Jean de Sponde

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Jean de Sp onde and Latinized Johannes Spondanus (born 1557 in Mauléon (now Mauléon-Licharre in the Basses-Pyrénées); † 1595 in Bordeaux) was a French humanist and poet.

Life and work

Jean de Sponde came from a Calvinist family in Béarn. His father was an official at the court of Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre. From 1569 he studied at the college of Lescar, where he became enthusiastic about Hellenism. At the age of 20 he began work on a Latin translation of the works of Homer with extensive commentary.[1] In addition, he wrote some love poems, which were published only posthumously.

In 1580 he travelled to Basel with the support of Henry of Navarre. He moved in the scholarly circles there and occupied himself with alchemy. After an intensive study of the Psalms, he wrote his main work, the Meditations sur les Pseaumes, as well as the Essay de quelques poemes chrestiens, whose poems, in addition to theological themes such as the Last Supper(Stances de la Cene), deal primarily with death(Stances de la Mort).

After 1583 he returned to France, where he was in the service of the chancery of the King of Navarre. In 1585 he was engaged in Paris in the search for artesian wells.

From 1588 he was resident in La Rochelle. In 1589, for unknown reasons, he stayed in Paris, which was then ruled by the Catholic League, and was imprisoned. In 1591 he published annotated Latin translations of the Logic of Aristotle and the works of Hesiod.

In 1593 he converted to Catholicism – almost at the same time as King Henry IV – which earned him the hatred of his former co-religionists, including Agrippa d’Aubigné. Henry IV also rejected his conversion because he wanted a strong Protestant party and withdrew his support.

In 1594 he learned of the death of his Calvinist father, who had been murdered by Catholic partisans. Embittered, he retired to Bordeaux, where he died in 1595.[2] His brother, Henri de Sponde, likewise converted and became bishop of Pamiers. Jean de Sponde’s son of the same name, nephew of Henri de Sponde, also became Bishop of Pamier, succeeding him in office.


  1. Johannes Spondanus: Homeri quae extant omnia cum Latina versione, perpetuis item iustisque in Iliada simul et Odysseam Joannis Spondani commentariis. Basel 1583.
  2. The earlier Huguenot co-religionists Agrippa d’Aubigné and Olhagaray describe his death in gloomy colors (“the children in the street, the wife in the brothel, he himself in the hospital,” “he died in misery”). In fact, however, Sponde was buried in the cathedral Saint-André with great participation of the population and dignitaries; Ruchon p. 78 with reference to the sources.


  • François Ruchon. Alan Boase: La vie et l’œvre de Jean de Sponde. Geneva : Cailler 1949.
  • Poètes du XVIe siècle. In: Albert-Marie Schmidt (ed.): Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard, Paris 1953 (French).
  • Alan Boase: Vie de Jean de Sponde. Genève : Droz 1977.