Jacobus Golius

Born: 1596 in The Hague, Holland
Died: 28 September 1667 in Leiden, Holland

Click the picture above
to see two larger pictures

Show birthplace location

Main Index Biographies index

Version for printing

Jacob Gool is better known by the Latin version of his name, Jacobus Golius. His parents were Dirck Pietersz Gool and Anna Hemelaers. Dirck Gool had been a resident of the city of Leiden and had lived through the siege of that city by the Spanish from May until October 1574. The siege had been relieved on 3 October and, after he went to live in The Hague, Dirck returned to Leiden on that day every year to commemorate the day with his former comrades and their descendants. Dirck Gool held various important administrative positions in the Court of Holland in The Hague and was first clerk in the State Council. Later in his life he was an amanuensis to Constantin Huygens, the father of Christiaan Huygens. Constantin Huygens was, in fact, born in the same year as Jacob, the subject of this biography. Little is known of Jacob's mother, Anna, but it is recorded that Jacob was named after the pastor Jacob Starck who was a great uncle of his mother. Jacob had a brother Petrus Gool.

Golius attended school in The Hague and then in 1612, went to Leiden to begin his studies at the university there. Both Willebrord Snell and his father Rudolph Snell (1546-1613), the professor of mathematics at Leiden, were teaching mathematics at Leiden when Golius began his studies. Also teaching mathematics at the university was Frans van Schooten The Elder, father of the better known Frans van Schooten. Golius was also taught by Aelius Everhardus Vorstius (1565-1624) who had become an extraordinary professor of Natural Philosophy at Leiden in 1598, and a full professor of Natural History and Medicine in the following year. Golius initially focused on the study of medicine, mathematics and astronomy. However, during his studies he became fascinated reading the texts of the ancient Greek mathematicians, particularly the Conics by Apollonius of Perga. The masterpiece Conics was written in eight books but only the first four have survived in Greek. In Arabic, however, the first seven of the eight books of Conics survive. This meant that Golius was keen to learn Arabic to read this work.

Thomas van Erpe (1584-1624), who is also known as Thomas Erpenius, was appointed professor of Arabic and other Oriental languages in Leiden in February 1613. From 1618 he began teaching Arabic to Golius who became extremely enthusiastic about the language and also became a close friend of van Erpe. Golius, who eventually became an expert on Persian, Turkish, Armenian, and Chinese, wanted to extend his knowledge of Oriental languages by travelling to Oriental countries. In 1622-24 he was sent by the Dutch States General to Morocco to work as an engineer, being a member of a mission headed by Albert Ruyl. Golius was responsible for an investigation into the condition of the Bay of Agadir and asked to study the feasibility of building a harbour there. He visited Muley Zidan, Sultan of Morocco, who had become Sultan in 1594 and spent much of his time in the city of Safi, on the coast about 250 km north of the Bay of Agadir, where he worked with Muslim scholars. In particular he met with Ahmad ben Qâsim with whom he had both diplomatic contacts but they also discussed ancient manuscripts. (For information on this scholar, see [8].) Ahmad ben Qâsim had made copies of some manuscripts in his own hand and at least one of these is now in the Leiden University Library. After Golius returned to Leiden in 1624 he continued to correspond with Ahmad ben Qâsim about these manuscripts.

Van Erpe died in 1624 and Golius was appointed to succeed him in 1625 as the professor of Arabic and other Oriental languages at Leiden. However, in the same year that he was appointed, Golius was given permission to travel in Arabic countries and he made an extensive visit. His first task was as a chancellor in the Dutch consulate at Aleppo from where he visited other major Syrian cities. He was particularly interested in visiting Mesopotamia with its strong reputation for ancient studies in mathematics, astronomy and medicine. He also went to Constantinople where he remained for quite a long time. His learning, especially as a physician and astronomer, impressed the scholars of Constantinople. During his travels Golius collected a large number of Oriental manuscripts which he brought back to Leiden. This gave Leiden the largest collection of Oriental manuscripts anywhere in Europe and aroused a great deal of interest from scholars all over Europe. A list of about 300 titles of these Arabic, Turkish and Persian works were listed in 1630 in Paris in a catalogue compiled by Pierre Gassendi. These, however, were only those manuscripts which he had given to the Leiden library. His extensive personal collection of manuscripts is now held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. The manuscripts arrived there after they were purchased by Narcissus Marsh, Archbishop of Armagh, in 1696 who then left them to the Bodleian.

