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Rudolph Agricola

Humanist and classicist, b. in 1442, or 1443

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Agricola, RUDOLPH, a distinguished humanist of the earlier period, and a zealous promoter of the study of the classics in Germany, b. in 1442, or 1443, at Bafflo, near Groningen, Holland; d. at Heidelberg, October 28, 1485. His family name was Huysmann. He began his study of the higher branches at the University of Louvain, where he studied Cicero and Quintilian, gaining distinction by the purity of his Latin diction and his skill in disputation. He had already become adept in French, and, after taking his degree as Master of Arts, he went to Paris. Here he continued his classical work with Heynlin von Stein, and formed a close friendship with John Reuchlin. Early in the seventies he went to Italy, where he associated himself with the humanists, chiefly in Rome and Ferrara. Devoted to the study of the ancients, he won renown for the elegance of his Latin style and his knowledge of philosophy. He delivered a panegyric on the subject of philosophy in the presence of Hercules d’Este, the Maecenas of humanists. After a sojourn of seven years in Italy, Agricola, returning to Germany, got into close touch with his numerous friends, personally and by letter, and roused their enthusiasm for the promotion of classical learning. His love of independence, however, prevented Agricola from accepting any definite position. In 1481 he spent six months in Brussels, at the court of the Archduke, later Emperor Maximilian I, transacting business for the city of Groningen. Resisting all the efforts of his friends to keep him at court, he accepted the invitation of John of Dalberg, Bishop of Worms, to go to the University of Heidelberg, where he began to deliver lectures in 1482. He was admitted into the closest friendship of Dalberg, the generous benefactor of learning. He now began the study of Hebrew, and published an original translation of the Psalms. His fruitful activity in Heidelberg was, unfortunately, of short duration, being brought to a sudden close by his journey to Rome (1485), whither he accompanied John of Dalberg, who was sent as an ambassador to Innocent VIII. Shortly after his return, Agricola was stricken with a fatal illness, and died at Heidelberg. To Agricola belongs the palm as pioneer of classical learning in Germany. His importance cannot be estimated by the works which he wrote; he must be classed with those who accomplished more by their personal influence, and the powerful stimulus they gave to their contemporaries than by their own literary achievements. Thus we gather the full significance of Agricola’s work from the testimony of his contemporaries, who bestow upon him the highest praise. “It is from my teacher, Agricola,” says the distinguished master, Alexander Hegius, “that I have learned all that I know, or that people think I know.” Notwithstanding the impulse Agricola’s zeal gave to classical learning, he did not neglect his mother tongue. At the same time he was of a deeply religious disposition, and possessed of lively faith. His reputation was stainless. During the last years of his life, he took up the study of theology. His discourse “De Nativitate Christi” breathes a spirit of deep piety. The most important of his pedagogical writings is the treatise “De studio formando”, which he sent to his friend Barbarianus; chief among his philosophical works is “De Inventione Dialectics.” A collective edition of his works (Letters, Treatises, Translations, Poems, and Discourses) appeared in two quarto volumes (Cologne, 1539), under the title “Rudolphi Agricolae Lucubrationes aliquot lectu dignissimae in hunc usque diem nusquam prius editae, per Alardum Amstelodamum.”


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