Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy

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Antoine Isaac Baron Silvestre de Sacy is considered the founder of modern Arabic studies

Antoine-Isaac, Baron Silvestre de Sacy [ saˈsi ] (also Antoine Isaac ; born September 21, 1758 in Paris , † February 21, 1838 ibid) was a French philologist . He is considered the founder of modern Arabic studies and had a decisive influence on the development of oriental studies .


As the son of the Parisian notary Jacques Abraham Silvestre, Antoine Isaac, who was nicknamed de Sacy (a small village in Burgundy ), was born into an upscale middle-class family. Since he lost his father early at the age of seven, he was raised by his strictly religious mother. Through the Benedictine Dom Berthereau he came into contact with his first Semitic language , Hebrew , at the age of just twelve . Antoine Isaac soon showed a special linguistic talent, and so he learned the other Semitic languages Aramaic , Arabic and then Persian , Turkish , German , English , Italian and Spanish almost without instruction .

From 1780 he began to make a name for himself by publishing articles on texts from the Old Testament (for example on an Old Syrian translation of the Book of Kings ) in the Leipzig journal Repertorium für Biblische und Oriental Litteratur by Johann Gottfried Eichhorn . After studying law , in 1781 he accepted a position as an advisor at the Cour des monnaies, the French mint, but devoted himself to his studies with great zeal and in 1785 became a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (Academy of Inscriptions), in which he contributed a large number of interpretations to the Notices et extraits , an annotated edition of the manuscripts of the royal library. In the same year he published his historical work Mémoires Sur l'histoire des Arabes avant Mahomet . Further publications followed over the next five years. Because of his negative attitude towards the political upheavals of the revolutionary era , de Sacy withdrew from his position at the Münzhof to his country estate in Brie , despite a promotion , and devoted himself to further work and studies, for example on the religion of the Druze , an Islamic secession. In 1795 he took over the chair of Arabic at the École spéciale des Langues orientales in Paris, which was reopened by the National Assembly , but was not considered a full member of the faculty until 1803 because he refused to take the anti-royalist oath.

In 1801 his son Samuel Ustazade was born, who later became editor of the Journal des Débats and administrator of the Bibliothèque Mazarine . After the turmoil of the revolution and his appointment as professor of Persian language at the Collège de France in Paris in 1806, he became a member of the legislature two years later . In 1813 he was given the title of baron , and the restoration period with her return to the monarchy enabled de Sacy to be more politically active, among other things, he voted for Napoleon's dismissal. In the course of the second restoration phase - after Napoleon's return and defeat in 1815 - de Sacy became a member of the public teaching committee, the royal council and later received a post in the administration of the Collège de France and the École spéciale des langues orientales. Together with Abel-Rémusat he founded the Société asiatique in 1822 , of which he was the first president, and initiated the establishment of new chairs for Asian languages, including Sanskrit and Chinese at the Collège de France.

After the first restoration, he became a censor, then a member of the Commission for Public Education, in 1831 curator of the manuscripts at the royal library and in the following year a member of the chamber of peers . In the process he developed a very important teaching activity, by which he made Paris the center of oriental studies in Europe for several decades; Most of the older generation of German Arabists were also students of de Sacy.

Street named after Silvestre de Sacy near the Eiffel Tower in Paris

Despite many other commitments, for example in the royal printing works and at the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, he continued to publish his research results and passed on his knowledge through tireless teaching in Arabic and Persian until his death on February 21st 1838 in Paris. In addition to being awarded medals of honor and honorary memberships during his lifetime, such as the Légion d'honneur, the Royal Societät der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen , the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences , the Bavarian Academy of Sciences , the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg , 1907 a street on the Champs de Mars in Paris named avenue Silvestre de Sacy .


Silvestre de Sacy is one of the most important French philologists of the 19th century . He had a decisive influence on the development of the young science of oriental studies and made Paris its center. His textbooks on the Arabic language were regarded as standard works well into the 20th century. His ideological proximity to Jansenism , whose intellectual center was in the monastery of Port Royal , and the Cartesian linguistics developed by the grammatical school after Descartes , stems from his view, later made famous by linguists such as Noam Chomsky in the 20th century, that all languages universal set of rules règles générales de la métaphysique du langage (A.-I. Silvestre de Sacy, foreword to Grammaire arabe ).

He was one of the co-editors of the oldest scientific journal in the world, the Journal des savants , which was reissued from 1816 , and increased its reputation and sales figures through his numerous articles. In this and various other magazines, such as Fundgruben des Orients (published by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall in Vienna and reading by Johann Wolfgang Goethe , which was one of the inspirations for his collection of poems West-Eastern Divan published in 1819 ), you can find his work a total of about 400 posts.

