Bodmer, Johann Jakob

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Bodmer, Johann Jakob (1698 - 1783). Swiss Critic, Historian and Poet.

Bodmer, along with Breitinger, Johann Jakob, made the English poets such as John Milton unavoidable in any discussion of literary standards. Born in Greifensee, near Zurich, the son of a minister, Bodmer began his studies in theology. In 1719, he left the study of theology to pursue his true interests: literary and historical studies.

In 1721 Bodmer and Breitinger founded Die Diskurse der Maler in which they attacked the rigid restrictions placed on the literary imagination by French Neoclassicism. Thanks to his writings in a journal and his later theoretical works, Bodmer made the works of Milton and the other English poets a critical component of any literary standards in Germany and Europe. Bodmer’s translation of Paradise Lost is credited with being the inspiration for Friedrich Klopstock’s Messias (1748) which is hailed as a pivotal work in German literature. By 1725 he was the head of Helvetian history at the University of Zurich and had opened a publishing company.

Bodmer’s most important critical works include Von dem Einfuss und Gerbrauche der Einbuildings-Kraft (1727), Von dem Wunderbaren in der Poesie (1740), and Critische Betrachtungen Uber die poetischen Gemalde der Dichter (1741). In these works, Bodmer continued to champion the role of the poet’s imagination in the creation of the poetic image, rather than formal standards of metre and verse. He and Breitinger termed this autoelic writing, about which Bodmer wrote that the reader should demand only poetry; in this we shall be satisfied with the probability and the reason which lies in its coherence with itself.

Bodmer proved to be an influential educator but never a successful poet. He retired from academia, at 77 years of age, in 1775. He died in 1783.

Further Reading:

F. Radant, From Baroque to Storm and Stress, 1977.

B. Keith Murphy

Fort Valley State University