“Dad’s Dead, Now I Can Learn Greek!”

Rudolf Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship 1300-1850 (Chp. IX):

“Born in 1540 in the south of France, he [Joseph Justus Scaliger] went to school at Bordeaux, but only for a very short time; in practice his father Julius Caesar, the author of Poetices libri septem, was his principal teacher. He was made to write eighty to a hundred or even two hundred lines of Latin verse every day at his father’s dictation and to deliver daily declamation in Latin prose; this practice in speaking and writing gave him a firm grounding in the principles of versification and in the free use of the Latin language. But from his early youth he also had a feeling for the observation of nature, for natural sciences, mathematics, and astronomy, showing himself a true and worthy contemporary of Galileo, Kepler, Tycho de Brahe, and Bacon. His father, while making him a perfect Latin scholar, kept him strictly away from Greek language and literature; and it was only at the age of nineteen, after his father’s death, that he had the opportunity of going to Paris to learn Greek. At the Collège de France he attended the lectures of Turnebus; but for the most part he remained his own teacher in Greek, reading Homer in three months, all the other Greek poets in the next four months, and in two years the whole of the Greek literature accessible to him. At the same time, in order to practise the knowledge thus acquired, he translated difficult texts like Lycophron and the Orphic Hymns (1561) into Latin, making use for this purpose of his astonishing knowledge of early Latin vocabulary.”

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