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Conrad Celtes

A German Humanist, b. at Wipfeld in Lower Franconia, February 1, 1459; d. at Vienna, February 4, 1508

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Celtes, CONRAD (properly CONRAD PICREL, or MEISEL; called also in Lat. PROTUSIUS), a German Humanist, b. at Wipfeld in Lower Franconia, February 1, 1459; d. at Vienna, February 4, 1508. He pursued his studies at Cologne (1477) and Heidelberg (1484), and at the latter university received the stimulating instruction of such men as Dalberg and Agricola. After this he wandered about for a time as a “travelling scholar”, delivering humanistic lectures at Erfurt, Rostock, and Leipzig. While at Leipzig he issued his first work, “Ars versificandi et carminum” (1486), as well as an edition of Seneca. In 1486 he went to Rome, where he had friendly relations with Pomponius Laetus travelling through Italy he became acquainted at Florence with Marsilio Ficino, at Bologna with Beroaldus, and at Venice with Sabellicus and the celebrated printer, Aldus Manutius.

On the return of Celtes to Germany Frederick III, at the instance of the Elector Frederick of Saxony, crowned him Poet Laureate. This ceremony took place with much pomp at Nuremberg, and he received, at the same time, a doctor’s degree. Soon after this Celtes made a wandering tour throughout the whole of Germany. In the course of his travels he went to Cracow (c. 1488), where he busied himself with mathematics and the natural sciences, and formed friendships with a number of able Humanists, such as Lorenzo Rab and Bonacursius. In imitation of the Roman Academy (see Roman Academies) he founded at Cracow a learned society called the Sodalitas Litterarum Vistulana, and another, entitled the Sodalitas Litterarum Hungarorum in Hungary, to which country he proceeded by way of Prague and Olmiitz. The name of this latter association was afterwards changed to Sodalitas Litterarum Danubian, and its seat transferred to Vienna (1494). On the return journey Celtes stopped at Passau, Ratisbon, and Nuremberg, and went as far as Mainz and Heidelberg, where the Sodalitas Litterarum Rhenana was founded.

On a second tour, in 1491, he reached Lubeck, where his efforts to form an association of scholars proved unsuccessful In 1494 he became professor at Ingolstadt; this position, however, put no check on his propensity for wandering, and when the pest raged at Ingolstadt he was at Heidelberg as tutor to the Palatine princes. In 1497 the emperor called him to Vienna, where he gave humanistic and historical lectures, some of which were on the works of classic writers, as Apuleius, Cicero, Tacitus, etc.

The lectures of Celtes were as permanent in their effects on the advancement and spread of the spirit of humanistic learning as was the founding of his various learned associations. Especially was he of great importance for the science of history, in that he was the first to treat the history of the world as a whole, and to bring the history of the empire into connection with that of other nations. His greatest labor, however, the “Germania Illustrata”, a work in which he desired to preserve the results both of his long journeys and of his researches in the history of the empire, remained a fragment. He gained a name for himself in the literary world by the discovery and publication of the writings of the nun Roswitha (Hroswitha). Although Aschbach’s assumption that Celtes had forged these works excited for a time serious discussion, yet Kopke and others succeeded in clearing him of this charge (Ottonische Studien, II). Still further literary credit is due Celtes for his publication of the “Ligurinus” of Gunther, and for the discovery of the “Tabula Peutingeriana” (a map of the military roads of the Roman Empire). No less creditable to his literary sagacity is the collection of Greek and Latin manuscripts which he made as librarian of the imperial library founded by Maximilian I at Vienna. He also won fame as a poet, and was the guiding spirit of the Poets’ Academy at Vienna, the first institution of this kind to be established. Nevertheless his “IV Libri Amorum”, “IV Libri Odarum”, and “V Libri Epigrammatum” are works of no great merit; their contents are in part very free, if not erotic. Celtes was an Epicurean, and, like many of the more free-thinking Humanists, in his concept of the standards of life he placed a higher value on the ancient heathen, than on the Christian, ideal. On this point he was obliged to bear much blunt reproof from his friend, Charitas Pirkheimer.


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