Hutten, Ulrich von

Hutten, Ulrich von
   German humanist and Latin poet. Born into a family of imperial knights, Hutten was educated at the Benedictine abbey of Fulda and intended for a monastic career. In 1505 he fled from the monastery and spent several years engaged in humanistic studies at several German universities, eventually receiving a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Frankfurt an der Oder. His De arte versificandi / On the Art of Writing Poetry (1511) demonstrated his mastery of ancient Latin prosody and was frequently reprinted. Moving to Vienna in 1511, Hutten came under the influence of the patriotic humanists patronized by the Emperor Maximilian I. This contact aroused his interest in politics and transformed him into a literary partisan of Maximilian against his foreign enemies. Hutten visited Italy in 1512-1514 and again in 1515-1517, but the experience served merely to confirm his resentment of Italians' disdain for Germans as a nation of barbarians.
   Hutten also became an outspoken defender of the German Hebraist Johann Reuchlin against attacks by the theologians and Dominican friars of Cologne. A number of young humanists interpreted the attacks on Reuchlin as evidence of a plot to destroy humanistic studies in Germany, and in 1515 and 1517 some of this group published a savage satire defending Reuchlin and depicting his foes as a pack of ignoramuses and hypocrites. This book was the Letters of Obscure Men, a collection of fictitious letters addressed by imaginary members of the Cologne faculty to their friend Ortwin Gratius. The first part of the collection was probably the work of the Erfurt humanist Crotus Rubeanus, while the second part, far more personal and vituperative in its attacks, was probably Hutten's work. Inspired in part by his ardent German patriotism and in part by his experiences in Italy and his conviction that the Italian-dominated papal curia was deliberately exploiting and humiliating the German nation, Hutten began what he called his war against the Romanists, a series of satirical Latin poems denouncing the tyranny exercised by Rome over Germans and calling for reform of the church.
   Hutten's initial denunciation of conditions in the church was exclusively political and nationalist in tone. When he first heard reports of Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses, he contemptuously dismissed the controversy as just another squabble among rival monks. But when Luther showed remarkable courage in upholding his convictions, Hutten changed into an outspoken defender of the Saxon reformer. After being excommunicated in 1521, Hutten took shelter with the imperial knight Franz von Sickingen and encouraged Sickingen's unsuccessful attack on the estates of the archbishop of Trier. After Sickingen's death from injuries suffered in battle, Hutten fled to Switzerland, first to Basel and then to Zürich, and eventually died of a long-standing syphilitic infection in 1523. Hutten's espousal of Luther's cause produced a bitter break with the leading figure of reformist humanism, Erasmus of Rotterdam. Among German patriots of the 19th century, when the country was struggling to attain political unity, Hutten was interpreted as a tragic hero who had defended his nation's freedom but had been overcome by Roman deceit and conspiracy.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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