Rodolphus Agricola

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Rodolphus Agricola (Phrisius) (February 17, 1444 – October 27, 1485) was a pre-Erasmian humanist of the northern Low Countries, famous for his supple Latin and one of the first north of the Alps to know Greek well. Agricola was a Hebrew scholar towards the end of his life, an educator, musician and builder of a church organ, a poet in Latin as well as the vernacular, a diplomat and a sportsman of sorts (boxing). He is best known today as the author of De inventione dialectica, as the father of northern European humanism and as a zealous anti-scholastic in the late-fifteenth century.



Born at Baflo, near Groningen, Agricola was originally named Roelof Huusman.

Educated first by the celebrated school of St. Maarten in Groningen, he matriculated at the universities of Erfurt (BA in 1458) and Louvain (MA in 1465), where he won renown for the purity of his Latin and his skill in disputation. He concentrated his studies on Cicero and Quintilian, and during his university years added French and Greek to his ever-growing list of languages. At the end of his life, he was to learn Hebrew in order to be able to read the Old Testament and especially the Psalms unadulterated by translation.

In the 1460s, Agricola travelled to Italy, where he associated with humanist masters and statesmen. From 1468 (?)-1475, he studied civil law at the university of Pavia, and later went to Ferrara (1475–1479), where he became the protégé of Prince d'Este of Ferrara, was a pupil of Theodor Gaza and attended lectures by the famous Battista Guarini. He devoted himself wholly to the study of classical texts. He won renown for the elegance of his Latin style and his knowledge of philosophy. Also while in Ferrara he was formally employed as the organist to the ducal chapel, which was one of the most opulent musical establishments in Europe. He held that post until 1479, after which he returned to the North to become secretary to the city of Groningen. Here at the Cistercian Abbey of St Bernard at Aduard near Groningen and at 's-Heerenbergh near Emmerich in the south-east he was at the centre of a group of scholars and humanists with whom he kept a lively correspondence. Among his correspondents are the musician and choirmaster of Antwerp, Jacobus Barbirianus (Barbireau), Alexander Hegius, rector of the Latin school at Deventer (of Erasmian fame), and the humanist scholar and later famed student of Hebrew, Johannes Reuchlin.

In 1470, he taught a deaf child how to communicate orally and in writing. De inventione dialectica documents this pioneering educational effort.

Once in Germany again, he spent time in Dillingen, where he continued to correspond with humanist friends and colleagues throughout Europe, promoting interest in his project to promote the study of classical learning and the studia humanitatis. He remained an independent scholar, unattached to a university or religious establishment - this independence became a hallmark of humanist scholars. It was in Dillingen in 1479 that Agricola completed his De inventione dialectica (On Dialectical Invention), which argued for the precise application of loci in scholarly argumentation.

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