Major, Johann a humanistic poet at Wittenberg during the latter half of the 16th century, deserves a place here as the greatest satirist among the Philippists, as the followers of Melancthon were called. He was born in 1533 at Joachimsthal, where Johann Mathesius (q.v.) became his tutor and friend. At the age of sixteen he went to Wittenberg, and formed a most intimate connection with Melancthon. To the influence of this association may doubtless be attributed his future course. After attaining to the degree of M.A. he removed to Wtirzburg, with a view to succor the university at that place. Towards the close of 1557 the degree of D.D. was conferred on him, and in the following year he was honored with the title of crown poet. Returning to Wittenberg, he was, in 1560, admitted to the philosophical faculty of that university, and, besides lecturing on poetry and the interpretation of Latin poets, he wrote occasional poems. In 1574 the Philippist party was overthrown in Electoral Saxony, and its heads imprisoned. It is certain that Major suffered in this reverse, and he is said to have been three times imprisoned — at one time (from 1579 to 1581) was under sentence of death, although his opponents charge this, not to his connection with the Philippists, but to his conviction for criminal offenses.
The prominence with which Andreai at this time advocated the Formula Concordiae opened a new and wide field to the vexation and sarcastic power of Major. He had not subscribed to the Formula, and made it and its originators the subject of his spleen. When he ventured to do this in an official address, he was, at the beginning of 1587, expelled from the university; but when the elector Christian I ascended the throne, the Philippist party was restored to favor, and Major was soon recalled. He did not refrain from venting his satirical humor on his opponents, but when, in 1591, the elector (died, and a new policy was initiated, our poet, with many others, was again imprisoned. So bitter was the feeling against him that a Wittenberg mob pelted him with stones and dirt, and even children railed at him as a "Calvinistic rogue." He was released in 1593, and spent the remainder of his life in a private station, writing only an occasional poem. He died in the Calvinistic faith at Zerbst, March 16, 1600. Major's contemporaries were united in their estimate of his poetic talent and of the worth of his writings. His ideal as a poet was Virgil. He introduced Christian thought, under Virgilian forms, into his non-controversial poems, while his satire, after the manner of the Praeceptor Germanise, often degenerated into ridicule of the and Philippists that was even cruel. See Frank, Johann Major, der Wittenberger Poet (Halle, 1863); and the same in Herzog, Real-Encyklopädie, 20:75 sq. (G. M.)