German humanist and poet. One of the leading figures in the German Renaissance, he sought both to imitate Italian humanism and also to revive German culture. He taught classics and literature at a number of German universities, wrote plays and poetry, rediscovered German literary works, established a number of debating societies, and edited Latin classics, notably Tacitus' Germania in 1500. In 1487 he became the first German poet laureate.
Born into a peasant family near Würzburg, Celtis ran away at 18 to study. He spent the next 20 years studying and teaching at a succession of universities – Cologne, Heidelberg, Erfurt, Rostock, Leipzig, Cracow, Nuremberg, Ingolstadt – before settling at Vienna University in 1497 to teach poetry and rhetoric.
His travels included two years in Italy (1487–89), where he met many Italian humanists. Although generally disillusioned by Italy, he was inspired by the academy of Leto in Rome to start similar societies in Germany where humanists could meet and work together – most notably the ‘Sodalitas danubiana’ in Vienna. Peutinger and Pirckheimer were among his friends and correspondents.
Celtis's own studies of Greek and Hebrew, his editions of Latin authors, and his Latin dramas were important in the humanist movement, as were his introduction of literary studies to various universities and his ideas on education. Resenting Italian cultural domination, he passionately wanted to revive German culture. Significant here was his discovery in 1492–93 at Regensburg of six Latin dramas by Hrosvitha von Gandersheim, a 10th-century German nun, and his edition of Tacitus' Germania.
His great ambition was to write the first comprehensive geographical and historical survey of Germany, although only a few preparatory studies were completed. He was a gifted poet, as seen especially from his Quattuor libri amorum (1502), a semi-autobiographical verse narrative of four love affairs. He died in Vienna of syphilis.