Ulrich von Hutten, et al. Letters of Obscure Men

Translated & annotated by Erika Rummel ~ TT17

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The Letters of Obscure Men (Epistolae obscurorum virorum) appeared anonymously in 1515. The book was written by a group of German humanists and was intended to support the cause of Hebraist Johann Reuchlin, who at the time was before the Inquisition on charges of Judaism. Reuchlin (1455-1522) was a widely respected scholar who had studied at the universities of Basel, Paris, and Tübingen. The Letters of Obscure Men were among a number of writings that appeared in his defence and shifted the emphasis from the issue of Judaism to the academic debate. The letters, purportedly written by supporters of the scholastics, are a spoof. They are composed in atrocious Latin and make a mockery of theology professors and their followers, depicting them as ignorant, pretentious, and morally corrupt. The texts were primarily the work of the notorious rebel poet Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523) and the humanist Crotus Rubeanus (1480-1545). Both men were early supporters of Martin Luther, which added yet another dimension to the letters and foreshadowed the Reformation debate. The current translation (the first since 1909) not only provides a new version of the Letters adapted to the taste and understanding of contemporary readers, but also makes an important Latin source accessible to an English-reading public for private enjoyment or for use as a course text and example of Renaissance Literature.

Erika Rummel is the author of more than a dozen books including The Case Against Johann Reuchlin. Religious and Social Controversy in Sixteenth-Century Germany (Toronto, 2022), The Confessionalization of Humanism in Reformation Germany (Oxford, 2000), and The Humanist-Scholastic Debate in the Renaissance and Reformation (Harvard, 1995). She is also the translator of four volumes in The Collected Works of Erasmus series (Toronto), three volumes in The Correspondence of Wolfgang Capito series (Toronto), and the volume Scheming Papists and Lutheran Fools: Five Reformation Satires (Fordham, 1993).

208 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-7727-1058-1 softcover
Published: 2023

"This notorious work of satire mocks the pre-Reformation church by revealing the bizarre behaviours and grotesque prose style of its would-be scholars who attack humanist learning. You are swept into the intellectual controversies of the Northern Renaissance by this lively, accurate, entertaining, up-to-date, and well-annotated translation. Erika Rummel, an outstanding historian and philologist, has provided a marvellous gift for present-day readers." - William BarkerDalhousie University

"The importance of the Letters of Obscure Men in the history of the conflict between humanists and scholastic theologians on the even of the Reformation, as well as in the history of Christian antisemitism, is abundantly clear. Students and other interested readers will derive both profit and pleasure from this extensively annotated new translation, which captures the raucous humour of the original in good modern English." - James M. Estes, University of Toronto
Letters of Obscure Men
  Part 1
  Part 2