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Epistolae Familiares as Opportunity for Self-Fashioning: Humanist Letter-Writing Habits in Nicolaus Olahus’ Correspondence

Emőke Rita Szilágyi

Hungarian Academy of Sciences

In my paper, I would like to present the self-fashioning strategies of Nicolaus Olahus while he wrote and compiled his collection of letters, Epistolae familiares. Concerning the collection, Olahus obviously tried to produce a favorable image of himself, that he was a honored member of Erasmus of Rotterdam’ network, loyal to the Habsburg Emperors, and last but not at least, devoted to the Catholic Church, all throughout the decade he spent in the Netherlands. Preparing the new critical edition of Olahus’ complete correspondence (Szilágyi 2018), I have found several signs of his conscious editorial procedures and types of censorship.

Epistolae familiares, namely the collection of letters containing the humanist’s correspondence between 1527 and 1539, was also published by Arnold Ipolyi (Ipolyi 1875), and due to the lack of a modern critical edition, that is the edition still in use today. Ipolyi’s merits are beyond dispute: thanks to his edition, an interpretative reading of Olahus’ correspondence could begin, as well as a discovery of his relationships, to the extent that it was made possible by the publication. However, the contemporary characteristics of the edition (it does not contain either a critical apparatus or notes of explanation or interpretation), and the lack of knowledge concerning the as of yet unexamined material of the later period often could have resulted in the wrong impression in the reader, and so a new edition has long been necessary, as already pointed out by Gilbert Tournoy (Tournoy 2006).

Olahus first compiled the material of Epistolae familiares from the correspondence at hand, then he had them copied by several scribes, and he finally emended the collection thus created. If the reader only has access to Ipolyi’s edition and does not have the opportunity to handle the original manuscript, they will probably never know that Olahus as editor made substantial changes to the text. Only part of these are grammatical or stylistic corrections, and a significant number of “corrections” were aimed to change the meaning of the text, and sometimes to delete or censor entire passages.

On revising Ipolyi’s edition, I’m also collecting the later pieces of Olahus’ correspondence. It is clear that he never wanted to publish these letters, so by examining the whole corpus, I can demonstrate the diversity and richness of his style and use of languages: 90 percent of the more than 1,000 letters was written in Latin, but Hungarian and German letters can be found as well; there are many humanist epistles, most of which were missiles, but also mandatory, dedicatory, and sometime fictive letters. This is the time when the first Hungarian letters were born, but the language of the epistolography was still Latin.

I would like to show it in my presentation how Olahus could become the most important prelate of his age and chancellor of the Kingdom of Hungary owing to his humanist network and his self-fashioning strategies.

Session/Panel Title

The World of Neo-Latin: Epistolography

Session/Paper Number


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