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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Silvestre de Sacy, Antoine Isaac

< 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica

SILVESTRE DE SACY, ANTOINE ISAAC, Baron (1758-1838), French orientalist, was born in Paris on the 21st of September 1758. His father was a Parisian notary named Silvestre, and the additional name of de Sacy was taken by the younger son after a fashion then common with the Paris bourgeoisie. From the age of seven years, when he lost his father, he was educated in the closest seclusion by his mother. In 1781 he was appointed councillor in the cour des monnaies, and was advanced in 1792 to be a commissary-general in the same department. De Sacy had successively acquired all the Semitic languages, a11d as a civil servant he found time to make himself a great name as an orientalist. He began successfully to decipher the Pahlavi inscriptions of the Sassanian kings (1787-1791).[1] In 1792 he retired from the public service, and lived in close seclusion in a cottage near Paris till in 1795 he became professor of Arabic in the newly founded school of living Eastern languages. The interval was in part devoted to the study of the religion of the Druses, which was the subject of his last and unfinished work, the Exposé de la religion des Druzes (2 vols., 1838). Since the death of Johann Jakob Reiske Arabic learning had been in a backward state. In the Grammaire arabe (2 vols., 1st ed. 1810, 2nd ed. 1831) and the Chrestomathie arabe (3 vols., 1806), together with its supplement, the Anthologie grammaticale (1829), De Sacy supplied admirable text-books, and earned the gratitude of later Arabic students. In 1806 he added the duties of Persian professor to his old chair, and from this time onwards his life was one of increasing honour and success, broken only by a brief period of retreat during the Hundred Days. He was perpetual secretary of the Academy of Inscriptions from 1832 onwards; in 1808 he had entered the corps législatif; he was made a baron in 1813; and in 1832, when quite an old man, he became a peer of France and was regular in the duties of the chamber. In 1815 he became rector of the university of Paris, and after the second restoration he was active on the commission of public instruction. With Abel Rémusat he was joint founder of the Société asiatique, and was inspector of oriental types at the royal printing press. De Sacy died on the 21st of February 1838.

Among his other works are his edition of Harīrī (1822, 2nd edition by Reinaud, 1847, 1855), with a selected Arabic commentary, and of the Alfiya (1833), and his Calila et Dimna (1816),—the Arabic version of that famous collection of Buddhist animal tales which has been in various forms one of the most popular books of the world. A version of Abd-Allatif, Relation arabe sur l'Égypte, and essays on the history of the law of property in Egypt since the Arab conquest (1805-1818). To biblical criticism he contributed a memoir on the Samaritan Arabic of the Pentateuch (Mém. Acad. des Inscr. vol. xlix.), and editions of the Arabic and Syriac New Testaments for the British and Foreign Bible Society. Of the brilliant teachers who went out from his lecture-room may be mentioned Professor Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer (1801-1888), who contributed elaborate notes and corrections to the Grammaire arabe (Kleinere Schriften, vol. i., 1885).

  1. A communication to Eichhorn on the Paris MS. of the Syro-Hexaplar version of IV. Kings formed the basis of a paper in the latter's Repertorium, vol. vii. (1780). This was de Sacy's literary debut. It was followed by text and translation of the letters of the Samaritans to Jos. Scaliger (ibid. vol. xiii., 1783) and by a series of essays on Arabian and Persian history in the Recueil of the Academy of Inscriptions and in the Notices et extraits.