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Justus Lipsius

Philologian and humanist of the Netherlands, b. at Overyssche, Oct. 18, 1547; d. at Louvain, March 23, 1606

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Lipsius, JUSTUS (JOSSE LIPS), philologian and humanist of the Netherlands, b. at Overyssche, October 18, 1547; d. at Louvain, March 23, 1606. Descended from an illustrious family, he studied first at Ath, and afterwards at the Jesuit College, Cologne. He wished to enter the Society of Jesus on September 29, 1562, and become a novice. But this displeased his father, who recalled him and sent him to study law and literature at Louvain. In this university Pierre Nannius (Nanninck) had established in the Collegium Trilingue a fine seminary of philology, which was at the time directed by Valerius (Corneille Wouters). There Lipsius found companions such as Louis Carrion, Jean Dousa, Martin Delrio, Andre Schott. He ardently took up the emendation and critical examination of Latin texts, especially of Cicero, Propertius, and Varro, and, as early as 1566, had collected three books of “Variae Lectiones”, which were published in 1569 at Antwerp, dedicated to Cardinal Granvelle. The latter, who was in Rome, made him his Latin secretary (1569-70). Lipsius returned to Louvain, but left it again in 1571, alarmed by the government of the Duke of Alba. He made a more or less prolonged stay at Liege, Dole, Vienna, and Jena. In the last city he became a Lutheran, and, all through the constant changes of confessions of faith and religious tendencies, he was careful to be constantly with the masters of the moment. On a visit to Cologne he met a widow, a native of Louvain, and married her although she was older than he (1573). She refused to accompany him to Jena and he resigned his professorship there in February, 1574. Settled at Cologne he supervised the publication of his “Tacitus” (Antwerp, 1574). He was the first scholar to differentiate the “Annals” from the “History”, and although he did not have access to the principal manuscripts—the two Medicean MSS.—he introduced in his text over 450 emendations, which have been accepted by all subsequent editors. It was only much later, for his fourth edition (1605), that he became acquainted with these manuscripts through the Pichena edition (1600). He also deserves commendation for his use of inscriptions in the explanation of texts. At the same time appeared “Antiquae lectiones” (Antwerp, 1575), miscellaneous criticisms devoted mainly to Plautus, to the fragmentary works of archaic authors, or to Propertius.

Lipsius was lecturing at Louvain during the following years (1576-77), but the victory of Don John of Austria forced him to go over to Leyden where he taught in the newly founded university (1578-91). During this period he published collections of his letters, new conjectures, antiquarian dissertations, and two new editions of Tacitus with an historical commentary. Apart from the philological works, he composed treatises on politics and ethics; of these the treatise on constancy (De Constantia, Antwerp, 1584) is the best known, and has had thirty-two editions, without including the translations. However, Leyden was not favorable to his health, and he and his wife regretted their native town. He had already made an attempt to get away in 1586. The States and the city did their utmost to detain him. In 1590 Dirk Coornhert publicly called upon him to take sides in the religious controversies. Lipsius answered evasively and tried to dissemble. Finally, he left the city and became reconciled with Catholicism in the Jesuit Chapel at Mainz (April, 1591). He went to Spain in search of health, and during a sojourn at Liege he prepared new works, drew from a psalter of the ninth century Frankish glosses of great interest, and was finally forgiven for his stay in an heretical country rebellious to the King of Spain. From that time began a new period in Lipsius’s life. Coldly received at first by Some of his compatriots, but encouraged by a few warm admirers, he was appointed professor of history and Latin at the Collegium Trilingue of Louvain (1592), then historiographer to the King of Spain (1595), and later honorary member of the State Council (1605). To give a proof of his piety, he wrote the “De Cruce” (1593), in which confusion between patibulum and crux often make the conclusions debatable.

Lipsius contemplated writing a general treatise on Roman antiquities (Fax historica), and, as a result of his studies, produced treatises on the army (“De militia romans”, Antwerp, 1595), and on the defense and attack of fortified towns (“Poliorceticon”, Antwerp, 1596), a kind of statistical work on the Roman Empire (“Admiranda,” 1598), short dissertations upon libraries, upon Vesta, and the Vestals (1602). However, every now and then, his religious wanderings were recalled to the public mind. He succeeded in producing the impression that one of his former discourses of Jena, “De duplici concordia”, published at Zurich in 1599, was not his. He himself called forth the sneers and and the refutations of the Protestants by describing the veneration and the miracles of Our Lady of Hal (1604), and of Our Lady of Montaigu (1605). His coreligionists greatly respected and trusted him. In 1599 Archduke Albert and his wife Isabella, having come on a visit to Louvain, expressed the wish to have him prepare a Latin oration, which he did within two hours. He chose as a subject the greatness of a prince, from a passage of Seneca (De Clementia, I, iii). Many imaginary accounts have been given of this speech. Lipsius did not broach the subject of clemency, and still less did he interrupt one of his lectures to bring it up before the princes. The discourse was published in 1600, with Pliny’s panegyric of Trajan and a commentary on this work. But Lipsius’s most important works of this period were on Seneca and Stoicism. He wished to explain in detail the Stoic philosophy, for which he professed the greatest admiration, objecting only to its toleration of suicide. He had time only for a general outline of the system and of its place in ancient philosophy (“Manuductionis ad stoicam philosophiam libri III”, 1604), and an analysis of the theology, the physics, and the cosmology of the Stoics (“Physiologiae stoicorum libri III”, 1604); he had not time to write the ethics. Nevertheless these two works are even today the most complete treatise ever written on Stoicism as a whole. The “Seneca” was published in 1605, with a dedication to Pope Paul V. Unfortunately, Lipsius was misled by a poor manuscript which he believed excellent, and the commentary concerns the Epistles to Lucilius only. His last work was a description and history of Louvain (1605).

Before his death he gave solemn expression to his faith. His manuscripts have been in the Leyden library since 1722. There have been four editions of his complete works (Lyons, 1613; Antwerp, 1614; Antwerp, 1637, a very fine one; Wesel, 1675). In religion, for a long time, Lipsius held aloof from both parties. His “Politics” (1589) were considered too severe in Holland and too tolerant at Rome. He escaped being placed on the Index only by accepting torture as a legitimate last resort to bring back heretics (1593). He believed, however, in sorcerers, in charms and spells, and in the commerce of witches with devils, from which children were born (Phys. stoic., p. 61). His philological work is brilliant, but at times superficial. He knew little Greek, but was well acquainted with Roman antiquity. His “Tacitus” is a masterpiece of discernment and erudition. His Latin style is peculiar. He chose to imitate the style of Tacitus and Apuleius, which caused him to be criticized by Henry Estienne (1595). Notwithstanding some imperfections, he is, with Joseph Scaliger, Casaubon, and Saumaise, one of the most eminent representatives of classical philology between 1550 and 1650.


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