Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Johannes Goropius Becanus

Johannes Goropius Becanus

Ask a question about 'Johannes Goropius Becanus'
Start a new discussion about 'Johannes Goropius Becanus'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

Johannes Goropius Becanus (23 June 1519, Gorp – 28 June 1572, Maastricht
Maastricht is situated on both sides of the Meuse river in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border and near the German border...

) was a Dutch
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 physician, linguist, and humanist
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....



He was born Jan Gerartsen van Gorp in the town of Gorp, situated in the municipality
A municipality is essentially an urban administrative division having corporate status and usually powers of self-government. It can also be used to mean the governing body of a municipality. A municipality is a general-purpose administrative subdivision, as opposed to a special-purpose district...

 of Hilvarenbeek
Hilvarenbeek is a municipality and a town in the south of the Netherlands, along the border with Belgium.- Population centres :The municipality of Hilvarenbeek also includes the following villages with their own churches: Baarschot, Biest-Houtakker, Diessen, Esbeek and Haghorst.In addition, the...

. As was the fashion of the time, Gerartsen adopted a Latinized
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases, a surname is a family name. Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name"...

 based on the name of his birthplace, Goropius being rendered from "Van Gorp"' and Becanus referring to "Hilvarenbeek."

He studied medicine in Leuven
Leuven is the capital of the province of Flemish Brabant in the Flemish Region, Belgium...

, and became physician to two sisters of Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...

: Marie and Eleonore, who were based in Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 at the time. Philip II
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

, the son of Charles V, wanted him also as his doctor and offered him a rich income. Goropius refused and established himself as medicus (town doctor) of Antwerp in 1554. Here, free of courtly intrigues, Goropius dedicated himself completely to languages, studying antiquity; and became fluent in many languages.

Goropius died in Maastricht
Maastricht is situated on both sides of the Meuse river in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border and near the German border...

, where he was buried in the old friars minor
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....


Linguistic theories

Goropius theorized that Antwerpian Brabantic, spoken in the region between the Scheldt
The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

 and Meuse
Meuse is a department in northeast France, named after the River Meuse.-History:Meuse is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790...

 Rivers, was the original language
Adamic language
The Adamic language is, according to certain sects within Abrahamic traditions, the language spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, i.e., either the language used by God to address Adam, or the language invented by Adam ....

 spoken in Paradise. Goropius believed that the most ancient language on Earth would be the simplest language, and that the simplest language would contain mostly short words. Since the number of short words is higher in Brabantic than it is in Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, and Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

, Goropius reasoned that it was the older language.

A corollary of this theory was that all languages derived ultimately from Brabantic. The Latin word for “oak,” quercus, Goropius derived from werd-cou (“keeps out cold”); the Hebrew name “Noah” he derived from nood (“need”). Goropius also believed that Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were, according to the Genesis creation narratives, the first human couple to inhabit Earth, created by YHWH, the God of the ancient Hebrews...

 were Brabantic names (from Hath-Dam, or “dam against hate"; and Eu-Vat, “barrel from which people originated,” or from Eet-Vat, “oath-barrel,” respectively). Another corollary was the placement of the Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden is in the Bible's Book of Genesis as being the place where the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, lived after they were created by God. Literally, the Bible speaks about a garden in Eden...

 itself in the Brabant region. In the book known as Hieroglyphica, Goropius also proved to his own satisfaction that Egyptian hieroglyphics represented Brabantic.

There is an allusion to this theory in Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

's The Alchemist
The Alchemist (play)
The Alchemist is a comedy by English playwright Ben Jonson. First performed in 1610 by the King's Men, it is generally considered Jonson's best and most characteristic comedy; Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that it had one of the three most perfect plots in literature...

, where one character speaks of planks written on by Adam "in High Dutch: which proves it was the original tongue". Samuel Butler
Samuel Butler (poet)
Samuel Butler was a poet and satirist. Born in Strensham, Worcestershire and baptised 14 February 1613, he is remembered now chiefly for a long satirical burlesque poem on Puritanism entitled Hudibras.-Biography:...

's satirical Hudibras
Hudibras is an English mock heroic narrative poem from the 17th century written by Samuel Butler.-Purpose:The work is a satirical polemic upon Roundheads, Puritans, Presbyterians and many of the other factions involved in the English Civil War...

 contains the couplet "Whether the devil tempted her [Eve]/By a High Dutch interpreter".

