Friday, August 29, 2014

The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess, Chapter Seven: The Last Emperor and the Beginning of Prophecy

The last chapter of The Strange and Terrible Visions does three things. First, it wraps up the argument about how the two prophecies of Wilhelm Friess are connected. Rather than the same name being used arbitrarily for two different texts published twenty years apart, "Friess II" is connected to "Friess I" by a chain of textual influence and historical context where the links are separated by just a few years, rather than a few decades: Basel editions beginning in 1577 of a text grounded in the situation of Strasbourg's Reformed community in 1574 based on historical resonance with Reformed civic unrest in Antwerp in 1567 and in reaction to a specifically Lutheran branch of "Friess I" which was circulating in the Netherlands in 1566.

The second item of interest involves taking a look at late appearances of the prophecies of Wilhelm Friess. "Friess II" is interesting because the latest edition, published in 1639 as the Thirty Years' War was giving new relevance to a prophecy about foreign armies laying waste to Germany, reflects an earlier stage of the text than any other edition. "Friess I" reappears even later, in several editions of 1686-91, when Louis XIV's annexation of Strasbourg made him a prime candidate for the tyrannical Antichrist of the west.

Finally, I suggest four characteristic ways that prophetic texts develop:
  1. Selective reception of an earlier prophecy
  2. Expansion into a complete prophecy
  3. A historical context that requires veiling the message
  4. Adaptation to a new context
These steps can come in any order, and one or more of them may be lacking in the history of a particular prophecy, but as you trace the historical development of prophetic texts, you will encounter all of them many times.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Adding an author to a fragmentary incunable prognostication

Identifying the author of a fragmentary annual prognostication is sometimes difficult, requiring a significant amount of research. Other times, it only takes a few minutes.

This week, the Heidelberg university library released a facsimile of ISTC ip01005937/GW M35611, a fairly extensive fragment that is lacking an incipit, so no author had been identified. Leaf 1v did provide a complete list of chapters, however, and the structure looked familiar. After checking my records, I found that the text of the fragment was identical to that of another incucanble edition: Bernardinus de Luntis, Judicium for 1492 (Rome: Stephan Plannck, [around 1492]; ISTC il00392200, GW M19510). The identity of the two texts can be verified by comparing the facsimile provided by the BSB, so Bernardinus de Luntis should be added as the author to ISTC ip01005937/GW M35611. I sent a note on to Berlin to that effect.

Bernardinus de Luntis is otherwise known to ISTC/GW only through one additional practica, for 1493: ISTC il00392300/GW M19511, again printed by Stephan Plannck. It's not unusual for astrologers to have a career in print that only lasted a few years, but the distribution of surviving copies is a bit odd in this case: apart from one copy in the Vatican, the other three are all in German-speaking Europe, in Basel, Heidelberg, and Munich. Apart from a brief mention by Simon de Phares in his Recueil des plus célèbres astrologues, not much appears to be known about Bernardinus de Luntis.

Update: Klaus Graf adds a few more references to Bernardinus de Luntis here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Abstract: "And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids: Illiteracy and the struggle for authority in the lost visions of Lienhard Jost"

This is the abstract I submitted for the paper I'll be giving at the annual conference of the German Studies Association in September in the session "Prophecy and Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Germany." It's based on a paper that was recently accepted by Sixteenth Century Studies, although it may not be in print until next fall or later. This is the first time in several years that I'm dealing not just with a prophetic text but with an actual visionary as a source. I'm excited about this project, as I think it might point in some interesting new directions, not specifically at the Strasbourg prophets (it sounds like Christina Moss, a doctoral student at Waterloo, will do that in her dissertation, which I'm looking forward to seeing). Instead, I think the case of Lienhard Jost might just point towards a general theory of prophecy, from vision to text to excerpt to literary allusion.

In any case, here's the abstract.

Abstract: "And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids: Illiteracy and the struggle for authority in the lost visions of Lienhard Jost"
Lienhard Jost is recognized today as one of the leading members of the Strasbourg Prophets associated with Melchior Hoffman in the 1530s. Because Jost’s works have been lost for centuries, however, basic facts of his biography have been uncertain, and he has been treated as a secondary figure behind Hoffman and behind his visionary wife Ursula Jost. With the rediscovery of Lienhard Jost’s visions in a copy preserved in Vienna, we now have access to a unique account in his own words of the experiences of an early modern German folk prophet. Jost’s visions, published by Melchior Hoffman in 1532, establish that he was an illiterate woodcutter. Popular accounts of learned discourse, including the Reformation and predictions of a second deluge in 1524, inspired Jost’s prophetic experiences. Jost’s account of his visions documents his progressive transformation with respect to literacy. At the beginning of his preaching, Jost regarded the written word as a silencing of and a loss of control over his own speech. Jost’s prophecies included not only oral preaching but also active performance of his message. In Jost’s account, these prophetic episodes transformed the city’s insane asylum, where he was confined, into a school. Although still illiterate when released, Jost saw himself as now authorized to comment on scripture and engage in other textual activities typically reserved for the learned, and he became increasingly confident in having his visions committed to writing and ultimately to print.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess, Chapter Six: Wilhelm Friess in Strasbourg

