What happened to the Republic of Letters? Its history seems to stop at the end of the eighteenth century. And yet, in the nineteenth century, there still existed a community gathered in scholarly societies, maintaining a transnational correspondence network and filling learned journals. The term indeed becomes less frequent, but does not go entirely out of use. This article traces the afterlives of the Republic of Letters in the early nineteenth century. Specifically, it investigates texts that attempt to (re)define the Republic of Letters or a cognate, the wider diffusion of the term, and the changing role of learned journals in that period. While most attempts to reinvent the Republic of Letters failed miserably, they indicate a diagnosis of the state of learning and the position of scholars in a period of transition, and in doing so they contradict an ‘unpolitical’ conception of the Republic of Letters.
In this article, Julius Caesar Scaliger’s Poetices libri septem and Johannes Wower’s De polymathia tractatio are analyzed and contrasted with each other, and a number of hitherto unnoticed similarities between the two works are brought to the fore. It is argued that these similarities are rooted in a shared understanding of the notions of grammatice and of critice, which, in turn, is traced back to a number of passages in Sextus Empiricus’s Adversus grammaticos. It is further argued that Sextus Empiricus was initially not read as a Pyrrhonian sceptic in the fifteenth century, but that at least some of his arguments were used in order to structure the encyclopedia of grammatical knowledge, understood in the widest possible meaning of this word. It is finally argued that Poliziano was the driving force behind this initial understanding; that poetics and polymathy were almost indistinguishable intellectual pursuits in the context of early modern erudition; and that their eventual drifting apart was mainly due to the key notion of critice being invested with different, irreconcilable meanings in the course the seventeenth century.
The twelfth-century Jewish traveller, Benjamin of Tudela and his Book of Travels has attracted widespread attention since the Middle Ages. The narrative, however, has largely been read and studied in the context of what it can tell scholars about the medieval world. This article shifts the approach away from the Book of Travels’ content to its reception. Under discussion is Constantijn L’Empereur’s 1633 Latin edition. This article reveals how L’Empereur elevated the Book of Travels from a travelogue into a work of rabbinic literature to undermine the text’s authority. It argues that by attacking the veracity of the account, L’Empereur employed the narrative in anti-Jewish polemics against the cunning, and theologically blind Jews to illustrate the errors of their beliefs. By illuminating L’Empereur’s engagement with the text, the article also situates L’Empereur’s use of rabbinic literature in the wider early modern debate about the utility of Hebrew language study and rabbinic literature for Christian scholars.