Konrad von Megenberg


Konrad (or Conrad) von Megenberg was a scholar and writer. He born probably at Mainberg (Konrad himself calls his native place Megenberg), near Schweinfurt, Bavaria, in 1309, and died at Ratisbon (Regensburg) in 1374. He studied first at Erfurt, then beginning in 1334 at Paris where he obtained the degree of "Magister artium" (Master of Arts). He taught philosophy and theology at the university in Paris from 1334 to 1342. In 1342 he moved to Ratisbon (Regensburg), where he was a parish priest and a preacher. Later he became a cathedral canon, and member of the town council.


Konrad was one of the most prolific German writers of the fourteenth century. In addition to his Das Buch der Natur (see below), his works (at least 30 in total) include the Sphære, a treatise in German on astronomy and physics, prepared from the Latin work of Joannes Sacrobosco; various poems, including Planctus ecclesiæ in Germania and a hymn in praise of the Virgin; a text on morals, Speculum felicitatis humanæ the large work Oeconomica Tractatus contra mendicantes ad Papam Urbanum V several lives of saints; and some historical treatises, chiefly dealing with the local history of Ratisbon. In his writings Konrad shows himself to be a strong adherent of the pope, an opponent of the philosophy of Occam, and a stern critic of the moral failings of his age, of the clergy, and particularly of the mendicant friars.

Das Buch der Natur

Konrad's best-known and most widely read work was his Das Buch der Natur (The Book of Nature), which, he says, he was engaged in writing in 1349. A Latin work, Liber de natura rerum by the Dominican Thomas of Cantimpré, served as model, though Konrad made many revisions; he omitted much of the original, his own observations were introduced, corrections were made, and so on. Das Buch der Natur is a survey of all that was known of natural history in his time and was the first natural history in the German language. It was widely read up to the sixteenth century, and numerous manuscript copies (over 100) of it are still extant, eighteen being at Munich. The first printed edition, with a date of 1475, was issued at Augsburg from the shop of Hans Bämler, under the title of Puch der Natur. It was printed at least six times before 1500; some of the editions were illustrated. - [Adapted in part from the Catholic Encyclopedia]

"The first natural history in German is the "Book of Nature" by Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374), canon and pastor of St. Ulrich in Regensburg, who came from today's Mäbenberg. As an encyclopedia in eight books, it encompasses the natural history knowledge of the late Middle Ages. His main source is the "Liber de natura rerum" (1240) by the Dominican Thomas of Cantimpré. The "Book of Nature" provides information about human nature, planets and elements, fauna, flora, mineralogy, but also about miracle fountains and people. In his thinking, Konrad stands between the allegorical view of nature and modern scientific views. The aim of the book is the knowledge of God, although the facts described gain in importance in their own right, instead of just being a carrier of spiritual meaning. When naming the objects, Konrad used Thuringian, East Franconian and Bavarian words, which contributed to greater general understanding." - Bayeriche Staatsbibliothek (Peter Czoik, 2016)

Das Buch der Natur is in eight books:

  1. On mankind, anatomy and physiology (50 chapters)
  2. Heaven and the seven planets, astronomy, and meteorology (33 chapters)
  3. Zoology (69 quadrupeds, 72 birds, 20 sea-monsters, 29 fish, 37 snakes, lizards, and reptiles, and 31 worms)
  4. Ordinary trees (55 chapters), aromatic trees (29 chapters)
  5. Herbs and vegetables in as many (89 chapters)
  6. Precious and semiprecious stones (86 chapters)
  7. Ten kinds of metals
  8. Streams and waters

There is also a section on the monstrous human races found in the east. This choice and arrangement of subjects is typical of many of the medieval encyclopedias.

See also Encyclopedia.