Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

A German humanist and poet, born at Stasburg in 1457 or 1458; died at the same place, 1521. He attended the University of Basle where he at first studied philosophy, but soon after abandoned this for law, obtaining in 1489 the degree of Doctor of Canon and Civil Law. Prior to this, from 1484, Brant had begun to lecture at the university, practising his profession at the same time. He wrote a number of poems in Latin and German in which he set forth his religious and political ideals. The election of Maximilian as emperor had filled him and many other patriots with high hope. To see the emperor the supreme temporal ruler of Christian nations , and the Church the supreme spiritual ruler on earth was his one great desire and henceforth coloured all his poems. Especially did he hope for the restoration of imperial power in Germany and the strengthening of the realm. But he was doomed to disappointment. In 1499 Basle was separated from the empire and became a member of the Swiss confederacy. Brant's position here now became untenable, and he decided to change his residence. 1494 he had published his poem "The Ship of Fools", which had won him great popularity. Geiler von Kaisersberg, the famous Strasburg preacher, had made it the basis of a series of sermons, and he now recommended the appointment of Brant to the vacant position of city-syndic in Strasburg. The poet accepted the offer, and in 1501 he returned to his native city, where two years later he was appointed town-clerk and soon rose to considerable prominence. The remainder of his life was uneventful. Towards the great religious movement of his time, the Reformation, he maintained an attitude of passive indifference. Repeatly he served his city in an official capacity, the last time in 1520, as spokeman of an embassy sent to the newly elected Emperor, Charles V, to obtain for Strasburg the usual confirmation of its ancient privileges.

The work to which Brant owes his fame is the "Narrenschiff" (Ship of Fools), a long didactic, allegorical poem, in which the follies and vices of the time are satirized. All the fools are loaded in a ship bound for Narragonia, the land of fools. But this plan is by no means carried out systematically, many descriptions being introduced which have no connection with the main idea. The resulting lack of unity, however, has its advantage; for it enables the poet to discuss all kinds of social, political, and religious conditions. Not only follies in the usual sense of the word are satirized, but also crimes and vices, which are conceived of as follies in accordance with the medieval way of thinking. Hence among the fools appear such people as usurers, gamblers, and adulterers. A chapter is devoted to each kind of folly and there are one hundred and twelve chapters in which one hundred and ten kinds of fools pass muster. As a work of art the poem does not rank high, though its tone is serious and earnest, especially where the poet pleads for his ideals, as in chapter xcix, entitled "Von abgang des glouben" (on the decline of faith ). Knowledge of self is praised as the height of wisdom. The "Narrenschiff" enjoyed a tremendous popularity in Germany, which is attested by the numerous editions that appeared in rapid succession. But its fame was not confined to Germany. It was translated into Latin by Jacob Locher in 1497 (Stultifera Navis), into French by Paul Riviere in 1497 and by Jehan Droyn in 1498. An English verse translation by Alexander Barclay appeared in London in 1509, and again in 1570; one in prose by Henry Watson in London, 1509; and again 1517. It was also rendered into Dutch and Low German.

Besides the "Narrenschiff" Brant wrote religious and political poems in Latin and German. He also edited and translated a number of legal and theological treatises. The most complete edition of the "Narrenschiff" is that of Father Zarncke (Leipzig, 1854 ) which contains also selections from Brant's other works. Other editions are by Karl Goedeke (Leipzig, 1872) and F. Bobertag (in Kurschner's Deutsche National Litteratur, XVI). A modern German translation was made by Karl Simroek (Berlin, 1972). A clear edition of the English translation of Barclay, by T. M. Jamieson, appeared at Edinburgh in 1874 in 2 vols.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 4:7-16
7 On each one of us God's favour has been bestowed in whatever way Christ ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
1 [Song of Ascents Of David] I rejoiced that they said to me, 'Let us go ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:1-9
1 It was just about this time that some people arrived and told him about ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 22nd, 2016 Image

St. Pope John Paul II
October 22: Karol J. Wojtyla, known as John Paul II since his ... Read More