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Etienne Dolet

Étienne Dolet (August 3, 1509 - August 3, 1546) was a French scholar and printer. He was born at Orleans. A doubtful tradition makes him the illegitimate son of Francis I; but it is evident that he was at least connected with some family of rank and wealth.

From Orleans he was taken to Paris about 1521, and after studying under Nicolas Bórauld, the teacher of Coligny, he proceeded in 1526 to Padua. The death of his friend and master, Simon de Villanova, led him, in 1530, to accept the post of secretary to Jean de Langeac, bishop of Limoges and French ambassador to the republic of Venice; he contrived, however, to attend the lectures of the Venetian scholar Battista Egnazio, and found time to write Latin love poems to some Venetian Elena.

Returning to France soon afterwards he proceeded to Toulouse to study law; but there he soon became involved in the violent disputes between the different "nations" of the university, was thrown into prison, and finally banished by a decree of the parlement. In 1535 he entered the lists against Erasmus in the famous Ciceronian controversy, by publishing through Sebastien Gryphe (Gryphius) at Lyons a Dialogus de imitatione Ciceroniana; and the following year saw the appearance of his two folio volumes Commentariorum linguae Latinae. This work was dedicated to Francis I, who gave him the privilege of printing during ten years any works in Latin, Greek, Italian or French, which were the product of his own pen or had received his supervision; and accordingly, on his release from an imprisonment occasioned by his justifiable homicide of a painter named Compaing, he began at Lyons his typographical and editorial labours.

That he was not altogether unaware of the dangers to which he was exposed from the bigotry of the time is shown not only by the tone of his mottoes--Preserve moi, Seigneur, des calamities des hommes, and Durior est spectatae virtutis quam incognitae conditio--but also by the fact that he endeavoured first of all to conciliate his opponents by publishing a Cato christianus, in which he made profession of his creed. The catholicity of his literary appreciation, in spite of his ultra-Ciceronianism, was soon displayed by the works which proceeded from his press—ancient and modern, sacred and secular, from the New Testament in Latin to Rabelais in French. But before the term of his privilege expired his labours were interrupted by his enemies, who succeeded in imprisoning him (1542) on the charge of atheism.

From a first imprisonment of fifteen months Dolet was released by the advocacy of Pierre Duchatel, bishop of Tulle; from a second (1544) he escaped by his own ingenuity; but, venturing back from Piedmont, whither he had fled in order that he might print at Lyons the letters by which he appealed for justice to the king of France, the queen of Navarre and the parlement of Paris, he was again arrested, branded as a relapsed atheist by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne, and on the 3rd of August 1546 put to the torture, strangled and burned in the Place Maubert. On his way thither he is said to have composed the punning pentameter--Non dolet ipse Dolet, sed pia turba dolet.

Whether Dolet is to be classed with the representatives of Protestantism or with the advocates of anti-Christian rationalism has been frequently disputed; by the principal Protestants of his own time he was not recognized, and by Calvin he is formally condemned, along with Agrippa and his master Villanova, as having uttered execrable blasphemies against the Son of God; but, to judge by the religious character of a large number of the books which he translated or published, such a condemnation is altogether misplaced. His repeated advocacy of the reading of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue is especially noticeable. A statue of Dolet was erected on the Place Maubert in 1889.

See JF Nee de la Rochelle, Vie d'Éienne Dolet (1779); Joseph Boulmier, E. Dolet, sa vie, ses oeuvres, son martyre (1857) ; AF Didot, Essai sur la typographie (1852) and article in the Nouvelle Biographie generale; L Michel. Dolet: sa statue, place Maubert: ses amis, ses ennemis (1889); RC Christie, Étienne Dolet, the Martyr of the Renaissance (2nd ed., 1889), containing a full bibliography of works published by him as author or printer; O Galtier, Étienne Dolet (Paris, 1908). The proces, or trial, of Dolet was published (1836) by AH Taillandier from the registers of the parlement of Paris.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.