Renæssanceforum 11 • 2016

Johann Ramminger
Consuetudo Veterum – Mos Italorum: Vos and tu in the Latin letters of early German humanism

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The re-establishment of the private letter as a genre in its own right was one of the most significant achievements of humanist literary culture. As a consequence, the Italian humanists adopted the classical 'tu' instead of the customary (i.e. medieval) 'vos' as the form of address in contexts outside the political sphere, irrespective of social rank. By the time Southern German intellectuals had begun to embrace Italian (i. e. humanist) literary customs in the middle of the Quattrocento, this feature was firmly established in Italy and was vigorously promoted by the leading Italian humanist at the Emperor's court, Enea Silvio Piccolomini. German humanists did not find it easy to adopt the new custom which went against their own and their recipients' social sensibilities. Up until the 1480s, we find them inserting metadiscursive comments into their letters explaining the new 'tu' to their correspondents as the 'way the Italians write' and as the 'custom of the Ancients.'