Who was Eliia Levita?
Elia Levita or Elia Levi Ben Ascher Aschkenasi (Elia, Son of Ascher, called the German) was a Hebrew philologist and poet. He was born on 13 February 1469 in Ipsheim in Central Franconia and died in Venice in 1549.
As of 1496 he lived most of the time in Venice because of the increasing persecution in his homeland. He worked as a scribe, corrector and Hebrew teacher, in Christian circles, among others. As a result, in 1515 he got to know Aegidius de Viterbo, cardinal of the Augustinian Order in Rome, who granted him and his family refuge in the monastery. This enabled Levita to pursue his scholarly work without financial worries. In 1527 he returned to Venice and became corrector for the famous publisher and printer Daniel Bomberg. Talk of his abilities was widekspread and even reached the French King Francois 1, who offered him a professorship at the Sorbonne University, even though Jews were not permitted to live in France at that time. Levita declined the post, however, out of fear of alienation from his Jewish community.
At the wish of the Reformer and Hebraist Paul Fagius, to whom he also taught Hebrew, Levita spent his later years is Isny and Konstanz. There he corrected some of his own works again, as Fagius wished to publish them. He then returned to Venice, where he died at the age of 79.
Quote from the Ipsheim website about Levita
"Someone whose name is in all the great lexica of the European cultural nations and who is repeatedly cited in each new edition must be one of humanity’s most important minds."
The Works of Elijah Levita
Elijah Levita was the first Jew to teach the Hebrew language to Christian Humanists. The use of his linguistic works by supporters of the Reformation had a great impact on the new movement. Levita engaged in a lively correspondence with Reformers such as Andreas Osiander and Johannes Reuchlin.
In the Register of Rabbinical Terms on show here, Levita translates and explains Hebrew and Aramaic technical terms used in rabbinical literature. What is remarkable is that through his translation into Latin he enabled Christian researchers of his day both thematic and philological access to Jewish writings.
The Bovo book
The same year as his scholarly works, he also published the Bovo Book, a chivalric romance in the western Yiddish dialect. It was the very first non-religious book to be printed in Yiddish and is a re-narration of the Italian verse romance Buovo d’Antona, which consists of 650 verses.