Erpen, Thomas Van

Erpen, Thomas Van (Latin form ERPENIUS), a celebrated Orientalist, was born at Gorkum, Holland, September 7, 1584. He studied theology at Leyden, where, under the guidance of J.J. Scaliger, he also devoted himself particularly to the study of Oriental languages. He traveled in England, France, Italy, and Germany, everywhere enlarging his knowledge of Oriental literature; and in 1613 became professor of Oriental languages at Leyden. A second Hebrew chair in the university was founded expressly for him in 1619. "Soon after this he was appointed Oriental interpreter to the government, in which capacity he read and wrote replies to all official documents coming from the East. Such was the elegance and purity of his Arabic, as written at this time, that it is said to have excited the admiration of the emperor of Morocco. 'Towards the close of his life tempting offers of honors and distinction came pouring in upon him from all parts of Europe; but he was never prevailed upon to leave his native country, where, in the midst of an eminent career, he died November 13,1624. Although the present standard of Oriental knowledge in Europe is much in advance of that of Erpen's day, there is no doubt that it was through him principally that Eastern, especially Arabic, studies have become what they are. With hardly any better material than a few awkwardly printed Arabic alphabets, he contrived to write his famous grammar (Grammatica Arabica, quinque libris methodiae explicata, Leyden, 1613; recent edition by Michaelis, Gött. 1771), which for 200 years, till the time of Silvestre de Sacy, enjoyed, an undisputed supremacy; and there are many who think his Rudimenta unsurpassed, even at the present day, as a work for beginners. Among his other important works the best known is his Proverbiorum Arabicorum Centurice Duce (Leyden, 1614)" (Chambers, s.v.); Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale. 16:308; Herzog. Real-Encyklop. 19:487.

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