- Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655): Lettres Latines, and: Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655): Introduction à la vie savante
The reputation of Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), the French natural philosopher responsible for recovering Epicurean atomism and hedonism and modifying it to be compatible with Christian theology, has suffered neglect in part because of the difficult Latin in which his works were written. Hence, the publication of translations of large chunks of his work into a modern language is, prima facie, a welcome addition to scholarship in the history of philosophy. Accordingly, the appearance of Sylvie Taussig's translation of Gassendi's Latin correspondence, published in the posthumous Opera omnia (1658), seemed, at first blush, to make an important body of Gassendi's writings accessible to more modern scholars. The three books under review consist of a French translation of Volume 6 of Gassendi's [End Page 489] Opera omnia (the Latin letters to which the title refers); a volume of notes on the letters; and a book about Gassendi's life, based closely on the Latin letters.
Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655): Introduction à la vie savante summarizes various aspects of Gassendi's life and career from 1621–1655, the years covered by the published correspondence. Basically summarizing the letters, this book has sections on Gassendi's biography for these years, the nature of the correspondence, Gassendi's science, his Epicurean project, his interactions with various notables, and his role in the history of his time. In fact, the book is little more than a topical analysis of the letters. Despite the inclusion of an extensive—but incomplete—bibliography of scholarship on Gassendi, the notes to Taussig's text refer to the letters but to almost no secondary sources.
The same problem characterizes her notes to the letters. Containing 7491 footnotes and filling a volume of 609 pages, the second volume of the Lettres latines contains virtually no mention of the contributions of other scholars. These notes range from the explication of Classical references to political events in Gassendi's lifetime, from scientific and philosophical controversies to the issues of Church governance in Digne where Gassendi was a canon in the cathedral.
The devil is in the details, and here the details undermine one's confidence in the project. There are many errors in the notes to the letters. For example, in note 1087, the inventor of logarithms is named 'Brigg' rather than 'Briggs.' There are numerous gaffes in the bibliography in Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655): Introduction à la vie savante. For example, the entry for Steven J. Dick, is 'Dick, St. J.'. The entry for Lynn Sumida Joy is 'Lynn, S. J.'. And the entry for Susanna Åkerman is a mess, obviously because the typesetter was unable to deal with the diacritical mark. Although these points seem trivial, their frequency points to a lack of precision and lack of good proofreading.
Unfortunately, these three volumes will not provide a reliable new source for scholars seeking access to Gassendi's writings. The French translation of the letters will provide a shortcut, but they will not eliminate the need to consult the original Latin version.