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Scaliger [Bordon, Bordonius], Julius Caesar

1. Dates
Born: Padua, 23 Aug. 1484
Died: Agen, France, 21 Oct. 1558
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 74
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan, Scientist
Scaliger claimed noble descent from the great Veronese family, della Scala. There is no concrete evidence of this other than Scaliger's and his son's claim, and there is great evidence against it. I think that no one continues to believe this claim.
Scaliger's father, Benedetto Bordon, was an expert miniaturist and illuminator of manuscripts and books, and a graphic artist. He was also an astronomer, geographer, and cartographer.
No secure information on financial status, though there are certainly hints that it was modest. The University of Padua excused Scaliger from the fees when he took his degree, something done only for poor students. Before his stint in the university Scaliger apparently followed a military career for about six years, clearly in order to support himself.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian, French (1528, naturalized citizen)
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Padua, Ph.D.
In 1519 he received his doctorate of arts at Padua. There is no proof that he received a medical degree, though he may have.
There is a question as to whether he attended the University of Bologna or the University of Padua. I have been impressed by the evidence that it was Padua and only Padua. I assume a B.A.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He may have briefly entered a Franciscan convent in Venice around 1505.
In 1538, he was summoned before the Inquisition as a Huguenot sympathizer and later acquitted.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy, Medicine, Botany
Nostradamus and Rabelais were attracted to Agen to study with Scaliger. Rabelais left in 1530 to study under physicians who, unlike Scaliger, continued to follow the ancient and medieval doctrines.
He presented editions of three ancient treatises in which he tried to effect a new and more consistent classification of plants. He felt it was necessary to submit everything to examination and not to embrace ancient authorities with 'servile adulation'.
During his tour in the army he studied medicine and collected medicinal herbs in Northern Italy.
He first established his fame by a savage attack on Erasmus (Paris, 1531). He confirmed his fame with a critique of Cardano expressed in his Exotericarum exercitationem (1557), which won him the admiration of Bacon and Leibniz.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Patronage
Secondary: Personal Means, Military
Apparently Scaliger was a soldier between roughly 1509 and 1515.
In 1520, after he completed his degree, the University of Padua offer Scaliger a position, which he refused.
He arrived at Agen as personal physician to Bishop Antonio della Rovere in 1524. At Agen he became a well-known and respected physician. He served as consul of Agen in 1532-3. Even after his duties as consul were over, Scaliger petitioned the Consuls of Agen to keep his tax exempt status in return for free medical services during time of plague, for the poor, and for lepers. Also, in return for his tax exempt status he promised to charge fees set by the consuls' ordinnances. Let it be added that Scaliger nevertheless earned enough to die wealthy.
In Agen he married a young woman with a modest estate which Scaliger enjoyed.
From 1548-9 he was the physician to the King of Navarre.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Court Official
About 1515 SCaliger composed a poem, "Elysium," dedicated to Alfonso and Isabella d'Este, but the outcome seems to indicate that he failed to gain the patronage he was manifestly seeking.
He was the personal physician to Bishop Antonio della Rovere, having established himself in the favor of the family in Piedmont.
He was the personal physician to the King of Navarre.
In the sources I have consulted there has not been any information about dedications of his publications. I find it impossible to believe that Scaliger did not attempt to extract every possible ounce of advantage from dedications.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. V. Hall, Jr., "The life of Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558)," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s. 40 (1950), 85-170. Q11.A57
  2. J.H.C. Richards, "The Elysium of Julius Caesar Bordonius (Scaliger)," Studies in the Renaissance, 9 (1962), 195-217.
  3. D223.S93
  4. Myriam Billanovich, "Benedetto Bordon e Giulio Casare Scaligero," Italia medioevale e umanistica, 11 (1968), 187-256. PA9.I88
  5. This study fully lays the Della Scala myth to rest.
  6. Jules de Bourrousse de Laffore, Jules-César de Lescale. Etude biographique, (Agen, 1860). From a century ago, this short work buys the Della Scala myth entirely.
  7. P.A. Saccardo, "La botanica in Italia," Memorie del Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 26 (1895), 148, and 27 (1901), 98.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Joseph Justus Scaliger, Epistolae, (Leiden, 1627). Joseph Justus Scaliger, following his father's charade, gave the Della Scala myth its enduring statement in a published letter, which is available in quite a few sources.
  2. Adolphe Magen, ed., "Documents sur Jules-César Scaliger et sa famille," Recueil des travaux. Société d'agriculture, sciences et arts d'Agen, 2nd ser., 3, 161-276.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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