Friday, October 29, 2010

The Toledo Letter (late late edition)

The prophecy known as the "Toledo Letter" circulated throughout Europe from the late 12th century onwards. Its origin and later versions have been thoroughly documented by Hermann Grauert and, most especially and more recently, Gerd Mentgen's 2005 book Astrologie und Öffentlichkeit im Mittelalter. Mentgen's book, which I found extremely useful while working on Printing and Prophecy, records versions of the Toledo Prophecy as late as the early 16th century.* There is only one known version of the "Toledo Letter" in print (known from two editions, VD16 P 4549 and P 4550), in a highly modified version, the "Practica of the High Learned Masters of the School of Athens" (and so the "Toledo Letter" barely gets a mention in Printing and Prophecy). Mentgen suggests that the motifs and rhetoric of the "Toledo Letter" were incorporated into the predictions of mass flooding and other disasters for 1524.

So I was surprised when I glanced at a newly digitized pamphlet, the anonymous Grüntliche und Astronomische Widerlegung / zweyer außgesprengten / falscherdichteten Propheceyungen / uber das 1629. Jahr, and discovered a refutation of the "Toledo Letter," apparently as published in late 1628. No title is given for the pamphlet that is being refuted, but the key components are all there: a conjunction of all the planets in the Cauda draconis as the Sun enters the sign of Libra, a solar eclipse, war, bloodshed, death, and most significantly, the advice to seek refuge from the coming storm winds and earthquakes in a vault between mountains stocked with food for 20 days (see especially the 1460 version of the "Toledo Letter," Mentgen 98 n. 381). The newly digitized pamphlet looks like a close variant of VD17 23:250802M; another edition, for which a complete facsimile is available, is VD17 12:641205M.

*My one wish is that Mentgen, like many other medieval historians, would cite early printed books by referring to a GW/ISTC/VD16 index number to permit easier identification of the precise editions. Citing an author, title, and year, and even adding a printer and place of publication, is often not enough to completely specify the edition consulted.

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