Friday, September 21, 2012

Digital edition of the week: Sibyllenweissagung (Basel: Martin Flach, 1472-74)

For the history of printing, the fourteenth-century Sibyl's Prophecy is a tremendously important text. It's the earliest vernacular edition from the press of Gutenberg and his associates in Mainz, and some scholars have identified it as earlier than any other edition, Latin or German, still known today. Gutenberg's types were not yet adapted to reproducing vernacular texts, so his edition of the Sibyl's Prophecy represents a fascinating and important early attempt to adapt print technology to different texts and audiences.

I have more to say about the Sibyl's Prophecy - a lot more, otherwise known as chapter one of Printing and Prophecy. I'd better stop here.

The essential scholarly work on the Sibyl's Prophecy is Frieder Schanze, "Wieder einmal das 'Fragment vom Weltgericht' - Bermerkungen und Materialien zur 'Sybillenweissagung,'" Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 75 (2000): 42–63. Schanze's article provides a list of all known manuscripts and printed editions, discusses some of the improbable things that have been asserted about the history and meaning of the text, and points out several important things that remain unknown. We still don't have a critical edition or a complete understanding of how all the printed editions and manuscripts are related.

Schanze's article provides the best accessible facsimile of Gutenberg's edition I know of. I don't know of any digital edition available online. After Gutenberg's edition, the next edition of the Sibyllenweissagung didn't appear until 1472-74 (following Schanze's dating), and then five editions appeared in 1491-93. One of these later incunable editions (ISTC is00492620, GW M41985) is available in facsimile from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. So the release this week of a facsimile from of Flach's edition (ISTC is00492550, GW M41983) fills a notable digital hole in the history of an important text.

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