Germany Literature – From Humanism to the 18th Century

By | January 28, 2022

From Humanism to the Baroque Age

In Germany Humanism essentially remained a scholarly phenomenon: however, the personalities of the Franconian C. Celtis and the Rhenish J. Reuchlin, as well as the great Erasmus of Rotterdam, should be remembered. Too more vital and urgent were the contemporary religious instances, promoted by M. Luther, a genius of the German spirit as he was able to grasp their anxieties and needs and arouse their hitherto dormant energies; great also for the language, which he knew as the first unifier, and for literature, to which he entrusted, among other things, the monumental translation of the Bible (1517-34) and a series of songs (Gesangbüchlein, 1524) which became the patrimony of a whole people. Next to this figure, the greatest of all the Meistersingers , the master shoemaker of Nuremberg H. Sachs, an inexhaustible cantor of solid bourgeois ideals, the doctor T. von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, author of magical-scientific works in a very personal prose, the religious polygraph S. Franck and, later, the satirist J. Fischart.

According to THEMBAPROGRAMS, the 17th century marked an increase in cultural dependence from abroad, no longer only from Italy and France but also from Spain; the political situation was conditioned by reason of state and torn by contrasts, originally confessional, which led to the Thirty Years’ War. Cultural unity was seriously damaged, just as the letters tried to organize themselves (for example, the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft, founded in Weimar in 1617 on the model of the Accademia della Crusca) and M. Opitz, founder of the so-called first Silesian school, attempted a normalization of German metrics. The few authentic poets testify to the drama of the events, with a strong propensity, especially in Protestants, to rejection of public life and refuge in the intimate, as in the visionary J. Böhme, in the lyric P. Fleming and in the hymnographer P. Gerhardt. Greater balance is found in Catholic poets, including the Jesuit F. von Spee and above all the Franciscan convert Angelus Silesius. The tones of the German Baroque era, marked by the Thirty Years War, are best defined in the multifaceted A. Gryphius, lyricist, epigrammist, above all playwright, author of the first and for a long time isolated bourgeois tragedy Cardenio und Celinde (1647). Silesian, like Gryphius, was also DL von Lohenstein, to be remembered for the novel Grossmütiger Feldherr Arminius (1689-90), testimony of the emerging taste for the novel from the middle of the century. A masterpiece of this kind was Der abenteuerlicher Simplicissimus (1668-69) by HJC von Grimmelshausen, a broad overview of the events of the war offered with an exuberance finally also in Germany ‘barocca’.

The eighteenth century

At the dawn of the eighteenth century the figure of JC Günther stands out, whose poetry contrasts with the still widely current Baroque forms. But the century is imposed under the banner of cultural rigor and also in Germany, albeit to a lesser extent, the Enlightenment opens, dominated in the first phase by the figure of JC Gottsched, deserving for having recovered the theater for culture. The action of the promoters of pietism, a religious movement more sentimental than dogmatic, was also effective: PJ Spener and later AH Francke and NL von Zinzendorf. In the flowering of novels, almost always mediocre, JG Schnabel leaves an unmistakable footprint with Insel Felsenburg (1731-43), while BH Brockes wrote a vast poem with didactic-descriptive intentions, Irdisches: Vergnügen in Gott (1721-48), in a style already inclined to the measure of Rococo; F. von Hagedorn founds the tradition of anacreontic poetry; JE Schlegel stands out as the best exponent of the so-called Saxon comedy. In an increasingly intense productive fervor, towards the middle of the century, for about a decade CF Gellert was a pre-eminent figure, in whose fable and novel the two ideological currents of the Enlightenment and Pietism came to an agreement.

But the most significant literary fact is the appearance, in 1748, of the first three cantos of the Messias, with which FG Klopstock stands out, poet-vates with a grandiose and sublime language at the same time. In various ways, equally relevant and influential for a long time is the work of GE Lessing ; champion of an unscrupulous and uncompromising Enlightenment, theater theorist, playwright, Lessing was a unique reference point of its kind in German literature. To complete the triad of greats of a very happy season was CM Wieland, a writer of unparalleled elegance and grace (especially the novel Agathon, 1766-67, and the poem Oberon , 1780). Among the other contemporary figures stand out JJ Winckelmann, founder of modern archeology and promoter of aesthetic classicism, JG Hamann, advocate instead of the most unbridled irrationalism, and GC Lichtenberg, author of the Aphorismen.

Germany Literature - From Humanism to the 18th Century