Syphilis, Fortune, & Roman Decadence

Hutten, Ulrich von (1488-1523)

Dialogi. Fortuna. Febris prima. Febris secunda. Trias Romana. Inspicientes.

Mainz: Johann Schöffer, 1520

$5,900.00

Quarto: 20 x 14.5 cm. [144] p. Collation: A-B4, C6, D-N4, O6, P-R4.

FIRST EDITION OF THE TRIAS ROMANA, FORTUNA, FEBRIS SECUNDA, AND INSPICIENTES.

Modern marbled boards, light wear. With a title page allegorical woodcut of Fortuna (Fairfax Murray 215). A nice copy, broad-margined (with a few deckled edge) and printed on heavy paper, title a little dusty, small burn hole toward the gutter to four lvs. slightly affecting text (one or two letters) on 2 lvs. (no loss of sense). Three attractive woodcut initials on a black ground. Two contemporary notes to margin of one leaf of the “Trias Romana”, one noting the price Albert of Brandenburg paid for the pallium of the see of Mainz.

First edition of this important collection. Only the first “Fever” poem had appeared previously (in 1519). The anonymous German satire "Trias Romana"(1519) is a different work than Hutten's satire of the same name. The title woodcut illustrates the second (and lightest) of the five satirical dialogues, in which Hutten implores Fortune to grant him a pretty wife, a nice house with a library, children, and a reasonable income so that he can study and write.

“Fever” I & II

“The picture of Hutten handed down to us by history is that of the militant knight and poeta laureatus mentioned earlier. Yet in his dialogues, Hutten’s positioning of his own persona is more complex and characterized by one development : the one-sided emphasis on militancy is attributed to the escalation of the Reformation controversy (evident in the Dialogi novi),  whereas in the earlier dialogues deviations from this positioning are quite clear.

“In the two Latin Fever dialogues (Febris prima and Febris secunda) of 1518/1519, the first dialogues in which Hutten himself appears, the author positions his own persona quite differently from his stance in the later works. In both dialogues the personified Fever attempts to invade the persona of the author in extolling to Hutten his own merits. Hutten tries to divert Fever’s attention to other targets, in particular the clerics, who do not take poverty and chastity very seriously. Hutten does not limit himself to a harmless form of clerical satire; he recommends to Fever the figure of Cardinal Cajetan as a very worthwhile target. During his attendance at the Diet of Augsburg of 1518, the conduct and lifestyle of the Cardinal had offered more than enough material for satirical criticism. This polemical trait is not, however, the sole characteristic of this dialogue, which Hutten conceives in the tradition of a paradoxical encomium with his own figure being subjected to irony.

“Fever tries to convince Hutten of his merits: a person beset with fever is industrious and sharp-witted and after the fever has abated, the health of the patient improves. Hutten as author can refute these claims from his own experience: when he was writing the Fever dialogues, he was undergoing the cure for syphilis with Guaiacum that he had publicized in 1519 in the monograph written in that year. When the persona of Hutten declares in the dialogue that he has suffered from the aftermath of this and other diseases for many years after the fever has subsided, the author and the persona are correspondingly close.

“Hutten continues with the ironic treatment of his own persona right at the beginning of the second Fever dialogue, as Fever, who was only temporarily repelled at the end of the first dialogue, now seeks even more intensive contact with Hutten. Hutten, aided by his squire, tries once again to shake Fever off. As the conversation progresses, Hutten is able to convince Fever that it is desperately needed to clean up the situation in Rome, and Fever finally leaves Hutten in peace…

“The Observers”

“As part of his criticism of the Church, Hutten’s satire made a special target of Cardinal Cajetan, the Curia’s envoy to the Diet of Augsburg in 1518. In his dialogue Inspicientes (The Observers), which appeared in 1520, Hutten has the sun god Sol and his son Phaethon observe and discuss the events in the northern hemisphere from the heavens. The two divine observers keep a careful eye on the Diet of Augsburg. At the end of the dialogue, Hutten has Cardinal Cajetan appear as the third participant in the dialogue.

