Renaissance and Reformation Benito Arias Montano
Hilaire Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0459


Benito Arias Montano (b. c. 1525/27–d. 1598) was a Spanish humanist, censor, polymath, and chaplain to King Philip II, as well as librarian for the royal library at El Escorial. He is best known for having produced the Polyglot Bible—also known as the Biblia Regia (Royal Bible)—printed by Christopher Plantin in Antwerp, a monumental undertaking for which it was necessary to move physically to the Netherlands for an extended period of seven years. There he became an agent of international book culture by virtue of his work on the Inquisitorial Index of prohibited and expurgated books, as well as an acquisitions broker for the Spanish royal library and a circle of prominent Spanish intellectuals including Fernando de Herrera and Francisco Pacheco. In addition to printing the Royal Bible, Plantin also received a contract from the Spanish Crown to print other devotional literature (prayer books, breviaries, missals, books of hours, etc.). Arias Montano supervised this publishing program too. The “Rey Prudente” trusted his judgement enough to request his input on important political decisions after he distinguished himself as part of the Spanish delegation to the Council of Trent, the multi-year gathering which launched the Counter-Reformation. Educated in theology at the Universities of Seville and Alcalá, he also became a Knight of the Order of Santiago. He wrote poetry and prose in both Latin and Spanish on a wide range of topics including medicine, geology, physics, architecture, botany, and even painting. His epistolary correspondence with a transnational network of merchants, diplomats and intellectuals is voluminous. In addition to the above-mentioned languages, he was also fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and French. His probable converso origins might explain some of his activities as a Hebraist, mostly focused around providing a more literal translation of the Bible than the outdated, but still standard, Vulgate.


Book-length biographies range from classic treatments in English, such as Rekers 1972 (translated to Spanish in Rekers 1973); to new translations of these into Spanish, such as Bell 2014; to more recent “profiles” in Spanish, such as Sánchez Rodríguez 1996. An extremely useful, short biographical entry is Dávila Pérez 2010. Articles treat specific aspects of the humanist’s life such as his probable converso origins (Caso Amador 2015), his Neostoicism (Pozuelo Calero 2019), and his reluctant involvement in the controversy over the so-called “lead books” discovered in Granada which he rejected as inauthentic and which did in fact turn out to be a hoax (Cabanelas 1969). The conference papers Morocho Gayo 1998 and Morocho Gayo 1999 divide Arias Montano’s life into two unequal halves of the first forty years and then the last thirty years, respectively.

  • Bell, Aubrey F. G. Benito Arias Montano. Edited by Eloy Navarro Domínguez. Huelva, Spain: Universidad de Huelva, 2014.

    A translation into Spanish of a classic short biography originally published in 1922 by the British Hispanist Aubrey Bell (b. 1881–d. 1950) through the Hispanic Society of America. Unfortunately, it was not updated to reflect the latest scholarship. But it is noteworthy that the Bibliotheca Montaniana published by the Universidad de Huelva considered this biography by an Anglophone Hispanist worthy of inclusion in its book series.

  • Cabanelas, Darío. “Arias Montano y los libros plúmbeos de Granada.” Miscelánea de Estudios Árabes y Hebraicos (Sección Árabe-Islam) 18 (1969): 7–41.

    Studies the participation of Arias Montano in one of the stickiest controversies of his time: the “discovery” of so-called lead books containing prophecies and “evidence” that Granadan moriscos were actually long-time devotees of Christianity. He rightly judged these documents to be a hoax; they have been repudiated as contemporaneous forgeries probably intended as a last-ditch effort by moriscos to avoid their expulsion from Spain, which happened in 1609.

  • Caso Amador, Rafael. “El origen judeoconverso del humanista Benito Arias Montano.” Revista de Estudios Extremeños 71 (2015): 1665–1712.

    This highly persuasive and meticulously documented article amasses previously unpublished archival evidence that the Arias family traced its roots to converso origins. Although originally they were persecuted by the Inquisition, they nevertheless attained great social prominence in subsequent generations. A sensational—but probably demonstrable—claim in this article is that the humanist’s expediente (document demonstrating blood purity, a requirement for becoming a Knight of Santiago) was falsified.

