Friday, August 29, 2014

The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess, Chapter Seven: The Last Emperor and the Beginning of Prophecy

The last chapter of The Strange and Terrible Visions does three things. First, it wraps up the argument about how the two prophecies of Wilhelm Friess are connected. Rather than the same name being used arbitrarily for two different texts published twenty years apart, "Friess II" is connected to "Friess I" by a chain of textual influence and historical context where the links are separated by just a few years, rather than a few decades: Basel editions beginning in 1577 of a text grounded in the situation of Strasbourg's Reformed community in 1574 based on historical resonance with Reformed civic unrest in Antwerp in 1567 and in reaction to a specifically Lutheran branch of "Friess I" which was circulating in the Netherlands in 1566.

The second item of interest involves taking a look at late appearances of the prophecies of Wilhelm Friess. "Friess II" is interesting because the latest edition, published in 1639 as the Thirty Years' War was giving new relevance to a prophecy about foreign armies laying waste to Germany, reflects an earlier stage of the text than any other edition. "Friess I" reappears even later, in several editions of 1686-91, when Louis XIV's annexation of Strasbourg made him a prime candidate for the tyrannical Antichrist of the west.

Finally, I suggest four characteristic ways that prophetic texts develop:
  1. Selective reception of an earlier prophecy
  2. Expansion into a complete prophecy
  3. A historical context that requires veiling the message
  4. Adaptation to a new context
These steps can come in any order, and one or more of them may be lacking in the history of a particular prophecy, but as you trace the historical development of prophetic texts, you will encounter all of them many times.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Adding an author to a fragmentary incunable prognostication

Identifying the author of a fragmentary annual prognostication is sometimes difficult, requiring a significant amount of research. Other times, it only takes a few minutes.

This week, the Heidelberg university library released a facsimile of ISTC ip01005937/GW M35611, a fairly extensive fragment that is lacking an incipit, so no author had been identified. Leaf 1v did provide a complete list of chapters, however, and the structure looked familiar. After checking my records, I found that the text of the fragment was identical to that of another incucanble edition: Bernardinus de Luntis, Judicium for 1492 (Rome: Stephan Plannck, [around 1492]; ISTC il00392200, GW M19510). The identity of the two texts can be verified by comparing the facsimile provided by the BSB, so Bernardinus de Luntis should be added as the author to ISTC ip01005937/GW M35611. I sent a note on to Berlin to that effect.

Bernardinus de Luntis is otherwise known to ISTC/GW only through one additional practica, for 1493: ISTC il00392300/GW M19511, again printed by Stephan Plannck. It's not unusual for astrologers to have a career in print that only lasted a few years, but the distribution of surviving copies is a bit odd in this case: apart from one copy in the Vatican, the other three are all in German-speaking Europe, in Basel, Heidelberg, and Munich. Apart from a brief mention by Simon de Phares in his Recueil des plus célèbres astrologues, not much appears to be known about Bernardinus de Luntis.

Update: Klaus Graf adds a few more references to Bernardinus de Luntis here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Abstract: "And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids: Illiteracy and the struggle for authority in the lost visions of Lienhard Jost"

This is the abstract I submitted for the paper I'll be giving at the annual conference of the German Studies Association in September in the session "Prophecy and Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Germany." It's based on a paper that was recently accepted by Sixteenth Century Studies, although it may not be in print until next fall or later. This is the first time in several years that I'm dealing not just with a prophetic text but with an actual visionary as a source. I'm excited about this project, as I think it might point in some interesting new directions, not specifically at the Strasbourg prophets (it sounds like Christina Moss, a doctoral student at Waterloo, will do that in her dissertation, which I'm looking forward to seeing). Instead, I think the case of Lienhard Jost might just point towards a general theory of prophecy, from vision to text to excerpt to literary allusion.

In any case, here's the abstract.

