The dominant power in the Middle Ages was the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation” referred to by Ulrich von Hutten in terms of Aesop’s fable as the Eagle, and shown in confrontation with the Frog, the Republic of Venice. The literary work is accompanied by a woodcut of Hans Weiditz that concentrates on the Eagle and the Frog. The German poet laureate focuses completely on the historical struggle between these two powers in the early sixteenth century. He recognizes the Turkish menace, but refutes the idea that the papacy should take on the leading role in the defense against the Ottomans’ approach. He along with the emerging Lutherans in Germany opts for the emperor alone as the leader of the West.
In contrast, Marulus makes use of Aesop’s fable in a different way. He focuses first on the animosity between Mouse and Frog, representing the Western World, and he identifies the Bird of Prey as the menacing Turks who are approaching his home land. He does this in two texts: Against Discord Among the Christian Rulers and in his Epistle to Pope Adrian VI. He moves within the milieu of European pamphleteers as he, too speaks of the Turks as the (new) barbarians, like Erasmus and others. They represent faithlessness (not heresy). “Perfidy” is a key notion for Marulus in his literary work. Its use in the context of antiturcica is being interpreted here from his numerous excerpts which he collected on this notion in his Repertorium. Marulus leaves himself open to an interpretation that he sees Islam as perhaps some sort of Christian heresy. The issue of heresy plays a big role in the contemporaneous Reuchlin Controversy over the books of the Jews as being heretics and that therefore their books should be burned.
Like other European writers, Marulus calls the leader of the Ottomans the “Turkish Emperor”, analogously to the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Marulus’ main concern vis-à-vis the Turkish menace is the lack of unity among the Christian rulers. The Frog and the Mouse, representing the West, must unite against the Bird of Prey. In trying to motivate the pope in Rome, Marulus describes the Turks as infidels, as the Mohammedan beast, and rapacious wolves, as he switches to other metaphors of dangerous animals. However, at the center of his appeal to the pope stands Marulus’ imagery of the Mouse, the Frog, and the Bird of Prey from Aesop’s fable.
Quite in contrast to other European authors who perhaps simplistically write of the Turkish menace as the “wrath of God” coming upon Christianity, Marulus laments the disunity among the Christian nations and it is this fact that provokes God’s wrath. While in the course of the early Reformation the authority of the popes and their leadership against the Turks is being questioned, especially by Hutten and other Lutherans in Germany, Marulus during his entire life remains convinced that the papacy should exercise its proper leadership in defense against the Turkish menace.
Abstract: Posset, F. The Mouse, the Frog, and the Unidentified Flying Object: Metaphors for »Empires« in the Latin Works of the Croatian Humanist Marcus Marulus and of the German Humanist Ulrich von Hutten. // Colloquia Maruliana 17(2008), 125-146.