Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Marcia Colish


Erasmus, Seneca, Anthony Grafton


This thesis had its origins in my reading of an article by Anthony Grafton entitled, appropriately, "The Origins of Scholarship." This article, in the form of a review of Rudolf Pfeiffer's History of Classical Scholarship from 1300 to 1850, attempts to set forth the major tasks faced by historians working on the history of classical scholarship. Grafton states the primary task quite simply as follows: "We want to know not only what the early scholars thought about the studia humanitatis, but how they practiced them." This involves undertaking detailed studies of the scholarly works-editions, commentaries, philological treatises- of early classical scholars, both to determine their approach to their material and to place their work in its larger historical and biographical context. Grafton himself has taken on this task for the sixteenth-century scholar Joseph Scaliger. My purpose in this thesis is to provide a study of Erasmus's two editions of Seneca that will address the issues raised by Grafton about that Renaissance scholar's approach to his material and the historical context in which he worked.

Erasmus's work on the text of Seneca provides particularly fertile ground for such a study. Erasmus edited Seneca twice, once in 1515 and again in 1529. This enables us to examine the ways in which Erasmus's treatment of Seneca changed in response to the changing historical situation. The first edition appeared at a time when Erasmus's concerns were primarily educational- he had been occupied for several years as a tutor, and was to write his Education of a Christian Prince in the following year. When the second edition appeared in 1529, his concerns had shifted to the debates with Luther and the Ciceronians. In Chapter 1 I will examine the ways in which these external factors are reflected in Erasmus's work on Seneca.

Chapters 2 and 3 will be devoted to the more strictly philological aspects of Erasmus's editions. In Chapter 2 I will set the stage by discussing first Erasmus's Renaissance predecessors in the field of textual criticism and their methods, and then turn to a general discussion of Erasmus's own philological aims and methods as he discusses them in his prefaces to his editions of classical authors. In Chapter 3 I will attempt to fill out this outline with concrete examples from Erasmus's edition of the De beneficiis. I have chosen to discuss this work because it contains a larger number of annotations than the other Senecan works in Erasmus's editions, and hence provides more of a base on which to draw my conclusions. From this discussion I hope a clearer picture of the character of Erasmus's editorial work on Seneca will emerge.

In my final chapter I will look briefly at the developments in textual criticism up to the end of the sixteenth century to see how Erasmus stands in relation to those who followed him.

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