Author photo. Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy

Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy

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Antoine Isaac Silvestre was born to a large bourgeois family in Paris; to distinguish himself from his brothers, he added the surname de Sacy from his father's native village. He showed an early gift for languages. He learned Hebrew at age 12, and then mastered Syriac, Samaritan, Chaldean, Arabic, Persian and Turkish, as well as English, German, Italian and Spanish. After studying literature, he studied law and was appointed in 1781 at the Cour des monnaies. While there, he made a name for himself as a linguist and orientalist. In 1780, he had began publishing notes on a translation of the Book of Kings in the Bibles, as well as translations of letters written by the Samaritans. After being made a member of the Académie des inscriptions, he published books and articles on the early history of the Arabs and on the antiquities of Persia. In 1792 he retired from public service, and became a professor of Arabic in the newly-founded École speciale des langues orientales vivantes. He studied the religion of the Druses, the subject of his work, l'Expose de la religion des Druzes (2 vols., 1838), and wrote grammars and textbooks on the Arabic languages. He earned numerous honors, and was ennobled in 1813. In 1815 he became rector of the Université de Paris. With Abel Rémusat, he was joint founder of the Societe Asiatique. Among his other works are Calila et Dimna (1816), an Arabic version of the famous collection of Buddhist animal tales that has been in various forms one of the most popular books of the world.
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