Beware the Rheticus’s prophecy!

Prophecies were ‘bestsellers’ not only in the Middle Ages but also in early modernity. More than year ago I started to work on a commentary to the edition of the manuscript copy of Jan Latosz’s Przestroga (A Warning), the only surviving witness to this astrological and chronological dissertation published in Cracow in 1595. At some point I had to postpone my work as I encountered a puzzling passage which required some time to solve it.

Tu na tym miejscu zdało mi się przypomnieć prognosticon zacnego onego Doktora Rhetykusa, które prawie in ore omniu[m] jest, bo wszytkim w Polszcze wiadome, które ponieważ ex parvis initiis i dosyć słabego gruntu swój początek wiedzie, gdyż ex simplici interrogatione, a to quaestione swe ma fundamenta takie i tak się iści sprawa, powodzenie jego, począwszy od króla Augusta, królów polskich aż do tego czasu. Cóż rozumieć możemy o tych, które ex causis necessariis naturalibus pochodzą? Prawdziwe być nie mają? Praktyka takowa Retykowa wypełniła się już na trzech królach polskich …

 

It happened to me here to remind about the prognostication of the good Doctor Rheticus, which is on everyone’s lips and is known to everyone in Poland. Although its origins and ground are modest and weak as it is a result of simple interrogation, it has some foundations and the fates of the kings of Poland starting from the king [Sigismundus] Augustus [predicted in it] happen to fulfil. What should we understand, then, about those which come from the necessary natural causes? Should they be considered true? The Rheticus’s practice has already came true for three Polish kings …

 

Latosz's reference to Rheticus in a 17th-century copy of his Przestroga of 1595 (MS Warsaw, National Library, 6631 III, fol. 20v, fragment; source: Polona)

Latosz’s reference to Rheticus in a 17th-century manuscript copy of his Przestroga of 1595 (MS Warsaw, National Library, 6631 III, fol. 20v, fragment; source: Polona)

In the next sentence Latosz provided brief characteristics of the first three elective kings of Poland, Henri de Valois, Stephen Báthory and Sigismund III Vasa so it seemed that my astrologer was actually paraphrasing a text known back then as a work of Rheticus. The first book I turned to to check this was Ludwik Aleksander Birkenmajer’s monumental study on Nicolaus Copernicus which is a real treasure trove of Copernicus- and Rheticus-related archival bits and pieces. It turned out that indeed, there is something like Rheticus prognostication on the elective monarchs but the text edited by Birkenmajer and taken from a manuscript miscellany held at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow seemed to be slightly different from the one Latosz referred to as the latter gave descriptions in different order. Birkenmajer mentioned that there are also some other copies of Rheticus text which are located, among others, in the Ossolineum Library (now divided between Wrocław and Lviv) and in Vatican so I decided to take this lead. Unfortunately, consulting the scans from these libraries made it even worse as these copies also seemed to be substantially different from the samples given by Latosz in 1590s and by Birkenmajer in 1900.

First, I thought it was just a mere accident but then I referred to Karl-Heinz Burmeister’s three-volume thorough account of Rheticus’s biography and works and it turned out that things were even more complicated than I initially thought. Not only these few manuscripts mentioned by Birkenmajer turned out to be merely a drop in the bucket of the corpus of witnesses to Rheticus text but, as it turned out, they had very little in common with the text Burmeister published as the prognostication on the kings of Poland. The piece published by Birkenmajer and those I found in Ossolineum in Wrocław and in Stefanyk National Scientific Library of Ukraine in Lviv were rather laconic in comparison to the elaborate horoscope edited by Burmeister.

