Biography of Marc Anthony Muretus (1526-1585)

NOTE: The following article is a biography of a sixteenth-century Frenchman, published in English in 1761. I include it in this selection of English documents to show that eighteenth-century Britons were aware of the historical subject of homosexuality in other countries. In a sense, awareness of homosexuality in the past is always part of the history of homosexuality in later periods.

MURETUS (MARC ANTHONY) a very ingenious and learned critic, was descended from a good family, and born at Muret, a village near Limoges in France, on the 12th of April 1526. We know not who were his masters, nor what the place of his education; but it was probably Limoges. Bencius says, that he spent his youth at Agen, where he had Julius Caesar Scaliger for the guide and director of his studies; but Joseph Scaliger denies this, and affirms, that Muretus was eighteen years of age, when he first came to Agen to see his father. He adds, that he passed on from thence to Auch, where he began to teach in the archiepiscopal college, and to read lectures upon Cicero and Terence. After some stay in this place, he went to Villeneuve, where he was employed by a rich merchant in the education of his children, and at the same time taught the Latin authors in a public school Two years after his settling here, he went to Agen to pay a visit to Scaliger, who had the highest esteem and affection for him, and who ever kept up a most intimate correspondence with him. Muretus removed from Villeneuve to Paris, from Paris to Poictiers, from Poictiers to Bourdeaux in 1547, and from Bourdeaux to Paris again in 1552. On the 5th of February this year, he recited in the church of the Bernardins his first oration, De dignitate ac praestantia studii theologici. He printed also this year his poems, intitled, Juvenilia: from the dedication of which we learn, that he taught at that time philosophy and civil law.

It seems to have been the year after, that a most terrible disgrace befel him, which, after many distresses, obliged him at length to fly his country. He was accused of [p.543] nothing less than sodomy, and thrown into prison. Shame, and the fear of punishment, affected him so, that he resolved to starve himself to death; but he was deterred from this by his friends, who laboured to procure his release, and after much pains effected it. He could not continue any longer at Paris, and therefore withdrew to Thoulouse, where he read lectures in civil law. But here the friendship he conceived for one of his pupils, Memmius Fremiot, a native of Dijon, exposed him to fresh suspicions; and the accusation brought against him at Paris was here renewed. Whether Muretus was really guilty, which is much to be feared, or envy only lay lurking at the bottom of this affair, they proceeded against him; and, upon his flying, they condemned him in 1554, "to be burned in effigy with Memmius Fremiot of Dijon, for being a Hugonot [sic] and sodomite." So run the registers of Thoulouse: it was not possible for a catholic to be guilty of so abominable a crime; he must be a heretic.

Muretus now fled from France into Italy, and falling sick, as he went, at a town in Lombardy, he applied to a physician, who puzzled with the uncommonness of his case, called in several of his brethren to a consultation. Not knowing Muretus, and fancying him too obscure and low a person to understand any thing of Latin, they consulted a long time in the language, upon the application of some medicine, which was not in the way of regular practice, and agreed at last to try it upon Meretus, saying, "Faciamus periculum in corpora vili: Let us make an experiment upon this mean subject." But Muretus knew perfectly well what they said; yet rather than discover himself, paid his host, and set forwards on his journey, as soon as they were withdrawn. This story is told somewhat differently in the first volume of the Menagiana. He spent several years at Padua and Venice, and taught the youth in those cities. Joseph Scaliger says, that he was guilty of the same abomination at Venice, with which he had been charged in France: but others say, that he was only suspected, and that he justified himself in some letters which he wrote to Lambin. Scaliger in the mean time is not altogether to be credited, in what he says of Muretus, who, it seems, had highly offended him by a trick, which should rather have moved his mirth. Muretus had composed for his amusement some verses, intitled, Attius & Trabeas; which Scaliger taking for ancient, cited under the name of Trabeas, in his notes upon Varro de re Rustica: but finding [p.544] afterwards how he had been imposed on, he removed them from the second edition of his Varro, and to be revenged on Muretus, substituted in their place the following distich against him:

Qui rigidae flammas evaserat ante Tolosae
Rumetus, fumos vendidit ille mihi.

