Penelope, Virgil—though the references to Scripture show adequate acquaintance with Holy Writ. As the embodiment of humanistic teaching through which Germany, unlike Italy, aspired to moral elevation as well as to classical training, the Narrenschiff holds the highest place alike for comprehensiveness and effectiveness.
It is not to be supposed that these influences were allowed to develop without protest or opposition. The battle between humanism and obscurantism had been fought out in Italy, in the middle of the fifteenth century, in the strife between Lorenzo Valla and the Mendicant Friars backed by the Inquisition. In Germany the struggle took place, in the second decade of the sixteenth century, over Reuchlin, on the occasion of his protesting against Pfefferkorn’s measures for the destruction of objectionable Hebrew books. It arrayed the opposing forces in internecine conflict, and all the culture of Europe was ranged on the side of the scholar who was threatened with prosecution by the Inquisition. The New Learning recognised the danger to which it was exposed and its disciples found themselves unconsciously organising for self-defence and for attack. Religious dogma was not really involved; but the authority of the Schools was at stake, and the power to silence by persecution an adversary who could not be overcome in argument. The bitterness on both sides was intense and victory seemed to perch alternately on the opposing banners; but the quarrel virtually sank out of sight in the larger issues raised by the opening years of the Reformation. Technically the obscurantists triumphed, but it was a Pyrrhic victory; for the discussion had done its work and incidentally it had given occasion for blighting ridicule of the trivialities of the Schools and the stupid ignorance of the Schoolmen in the Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, 1514, a production that largely contributed to the popular contempt in which the ancient system was beginning to be held.
The whole of this movement had been rendered possible by the invention of printing, which facilitated so enormously the diffusion of intelligence, which enabled public opinion to form and express itself and which, by bringing into communication minds of similar ways of thinking, afforded opportunity for combined action. When we are told that bibliographers enumerate thirteen German versions of the Bible anterior to Luther’s and that repeated editions of these were called for, we can measure not only the religious earnestness of the people but the degree in which it was stimulated by the process which brought the Scriptures within reach of the multitude. Cochlaeus complains that when Luther’s translation of the New Testament appeared, in 1522, every one sought it without distinction of age or station, and they speedily acquired such familiarity with it that they audaciously disputed with doctors of theology and regarded it as the fountain of all truth. Tradition and scholastic dogma had under such circumstances small chance of reverence. When therefore, on October 31, 1517, Luther’s fateful theses were hung