Friday, January 10, 2014

Gone fishing: the herring prophecies of 1587

One of the more distinctive forms of prophecy in the late sixteenth century involved letters that fishermen had discovered inside herring they had caught in the Baltic or North Sea. A broadside was published in 1587 with explanations in Latin, French, and Dutch that reproduced and translated one sequence of letters as VICI MALUM, "I have conquered evil." The more extensive interpretation of Ananias Jeraucurius for Frederick II, king of Denmark, followed in 1588. Jeraucurius interpreted the same letters - VICI followed by a few  ominous squiggles - as Venit Iesus Christus iudicare, superbiam mundi peruersi, or "Jesus Christ is coming to judge the arrogance of the corrupt world." In 1598, Raphael Eglin published his interpretation of the same sequence and similar ones that had subsequently been found, first in Latin and then in Latin translation; a reprint of the Latin edition appeared in 1611.

These fish prophecies were popular enough that they inspired an anonymous parody published in 1588. The parody retells the fate suffered by pickled herring as a satirical "Legend of St. Herengus," and it suggests the reading Vici Maximilianum or "I have conquered Maximilian," and sees it as a warning to Austria, but also adds, "Odr was es dir sonst gelten sol / Bistu klüger so triff es wol": "Or whatever it may mean to you; if you’re smarter than I am, it will probably be correct."

If you're curious about prophetic fish, several of the relevant editions are available in online facsimiles.

The broadside edition
Harengus hic piscis captus fuit 21. Novemb. 1587 inter Daniam et Norvegiam. [N.p.: n.p.], 1587. Frankfurt UB facsimile.

Ananias Jeraucurius
Jeraucurius, Ananias. Explicatio characterum qui inventi fuerunt in lateribus duorum halecum quae fuerunt capta, vnum in Dania alterum in Noruuegia, 21. Nouemb. anno Domini 1587. quae iudicium Dei in superbos mundi et eorum caput Antichristum praenunciant. [N.p.: n.p.], 1588. VD16 J 217. BSB facsimile.
The anonymous parody
Erklerung der vermeinten wunderbuchstaben / so uff einem Hering sollen gefunden sein / der in Norwegen gefangen worden. [N.p.: n.p.], 1588. VD16 ZV 5356.

Raphael Eglin
Eglin, Raphael. Prophetia halieutica nova et admiranda, ad Danielis et sacrae Apocalpseos calculum chronographicum, divina ope nunc primum in lucem productum, revocata: Qua et Apocalypseos et totius Ecclesiae militantis status, notis et characteribus ternorum piscium marinorum, ad latera stupendo prodigio insignitorum, praemonstratur. Zürich: [Johann Wolf], 1598. VD16 E 597. facsimile.

Eglin, Raphael. Newe Meerwunderische Prophecey / Auff Danielis unnd der Offenbarung Johannis Zeytrechnung gezogen. Zürich: [n.p.], 1598. VD16 E 598. facsimile. UB Halle facsimile.

Eglin, Raphael. Coniecturae Halieuticae Novae Et Admirandae. Frankfurt a. M.: Biermann, 1611. VD17 39:119154V. Schlüsselseiten.
Secondary literature
Hotson, Howard. Paradise Postponed: Johann Heinrich Alsted and the Birth of Calvinist Millenarianism. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2000. 100-104.

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