The Work Ethic in Humanist Biographies: The Case of Willem Canter
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Neo-Latin Studies
This article is a case study of the work ethic as represented in biographies of humanists. It draws first and foremost on Melchior Adam’s anthology of biographies of learned “German” men of 1615–1620. The analysis of some of the longer biographies reveals that Adam was more dependent on his sources than previous research supposed. Moreover, the stress on the education and diligence of the individuals in several of the biographies follows not from Adam’s interests, but rather from the logic of humanist biographies, a primary function of which was to legitimate social rise, redefine social values according to meritocratic principles, and promote the Renaissance ideology of virtue. The vita of William Canter, which I analyze in considerable detail, illustrates how early modern biographies tended to construct the self on the basis of ancient and more recent clichés and to present ideal types. The work ethic represented by Canter’s scholarly persona reveals that hard work in the Renaissance was intrinsically linked to disciplined time-management.