Soon I came to realize that all scholars who were referring to Rheticus’s prognostication over the past hundred years were playing a blind man’s buff. Every one of them, after seeing few manuscripts, took for granted that the other copies were pretty much alike so if someone examined a late seventeenth-century simplified copy consisting of schematic list of kings he or she simply assumed that other witnesses, known from catalogue descriptions, are exactly the same. I also suppose that even Burmeister himself did not bother to consult all the manuscripts he included on his list of witnesses as some of the copies from Gdansk were considered lost at the moment when he published his study. However, in one thing Burmeister was right, i.e. in giving the privileged position to the manuscript that is now located in the University Library in Wrocław and which provides the most plausible version of Rheticus’s text. Unlike many other manuscripts related to this prognostication, it contains elements of astrological apparatus, including the precise time for which the horoscope was erected as well as an astrological diagram showing the positions of planets at the moment of interrogation. All these elements together with the elaborate characteristics of kings make it look like a work of a genuine sixteenth-century astrologer. The only tiny problem related to this manuscript is the fact that it comes from the eighteenth, not the sixteenth century…

The most reliable witness to Rheticus's horoscope - MS Wrocław, University Library, Akc. 1949/594, fol. 56v, fragment

The most reliable witness to Rheticus’s horoscope – MS Wrocław, University Library, Akc. 1949/594, fol. 56v, fragment

As much as I wanted to believe that Burmeister made the right choice, there were still few question that required some answers. Why should we believe that the 18th-century manuscript should be treated as a key witness to the tradition of text dating back to the second half ot the 16th century? What happened to the Rheticus’s autograph? What are the origins of the prognostication as such? Is it possible to reconstruct the process of textual transmission from the Wrocław MS to the dwarfed copies I saw at the beginning of my investigation? Finally, what about other texts that appear to be somehow linked to Wrocław MS but their form does not resemble even the dwarfed, simplified copies?

While I have no idea what happened to Rheticus’s autograph the answer to the question about the origin of the Wrocław MS and the prophecy as such seems to be quite plausible. The manuscript used by Burmeister is an 18th-century copy of papers of Andreas Dudithius, Catholic bishop, Antitrinitarian and diplomat in the service of Maximilian II. The original papers were lost at some point but before this happened some local historian aware of the importance of Dudith copied them and surrounded with some factual annotations. As to Dudith himself, his connections with Rheticus are quite well documented. Their paths have crossed in Cracow when the first served as imperial envoy and intelligencer and the latter pursued his career of physician and astrologer and got close to the local centres of power. During their stay in Cracow, Dudith has created a circle of erudites interested in astronomy and Rheticus was one of its members. It is quite possible, then, that Dudith was one of the first readers of the horoscope. Although, as Gábor Almási has shown, Dudith was not very much keen on astrology – in fact, he was rather sceptical about it – he was an experienced politician, so it is also possible that he was the actual originator of the whole astrological enterprise or that he quickly incorporated it into his own political and diplomatic agenda. Even if he wasn’t behind the creation of the horoscope and the prognostication was either made of pure curiosity or commissioned by the royal court, it is quite reasonable to assume that Dudith played a significant role in disseminating the text by means of correspondence and there are some fragments in letters to and from him that clearly show that he introduced some astrological pieces into the Central European information exchange network. Being a representative of the Habsburg emperor in the capital of a country which was about to experience a political change, Dudith must have fell back on all possible means to win favor of Polish nobility and secure the election of the Habsburg candidate to the Polish throne.

As my interest in the history behind the Rheticus’s prognostication grew bigger, I kept looking for some other witnesses to this text and started consulting them, either in person or by means of microfilms and digital copies. Soon it turned out that some of them generally confirm the contents of the Wrocław MS although none of them contained the astrological chart and their astrological layer was heavily corrupted. In the meantime, the pool of manuscripts started to reveal some other curious aspects. For instance, soon it turned out that the prognostication was translated not only into German, what has been noted by Burmeister, but also into Polish and while the German version, most likely linked to the city of Gdansk, was consistent in all copies, the Polish had few very distant variants.

