A Brill Calendar: October 27
The Birthday of Erasmus?
Few individuals born & bred in Holland County have equalled Desiderius Erasmus in world-wide fame and stature: a reputation already acknowledged during his life-time.
Not only honoured and respected by his fellow scholarly humanists, but also by all regular and secular powers in the Renaissance of Northern Europe in the decades following Christopher Columbus’s discoveries, and the dawn of the new era in the Western World after 1492.
Thanks to the new technology of typography and the printing press, this intellectually and spiritually controversial idealist was the first individual independent spirit who lived by his tireless, well-honed pen and a lively wit. Erasmus was undoubtedly a legend in his own lifetime, one that coincided with the great religious reform initiated by another learned monk, Martin Luther. The output in writing of Holland’s first scholarly giant is stupendous. In these times of e-mail and SMS messages, the size of his correspondence viewed on its own – a correspondence that was sent to almost everybody who is anybody in Erasmus’ age – surpasses imagination.
Yet, it is seldom that a scholarly genius of this ‘timbre’ with a life so strongly articulated by publications, books and travels all over Europe remains so elusive, if not mysterious.
This rather untypical Hollander spent by far the largest part of his life outside of Holland, under circumstances in which his capability to speak Dutch meant next to nothing. None of his writings is in his mother-tongue. This mystery begins with his birth. The place is unknown, but most probably not too far from Rotterdam. The date as well; most biographies and life-descriptions tend to give October 27, but are uncertain about the specific year: not before 1466, but no later than 1469.