Friday, November 11, 2011

Digital editions of the week: Europäischer Staats-Wahrsager

There are a few things I've learned not to say in academic writing, including:
  • "Scholars agree that..."
  • "Scholarship on this question has until now failed to notice..."
  • "The popular literature that this article studies dwindled into obscurity soon after the end of the chronological period that limits my study."
You inevitably discover - usually after page proofs have been returned - no, some very important scholar did not agree, and no, someone noticed the same thing a century before you were born, and no, the genre you're studying carried merrily along into centuries where you don't know the literature or the bibliography as well. Some works of German medieval literature (such as the courtly romance) did fade away after the late fifteenth century, but others (such as Melusine) continued into the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.

Such is the case with late medieval prophecy and popular astrology. You might think it would fade away after the Reformation, or at least the Thirty Years War, but it keeps popping up again a century after you thought it was gone for good. I limited Printing and Prophecy to the century between 1450 and 1550, but there would have been no lack of material for the following century (which Robin Bruce Barnes and Volker Leppin addressed in their books), or even for the one after that. The first prophecy of Wilhelm Friess disappears after 1568 - only to reappear in the 1690s.

So the digital editions of the week are two editions of the Europäischer Staats-Wahrsager, a collection of prophecies printed in the mid-1700s. The Uni Göttingen has digitized a 1748 edition, while the Uni Halle has a 1758 edition. While many of the texts are unfamiliar, the contents include some names already well known in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, including Lichtenberger's complete Prognosticatio and the "Hidden Prophecy" of Johann Carion and its interpretation. There are other prophecies attributed to Birgitta of Sweden and Paracelsus, but the relationship to the authentic writings of those two is murky at best. The Europäischer Staats-Wahrsager shows just how long and how tenaciously prophetic texts maintained their place in German culture.

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