Zsámboki János (Johannes Sambucus Pannonius) 1531-1584
Zsámboki János (Johannes Sambucus Pannonius) 1531-1584
Zsámboki János (Johannes Sambucus Pannonius), was a Hungarian scientist and Latinist but our Slovakian friends are also proud of him. He was born in Nagyszombat (Trnava, Tyrnau) in 1531, then he studied at the universities of Wittenberg, Paris, and Padova. In Vienna, in 1542 he graduated and went on to study philology, ancient languages, law, history, and philosophy in Leipzig, Wittenberg, Ingolstadt, Strasbourg, and Paris where he obtained a master’s degree in philosophy in 1551. From 1558 to 1564 he traveled to Venice, Padua, Genoa, Naples, Milan, Ghent, and Antwerp. At the University of Padua, he turned to the study of medicine, becoming the Medical Licentiate in 1555. In 1560 he returned to Vienna, settling down as a physician and leading exponent of scientific and cultural knowledge.
Bishop Oláh Miklós (1493-1568), the famous Latinist was among his supporters. Oláh wrote a detailed description of Hungary (1536) which was the first of its kind, and this work must have been inspiring for Zsámboki as well. Here is more about Oláh Miklós:
Zsámboki gained himself the title of a philosopher and doctor. First, he was teaching as a professor in Italy but then came home to Hungary, he got a job in Vienna at the Imperial Court. He became the advisor of King Ferdinánd and later the doctor and histographer of Emperor Maximilian and Rudolf. He spoke eleven languages and was a reputed collector of books. He obtained a considerable fortune, with which he amassed the largest private library in the world, it consisted of several thousands of books and scripts. Along with his library, he had a large coin and art collection. He also wrote the Icones veterum aliquot ac recentium Medicorum Philosophorumque in 1574, published in Antwerp.
He published the poems of Janus Pannonius and the historical works of Petrus Ransanus and Bonfini, as well as the Tripartitum. Practically, the Triprtitum is a manual of Hungarian customary law completed in 1514 by Werbőczy István (1458-1541) and first published in Vienna in 1517. Although it never received official approval, it was highly influential and went through fifty editions in three hundred years. The Tripartitum did not include the so-called written law (parliamentary laws, royal decrees, and statutes of the assemblies of the counties and the statutes of the free royal cities), which were always recorded in the law books after the decisions. It asserts the privileges of the nobility against the crown, the equality of all nobles as against the claims of superiority of the upper nobility (magnates), and the onerous duties of serfs. The Tripartitum played a large role in perpetuating Hungary’s feudal system.
Zsámboki was among the second generation of Latinists who turned toward West Europe instead of Italy. He was the composer of Hungary’s first, and most renowned Emblemata book: Emblemata cum aliquot nummis antiqui operis (1564). Secular, religious, or amorous in nature, emblem books were an integral part of European culture for two centuries. Zsámboki‘s emblem book had 167 pictures in it, and it was edited five times. It was translated into French and Dutch. In fact, he was the first Hungarian writer whose works were translated into French. Several emblems of Zsámboki can be discovered in the works of William Shakespeare. Sometimes he wrote Latin poems as well.
He loved his two dogs Bombo and Madel who “followed him on sea and land everywhere” and he dedicated the Emblem 126 to them in his famous book, describing the emblem of faithfulness. Let us take a glimpse into his Emblemata from 1567, and check out how sleeping elephants lean on the trunk of a tree. The title of this emblem is “Nusquam tuta fides”, meaning that “No trust is ever sure”. The Latin poem explains it:
“DUM rigidos artus elephas, dum membra quiete Sublevat, assuetis nititur arboribus: Quas ubi venator didicit, succidit ab imo, Paulatim ut recubans belua mole ruat. Tam leviter capitur duri qui in proelia Martis Arma, viros, turrim, tergore vectat opes. Nusquam tuta fides, nimium ne crede quieti, Saepius & tutis decipiere locis. Hippomenes pomis Schoeneïda vicit amatam, SicPeliamnatisColchisacerba necat. Sic nos decipiunt dedimus quibus omnia nostra: Saltem conantur deficiente fide.”
It means in the English language the following:
“While the elephant rests his stiff joints and limbs, he leans against trees tried and true. When the hunter has learned which these are, he cuts them at the base, so that the beast leaning on it bit by bit should take it down with his weight. So easy is it to capture those, who in the battles of Mars carry on their backs arms, men, and towers. No trust is ever sure, and do not put too much faith in quiet, for you will more often be deceived in secure places. Hippomenes defeated his love, the daughter of Schoeneus, with apples, and so the harsh daughter of Colchis killed Pelias by means of his daughters. So those deceive us to whom we give our all, but they only try as trust diminishes.”
It was Zsámboki who described the history of the sieges of Eger and Temesvár castles in 1552 and the siege of Szigetvár castle in 1556, along with the story of how Tokaj castle was taken. These works were written in the Latin language. He was also a renowned numismatic collector and had poems. He kept in contact with Abraham Orteliussal from Antwerpen who was at that time working on his world atlas and was collecting maps from all parts of Europe.
Zsámboki helped him in his endeavor by sending him the map of Hungary to the Netherlands. He perfected this map, based on the previous drawing of Lazius. This is the very map that we can see in the famous Dutch world atlas now. Now it can be seen in the exhibition of the Nádasdy Castle in Sárvár, along with the map of Transylvania, also made by him. The library and the collection of Zsámboki got into the possession of the Hofbiblioth family in Vienna.
Zsámboki János died on 13 June 1584 in Vienna.
Zsámboki has done a lot for spreading Hungarian culture in Europe, and his work contributed to turning Vienna into an important spiritual center of the continent.