Petau, Denis

, perhaps better known by his classical appellation of Dionysius Petavius, was born at Orleans Aug. 21, 1583. His father, Jerome Petau, although a merchant, was a man of considerable literature, and rather more attentive to matters of taste than of commerce: the consequence of which was, that he left very little property to his children, six sons and two daughters. He gave them all, however, a learned education; the daughters as well as the sons being taught Latin and Greek, and able to write verses in both languages. But we find, that with all his learning, Jerome was a superstitious bigot to his religion; which his biographer, father Oudin, as warm a zealot as himself, says was at one time in danger of being shaken by some of his Protestant friends, who were very numerous in Orleans. Nay, he was, according to Oudin, about to renounce Popery altogether, and retire with his family, when an extraordinary accident prevented his design. A part of his house tell down, and so frightened him, that, while he lay buried under the ruins, he made a vow, that if ever | he escaped, he would break off all acquaintance with the Protestants; and being dug out alive and unhurt, he kt-pt his vow, and endeavoured to give his children the *ame dislike to the Protestant faith as he had formerly determined to give them to the Roman Catholic.

As he perceived in his second son, Denis, a more than ordinary capacity, as well as eagerness for knowledge, he paid particular attention to the formation of his taste and the direction of his studies; and often told him, that he should lay up such a fund of knowledge, as to be able to cope with “the giant of the Allopbyloe,” as he called Sealiger, whose learning and works were of such importance to the Protestants. This advice was not thrown away on Denis, who studied, with the greatest diligence, both at Orleans and Paris j and when he came to take his degree of master of arts, supported a thesis in Greek; a language which he knew as intimately as Latin, and both more so than he knew French. For two years he heard the lectures of the most eminent doctors of the Sorbonne, in his time; and was so assiduous, that he never left his study, unless for the king’s library, where he was permitted to consult the valuable Greek and Latin manuscripts. About this time he became acquainted with the learned Isaac Casaubon, whom Henry IV. had invited to Paris in 1600, and their friendship continued until Casaubon’s departure for England, and, what hurt Petau most, his departure from Popery, after which he treated him with as much asperity, as any other of his opponents. In the mean time, it was in consequence of Casaubon’s advice, that, young as he was, he undertook to prepare for the press an edition of the whole works of Synesius; that is, to collate manuscript copies, to translate what was in Greek, and to add explanatory notes. He had no sooner undertaken this work, than he was promoted to the professorship of philosophy in the university of Bourges, when only in his nineteentn year. The course which this office enjoined him to teach lasted two years, during which he also read the ancient philosophers and mathematicians.

In the second year of his being at Bourges, Frederick Morel, Grerk professor at Paris, brought out a complete edition of the works of Dio Chrysostom, and inserted a discourse of Synesius, translated by Petau, who was not sorry to have this opportunity of sounding the taste of the public on the merits of his translation. In the title are the | words Interprete Dionysio P<eto, the name he assumed some time before this. Hitherto his intention had been to enter the church; and he was already subdeacon, and had been preferred to a canonry in the cathedral of Orleans. He had never yet seen the Jesuits; but having become acquainted with the nature of their order, when at Bourges, partly from inclination, and partly from the persuasions of the learned Fronto Ducaeus, he entered as a noviciate among them at Nancy, in June 1605. After two years of probation, he studied for two years longer at the college of Pont-a-Mousson, then very flourishing. Thence he was sent to Rheims, where, for three years, he taught rhetoric. In 1610, he did the honours of the college at the consecration of Louis XIII.

