Letter 14: Johannes Reuchlin to Aldus

The German humanist Johannes Reuchlin writes to Aldus to inform him of his travels across Europe with the Imperial court. He notifies Aldus of his unsuccessful attempts to found in Germany an institution similar to Aldus’ Venetian Neakademia for the study of Greek language and literature. Finally, he requests a complete copy of Aristoteles. 


Aldo Manutio Romano utriusque linguae politissimarum literarum atque librorum parenti, Venetiis, S. D. P.

{1} Plane sim impudens, mi Alde, si tui rerumque tuarum, ubi loci me iussisti, non meminerim. Nam me, simulatque domum de te redii, confestim ad Maximilianum Aemylianum imperatorem contra Gallias tendentem proficisci oportuit in Mediomatricos, quando maxime Gallici belli versabatur metus. Quo, scio, miraberis sortem meam, qui una profectione Italiam, Galliam et Germaniamque peragravi, a summo animarum pontifice ad summum mundi dominum: Roma in Sequanos.

{2} Sed tum quid de literis in medio armorum? De Phoebo in ventre Martis? De Helicone in castris? Dixi quidem causam tuam, uti Venetiis coram egimus, ἀλλὰ τί ὄνος πρὸς λύραν; Non defui quin rem omnem ad quosdam etiam doctos deferrem, qui sibi tum videbantur columnae esse, sed nosti Germaniam: numquam desiit esse rudis.

{3} Mi Alde, paucis habe: non sumus te digni. Neque tamen est animus deinceps a negocio cessare, cum videro temporis opportunitatem. Iam enim rex maius opus movet. Ignobilis cuiusdam vulgi fluctu quasi decumano obruimur. De libellis ad me missis habeo tibi relaturus etiam gratas gratias, sed, qui quotidie pro incumbentibus tuis curis multa versas animo, certe oblitus es defectuum Aristotelis in ultimo volumine, quos tu mihi supplere promiseras. Eos, oro te vehementer, bibliopolae huic cognomento Remo tradas. Equidem mancum et egenum impendio meo cum integro suo commutavi. Utque reminiscaris qui sint defectus, chirographum tuum huic epistolae adiunxi. Tu me quam commendatissimum habeas et valeas feliciter opto.

Ex Heydelberga Palatini Reni IX Kalendas Maias. Nam tuae ad me venerunt VII Kalendas Apriles anno MCCCCLXXXXIX.

Ioannes Reuchlin Phorcensis Legum Doctor



To Aldus Manutius, the father of perfectly polished letters and books in both languages, Venice, many greetings.

{1} I would be simply offensive, my Aldus, if I didn’t remember you and your businesses where you ordered me to. As soon as I came back home from you, I had to go straightaway to Metz to Emperor Maximilian Aemilian as he marched against France, because there were great fears of a war with France. Therefore – I know – you’ll be amazed that in one trip I wandered through Italy, France and Germany, from the supreme pontiff of souls to the supreme lord of the world: from Rome to the Sequanian people.

{2} But then what to say about literary culture amongst weapons? What about Apollo in the stomach of Mars? What about Helicon in the war camp? I plead your case, as we discussed in Venice publicly. What has a donkey to do with a lyre? I didn’t omit to defer all of the business to some erudite people too, who thought of themselves as pillars of knowledge, but you know Germany: it never ceased being uncultured.

{3} My Aldus, in a few words: we are not worthy of you. The intellect does not fail in the public service, when I have seen the appropriate circumstance. Verily, now a greater duty moves the king. We are overwhelmed by a tremendous flood of an ignoble multitude. For the books you sent me I will reward you with grateful gratitude, but you who meditate daily overtime because of your heavy worries, you certainly forgot about the absences of Aristotle from the last book, absences that you promised me to fill. Please hand them over to the bookseller named Remo. As for me, at my own expenses I swapped the defective and very miserable one of mine for his intact one. To remind you of those books that are missing, I have attached your autograph letter to this letter. I am great admirer of yours and I wish you fare well.

From Heidelberg castle on the Rhine, May 26th. In fact, yours came to me on April 25th, 1499. Johannes Reuchlin of Pforzheim, Doctor of Law


Notes to the Translation:

Aemilian: very often the name of the Emperor, Maximilian, was accompanied in Humanist speech and epistolography by changing Roman names, as a reference to the valour of the Emperor, indirectly compared to that of the ancient Roman generals, such as Scipio Aemilianus, winner of the Third Punic War and conqueror of Hiberia.

against France: French troops, at the end of August 1498, had besieged Bourbonne and Vergy. After gathering about 20 000 men, the Emperor Maximilian attacked in mid-September

Sequanian people: a reference to the belligerent people that Julius Caesar had to fight, as he recounts in his De Bello Gallico. The reference is also geographical, as the Sequani people lived in the area where the Emperor moves his troops, between Jura, Saone and Rhone.

Case: the case is Manuzio and Reuchlin’s intention to inaugurate a Neacademia, on the model of Manuzio’s Venetian Neacademia, in Germany. The plan for the Academia would have been the diffusion of Greek studies especially, but also of Hebrew studies. The Academy remained a dream, as they were not able to gather enough support.

Publicly: Reuchlin delivered a speech, later printed by Manuzio in 1498.

Donkey: a common idiomatic expression to mean ‘what have these two things to do with one another?’, found in Plato

A greater duty: The princes of the Empire in the diet of Worms (1495), forced him to reform the constitution to the detriment of the imperial power that would have, indeed wanted to impose heavy taxation and territorial resignation. Involved in an unfortunate war against the Swiss cantons (1499), which definitively beat him several times with a strategy of attack and withdrawal, he definitively lost Switzerland, which broke away from the Empire.

Ignoble multitude: Virgil, Aeneid, Saeditio, saevique animis ignobile vulgus, Book I, v. 149. The quasi in the Latin text reinforces the use of decumanus in an atypical sense in this sentence.

Aristotle: Manuzio had published Aristotle’s works in five volumes. In the index of Reuchlin’s library there are portions of these volumes scattered between numbers 6, 34, 38, and 44. Reuchlin explicitly states, in a letter dated 18 August 1502, that he possesses a text printed by Manuzio. Moreover, according to Melanchthon’s testimony, Reuchlin was able to memorize many passages from Aristotle’s works.

Remo: In Leipzig and other German cities, the bookseller of Augsburg Johannes Rynmann also appears in the strongly abbreviated name of Rem or Reme, which allows to identify the Remus mentioned by Reuchlin with Johann Rynmann, from Oehringen near Heilbronn, which was based in Augsburg as a publisher from 1495 to 1522.

Defective: The defectus were the last pages of the fifth volume of the edition of Aristotle printed and still missing in the copy of Reuchlin. When Reuchlin was in Venice near Manutius in August 1498, he must have been busy printing this volume. Although the volume is dated June 1498, later additions seem to have been made. Reuchlin had just bought the edition from the press, which probably was not finished when he left Venice, and had received a promise from Manutius that he would be given the missing sheets.