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The Praise of a Pagan: Pseudo-Longinus in 17th‑century Dutch Scholarship

Wieneke Jansen

In this paper I demonstrate that Pseudo-­‐‑Longinus’ treatise Peri hypsous (On the  sublime) already held a significant place in Dutch scholarship half a century earlier than is usually thought. It has often been said that the reception of Peri hypsous effectively began with the publication of the French translation by Nicholas Boileau-­‐‑Despréaux in 1674 (e.g. Brody 1958 and Macksey 1993). Recent publications have drawn attention to the influence of Longinus’ treatise prior to Boileau’s famous translation in Italy,  France  and  England  (Van  Eck  et  al. 2012). The reception of Longinus’ treatise in the Netherlands has however hardly been explored  hitherto.

In Peri hypsous 9.9, Longinus praises the ‘Lawgiver of the Jews’ (Moses, as the author of the Pentateuch) for his apt conception and expression of divine power in the first  verses  of Genesis. Longinus loosely quotes: “God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light, ‘Let there be earth,’ and there was earth”. This citation is unique in  the  context  of  Longinus’ treatise, being the only literary example not taken from classical literature (Usher 2007). In the context of early modern biblical  scholarship,  Peri  hypsous  9.9  was  perceived  as remarkable because it preserves the opinion of a non-­‐‑Christian on a biblical text. This ‘praise of a pagan’ sparked the interest of three Dutch humanists: Gerardus Joannes Vossius (1577-­‐‑ 1649), Hugo Grotius (1583-­‐‑1645) and Daniel Heinsius (1580-­‐‑1655).

My argument consists of three parts. First, I will demonstrate how Gerardus Vossius’ close reading of, and handwritten marginalia to his copy of Peri hypsous laid the basis for his incorporation of Longinus’ praise of Moses in his Commentarii Rhetorici (1606). Vossius explicitly labels Longinus as a pagan (pago deditus). Secondly, I will show how Hugo Grotius effectively picks up the passage as an argument from a non-­‐‑Christian author in his plea for religious peace (Meletius, 1611), a point that will return in his De veritate religionis Christianae (1627). Thirdly, I will discuss Daniel Heinsius’ reference to Longinus in his Aristarchus sacer (1627), a critical appraisal of Nonnus’ paraphrase of the Gospel of John, in which Heinsius adduces Longinus as an authority on the stylistics of the biblical text. Thus I will show that Longinus’ quotation of Genesis first entered the intellectual circle of these three Dutch humanists as an example of rhetorical theory (Vossius), and later consolidated itself in their biblical scholarship (Grotius and Heinsius).

The influence of Longinus’ Fiat lux after Boileau is well known (e.g. Till 2006). This paper will disclose the impact of this passage on an earlier period, one of religious trouble as well as sublime scholarship: the Dutch Golden Age.

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Neo-Latin Texts in a World Context: Current Research

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