuscula, his Letters and his Table Talk