by Alastair Hamilton and Francis Richard, 2004


Curiosity about Islam and fear of Islam went hand in hand in the seventeenth century. The French, early allies of the Ottoman government, planned crusades and dispatched missionaries to Ottoman territory with the object of crushing the Muslims. The work of André du Ryer reflects these tensions and contradictions. After serving as French vice-consul in Egypt, as interpreter to the French ambassador in Istanbul, and as ambassador extraordinary to the Sultan, Du Ryer compiled one of the first Turkish grammars to be printed (1630); with his French translation of Sa‘di’s Gulistān (1634) he introduced Persian literature into Europe; and with his translation of the Quran (1647), the first vernacular version made directly from the Arabic ever to be published, he produced a best-seller which would be translated into English, Dutch, German and Russian and would affect the view of Islam all over Europe and even in America.

But how genuine were the reservations about the Muslims expressed by Du Ryer in the introductions to his works? Was there not in fact far more sympathy for Islam than would appear from the rhetorical attacks dictated by centuries of prejudice and by contemporary censorship? These are some of the questions asked by Alastair Hamilton and Francis Richard in this challenging study on an influential but all too neglected French orientalist and his world.


List of Colour plates
Chapter One. Between Marcigny and Cairo
Chapter Two. The Turkish Language
Chapter Three. A Champion of Persian Literature
Chapter Four. Translator of the Quran
Appendix One. Correspondence, appointments, safeconducts and attestations
Appendix Two. Du Ryer’s prefaces and dedicatory epistles
Appendix Three. Du Ryer’s reports and addresses
Appendix Four. Du Ryer’s manuscript collection

Author Information

Alastair Hamilton, former Louise Thijssen-Schoute Professor of the History of Ideas at Leiden University and Professor emeritus of the History of the Radical Reformation at the University of Amsterdam, is the Arcadian Visiting Research Professor at the School of Advanced Study, London University, Warburg Institute. He is a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.
Francis Richard, former Keeper of Persian Manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, is now in charge of the Department of Islamic Art at the Musée du Louvre.

Review Highlights

‘… an exemplary work of scholarship, attractively written and exhaustive in content. It complements Hamilton’s previous book on the Arabist William Bedwell, older contemporary of Du Ryer, thus providing the French Orientalist dimension to that English one. With its fine typography, excellent illustrations and handsome format, Alastair Hamilton and Francis Richard’s book is a joy to read.’
Edmund Bosworth in The Times Literary Supplement

‘Painstakingly researched, [this] is the first (and should remain the definitive) study of its subject. The bibliography of manuscripts owned and used by Du Ryer, which appears at the end of this book, is especially valuable for scholars studying the first phase of Oriental scholarship in Europe.’
Nabil Mattar in Common Knowledge

‘This monumental work should be read by anyone seriously interested in learning about aspects of Islam and the West in the seventeenth century.’
Ahmad Gunny in the Journal of Islamic Studies

Sample Text

Preface: This book is about a pioneer. André Du Ryer was working when there were hardly any printed grammars or dictionaries of the eastern languages and when their study might be regarded with disapproval and suspicion. He compiled one of the first Turkish grammars to be published in the West; he introduced Persian literature to the European reading public; over the years he spent in the Levant, first as French vice-consul in Egypt and then as interpreter, secretary and councillor to the French ambassador in Istanbul (where he was himself appointed ambassador extraordinary to France by the sultan), he assembled a fine collection of Turkish, Persian and Arabic manuscripts. Above all, however, Du Ryer is known for his French translation of the Quran. Originally published in 1647, it went through numerous editions, and was translated, in its turn, into English, Dutch, German and Russian. The first translation of the entire text of the Quran made directly from the Arabic to be printed in any European vernacular, it remained unsurpassed in France until Claude-Etienne Savary’s translation in 1783.

We have attempted in this study to explore the world of Du Ryer and to throw more light on him as a man and as a scholar. The apparent lack of documentation for many years of his life means that much of his activity still remains obscure. Nevertheless, it has been possible to piece together his diplomatic career and to reconstruct a sizeable part of his manuscript collection. We have also been able to provide an assessment of his place in the literary movements of the time, of his achievements in the fields of Turkish, Persian and Arabic studies, and of his influence.

