Thomas Erpenius was born in Gorcum, in Holland in 1584. He went to school in Leyden and was admitted to the university was he was 18. He took his M.A., when he was 25. He took up the study of theology and languages under Joseph Scalinger. From there he travelled to England, France, Italy and Germany.
When he returned to Paris, he became acquainted with Casaubon. Together they travelled to Saumur and Thomas studied Arabic. He then went to Venice and with the help of some learned Jews and Turks, he learned Turkish, Persian and Ethiopian. His skill was such that he was offered a great deal of money to stay in Venice and translate some Arabic books into Latin. He continued travelling for four more years, travelling through Paris and purchasing Arabic books wherever he went. He finally returned to Leyden in 1612. There were plans to bring him to England and pay him a large salary to teach, but in 1613 he was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages at the university in Leyden.
Erpenius married in 1616 and had three children. In 1616 he was made Professor of Hebrew also. It was reported of him that whatever task he worked at, he worked with such fervency that you would have thought that he had nothing else to attend to.
In 1620 the prince of Orange sent him to France to procure the services of Peter Moulin and Andrew Rivet to be professors of Divinity at Leyden. Initially, he was unsuccessful, but the next year he was able to bring Rivet with him back to Leyden.
Erpenius was so famous that the king of Spain offered him great rewards if he would come to Spain and translate some ancient writings that no one had ever been able to do before. The king of Morocco was so impressed with the quality of Erpenius’ Arabic that he showed off letters from Erpenius to Arabic scholars and noblemen as if they were some sort of miracle. The prince of Orange frequently sought his services to translate Arabic letters from royalty in Africa and Asia.
Erpenius fell sick due to the plague in 1624 and died at the age of 40.