Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy

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Silvestre de Sacy.

Antoine Isaac, Baron Silvestre de Sacy (French: [sasi]; 21 September 1758, Paris – 21 February 1838, Paris), was a French linguist and orientalist. His son, Ustazade Silvestre de Sacy, became a journalist.

Life and works[edit]

Early life[edit]

Silvestre de Sacy was born in Paris to a notary named Abraham Silvestre, of Jewish origin.[1] The additional name of de Sacy was taken by the younger son after a fashion then common with the Parisian bourgeoisie. Sacy's father died when he was seven years old, and he was educated in isolation by his mother.

Philological studies[edit]

In 1781 he was appointed councillor in the cour des monnaies, and was advanced in 1791 to be a commissary-general in the same department. Having successively studied Semitic languages, he began to make a name as an orientalist, and between 1787–91 worked on the Pahlavi inscriptions of the Sassanid kings. In 1792 he retired from public service, and lived in close seclusion in a cottage near Paris till in 1795 he became professor of Arabic in the newly founded school of living Eastern languages (École speciale des langues orientales vivantes).

During this interval Sacy studied the religion of the Druze, the subject of his last and unfinished work, the Exposé de la religion des Druzes (2 vols., 1838). He published the following Arabic textbooks:

  • Grammaire arabe (2 vols., 1st ed. 1810)
  • Chrestomathie arabe (3 vols., 1806)
  • Anthologie grammaticale (1829)

In 1806 he added the duties of Persian professor to his old chair, and from this time onwards his life was one of increasing honour and success, broken only by a brief period of retreat during the Hundred Days.

Silvestre de Sacy was a contemporary and teacher of Champollion. He made some progress in identifying proper names in the demotic inscription on the Rosetta Stone.

Public offices[edit]

He was perpetual secretary of the Academy of Inscriptions from 1832 onwards; in 1808 he had entered the corps législatif; he was made a baron in 1813; and in 1832, when quite an old man, be became a peer of France and was regular in the duties of the chamber. In 1815 he became rector of the University of Paris, and after the Second Restoration he was active on the commission of public instruction. With Abel Rémusat, he was joint founder of the Société asiatique, and was inspector of oriental types at the Imprimerie nationale.

Other scholarly works[edit]

Among his other works are his edition of Hariri (1822), with a selected Arabic commentary, and of the Alfiya (1833), and his Calila et Dimna (1816), the Arabic version of that famous collection of Buddhist animal tales which has been in various forms one of the most popular books of the world. Other works include a version of Abd-el-Latif, Relation arabe sur l'Egypte, essays on the history of the law of property in Egypt since the Arab conquest (1805–1818), and The Book of Wandering Stars, a translation of a history of the Ottoman Empire and its rule of Egypt, particularly its recounting of the various actions of and events under the Ottoman governors of Egypt. To biblical criticism he contributed a memoir on the Samaritan Arabic Pentateuch (Mém. Acad. des Inscr. vol. xlix), and editions of the Arabic and Syriac New Testaments for the British and Foreign Bible Society. His students include Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer.

Critical studies[edit]

Modern scholars like Edward Said and others have given critical attention to the theoretical foundations of "orientalism" in works like Chrestomathie arabe.[2]

Famous students[edit]

De Sacy assisted the young composer Fromental Halévy in his early career, giving him a testimonial during his application for the Prix de Rome.

Selected works[edit]

In a statistical overview derived from writings by and about Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy, OCLC/WorldCat encompasses roughly 1,000+ works in 1,000+ publications in 16 languages and 3,000+ library holdings.[4]


  1. ^ Ruth Jordan,Fromental Halevy, London (1994) ISBN 1-871082-51-X, p. 13,
  2. ^ Spanos, William V. (2003). The Legacy of Edward W. Said, p. 101., p. 101, at Google Books
  3. ^ Carl Johan Tornberg (Swedish)
  4. ^ WorldCat Identities: Silvestre de Sacy, A. I. (Antoine Isaac) 1758-1838

External links[edit]