Since Du Ryer had few predecessors in tackling the entire text of the Quran we have quoted in the footnotes two of the better-known earlier Latin translations, the English translation of his French rendering, and two important later translations, by Lodovico Marracci into Latin (1698) and by George Sale into English (1734). The appendices containing documents relating to Du Ryer are followed by a study of his manuscript collection (Appendix 4). Throughout the book we have tried to observe the original spelling of the editions or documents quoted, only adding accents where they are essential to the sense and providing some punctuation. In the case of documents which have already been published, however, we have followed the spelling and punctuation of the published version.

Introduction: By the second decade of the seventeenth century the French could look back on some seventy years of diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire. François I had dispatched an ambassador to Istanbul in 1535, and ever since then France had been accorded commercial privileges and military alliances. The French had progressively been able to establish consulates throughout the eastern and southern Mediterranean, first in the trading centres of Tripoli, Beirut, Alexandria and Chios, and later in numerous localities including Aleppo, Sidon, Izmir, Nauplion, Zante and other islands in the Archipelago, and even Jerusalem. For most of the sixteenth century their sole competitors had been the Republic of Venice and, to a far lesser extent, Genoa. This situation only began to change after the English had acquired a capitulation or trading privilege in 1581 and set up an embassy and consulates of their own. The Dutch Republic too received a capitulation in 1612, yet, even if the hegemony of the French was threatened by their new rivals in Izmir, there were still places, such as Egypt, where they retained a monopoly and were challenged only by the Venetians.

From the outset, plans were devised for military cooperation with the Turks intended to check the power of the great rivals of the Valois kings, the Habsburg dynasty, the rulers of Spain in the West, parts of Italy in the South, the Low Countries in the North, and the imperial territories bordering on the Ottoman Empire in the East. The early scheme of a joint campaign against Italy, with France attacking Lombardy and an Ottoman fleet attacking Naples, came to nothing, but in the summer of 1543 the French had benefited from the assistance of the Turks in besieging Nice held by the imperial forces, and in September François I allowed Khayr al-Din (Barbarossa) to winter in Toulon. For eight months the port was Islamicized. Receiving food from the nearby villages, the Turks had a mosque and a slave market, and each of Khayr al-Din’s captains was sumptuously housed. In 1551 the French tacitly collaborated in the Turkish conquest of Tripoli on the North African coast which was to seal Ottoman domination of the area for almost four hundred years.

The presence of an ambassador and an embassy in Istanbul and of a growing number of consulates elsewhere meant that French scholars could join the ambassadorial trains or use the diplomatic residences as a base from which to explore the Ottoman lands. Philologists, botanists, zoologists, geologists, physicians, topographers and archaeologists—men such as Guillaume Postel, Pierre Belon, André Thevet, Nicolas de Nicolay and Pierre Gilles—assembled information in their various fields and published works which both stimulated and catered for the immense interest in the Ottoman Empire displayed by a European reading public throughout the sixteenth century.

Guillaume Postel, the most versatile orientalist of his day, had first visited the Levant in the train of Jean de la Forest, François I’s ambassador who set out in 1535. On his return to Paris in 1538 Postel was given a chair of Arabic at the Collège Royal (the later Collège de France), the new centre of humanist education founded by the king in 1530 with the establishment of four lecteurs royaux or regius professorships. It was in this capacity that Postel compiled his Grammatica arabica, the best Arabic grammar to have been published in Europe to date. He was again in the Near East between 1549 and 1551 and there joined another French ambassador, Gabriel d’Aramon. Besides forming an important collection of manuscripts during and after his travels, with works in Hebrew, Syriac, Ethiopic and Arabic, he wrote an influential and generally sympathetic survey of the Turks and Islam, De la republique des Turcs: et là ou l’occasion s’offrera, des meurs et loy de tous Muhamedistes, which appeared in 1560. Fifteen years later he contributed to the study of Turkish with a glossary and some basic grammatical rules appended to his Histoires orientales.

