Joseph Justus Scaliger: The Correspondence

The simultaneous publication of the eight volumes of letters is a rare event: the culmination of seven years of careful work at the Warburg Institute. The edition was made possible by Anthony Grafton, who devoted a substantial portion of his award from the International Balzan Prize Foundation to the task. The Warburg Institute agreed to host the project and supplied the essential intellectual and institutional support. Jill Kraye took on a supervisory role, and in 2004 two editors were appointed, Paul Botley and Dirk van Miert. Among the many acts of scholarly generosity which made the edition possible, special thanks are owed to Henk Jan de Jonge (Leiden) who read and commented on the entire edition before publication. The Mellon Foundation and Princeton University generously supplemented the initial award from the Balzan Foundation, and donations from Dutch benefactors have allowed the publisher to keep the price of the edition relatively low.

Scaliger’s surviving correspondence amounts to 1,670 letters, written between 1561 and 1609. About two-thirds of the letters are in Latin, with substantial Greek and Hebrew components, while the rest are in French. In the new edition, each letter is supplied with headnotes, which indicate its manuscript and printed sources, discuss its date and determine its place within the broader correspondence. Where possible, couriers and networks of intermediaries are identified. Each letter is equipped with a detailed English synopsis, textual apparatus and commentary. The origins and diffusion of Scaliger’s most important works are explained in a series of longer headnotes, which also outline concerns running through the correspondence. The general introduction in the first volume discusses the manuscript and printed sources of the letters and clarifies the relationships between manuscripts in Copenhagen, Hamburg, London, Paris and Leiden. The final volume contains a small number of undated letters, a record of letters which have not come to light and a list of correspondents. Much of this volume is given over to a biographical register of Scaliger’s correspondents and contemporaries, which supplements and corrects the accounts in various biographical dictionaries with information gleaned from the letters. The possibilities opened up by the new edition were illustrated at an event in Leiden on 28 September 2012, led by Dirk van Miert, where a large group of students used it to explore Scaliger’s personal papers from the collections of Leiden University Library.

Joseph Scaliger was born in southern France in 1540 into the family of the great scholar Julius Caesar Scaliger, author of the influential Poetics. His early education was at Bordeaux. From Bordeaux he returned to spend his teenage years with his father until the latter’s death in 1558, a few weeks after his son’s eighteenth birthday. Scaliger’s father was the central figure in his life, and after his death he cultivated his reputation with great zeal. Following a period of intense study in Paris, he became in 1563 a companion of the French nobleman, Louis de la Rochepozay. His patronage allowed Scaliger the resources to travel, study and write. Among his earliest works were editions of classical authors, and he acquired a reputation as an acute textual critic at a time when this skill was still highly regarded. In 1593, at the age of 52 and at the height of his powers, he moved from France to the University of Leiden. There, with a comfortable salary and no teaching commitments, he continued his studies until his death in 1609. About eighty per cent of the surviving correspondence comes from his time at Leiden.