Guillaume Massieu was born in Caen in 1665, and although he came from a humble background, he was sent to Paris at the age of sixteen to study with the Jesuits at the Collège de Louis-le-Grand, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in France. There he acquired a love of literature which led him to baulk at the desire of his superiors to turn him into a teacher of theology, and he eventually left the Jesuits in 1695. Supported by influential patrons, he became a member of the Académie royal des Inscriptions et Médailles, and, in 1710, Professor of Greek at the Collège royal de France. In 1714 he was elected a member of the Académie française. Afflicted by money worries and health problems in his last years, including cataracts which left him totally blind for a period until he had one eye operated on, he nevertheless continued his scholarly pursuits until his death in 1722 at the age of 57.
Massieu’s extensive writings included translations from ancient Greek and studies of classical and modern literature and culture. In his lifetime, and for long afterwards, however, he was best known as a writer of Latin, and particularly as a writer of Latin verse, and his poem on coffee was published several times, in the original Latin and in various translations, in the century and a half after his death.