Notwithstanding these employments, and the production of some occasional pieces in prose and verse, which they required, he was enabled to publish his edition of Synesius in 1612; but, as he was absent from the press, it suffered much by the carelessness and ignorance of the printers; and even the second edition, of 1631, retains a great many of the errors of the first. It gave the learned, however, an opportunity of knowing what was to be expected from the talents, diligence, and learning, of father Petau; and they entertained hopes which were not disappointed. During the years 1613, 1614, and 1615, he taught rhetoric in the college of La Fleche, in Anjou; and, in the first of these years, he published some works of the emperor Julian, which had hitherto remained in ms. and announced his intention of publishing an edition of Themistius, the Greek orator and sophist. In 1614, when the college of La Flche was visited by Louis XIII. with the queen mother and the whole court, he contributed many of the complimentary verses on the occasion; which, as we shall notice, were afterwards published. In the mean time, he undertook an edition of Nicephorus’s historical abridgment, which had never been printed either in Greek or Latin. In this he was assisted with the copy of a valuable manuscript, which father Sjrmond sent to him from Rome. In 1617, the Biblical professor of La Flche being removed to another charge, Petau supplied his place, until called to Paris by order of his superiors, to be professor of rhetoric. It was about this time that he was attacked by that violent fever, which he has so well described in his poem entitled “Soteria;” a circumstance scarcely worth mentioning, if | it had not been connected with an instance uf superstition, which shews that his father’s prejudices had acquired possession of his mind. During this fever, and when in apparent danger, his biographer tells us, he made a vow to St. Genevieve, and the fever left him. The object of his vow was a tribute of poetical thanks to his patroness and deliverer. In order to perform this as it ought to be performed, he waited until his mind had recovered its tone but he waited too long, and the fever seized him again, as a re- 1 membrance of his neglect. Again, however, St. Genevieve restored him; and, that he might not hazard her displeasure any more, he published his “Soteria,” in 1619, which the connoisseurs of that time thought his chef (Taeuvre in poetry; and his biographer adds, that “it is in Virgil only we can find lines so completely Virgilian.” The remainder of his life was spent in performing the several offices of his order, or in those publications, a list of which will prove the magnitude of his labours. He died at Paris, December 11, 1652, in the sixtyninth year of his age. He seems, by the general consent, not only of the learned men of his communion, but of many Protestants, to have been one of the greatest scholars the Jesuits can boast: and would have appeared in the eyes of posterity as deserving of the highest character, had not his turn for angry controversy disgraced his style, and shown, that with all his learning and acuteness, he did not rise superior to the bigotry of his time. We have a striking instance of this, in his connection with Grotius. He had, at first, such a good opinion of that illustrious writer, as to think him a Roman Catholic in heart; and on his death, said a mass for his soul; but some time after, writing to cardinal Barberini, he uses these remarkable words: “I had some connection with Hugo Grotius, and I wish I could say he is nmc happy /