  • Dávila Pérez, Antonio. “Benito Arias Montano.” In Vol. 1, Catálogo biobibliográfico de Escritores Extremeños anteriores a 1750. 4 vols. Edited by J. Cañas Murillo and M. Tejeiro Fuentes, 180–196. Badajoz, Spain: Editora Regional de Extremadura, 2010.

    The entry on Arias Montano in this bio-bibliographical catalogue (a sort of Dictionary of National Biography equivalent) is divided into subsections on his life, his works, and primary sources about him: manuscripts, printed works, lost titles, epistolary correspondence, and archival material.

  • Morocho Gayo, Gaspar. “Trayectoria humanística de Benito Arias Montano. Sus cuarenta primeros años (c. 1525/27–1567).” In El humanismo extremeño II (Estudios presentados a las 2as jornadas organizadas por la Real Academia de Extremadura en Fregenal de la Sierra en 1997). Edited by Mariano Fernández-Daza y Fernández de Córdova. 157–210. Trujillo, Spain: Real Academia de Extremadura de las Letras y las Artes, 1998.

    Hard-to-find conference paper adds a wealth of additional biographical detail to flesh out the first forty years of Arias Montano’s life. In some instances, revises the classic Bell biography from 1922.

  • Morocho Gayo, Gaspar. “Trayectoria humanística de Benito Arias Montano, II: años de plenitud (1568–1598).” In El humanismo extremeño (Estudios presentados a las 3as jornadas organizadas por la Real Academia de Extremadura en Fregenal de la Sierra, Aracena y Alájar en 1998). Edited by Mariano Fernández-Daza y Fernández de Córdova. 227–304. Trujillo, Spain: Real Academia de Extremadura de las Letras y las Artes, 1999.

    Hard-to-find conference paper adds a wealth of additional biographical detail to flesh out the last thirty years of Arias Montano’s life. In some instances, revises the classic Bell biography from 1922.

  • Pozuelo Calero, Bartolomé. “Arias Montano, neoestoico.” In Humanismo Português e Europeu: no 5o centenário do Cicero Lusitanus, Jerónimo Osório (1515–1580). Edited by Cristina Pimentel, Sebastião Tavares de Pinho, Maria Luísa Resende, Madalena Brito, and Margarida Miranda. 283–295. Coimbra, Portugal: Universidade de Coimbra, 2019.

    This article brands Arias Montano a Neostoic in the style of Justus Lipsius, specifically a proponent of some of the ideas expounded in the Dutch humanist’s De constantia libri duo (1584). Specific Neostoic themes identified in Arias Montano’s work include constancy, moral autonomy, and Divine Providence. The precise text used to justify this label is Arias Montano’s In XXXI Dauidis psalmos priores commentaria (1605).

  • Rekers, Ben. Benito Arias Montano (1527–1598). London: Warburg Institute, University of London, 1972.

    This biography was the first to propose the humanist’s alleged affiliation with the Family of Love during the years he lived and worked in Antwerp. This thesis has since been the target of criticism, but remains influential.

  • Rekers, Ben. Benito Arias Montano (1527–1598). Translated by Ángel Alcalá. Madrid: Taurus, 1973.

    Translation to Spanish of Rekers’s biography. Adds an epilogue by the translator which has been important for later historiography.

  • Sánchez Rodríguez, Carlos. Perfil de un humanista: Benito Arias Montano (1527–1598). Huelva, Spain: Enebro, 1996.

    Excellent short biography contains surprises: Arias Montano was arrested by the Inquisition as a suspected Judaizer, was not devoted to Mary, was partially responsible for Fray Luis de León’s imprisonment by the Inquisition for four years, and belonged to the heretical sect known as the Family of Love. He helped design the Escorial following the model of the Jewish Temple (in this analogy King Philip II was a second Solomon).

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