By the late sixteenth century the French had made a greater contribution than any other European nation to knowledge of the Ottoman Empire, to the understanding of Islam, and to the study of Arabic. Gradually, however, they came to face increasing competition in other western countries. In the last years of his life—he died in 1581—Postel had given tuition in Arabic to the French chronographer Joseph Justus Scaliger and to Franciscus Raphelengius, the son-in-law of the greatest printer in Antwerp, Christophe Plantin. In 1585 Raphelengius left Antwerp for Leiden to manage the Dutch branch of his father-in-law’s firm, and was subsequently given the chair of Hebrew at the recently founded university. In Leiden he continued to study Arabic and was joined, in 1593, by Scaliger, who had also been given a professorship. Their collaboration marked the beginning of Arabic studies at one of the best universities in northern Europe. Raphelengius had Arabic types cut and with them would print the Arabic passages in the revised edition of Scaliger’s De emendatione temporum. He himself worked until his death in 1597 on an Arabic–Latin dictionary which, when it was published posthumously by his sons in 1613, was the first of its kind to be published. He and Scaliger, moreover, had an interest in oriental languages which extended well beyond Arabic and Hebrew. They were among the very first European scholars to take a serious interest in Persian, and Scaliger insisted on the importance of knowing Turkish both for the study of chronology and—because of the Arabic–Turkish dictionaries—as a means of learning better Arabic. The two men had also collected a variety of oriental manuscripts which would find their way into the Leiden University Library and form the basis of a collection that was soon to be the greatest in the North.

Scaliger died in 1609 having written relatively little about Arabic, but his pupil, Thomas Erpenius, who studied Arabic in England and above all in France, and who seems to have mastered Turkish when he was in Venice trying unsuccessfully to sail to the East, produced an Arabic grammar. Published by Raphelengius’ sons in 1613, it remained unsurpassed until the nineteenth century. In the same year Erpenius became the first full professor of Arabic at Leiden. Partly with the help of agents in the Ottoman Empire he continued to assemble a collection of oriental manuscripts far richer than those of Raphelengius or Scaliger. Shortly before his death of the plague in 1624, Erpenius had prepared his edition of the Ta’rīkh al-Muslimīn by al-Makin, the Coptic historian of the thirteenth century. Translated as Historia saracenica and accompanied by later texts of western authors, al-Makin’s work, based on the far earlier historical writings by the Persian al-Tabari, was of revolutionary importance in Europe. It was the first edition of a chronicle of the Arab conquests by an Arab who, albeit a Christian, was writing for a Muslim readership, and was therefore a major contribution to readjusting scholarly attitudes towards Islam.

The Historia saracenica was published posthumously in 1625 by Erpenius’ pupil and successor to the Leiden chair of Arabic, Jacob Golius (who would also hold the chair of mathematics). Golius made excellent use of Dutch diplomatic relations both with Morocco and the Ottoman Empire. In 1622 he had accompanied an embassy to the Moroccan ruler Mulay Zaydan. In 1625 he travelled to Aleppo with the Dutch consul and subsequently joined the Dutch ambassador in Istanbul. The result of his stay in the Islamic world was an immense collection of manuscripts, most of which entered the Leiden library, and a quite exceptional command of Arabic, Turkish and Persian. His knowledge bore fruit with the publication in 1653 of his Arabic–Latin dictionary which improved vastly on that of Raphelengius and, like Erpenius’ grammar, remained the best in existence until the nineteenth century. While his pupil, Louis de Dieu, published the first functional Persian grammar in Leiden in 1639, Golius’ Persian–Latin dictionary, also the first of its kind, was published posthumously by Edmund Castell in 1669.

By the time he was at the height of his career, Golius only had one other rival in northern Europe, the Englishman Edward Pococke. Like Golius, Pococke too benefited from his country’s relations with the Ottoman Empire, serving as chaplain first to the merchants of the Levant Company at the English consulate in Aleppo and then at the English embassy in Istanbul. In 1636 he was given the chair of Arabic established at Oxford by Archbishop Laud, and would enrich the university library with his own splendid collection of eastern manuscripts. With the publication in 1650 of his Specimen, consisting of a brief text by the Syrian historian Bar Hebraeus (Abu al-Faraj) and a vast and learned commentary, Pococke initiated a truly informed study of Islam.

