Julius Caesar Scaliger
Humanist, b. at Riva on Lake Garda in 1484; d. at Agen, France, Oct. 21, 1558
Scaliger, (It., DELLA SCALA), JULIUS CAESAR, humanist, b. at Riva on Lake Garda in 1484; d. at Agen, France, October 21, 1558. He was brought to France as physician to Antonio de la Rovera, Bishop of Agen, and became a French citizen under the name of Jules Cesar de l’Escale de Bordonis. He took part in the discussion concerning Ciceronianism and began his career as a humanist by a violent work against Erasmus, “Oratio pro Cicerone contra Erasmum” (Paris, 1531). He defended the absolute perfection of Cicero’s style and denounced Erasmus as a mere proof corrector, a parasite, and a parricide. Erasmus kept silence. In 1536 Scaliger issued a still more violent discourse. The two discourses were combined: “Adversus D. Erasmum orationes duce eloquentiae romance vindices cum auctoris opusculis” (Toulouse, 1621). He wrote a more solid work in a calmer tone in “De causis linguae latinae libri XIII” (Lyons, 1540; Geneva, 1580), in which he analyzed the correct style of Cicero and indicated 634 mistakes of Valla and his predecessors. He was the first to attempt a systematic treatise on poetry: “Poetices libri octo” (Lyons, 1561; Leyden, 1581; Heidelberg, 1607). The general principles of this work are derived from Aristotle whom he calls “imperator noster; omnium bonarum artium dictator perpetuus”. Like Aristotle he makes imitation the basis of all poetry. He spoiled his work by exaggerations; not only does he place Virgil above Homer but he places the Homeric epics below the “Hero and Leander” of Muswus, a poet of the Byzantine period; it is true that Scaliger identifies him with the legendary Musus, a disciple of Orpheus (Poet., V, 2). He declared that Seneca was not surpassed in grandeur by any of the Greek tragedians. This last opinion was not without its consequences; it explains the excessive liking of Shakespeare, Corneille, and many of their contemporaries for the tragedies of Seneca.
Scaliger is also the author of the following works: “De comicis dimensionibus” (Lyons, 1539); “Exotericarum exercitationum de subtilitate ad H. Cardanum” (Paris, 1537; Basle, 1560); “Poemata” (Geneva, 1574; Heidelberg, 1600); “Epistolae et Orationes” (Leyden, 1600). He translated into Latin Aristotle‘s “Natural History” (Toulouse, 1619), the “Insomniac” of Hippocrates, and wrote commentaries on the treatises on plants of Theophrastes and Aristotle. As a physician he was much interested in botany; he demonstrated the necessity of abandoning the classification of plants based on their properties and of establishing one based on their distinctive characteristics. He was violent, vain, and given to exaggeration. His faults spoiled pleasing natural gifts and wide learning.