Sebastian Brant  

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Sebastian Brant (also Brandt) (1458 – 10 May 1521) was a German humanist and satirist known for his satire Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools).


He studied at Basel, took the degree of doctor of law in 1489, and for some time held a professorship of jurisprudence there. Returning to Strasbourg, he was made syndic of the town, remaining there for the rest of his life.

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), 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 goes to the fools' paradise of Narragonia. Brant here lashes with unsparing vigour the weaknesses and vices of his time. Here he conceives Saint Grobian, whom he imagines to be the patron saint of vulgar and coarse people.

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 was educated in Paris, decides to found an order of fools, which shall combine the good points of all the existing monastic orders. Cock Lovell's Bate (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.

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