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PIERRE GASSENDI   (1592-1655) was born in the small village of Champtercier in the South of France.  He was first taught by his uncle and later entered the College of Digne (1599) and the University of Aix (1609) where he studied philosophy and theology.  Several years later he was ordained, took his doctorate in theology (Avignon), and became a canon of Notre Dame du Bourg (Digne).  He was later appointed Professor of Philosophy at Aix. 

Gassend's first book, Exercitationes paradoxicae adversus aristoteleos, was stridently anti-Scholastic.  Gassendi lived in Paris from 1628-1632 where he made a number of life-long friendships, notably with Boulliau, Mersenne, Mydorge, Naude, and La Mothe le Vayer.  Besides his interest in ancient philosophy, notably his work on Epicurus, Gassendi was particularly interested during this period in issues involving  astronomy and optics.  He soon published  Parhelia, sive soles quatuor (1630) and Mercurius in sole visus (1632). 

Leaving Paris for his native Provence in 1632, Gassendi returned to his studies on the ancient atomist Epicurus.  During the next five years Gassendi worked closely with his patron and intimate friend, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637), perhaps the most prolific correspondent of the early 17th century.  With Peiresc's death Gassendi appears to have suffered deep depression.  Putting aside his study of Epicurus, Gassendi spent the next several years writing a biography of his friend,  Viri illustris Nicolai Claudii Fabricii de Peiresc . . .Vita (1641). 

During this period Gassendi also published a much neglected work dealing with astronomy and focused much of his time on issues of vision.  In 1642 he published De apparente magnitudine solis which appeared in the form of published letters exchanged with Boulliau, Chapelain, Liceti, and Naude.  In the same year  he also published a short work on motion, De motu impresso a motore translato, where he presented his theory of inertia.This work was soon attacked by his long-standing opponent, Jean-Baptiste Morin (1583-1656), who had earlier written against Gassendi and his friend Boulliau on Copernicanism and the problem of the planets.  Morin was a master of personal attack.  A creature of Richelieu, to whom he dedicated numerous pamphlets, Morin was considered by contemporaries to be a talented but no less impertinent charlatan.  His influence as an anti-Copernican and character assassin during these decades deserves further study. 

Gassendi returned to Paris in 1641 and delighted in the intellectual life associated with meetings held by Mersenne and the Brothers Dupuy.  Here Gassendi began work responding to  Descartes's Meditationes while continuing work on other projects.  Significantly, in 1644 Gassendi accepted the prestigious position of Professor of Mathematics at  the College royale, which at least one friend advised he decline, suggesting he had better ways to spend his time.  During this period Gassendi taught a number of related subjects, among them astronomy, and in 1647 published an important and much neglected work, Institutio astronomica, and later that year a brief précis to his life's work appeared,  De vitae moribus Epicuri.  Gassendi eventually published other works and commentaries on Epicurus but his clearest statement did not appear until after his death as the  Syntagma philosophicum, published in his Opera omnia (1658).  With the death of Mersenne in 1648 Gassendi returned to his native Provence where he remained for nearly five years. 

Gassendi remained busy.  During this time he continued various disputes with Morin and lent support to his principal student, François Bernier.  It was Bernier who eventually published an abridgment of Gassendi's chief published works, the Abrege de la philosophie de Gassendi (Lyon 1678; 1684), which, it should be noted, did not always reflect Gassendi's views accurately.  Returning to Paris in 1653 Gassendi took lodging on the second floor of the Hotel Montmor.  Here, under the semi-private patronage of 'Montmor the Rich' Gassendi helped to lay the foundations for what would eventually become the Académie Montmor.  After a long illness and repeated bleedings Gassendi died 24 October 1655 at the Hotel Montmor.  He accepted his fate stoically, in any case, in the presence of friends.  In the centuries since his death Gassendi has remained something of a conundrum, a focal point of scholarly debate about his true beliefs... 

'Voila le visage de Gassendi, tel qu'il apparuit dans le miroir....'
 

rah.feb.1998

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