Muretus was thirty-four years of age, when the cardinal Hippolite d'Est called him to Rome, at the recommendation of the cardinal Francis de Tournon, and took him into his service: and from that time, whether Muretus led a more regular life, or whether envy ceased to persecute him, nothing amiss was farther said of him, but all the world was edified with his conduct as well as his writings. Two years after, viz. in 1562, he attended his patron, who was going to France in quality of legate à latere; but did not return with him to Rome, being prevailed on to read public lectures at Paris upon Aristotle's Ethics, which he did with singular applause to the year 1567. After that, he taught the civil law for four years with an exactness and elegance, which was not common with the lawyers of his time. Joseph Scaliger assures us, that he had taken the degrees in this faculty at Ascoli. It is related as a particularity in the life of Muretus, that when he first began to read law-lectures at Thoulouse, he was so very indifferently qualified for the province he had undertaken, as to provoke the contempt and ridicule of his pupils: however, he sufficiently wiped off this disgrace afterwards, by a very consummate knowledge in his profession. He spent the remainder of his life, in teaching the belles lettres, and explaining the Latin authors. In 1576, he entered into holy orders, and was ordained priest: he devoted himself with zeal to all the exercises of piety. James Thomasius, in a preface to some works of Muretus printed at Leipsic [sic], says, that this learned man was a jesuit at the latter end of his life; but, as is allowed, without any foundation at all. He died at Paris the 4th of June 1585, aged 59 years. He was made a citizen of Rome, which title he has placed at the head of some of his pieces, probably by pope Gregory XIII. who esteemed him very highly, and conferred many favours on him.

His works have been collected, and printed in several volumes octavo at Verona. They consist of orations, poems, epistles, various lections or readings, and translations of Greek authors, Aristotle in particular. He had almost all the qualities of a perfect orator. He composed with great [p.545] purity, politeness, and elegance; and he pronounced his orations with a grace which charmed his hearers. His poems discover genius, taste, and delicacy of sentiment, as well as of stile. Nothing, as Manutius says, can be more perfect in their kind, than his Varia lectiones; they shew both the judgment and elegant spirit of their author, and contain a thousand pretty things, which make the reading of them very agreeable. They consist of nineteen books, fifteen of which have been often printed, and are easy to be met with; the other four not so, they having been only printed, as we know of, with another piece of Muretus, called Observationum juris liber singularis, at Augsburg, 1600, in 8vo, in the second volume of Gruter's Thesaurus criticus; and in the Verona edition of Muretus's works. As for his translations, the learned Huctius has commended them very highly: he says, that they are very exact, pure, elegant, chaste, polished; and that the translator has not contented himself with barely expressing the sense of his author, but endeavoured to imitate his character and manner, as near as the subject would allow. And yet we are told, that Muretus, notwithstanding all this perfection, seldom revised or corrected any thing he wrote; which, if true, must make him appear a more extraordinary person still.

Some have accused Muretus of acting the plagiary, and borrowing from Erasmus and others, in his critical capacity; while others have maintained, that he was as well skilled as they in the Greek and Latin languages, and even more exercised in the art of criticism, and therefore had no occasion to borrow from any one. Something however of this nature gave birth to an inextinguishable hatred between our author and Lambin, between whom, till then, there had always subsisted the greatest intimacy and friendship. Lambin intended to publish commentaries upon Horace, and communicated his explications of many difficult passages in this poet to Muretus; who, as Lambin complained afterwards, used them in his Various readings, which he was then employed on, and published them for his own, before Lambin's work was finished. this brought on a paper war; and though a reconciliation was some time after effected between the parties, insomuch that Lambin dedicated his Lucretius in 1563 to Muretus, yet it was a reconciliation only in appearance. It was not real, on the part of Muretus at least, who, after Lambin was dead, could not forbear acting in an hostile manner against him. [p.546]

SOURCE: A New and General Biographical Dictionary; containing An Historical and Critical Account of the Lives and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons, London, 1762, vol. 8, pp. 543-546.

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Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Biography of Marc Anthony Muretus," Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 April 2010 <>.

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