But if Holland, with its chair of Arabic in Leiden, and England, with the chair at Oxford held by Pococke, provided the best schools of Arabic in northern Europe, individuals from other European countries were also making signal contributions to the study of the Levant and its languages. The Swabian scholar Hieronymus Megiser had published a Turkish grammar in Leipzig in 1612, the first to appear in Europe. In Italy, Giambattista Raimondi, in charge of the Medici printing press in Rome, produced a series of important publications in and on Arabic between 1590 and 1610; Antonio Giggei, using the manuscript collection assembled in Milan by Cardinal Federigo Morromeo, published an Arabic–Latin lexicon in 1632 which was not as good as Golius’s but was certainly better than Raphelengius’s; and, again in Rome, Filippo Guadagnoli issued an Arabic grammar in 1642 which contained one of the first attempts in Europe to analyse the metrics of Arabic poetry.

The French laboured to keep up with such developments and to recover the position they had held in the sixteenth century. The chair of Arabic once occupied by Postel at the Collège Royal lay vacant for extensive periods. It was refounded by Henri III in 1586 and was given to Arnoult de l’Isle, but he interrupted his tenure by serving as physician to the ruler of Morocco Ahmad al-Mansur. Etienne Hubert succeeded Arnoult de l’Isle as physician to the Moroccan king and was also appointed professor at the Collège Royal. According to Henri IV’s ambassador in Istanbul, François Savary de Brèves, Etienne Hubert, who spent no more than a year in Morocco, had limited knowledge of Arabic. Yet he was generous with his advice and assistance. He had a number of pupils, and, to the best of his ability, unquestionably furthered the study of the Arabic language in Paris even if he could never be compared to Postel.

There were many reasons for the strong French interest in Arabic and other eastern languages in the early seventeenth century. Diplomats—the ambassadors’ interpreters in Istanbul and the numerous consuls posted in the Turkish- and Arabic- speaking world—needed a knowledge of the languages spoken in the Levant. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century there was still an admiration among scholars for the scientific writings, the treatises on medicine, astronomy and mathematics, produced by the Arabs in the Middle Ages. This accounts for the many teachers of Arabic at the Collège Royal who were physicians—Arnoult de l’Isle, Etienne Hubert, Jean Martin, Claude Breget and, later, Pierre Vattier—while the Arabic version of the Conics of Apollonius of Perga was to fascinate one of the greatest of French mathematicians, Marin Mersenne. Other men of learning, such as the Geneva-educated Huguenot Isaac Casaubon, a close friend of Scaliger, required Arabic for the study of chronology and history, and the antiquarian Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc, whose town house in Aix-en-Provence and country residence in Belgentier near Toulon were visited regularly by scholars travelling between the Mediterranean ports and Paris, needed the eastern languages, both ancient and modern, to satisfy his immense curiosity about an infinite number of subjects.

At the same time, both theologians and philologists were engaged in the examination of different versions of the Bible with the object of improving the text of what had become the official Catholic Latin translation, the vulgate attributed to St Jerome. Where the Old Testament was concerned it was felt that Arabic, so close to Hebrew, might help to solve a number of linguistic ambiguities and enable scholars to discover a text earlier and purer than the one traditionally used by the rabbis. Arabic versions of the New Testament, on the other hand, might reflect an early Syriac version closer to the original than anything in the existing translations. Postel had returned from the East with Arabic manuscripts of part of the New Testament, and the variants with the Vulgate were studied avidly when they were translated literally into Latin by the French Biblical scholar Franciscus Junius. Such an investigation had been encouraged consistently in France. The historian Jacques-Auguste de Thou, one of the architects of the Edict of Nantes allowing freedom of worship to the Huguenots and a favourite of Henri IV, dreamed of producing a polyglot Bible which would surpass in scope and excellence the existing ones published in Alcalá and Antwerp. The plan, which drew many of the most distinguished French orientalists, would ultimately bear fruit in the publication of the Paris Polyglot by Guy-Michel Le Jay under the auspices of Cardinal Mazarin in 1645.

