University Library of Bern UB

Rare books

Details on Aretius and his collection

The Bernese theologian and natural scientist Benedikt Aretius bequeathed his collection to the university in 1574. The collection consists of 31 titles from the 16th century, 26 of these being in Latin. Apart form a few books in Greek the Aretius collection contains only one title in German. The entire collection is bound in 23 volumes. His library may have been larger; some titles such as the "Herbarium" are deemed to be missing.

Benedikt Aretius (Ger.: Marti) was born in 1522, the son of a Bätterkinden priest, and died on March 22, 1574, presumably from the plague. After attending Latin School he studied theology at the university of Bern. As a student he traveled from Zurich to Strasbourg and Marburg on a Bern scholarship. In Marburg Aretius was a professor of logic and dialectics. He was interested in plants did some experimental gardening in Bern, which became the main topic of correspondence with Conrad Gesner (1516-1565). Gesner intended to name a species of plant in his plant system after Aretius. However he died too early. Only 200 years later the Albrecht von Haller got hold of Gesner's idea and named a subgroup of the Androsacae "Aretia" (the plant genus Androsacae = rock jasmine, belonging to the primrose family).

It was only after returning to Bern from Marburg in 1549 that Aretius taught Latin and then became head of the Latin School. Finally, in 1553 he was offered the chair for Hebrew and Greek at the university. He became a professor of theology in 1563. He wrote his name and the year of acquisition in each of his books, alongside the mark of ownership. He also took a note of what he paid for the book and its binding. It is obvious from the number of marginal notes and editing marks that the collection was a working tool for Aretius to which he devoted much time. The volumes reflect his scientific interest and his professional career: Almost half the books are theological texts, the other half cover the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) , history and botany.