The New International Encyclopædia/Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum

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EPIS'TOLÆ OB'SCURO'RUM VIRO'RUM (Lat., ‘Letters of Obscure Men’). The title of a collection of satirical letters which appeared at Hagenau in 1515, professing to be issued by the Aldine Press at Venice. It purported to be the composition of certain ecclesiastics and professors in Cologne and other places in Rhenish Germany. The letters were directed against the scholastics and monks, and helped in no small degree to bring about the Reformation. The controversy of Reuchlin (q.v.) with the baptized Jew Pfefferkorn concerning the books of the Jews gave the first occasion to the Epistolæ, and probably their title was suggested by the letters to himself from distinguished men which Reuchlin published, under the title Virorum Epistolæ Clarorum ad Reuchlinum Phorcensem (1514), to show that his position in this controversy was approved by the learned. The Epistolæ Obscurorum were addressed to Ortuinus Gratius in Deventer, who had made himself odious to the liberal minds of the time by his arrogant pretension, his determined hostility to the spirit of the age, and his lax morality. On the first appearance of the work it was ascribed to Reuchlin, afterwards to Reuchlin, Erasmus, and Hutten. The first part contained 41 letters, a number which was increased in subsequent editions. It was probably mainly the composition of the distinguished humanist Erotus Rubeanus, who originated the idea. In the composition of the second part (1519) Ulrich von Hutten had much share, but others participated, including Erotus. The Epistolæ were placed in the catalogue of forbidden books by a Papal bull, and this circumstance contributed not a little to spread the work. The classical edition is that by Böcking, Supplementum Ulrici Hutteni Operum, vols. vi., vii. (Leipzig, 1864-70). There is a German translation by Binder (Stuttgart, 1876). Consult: Strauss, Ulrich von Hutten (6th ed., Leipzig, 1895), of which there is an English translation (London, 1874); and Pattison, Essays (Oxford, 1889).