Abstract: "And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids: Illiteracy and the struggle for authority in the lost visions of Lienhard Jost"
Lienhard Jost is recognized today as one of the leading members of the Strasbourg Prophets associated with Melchior Hoffman in the 1530s. Because Jost’s works have been lost for centuries, however, basic facts of his biography have been uncertain, and he has been treated as a secondary figure behind Hoffman and behind his visionary wife Ursula Jost. With the rediscovery of Lienhard Jost’s visions in a copy preserved in Vienna, we now have access to a unique account in his own words of the experiences of an early modern German folk prophet. Jost’s visions, published by Melchior Hoffman in 1532, establish that he was an illiterate woodcutter. Popular accounts of learned discourse, including the Reformation and predictions of a second deluge in 1524, inspired Jost’s prophetic experiences. Jost’s account of his visions documents his progressive transformation with respect to literacy. At the beginning of his preaching, Jost regarded the written word as a silencing of and a loss of control over his own speech. Jost’s prophecies included not only oral preaching but also active performance of his message. In Jost’s account, these prophetic episodes transformed the city’s insane asylum, where he was confined, into a school. Although still illiterate when released, Jost saw himself as now authorized to comment on scripture and engage in other textual activities typically reserved for the learned, and he became increasingly confident in having his visions committed to writing and ultimately to print.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess, Chapter Six: Wilhelm Friess in Strasbourg

This is the chapter that's going to get me into trouble. There are some things that prudent scholars of the sixteenth century do not engage in, and that includes attributing anonymous pamphlets to famous writers based on circumstantial evidence. What was I thinking?

The line of thought, from the basic evidence to the crime of wanton attribution, goes like this:

The early textual history of "Friess II" identifies 24 April 1574 as the first alleged date of the vision. Another passage found only in the earliest versions gives special significance to Strasbourg for the survivors of German's future devastation. Another passage attacking Lutheran clergy, the prophecy's attitude towards sacramental theology, and its situating of the source of salvation in the south - in Switzerland - point to an ideological home among the embattled Reformed community of Strasbourg in late spring of 1574. I argue that the demonic child-eating general from the northwest in "Friess II" was meant as a reference to Henry of Valois, king of Poland and until recently a leader of the French anti-Huguenot army and, upon the death of his brother, the presumed next king of France (where he reigned as Henry III).

The dating of "Friess II" is supported by the title page illustration of an early edition, whose eclipsed sun and moon, and conjunction and opposition involving Mars, Saturn, and Mercury, again points to 1574. The zodiacal iconography of Mars, Saturn, and Mercury is also featured prominently in the text of the prophecy. In the spring of 1574, eclipses and conjunctions and anthropomorphic planets took a notable form in Strasbourg with the completion of the cathedral's astronomical clock. The first solar and lunar eclipse on the clock's tables of eclipses are the same ones featured on the title woodcut (which is also the title illustration for The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess).

As it turns out, the laudatory verse that accompanies a broadside illustration of the new clock was written by Johann Fischart, one of the leading German writers and the most accomplished satirist of the later sixteenth century. Fischart was a native of Strasbourg and a Reformed sympathizer who had earlier written some intemperate things about sacramental theology, supported the Huguenots and the Reformed of the Netherlands, had passed through Flanders at the time "Friess I" was circulating there, was known to publish works anonymously, and had knowledge of astrological and prophetic pamphlets.

That's a pretty amazing coincidence, I told myself. Maybe somebody could argue that Fischart was the author of "Friess II." Maybe I could even say what the evidence would be and what the argument would look like, if someone wanted to make that argument.

In the end, I decided the best approach was not to sketch out what a hypothetical argument might look like, but to simply make the claim that Fischart was the author, and defend that claim as forthrightly as possible. I try not to be irresponsible about it: As with other uncertain points, I give the evidence for both sides (including the not inconsequential note that one expert on Fischart finds the idea entirely ridiculous), and I avoid making Fischart's authorship of "Friess II" essential to any of my other arguments, but this time I opted to take the underdog bet.