Friday, September 30, 2011


Prophecies, like textual allusions, are the kind of thing you don't immediately recognize as significant until you see them again, and then you realize it's not just a bit of speculation but rather a prophecy circulating through early modern society, and you remember that you saw it once before...somewhere.

The following prophecy, for example, records events predicted to occur in the years 1570-80. A quick search finds appearances in Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Scotland, with some French versions using a timeline as late as 1755-1999. The model of a list of years and events is older than 1570, but this particular series of events seems to have hung on for a long time and spread throughout Europe. The point of origin is unknown, but the source is variously attributed to Italian diplomats or German scholars.

In a Swiss source (link), the prophecy (where it is placed before July 1572) appears as:
Pronostication ab anno 70 usque ad annum 8o. Ex Italia.
70. Ferrarea tremet.
71. Ciprus deficitur.
72. Pastor non erit.
73. Ira Dei super nos erit.
74. à paucis cognoscitur Christus.
75. Proelium magnum erit in vniuersa terra.
76. Affrica ardebit.
77. Surget maximus vir.
78. Europa trepidabit.
79. Fames erit in vniuersa terra.
80. Erit unum ouile et unus pastor.
The events for 1570-72 appear to be prophecies ex eventu, assuming the events referred to are the 1570 earthquake in Ferrara, the Turkish conquest of Cyprus in 1571, and the death of Pope Pius V in May 1572, so we'll estimate the prophecy's date of origin as May-July 1572.

When I came across this prophecy recently, I recognized it as something I'd seen before...somewhere. I realize now that this prophecy spread all over Europe, but I don't know if it's been recognized as a single textual tradition rather than the individual musings of a particular copyist (as Willem Frijhoff treats it here), and I don't know if the prophecy has a designation in the scholarly literature, and I don't know of any secondary literature on this text (which is not at all to say that there is no secondary literature). If the origin is Italian and Catholic, the original intent is still unclear, and much of the transmission is Protestant and outside of Italy. It's possibly significant for "Wilhelm Friess," so I wish I could remember where I first came across the 1570-80 prophecy or discussions of it in the scholarly literature. Without a name attached to it, searching for it is like wandering in the dark until you bump into a wall.

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