Helius Eobanus Hessus - Encyclopedia

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HELIUS EOBANUS HESSUS (1488-1540), German Latin poet, was born at Halgehausen in Hesse-Cassel, on the 6th of January 1488. His family name is said to have been Koch; Eoban was the name of a local saint; Hessus indicates the land of his birth, Helius the fact that he was born on Sunday. In 1504 he entered the university of Erfurt, and soon after his graduation was appointed rector of the school of St Severus. This post he soon lost, and spent the years 1509-1513 at the court of the bishop. of Riesenburg. Returning to Erfurt, he was reduced to great straits owing to his drunken and irregular habits. At length (in 1517) he was appointed professor of Latin in the university. He was prominently associated with the distinguished men of the time (Johann Reuchlin, Conrad Peutinger, Ulrich von Hutten, Conrad Mutianus), and took part in the political, religious and literary quarrels of the period, finally declaring in favour of Luther and the Reformation, although his subsequent conduct showed that he was actuated by selfish motives. The university was seriously weakened by the growing popularity of the new university of Wittenberg, and Hessus endeavoured (but without success) to gain a living by the practice of medicine. Through the influence of Camerarius and Melanchthon, he obtained a post at Nuremberg (1526), but, finding a regular life distasteful, he again went back to Erfurt (1533). But it was not the Erfurt he had known; his old friends were dead or had left the place; the university was deserted. A lengthy poem gained him the favour of the landgrave of Hesse, by whom he was summoned in 1536 as professor of poetry and history to Marburg, where he died on the 5th of October 1540. Hessus, who was considered the foremost Latin poet of his age, was a facile verse-maker, but not a true poet. He wrote what he thought was likely to pay or secure him the favour of some important person. He wrote local, historical and military poems, idylls, epigrams and occasional pieces, collected under the title of Sylvae. His most popular works were translations of the Psalms into Latin distichs (which reached forty editions) and of the Iliad into hexameters. His most original poem was the Heroides in imitation of Ovid, consisting of letters from holy women, from the Virgin Mary down to Kunigunde, wife of the emperor Henry II.

His Epistolae were edited by his friend Camerarius, who also wrote his life (1553). There are later accounts of him by M. Hertz (1860), G. Schwertzell (1874) and C. Krause (1879); see also D. F. Strauss, Ulrich von Hutten (Eng. trans., 1874). His poems on Nuremberg and other towns have been edited with commentaries and 16thcentury illustrations by J. Neff and V. von Loga in M. Herrmann and S. Szamatolski's Lateinische Literaturdenkm¢ler des XV. u. XVI. Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1896).

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