A biography

Martin Opitz

Bunzlau  1597- Danzig 1639

Martin Opitz (1628 ennobled with increasing his name to Opitz von Boberfeld; * December 23, 1597 in Bunzlau, Duchy of Schweidnitz-Jauer; † August 20, 1639 in Danzig) was the founder of the Silesian School of Poetry, a German poet and an important theoretician of the Baroque and the Late humanism. He was regarded by his followers as a father and a restorer of German poetry. (Image 1)

Bolesławiec is a city on the Bober River in Lower Silesia. From 1945 the region belongs to Poland. Martin Opitz's birthplace, Bunzlau, is now called Bolesławiec and the town where he died of the plague at the age of only 42 was Gdańsk at that time, now Gdańsk. Around 1600 Bunzlau and Silesia belonged to the Bohemian Crown and to the House of Habsburgs (map above). Zittau and Görlitz (the Upper Lusatia region) also belonged to it until 1635, after which it became the Electorate of Saxony. Bunzlau remained under the Habsburgs until the Silesian Wars in the 18th century.  (Picture 2)

Silesia between 1550 and 1650

After Luther published his theses in Wittenberg in 1517, a radical change began in this part of Europe that not only influenced religion, but also promoted new attitudes that were humanistic and identity-forming. The Protestant preachers brought this religion to Silesia too, and many rulers converted. This often brought them into conflict with the Habsburgs, who were Catholic. 

The whole region was the scene of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), a conflict over hegemony in the Holy Roman Empire and in Europe, which began as a religious war and ended as a territorial war. 

The period between 1560 and 1650 was shaped by religious change, which had an impact on society, politics and culture in Silesia as well. This restless mood and the catastrophes (fires, war and plague) have inspired many minds in the region to philosophy, mysticism and poetry.  Many writers, musicians, preachers, artists, and philosophers have created works for man  Bringing closer ideals such as self-determination, freedom, peace, but also moderation of emotions and virtue. The late humanists refused to take sides in the sectarian war because they were convinced that anything good could only be achieved through education in the spirit of these ideals  can arise. 

Many songs of peace were written by Czech and Silesian musicians and poets. Besides Opitz worked in Silesia  Andreas Scultetus, also from Bunzlau, Jakob Böhme and Valentin Potsender from Görlitz, Angelus Silesius and others  

1597-1618: From Bunzlau to the wide world

Martin Opitz was born in Bunzlau on December 23, 1597. His parents, the butcher Sebastian Opitz and his first wife Martha Rothmann, gave him a solid humanistic education, but he never completed a full degree. From 1605 he attended the Latin school in his native Bunzlau and continued his school education in 1614  Maria Magdalenen High School  to Breslau.​

At the age of 20, Martin Opitz enrolled as a student at the academic high school in Beuthenein. The following year he spent a few months in Görlitz, then in 1618 some time in the von family house  Tobias Scultetus  in Frankfurt an der Oder, where he worked as a teacher.  

1618-1621: Heidelberg, Niederlade, Jutland

A little later, on June 17, 1619, his paths led him to the University of Heidelberg. There he studied philosophy, law, fine sciences and antiquity.

As a student in Heidelberg, Opitz made the acquaintance of  Georg Michael LingelsheimJan GruterCaspar von BarthJulius Wilhelm Zincgref  and  Balthasar Venator, with the  he founded the Heidelberg Poets' Circle. The Electoral Palatinate Privy Councilor Lingelsheim employed Opitz as a tutor for his sons. When the (30-year) war caught up with him in Heidelberg, Opitz went to the Netherlands as a private tutor in 1620. He became friends at the University of Leiden  Daniel Heinsius , whose "Praise of Jesus Christ" he had already translated in Heidelberg. A year later Opitz went to Jutland (Denmark), where in 1621 he wrote his work "Consolation poems in the repulsiveness of the war", which was only published 13 years later.  

1622-1623 Transylvania

At the invitation of the prince  He soon left Jutland for Gábor Bethlen to go to Weißenburg in Transylvania and to work there again as a teacher. Opitz taught philosophy and fine sciences at the Academic Gymnasium in Weissenburg until 1623. During his stay in Transylvania he wrote the poems Zlatna and an unfinished work on the antiquities of Dacia (Dacia antiqua). Homesick, he returned to Silesia in 1623.  

1623 -1625: Back to Silesia

There he established himself in 1624 at the court of Breslau in the service of the duke  Georg Rudolf von Liegnitz , who at that time held the office of governor of Silesia in Breslau.

In 1624 Opitz published his main work, the  "Book of the German Poetry" . In it he describes the rules and principles of a newly established High German poetry that should not be based on the traditional ancient meter, but rather find its own metric form in accordance with the German language. The original work comprises the Eight Books of German Poematum. In 1625 Opitz expanded his work to include three volumes of the  secular and spiritual poemata .

1625-1628: Poeta laureatus

Echolyrik also found its way into the literature of German poets through his main work. With his poem "Echo oder Wiederschall", Martin Opitz wrote one of the most frequently reproduced echo poems of his time and the Baroque. 

In 1625 he traveled with them  Kacpar Kirchner  to Vienna. In the same year Opitz wrote a poem on the occasion of the death of Archduke Karl ("Epicedium auf Erzherzog Karl von Österreich"), whereupon him  Emperor Ferdinand II  on September 14, 1628 raised to the nobility. From this date the young poet Martin Opitz became the poeta laureate Martin Opitz von Boberfeld. However, Opitz himself did not make use of this award during his life. Despite the title of nobility, Opitz still had to fight for holistic recognition as a poet.

1625-1627: A fruitful society

He tried through the mediation of his friend  August Buchner  to become a member of the "Fruchtbringenden Gesellschaft " based in Koethen, but this was considered with great reluctance. In particular, Tobias Huebner, a believer in the verse form of the Alexandrians, threw stones in his way. 

From 1626 to 1632 he was the secret secretary of the Counter-Reformation burgrave  Karl Hannibal von Dohna , with whom he traveled to Warsaw in 1627. 

That was also an obstacle to the negative attitude in Koethen. Count Hannibal was feared and known for his uncompromising persecution of Protestants.

Opitz had to wait another three years before he was finally accepted into the productive society of Koethen. It was not until 1629 that the prince took  Ludwig I of Anhalt-Koethen  him in the respected literary society. Especially  Diederich from Werder  and  Friedrich von Schilling  had campaigned vehemently for Opitz. When he was admitted, the prince gave him the company name "the crowned one" and the motto "with this one". A laurel tree with broad leaves (Laurus nobilis L.) was assigned to him as an emblem.  

1627-1633: in the turmoil of war

Since 1627 Opitz was with the Breslau painter  Bartholomäus Strobel  befriended, to whom he dedicated the poem “About the famous Mahler, Mr. Bartholomei Strobel's art book”.  Marin Opitz did not lose sight of his diplomatic career despite his literary busyness.  In 1630 Opitz traveled to Paris on Dohna's behalf. That's where he learned  Hugo Grotius  know whose "On the Truth of the Christian Religion" he translated into German verses.


In the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War, Hannibal von Dohnas, who tried to force the Protestants to Catholicism with cruel severity using imperial dragoons,  and also burdened Silesia with high tax pressure, finally flee from the Swedish troops in 1632 and dies in Prague on February 22, 1633.

1633-1635: in Poland

Thereupon Opitz changed his patron in the following year and entered the service of the Silesian, Protestant Piast dukes of Liegnitz and Brieg (1633 to 1635), the  Duke Johann Christian von Brieg , who after the  Peace of Prague (1635) between the emperor and Saxony, together with his brother Georg Rudolf after  Thorn  ( Toruń ) had fled.

Opitz, who settled in Danzig, also followed them there.

1636-1639: Agent and historiographer for the Polish king

In Danzig he had lively contacts with  Bartholomäus Nigrinus , who was pastor at the parish church of St. Peter and Paul at the time, as well as too  Andreas Gryphius  and  Christian Hoffmann von Hoffmannswaldau , who attended the academic high school there. Bartholomäus Strobel portrayed Martin Opitz in Danzig in 1636/37. He was active there as a Swedish agent. In 1636 he entered the service of König  Władysław IV. Wasa  of Poland, who appointed him secretary and Polish court historiographer​

In his role as court historiographer Opitz dealt with old German poetry and began studying the  sarmatian  Antiquities and published his work Annolied in 1639, to which he became known a Latin  comment  gave away. This manuscript is now considered lost.

1636-1639: last years in Gdansk

In addition to his literary work in Poland, Martin Opitz also continued to perform his diplomatic tasks. He continuously supplied the Polish king with news and political analyzes. At the same time the Swedes paid him a salary for  Reports  over Poland.

