Gratius, Ortwin


Gratius, Ortwin
(d. 1542)
   Ortwin van Graes was born no later than 1480 at Holtwick in Westphalia, descended from a noble family that had fallen onto hard times. An uncle who was a priest at Deventer paid for his education at the chapter school of St. Lebwin, directed by the famous schoolmaster Alexander Hegius. In 1501 he matriculated at the University of Cologne (B.A. 1502, M.A. 1506). In 1507 he became a member of the faculty of arts, where he continued to teach for the rest of his life. About 1512-1514 he was ordained as a priest.
   Gratius seems to have remained poor for his whole life, and probably in order to supplement his meager income from teaching, he began working as an editor and proofreader for local publishers, first for Heinrich of Neuss, who printed Gratius' own Orationes quodlibeticae (1508) and In laudem divi Swiberti epigrammata. In 1509 he moved to the Quentel press, where he edited a number of humanist works and classical texts, including Cicero's De officiis with the commentaries of Erasmus. Gratius is best classified as a rather conservative humanist, with a genuine sympathy for moderate church reform. His late work Fasciculus rerum expetendarum ac fugiendarum / Collection of Things to Be Sought and to Be Avoided (1535) endorsed a program of moderate Catholic reform explicitly conceived in the spirit of Erasmus.
   His undeserved reputation as a foe of humanistic studies is a result of his support of the attack by the converted Jew Johann Pfefferkorn and the Cologne theologians on the famous humanist Johann Reuchlin. An earlier quarrel with the humanist Hermann von dem Busche over Busche's use of an elementary Latin grammar for teaching at the University of Cologne was probably more important than his editorial work in support of Pfefferkorn in Gratius' being selected by the authors of the Letters of Obscure Men as the butt of most of the scurrilous humor in their pro-Reuchlin satire. This satire demolished Gratius' standing as a respectable scholar and unfairly gave him a reputation for being an ultra-convervative obscurantist. His two attempts to defend himself, Lamentationes obscurorum virorum and Epistola apologetica (both published in 1518), failed to restore his good name among humanist scholars.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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