Coornhert, Dirck Volkertszoon
COORNHERT, DIRCK VOLKERTSZOON
Dutch engraver, moralist, poet, and playwright; b. Amsterdam, 1522; d. Haarlem, Oct. 29, 1590. Although he was an artist, scientist, and civil servant (secretary to the states of Holland, 1572), he thought of himself as primarily a moralist. He translated Cicero (De officiis ), Seneca (De beneficiis ), Boethius (De consolatione philosophiae ), the Odyssey, and Boccaccio's Decameron in order to perfect his style, and thus created modern Dutch prose at a time when rhetorical pomposity still held the field. His philosophical ideas were also an innovation: he was neither wedded to the old faith nor converted to the new learning of the Reformers (his motto was Verkiezen doet verliezen: preference causes loss), but was rather a protagonist of Christian stoicism; this is evident in the philosophical and ethical ideas that color his translation of Boethius. His humanist treatise on morality, Zedekunst dat is Wellevenskunste (1586, The Art of Morality That Is the Art of Living Well), was the first work on ethics in Western vernacular literature. His thesis was that morality consists in a virtuous life under the guidance of reason. This view, a harbinger of modern individualism, roused the suspicion of his Catholic contemporaries and the enmity of the Calvinists, against whom he wrote many pamphlets. His moralizing leanings are manifest even in his adaptation of the Odyssey (De Dolinghe van Ulysse ), the first Dutch classical epic. He produced some 145 works in verse and prose. His importance lies in his fusion of a rationally justified belief and a discernment acquired by self-knowledge with the old Dutch tradition of serious piety.
Bibliography: Wercken, 3 v. (Amsterdam 1630); Zedekunst dat is wellevenskunste, ed. b. becker (Leiden 1942). t. weevers, Coornhert's Dolinghe van Ulysse, De eerste Nederlandsche Odyssee (Groningen 1934). b. becker, Bronnen tot de kennis van het leven en de werken van D. V. Coornhert (The Hague 1928).
[w. h. beuken]