SCALIGER, Julius Caesar

SCALIGER, Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar Scaliger, a French classicist of Italian birth, wrote on such varied topics as botany, zoology, grammar, and literary criticism. He composed a con­siderable volume of Latin verse, introduced a generation of French scholars to the Greco-Roman classics, and fathered a brilliant classicist, Joseph Justus Scaliger.*
Born in the Republic of Venice, Scaliger claimed, inaccurately, to descend from the Della Scala family who had ruled Verona for centuries. He left Italy in 1525 to become a physician in France. He first achieved fame in 1531 by attacking Erasmus's* Ciceronianus: O Dello stile migliore (Ciceronian: A Di­alogue on the Best Style of Speaking), a work in which Erasmus had ridiculed the purists for refusing to admit nonclassical terms into their Latin prose. Scaliger's attack indicates that he may not have understood precisely what Erasmus was ridiculing. In 1539 he wrote a commentary on a work by Hippocrates; a year later he wrote De causis linguae Latinae (On the Subject of the Latin language), a Latin grammar based on scientific principles. In 1556 he wrote a commentary on an ancient book about plants that had been incorrectly attributed to Aristotle. In 1557 he addressed some of the problems raised by a contemporary natural philosopher, Girolamo Cardano.* Two unfinished commentaries, one on Aristotle, the other on Theophrastus, were published posthumously.
His most influential work was another posthumous book, his Poetice (Poetics) of 1561, in which he grounded a theory of literary criticism in the ancient works on rhetoric and poetics, including those of Aristotle. It was this wider conception of "criticism," in which the critic judges the quality of the work, rather than simply argues for the correctness of the text, that was the greatest contribution of the elder Scaliger.
A. Grafton, Joseph Scaliger: A Study in the History ofClassical Scholarship, 2 vols., 1983-93.
Tim McGee

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.