The catalogue of the works of Petau affords an uncommon proof of diligence; for we are assured, that besides the labour of composing, compiling, &c. he transcribed every thing with his own hand for the press, and employed no amanuensis or reader to assist him. Among his works are: 1. “Synesii Dio, vel de ipsius vitae institute,” mentioned already as published in Morel’s edition of St. Chrysostom. 2. “Panegyricus Ludovico XIII. Francix et Navarrx regi, &c. in natalem diem,” &c. 1610, 12mo. 3. “De laudibus Henrici magni carmen,” &c. 1&10, | 4. “Oratio de laudibus Henrici magni,Rheims, 1611, 4to. 5. “Synesii Opera,Paris, 1612 1633, 3 vols. folio. 6. “Julian! imperatoris orationes tres panrgyricaD,” Flexise (La Fieche), 1613, 8vo. 7. “Themistii Orationes septemdecim. Gr. Lat.” ibid. 1613, 8vo. 8. “Tragce iia, Carthaginienses,” ibid. 1614, 8vo, a tragedy in the manner of Seneca, which it was then the fashion to imitate. 9. “Pompa regia Ludovici XIII” &c. a collection of the complimentary verses on the royal visit to La Fieche, mentioned before, 1614, 4to. 10 “Nicephori Breviariuin Historicum,” Gr. et Lat.“Paris, 1616, 8vo. 11.” Themistii, cognomento Suadae, orationes novemdecim, Gr et Lat.“ibid. 1618, 4to. 12.” Soteria ad S. Genov-fam,“ibid. 1619, 4to, his votive poem to St. Genevieve. 13. Another, in praise of the same saint,” Panegyricus in S Genevefam,“ibid. 1619, 4to. 14.” D. Petavii Orationes,“ibid. 1620, 1622, 1624, 8vo. 15.” D. Petavii Opera Poetica,“ibid. 1621, 8vo, reprinted at least three times. 16.” Office de S. Genevieve,“ibid. 1621, 16mo. 17. Epiphanii Opera omnia,” ibid. 1622, 2 vols. folio, reprinted at Cologn 1682. In April following the publication of this work, Salmasius took occasion to attack Petau, in his edition of the “Pallio” of Tertullian, and certainly not in very respectful language. Petau’s biographer says he ought to have taken no notice of such an attack, as in that case his silence would have completely disconcerted Salmasius, a man who could not exist without a quarrel with some contemporary; or, at all events, Petau should have been content with a short answer to such an opponent. Perhaps Petau might have been pf this opinion, if he had not considered that Salmasius was a Protestant, and regarded by Protestants as the man who would one day supply the loss of Joseph Scaliger; and he was not therefore sorry to have this opportunity, not only to defend himself against Salmasius, but to attack him in his turn. He published, accordingly, 18. “Animadversionum liber,” under the fictitious name of Antonius Kerkoetius Aremoricus, and die fictitious place of “Rhedonis apud Yvonem Halecium,” i.e. “Parisiis, apud Sebast. Cramoisy,1622, 8vo. This brought on an angry controversy, in which Salmasius certainly had some advantages, from his superior knowledge of the manner of handling the weapons of controversy; and perhaps we may be permitted to say, from his having the, better cause to support. Petau’s pamphlets, on this | casion, were entitled “Mastigophores,” and consisted of three, and a supplement, published in 162:5 and 1624. But we hasten to his more important chronological works, uhich, of all others, preserve his memory in our times: 19. “Opus de doctrina Temporum,Paris, 1627, 2 vols. folio, reprinted, with additions from his own copy, Amst. 170:3, folio. 20. “Uranologion, sive systema variorum authorum, qui de sphaera ac sideribus, eorumque motibus Grasce commentati sunt,” ibid. 163O, folio,“intended as a supplement to his” Doctrina temporum“to which an additional volume was published, with dissertations from the Mss. of Petau and Sirmond, in 1703, folio. 21.” Tabulue Chronologicae Regum, Dynastarum, Urbium, &c. a mundo coridito, &c. &c.“ibid. 1628, on large sheets, and often reprinted: the best edition is that of Vesel, 1702. 22.” Rationarium Temporum,“ibid. 1633, 12mo. the best known and most useful of all his works, and long the standard book in all seminaries and private libraries, for chronology and history. It was consequently often reprinted, improved, and enlarged, not only by the author, but by various other editors. There are two editions, printed at Leyden in 1724 and 1745, 2 vols. 8vo, which are said to be the best. Besides these, and many other works of inferior importance enumerated by his biographer, Petau published a considerable number of theological pieces, which have sunk into oblivion, except perhaps his” Theologica dogmata,“Paris, 1G44, 5 vols. folio; reprinted more correctly at Antwerp, 1700, 3 vols. folio. Of this work, Bayle has observed, that Petavius did the Socinians great service, though unawares, and against his intentions and quotes the following passage from the” Lettres Choisies“of Mr. Simon” If there be any thing to censure in Petavius’s works, it is chiefly in the second tome of his “Dogmata Theologica,” in which he seems to favour the Arians. It is true, that he softened those passages in his preface; but as the body of the work continues entire, and the preface, which is an excellent piece, came afterwards, it has not entirely prevented the harm which that book is like to do at this time, when the new Unitarians boast, that father Petavius declared for them.“Baylo thinks he has resolved this, by informing us that Petavius’s original design, in the second volume of his” Dogmata Theologica,“was, to represent ingenuously the doctrine of the three first centuries. Having no particular system | to defend, he did not disguise the opinions of the fathers; but acknowledged that some of them entertained false and absurd notions concerning the Trinity. All this, however, either from fear, or upon better consideration, he retracted, and published a” Preface,“in which he laboured solely to asseYt the orthodoxy of the fathers. The” Dogmata Theologica of Petavius,“says Gibbon,” is a work of incredible labour and compass: the volumes which relate solely to the incarnation (two folios of 837 pages) are divided into sixteen books: the first of history, the remainder of controversy and doctrine.“” The Jesuit’s learning,“adds our infidel historian,” is copious and correct: his Latinity is pure, his method clear, his argument profound and well connected: but he is the slave of the fathers, the scourge of heretics, and the enemy of truth and candour, as often as they are inimical to the Catholic cause." 1


Life by Oudin, in —Niceron, vol. XXXVII. Batesii Vitas Selectorur* Virorum. Dupin. Burigny’s Life of Grotius. Gibbon’s History. Sawi Onomasticon.