The presence of scholars such as Casaubon, the professors at the Collège Royal, and, later, the philologists working on the Polyglot Bible who included learned Maronites, attracted orientalists from all over Europe. It was in the circle of Casaubon and Etienne Hubert that Thomas Erpenius continued his Arabic studies when he was in France in 1609. Indeed, thanks largely to his meetings with Arab visitors—with the itinerant Copt Josephus Abudacnus (Yusuf ibn Abu Dhaqan), and above all with the Moroccan diplomat Ahmad ibn Qasim al-Hajari—it was in France that Erpenius learnt enough Arabic to produce his splendid grammar. And interest in the eastern languages led to ever more intensive efforts to collect oriental manuscripts. Libraries with works in Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Arabic, Turkish and Persian were assembled not only by scholars such as Peiresc, but also by statesmen – Cardinal Richelieu, the chancellor Pierre Séguier, and Richelieu’s successor Cardinal Mazarin, all of whom also acted as patrons of oriental studies.

Although it is dangerous to generalize about the beliefs or sympathies of the French orientalists in the first half of the seventeenth century there is no doubt that a high proportion of them had some connection with the broad circle of more or less free-thinking intellectuals known as the libertins érudits. Men such as Claude Hardy, Gilbert Gaulmin, François Hotman de Marfontaine, Savary de Brèves’ protégé Louis Gédoyn de Bellan, who served briefly as consul in Aleppo and was known as ‘Gédoyn le Turc’, as well as Savary de Brèves himself, were associated with Louis XIII’s younger brother, Gaston d’Anjou (later Duc d’Orléans). They had close acquaintances in the world of the philosophers Jacques Vallée des Barreax and François de La Mothe le Vayer and of the poet Théophile de Viau. The fate of Théophile, who was imprisoned in 1623 for some obscene verses in Le Parnasse des poètes satyriques, and whose death sentence on suspicion of atheism was commuted to banishment two years later, illustrates the risks attending the irreligious way of life of which he and his friends were suspected.

But however deep the interest in the eastern languages may have run in the case of diplomats and scholars, there was another reason for studying them which was announced far more frequently and boldly and which invariably formed part of any attempt to translate or to present an Islamic text: the missionary aim. The missionary movement as it emerged in our period had its roots in the mid-sixteenth century with the foundation of new religious orders, above all the Capuchins and the Jesuits. With the encouragement of the papacy, they laid plans for the conversion of heretics and the reunion of all Christians in a Church loyal to Rome. In France the movement gained prominence in the last years of the sixteenth century, and in the first decades of the seventeenth it was accompanied by the revival of calls for a crusade. Plans for a military expedition to the East had been formed by Jean-Aimé de Chavigny in 1606 and by Jacques Esprinchard du Plom in 1609, but the most important of all was the one launched in 1613 by Charles de Gonzague, Duc de Nevers, whose eagerness to convert the Muslims to Christianity was increased by his own ambitions to be proclaimed emperor of Jerusalem. During the minority of Louis XIII the project had the full support of the regent, Marie de Medici. A more practical scheme would be devised by Cardinal Richelieu’s adviser, the Capuchin Père Joseph. Mainly concerned with the spread of his own order, he nevertheless gave an immense impetus to the movement as a whole. Intending in 1627 to set up a printing press in the Lebanon which would produce works in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Syriac, and with a school established at the Capuchin convent in Istanbul in 1629 at which the children of French merchants and local Christians could study French, Italian, Latin, modern Greek and Turkish, he encouraged the study of oriental languages and the translation of texts into Arabic.

The chief object of the missionaries in the Near East always remained the union of the Churches and they consequently concentrated on the local Christians – the Jacobites and Maronites in Syria, the Copts in Egypt, the Melkites or members of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Arab world, and the Armenians. Yet the altogether impractical desire of the French authorities seems to have oscillated between an ignorant optimism and a more enlightened cynicism. Inspired by various shades of Gallicanism (the traditional French belief in a Catholic Church independent of the authority of the papacy), an ambassador such a Savary de Brèves hoped to overtake and replace other nations and to obtain a French monopoly of the mission which would ensure a French presence and a political influence in the area. Such a policy depended, at least initially, on the good will and collaboration of the Ottoman authorities.

