“I Wish That I Were a Good Grammarian!”

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

“He disliked the Italians, who were, as he thought, frivolous atheists, to whom the classics were only playthings; he felt the deepest aversion to papal Rome. Though brought up in the Catholic faith, Scaliger had come into close contact with the Calvinistic circles in his Paris years, and he apostasized either in 1562 before his Italian journey or afterwards in 1566. It is understandable that he should have detested the growing political struggle being waged under the pretext of religion and that some Calvinistic ideas should have appealed to him. He believed that he found in them a spiritual independence, an impetus to real criticism as an instrument of truth; but since ‘he did not dispute on the controversial points of faith’, as his greatest friend the Catholic historian de Thou said, it is almost impossible to come to a conclusion about his beliefs. One thing, however, is certain: he had a profoundly religious mind and embraced ‘Muse and religion’ with equal love. On the relation of grammatica and religio there is a very remarkable dictum in the Scaligeriana, of which only the first part is usually quoted, perhaps his most famous words: ‘Utinam essem bonus grammaticus.’ [‘Would that I were a good grammarian!’] But the meaning is unmistakably given by the passage that follows: ‘Non aliunde discoridae in religione pendent quam ab ignorantione grammaticae’, all controversies in religion arise from ignorance of grammatica. This is not ‘grammar’ in the trivial sense, but criticism in the Hellenistic sense of γραμματική as the κριτικὴ τέχνη. When we look back to Erasmus and his contemporaries and pupils, we can hardly deny that Scaliger touched one of the chief problems of his century. But he did not apply his scholarship in extenso to this problem itself.”

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“He will have written ‘The Muses and Apollo’ at one stroke who writes your name, renowned Joseph.'”

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