Celtis, Conrad

Celtis, Conrad
   German humanist and Latin poet. Born near Würzburg to a peasant family, he acquired a university education despite his poverty, receiving a B.A. degree at Cologne (1479) and an M.A. at Heidelberg (1485), where he was attracted by the presence of Rudolf Agricola. He then taught poetry for brief periods at Erfurt, Rostock, and Leipzig, publishing his first work, Ars versificandi/ The Art of Versification, at Leipzig in 1486. Celtis spent the years 1487-1497 travelling, the first two years in Italy, where he met important scholars such as Marsilio Ficino at Florence and Pomponio Leto at Rome. In 1489 he went to the University of Cracow to study natural philosophy, astronomy, and mathematics.
   Beginning in 1492, Celtis taught at the University of Ingolstadt, where his inaugural lecture, published in 1492, laid out his program of reforming German education by emphasizing humanistic studies over traditional scholastic learning. His avowed goal was to make Germany, rather than Italy, the center of humanism. His criticism of the traditional university curriculum irritated many faculty colleagues, but they were probably more alienated by his habitual drunkenness, his numerous love affairs (reflected in his poems), and his frequent absenteeism. Despite his personal faults, his reputation as a scholar and a talented poet won him a professorship at the University of Vienna in 1497, and he remained there until his death, working to carry out the plan of the Emperor Maximilian I to support humanistic studies by founding a new academic unit, the College of Poets and Mathematicians. Maximilian's goal, shared by Celtis, was to create a new elite of young humanists to administer a revitalized German monarchy.
   Celtis published a book of love poetry, the Amores, in 1502. He also discovered an important text that demonstrated the presence of classical learning in medieval Germany, the six Latin dramas written by a 10th-century German nun, Hrosvitha of Gandersheim, and in 1500 he published the Germania of the Roman historian Tacitus, which extravagantly praised the ancient Germans. Celtis dreamed of publishing a comprehensive historical and geographical survey of all of Germany, but he completed only one part, a description of the city of Nuremberg (1502). After his death, his students published a collection of his odes (1513).
   Celtis' greatest importance is his association of the past and future greatness of Germany with his enthusiasm for the study of classical languages and literature. In pursuit of this goal, he promoted the founding of humanist sodalities at several places in southern and southwestern Germany. These sodalities did much to promote the study of humanistic subjects in German schools and universities, and their positive early response to the teachings of Martin Luther was one reason for the rapid diffusion of the German reformer's ideas among educated Germans.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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