His more popular work includes Silvestre de Sacys' preparatory work on deciphering the demotic characters on the stone of Rosetta , as well as a treatise on the origin of the fairy tales from 1001 Nights , in which he demonstrated that most of them were Arabic around the 15th century . In addition to numerous French editions and collections of the rich literature of the oriental languages, he prepared Arabic and Syrian translations of the New Testament for the British and Foreign Bible Society founded in 1804 .

Despite the criticism of a few contemporaries that he limited himself to mastering the written language and “could only speak Arabic with a book in hand”, according to the Egyptian student traveler Azhar-Sheikh Rifa'a Rafi 'al-Tahtawi , is among his His greatest achievements include his teaching, from which further generations of orientalists have emerged. Numerous, later important German orientalists, such as Wilhelm Freytag , Gottfried Kosegarten , Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer and Gustav Weil studied with him .

Around 400 articles, reviews, etc. by him can be found in various specialist journals. The catalog of his library (Paris 1842–44), which is excellent for oriental literature, is very valuable.

Works (selection)

  • Mémoires sur l'histoire des Arabes avant Mahomet , Paris: 1785
  • Mémoires sur diverse antiquités de la Perse , Paris: 1793
  • Principes de Grammaire générale, mis à la portée des enfans, et propres à servir d'introduction à l'étude de toutes les langues , Paris: 1799, 8th edition 1852 ( digitized )
  • Chrestomathie arabe, ou extraits de divers écrivains arabes: tant en prose qu 'en vers, à l'usage des élèves de l'École spéciale des Langues Orientales vivantes , 3 vols., Paris: 1806; 2nd ed. 1826; Paris: 2008, ISBN 978-2-13-057157-5 ; Tunis: 2008; Biblio Verlag, Osnabrück: 1973 ( digitized 1st edition (1806) , digitized 2nd edition (1826) )
  • Grammaire arabe à l'usage des élèves de l'École Spéciale des Langues Orientales Vivantes: avec figures , 2 vols., Paris: 1810; 2nd edition 1831
  • Mémoire sur les monuments de Kirmanshah ou Bisutun , Paris: 1815 (see Behistun inscription )
  • Mémoires d'histoire et de littérature orientales , Paris: 1818, (includes a remarkable article: Mémoire sur la dynastie des Assassins et sur l'étimologie de leur nom , pp. 322–403)
  • Anthology grammaticale arabe, ou morceaux choisis de divers grammairiens et scholiastes arabes… , Paris: 1829
  • Exposé de la religion des Druzes , 2 vol., Debure, Paris: 1838

Further works are available in the Gallica project .

Translations (selection)

  • Mīr Ḫwānd , Histoire des Rois de Perse de la Dynastie des Sassanides , 1793
  • Aḥmad Ibn-Alī al-Maqrīzī, Traité des monnoies Musulmanes , 1797
  • Abd-al-Laṭīf al-Baġdādī, Relation arabe sur l'Egypte , Paris: 1810
  • Bīdpāī, Calila et Dimna ou fables de Bidpai , 1816
  • Farīd-ad-Dīn 'Attar, Pend-Nameh: ou Le Livre des conseils, translated and published by Silvestre de Sacy , Debure, Paris 1819
  • Al-Qāsim Ibn-Alī al-Ḥarīrī, Les séances de Hariri , Paris: 1822
  • Ǵāmi, Nūr-ad-Dīn Abd-ar-Rahmān, Vie des Soufis ou les haleines de la familiarité , Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1831; newly published by Allard, Paris 1977
  • Yehûdā Ben-Šelomo al-Ḥarîzî, Extrait du Séfer Tahkémoni , 1833


  • Meyers Konversationslexikon , fourth edition, Leipzig: 1888–1889, vol. 14, p. 162
  • Robert, Adolphe / Cougny, Gaston, Dictionnaire des parlementaires français (1789–1889). 5 volumes , Vol. 5 Paris: Bourloton, 1890, p. 230f.
  • Michel Espagne et al. (Ed.), Silvestre de Sacy. Le projet européen d'une science orientaliste . Ed. du Cerf, Paris 2014, ISBN 978-2-204-10307-7 .

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from Haarmann (ed.): Der Islam - Ein Lesebuch , Munich 1994, p. 264.
  2. Silvestre de Sacy . Retrieved April 22, 2013.

Web links