Academic journal article German Quarterly

Jakob Ruf. Leben, Werk und Studien

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Jakob Ruf. Leben, Werk und Studien

Article excerpt

Keller, Hildegard Elisabeth, ed Jakob Ruf. Leben, Werk und Stuthen. Zurich: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2008.5vols. (319+774+707+1019+723 pp.), plusaudio CD and multimedia CD. SFr. 248 hardback in slipcase.

The publication of this collection of the complete works of Jakob Ruf is an important event. Sometimes figures neglected by literary history may have been justifiably ignored, but this is not the case with Ruf, whose work and reputation can now be restored by what has to be described, however wary one might be of extravagant formulations in a review, as a magnificent set of print volumes with supporting material in other media. Professor Keller and her team of collaborators are to be congratulated on an extraordinarily varied, beautifully written and attractively produced work of scholarship.

Ruf (the spelling of whose name is surprisingly variable) was both a Reformation and (also in the popular use of the term) a Renaissance man, whose life, work, and character all become clear through the essays in the well-named first volume, Mit der Arbeit seiner Hände. Ruf spent time in a monastery, left and became a surgeon, settling (and marrying) in Zurich. An establishment figure there, he was also a dramatist and writer, so that his publications include both (religious) dramas and works of practical (the word is significant) medicine. It is noteworthy that his colleague Conrad Gessner, the father of modern zoology, held the position of Stadtartzt, but seems to have been principally a lecturer and teacher, where Ruf as chief surgeon was at the forefront of active medicine, operating and contributing also to the teaching of midwifery. The essays in the first volume are not only eminently readable and based on a large amount of documentation, but contextualize Ruf 's work with historical explanation and background. Surgery was a freie Kunst, that is, was not controlled by a guild, so that Ruf 's expertise stands out against the "Zahnbrecher, Starstecher und Quacksalber " of the age. He specialized primarily in what might now be classed as urology; indeed it is quite hard to put out of one's mind the vivid description from contemporary sources offered here of an operation (without anaesthetic) for a scrotal hernia. Rufs medical interests widened, and he published a major textbook for midwives, in Latin for the scholars, but in German (as a Trostbüchlein) for the training of the female practitioners. The work was widely translated and used for a very considerable time - the reception history is discussed in some detail here. Other medical works appeared on tumors and on ophthalmology, but he also published pamphlets and calendar materials with astrological and astronomical themes (and dates for blood-letting), including a broadsheet on a parhelion observed in 1544. The practical physician and scientist was also a literary figure, however. His work, which usually contains a heavy Protestant polemic, included plays on (Swiss) politics and history, and especially on biblical themes, a Passion, one on the parable of the vineyard, and his spectacular (the word is used intentionally) Adam und Eva, a two-day cycle performed in the open air, which moves from the creation and fall to the flood and the destruction of the wicked city. The latter is clearly contemporary Rome, but as has been pointed out, Rufs use of extrabiblical material is not strictly in line with Reformation thought, and the large-scale production forms a bridge between medieval and later religious drama. The introductory volume concludes with a panorama of material alphabetically arranged according to key themes, these including Heba mme, Monster (he was interested in birth-deformities), and Steinschneider/Bruchschneider, as well as Polemik, Reislauf, Zwingli for the Protestant background, and for his literary activities not just entries like Adam und Eva and Tell, but a discussion of the word botz! …

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