1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brant, Sebastian

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BRANT, SEBASTIAN (1457 – 1521), German humanist and satirist, was born at Strassburg about the year 1457. He studied at Basel, took the degree of doctor of laws in 1489, and for some time held a professorship of jurisprudence there. Returning to Strassburg, he was made syndic of the town, and died on the 10th of May 1521. He first attracted attention in humanistic circles by his Latin poetry, and edited many ecclesiastical and legal works; but he is now only known by his famous satire, Das Narrenschiff(1494), a work the popularity and influence of which were not limited to Germany. Under the form of an allegory—a ship laden with fools and steered by fools to the fools’ paradise of Narragenia—Brant here lashes with unsparing vigour the weaknesses and vices of his time. Although, like most of the German humanists, essentially conservative in his religious views, Brant’s eyes were open to the abuses in the church, and the Narrenschiff was a most effective preparation for the Protestant Reformation. Alexander Barclay’s Ship of Fools (1509) is a free imitation of the German poem, and a Latin version by Jacobus Locher (1497) was hardly less popular than the German original. There is also a large quantity of other “fool literature.” Nigel, called Wireker (fl. 1190), a monk of Christ Church Priory, Canterbury, wrote a satirical Speculum stultorum, in which the ambitious and discontented monk figured as the ass Brunellus, who wanted a longer tail. Brunellus, who has been educated at Paris, decides to found an order of fools, which shall combine the good points of all the existing monastic orders. Cock Lovell’s Bote (printed by Wynkyn de Worde, c. 1510) is another imitation of the Narrenschiff. Cock Lovell is a fraudulent currier who gathers round him a rascally collection of tradesmen. They sail off in a riotous fashion up hill and down dale throughout England. Brant’s other works, of which the chief was a version of Freidank’s Bescheidenheit (1508), are of inferior interest and importance.

Brant’s Narrenschiff has been edited by F. Zarncke (1854); by K. Goedeke (1872); and by F. Bobertag (Kürschner’s Deutsche Nationalliteratur, vol. xvi., 1889). A modern German translation was published by K. Simrock in 1872. On the influence of Brant in England see especially C. H. Herford, The Literary Relations of England and Germany in the 16th Century (1886).