Yet there was also another current of thought. The more extreme French Catholics (like their enemies, the Huguenots) had often opposed the alliance with the Turkish sultan at the expense of their fellow-Catholics in Habsburg Spain and the Austrian territories. Many of them would join the pro-Spanish Catholic Ligue first founded in 1576 and re-established in 1584 to combat the advance of the Huguenots. Although the zealots were undoubtedly a minority, they remained vociferous, and they and their descendants, known in the seventeenth century as the dévots, could again show their strength after the death of Henri IV in 1610. Protected by Marie de Medici, led by Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle and the keeper of the seals Michel de Marillac, encouraged by the young king’s marriage with the daughter of Philip III of Spain, the Infanta Anne of Austria, they voiced their disapproval of the traditional Valois policy of friendship with Turkey. Some of them preferred an alliance not only with Spain – Charles de Gonzague’s crusade was expected to have Spanish military support – but also with Persia, in the hope that she might convert to Catholicism. The dévots, too, favoured a crusade and the dispatch of missionaries to the East, and after the death in 1622 of St François de Sales, whose Introduction à la vie dévote was among their favourite texts, they venerated St Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Lazarists and the Sisters of Charity, who had himself suffered as a slave in Tunis and who would head the new missionary movement.

The dévots met with numerous setbacks. Even if they initially seemed to have won the sympathies of Louis XIII, many of their aspirations were doomed by the schemes of Cardinal Richelieu who rose to power in 1624. Although he had much in common with the dévots, Richelieu followed an aggressive foreign policy which alienated them. It led to war with Spain and to Protestant alliances. After his death in 1642 Mazarin pursued the same policy and we see the familiar pattern of hostility to the Habsburgs attended by an alliance with the sultan. Yet the reputation of a man such as Vincent de Paul meant that the dévots remained a force to be reckoned with. In cultural matters they encouraged an intensified censorship which, as the condemnation of Théophile de Viau demonstrated, could be remarkably effective.

When he was publishing his works, in the 1630s and 1640s, André du Ryer had to adapt himself to the current of the time. Certainly the boundaries between the various movements which had come to the fore after the death of Henri IV remained fluid. The opposition between the dévots and the more moderate Catholics was seldom polarized. The systems of patronage tended to cut across the different shades of religious sympathy, and there were countless cases of reciprocal toleration and collaboration. Individuals—Père Joseph is an example—might change their minds about the advisability of an alliance with Spain, and members of very different factions might agree on the importance of the missionaries and the benefits of a crusade. Savary de Brèves, who was far from being a dévot even if he had himself devised a plan for a crusade, was protected by Marie de Medici around whom the dévots assembled. The assiduous recorder of gossip Tallement des Réaux described the cordial meetings between Père Joseph, Charles de Gonzague, Catherine de Rohan (who was a Huguenot) and Savary de Brèves in which they would discuss the ‘conquest’ of the Turkish Empire. The ambassador Henri Gournay de Marcheville, whom Du Ryer accompanied to Istanbul in 1631, was himself close to Père Joseph and had been an early partisan of Charles de Gonzague’s crusade. Yet he had hoped to include in his train a number of free thinkers and ended up by taking the dévot François de Gallaup de Chasteuil.

Du Ryer had to present his works—above all his Turkish grammar and his translation of the Quran—as having been composed for the benefit of the missionaries in the Levant. He would seem to have had to attack Islam and to perpetuate anti-Islamic myths even when the many years he had spent in the Islamic world, the sources he used, and his friends both in France and in the East, suggest a genuine knowledge of, if not sympathy with, the teaching of the Quran. He chose his protectors with care and ultimately succeeded in carrying out some of the plans of his first patron Savary de Brèves, but he did so in the face of obstacles which brought out the dangers of dealing with Islamic texts and languages in Catholic Europe in the seventeenth century.