Justus Lipsius

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Justus Lipsius, the Flemish humanist, classical philologist, and literary critic, foremost interpreter of Stoicism in the later Renaissance, and the founder of modern neo-Stoicism, exercised a strong influence on later moral thought. Born near Louvain, he spent most of his life in exile. At the age of twenty-four, he renounced the Catholicism of his native land, accepting the chair of history and eloquence at the Protestant University of Jena (1572). After two years, he returnedostensibly as a repentant Catholic and loyal Brabantian. Again forced to fleethis time to the Calvinist Dutchand abjuring Catholicism a second time, he accepted the chair of history at Leiden (1579). Harassed constantly by political and religious pressures, he went to the University of Louvain, becoming one of its most prominent scholars.

The vicissitudes of his life began during the time of civil war in the Low Countries. His Tacitus appeared at Louvain the year after his return from Jena (1575), as did his Antiquae Lectiones. These commentaries on Plautus signaled his adoption of a literary style modeled after Plautus, Tacitus, and Seneca. Lipsius was profoundly influenced by the thought and prose style of Seneca and devoted the remainder of his life to the study of Stoicism. This work of Lipsius, in turn, influenced Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Guillaume du Vair, and Pierre Charron, and in England, Francis Bacon and Joseph Hall.

The victories of Don John of Austria (Gembloux, 1578) caused Lipsius to flee to the home of his friend Christophe Plantin, and then from Antwerp to Leiden, where he became a Calvinist. Here appeared De Constantia (1584), an introduction to Stoicism and his most famous work. Another well-known work, Politicorum Libri Sex (1589), led to a bitter dispute over its advocacy of severe methods to curb unrest. His position again became intolerable; finally, he made his peace with the Jesuits (and his old friend Martin Delrio) at Mainz (1591) and returned to Catholic Europe. He accepted the chair of history and Latin literature at Louvain (1592) and was also appointed professor of Latin at the Collegium Trilingue. He published several pieces on miracles as testimonials of faith, which added little to his fame. A projected Fax Historica, on Greco-Roman history and the histories of the Jews, Egyptians, and others, was never completed, although several parts were published. His last works were Manuductio ad Stoicam Philosophiam (1604), a miscellany of Stoic moral doctrines and survey of the Paradoxa; and Physiologia Stoicorum, a careful study of the Stoic logic and physics (1604). These make clear that Lipsius was responsible for a restored Stoic philosophy and particularly for the reemphasis on natural philosophy. Although he counted himself more an eclectic than an orthodox follower of any school, Lipsius attempted to show in these works that there was no real difficulty in reconciling the Stoic fatum with the Christian emphasis on free will (whereas in De Constantia, this possibility had been rejected).

See also Bacon, Francis; Charron, Pierre; Humanism; Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de; Moral Epistemology; Renaissance; Seneca, Lucius Annaeus; Stoicism.


works by lipsius

Opera Omnia. 4 vols. Wesel, 1675.

Tvvo Bookes of Constancie, edited by R. Kirk. Translated by Sir John Stradling. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1939.

works on lipsius

Corbett, Theodore G. "The Cult of Lipsius: A Leading Source of Early Modern Spanish Statecraft." Journal of the History of Ideas 36 (1975): 139152.

Croll, Morris W. "Juste Lipse et le mouvement anti-cicéronien à la fin du XVIIe siècle." Revue du seizième siècle 2 (1914): 200242.

Long, A. A. "Stoicism in the Philosophical Tradition: Spinoza, Lipsius, Butler." In Hellenistic and Early Modern Philosophy, edited by Jon Miller. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Saunders, J. L. Justus Lipsius: The Philosophy of Renaissance Stoicism. New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1955.

Zanta, L. La renaissance du stoicisme au XVIe siècle. Paris: Champion, 1914.

Jason L. Saunders (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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Justus Lipsius (jŭs´təs lĬp´sēəs), 1547–1606, Flemish scholar, whose original name was Joest Lips. He was one of the most celebrated authorities of his day on Roman literature, history, and antiquities. Lipsius edited many works of Latin literature, his edition of Tacitus being particularly famous.