John Wolley (ca. 1530–1596) and the first Latin translation of Sextus Empiricus, adversus logicos I

  • Charles B. Schmitt
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives internationales d’histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 117)


No one has done more than Richard Popkin to illuminate the diffusion and assimilation of sceptical thought in Early Modern European intellectual history.2 Since he began his work in this field about thirty-five years ago much new material has come to light and we are in general in a much better position to understand the situation. Not only do we have a far better understanding of the way scepticism functioned for many different thinkers from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, but we also have a much fuller comprehension of the recovery and later influence of the key sceptical works which survived antiquity. As Popkin himself has frequently emphasised it was the recovery of the writings of Sextus Empiricus which had a decisive impact on the direction which scepticism took during the Renaissance.3 Though other ancient works, especially Cicero’s Academia and the relevant sections of Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers, were also important, it was Sextus who was the centre of focus. By now the general guidelines of Sextus’s influence are clear, and one feels that there are unlikely to be radical alterations in our interpretation of the subject. At the same time, there are still minor details to be illuminated and a number of minor discoveries to be made.


Ancient Work Latin Word Latin Translation Greek Text Minor Discovery 
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  1. 2a.
    See esp. R.H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 1979Google Scholar
  2. 2b.
    See esp. R.H. Popkin The High Road to Pyrrhonism, San Diego: Austin Hill Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  3. 2c.
    See also M. Burnyeat, ed., The Skeptical Tradition, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 1983. My paper, “The Rediscovery of Ancient Skepticism in Modern Times” pp. 225–251, in the last of these gives references to various studies dealing with the recovery of ancient sceptical texts in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    E.g., Popkin, History of Scepticism, pp. 18ff.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    It is briefly described in F. Madan, et al., Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895–1953, Vol. 3, p. 95.1 am unaware of any previous scholarly interest in this manuscript and know of no references to it in recent literature. Richard H. Popkin had a microfilm made, which he turned over to me in the late 1960s when I took over from him the task of preparing the article on Sextus Empiricus for the Catalogus translationum et commentariorum. I hope to have my article ready for publication in the near future.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    See below for information on him.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    See The Works of Thomas Nashe, R.B. McKerrow, ed., Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1958, Vol. 4, pp. 428–431; Vol. 5, pp. 120,122, where references are also supplied for the use of Sextus by S. Rowlands. The first reference to the translation apparently occurs in Nashe’s Preface to Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, who says that Sextus’s works had been “latelie translated into English, for the benefit of unlearned writers,” Works, Vol. 3, p. 332.Google Scholar
  8. 7a.
    Ralegh’s interest in this material has attracted a good deal of attention. See G.T. Buckley, Atheism in the English Renaissance, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932; repr. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965, pp. 146–149Google Scholar
  9. 7b.
    E.A. Strathmann, Sir Walter Ralegh. A Study in Elizabethan Skepticism, New York: Columbia University Press, 1951Google Scholar
  10. 7c.
    R.H. Popkin, “A Manuscript of Ralegh’s The Scepticke”, Philological Quarterly, Vol. 36,1957, pp. 253–259Google Scholar
  11. 7d.
    P. Lefranc, “A Miscellany of Ralegh Material”, Notes and Queries, No. 202, 1957, pp. 24–26Google Scholar
  12. 7e.
    S.E. Sprott, “Ralegh’s Sceptic and the Elizabethan Translation of Sextus Empiricus”, Philological Quarterly, Vol. 42, 1963, pp. 166–175Google Scholar
  13. 7f.
    P. Lefranc, Sir Walter Ralegh, écrivain, Paris: A. Colin, 1968, pp. 49–50, 66–67 and passim. Bibliographical details of the various manuscripts and editions are given in Lefranc.Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    Thomas Stanley, The History of Philosophy, London: H. Moseley & T. Dring, 1655–1662, Vol. 4, 1659, pp. 7–104. It was reprinted in later editions of the work, 1687, 1701, 1743.Google Scholar
