‘Te doene tghene datmen verstaet’: Lekenwijsheid, stadse Stoa en vrijzinnig christendom tussen Reformatie en Opstand
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In the early 1560s a sudden explosion of Dutch translations of antique Stoic material occurred as D.V. Coornhert, M.A. Gillis and C. Beresteyn vernacularized Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. To be sure, the appearance of Stoic ideas in the vernacular was not an entirely new phenomenon in the Low Countries. From as early as the 13th century elements of Stoic philosophy occur frequently in vernacular tradition (e.g. in Jacob van Maerlant and the 15th-century rhetoricians). Yet the 16th-century translations differ in both their literary qualities and philosophical hinterland. They are professional, ‘literal’ translations meant for a public of highly self-conscious, Dutch-speaking laymen, reflecting deep respect for both Dutch language and the Latin source text. There is, however, more to say, as there seems to be a connection between the occurrence of these translations and 16th-century spiritualism, a claim that this article aims to justify on the basis of biographical and contextual argument. Each of the translators can be linked to intellectualised forms of spiritualism, such as the Antwerp circle of Hendrick Niclaes’ sect of the Family of Love (Huis der Liefde). Furthermore, the translators’ intellectual background as well as the prologues to their translations reflect a certain spiritualist interest. Finally, this article traces interesting developments in the interpretation of ‘reason’ in (Middle) Dutch tradition. From the 13th to the 16th century, vernacular authors, editors and translators constantly extended the range of reason. At first merely a means for human self-control, reason was later also deemed fit for ‘fate-control’ (15th century) and was ultimately even prescribed as a means to find God, to obtain the virtuous life and thus to become truly happy (16th century).