Guillaume Budé, a (legal) humanist

Image folder congress May 2018How did the interest in the history of Roman law start in Early Modern Europe? In the Middle Ages scholars who got access to the famous Codex Florentinus, a sixth-century manuscript with the text of Justinian’s Digest, for centuries hold at Pisa, did notice the Greek elements. We call the scholars who started to study Classical Antiquity and literature in its full depth and width humanists. The Renaissance in Italy spread quickly to other parts of Europe. In France Guillaume Budé (1468-1540) quickly became one of the foremost humanists. From May 3 to 5, 2018 an international congress will be held in Paris with the glorious title Les Noces de Philologie et de Guillaume Budé. L’œuvre de Guillaume Budé au prisme du savoir humaniste cinq siècles et demi après sa naissance. How did philology and Budé come together? In this post I will look at this upcoming scholarly event, and at Budé and his heritage.

A versatile scholar

The sections of the congress in May 2018 will look at different themes. The frist section focuses on Budé’s mastery of Greek and his contributions as a Hellenist. In the second section scholars will discuss how Budé read not only works by Classical authors, but also of his contemporaries. Legal humanism and politics are the central theme of the third section. Budé as an author and especially the creator of dictionaries comes into focus in the following section. The fifth section is devoted to a single book, De assethe model monograph of Budé about Roman coins and much more. A section concerning the reception of his works and Budé’s afterlife and reputation will close the congress.

in the section on legal humanism scholars will tackle various subjects and questions. Patrick Arabeyre will discuss to what extent more traditional lawyers in the first half of the sixteenth century were influenced by legal humanists and their books in their own works. In a way this is a paper about the importance of the mos gallicus, the nickname for the new approach to law associated with French humanists. It is good to keep in mind that some Italian lawyers, in particular Andrea Alciato, taught also in France. The Annotationes in XXIV libros Pandectarum and the traces of Budé’s developing views are the subject of a paper by Jean Céard. Decades ago Douglas Osler already fulminated against those scholars who without any reflection took any nearby copy of this work as their only source, see his articles ‘Budeaus and Roman law’, Ius Commune 13 (1985) 195-212, and ‘Turning the title page’, Rechtshistorisches Journal 6 (1987) 173-182. Michel-Dominique Couzinet will look at philosophy and history in the Institution d’un prince, his only work in French. Guillaume Budé and Thomas More’s Utopia are the theme of a paper by Michel Magnien. This section just happens to be the only one with exclusively French speakers.

Portrait of Budé by Jean Clouet

Portrait of Guillaume Budé by Jean Clouet (died 1540) – painting, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – image Wikimedia Commons

A quick look at Budé – or Budaeus, the latinized form of his name – learns you that he was indeed a towering figure. He translated Plutarch from the Greek. His Commentarii linguae Graecae led the foundation for Estienne’s Thesaurus linguae Graecae, the first major Greek dictionary. Budé was a secretary of king Louis XII, and was later close to François I for whom he created a library at Fontainebleau with a collection of Greek manuscripts that would later become the core of the modern Bibliothèque nationale de France. In 1530 he was one of the founders of the Collège de France, first named Collège Royal. As a royal officer Budé was chosen in 1522 to serve a year as prevôt des marchands in Paris, a function in which he had to deal with commerce in Paris and the powerful Parisian merchants. His study of Roman coinage in De Asse was not only a vehicle for showing his skills as a scholar of ancient numismatics, but in this work he wanted to gain and show insight in Roman culture and society. A French summarized translation appeared in 1523 [Sommaire ou epitome du livre de asse (Paris: Galliot du Pré, 1522 (=1523))]. Budé would not have been a true humanist without an extensive correspondence with other humanists from Étienne Dolet and François Rabelais to Desiderius Erasmus and Thomas More.

Budé’s reputation and reception

A society active in France for the promotion of editions and translations of Classical texts has the appropriate name Association Guillaume Budé. You can find its journal, the Bulletin de l’Association Guillaume Budéonline at the Persée portal, from its start in 1923 up to 2015. The Institute d’Histoire et Recherche des Texts (IRHT) in Paris and Orléans has created a database concerning the transmission of ancient and medieval texts with an acronym, Base Unique de Documentation Encyclopédique, BUDE, which you can access after registration. It is astonishing Budé figures with only two editions of his works, but luckily two 1543 editions of the Annotationes are among the books digitized in Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles des Humanistes (Université de Tours), a project which figured here in 2013.

Banner BP16

Speaking of digital libraries, the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC, University of St. Andrews) will show more than 300 titles of works and editions by Budé. Increasingly the USTC contains links to digitized versions of sixteenth and seventeenth-century books. In the database BP16: Bibliographie des éditions parisiennes du 16e siècle of the BnF, based on the bibliographical work of Philippe Renouard and Brigitte Moreau, Budé figures with 65 works printed in Paris in the sixteenth century, i.e. editions, single publication and works of authors with whom he was associated. Humanists often wrote prologues, poems and recommendations which authors included in their publications.

Ciover of H.E. Troje's "Crisis digestorum"

As for Budé and his work on the Justinian Digest I would not dare to say here anything without first at least mentioning the last study of the late Hans Erich Troje, “Crisis digestorum”. Studien zur historia pandectarum (Frankfurt am Main 2011). Troje died on October 11, 2017. Since his 1971 book Graeca leguntur Troje patiently studied the way humanist scholars looked at the sources of Roman law. The ways the Digest was viewed and studied developed in an intricate interplay of preparations for new editions of the text in the Codex Florentinus, a most complex manuscript, and reading and valuing both published editions and commentaries by leading humanists. Access to the venerable manuscript in Florence and to Angelo Poliziano’s notes about it proved crucial. A few years ago I was happy to summarize here the excellent introduction to the Pandette manuscript and its history by Davide Baldi who shows you nicely the difficulties facing you when you want approach and understand this precious manuscript.

It would go beyond the scope of this post to look systematically at recent publications about Budé, but I cannot resist mentioning here an edition of some of his letters in La correspondance de Guillaume Budé et Juan Luis Vives, Gilbert Tournoy (ed.) (Leuven 2015). Marie-Madeleine de La Garanderie and Luigi-Alberto Sanchi published a volume with articles under the title Guillaume Budé, philosophe de la culture (Paris 2010). The title and contents show nicely the many ways one can view Budé and the high esteem he still enjoys. The Bulletin de l’Association Guillaume Budé is a sure port of call to find new studies, notes about sources and reviews of recent publications. In many cases you will Budé encounter anyway when you study the spread of humanism and its very particular offspring, legal humanism. His broad interests, the depth of his learning and the size of his network are probably too daunting for scholars to embark on a full biography of this remarkable figure. If anyone nowadays is able to take up this challenge you will soon think of Anthony Grafton. He showed more than a passing interest for Budé in his study Commerce with the ClassicsAncient Books and Renaissance Readers (Ann Arbor, MI, 1997). After his books on Scaliger and Casaubon Budé would seem an obvious choice for a sequel. Hopefully the conference in Paris will bring new and interesting views, and perhaps the spur for a much needed monograph on Budaeus.


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