Erudition, Skepticism, Credulity: A Sketch of Isaac Vossius

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. II:

“Isaac Vossius (1618 — 1689), who was born at Leyden, was appointed professor of History at Amsterdam at the age of fifteen. Nine years later he visited Italy, and we find him giving his friend N. Heinsius a graphic account of the difficulties he experienced in seeking admission to the libraries in Rome. In 1649 he left Amsterdam for the court of queen Christina. He taught the queen Greek, and sold her a large number of his father’s valuable mss. She is the ‘Xanthippe’ of his letters to Heinsius. He left Sweden in 1652 owing to a dispute with Salmasius, and, six years later, in an edition of Pomponius Mela, had the satisfaction of noticing some of the geographical mistakes made in his opponent’s work on Solinus. He repeatedly visited Paris, and was tempted to enter the service of France, which would have made it necessary for him to become a Catholic. But he preferred becoming an Anglican, not (like Casaubon) on grounds of real belief, but because he desired to retain the right to a certain degree of speculative freedom. His sponsor in England was John Pearson, the scholarly Master of Trinity, who had been attracted by his work on Ignatius. He received an honorary degree at Oxford (1670), and was presented by Charles II with a prebend at Windsor (1673), but he scandalised his colleagues by reading Ovid during the services in St George’s Chapel, and by saying of one of their number who was absent from Windsor but was loyally doing his duty at his country-living : — ‘ est sacrificulus in pago et rusticos decipit ‘. With his scepticism he combined a singular degree of credulity, and it was possibly the credulity exhibited in his work on the Sibylline Oracles (1679) that prompted Charles II to say of him: ‘He is a strange man for a divine; there is nothing that he will not believe, if only it is not in the Bible ‘. He is said to have been intimately acquainted with the manners and personages of all ages but his own. Evelyn, who met ‘ the learned Isaac Vossius’ at dinner ‘at my Lord Chamberlain’s’, discourses, ten years later, on the erudite note on tacking, which Vossius had introduced into his commentary on Catullus.”

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