Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: April 2017

Abraham Sacrifiant


Théodore de Bèze wrote Abraham Sacrifiant in 1550 at the request of the authorities of the University of Lausanne for his students to present at the Presentation Day. He had been appointed Professor of Greek there after his arrival in Geneva in 1548. In 1575 it was translated into English by Arthur Golding, a writer who was already well known and highly regarded for his translations of classical texts, in particular of Ovid's Metamorphoses, but, as a Puritan, he was also interested in and translated the work of earlier Puritan writers like Calvin and de Bèze. His translation of de Bèze's play was published in 1577 by Thomas Vautroullier in Blackfriars, London. Surprisingly, perhaps, given the popularity of de Bèze's play in France, the English translation attracted little interest in England and we have no record of a performance.

In his letter ‘To the Reader’ dated ‘From Lausan the first of October 1550’, which precedes the Prologue, de Bèze begins by reflecting on

two thinges that comforted me maruelously. The one is the infinite number of promises vttered by the mouth of him which is the truth it selfe, whose sayinges are alwayes matched with effect. The other is the multitude of examples, whereof euen the least are able enough, not only to encourage and harten the weakest & faintest harted in the worlde, but also to make them inuincible.

3: 8–4: 41

He lists the three men he regards as God's ‘greatest wonders’, the first of whom is Abraham. He then goes on to regret his waste of the talent for poetry which God gave him in his imitations of other writers and cutting epigrams which hurt both ways. On his conversion he resolved to reorientate his life by translating holy books, especially the Psalms — both a penance and a devotion. Of more interest perhaps to us today are his following comments on form and style, first on the genre of what he has written about Abraham and Isaac, where he concludes that it is equally balanced between comedy and tragedy:

But to come to the matter that I haue in hand, it is partly tragical and partly comicall: & therefore I haue separated the prologue, & diuided the whole into pawses, after the maner of actes in comedies, howbeit without binding of my self therto.

7: 13–21