Johannes Alexander Brassicanus
Johann Alexander Köl/Köll

Johann Alexander Brassicanus (1500-1539) was a German Catholic humanist, author and prominent professor. He was born probably at Cannstatt (the present Bad Cannstatt, suburb of Stuttgard), 1500, as a member of an ancient family of Konstanz, named Köl or Köll, latinized Brassicanus (both meaning 'cabbage' = Brassica oleracea), his father being Johannes Brassicanus, the Wurtemberg humanist who taught in the Latin school at Urach up to 1508, and later in the pedagogium at Tübingen, but was chiefly known as a leader in the movement for the promotion of the humanities and as the author of a grammar then widely used, "Institutiones grammaticae", thirteen editions of which were issued between 1508 and 1519.

From his father, who died at Wildbad in 1514, Johann Alexander received an excellent education, which brought his intellectual powers to at early maturity, enabling him to matriculate at the University of Tübingen 13 January, 1514 and take his degree as Master of Arts in 1517.

About this time he first gave evidence of his fertile poetic powers, and in 1518 he received the title of Poeta et orator laureatus. His coronation as poet must have taken place early in 1518, emperor Maximilian at the same time granting him a coat of arms. The greatest humanists of the time kept in correspondence with Brassicanus and praised his intellectual powers. He lectured for a short time before the Faculty of Arts on the Latin poets; he also edited the eclogues of Calpurnius and Nemesianus which he had discovered.

When, after Bebel's death in 1516, a reaction once more set in against humanism, he availed himself of the first opportunity to absent himself temporarily from the scene of his former labours. In 1519 he attached himself to the suite of the royal orator Maximilian von Bergen, who was sent on various diplomatic missions by the king. After a sojourn in the Netherlands (1520) Brassicanus returned to Tübingen (1521) to pursue his study of law in connection with his work as a teacher. In this way he was brought into intimate relations with Ingolstadt, he received there the degree of Doctor of Laws, also succeeding Reuchlin in the important chair of philology (1522).

His position in this stronghold of Catholicity soon became untenable, as he, like so many orthodox minds of the time who openly sympathized with the reforming activities of Martin Luther, was suspected of being a confirmed Lutheran. At this juncture he found friends ready to assist him, in Johann Faber and Johann Camers, who worked zealously for his appointment to the University of Vienna, and whose influence helped to give a more orthodox tone to his opinions on religious questions. In 1524 he was called to the University of Vienna as professor of rhetoric, next receiving the professorship of the laws of the Empire, and not till 1528 the coveted chair of Greek literature, in addition to which he still retained that of jurisprudence. His disapproval of the Lutheran movement was now most pronounced, partially as a result of a more profound study of the Church Fathers; he was particularly exercised over the disastrous influence of Lutheranism on educational activities.

On the appearance of the Turks before Vienna (1529) he fled his native city, where he remained for a considerable period of time. The succeeding years are marked by his editions of the Fathers and the classics. Often in poor health, he died at the prime of life at Vienna on 25 November, 1539, leaving only a very extensive library, as his material resources had at all times been meagre.

His writings give no clear conception of his intellectual importance which his contemporaries found so noteworthy. Among his works of independent authorship are "Oratio ad principes post obitum Maximiliani" (1519); "Caesar" (1519); "In divum Carolum electum Romanorum regem" (1519); and other occasional poems and addresses. These do not rise above the average level of the occasional literature of humanism. No subtler meaning and no original or striking thoughts are concealed under the mediocre forms of expression. For the history of the University of Vienna, on the contrary, Brassicanus is of great importance, being numbered among the most vigorous representatives of the humanist movement.

Among the editions issued by Brassicanus, these are well known: "Luciani Samosatensis Traegoediae" (1527); Salviani, "De vero judicio et providentiâ" (Basle, 1530); Gennadius "De sinceritate christianae fidei dialogus seu de via salutis humanae" (Vienna, 1530); "Enchiridion de christianarum rerum memoria sive epitome historiae ecclesiasticae per Eusebium descriptae auctore Haymone" (Hagenau, 1531); "Salonii Dialogi duo" (ibid., 1532); Pothonis, "De statu domus Dei" and "De magna domo sapientiae" (ibid., 1532).