REJ, Mikolaj

Mikolaj Rej was one of the most important and prolific writers of the Polish Renaissance; he is often referred to as the father of Polish vernacular literature. He was born into the family of a well-off nobleman. He had little formal edu­cation; he attended local parish schools and then studied one year at Cracow Academy. Between 1525 and 1530 he was secretary at the court of Andrzej Teczynski, the voivode of Sandomierz; afterwards he settled in the village of Topole. In 1541 Rej converted to Protestantism, participated actively in numer­ous synods, and organized congregations and schools. He obtained a position at the court of Zygmunt I (Sigismund I) and later became secretary to Zygmunt Augustus (Sigismund Augustus). By the end of his life, he had acquired con­siderable property, including two small towns, several villages, and a house in Cracow.
In addition to his busy public and social life, Rej was a popular and prolific writer. Major works of his earliest period include religious songs, moralistic and satirical dialogues, and translations of the Psalms as David's Psalter (1546). In his political treatise Short Conversation between Three Persons, a Squire, a Bailiff, and a Parson (1543), Rej shows the tensions between the three estates.
Other important works include Postilla (1557), a religious treatise that cham­pions the teachings of John Calvin* and criticizes Rome and Christian morals, and A Faithful Image of an Honest Man (1568) and The Mirror (1568), two works that focus on several cultural and moral issues then current in Europe. The Life of an Honest Man, which constitutes a part of The Mirror, records Rej's views on married life, military service, education, farming, and household activities. Three books (youth, middle age, and old age) describe in detail the biological cycle of life and major occupations of a Renaissance man. Rej also compiled a Bestiary (1562), a collection of approximately seven hundred epi­grams that include animal fables and portraits of outstanding figures from an­tiquity and from contemporaneous Poland. In a lighter vein, Rej wrote satirical poems in a ribald style, called Trifles or Pranks.
M. Mikos, Polish Renaissance Literature: An Anthology, 1995.
Michael J. Mikos

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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