Ten interesting facts about Nebrija

Find out about Antonio de Nebrija, the first Spanish Humanist who was celebrated for his book, Castilian Grammar, through 10 interesting facts about his life and work.


Map of Spain in the 16th century (1502) by Universidad de SalamancaFundación Antonio de Nebrija

1. He was born in 1444, in what is now the town of Lebrija.

He took the surname by which he became known from his birthplace, formerly known as Nebrissa. He added the name Elio to his first name, which was taken from some Roman tombstones in his home town.

Sculpture of Antonio de Nebrija (1944) by José Lafita DíazFundación Antonio de Nebrija

2. His real name

Antonio de Nebrija's real name was Antonio Martínez de Cala. After leaving his home town of Lebrija, he began signing his name in Castilian using an 'x' and pinning it to his home town Lebrija. In the 15th century, it was common to use a birthplace as a last name (Antonio de Lebrixa). So the sound is the same, but the letters are interchanged.

Latin Grammar illustration digitization (ca. 1488) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

In 1481, when his book Introductiones Latinae was published, Nebrija used the pen name Aelius Antonius Nebrissensis. Today, he is known as Antonio de Nebrija. This name combines the Latin version of his surname (written with an n) and the modern Spanish spelling (written with a j, which would have been an x in old Spanish).

Library of University of Salamanca (1254) by Universidad de SalamancaFundación Antonio de Nebrija

3. A pioneer of the printing press, and of royalties paid to writers

He was possibly the second person in the world and the first on the Iberian Peninsula to demand payment for publishing his own work. He was also the first person to make full use of the printing press to disseminate his ideas and knowledge, and to be paid for it.

Incunabula of antonio de nebrija (1517) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

4. He wrote more than 80 books

Nebrija published texts on the subjects of medicine, law, theology, and astrology. He said, “if language governs thought, it is sovereign over the other sciences.” All these works were, at the time, essential texts in the advancement of culture.

Spanish Grammar (1492) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

5. He wrote the first grammar book of the Castilian language.

In 1492, he wrote the Grammar of the Castilian Language, which was the first grammar book written about a Romance language. Strangely, the acclaim he received for this book was far less than the effusive praise he received for his Latin textbook, and in fact was barely acknowledged until the 18th century.

Latin-Spanish dictionary (1492) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

6. His dictionary was one of the first Spanish dictionaries.

His Latin-Spanish dictionary, published in Salamanca (ca.1494), was one of the first Spanish-language dictionaries. He was considered the first lexicographer until the discovery of a work by Alfonso de Palencia, to whom two volumes dating from 1492 were attributed.

El Cielo de Salamanca (1483) by Fernando GallegoFundación Antonio de Nebrija

7. He was very interested in astrology and astronomy.

His interest took him on a journey through history, where he studied the precision of Roman measurements, eventually writing a short work on how to accurately read the time using a sundial.

Condemned by the Inquisition (1860) by Eugenio Lucas VelázquezOriginal Source: Prado Museum

8. He took on the Spanish Inquisition and won

Nebrija shone a spotlight on the translation of the Bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate. Although he was later proved right, he had to stand trial under the Spanish Inquisition. However, thanks to the Inquisitor Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, he was able to evade the consequences.

The Catholic Kings under a canopy (XVII Century)Original Source: Prado Museum

9. He was Royal Chronicler at the Court of Spain's Catholic Monarchs

Nebrija's friendship with Hernando de Talavera brought him into contact with the Court of Spain's Catholic Monarchs. This proximity gave him a privileged status, as a result of which he was appointed Royal Chronicler in 1509. At that point, he was living northeast of Madrid in Alcalá de Henares.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

10. His body lies in the Capilla de San Ildefonso.

Following his death on July 2, 1522, Nebrija was buried in the Capilla de San Ildefonso, a church in what is now the University of Alcalá (known at the time as the Universidad Complutense), to honor the fact that he was a distinguished professor there. In 2022, a plaque was unveiled with the text of what would have been the epitaph of the tomb of this Humanist.

Credits: Story

© Photographic Archive, Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado)

Curator: Rodrigo Díaz

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