BRANT, Sebastian
(b. 1457, Strassburg, d. 1521, Strassburg)

Title Page of Ship of Fools

1549
Woodcut
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The picture shows the title page of the 1549 edition of Ship of Fools. a satire originally published 1494 in Basel, Switzerland by Sebastian Brant. The illustration is by an anonymous graphic artist.

The work to which Brant owes his fame is the "Narrenschiff" (Ship of Fools), a long didactic, allegorical poem, in which the follies and vices of the time are satirized. All the fools are loaded in a ship bound for Narragonia, the land of fools. But this plan is by no means carried out systematically, many descriptions being introduced which have no connection with the main idea. The resulting lack of unity, however, has its advantage; for it enables the poet to discuss all kinds of social, political, and religious conditions. Not only follies in the usual sense of the word are satirized, but also crimes and vices, which are conceived of as follies in accordance with the medieval way of thinking. Hence among the fools appear such people as usurers, gamblers, and adulterers. A chapter is devoted to each kind of folly and there are one hundred and twelve chapters in which one hundred and ten kinds of fools pass muster.

The "Narrenschiff" enjoyed a tremendous popularity in Germany, which is attested by the numerous editions that appeared in rapid succession. But its fame was not confined to Germany. It was translated into Latin by Jacob Locher in 1497 (Stultifera Navis), into French by Paul Riviere in 1497 and by Jehan Droyn in 1498. An English verse translation by Alexander Barclay appeared in London in 1509, and again in 1570; one in prose by Henry Watson in London, 1509; and again 1517. It was also rendered into Dutch and Low German.

A digitised version of the book was created by the University of Houston Libraries.