  15. 9a.
    The work appeared in printed translation for the first time in Sextus Empiricus, Adversus mathematicos... graece numquam latine nunc primum editum, Gentiano Herveto Aurelio interprete. Eiusdem Sexti pyrrhoniarum hypotyposeon libri tres... interprete Henrico Stephano, Paris: M. Juvenis, 1569Google Scholar
  16. 9b.
    It is not included in the various earlier manuscript translations, on which see C. Jourdain, “Sextus Empiricus et la philosophie scolastique” in his Excursions historiques et philosophiques a travers le moyen age, Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1888, pp. 201–21Google Scholar
  17. 9c.
    C. Baeumker, “Eine bisher unbekannte mittelalterliche lateinische Uebersetzung der πϑρρώνειοι ‘Uποτνπώσεις des Sextus Empiricus”, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. 4, 1891, pp. 574–577Google Scholar
  18. 9d.
    H. Mutschmann, “Zu Uebersetzertatigkeit des Nicolzus von Rhegium (zu Paris, lat. 14,700)”, Berliner Philologische Wochenschrift, Vol. 22, 1911, pp. 691–693Google Scholar
  19. 9e.
    Sextus Empiricus, Opera, H. Mutschmann, ed., J. Mau & K. Janacek, Leipzig: Teubner, 1912–1962, Vol. 1, pp. x-xii, 209–210Google Scholar
  20. 9f.
    C.B. Schmitt, “An Unstudied Fifteenth-Century Translation of Sextus Empiricus by Giovanni Lorenzi (vat. lat. 2990)”, in Cultural Aspects of the Italian Renaissance: Essays in Honour of Paul Oskar Kristeller, C.H. Clough, ed., Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1976, pp. 244–261Google Scholar
  21. 9g.
    W. Cavini, “Appunti sulla prima diffusione in occidente delle opere di Sesto Empirico”, Medioevo, Vol. 3, 1977, pp. 1–20; and Schmitt, “The Rediscovery of Skepticism in Modern Times.”Google Scholar
  22. 10a.
    Most of the information available on Wolley is to be found in The Dictionary of National Biography S.V., and The History of Parliament. The House of Commons, 1558–1603, P.W. Hasler, ed., London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1981, Vol. 3, pp. 644–645, which give references to further sourcesGoogle Scholar
  23. 10b.
    See also A. Wood, Athenae Oxonienses... to Which Are Added the Fasti…, ed. P. Bliss, London: F.C. & J. Rivington, 1813–1820, Vol. 2, pp. 152–153 (Fasti)Google Scholar
  24. 10c.
    Some further details are furnished by C. Plummer, ed., Elizabethan Oxford: Reprints of Rare Texts, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1887, pp. 174–175Google Scholar
  25. 10d.
    (where he seems to be confused with Francis Wolley) and E. Rosenberg, Leicester; Patron of Letters, New York: Columbia University Press, 1955, pp. 100, 131, 150, and 200Google Scholar
  26. 10e.
    For some further details about his connexions with Oxford see C.W. Boase, Register of the University of Oxford, Vol. 1, pp. 1449–1463; 1505–1571, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1885Google Scholar
  27. 10f.
    A. Clark, Register of the University of Oxford., Vol. 2,1571–1622, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1887–1889,4 parts, ad indicem. Wolley was with Sir Christopher Hatton in Holborn in 1588 when a delegation from Oxford announced to Hatton that he had been elected chancellor of the UniversityGoogle Scholar
  28. 10g.
    See E. St. J. Brooks, Sir Christopher Hatton, London: Jonathan Cape, 1946, p. 347.Google Scholar
  29. 12.
    See Dictionary of National Biography and The History of Parliament for references to manuscripts. Additional letters by him and to him of a personal or political nature are preserved in the British Library. They are listed and described in the various printed catalogues of that library.Google Scholar
  30. 13.
    The letter is in The Parker Society, The Zurich Letters, Second Series, H. Robinson, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1845, p. 135, Latin; pp. 220–221, English translation.Google Scholar
  31. 18.
    See the apparatus of the Appendix for details.Google Scholar
  32. 19.
    I refer to the text by the standard section numbers, which are given in all editions after the editio princeps, Sextus Empiricus, Opera omnia quae extant... [Geneva, 1621]. I have usedthe following modern editions: Sextus Empiricus, Works, R.G. Burry, ed. and tr., London: W. Heinemann, 1933–1949, Vol. 2, pp. 14–238 and Opera, Mutschmann et al., eds., Vol. 2, pp. 7–103. Those sections of the manuscript which are not included in the Appendix are referred to as “MS” with an indication of the folio number.Google Scholar
  33. 24.
    Sextus Empiricus, Opera, note 18, 1621, pp. 376–377.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles B. Schmitt
    • 1
  1. 1.The Warburg InstituteGermany

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