This is the chapter that's going to get me into trouble. There are some things that prudent scholars of the sixteenth century do not engage in, and that includes attributing anonymous pamphlets to famous writers based on circumstantial evidence. What was I thinking?

The line of thought, from the basic evidence to the crime of wanton attribution, goes like this:

The early textual history of "Friess II" identifies 24 April 1574 as the first alleged date of the vision. Another passage found only in the earliest versions gives special significance to Strasbourg for the survivors of German's future devastation. Another passage attacking Lutheran clergy, the prophecy's attitude towards sacramental theology, and its situating of the source of salvation in the south - in Switzerland - point to an ideological home among the embattled Reformed community of Strasbourg in late spring of 1574. I argue that the demonic child-eating general from the northwest in "Friess II" was meant as a reference to Henry of Valois, king of Poland and until recently a leader of the French anti-Huguenot army and, upon the death of his brother, the presumed next king of France (where he reigned as Henry III).

The dating of "Friess II" is supported by the title page illustration of an early edition, whose eclipsed sun and moon, and conjunction and opposition involving Mars, Saturn, and Mercury, again points to 1574. The zodiacal iconography of Mars, Saturn, and Mercury is also featured prominently in the text of the prophecy. In the spring of 1574, eclipses and conjunctions and anthropomorphic planets took a notable form in Strasbourg with the completion of the cathedral's astronomical clock. The first solar and lunar eclipse on the clock's tables of eclipses are the same ones featured on the title woodcut (which is also the title illustration for The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess).

As it turns out, the laudatory verse that accompanies a broadside illustration of the new clock was written by Johann Fischart, one of the leading German writers and the most accomplished satirist of the later sixteenth century. Fischart was a native of Strasbourg and a Reformed sympathizer who had earlier written some intemperate things about sacramental theology, supported the Huguenots and the Reformed of the Netherlands, had passed through Flanders at the time "Friess I" was circulating there, was known to publish works anonymously, and had knowledge of astrological and prophetic pamphlets.

That's a pretty amazing coincidence, I told myself. Maybe somebody could argue that Fischart was the author of "Friess II." Maybe I could even say what the evidence would be and what the argument would look like, if someone wanted to make that argument.

In the end, I decided the best approach was not to sketch out what a hypothetical argument might look like, but to simply make the claim that Fischart was the author, and defend that claim as forthrightly as possible. I try not to be irresponsible about it: As with other uncertain points, I give the evidence for both sides (including the not inconsequential note that one expert on Fischart finds the idea entirely ridiculous), and I avoid making Fischart's authorship of "Friess II" essential to any of my other arguments, but this time I opted to take the underdog bet.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

All sheets are not created equal

At the recent Lost Books conference in St Andrews, a topic that came up during discussion was "survival of the fattest": Books with more leaves tend to survive in greater numbers of copies that thinner books. The USTC apparently has plans to include the number of sheets used in the production of each edition.

The number of sheets is useful, but not quite the key information that one would hope it would be. As Frank McIntyre and I were preparing our paper, we originally considered sheet counts as a way to to enable comparison between formats. If you fold a sheet in half for a folio, or in four for a quarto, or in eight for an octavo, should be of no concern: a sheet is a sheet is a sheet.

Alas, it is not so. When it comes to book survival, how that sheet gets folded matters, as format is still the single most important variable in book survival.

For example, consider books of 8-16 sheets, including folios of 17-32 leaves, quartos of 33-64 leaves, and octavos of 65-128 leaves. Those are thin folios, handy quartos, and thick little octavos, but all composed of the same number of sheets. (Ideally, we would also factor in paper sizes, but that will have to wait for another generation of bibliographic databases.)

If we graph the percentage of incunable editions that survive in a given number of copies, this is what we find:


Despite all having 8-16 sheets, 12% of these folios survive in a single copy, while 20% of the quartos and nearly 30% of the octavos are known by just one copy. Book format informed choices about production, use, and survival more than leaf count did, and in a way that can't be reduced to a simple matter of bulk.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess, Chapter Five: A Horrible and Shocking Prophecy

As you can see from the sidebar, The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess is now in print. The book was the result, among other things, of trying to figure out what connected two sets of prophetic pamphlets that appeared to have nothing in common and were separated by two decades, although both claimed to have been found with Wilhelm Friess of Maastricht after his recent death. I answer that question in chapter 5.