The analysis of these texts did not allow me to reconstruct the precise devolution of the text, from the inextant archetype (substituted by the Wrocław MS) to the most corrupted versions – there were simply too many differences between them to decide which one should be superior to another, especially if they all come from the second half of the seventeenth century and from different locations. The process of collecting all witnesses allowed me instead to do other thing, i.e. to analyse the process of condensation of the original horoscope into the form of a popular prophecy which had very little to do with the text that was authored by the disciple of Copernicus. One of the aspects of this process was the simplification of the text: first, the astrological apparatus was abandoned, then some of the characteristics got abridged, and the latest versions of the prophecy, although their titles still echoed the original horoscope, consisted merely of a list of two- or three-word characteristics of future kings of Poland. Another aspect is the fading memory of Rheticus as the author of the horoscope or, as you like, the elective prophecy. Latosz was able to refer to the author of Relatio prima thanks to the fact he was well aware of the astrological traditions of Cracow and he did this in 1590s, only two decades after Rheticus’s death. But these details must have fell into oblivion or simply seemed irrelevant to the members of nobility who continued to copy this text into their miscellanies until early eighteenth century. When one takes a look at all versions of the title she will immediately notice a long parade of names that have very little to do with Rheticus and one of the late 17th-century copies of the heavily abridged Latin text of the prophecy names ‘some Greek’ as the author, while another copy mentions ‘Doctor Clitricius”. There is some wisdom in it as, up to a point, ‘Rhetici’ and ‘Graecii’ or ‘Clitricii’ sound alike, but this manuscript, like many others, shows that the general astrological provenance of the text and the aura of secret knowledge were much more important to the users of this text than the actual identity of its author.

Rheticus disguised as a Greek in MS Warsaw, National Library, 6647 II, fol. 267v; source: Polona

Rheticus disguised as a Greek in MS Warsaw, National Library, 6647 II, fol. 267v, fragment; source: Polona

Klitricius

Rheticus as ‘Doctor Klitricius’ in the Polish version of the prophecy, MS Warsaw, National Library, 6634 III, fol. 207r, fragment; source: Polona

What is the reason, one might ask, why we should beware the Rheticus’s prophecy? Since the expiry date for this horoscope expired long ago there is nothing to worry about on the astrological level, yet on the scholarly one there is. It is a common problem for all scholars who are trying to stabilize the text to decide when to cease their pursuit of further copies, especially if there is no central manuscript. In result of my chase I managed to collate the Wrocław MS with other witnesses to the longest version of the horoscope, complicating thus basic edition created by Burmeister. I also edited some variants of this text that document other stages of its degeneration and language versions. And in general I feel that the results of my toils are legible and shed some critical light on the to date claims about the Rheticus’s text. Yet, even now, when my two articles on the topic – one discussing the origins of the horoscope and the Dudith’s involvement, the other focused on the manuscript tradition – have been sent to the press and will appear later this year, I keep thinking about other possible copies of the prophepcy that should have been included but I was not aware of their existence. So even if there is nothing baleful in the horoscope as such, studying it may lead to a kind of textual anxiety which may urge one to check compulsively manuscript catalogues in hope of tracing another witness to the text and to keep leafing through hundreds of pages of uncatalogued manuscript miscellanies in search of just one more copy of this incredibly popular text.

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An Annotated Postcard

Last December, when I carried out phase I of my preliminary survey in the tremendous special collections of the Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences my dreams of a marginalia fetishist came true once again. It turned out that my hopes of finding Central European scholars annotating works on calendars and chronology and polemicizing with Scaliger, Clavius, Petavius, Calvisius et consortes by means of annotations left on the pages of their books won’t be limited to the (rich enough) set of glosses left by Joannes Broscius and a bundle of anonymous libri annotati found here and there but will be expanded by at least one more reader who can be identified and whose annotations can be linked with his own works. This is the case of Peter Crüger (1580-1639), professor of astronomy and poetics in the Gymnasium Academicum in Gdańsk, one of the three famous Lutheran educational centers in the broadly understood Pomerania region.

Gdańsk Library is well-known as a treasure trove of various unique primary sources to the intellectual history of the region and its institutions and it seems that even after many years of scholarly efforts there are materials that have never been studied closely or have been studied for wrong reasons. This is the case of Crüger, whose annotations, mostly those left in the 3rd edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus (now preserved in the Copernicus Museum in Frombork) attracted attention of scholars not due to the fact that he was an scholar in his own right, but mostly because he was a teacher of a much greater mind, i.e. Johannes Hevelius. This attitude can be best observed in a 3-pages long article published ca. 70 years ago by Tadeusz Przypkowski. In it, Przypkowski presented Crüger’s annotations in his copy of the 3rd edition of De revolutionibus but the conclusion he drew is somewhat surprising as he postulated creation of a monograph of Hevelius! It seems that only Owen Gingerich, in his Census of the first and second edition of Copernicus’s groundbreaking work did Crüger justice, presenting him as an actual reader and giving a very concise yet instructive report on the contents of his marginalia in one of the Moscow copies of De revolutionibus.

Title page of Astronomia instaurata (so-called 3rd edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus), owned in turn by Peter Crüger and Johannes Hevelius; Nicolaus Copernicus Museum, Frombork, Poland

 

Apart from these two volumes, notes in Crüger’s hand seem to be a virgin land and I am going to explore it a little bit, starting from the calendrical and chronological corner yet I guess there may be also some other areas that turn out worth exploring.

My December visit to Gdańsk proved to be only a beginning of a longer journey. After studying few books annotated by Crüger it turned out that one of them is preserved in quite a surprising location:

API

My March trip to the 2015 Annual Meeting in Berlin, where I organized a series of panels on chronology in the early modern period, seemed to be an excellent occasion to have a look at this volume. On Wednesday before the official proceedings of the RSA began, I spent a lovely morning at the Library of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam-Babelsberg where a copy of Kepler’s Astronomia nova, owned in turn by Crüger and Hevelius, is preserved. It is a fine volume which was carefully restored in 1950’s and all the annotations except for few minor ones have survived until today in highly legible form. I am really happy for two reasons: this brief, technical visit allowed me to pick up a single yet quite substantial piece of a puzzle which can be somehow linked to the astronomical workshop of Crüger and at the same time, like all good marginalia (should) do, opens up new paths for further queries.

Two days after my visit to Postdam and just seconds after the chronological panels, a bucket of cold water was poured on my head. I went to the roundtable session celebrating the 25th anniversary of Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine’s seminal essay on Gabriel Harvey’s reading of Livy. One of the most important things I learned during this fabulous meeting is that Grafton and Jardine, calling themselves “granpa and grandma of marginalia studies”, are not satisfied with the way their article was applied and imitated in further studies on early modern readers and that they ment something different than establishing a simple generative model for writing an endless series of papers on ‘X reading Y‘. While I believe every case is different and it always depends on the skills and approach of particular historian what s/he will eventually do with such kind of primary sources as marginalia, I must admit that Grafton and Jardine diagnosed an important illness (or a sin) of letting oneself believe that finding a reader and his annotations is a sufficient condition to write yet another study following the rules established by their 1990 paper. I have spent few past years with annotations, either doing research for my PhD, then moving on to other fields, and it was last December when the symptoms of this illness (or inclination towards this sin) struck me for the first time. It was then when I saw Crüger’s annotations for the first time during my visit to Gdansk: they simply triggered a feeling of finding something familiar yet new, something that you dealt with earlier and you know how to proceed with this kind of sources (or at least you believe you know) and at the same time something idiomatic and unique, which will force you to find new way of writing on this kind of sources even if you feel OK with the way you wrote your earlier studies. This feeling of familiarity can be misleading and cannot end well and it always takes great effort to overcome one’s mental and scholarly habits in order to find new approach and I think the apparent ease with which the “Studied for Action” paper can be emulated is the main fault for the entire confusion about the method and purpose of studying marginalia.

Certainly, there are some aspects of early modern annotations that can be treated as basis for data-mining and large scale analysis based on a large corpora of libri annotati – this is mostly the purpose of a new exciting project on the “Archaeology of Reading” with Grafton and Jardine as principal co-investigators. I really look forward to the development of this enterprise and I can only imagine what kind of tools and results the project will bring over the years to come. Yet, being also an admirer of micro-narratives, I do not want to let early modern readers dissolve in the pool of hundreds and thousands of annotations. I am not sure if the authors of the paper celebrated in Berlin would agree with me that what makes the set of marginalia writing about is the fact that they allow one to go beyond the closed cycle of references between a series of books and look at the relationship between these annotations and some other kinds of evidence. It is really difficult to find such a link in some cases, sometimes it is not necessary – it depends on the kind of history you would like to write and how far your sources and your imagination can take you. And I believe that this fact gives me at least partial absolution: “my” readers were involved in public activity, both as teachers and polemicists, and even if large chunks of their annotations have a technical or theoretical character and create a coherent system of internal references between piles of books, some of them still extant, some of them perished, they can be linked to their involvement in the public sphere where they translated their professional knowledge into the more popular kind of discourse and tried to shape views of citizens without professional training in calendrical astronomy or training of any other kind.

Having said this, I must confess that my sin drove me again to Gdańsk where I arrived yesterday and will stay until Friday, carrying out phase II of my survey. Here I am, an irredeemable sinner, willing to study marginalia in hope that there is some kind of order that can be derived out of them and that they can create pieces of narrative that can be written on Crüger – not as an isolated scholarly reader but as a scholar who by means of reading and linking various texts laid foundation for education of next generations of citizens of Gdansk/Danzig and whose knowledge of astronomy and the way it can be applied to chronology allowed him to get involved into public debate on Gregorian calendar and use chronology as a vehicle for other kinds of knowledge. Having transcribed a large portion of Crüger’s notes today and awaiting to see some other of his volumes over the next four days, I am still thinking about differences and similarities between him and other readers I have studied or read about. When you are sitting in a reading room, trying to decipher Crüger’s tiny hand, focusing on direct relations between the note left in the margin and printed text, trying to figure out the real meaning of all these references to Josephus, Bucholzer, Tremellius, Scaliger, Casaubon, Kepler and Petavius – it is easy to forget about the reality outside the library. Bu the world behind the library’s walls does exist, just as it did in Crüger’s times – and this is probably one of the arguments which gives some value added to the study of annotations and makes this kind of scholarship useful not only for book historians and manuscript fetishists but also for people interested in social interactions and the history of shaping of public sphere through of education, scholarship, and debate.

 

Dies natalis

Even if I would really want to avoid him – because he is simply too big for me, because everything had been already written on him, name all possible reservations you want – he comes out from nearly every corner I visit. Starting from the writings on calendar reform, to the mid-sixteenth-century obscure astrological manuscripts I studied recently, to even more obscure chronological manuscripts I have studied for the past year and am going to study for a while longer, to the marginalia of a bunch of Central European scholars who are important for me due to their activities at the intersection of astronomy and history – there is always a 99% chance that I will end up with him. Everything – at least in my scholarly world – seems to revolve around him. Well, I should have seen this coming.

I guess you already know who that is. And since he was born on February 19, 1473, as his reader and a citizen of Toruń since 2013, I can’t say nothing else but: Happy birthday, old chap, we’re gonna spend some time together.

As a birthday card, for obvious reasons of greater interest to modern readers than to Copernicus himself, I would like to present a page from Astronomia instaurata, the third, 1617 edition of De revolutionibus, prepared by Nicholaus Müller’s and published in Amsterdam. Here we come back to Joannes Broscius and his annotations. Broscius used all three early modern editions, the Nuremberg 1543 edition, which belonged actually to the university, the Basel 1566 one and the Astronomia instaurata, and all of them bring some interesting materials on the reception of Copernican ideas in Kraków (as well as the way Broscius incorporated Copernicus’s claims into his own research). If you have access to the famous Owen Gingerich’s Census (which nowadays seems to be more rare than Copernicus), you can check it on your own and/or have a look at the digitized Nuremberg edition at the Jagiellonian Digital Library (and when you get bored with Broscius’s notes, check out the Jag. Lib. MS 10000 – the autograph of De revolutionibus!). As to the birthday card: Broscius, as a vigilant reader and one of the first biographers of Copernicus simply decided to join the discussion about Copernicus’s date of birth and the annotation’s he left on the first page of Müller’s Life of Copernicus testify that.

Kraków, Jagiellonian Library, shelfmark Mag. St. Dr. 311204-311205 II

Kraków, Jagiellonian Library, shelfmark Mag. St. Dr. 311204-311205 II

P.S. In one of my tweets I sent earlier this month I included a photo of a title page of Rheticus’s Narratio prima.

This copy belongs to the Copernicus House Museum in Torun and from the annotations it is clear that this reader of Rheticus confused his date of death. In the light of the discussion’s summarized by Müller and notes left in Rheticus, it seems that Copernicus and early Copernicans were out of luck as far as the daiting of their lives was concerned…

P.P.S. Those of you who are still hoping to read part 2 of the new cycle on the manuscript of Jan Latosz I inaugurated in January, rest assured it will appear shortly. I am still buried in the edition and creating commentary and as soon as I dig myself out, I will be able to tell something more (and general) about the MS. As for now, I can say it is even more interesting now than it was when I read it for the first time and it has some Copernican elements too!

A Warning, part 1, or: Read the catalogues!

Jan Latos (or Latosz, known also under Latinized name as Joannes Latosinus, 1539-1608) is perhaps one of the most controversial and mysterious figures in the debate around calendar reform that took place in early modern Poland-Lithuania at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. He openly questioned the astronomical foundations of the reform introduced by the pope Gregory XIII and propagated by Christoph Clavius and thus he got into real trouble. He was first banned to speak freely in 1580’s and for several years he focused on regular astrological practice. At some point in the 1590’s he decided to reexamine the reformed calendar and ignored the ban. In turn he got expelled from the Academy of Cracow and was ridiculed by the Jesuit preachers in their brochures and public sermons, becoming also immediately a synonym of a backwardness and obscurantism. In the modern secondary literature Latosz is usually presented as an example of a scholar who did not have observation techniques and mathematical tools precise and sharp enough to verify the calculations proposed by more advanced astronomers and architects of the calendar reform yet at the same time was stubborn enough to maintain he was right. This attitude lead him to a paradoxical situation in which he found an ally and patron in the person of the Orthodox duke Konstanty Wasyl Ostrogski who was fervent defender of the Orthodox tradition and probably treated Latosz as an useful asset to his own political agenda. Latosz got lost somewhere in the middle of the road between the two calendars: he did not stick to the Julian calendar by all means as he was aware of its errant mechanism yet at the same time he could not accept the reform of 1582. Thanks to Ostrogski’s support he found shelter in the town of Ostróg and become a professor at the local academy but he was also accused of converting secretly to the Orthodox faith or at least being in the Orthodox Churche’s favour.

In my quest for primary sources that constitute the basis of my research I cultivate the belief that even if we do not know what is the exact current location of some manuscripts or unique prints, in case of large number of them it is still reasonable to assume that they will be revealed some day and we will have to rewrite all these footnotes that tell stories about “unknown locations” and “lack of extant copies” of works that could be of great significance to our research if only they had survived the fire, war, flood, robbery and other calamities. In case of Latosz, as only few copies of his works survived until nowadays and his major work on calendar reform, which was supposed to be presented at the papal court in Rome, went missing probably already in the 16th century and most likely never even arrived to the Vatican. While some of his works are still available in a considerable number of copies (this is the case of his Latin Prognosticon of 1594 dedicated to Rudolf II), few of them are known in unique and damaged copies (this is the case of his two astrological prognostications preserved in the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków), and some of them are considered to be irretrievably lost.

This list of irretrievably lost sources might be a bit shorter if we all read carefully the catalogues published by the librarians. By the last September I assumed imprudently that I knew the catalogue of the manuscripts of the National Library in Warsaw pretty well, my list of manuscripts manuscripts I should examine in the next two years of my project is complete and I had the idead what should be done with those I had seen so far. Oh how wrong I was! And how haughty! At some point in early October I took the seventh volume of the catalogue in order to browse the index in search for some name or term I do not even remember right now when to my inexpressible surprise I noticed a familiar name. This was the name of Jan Latosz and it lead me to the “discovery” that the National Library is in the possession of a seventeenth-century copy of the text of Latosz’s Przestroga (A Warning or A Caution), a short astrological and chronological treatise that was originally published in Polish in Kraków in 1595. I immediately ordered the microfilm and checked once again whether the three copies known before 1945 and now considered to be lost have still this status. It turned out that none of these three copies, nor any copy unknown to the pre-war bibliographers was revealed and apparently the manuscript from the National Library is the only witness to this text.

I put aside the list of manuscripts I was goint to examine in the fall semester and delved into the 24 folio pages of the alleged copy of Latosz’s work. With every page my interest grew bigger and bigger and so did my certainty that this document is a credible source for the reconstruction of Latosz’s astrological and chronological views. And I do not even know when I started transcribing its fragments in hope that I will make use of some excerpts, then decided to transcribe the entire text (as you know, part of me is a scribe). As for now I have prepared an article in which I gave the Warsaw manuscript an introduction to the scholarly audience. It was accepted by Terminus, a Kraków-based journal on classical reception and Old Polish studies and should appear soon. I have completed the transcription of the entire manuscript yet it still requires some revisions from the point of view of historical ortography and punctuation. In the nearest future, hopefully this winter, I am going to prepare a critical edition that will be preceded by an introductory essay in which I am going to discuss the ideas presented by Latosz in his treatise and consider some hypotheses on the late, mid-seventeenth-century reception of a text that by any possible rule should have been forgotten by then.

In the second part of the Warning Story (I guess this time it will be a diptych), I will write something more about the contents of the manuscript and a number of questions it raises. As for now, I would like to leave the readers with two things.

The first one is a moral: even if you are sure that everybody is right about the existence or non-existence of a certain source and you trust their authority, go and check it yourself. And read the catalogues from cover to cover. Always. (This may seem as stating the obvious but when one thinks that the whole army of historians, including the author of an entry in the Polish Biographical Dictionary who certainly did a meticulous survey, overlooks the existence of a certain manuscript, perhaps it is worth reminding.)

The other thing is a picture of the opening page of the manuscript. Since the Warning by Latosz is an astrological work which contains [spoiler alert!] some apocalyptic predictions, I thought that the ominously looking photograph of the microfilm of the manuscript will do the job as conclusion:

Jan Latosz, Przestroga, title page of the 17th-century manuscript copy of a printed work (Warsaw, National Library, MS 6631 III)

Jan Latosz, Przestroga…, title page of the 17th-century manuscript copy of a 1595 print (Warsaw, National Library, MS 6631 III)

Explicit computus

For the last three days, I have been attending the 5th Conference on the Science of Computus which was held at the National University of Ireland at Galway and was organized by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and Immo Warntjes. It was a pure pleasure to join the computus family and meet in person all these fabulous scholars whose work I have read and deeply admired ever since I got into the field of research on chronology and calendars.

