Learning to Read

Feats of Scholarship

The Writing on the Wall

Epigraphy and Wanderlust

Cities and Men

The Currency of the Ancients

The Visual Image of Antiquity




Feats of Scholarship



Marcus Manilius, ed. Joseph Scaliger, Astronomicon

Joseph Scaliger

Portrait of Joseph Scaliger


Polyaenus, notes by Isaac Casaubon, Strategemata

Isaac Casaubon

Portrait of Isaac Casaubon


The copying of texts by hand necessarily introduces an element of error, and manuscripts are easily damaged. Thus if the heroes among the early antiquarians were the book-hunters, by the 16th century the editors had assumed the mantle. The job of the editor is to reconstruct, as nearly as possible, the original version of a particular text. This requires both erudition and presumption.

Doubtless one of the most learned and presumptuous men in the history of scholarship, Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609) could read Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and Ethiopic, and brought all to bear on his virtuosic editions of ancient authors. Not content to emend difficult texts, as in his edition of Manilius shown here, Scaliger produced a hypothetical version of the Greek text of Eusebius's Chronicle, of which only later summaries had survived.

This conjuring act was performed in the service of a larger project: Scaliger's reconstruction of the chronology of ancient history. His reconciliation of various calendrical systems allowed events in Greek, Jewish, and Near Eastern history to be placed on the same timeline, making of antiquity a discrete and comprehensible temporal entity. Scaliger's conception of history was extremely influential; a remark of his on the four ages of Greek poetry would be expanded by Winckelmann into an evolutionary scheme for Greek art.

Scaliger's younger contemporary, Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614) is today known primarily as the inspiration for Edward Casaubon, the impotent husband of Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot's novel Middlemarch. The historical Casaubon did exemplify ascetic devotion to scholarship, but also managed to father some fourteen children. His major works were commentaries on such learned compendia as Strabo's Geography and the Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus. The Calvinist Casaubon worked himself literally to death pursuing a controversy with a Catholic historian. He was, in the words of his biographer, Mark Pattison, "the martyr of learning."


[Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections]