Friday, October 28, 2011

1588: On beyond Leowitz

Sometimes the next step in a research question is to find a new primary source. But not this time.

Volker Leppin's Antichrist und Jüngster Tag has an extensive section (pp. 144-49) on the 1588 quatrain which identifies the first source in print as Kaspar Brusch's preface and afterword to the 1553 edition of the De ortu et fine Romani Imperii liber of Engelbertus von Admont (VD16 E 1211). The BSB has digitized this edition, and the page with the quatrain is here, while the Latin verse is here. This appears to be the first recorded appearance of the prophecy in print.

The note on the title page is interesting, however: Accessit eiusdem Bruschij Hodoeporicon Bauaricum, in quo et Regiomontani uaticinium quoddam explicatur, et uaria de die extremo conijciuntur, "Also including Brusch's Bavarian Travels, in which a certain prophecy of Regiomontanus is explicated and various things concerning the Last Day are conjectured." The quatrain appears to have been associated with Regiomontanus and well known enough in 1553 that it merited mention on the title page.

There are similar and competing quatrains for earlier years (and eventually for 1590 and later), and Latin verse for 1560, so we wouldn't expect the 1588 quatrain to get started much earlier than this, but there may yet be earlier witnesses to be found. I'm still curious why someone in 1553 or earlier was focused on the year 1588.

Volker Leppin's book is excellent, by the way. I'm adding it to what has been a very short list of books that are fundamental foundational reading for prophecy and prognostication in early modern Germany.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Theodericus Croata times three

While looking at Volker Leppin's Antichrist und Jüngster Tag, I noticed his reference to a 1612 edition that combined Johann Carion's hidden prophecy and "Dietrich von Zengg," a prophecy found in the mid-fifteenth century in manuscript and then in eleven editions between 1503 and 1542. In 1546, Hans Guldenmund printed Carion and Zengg together in Nuremberg. I wasn't aware of the seventeenth-century edition until I saw Leppin's note, and a quick look at VD16/17 finds two more editions (VD17 1:063153A, 7:707451Q, and VD17 23:327852S). At first glance, it looks like Balthasar Hoffmann of Darmstadt reprinted Guldenmund's edition sixty-six years later, with another edition in 1619 and an anonymous edition following in 1621.

As a prophecy, "Dietrich von Zengg" is a mess, with no obvious structure or historical reference. Hopefully Courtney Kneupper's dissertation will be out soon, as figuring out "Dietrich von Zengg" is one of the projects she was working on. One version of "Wilhelm Friess" includes citations from "Dietrich von Zengg," so it's not a problem I can simply ignore.

The prophecy is also a bibliographic mess. The author's name is all over the place, both in the secondary literature and in the editions themselves. On the title pages, you find Dietrich von "Zeng in Kravaten," von "Zeng in Granaten," "Dieterich bischoff zu Zug in Krocon," and two editions that don't name the author at all. In GW/ISTC and VD16/17, the authors are listed variously as "Theodoricus Croata," "Bruder Dietrich," "Theodoricus [Monachus]," "Theodoricus [Epternacensis]," and "Dietrich [von Zengg]," and the two editions without named authors aren't connect to the rest at all.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Shape of Incunable Survival

Jonathan Green, Frank McIntyre, and Paul Needham. “The Shape of Incunable Survival and Statistical Estimation of Lost Editions.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 105.2 (2011): 141-75.
The article I coauthored with Frank McIntyre and Paul Needham is now out in PBSA. The article addresses an old question: How many editions printed in the fifteenth century have disappeared without a trace? A couple of pictures illustrate the problem. If you think of book survival as a coin toss, even with a coin that comes up heads only 3% of the time, then you can plug in reasonable estimates of print runs and come up with something like this:
So you'd expect lots of incunabula to survive in 7-18 copies, relatively few with more or less than that, and not many lost editions at all. If you count up all the copies recorded in the ISTC (using a process like the one I proposed in the third article I ever published), however, the cruel reality looks like this:
In other words, you find thousands and thousands of editions with only one known copy, and a steep drop off to two or more copies, but also a few editions surviving in hundreds of copies (and one, the first Latin edition of Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle, in over a thousand).

So simulating incunable survival as independent coin tosses just won't work. Our approach in this article uses a maximum likelihood estimation for a negative binomial distribution and some reasonable assumptions about how many editions any particular printer might produce, and we find that the number of lost editions is quite a bit higher than most earlier estimates, quite possibly in the range of 40-60%, and 35-50% even if you eliminate broadsides from the analysis.

Between Frank's statistical reasoning and Paul's vast knowledge of early printing, the article proved to be a fascinating project to work on. For German Studies, I think the article serves as a useful caution that what the early modern book world looks like to us is possibly very different from what it looked like at the time. We only have the books that five centuries worth of book owners and librarians have chosen to keep around, which were not the same as the books that people chose to buy and read in the fifteenth century.