This was hardly news to the core of the astronomical fraternity, but at a humbler level Scaliger managed to insult astrologers by seeming to wish to promote, as had Pico della Mirandola, a reformed astrology. Insulting was second nature to him, but this was no doubt a misunderstanding. If he had anything scientific in his sights, it was the proper reckoning of time.
Medieval and Renaissance Europe had an obsession with time at many levels: with the monumental clock, which portrayed the moving universe; with the calendar of church festivals, that embodied hopes of both salvation and earthly rest; and with a sense of place in world history. But chronology was also an aid to those who wished to incorporate ancient myths into their histories, by methods honest or arcane.
Prophecy on the basis of Biblical chronology offered crumbs of hope in a world at war and in political chaos. Chronology, in short, mattered.
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It is not surprising that, as Scaliger wrote to Calvisius, no Frankfurt book-fair passed without its new crop of chronologies. Grafton represents even chronology itself as in decline, at least in its traditional form — and his wistful regrets are not the sort that carbon dating, thermoluminescence or dendrochronology are likely to mitigate.
In the course of editing texts, Scaliger had often come across chronological puzzles. The astronomers had preserved information on dozens of calendars, but not on this, it seemed.
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Solutions were offered to such problems of calendar conversion in increasing numbers as the century wore on. In , Scaliger was forced to confront the situation when he came to edit works by Macrobius, Aulus Gellius and, especially, Censorinus.
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This was a baptism of fire, for Censorinus in particular makes a number of poor historical judgments, and he was only one of many contradictory witnesses to bemuse the humanists. Why did no two 16th-century chronologers find it easy to agree, when dealing with rational systems that had been drawn up by astronomers, using highly accurate parameters that were generally well reported?
Was it not just a matter of simple arithmetic? There is no easy answer, but if one single generalisation is in order, it is that the calendar is easily overrated as a point of contact between civil and scientific history. The remarkable calendar cycles of early Antiquity, for example, which were so successful at bringing the movements of the Sun and Moon into step, were not aimed primarily at reforming civil calendars, with their rather haphazard intercalation of days and their involvement in a network of festivals and public affairs. This perspective became quite alien to most of Europe eventually, after the establishment of the Julian calendar — that imposed by the political skill of the real Julius Caesar.
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Scaliger dimly discovered the significance of parapegmata only after he moved to Leiden, but even then the point never really struck home. In helping the learned Bishop de Foix de Candale with the Greek text of the Hermetic writings, Scaliger became greatly excited by the blend of Jewish creation story, Egyptian religion and Neoplatonic philosophy that he found there. His thoughts led on to the origins of the various European peoples, and to some of the medieval fantasies on this theme — such as that which traced the Franks back to the Trojan Francus and the Britons to his cousin Brutus.
With the rise of nationalism, this quasi-historical movement became stronger, and took a number of religious turns, as when the French Calvinist Hotman replaced the Trojan myth with Frankish legends.
In one era and out the other
Scaliger entered the fray with a discussion of the origins of the Scots in his commentary on Tibullus By a textual emendation of Seneca scuta Brigantas became Scotobrigantas , he purported to show that the Romans knew the Scots by the first century AD, and that he was thereby giving the Scots a national identity. He had visited the country.
A debate of extraordinary liveliness — extraordinary in view of its tiny beginnings — was still reverberating a century later. Scaliger was gradually getting the message: textual emendation could have its chronological dangers. The growing mania for ancient genealogy chimed with his own history, which his father had insisted stretched back to Theodoric. Despite his Calvinistic contempt for Italian scholars and the Catholic Church — he preferred talking Hebrew with the learned Jews of Mantua and Ferrara to cultivating the society of Italian Humanists — he was inspired by the sight of Rome and the opportunity to copy inscriptions.
Returning home in , he found his studies interrupted by the religious wars of that and the following year. After the massacre of St Bartholomew in August , he fled to Geneva, where he had contacts with other Protestant men of letters. Largely owing to the protection of the La Roche-Pozay family, he managed to carry on his work during the wars of the League.
But in , the year when Henri IV decided that Paris was worth a mass, he accepted the offer of a chair at the newly founded university of Leiden, which had already become one of the chief cultural centres of Europe. Here he taught such pupils as Daniel Heinsius and Grotius, and here he died in LRB 17 May Receive regular news and offers from the London Review Bookshop.
You asked, again and again and again , and we listened: now you can buy official London Review of Books and London Review Bookshop products online, shipped anywhere in the world. Our much loved keyboard reference mousemat is back in stock! Replace your tatty old one with the fresh, updated version. This multi-contributory volume surveys the reception and transformation of classical literary culture in England up to the Henrician era.
Context for medieval reception is provided by chapters on the classics in the medieval curriculum, the trivium and quadrivium, medieval libraries, and medieval mythography. Reception of specific classical authors and traditions is surveyed in chapters on Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Statius, the matter of Troy, Boethius, moral philosophy, historiography, biblical epics, John of Salisbury and the twelfth century, and the role of antiquity in medieval alliterative poe Reception of specific classical authors and traditions is surveyed in chapters on Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Statius, the matter of Troy, Boethius, moral philosophy, historiography, biblical epics, John of Salisbury and the twelfth century, and the role of antiquity in medieval alliterative poetry.
The medieval section culminates in chapters on Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate. The later period is surveyed in chapters on early English humanism, humanist education and libraries in the Henrician era, and chapters dedicated to the classicism of Skelton, Douglas, Wyatt, and Surrey.
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