100 Bibliophiles History Reading & Writing

Beatus Rhenanus (1485–1547)

Beatus Rhenanus was a Swiss humanist and scholar who lived during the Renaissance era.

Born in the charming hamlet of Schlettstadt (now Sélestat, for the GPS-savvy) in Alsace, France in 1485, Rhenanus was a man of his time, a true product of the Renaissance. He spent the better part of his life in Basel, Switzerland.

Beatus Rhenanus - top 100 bibliophiles

Rhenanus was also a prolific writer, and his works covered a wide range of subjects, including classical literature, history, and philosophy.

He was especially interested in the works of Cicero, the ancient Roman statesman, and Virgil, the famous Roman poet. It won’t be an exaggeration if I say he put the ‘lit’ in literature.

That said, Rhenanus was not simply an academic or scholar; he was also a passionate bibliophile. His personal library, comprehensive and expansive, held a treasured collection of books.

It is said that his grand collection featured an array of Greek and Latin classics. Most notably, it included the works of eminent figures such as Homer, Aristotle, Seneca, and Augustine.

His collection was considered one of the most notable private libraries during his time. He gave his library in 1547 to the city of Sélestat and you can see his complete library today.

the Humanist Library of Sélestat
Humanist Library of Seléstat. Image Attribution: Alexandre Dulaunoy from Les Bulles, Chiny, Belgium, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

Currently preserved in the Humanist Library of Sélestat, the Beatus Rhenanus Collection is composed of both written and printed items. This collection comprises 670 volumes and stands out as one of the most valuable collections of the Renaissance period.

Rhenanus was known to engage deeply with his books, often scribbling comments and notes in the margins. This habit of his gives the modern-day reader a peek into his thinking, a snapshot of how he interacted with the works, making his collection all the more valuable.

The renowned essayist and anthologist, Alberto Manguel pays significant attention to Rhenanus in his bestselling book A History of Reading. Manguel calls him an illustrious reader, book-collector and editor.

So, in Beatus Rhenanus, you don’t just have a stellar scholar, editor, and humanist – you have one of history’s most passionate lovers of books.

Even though he might not be as famous as some of his contemporaries, his legacy as a bibliophile lives on. His joyful immersion in books and his relentless pursuit of knowledge stand as a profound testament to the life he lived.

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