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From Alpine Goatherd to Teacher of Greek – Thomas Platter (1499-1582)

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When I had almost reached Marsburg, I came to a stone-mason who was a Turgauer. A young peasant met us. The mason said to me: “The peasant must give us money.” And said to him: “Peasant, give us gold or, odds, crack!” The peasant was terrified; I also was very much terrified, and wished that I was not there. The peasant began to pull out his purse. The mason said: “Be quiet, I have only joked.” Then I came over the sea to Constance. Then I went over the bridge, and saw some Swiss peasant children in white jackets. Oh, my God, how happy I was. I thought I was in heaven. I came to Zurich; there were people from St. Gall, great Bacchants; to them I offered myself, as their servant, if they would teach me; but they did this as the others had also done. At that time the Cardinal [Schinner] was also in Zurich. He was trying to gain influence over the Zurichers, so that they would go with him to the Pope, but, as it turned out afterward, he cared more for Milan. After some months Paul sent his shooter, Hildebrand, from Munich, saying that if I would come back, he would forgive me. But I would not, but remained in Zurich; yet I did not study.

There was one, called Antony Benetz, from Visp, in Valais, who persuaded me to go with him to Strassburg. When we came to Strassburg, there were very many poor scholars there and, as was said, not one good school. But there was a very good school at Schlettstadt. We went on the way to Schlettstadt. A nobleman met us and asked: “Where are you going?” When he heard that we wanted to go to Schlettstadt, he dissuaded us by saying that there were very many poor scholars there and no rich people. Then my companion began to weep bitterly. “Where can we go now?” I comforted him and said: “Be of good courage! If there is one in Schlettstadt who can support himself alone, then I will manage to support both of us.” When we were about a mile from Schlettstadt, and were stopping at a village, I became sick so that I thought that I must choke, and could scarcely get any breath. I had eaten many green nuts, for they fell about this time. Then my companion wept once more, because he thought he would lose his companion. For he knew not how to take care of himself; yet he had ten crowns hidden about him, but I had not one heller.

Now, we arrived in the city, and found lodging with an aged couple; and the man was stone blind. Then we went to my dear preceptor, now deceased, Mr. John Sapidus, and asked him to receive us. He asked us whence we came. When we said, “From Switzerland, from Valais,” he said: “There, alas, are wicked peasants; they drive their bishops out of the land. If you will study bravely, you need not give me anything; if not, then you must pay me or I will pull your coat from your back.” That was the first school where it seemed to me that things went properly. At that time, the study of languages and sciences came into vogue. It was in the year in which the Diet of Worms was held. At one time, Sapidus had 900 pupils, some fine learned fellows. There were there at that time Dr. Hieronymus Gemaisaus, Dr. John Huber, and many others, who afterward became doctors and famous men.

When I entered the school, I could do nothing; not even read Donatus (1). I was already eighteen years old. I seated myself among the little children. I was quite like a hen among the little chickens. One day Sapidus read the names of his pupils, and said: “I have many barbarous names; sometimes I must Latinize them a little bit.” Afterwards he read them again; then he had written mine, at first, Thomas Platter, then my companion, Antoninus Benetz. He had translated them Thomas Platerus, Antonius Benetus, and said: “Who are you two?” When we stood up, he said: “Pfaugh, you two are such mangy, raw shooters, and have such beautiful names!” And it was even true in part. My companion in particular was so mangy that many mornings I had to pull the linen cloth from his body as one would the hide from a goat. But I was more accustomed to the foreign air and food.

When we had been there from autumn till Whitsuntide, and yet more students came in from all quarters, I could no longer support us both well; then we went away to Solothurn. There was quite a good school, and also better living. But one must attend church so very frequently, and lose so much time, that we went home. I remained at home a little while, and went to the master in the school, who taught me a little writing, and other things I know not what. There I had the chills and fever, while I was in Grenchen with my aunt, Frances. During this time, I taught my aunt’s little boy, who was called Simon Steiner, the A, B, C’s in a day. More than a year later, he came to me in Zurich; he studied by degrees until he came to Strassburg; he became Dr. [Martin] Bucer’s (2) assistant; he studied so that he became preceptor of the third class and afterward of the second class. He was married twice. When he died, there was the greatest mourning in the school at Strassburg.

(1) The most elementary Latin grammar, for in all his wanderings as a “student,” Platter had learned no Latin – editors.
(2) Martin Bucer (1491-1551), reformer of Strasbourg – editors.

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