In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Isaac Casaubon

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies

Renaissance and Reformation Isaac Casaubon
Máté Vince
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0505


Isaac Casaubon (1559, Geneva–1614, London) has been widely regarded as the most significant classical scholar of his generation. More recently, his equally important contribution to the history of the early church and to theological controversy has received recognition. The son of Calvinist minister Arnaud Casaubon, he held university positions in Geneva (1582–1596) and Montpellier (1596–1599), was summoned to Paris (1599–1610) to subsequently serve as royal librarian to King Henri IV of France and, after his patron’s assassination, died in London as an advisor to King James I of England (1610–1614). His second wife Florence was the daughter of the influential printer-publisher Henri Estienne II. They lived happily and had at least seventeen children, including the Anglican minister and classical scholar Meric Casaubon. Isaac Casaubon is best known for his editions of classical Greek and Roman authors, his groundbreaking treatises on satire and other forms of classical literature, his biblical scholarship, his polemical writings against Ultramontane Catholics and especially the Jesuits, and his unusually well-preserved correspondence and private diary. Beyond his universally acknowledged Greek and Latin scholarship, he also studied Hebrew and Arabic, and knew modern languages to varying extents, including Italian and perhaps even some English. Casaubon knew and corresponded with scholars, printers, theologians, and statesmen throughout Europe, from Dublin and Bath in the west to Gdańsk and Kaliningrad in the east. After the monumental volume of Casaubon’s correspondence published in 1709, general interest in Casaubon waned, even as classical scholarship continued to build on Casaubon’s textual criticism and scholarship, until the publication of the Ephemerides in 1850, which prompted Mark Pattison to write his ever since unrivaled biography. According to Pattison, Casaubon was first and foremost a historian of ancient times and an editor of Greek and Roman authors, who was later in life lured into the murky waters of religious controversy and politics, where he was out of his depth. More recently, there has been a revival of interest in Casaubon’s work as a major figure of intellectual history and the history of scholarship, including conferences, edited volumes, and journal special issues (Erudition and the Republic of Letters 4.3), as well as monographs and editions. Recent scholarship has increasingly shown that Casaubon always had a strong interest in religion, to the extent that even pagan authors often gave him an opportunity to contemplate Biblical interpretation. He has always tried to play an active part in giving credibility as a scholar to what he believed to be the true religion, but was often reined in by Henri IV and his circle—until in England he had the opportunity to engage openly in debates with Catholics, especially Jesuits.

General Overviews

There have been several attempts at composing an intellectual biography of Casaubon, including John Prideaux’s rebuttal of Jesuit attacks, based on Casaubon’s own account in private letters (Prideaux 1614), Meric Casaubon’s defense of his father (Casaubon 1621), and the introductory material in Almeloveen’s 1709 edition of Casaubon’s correspondence (see Almeloveen 1709 under Works Published Posthumously), as well as The Life 1785 and the most up-to-date short treatment in Considine 2015. While Nisard 1852 placed Casaubon’s significance firmly on the level of Lipsius and Scaliger, Pattison 1875 remains the standard, most comprehensive account of Casaubon’s life and works despite its weaknesses and biases, and despite the biography by Nazelle 1897. This is partly due to the fact that Casaubon’s scholarship is so wide-ranging and voluminous that few individual scholars would have the expertise or resources to cover everything. Nevertheless, recent monographs and editions devoted to Casaubon’s contributions to specific fields such as Greek scholarship (Parenty 2009), Hebrew scholarship (Grafton and Weinberg 2011), biblical scholarship and religious controversy (Hardy 2017), and scholarly correspondence (Botley and Vince 2018) have all offered general accounts of Casaubon’s life and intellectual legacy, and sought to re-evaluate some of Pattison’s biased conclusions. Pattison’s disparaging assessment of Casaubon’s move toward theology—a move that Pattison considered a fatal mistake—has defined views of Casaubon for a long time; however, over the twentieth century a more inclusive understanding of what texts a “classical” scholar should be concerned with developed (now including Christian Greek and Latin authors, as well as Hebrew and Arabic scholarship too), which has led to a reassessment of Casaubon’s achievements as a scholar and editor of the early church (see in detail under Casaubon’s Scholarship). Another general port of entry to Casaubon’s world are various catalogues to his surviving writings (see in detail below under Bibliographies), and here again Pattison’s list of Casaubon’s published works is a good start, with important additions—particularly with regards to manuscripts—in Parenty 2009, Grafton and Weinberg 2011, and Botley and Vince 2018. A catalogue of Casaubon’s letters is available on Early Modern Letters Online (see Botley and Vince 2022 under Bibliographies). An important and ongoing project is the reconstruction of Casaubon’s library: his often heavily annotated collection of books is dispersed across several libraries in various countries (Birrell 1980).

