from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A contemporary is a person who lives or (in retrospect) has lived at the same time as another person. Personalities from various artistic and cultural fields are often referred to as contemporaries of a particular person.

Origin and use of words

The expression originated in the 16th century, but was not used until the 18th century and is - under the influence of the Greek sýnchronos , `` simultaneously, of equal time and duration '' - seen as a translation of the synonymous late Latin noun synchronus .

The word contemporary is particularly often used in connection with things and matters of art and culture. The adjective contemporary , which is derived from this and is also more frequently used , is used almost exclusively in this way and primarily has the meaning of 'present, presently', i.e. primarily relates to the present ('contemporary literature', 'contemporary art' etc.). The noun contemporary, on the other hand, can equally designate historical and contemporary people. In the latter case, this person does not necessarily have to be of importance to the general public, and contemporary is often used as a deliberately appreciative or derogatory term for a fellow human being who is now living. This evaluation is expressed in the overall context, but also with the adjectives that accompany the word contemporary , such as attentive, alert, lovable in the positive and unpopular, irresponsible, unsympathetic in the negative case. Often there is the phrase uncomfortable contemporaries , which, however, is very often to be understood positively and then aims at the critical spirit of the person concerned.

Contact from contemporaries

A defining feature of contemporaries is the possibility of personal contact, even if such contact does not actually have to or did not have to be. This fact is important for researching the lives and works of important personalities, since in such cases getting to know each other personally can also have an artistic or other influence. A prerequisite for this is, of course, that the life data of the personalities concerned not only marginally overlap at the beginning or end of life, but that the people are in contact with each other at least for a short time during their respective creative period.

Sometimes contemporaries influence their path and life's work reciprocally, as in the case of Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , between whom a close friendship developed. In other cases, contemporaries often conducted intensive correspondence over a long period of time and thus stimulated each other in their literary or scientific thinking, for example. In still other cases, on the other hand, famous contemporaries - although they pursued similar interests - never met personally, which may also be due to the limited travel and communication opportunities in earlier times.

With regard to the fact of an (in principle not only mutual, but also only unilateral) influence, precisely those people are named as contemporaries of someone who all belong or belonged to the same area of ​​life or sphere of activity. That was for example

But sometimes it can also - z. B. for information purposes - be useful when comparing the life data of people who lived as contemporaries, but did not have to have been in contact with each other and belonged to completely different areas of activity. That was for example


If the term is used contemporary without reference to a person, it usually means the present. In this sense it is used in:

Individual evidence

  1. See Etymological Dictionary of German , developed under the direction of Wolfgang Pfeifer. 7th edition, dtv, Munich 2004.
  2. Cf. on this and the following the concordances and the collocation analyzes of contemporary and contemporary in the "German Reference Corpus" of the Institute for German Language, available online under the COSMAS II software (query from December 26, 2009).


Web links

Wiktionary: contemporary  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations