[This page by Madeleine Brook]

Martin Opitz (1597-1639)

Opitz has often been termed the ‘father of German literature’ because of his pivotal role, through his poetological reforms and exemplary poetry and translations, in encouraging a revaluation of the German vernacular as a literary language that was at least the equal of Latin.

Opitz was born in Lower Silesia to a wealthy family. In 1618, he enrolled at the University of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder to study literæ humaniores. In 1619, he went to Heidelberg and in 1620, he visited Leiden, where he came into contact with Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655), some of whose poetry he had already translated into German alexandrines. He also traveled for a time in Transylvania.

Opitz was given the office of councillor to Duke Georg Rudolf von Liegnitz und Brieg in 1624, the same year that his most significant work, Buch von der Deutschen Poeterey (The Book of German Poetics), was published. In this year he also published a collection of his own poetry entitled Acht Bücher deutscher Poematum (Eight Books of German Poetry). The following year, 1625, Opitz was crowned poet laureate by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II as a reward for the poem he composed on the death of Archduke Charles of Austria. He penned what is believed to be the earliest German opera, Dafne (Daphne), in 1627. In 1629, Opitz became a member of the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft (Fruitbearing Society), a literary society whose main aim was to encourage the use of German as a scholarly and literary language. From 1635 until his death in 1639, he lived in Gdańsk in Poland where he served as royal historian and secretary. During his time here, he published a collection of religious poems, Geistliche Poemata (1627), which he dedicated to Countess Sibylle Margaretha Dönhoff (1620-1657), wife of one of Opitz’s patrons, Count Gerhard Dönhoff (1590-1648), and daughter of his erstwhile employer, Duke Johann Christian von Brieg (1591-1639). He made a further major contribution to literary history and scholarship by publishing in the year of his death his edition of the 11th-century Annolied, the original manuscript of which has since been lost.

Opitz’s works include:

Theoretical work:

Buch von der Deutschen Poeterey; The Book of German Poetics (1624)


Zlatna, Oder von der Ruhe des Gemütes; Zlatna, or on the Peace of the Spirit (1623)

Acht Bücher Deutscher Poematum; Eight Books of German Poetry (1625)

TrostGedichte in Widerwertigkeit deß Krieges; Poems of Consolation in the Adversities of War (1633)

Some examples of Opitz’s poems are:

An die Deutsche Nation; To the German Nation (1624)

Echo oder Wiederschall; Echo or Response (1624)

An Asterien; To Asteria (1624)

Francisci Petrarchae (c.1620)

Ihr schwartzen Augen ihr, und du auch schwartzes Haar; You black eyes, you, and you, too, black hair (1624)

Ich empfinde fast ein Grawen; I feel almost a dread (1624)

Einer Jungfrawen Klage vber nahendes Alter; A maiden’s lament concerning approaching old age (1624)

Auff Herrn Johann Seylers Hochzeit; On Johann Seyler’s Wedding (1624)

Lob des Krieges-Gottes; Praise of the War God (1628)

Please click on the above links for further information.

Further Reading

Barbara Becker-Cantarino (ed.), Martin Opitz: Studien zu Werk und Person (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1982)

Barbara Becker-Cantarino, ‘Martin Opitz’, in German Baroque Writers, 1580-1660, ed. by James Hardin (Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale, 1996), pp. 256-68

Thomas Borgstedt and Walter Schmitz (eds.), Martin Opitz (1597-1639): Nachahmungspoetik und Lebenswelt, Frühe Neuzeit: Studien und Dokumente zur Deutschen Literatur und Kultur im Europäischen Kontext 63 (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2002)

Anna Carrdus, Classical rhetoric and the German poet 1620 to the present: a study of Opitz, Bürger and Eichendorff (Oxford: Legenda, 1996)

William L. Cunningham, Martin Opitz: Poems of Consolation in Adversities of War (Bonn: Bouvier, 1974)

W. H. Fox, ‘The Lion, the Horse and the Poet: An Examination of Animal Imagery in the German Poetry of Martin Opitz’, Daphnis 13 (1984), 13-40

George C. Schoolfield, ‘Some Thoughts on Opitz’ “Elegia”’, Daphnis 11 (19812), 463-76

Blake Lee Spahr, ‘Love and the Butcher’s Son: Or, Martin Opitz and His Critics’, Daphnis 24 (1995), 211-26

Theodor Verweyen, ‘Parallel lives: Martin Opitz and Julius Wilhelm Zincgref’, in The Camden House History of German Literature, Volume 4: Early Modern German Literature, 1350-1700, ed. by Max Reinhardt (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2007), pp. 823-52