Johann Reuchlin (German: [ˈjoːhan ˈʀɔʏ̯çlin]; sometimes called Johannes; 29 January 1455 – 30 June 1522) was a German-born Catholic humanist and a scholar of Greek and Hebrew, whose work also took him to modern-day Austria, Switzerland, and Italy and France. Most of Reuchlin's career centered on advancing German knowledge of Greek and Hebrew.
At Basel Reuchlin took his master's degree (1477), and began to lecture with success, teaching a more classical Latin than was then common in German schools, and explaining Aristotle in Greek. His studies in this language had been continued at Basel under Andronicus Contoblacas, and here he formed the acquaintance of the bookseller, Johann Amerbach, for whom he prepared a Latin lexicon (Vocabularius Breviloquus, 1st ed, 1475–76), which ran through many editions. This first publication, and Reuchlin's account of his teaching at Basel in a letter to Cardinal Adrian (Adriano Castellesi) in February 1518, show that he had already found his life's work. He was a born teacher, and this work was not to be done mainly from the professor's chair.
Reuchlin soon left Basel to seek further Greek training with George Hermonymus at Paris, and to learn to write a fair Greek hand that he might support himself by copying manuscripts. And now he felt that he must choose a profession. His choice fell on law, and he was thus led to the great school of Orléans (1478), and finally to Poitiers, where he became licentiate in July 1481. From Poitiers Reuchlin went in December 1481 to Tübingen with the intention of becoming a teacher in the local university, but his friends recommended him to Count Eberhard of Württemberg, who was about to journey to Italy and required an interpreter. Reuchlin was selected for this post, and in February 1482 left Stuttgart for Florence and Rome. The journey lasted but a few months, but it brought the German scholar into contact with several learned Italians, especially at the Medicean Academy in Florence; his connection with the count became permanent, and after his return to Stuttgart he received important posts at Eberhard's court.
About this time he appears to have married, but little is known of his married life. He left no children; but in later years his sister's grandson Philipp Melanchthon was like a son to him till the Reformation estranged them. In 1490 he was again in Italy. Here he saw Pico della Mirandola, to whose Kabbalistic doctrines he afterwards became heir, and made a friend of the pope's secretary, Jakob Questenberg, which was of service to him in his later troubles. Again in 1492 he was employed on an embassy to the emperor Frederick at Linz, and here he began to read Hebrew with the emperor's Jewish physician Jakob ben Jehiel Loans. Loans's instruction laid the basis of that thorough knowledge which Reuchlin afterwards improved on his third visit to Rome in 1498 by the instruction of Obadja Sforno of Cesena. In 1494 his rising reputation had been greatly enhanced by the publication of De Verbo Mirifico.
In 1496 Duke Eberhard I of Württemberg died, and enemies of Reuchlin had the ear of his successor, Duke Heinrich of Württemberg (formerly Heinrich Count of Württemberg-Mömpelgard). He was glad, therefore, hastily to follow the invitation of Johann von Dalberg (1445–1503), the scholarly bishop of Worms, and flee to Heidelberg, which was then the seat of the Rhenish Society In this court of letters Reuchlin's appointed function was to make translations from the Greek authors, in which his reading was already extremely wide. Though Reuchlin had no public office as teacher, he was for much of his life the real centre of all Greek and Hebrew teaching in Germany. To carry out this work he provided a series of aids for beginners and others. He never published a Greek grammar, but he had one in manuscript for use with his pupils, and also published several little elementary Greek books. Reuchlin, it may be noted, pronounced Greek as his native teachers had taught him to do, i.e., in the modern Greek fashion. This pronunciation, which he defends in De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione (1528), came to be known, in contrast to that used by Desiderius Erasmus, as the Reuchlinian.
At Heidelberg Reuchlin had many private pupils, among whom Franz von Sickingen is the best known name. With the monks he had never been liked; at Stuttgart also his great enemy was the Augustinian Conrad Holzinger. On this man he took a scholar's revenge in his first Latin comedy Sergius, a satire on worthless monks and false relics. Through Dalberg, Reuchlin came into contact with Philip, Count Palatine of the Rhine, who employed him to direct the studies of his sons, and in
Johann Reuchlin was born at Pforzheim in the Black Forest in 1455, where his father was an official of the Dominican monastery. According to the fashion of the time, his name was graecized by his Italian friends into Capnion (Καπνίον), a nickname which Reuchlin used as a sort of transparent mask when he introduced himself as an interlocutor in the De Verbo Mirifico. He remained fond of his home town; he constantly calls himself Phorcensis, and in the De Verbo he ascribes to Pforzheim his inclination towards literature.
Here he began his Latin studies in the monastery school, and, though in 1470 he was for a short time at Freiburg, that university seems to have taught him little. Reuchlin's career as a scholar appears to have turned almost on an accident; his fine voice gained him a place in the household of Charles I, Margrave of Baden, and soon, having some reputation as a Latinist, he was chosen to accompany Frederick, the third son of the prince, to the University of Paris. Frederick was some years his junior, and was destined for an ecclesiastical career. This new connection did not last long, but it determined the course of Reuchlin's life. He now began to learn Greek, which had been taught in the French capital since 1470, and he also attached himself to the leader of the Paris realists, Jean à Lapide (d. 1496), a worthy and learned man, whom he followed to the vigorous young University of Basel in 1474.
Reuchlin did not long
Reuchlin did not long enjoy his victory over his accusers in peace. In 1519, Stuttgart was visited by famine, civil war and pestilence. From November of this year to the spring of 1521, the veteran statesman sought refuge in the University of Ingolstadt where he received an appointment as professor from William of Bavaria. He taught Greek and Hebrew there for a year. It was 41 years since at Poitiers he had last spoken from a public chair; but at 65 he retained his gift of teaching, and hundreds of scholars crowded round him. This gleam of autumn sunshine was again broken by the plague; but now he was called to Tübingen and again spent the winter of 1521–22 teaching in his own systematic way. But in the spring he found it necessary to visit the baths of Liebenzell, and there contracted jaundice, of which he died, leaving in the history of the new learning a name only second to that of his younger contemporary Erasmus.
Reuchlin died in Stuttgart, and is buried at St. Leonhard church.