  • Birrell, T. A. “The Reconstruction of the Library of Isaac Casaubon.” In Hellinga‑Festschrift: Forty‑Three Studies Presented to Dr Wytze Hellinga. Edited by A. R. A. Croiset van Uchelen, 59–68. Amsterdam: Nico Israel, 1980.

    Provides a general overview of what was and was not there in Casaubon’s library, what happened to his books during his lifetime and after his death.

  • Botley, Paul, and Máté Vince, eds. The Correspondence of Isaac Casaubon in England, 1610–14. 4 vols. Critical ed. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 2018.

    While focusing on Casaubon’s “English” years, its introduction and notes contain the most recent short account of Casaubon’s life, works, and personal and intellectual connections; it revises Pattison’s view of Casaubon’s final years and his family relationships in several important matters; it also features an updated bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

  • Casaubon, Meric. Pietas contra maledicos patrii nominis, et religionis hostes. London: Officina Bibliopolarum, 1621.

    Defends his father Isaac’s reputation from the Jesuit attacks that were still ongoing seven years after his death. An English version was published as The Vindication or Defence of Isaac Casaubon Against Those Imposters that lately published an impious and unlearned Pamphlet, Intituled The Originall of Idolatries, etc. under his name . . . . Published by his Majesties Command (London: Bonham Norton and John Bill, 1624).

  • Considine, John. “Casaubon, Isaac (1559–1614), Classical Scholar and Ecclesiastical Historian.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 61 vols. Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and B. Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1093/ref:odnb/4851

    The standard short account of Casaubon’s life and works.

  • Grafton, Anthony, and Joanna Weinberg. “I Have Always Loved the Holy Tongue”: Isaac Casaubon, the Jews, and a Forgotten Chapter in Renaissance Scholarship. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv1bzfpps

    Explores Casaubon’s development as a scholar through the lens of how he learnt Hebrew, and how his work fits into the broader context of biblical, Hebrew, and Jewish scholarship of the period.

  • Hardy, Nicholas. Criticism and Confession: The Bible in the Seventeenth Century Republic of Letters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    It is an excellent study of the interconnected intellectual history of scholarship and religious strife in the Early Modern period, demonstrating convincingly that the apparent theological neutrality of some citizens of the 17th-century Republic of Letters is an idealized fiction created by Enlightenment scholars.

  • “The Life of Isaac Casaubon;” and “Additional Anecdotes by Dr Kippis.” The London Magazine, Enlarged and Improved 4 (1785): 93–100.

    A short biography, including an annotated list of Casaubon’s work. Reprinted in The Classical Journal 12 (1815): 172–184.

  • Nazelle, L. J. Isaac Casaubon, sa vie et son temps. Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1897.

    Includes a relatively comprehensive bibliography of Casaubon’s works. Reprinted Geneva, 1970.

  • Nisard, M. C. Le triumvirat littéraire au XVIe siècle: Juste Lipse, Joseph Scaliger, et Isaac Casaubon. Paris: Amyot, 1852.

    This now largely outdated study of the scholarship of Justus Lipsius, Joseph Scaliger, and Isaac Casaubon established the often invoked idea that the three reigned as a triumvirate over the Republic of Letters in their own time.

  • Parenty, Hélène. Isaac Casaubon, helléniste: Des studia humanitatis à la philologie. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 2009.

    Extensive study of Casaubon’s Greek scholarship, exploring Casaubon’s commentaries on and editions of Greek authors. It defines his role in classical scholarship by considering Casaubon’s often innovative methods of textual criticism.

  • Pattison, Mark. Isaac Casaubon 1559–1614. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1875.

    Despite its shortcomings and biases (see under Private Matters and Scholarship), this 150-year-old biography is still the most comprehensive account of Casaubon’s life and works. Pattison was prompted to write it after reviewing the first edition of Casaubon’s diaries. It is well worth reading for its sweeping mid-19th-century style alone, but it also displays an unrivaled intimacy with Casaubon’s published and unpublished writings. There is a second revised edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892.

  • Prideaux, John. Castigatio cuiusdam circulatoris, qui R. P. Andream Eudaemon-Iohannem Cydonium e Societate Iesu seipsum nuncupat. Opposita ipsius calumniis in ‘Epistolam Isaaci Casauboni ad Frontonem Ducaeum’. Oxford: Joseph Barnes, 1614.

    A defense of Casaubon’s integrity by the Oxford theologian, commissioned by King James in response to Eudaemon-Joannes’s slanderous treatise. Casaubon himself provided biographical information and a list of his publications in several letters, as discussed in Vince 2019 (see under Casaubon and Theology).

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