Friday, August 20, 2010

What I'm working on: "Wilhelm de Friess"

Prophetic pamphlets show us people's deepest hopes and fears. From the 15th century onwards, they provide insights on what was going on in the minds of Europeans from all parts of society, and on how that society was structured, during a time of tremendous change.

For Printing and Prophecy, I drew the chronological boundaries of 1450-1550, so I had relatively little to say about earlier or later works. It turns out, though, that one of the most popular authors of prophetic tracts was Wilhelm de Friess of Maastricht, whose pamphlets appeared in more than 30 German-language editions between 1557 and 1587. That puts him ahead of any of the 16th-century astrologers, and in the same league as Johannes Lichtenberger.

How much has been written about de Friess? Nothing. He gets mentioned in passing in a handful of books and articles, but despite his popularity, no one has written specifically about de Friess.

Maastricht is in the Netherlands, right? So the pamphlets were translated into German from Dutch, right? The answer is a definite "sort of."

  • There's evidence for some early reception in the Netherlands, but none of those editions are extant.The Germans, though, kept buying "de Friess" for 30 years.
  • "Wilhelm de Friess" is nearly non-existent as a historical person. The title pages all insist that the prophecies were found under his pillow after his death, but the death of de Friess is just about the only fact of his biography that's mentioned.
  • And the 30+ editions are actually two totally different texts. Friess I (1557-1568) is a pastiche of End Times tropes (Angelic Pope, Last World Emperor, Antichrist, etc.), while Friess II (1577-1587 and later) is a much different (and much more pessimistic) kind of prophecy. The name of de Friess is even attached to a third prognostic text as well.

Dead authors are useful, apparently.

Status: I've done most of the heavy lifting on this one. I'm working on writing up the manuscript and submitting it right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment