The Builder of the Ship of Fools Died in Strasbourg

"But O noble Doctours, that worthy ar of name: / Consyder our olde faders: note wel theyr diligence: /  Ensue ye theyr steppes: obtayne ye such fame,   As they dyd lyuynge: and that by true Prudence. /  Within theyr hartys they planted theyr scyence / And nat in plesaunt bokes. But nowe to fewe suche be. / Therefore in this Shyp let them come rowe with me." (“The Ship of Fools“, translated by Alexander Barclay)

10 May 1521: Today, 492 years ago, the lawyer, town clerk, humanist and satirist Sebastian Brant died at Strasbourg.

A portrait of Sebastian Brant by Albrecht Dürer (1521)

In 1494 Brant published on the most popular books of the Age of Reformation that was quickly translated in most European languages: "The Ship of Fools" (Das Narrenschiff ). With 100 different types of fools described aboard the ship, Brant castigates his contemporaries' avarice, obsession with dressing up, verbosity, gives princes St Grobian (German for "brute") as advisor and finally outlines a stoic wise man as counterdraft for the fools on their way to the fools' paradise of Narragonia ("Narr" German for "fool").

While distinctively conservative in his morals and orthodox in his beliefs, Brant nonetheless made a profound impression on humanists and reformators of the 16th century and "The Ship of Fools" enjoyed immense popularity with his proverbial style and rich illustrations.

The topos of the fools' ship remained an established metaphor in many European languages and found expression in music and art from Hieronymus Bosch in the early 16th century to the pop band "Erasure" in the 1980s

Alexander Barclay's translation from 1509 adapts the narrative to English conditions and can be found here:

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