Friday, May 25, 2012

Graphs you didn't get to see 3: Averages leaves per practica

Pictures have to be worth at least a thousand words to justify the added expense of including them in a book or article - and this one didn't quite make it. In my discussion of practicas in Printing and Prophecy, and the more detailed treatment in an upcoming AGB article, it turned out that I could summarize the changes in average pamphlet length pretty efficiently in words. But I still think the graph below neatly expresses how the two-gathering, eight-leaf format became predominant by the early fifteenth century and remained the standard through 1550. At that point, an additional gathering, or twelve leaves, became the norm for a few decades, followed by the addition of a fourth gathering in 1590 and later. The average number of leaves doesn't change smoothly, but rather with the granularity that comes from adding entire quarto signatures.

Average number of leaves in German practicas, 1480-1620

Generating this graph was one of the benefits of entering every edition that was relevant for Printing and Prophecy into a Microsoft Access database. Once the data was there, it was easy to select only the German practicas, drop the format field into an Excel spreadsheet, and turn the various format formulations into leaf counts through a combination of Excel formulas and manual editing. (An example from VD16 is "[10] Bl. : TH. ; 4"; it's not too difficult to tell Excel to grab only the parts between the square brackets.)

The following table summarizes how many practicas from each decade had known leaf counts (so excluding fragments), and the average as seen in the graph above.

n avg
1490 27 9.7
1500 39 9.2
1510 13 8
1520 42 7.9
1530 74 7.6
1540 75 8.7
1550 83 9.3
1560 50 13.4
1570 108 12.7
1580 159 12.8
1590 170 15.5
1600 183 16
1610 49 16.2
1620 38 17

And thus five years of intermittent data collection and an hour of fiddling with a database query and a spreadsheet yields three sentences of expository prose and one neat graph that didn't make it into print.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Going to Cincinnati

A month ago, I submitted an abstract to the Sixteenth Century Society Conference, which will be held this October in Cincinnati. This was a good year for it, as I missed Kalamazoo, and SCSC is being held in what is for me a relatively convenient location. A few days ago I was notified that the abstract was accepted. I'll be attending SCSC for the first time, so I don't know quite what to expect from the conference yet. I haven't seen the program, so I don't know what panel I'll be on, or when it will be.

While I was debating whether or not "Wilhelm Friess" was a book-sized project last year, I gave a paper in Kalamazoo about the first "Wilhelm Friess" prophecy and its path from Antwerp to Nuremberg. Now, a year later, I know it's a book-sized project because I've finished the book manuscript. I've finished it twice, actually, and now I know that some central chapters need to be rewritten for the third, and hopefully the last, revision.

In Cincinnati, I'll be talking about how the first and second prophecies are connected. They are two entirely different texts representing different and in some ways opposite perspectives, and yet they are both attributed to the same deceased author, and both claim to have been found with him after his death. Among late medieval and early modern prophecies, this is to my knowledge unique. Did whoever wrote the second prophecy merely appropriate Friess's name for the second prophecy?

I don't think so. I think the two texts are intimately connected. In Cincinnati, I'll try to trace the path from Friess I to Friess II, this time from Nuremberg back to Antwerp and then on to Strasbourg and Basel.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Graphs you didn't get to see 2: Vernacularity of German and Italian practicas, 1470-1500

One of the points I emphasize both in Printing and Prophecy and in a forthcoming article is that annual astrological prognostications in booklet form - or practicas, to use the most common contemporary term for them - took on a distinctive appearance and function, which I refer to as the Practica teütsch, in the German language area. One of the many things that distinguishes German and Italian practicas is their preference for the vernacular. In Germany, German quickly achieves parity with Latin and becomes the dominant language by 1495, while Italian remains marginal before 1495 and always remains less common than Latin, at least before 1501. A couple graphs illustrate the difference:

First, here's the German data:


And here's the Italian series:

This is why I see the vernacular prognostications rather than Latin practicas as the driving force behind the development of the genre in Germany. The Latin production  barely increases after 1490 (and declines precipitously in the sixteenth century). Already in 1486-1490, the majority of expansion in production is coming from vernacular editions. Italian vernacular expansion comes later, and doesn't displace Latin. In addition to the differences in format, organizational structure, and content, the different language preferences are one more reason why I think that practicas had different functions north and south of the Alps.

Friday, May 4, 2012

I told me so: Notes on Paul Severus

As I was working on the previous draft of the "Wilhelm Friess" project, I took a quick look at other prophetic pamphlets that went through many editions quickly around the same time as "Wilhelm Friess." One that sticks out is the prophecy of Paul Severus, the Bedeutungen die folgen werden, appearing in 17 editions dated 1560-69. The literature on Severus, as far as I can find, is confined to appearances in five footnotes in Volker Leppin's Antichrist und jüngster Tag and two paragraphs in Robin Barnes's Prophecy and Gnosis (pp. 118-19). Another thing that sticks out about Severus is how defective the text is. Barnes notes that although Severus claimed to have based his prognostication on astronomical events, "no reference to astrological evidence appeared anywhere outside the title of his tract."

In the previous "Friess" draft, I wrote about Severus:

The printed text of the Bedeutungen seems to reflect a considerable and not always skillful interference with the original text, leaving some clauses with ungrammatical disagreement between subject and object. "Following the aforementioned constellation and eclipses, a very horrible storm will come," the tract begins, without having described any astronomical events at all.  The astronomical explanation appears to have been removed from an astrological interpretation, leaving only a prognostication of future events.
Now, of the seventeen editions, sixteen are quarto booklets of four leaves, with two available in online facsimile (VD16 S 6142 and ZV 14383). One edition, however (VD16 S 6144), is a quarto booklet of eight leaves. Now that I've had a chance to consult it, there's no need to to qualify the statements above: The longer edition turns out to contain the missing first half of Severus's prognostication with all his astrological reasoning. So the paragraph above will get scrapped and replaced with facts rather than suppositions.