Ghosting the Reform of Dialectic: Erasmus and Agricola Again

  • Lisa Jardine
Part of the Warwick Studies in the European Humanities series book series (WSEH)


In an earlier piece of work I have begun to tell the story of how Erasmus master-minded the recovery, editing, commentary and circulation of the text of Rudolph Agricola’s key work in dialectic, the De inventione dialectica.1 The charismatic and inspirational nature of Rudolph Agricola’s example in the Low Countries, as the first native-born scholar to bring Italian humanism back to northern Europe, is not in doubt. But the model he offered was largely as a living figure: at his death he left few, and relatively inconsequential published works, and little (as it emerged) suitable for publication by those concerned to convince an international readership of the eminence and stature of their greatest home-grown humanist.2 In the book of which both the present and the previous piece of textual detective work form a part, I show how Erasmus intervened repeatedly in the history of Agricola’s works, to generate, and then to consolidate, a reputation in print to match the example which the great Frisian humanist had estabished during his lifetime. I also argue that this was no disinterested move on Erasmus’s part: that at the height of Erasmus’s own publishing career, Agricola’s reputation served to provide the institutionally non-aligned Erasmus with a respectable intellectual pedigree as the inheritor of a ‘tradition’ of northern humanism — as the chosen son on whom Agricola’s mantle had fallen.3


Decisive Separation Medieval Tradition Previous Piece Prefatory Letter Princeton Theological Seminary 
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Notes and References

  1. 10.
    Cave, Cornucopian Text, pp. 16–17; J. Monfasani, ‘Lorenzo Valla and Rudolph Agricola’, Journal of the History of Philosophy XXVIII (1990), pp. 181–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 12.
    Like most of his contemporaries, Erasmus believed ‘Seneca’ to be author both of the rhetorical and of the moral works (in fact the work of father and son respectively), though he expressed doubt about his authorship of the tragedies. See L. Panizza, ‘Biography in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance: Seneca, pagan or Christian?’, Nouvelles de la Republique de Lettres, vol. II (1984), pp. 47–98, 52–3.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    On Jerome and Seneca see W. Trillitzsch, Seneca im Literarischen Urteil der Antike: Darstellung und Sammilung der Zeugnisse, 2 vols (Amsterdam, 1971), vol. I, pp. 143–61.Google Scholar
  4. 35.
    Allen, Opus epistolarum, vol. VIII (Oxford, 1934), p. 66 (ep. 2108).Google Scholar
  5. 52.
    See H. D. L. Vervliet, ‘De gedrukte overlevering van Seneca pater’, De Gulder Passer XXXV (1957), pp. 179–222; 220–01. The first edition listed by Vervliet which includes the Agricola commentary on the Declamationes is dated 1537, that is before Alardus’s Lucubrationes of Agricola were published, but during a period when he had them collected for publication. In the 1540 Basel edition the attribution of Erasmus’s introduction (and indeed all the annotations) is unclear, except for the inclusion on page 268 of the original description of the discovery of Agricola’s annotated copy. In the 1573 edition Erasmus’s introduction appears on page 502, headed: ‘Rodolphi Agricolae in primam Senecae declamationem, commentariolum. AD LECTOREM’. The title page of this volume perfectly exemplifies the influence of the Erasmus/Agricola conjunction on sixteenth-century readers of Seneca: ‘L. Annaei Senecae Philosophi Stoicorum omnium acutissimi opera quae extant omnia: Coelii Secundi Curionis vigilantissima cura castigata, et nouam prorsus fadem, nimirum propriam & suam, mutata: Quorum lectio non modo ad bene dicendum, uerumetiam ad bene beateq[ue] uiuendum, prodesse plurimum potest. Post Herculeos insuper C. S. C. labores, Vincentii Pralli H. opera ac studio, innumeris in locis emendata ac restituta. Totius emendationis ratio, quidq[ue] superiori aeditioni accesserit, ex sequentibus statim cognosces. Accessit index Rerum & uerborum copiosus’. Van der Poel reports that the 1557 Basel Seneca (Vervliet, pp. 200–1) also attributes this Erasmian introduction to Rudolph Agricola, De Declamatio, p. 13, note 49.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1994

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  • Lisa Jardine

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