Friday, May 3, 2013

An overlooked essential source: Melchior Ambach, Vom Ende der Welt (updated)

Update 25 May 2013: "Dietrich von Zengg" wasn't included in the manuscript that Ambach published. Instead, he borrowed its text directly from an edition published either in 1536 or 1546.

While working on Printing and Prophecy, I made a note to myself about a work that looked interesting but that I didn't have a chance to consult, Melchior Ambach's Vom Ende der Welt (VD16 A 2161). My time in München was limited, the booklet only contained six leaves, the date of printing of 1545 was near the end of the time period I was interested in, and the title formulation (Vom Ende der Welt / Und zukunfft des Endtchrists. Wie es vorm Jungsten tag in der Welt / ergehn werde. Alte und newe Propheceyen / Auff diese letzste böse zeit ... in rheumen gestelt) suggested that this was merely some pastor's versified treatment of Daniel and Revelation.

All of that turns out to be wrong.

Vom Ende der Welt is actually a work of sixty leaves, it was probably printed in 1548, and it's a unique and highly significant source for late medieval and Reformation-era apocalypticism. Now that the BSB has released a facsimile, it's also available to everyone online.

Vom Ende der Welt contains versified excerpts from both biblical and non-biblical prophecies. The non-biblical prophets include a Sibyl, pseudo-Methodius, Joachim of Fiore, Hildegard von Bingen, Johannes de Rupescissa, Dietrich von Zengg (in prose), "Bechtildis" (probably Mechthild von Magdeburg), and two others that are difficult to place: "Haymo," a bishop, and "Bechtholdus," a Dominican monk.

Ambach is also not the poet. He states in his preface that he had instead only modernized the language found in an old and somewhat battered manuscript that a fellow citizen had brought to him. Ambach estimates that the manuscript was over a century old. That estimate was likely correct. Four of the prophecies (the Sibyl, pseudo-Methodius, Hildegard, and "Bechtholdus") give 1400 as the foreseen onset of tribulation, so the rhyming poet was probably writing around that year. "Dietrich von Zengg," in prose, gives 1410 as the date of the vision, so the manuscript itself may have been copied somewhat later, perhaps shortly after 1410. It's impossible to be sure, but those are fairly good estimates from what we know of the transmission of other prophetic works.

Ambach himself seems to be writing in 1548. On fol. h1v, the verse reads
Von der Römer reich und irem anbeginn /
Seind xxiii. hundert jar
Nach disem gezalt das ist war /
Ambach, who likely altered this passage (it comes just after a prediction of the Antichrist's advent for 1600, also a likely alteration), adds the marginal note:
2300. Rom ist gestanden vor Christ geburt / 752. Jar.
One notes that 2300 + -752 = 1548. Therefore I would place this edition, dated [ca. 1545] in VD16, in the year 1548. That would suggest that the printing of Vom Ende der Welt was Herman Gülfferich's response to  the prophetic compilation published that year by Christian Egenolff, a fellow Frankfurt printer at a time when Frankfurt in general, and Gülfferich and Egenolff in particular, were the leaders in printing popular vernacular works. (Ursula Rautenberg has been working on the printing firm of Gülfferich/Wiegand Han/Han heirs, with some results in print and more soon to be published.)

So why is Vom Ende der Welt significant?

First, if the provisional dating of Ambach's mansucript to ca. 1410 is correct, then the prose "Dietrich von Zengg" would derive from a source over fifty years earlier than any known "Zengg" manuscript. To my knowledge, the other manuscripts and editions of "Zengg" give the vision's date as 1420, so we may have a witness to a different and earlier version of the text.

Second, Vom Ende der Welt appears to finally answer the question of how Matthias Flacius knew Zengg. Flacius states that Zengg lived around the year 1410, and describes his source as one where the vision is printed along with other prophecies in verse. That sounds very much like Vom Ende der Welt, whose version of "Zengg" is unique on both those accounts.

Third, the prophecy of Johannes de Rupescissa turns out to be the Vademecum, condensed and versified but at first glance largely complete. This gives us another sixteenth-century attestation of the Vademecum in print. Beyond that, the existence of a late fourteenth-century rhymed version and an early fifteenth-century manuscript would be appearances of the Vademecum some fifty years or more earlier than any other known German witnesses in the vernacular.

The only discussion of Vom Ende der Welt that I'm aware of is in Barnes's Prophecy and Gnosis (1988), pp. 78-79.

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I'm off to Kalamazoo soon, so I may miss a week or two.

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