Gerhild Scholz Williams,  Washington University in St Louis.

          Praetorius's birthplace of Zethlingen was located on a much-traveled road across the northern part of Germany. His family is believed to have inherited rights to the local inn (Krug) and, possibly, to the office of mayor. His father and stepfather enjoyed a level of education and prosperity that placed them among the leading citizens of Zethlingen. Before Praetorius enrolled at the University of Leipzig at the age of twenty-two, he attended the Lutheran Gymnasium in Halle, where Christian Friedrich Franckenstein (1621-1679) was headmaster. who, in 1652, was appointed professor of Latin and history at Leipzig University. Also important in this context is Praetorius's association with Christian Daum (1612-1687), principal at Zwickau Gymnasium, with whom he corresponded until 1671. As one of the famous universal intellects of the day, Daum assembled a large library (7680 volumes), which became a source of distinction for the city of Zwickau even during his lifetime.

          In 1659, Praetorius was named Imperial poet laureate, a distinction that allowed him to identify himself as such in all his publications. This honorific could be bestowed by any duke or count palatine (Hof- und Pfalzgrafen) so designated by the German emperor. In the same year, Praetorius married Barbara Vater, from Saalfeld, and the couple made their home in the Leipzig Paulinum, a residence hall for students and faculty at the university. They had two daughters, one of whom died at the age of twelve of the plague. Praetorius's efforts at securing a teaching position at Leipzig University seem to have been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, he never gave up his residence at the Paulinum and  remained in close association with the university, its faculty, its students, and presumably its library resources.

            Praetorius eked out a living as an independent author writing about many noteworthy news items. He discussed comets and monstrous births, preternatural beings, and the political machinations of the powerful. Often employing an ironic, even sardonic tone, he indicted the suffering brought about by the century's scourge, its incessant wars, which brought disease, hunger, death, and social upheaval. He eloquently deplores the attendant disorder, the decline in moral, social, and civic values. Reflecting the nascent nationalist sentiment, he praises his homeland, the Holy Roman Empire, with patriotic fervor even while chastising the deterioration of religious practices and beliefs and lack of Christian charity. He diligently noted the phenomena associated with what came to be called the Scientific Revolution. Praetorius gathered, reported, commented on what went on in his vicinity and far away.

         Praetorius's world and his work were constructed of wonderment at the magical universe and of the speculations of the new science. Together, the old and the new inspired variant explanatory patterns that provided different keys that would open new doors to different modes of understanding and of representation. Secrets of nature and the established ways of knowing continued to exist alongside the excitement generated by all manner of new scientific, geographical, and astronomical discoveries; all of these strained against the linguistic, rhetorical, and categorical controls as they vied for readers' and scholars' attention and for dominance in the public consciousness. As is apparent in Praetorius's oeuvre, new discoveries in all areas of knowledge did not consign past ways of knowing to oblivion just yet. Order and disorder in nature kept on signaling grave future events, great misfortunes, and horrific disasters. Moreover, as natural signs of transcendent origin, they provided messages about what God had in store for his people. Even when, as so often happened, predictions made according to these signs were not borne out by events, it had to be assumed that the signs had meaning. Natural history, a relatively recent addition to the forms of knowledge production of the seventeenth century, introduced a plethora of new information as a result of explorations abroad and experimentation at home.

       In 1680, Praetorius died at the Paulinum of the plague.


Selected Works

Williams, Gerhild Scholz. Ways of Knowing in Early Modern Germany: Johannes Praetorius as a Witness to his Time, Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006.

Praetorius, Johannes. Adunatus Cometologus; Oder ein Geographischer Cometen Extract / Aus allen und jeden Scribenten / Deren bey 60. heraus seyn / (Vide finem hujus opellae im Register:). . . Leipzig: Johann Wittigau, 1665.

______ . Ander Theil der newen Weltbeschreibung. Als von [. . . ] Menschen. Magdeburg: Johann Lüderwaldt, 1667.

______ . Anthropodemus plutonic / Das ist / Eine neue Weltbeschreibung / Von allerley wunderbahren Menschen. . . . Magdeburg: Johann Lüderwald, 1668.

______ . Apocalypsis mysteriorum Cybeles: Das ist Eine Schnakische Wochen=Comedie. . . . Autore Wigando Sexwochio, 1662.

Williams, Gerhild Scholz, ed. Mothering Baby: On Being A Woman in Early Modern Germany: Johannes Praetorius's Apocalypsis Cybeles. Das ist Eine Schnakische Wochen-Comedie (1662), Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010.

Praetorius, Johannes. Blockes-Berges Verrichtung, Oder, Ausführlicher Geographischer Bericht / von den hohen trefflich alt- und berühmten Blockes-Berge:  ingleichen von der Hexenfahrt / und Zauber-Sabbathe . . . Leipzig: Johann Scheiben und Franckfurt am Mayne: Friedrich Arnsten, 1668.

______ . Catastrophe Muhammetica: Oder das Endliche Valet / Und / Schändliche Nativität / des Gantzen / und nunmehr vergänglichen / Türckischen Reichs / Aus ziemlich vielen / so wohl Geistlichen Prophezeyhungen / als Weltlichen Weissagungen / glaubwürdigen / Ominibus, rathsamen Portentis, tüchtigen Astrologischen / Muthmassungen / Richtigen Cabalistischen Schlüssen / Und Andern unverwerfflichen Divinatorischen Gründen mehr / entdecket / und unserm lieben / jetzt sehr bestürtzten / Vaterlande / zum sonderlichen Trost und Erfreuung / an den Tag Gegeben (Leipzig: J.B. Oeler, 1664).

______ .Daemonologia Rvbinzalii Silesii: Das ist / ein außführlicher Bericht von den Wunderbarlichen / sehr alten / und weit beschrienen Gespenste Dem Rübezahl . . .. Leipzig: J. B. Oehler, 1668.

______ . Deutschlandes Neue Wunderchronik / . . . Bestehend in Historischen Erzählungen / und erst erfundenen Prophetischer Deutung derer . . .  zur Genüge berichten / durch angewandte Mühe und Fleiss. Im Wunder=Jahre, 1678.

______ . Dulc-Amarus Ancillariolus, das ist, der süß-wurtzligte und saur-ampferigte Mägde-Tröster erzwingend / daß die Mägde bessere Thiere seyn / als die so genanten Jungfern; Item, daß sie einen angenehmlichen Nahmen führen. . . . Denn ein jedwede Jungfer wil doch gerne eine Magd hinter sich her gezottelt haben. 1663.

______ . M. Dc. Lxvi Zodiacus mercurialis: Das ist: Jährige Europaeische Welt-Chronick. . . . Nuremberg: Johann Hoffman, 1667.

______ . M. Dc. Lxvii. Zodiacus mercurialis, Das ist: Eine Fort-setzung Der Europæischen Welt-Chronick. . . In Verlegung des Authoris (Johannes Praetorius), 1668.

­­______ . M. Dc. Lxviii. / Zodiacus mercurialis / explicandissimus. / Das ist: Jährige Europaeische / Welt-Chronick . . . In Verlegung des Autoris im 1669 Jahr.

______ . Philosophia colus oder Pfy / lose vieh der Weiber darinnen gleich hundert allerhand gewöhnliche Aberglauben des gemeinen Mannes lächerig wahr gemachet / werden. Leipzig: J. B. Oehler, 1662.