Opitz had David Müller printed in Breslau and Andreas Huenefeld in Danzig and dedicated his Spiritual Poemata to the Countess in Danzig  Sibylle Margarethe Dönhoff . She was the daughter of Duke Johann Christian von Liegnitz und Brieg, an important patron of the poet, who, as already mentioned, also worked in Gdansk, where he finally died. Countess Sybille's husband, the imperial count  Gerhard Dönhoff,  was also the Polish castellan of Danzig, also a diplomat in the service of the King of Poland and promoter of Opitz.

Martin Opitz died on August 20, 1639 in Danzig as a result of a plague. Shortly before his death, he arranged for all his political correspondence to be destroyed. The grave of the important poet is still in the Marienkirche in Gdansk to this day.


"Teutsche Pöemata" and "Aristarchus, Again the Contempt for Teutscher Sprach", Straszburg 1624. 

Eight books "German Poematum given out by himself / also increased and overlooked / that the previous darmittees are not identical"

Wroclaw, 1625.

"De Poätis Germanicis Hujus seculi paecipuis Disserrtatio Compendiaria", 1695. 

"Secular Poemata. The Other Part". Frankurft 1644.

Author of the first German opera libretti "Dafne" (1627) and "Judith" (1635), music for "Dafne" by  Heinrich Schütz  (not received).

Poetry set to music

Many of Martin Opitz's poems were set to music.

Heinrich Schütz set 12 poems in madrigals to music. Andreas Hammerschmidt translated the Hohenlied and 3 arias, Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616 - 1655) a composer from Nuremberg set several poems to music in "Opitzianischer Orpheus".


Martin Opitz, celebrated by his contemporaries as "Prince and Phoenix of Poets", achieved a place in literary history primarily through his poetological work "Book of German Poetry". Already in his youth work "Aristarchus sive de contemptu linguae Teutonicae" (From the contempt of the German language, 1617) he had formulated the wish to establish the German language as an artificial language, which would do the same as French and Italian and out of the shadow of the Latin could step out. In 1624 he tried with his poetics to finally upgrade German poetry by drawing on the literature of the classical period - that is, of antiquity. The roots of his considerations can be found in Aristotle, Horace and Scaliger. He asked the poets to study ancient and Western European poetry, not only in order to improve the quality of the poetic products, but also in order to recommend the poet in his universal competence to the princes as a sovereign partner. In doing so, Opitz also promoted the anchoring of poetry in the courtly milieu. 
Opitz demands a metric based on the natural word stress of the respective language. For German, this means a radically different, strictly alternating meter from ancient meter, the purest embodiment of which is the Alexandrian. How influential Opitz's work was is shown by the fact that such a famous contemporary poet as Georg Rudolf Weckherlin was forced to revise his poems after his publication. Opitz himself realized his poetological demands in his "Consolation Poems jn Abwertigkeit des War", which was created in 1621 but was only published anonymously in 1633: the didactic poem consists of 2308 continuously iambic alexandrines who rhyme alternately in accented and unstressed pairs. 
Opitz showed particular interest in the drama. Although he did not attempt his own dramatic poems, he translated the Trojans Senecas (1625) and the Antigone by Sophocles (1626) into German.

Bibliography / Links:​

1.  “We pass like smoke from strong winds

German poems of the 17th century

Rütten & Loening, Berlin 1985

2. Resume on  Wortwuchs.net 

3. Resume on  Schott-music.com

4. Polish biography  on-line

5.  A book:  Klaus Garber-

The reformer and enlightener Martin Opitz (1597-1639) 

A humanist in the age of crisis

6. www.gesichter-der-reformation.eu

Other poets from Silesia: Johann Scheffler (Angelus Silesius, 1624-1677), Friedrich von Logau (1605-1655), Andreas Scultuetus (1622-1647), Christian Hoffmann von Hoffmannswaldau (1616-1679), Daniel Casper von Lohenstein (1635- 1683), Heinrich Mühlpfort (1639-1681), Hans Aßmann von Abschatz (1646-1699), Benjamin Neukirch (1665-1629), Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664), Christoph Köler (1602-1658), Apelles von Löwenstern (1594 -1648), Czepko von Reigersfeld (1604-1650), Tscherning Andreas (1611-1659), Christoph Kaldenbach (1613-1698), Rosenthal Dorothea Eleonora (1600-), Heinrich von Ziegler and Kliphausen, Kuhlmann Quirinus, Paucker Nikolaus .. .