The first part of the answer is that the second prophecy ("Friess II"), a desolate vision of utter devastation about to be visited on Germany in the form of demonic armies invading from all sides, shares a few details specifically with the Lübeck editions of "Friess I." Also, I argue that one of the two Lübeck editions has been misdated. While the first of them, VD16 F 2844, is dated in VD16 to 1558, there is strong evidence that it dates to 1566, as nearly all references to years earlier than that have been removed or increased by eight years. In addition, the titles of the Lübeck editions are nearly identical to a lost Dutch edition printed in 1566, last seen at auction over 200 years ago. The best guide to the text it contained is found in the Lübeck editions of Johann Balhorn the Elder.

So not only do we have a version of "Friess I" circulating in the Netherlands and Northern Germany in 1566-68, but it appears to be a specifically Lutheran text. The enemies list that appears in these editions distances itself from Catholics, Anabaptists, and Sacramentarians - that is, from Calvinists. It also condemns insurrection more harshly than other versions of "Friess II," foreseeing that some people will rise up and pillage churches, but the authorities will eradicate them. The setting that gave rise to this version of "Friess I" thus appears to be Dutch Lutheranism at the time of the Dutch Revolt in 1566.

I argue that "Friess II" is a specifically Calvinist reaction to the specifically Lutheran "Friess I" pamphlets circulating in the late 1560s. I suggest that one specific catalyzing even was the Calvinist uprising in Antwerp that ended in a humiliating stand-down after the Calvinists found themselves surrounded on all sides in the city by a force consisting of both Catholics and Lutherans and representatives of Antwerp's merchant community from all the nations of Europe, a source of resentment for many years to come. "Friess II" thus recapitulates as a nightmare vision for Germany the hopeless strategic situation that the Calvinists of Antwerp found themselves in in March 1567.

While the earliest dated editions of "Friess II" were printed by Samuel Apiarius of Basel in 1577, some textual-critical detective work points to an origin in 1574 with a Calvinist sympathizer in Strasbourg, but I treat most of the Strasbourg context in the next chapter.

* * *

Due to conference presentations and summer travel, blog updates may be sporadic for a while.

Friday, May 30, 2014

What centuries did the sixteenth century read?

Suppose that for every book printed in Germany in the sixteenth century - every item in VD16, in other words - it were possible to identify when the author was born. With that information, we could get an impression of how the demand changed over time for ancient, medieval, or contemporary authors.

We can actually do this to a certain extent already thanks to VD16's hooks into the Personennormdatei, which includes birth years for most if not all authors published in VD16. For a periodization, we'll call everything up to 100 AD "classical antiquity," 101-400 will be "late antiquity," 401-800 are "early medieval," 801-1200 are "medieval," and 1200-1400 are "late medieval." For now, instead of strictly counting authors or editions, we'll count the number of editions to which an author makes some kind of contribution (so an edition of both Virgil and Cicero will be counted twice, once for each author).

And this is what we find.
Figure 1: Relative contributions of historical periods to sixteenth-century German printing per decade

The result may not be obvious at first, but it's consistent with what we expect. The largest segment, the light blue line at the top, represents classical antiquity, with a healthy contribution coming from late antiquity. The early and high Middle Ages both supply very modest contributions, while the most recent late medieval authors start strong but fade with the onset of the Reformation. Every segment declines notably in the 1520s except for late antiquity; did patristic literature enjoy a surge of interest thanks to the Reformation? But after the 1520s, every segment except classical antiquity goes into a sustained decline.

What about fifteenth- and sixteenth-century authors? I left them off the graph above because their numbers would swamp the earlier authors. Also, the definition of "recent author" changes each year; a contemporary in 1501 is long dead in 1599. To address the printing of recent authors, I posed a different question: what is the average year of birth for all authors published in a given year? The results are below.

Figure 2: Average difference between year of publication and year of author's births in sixteenth-century German printing per half-decade

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the average birth year lay over 250 years before the year the work appeared in print (which still implies a preponderance of recent authors, thanks to the popularity of authors from classical antiquity). The Reformation sent that figure plummeting to just over 100 years. Although the average recovered somewhat, it experienced a long and consistent decline for the rest of the century as the medium of print was used more frequently for matters of contemporary relevance and less often for the distant voices of classical authors. By the end of the sixteenth century, print was even more strongly oriented toward recent writers than it had been at the height of the Reformation.