The remarkable breadth of Erasmus' contacts throughout his life is reflected in this unique, informative three-volume biographical dictionary. Together, these fully illustrated volumes will contain information about more than 1900 people mentioned in his correspondence and other writings.
Differing substantially from the national biographical dictionaries which restrict themselves to major figures, these volumes combine the famous with the obscure: the Dutch pope, Adrian VI, appears next to Adrianus, a messenger who carried letters between Erasmus in Paris and Jacob Batt, a tutor in Toumehem. A random sampling includes the infamous Pope Alexander VI; Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn; Andrea Alciati, the interpreter of Roman law, whose chief fame rests on the creation of the Renaissance emblem book; Luther's wife, Katharine von Bora; Albrecht Durer, portraitist of Erasmus; Emperor Charles V; and Etienne Dolet, accused of blasphemy and sedition, who was tortured and hanged and his books burned publicly.
Biographies of loyal friends of Erasmus, like Pieter Gillis, clerk of the city of Antwerp, are interspersed with those of his critics and enemies, such as Guillaume Farel, whom Erasmus characterized as insane and a seditious liar. The famous and infamous – Henry VIII, Machiavelli, Francis I, Pope Julius II, Isabella of Castille, and many more – appear next to the not so familiar, but no less intriguing. Cassandra Fedele, implicated in a scandal involving counterfeit money, who survived shipwreck in the Mediterranean and ended life as the superintendent of a hospital in Venice.
The cast of characters is a Who's Who of the period: painters like Holbein and Metsys; the printer Aldo Manuzio; Bishop John Fisher, martyred for opposition to Henry VIII's divorce; Martin Luther and his parents; the knight Ulrich von Hutten; and dynastic families such as the wealth Fuggers of Bavaria and the Medicis, including Lorenzo the Magnificent (patron of Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci), the petulant Alessandro, the extravagant Cardinal Ippolito, and Lorenzo II, Duke of Urbino (to whom Machiavelli dedicated The Print.
A fascinating array of characters brings this turbulent period of history vividly to life. Contemporaries of Erasmus will not only intrigue the general reader; it will be indispensable for those who have searched in vain for a biographical dictionary covering this period.
'If the editors of Contemporaries of Erasmus had done no more than track down the proper names found in the Collected Works of Erasmus, the Leiden Opera omnia, and the correspondence edited by P.S. Allen, that in itself would have been a tremendous work and a welcome volume to Renaissance scholars. How much more welcome is this scholarly work in which evey name having Erasmian connections is identified, subjected to intense and competent research, and presented, not only with clarity, but with a measure of grace and distinction? Most biographical dictionaries list and identify only men and women who have distinguished themselves in some way, or who have by birth merited a place in the book. Contemporaries of Erasmus does not shrug aside anyone whom Erasmus has met or mentioned in his works or letters. Adrian, an obscure messenger, Carolus, a non-clerical steward in a monastery, Margareta, the daughter of an acquaintance -- all these and many of their kind are given place along with the more important friends and patrons of the great humanist -- popes, kings, scholars, emperors.
'Contemporaries of Erasmus is not only an excellent companion for any edition of Erasmus' writings and of utmost use to students of the period, but -- and one can pay it no higher compliment -- because of the high standard of the entries and the learning invested in them, Erasmus himself would have thoroughly enjoyed it.