Willebrord Snell died in 1626 and, in 1629 Golius was appointed as professor of mathematics at Leiden in addition to his position as professor of Arabic and other Oriental languages. Cornelis Schoneveld writes [3]:-

In the autumn of 1633, when walking to the academy building, to the botanical garden adjacent to it, or to the library ... housed in the church-building across the Rapenburg canal, [one] must have heard the noise made by the carpenters on the roof of the academy erecting a small wooden shed-like structure for the use of Jacobus Golius, Professor not only of Arabic but of Mathematics. He needed it as a kind of observatory "to demonstrate to the students the course of the heavens and the stars". For this purpose the "quadrant or instrumentum mathematicum", which Willebrord Snellius, Golius's predecessor, had owned, was bought by the Curators from Snellius's widow. In addition, Golius received permission to install there the two globes normally placed in the library.
Golius used this observatory to make good quality observations of lunar eclipses, comets and planets. He also lectured on mathematics, teaching his students about the advances made by the Arabs, particularly the decimal place-value number system. He also taught his students about the ancient Greek mathematics, usually using the Arabic versions of the Greek texts. One of his contributions is related in [9]:-
Golius's interest in chronology led him to investigate the "Catayan" system of twelve branches or duodecimal cycles from a Persian work of the 15th century. Golius obtained additional verbal information from Father Martino Martini, a learned Jesuit, whom he met at Leiden on the latter's passage from Amsterdam to Antwerp. In the interview Golius discovered that Catay referred to China. With the aid of Heurnius's dictionary [which Golius had in his library] and Martini's advice, he was to publish the cycle of twelve in Chinese characters. It was the first instance of Chinese letters printed (from wood) in Europe.
Let us give some details of two of the people mentioned in this quote. Martino Martini (1614-1661) was a Jesuit missionary working mainly in China. Justus Heurnius studied medicine and theology in Leiden and became a protestant missionary. So that missionaries could speak to locals in their own language he published 'Dictionarium Sinense' in 1628.

In around 1630 Golius married Rensburg van der Goes, the daughter of Matthias van der Goes and Aleyt van Beveren. They had three children, a daughter and two sons, Dirk and Matthias.

Golius became known as the "father of Arabic literature". J T P de Bruijn writes [5]:-

Through Golius's work the scope of Persian studies, as they had been pursued by Dutch Arabists since the end of the 16th century, was widened. In the course of the preparation of his famous "Lexicon Arabico-Latinum' (Leiden, 1653), which is partly based on Persian and Turkish lexicographical sources, he also assembled dictionaries for Persian and Turkish. Whereas the latter was never printed, the 'Dictionarum persico-latinum', completed in 1643, was posthumously published by the Cambridge scholar Edmundus Castellus as an appendix to the multilingual dictionary 'Lexicon Heptaglotton' (London, 1669).
Further details of his contributions in this area are given in [7]. (We have slightly modified and corrected this quote):-
The "Arabic Grammar" of Erpenius, first published in 1636 ... had given a new impulse to the study of the Arabic, and prepared the philologists of Holland and Germany to demand a work like that of Golius. He, instead of republishing and enlarging Anton Giggaeus 'Thesaurus Linguae Arabicae (1632), wisely chose to translate the Arabic lexicon of Jouhari, partly, that the public might thus have both the great native Arabic lexicons in a European dress, and partly for the sake of the passages from various authors which are cited in that work. Jouhari, also, being by birth a Turk, gives his definitions and difficult forms in a way to suit the wants of a foreigner more completely than any native could have done. Golius published his lexicon under the title 'Lexicon Arabico-Latinum contextum ex probatioribus Orientis Lexicographis,' in folio, at Leiden, in 1653.
We note that Jouhari means 'the Jeweller' and it is the name by which Abu Nasr Ismael ibn Hammad is known. His first profession was as a jeweller and his dates are unknown but probably are between 1000 and 1100. We note that Jouhari's lexicon was one which gave definitions of Arabic words in Arabic, in the same way that the OED gives the meaning of English words with an English description. There is an obvious difficulty here in that no language tends to have two words with the same meaning, so definitions have to be somewhat roundabout. However, what Golius produced with his translation of Jouhari was a lexicon in which the definition of an Arabic word was given in Latin. Although we have called this a translation, in fact it is not really a translation since Golius was able to use many other sources to help him define the Arabic words in Latin.

We have already explained above how many of Golius's manuscripts ended up in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. In fact, after Golius died his books and manuscripts were sold off in two separate sales. His books were sold in 1668 while his manuscripts were sold in 1696. The Leiden University would have liked to have been able to make a good offer for Golius's books and manuscripts but they could not make any realistic offer due to a lack of funds. However, one of Golius's students, Levinus Warner (1618-1665), who had studied Middle Eastern languages with Golius, was inspired by him to become a collector of ancient Middle Eastern books and manuscripts. When he died in 1665 he left his private collection of over 900 manuscripts to Leiden University.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

List of References (9 books/articles)

Mathematicians born in the same country

Other Web sites
  1. Mathematical Genealogy Project

Main Index Biographies index

JOC/EFR July 2015
Copyright information
School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

The URL of this page is: