Letter 12: Hieronymus of Munich to Aldus

Aldus receives a letter from a would-be philologist in Munich requesting assistance with his education in Greek and Hebrew. The sender asks the printer to send him books and even procure him a tutor. In return for this service, he offers much flattery, eternal gratitude, and a single ducat.

Ἱερώνυμος περὶ αἰγκώμης Aldo Manutio Romano salutem plurimam dicit.

{1} Ut Artaxersis Persarum rex, cui obequitanti aliquando obviam factus agricola quidam ac rudis homo, cui nihil aliud esset, aquam utraque manu e proximo haustum flumine obtulisset, hilari ille miraque benignitate fronte suscoepit, quippe qui non rei quae dabatur vel inopia, vel usu, sed alacri dantis voluntate gratiam metiretur; ita hunc unicum ducatum accipias quaeso. Ceterum cum ex litteris amicissimis tuis intellexerim te Hebraea non minus amare quam Graeca, et nemo ex philosophis extiterit qui (quantum humana fragilitas admittit) in re aliqua virtutis viam praeparante penitus deficere voluerit, adeoque nonnulli reperiuntur qui non solum utraque lingua contenti, sed et Hebraica perdocti sunt, obsecror ut huiusmodi aliquem et quoad eius fieri possit doctum, mihi paterne conducere et quamprimum mittere velis. Si vero talis inveniri nequeat vel adeo statim, mittas tamen in graecis peritum uti prioribus ex litteris meis percepisti. Quem si tecum Venetiis non haberes, velis Ferrariae vel quovis alio transmittere tabellarium meum, donec ille inveniatur, vel saltem mihi non inutilis, et pro eo stipendiolo iunctis aliis, non magis iuxta conducendi scientiam quam quod ego ferre possim qua tamen in re quicquid arbitratus eris iusserisve in omnibus, mox vel post tempusculum aliquod polliceor fideliter me soluturum ac exhibiturum semper. Et si nihil arbitrareris, adhuc haudquaquam vellem ingrati nomen incurrere, neque Tris Gratiarum deas me penes consenescere. Sed oro immo singulariter ut tuum interponas arbitramentum atque istic diligentiam praestes promissam, ne tabellarius solus vacuusque redeat.

{2} Exercendi tenuitatem meam in Graecis litterulis gratia, conatus sum imposita fineque nondum completa e latino in graecum vertere et, ut designatam metam desiderium meum aliquotiens attingat, ista corrigere ad unguemque velis. Annotavi praeterea libros meos omnis Graecae linguae, nam Hebraeae nihil habeo, quod hiisce perspectis scias quibus caream, te iterum obtestando ut ea quae ad rudimenta grammatices Hebraicae dictionumque et interpraetationem et copiam faciunt, ut vocabularios, si qui haberentur, ceteraque in Hebraeo et Graeco necessaria et proficua mihi omnia, una cum interpraetatione (si qua habeatur) adiuncta vel aliunde, modo quantum tabellarius reportare possit ac expost […] cum mercatoribus nostris (qui ad te litteris meis venibunt) vel quomodo citius poteris, mittas pro condigna et sine dilatione, uti scripseris, solutione. Iccircoque schedam servare velis et ea quae mihi dederis asscribere, ut non ignores semper quae habeam quibusque caream.

{3} Provideas igitur me (ut ita dixerim) in omnibus, mi parens, non quidem corpusculi mei, sed mentis, haud secus quam Bias ille filium ad Aegyptios proficiscentem providebat. Nam quia tuis temporibus sum, eas equidem diis gratias ago, quas Philippum Macedonum regem de filio Alexandro, qui Aristotelis vita nasci cum contigisset, habuisse eius epistola ad eundem Aristotelem declarat. Et non minus te quam studia ipsa amo, doctissime mi Alde, cuius et ingenium et valetudinem in optimis regulatisque linguis ac in omni doctrinarum genere non satis satisque mirari possum. Datum Monachio, tertio idus Maiias, anno Christianae salutis MCCCCLXXXXVIII.

Idem filius tuus.

Notes to the Text


Hieronymus peri Ainkomes greets Aldus Manutius Romanus.

{1} Just as Artaxerxes, king of the Persians, coming across a certain rustic and uncultivated man who had placed himself in his way and had offered him to drink water drawn with his two hands from the nearest river, received the gift with a cheerful demeanor and remarkable courtesy, for he reckoned the kindness not by what was given, or from his need, or from the profit that he derived, but by the speedy willingness of the one who gave; in that spirit, I beg you to accept this single ducat. Besides, since I have understood from your very friendly letter that you love Hebrew no less than Greek, and since no major philosopher was not willing (as much as human frailty permits) to help in any matter that prepares the path toward virtue within us, and, moreover, there is no shortage of men to be found who are not satisfied with the two languages, but are very learned in the Hebrew as well, I beseech you to please act as a father to me and, as soon as possible, send to me someone of this kind, as learned as can be. If you are not able to find such a man, or so quickly, send to me instead someone as experienced in Greek as you have seen from my previous letter. If you do not have a person like this with you in Venice, please send my messenger to Ferrara or wherever you like until the man in question may be found, or at least someone who can be of some use to me. And in exchange for that small payment, send along some other things: do not choose them to match what you know of my abilities, but rather send anything whatsoever that you think and judge I am able to handle as regards these subjects. In only a short while from now I faithfully promise to repay you for this service and to display what I have learned for as long as I live. And if you think that I can handle nothing at all, I would not wish to incur the name of an ingrate at this point, nor do I want the Three Graces to fall into disuse at my hands. But I pray for this one thing most of all, that you present your judgment and therein go beyond the commitment you have given me hope of, lest my messenger return alone and empty-handed.

{2} For the sake of remedying my deficiency in Greek letters, I have tried to translate some material that I have begun but not yet completed from Latin to Greek: please correct this in every detail so that my desire may one day attain the goal that I have set for it. I have also made a list of all the books that I have in the Greek language, since I have none in the Hebrew, so that you may know after looking through it which ones I lack, by entreating you again [to send me] those works that bestow the rudiments of Hebrew grammar as well as provide the means to understand and use words, such as dictionaries, if you have any, and anything else that is necessary and helpful in learning Hebrew and Greek, with translation (if you have any) included or taken from somewhere else, but send only as much as the messenger would be able to bring back with him, and later on […] If, however, you are able to send it back somehow more quickly with our merchants (who will come to you with my letters to do business) when you have written without delay, send it in return for a worthy recompense. Please lay aside a sheet and write down what you are sending to me, so that you will not be ignorant of what I have and what I have need of.

{3} Therefore, may you look after me (so to speak), my parent, in every aspect not of my poor little body, but of my mind, no otherwise than Bias looked after his son as he was departing for Egypt. For the fact that I live in the same age as you, I feel the same gratitude towards the gods as King Philip of Macedon expressed in his letter to Aristotle, that his son Alexander had happened to have been born during that same Aristotle’s lifetime. I love you no less than I love devotion to learning itself, my most learned Aldus, by whose genius and talent in the best and most rigorous languages as well as in all kinds of learning I never, ever cease to be amazed. Written at Munich, May 13th, Year 1498 of Christ’s Salvation.

Your son.

Notes to the Translation:

Hieronymus peri Ainkomes: a playful Greek pseudonym. The identity of the sender remains a mystery. The Greek name has the literal sense “he of holy name around goat-hair” or “from the goat-grove,” hence the speculative appellation “Girolamo von Ziegenhain” that Pastorello assigns him in her index. There are two towns named Ziegenhain (“goat-grove”) in modern-day Germany, the more significant now incorporated into the municipality of Schwalmsadt, Hesse. The name may alternatively be a punning reference (“famous as saintly for wearing shirts of goat-hair”) to the sender’s membership in a Catholic religious order such as the Society of Jesus, a possibility consistent with his interest in the scriptural languages.

Artaxerxes, king of the Persians: Artaxerxes II (c. 404-358 BC). The anecdote is derived from Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes, 5.1.

this single ducat: a Venetian ducat, a coin made of 3.5 grams of 23-karat gold, worth the equivalent of $150 today (at a very rough estimate.)

Ferrara: a city about 100 miles from Venice, famous for its university. Hieronymus may be suggesting that Aldus could find him a tutor there if none were available at Venice.

And in exchange… for as long as I live: I have smoothed over this obscure and deliberately ambiguous passage in the Latin, which reads, more literally: “and after you have joined other things [books or tutors?] in exchange for that small payment [the single ducat or a future reimbursement?], not so much according to knowledge of doing [Hieronymus’ or Aldus’?] than whatever you have thought and judged in everything that I am able to handle concerning that matter [the languages?], I faithfully promise that I will soon, or after a little time, repay you and display [myself? my learning?] forever.”

I have also made a list… worthy recompense: The ellipsis in brackets is a lacuna, and we are missing at least one key verb from this sentence.

no otherwise than Bias: Bias of Priene (6th century), one of the Seven Sages of Greece. This anecdote concerning his son’s departure to Egypt would appear to originate in St. Basil the Great, De Legendis Libris Gentium (see Migne’s Patrologia, Vol. 31, p. 587.)

his letter: Philip’s letter to Aristotle, based on the letter of Philip reproduced in Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 9.3. This fictive correspondence had been directly cited by Aldus in Letter 4 of this collection: there, he was encouraging his aristocratic patron by the example of an antique ruler’s appreciation for learned men. Whether Hieronymus had read Letter 4 (which was published as a preface) or not, he is only following Aldus’ lead in this flattering comparison between printer and philosopher.