Origines Antwerpianae

In spite of his extensive travels in Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Britain, Goropius remained attached to his homeland, and reported on various curiosities and customs from his native region. In his Origines Antwerpianae (1569), a treatise describing the antiquities of Antwerp, Goropius reports various curiosities, among them that a youth almost nine feet tall and a woman about ten feet tall lived near his home. He also reports that Ters, a deity who seems to have been an equivalent of Priapus
In Greek mythology, Priapus or Priapos , was a minor rustic fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens and male genitalia. Priapus is marked by his absurdly oversized, permanent erection, which gave rise to the medical term priapism...

, was invoked by Antwerpian women when they were taken by surprise or sudden fear, and that there was a house in Antwerp adjoining the prison (see Het Steen
Het Steen
Het Steen is medieval fortress in the old city centre of Antwerp, Belgium, one of Europe's biggest ports. Built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages as the first stone fortress of Antwerp, Het Steen is Antwerp's oldest building and used to be its oldest urban centre.Previously known...

) that bore a statue which had been furnished with a large worn away phallus
A phallus is an erect penis, a penis-shaped object such as a dildo, or a mimetic image of an erect penis. Any object that symbolically resembles a penis may also be referred to as a phallus; however, such objects are more often referred to as being phallic...



Christoffel Plantijn had been a friend of Goropius's and the Antwerp-based printing house known as the Plantin Press
Plantin Press
The Plantin Press at Antwerp was one of the focal centers of the fine printed book in the 16th century.Christophe Plantin of Touraine, trained as a bookbinder, fled from Paris, where at least one printer had recently been burned at the stake for heresy, for Antwerp, where he bound books, became a...

, which first published Goropius's works in 1569, printed the linguist-physician’s posthumous collected work in 1580 as a massive volume of more than a thousand pages. Goropius's work was met with a mixture of ridicule and admiration. Goropius is considered to have given Dutch linguistics, and Gothic philology in general, a bad name. Though Goropius had admirers (among them Abraham Ortelius
Abraham Ortelius
thumb|250px|Abraham Ortelius by [[Peter Paul Rubens]]Abraham Ortelius thumb|250px|Abraham Ortelius by [[Peter Paul Rubens]]Abraham Ortelius (Abraham Ortels) thumb|250px|Abraham Ortelius by [[Peter Paul Rubens]]Abraham Ortelius (Abraham Ortels) (April 14, 1527 – June 28,exile in England to take...

 and Richard Hakluyt
Richard Hakluyt
Richard Hakluyt was an English writer. He is principally remembered for his efforts in promoting and supporting the settlement of North America by the English through his works, notably Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America and The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and...

), his etymologies have been considered "linguistic chauvinism," and Leibniz coined the term "goropism" to mean "absurd etymology." Justus Lipsius
Justus Lipsius
Justus Lipsius was a Southern-Netherlandish philologist and humanist. Lipsius wrote a series of works designed to revive ancient Stoicism in a form that would be compatible with Christianity. The most famous of these is De Constantia...

 and Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius , also known as Huig de Groot, Hugo Grocio or Hugo de Groot, was a jurist in the Dutch Republic. With Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili he laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law...

 discounted Goropius's linguistic theories. "Never have I read greater nonsense," the scholar Joseph Scaliger wrote of Goropius's etymologies.

However, Goropius's work precedes that of William Jones
William Jones (philologist)
Sir William Jones was an English philologist and scholar of ancient India, particularly known for his proposition of the existence of a relationship among Indo-European languages...

, the “discoverer” of the Indo-European language family, and though replete with eccentric and ridiculous etymologies, nevertheless can be considered a foundation for the field of historical linguistics
Historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...



Digitized primary sources and secondary information on the wiki Hortus Linguarum Eerherstel voor Goropius Becanus door Nicoline van der Sijs How come we can't decipher the Indus script? (Straight Dope
Straight Dope
The Straight Dope is a popular question-and-answer newspaper column published in the Chicago Reader, syndicated in thirty newspapers in the United States and Canada, as well as being available and archived at the .-Newspapers:...

 article containing reference to Goropius) Naborn, R. A., Etymologies in Joannes Goropius Becanus Hermathena. Master's Thesis, University of Kansas, 1989. Cultureel Brabant