“In this dialogue’s frenzied finale, Cardinal Cajetan vents his fury and arrogance at the sun god in the heavens and complains about the prolonged period of bad weather in Germany that is taking place contrary to his specific orders. The Cardinal threatens Sol with a ban since the god is not adhering to Cajetan’s instructions and is questioning the authority of the pope. Thus, the Cardinal positions himself as being beyond the divine and human spheres and unmasks his hubris. His presumption stands in stark contrast to the positioning of Sol and Phaethon, who refer to him merely as a ‘homuncio’.

“Fortune”

In a letter to Pirckheimer, Hutten wrote that some things are achieved on by fortune and not by virtue. “In those cases, I look for the turning of the wheel, to the blind goddess, the mad ruler, the queen of all vicissitudes. I look for a lucky turn of the wheel to bring me prosperity.”

In the dialogue “Fortuna”, Hutten asks the goddess to grant him the means to lead a comfortable life, with leisure to study and write. “How much would be enough?” she asks. Well, Hutten answers, if he were to marry he would want a house with a garden, some land with a few fish ponds, dogs for hunting, a few riding horses, servants, herdsmen, cattle. The house must be outfitted with galleries, a library, dining rooms, baths, etc. He will also need money so that his wife can dress respectably and money to put aside for children. So, about 100,000 gulden.

When Fortune advises to work instead, Hutten laments that he has worked and studied for years, wandering in exile, struggling with poverty and disease. He has tried to enrich himself at court, like other people, but has had no luck. Fortune tells him that if he wants to live a life of leisure and study, he should be content to live in poverty. After all, successful people don’t have much leisure. “Do you know any?”, she asks. “Priests”, replies Hutten.

As Fortuna casts fortune down upon the people of Earth, Hutten looks down on the scene from above and sees a mass of people scrambling. Some look pleased at what they have managed to grab, others are vexed. He observes that Spain has the best luck, winning many crowns and an Emperor, while the Pope’s legate is ready to hang himself.

Hutten wants a wife but Fortuna cautions him that marriage can be difficult (and dangerous). Yet Hutten argues that he needs someone to take care of him, feed him, take care of the kids while he studies, nurse him when he is ill. Someone who will mourn and rejoice with him, and to whom he confide anything. Looking into Fortuna’s cornucopia, he sees just the woman: pretty, shapely, charming, and rich. But Fortune casts her lots and the girl becomes the wife of a bloated, pompous courtier. And Hutten, in despair, goes to a chapel to pray.

“Trias Romana”

The “Trias Romana” is one of Hutten’s most important early attacks on the Church of Rome: Roman decadence, papal misrule, and the tyranny of the Church that must be endured by the German people. Rome, the city that produced Scipio and Cato, is the New Babylon. The true Church of the apostles is treated as an abstraction, a shadow, while the seemingly beautiful, golden, and perfect Church of the popes is run by thieves, forgers, and simoniacs.

“In April 1520, Hutten published the collection of five Dialogi in which the dialogue ‘Vadiscus sive Trias Romana’ stands out on account of its unusually fierce, outspoken and sweeping criticism of Rome. Hutten expressed this opinion in a letter to Eobanus Hessus and in the preface to the dialogue itself. Hutten positions himself as a fighter for freedom in claiming that he as the author has freed liberty from the snares of the pope and brought her back from banishment.

“The title of the dialogue is a reference to the persona of Hutten telling the second interlocutor, Ernholdus, about all the evil reported to him by a certain Vadiscus after the latter’s return from Rome. This report contains 58 “litany-like” groups of three (triads) into which the transgressions of Rome are compressed. It was with the publication of this dialogue in particular that Hutten attracted the attention of the pope and his curia.”(Arnold Becker, Hutten’s Polemical Dialogues: Literary Positioning and its Impacts, in Forms of Conflict and Rivalries in Renaissance Europe)

VD 16, H 6346; Benzing, Hutten 122; Fairfax Murray 215