Apart from the fact that the conference gathered a fantastic line-up of speakers, it served also as an occasion to launch two meticulous critical editions of primary sources which are of great importance to all historians of science who are interested in the evolution of the debate about the reckoning of time during the Middle Ages. The first book in question is Philipp Nothaft‘s edition and translation of six (actually seven) medieval Christian texts dedicated to the explanation of the mechanisms of Jewish calendar and Alfred Lohr’s critical edition and translation of the eleventh-century Computus Gerlandi. The computistical bookshelf is growing really fast and we should also expect further volumes documenting the proceedings of previous editions of the Computus Conference.

I hope that nothing will disturb the computations and the scholars working in the field of medieval computistics will gather at Galway in the early summer of 2016.

Meanwhile, explicit co[m]putus anno D[omi]ni mmxiv.

P.S.1. I wish to thank Dáibhí and Immo for inviting me to this conference and giving me the opportunity to share my research with this great audience, although the subject of my paper does not fit into the traditional timeframe of the conference (unless one decides that the Middle Ages ended up somewhere at the end of 17th c. …).

P.S.2. As for the details about my contribution to the conference, I have already made a promise that I will write a post about the late seventeenth-century MS of computus and I am going to keep it. The readers of Chronologia Universalis should expect this post within the next few days.

Computus is coming

In my recent post about my scribal practices I mentioned that I will be shortly travelling to Galway for the 5th Conference of the Science of Computus. I am really excited about the next week’s trip, which for me will make the first chance to meet a group of excellent scholars known to me thus far only through their works (and emails).

I hope yet another post on a conference program will do no harm to the readers of Chronologia Universalis, so here they are – the program and the poster:

At Galway, I am going to present a paper on few seventeenth-century Cracow manuscripts of computus. While the computistic manuscripts preserved at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow are still unavailable to the (digital) public, the Cracow MS which at some point got to Warsaw is available through the website of the Digital National Library of Poland – the Nat. Lib. MS 9102 II. (the text of computus begins at fol. 60r). The readers of Chronologia  should expect a post dedicated to this curious collection of early modern textbooks.

 

 

My life as a scribe

I promised this post to Kees-Jan Schilt almost three months ago, in early April. I retweeted @KeesJanSchilt’s announcement of a new post at his blog and confessed at some point that he inspired me to write a reply.

Shortly after this exchange, we met in person at the glorious Scientiae 2014 conference in Vienna and although I kept thinking about the issues raised by Kees-Jan and their relation to my own scholarly workshop, three months had to pass before I found some time to write down my confessions.

C.J.’s lovely post about his work as a transcriber and researcher at the Newton Project at the University of Sussex, as well as the whole context of a great collection of hardly legible manuscripts he is coping with, made me to reconsider what I am actually doing as a researcher. It lead me to a simple observation that the backbone of my scholarly workshop is made by scribal practices. So here is my confession: I am a scribe.

Maybe my scholarly strategy has some other deeper, anthropological background or my mind is formed in such a way that I simply have to do this, but this is a fact: in order to made use of a primary source which has not been published in the form of a critical edition, I have to make an extensive transcription which is usually longer than the fragments I need to cite. Maybe some scholars do not need this, but I do. This is not a matter of my supposed frugality which would make me to transcribe these sources in order to avoid ordering some scans (which can be costly, by the way). I assure you, this is not the case. This is also not the issue of my general reading strategy, because there are books I can read without taking meticulous notes on them or without leaving even a single annotation on their margins. There is something in the manuscripts I am dealing with and with the early modern prints I am reading since October that forces me to digest them in this particular way: by making longer excerpts or copying them entirely.

Over the past few months, since the beginning of my project I kept doing this with some occasional breaks. Frankly, it started long before my current project and this was my basic method of gathering materials for my doctorate. Back then, I used to spend long hours at the reading room(s) copying notes left by Socinian students in their copies of Ramist textbooks or trying to decipher faded out scribblings left by Ioannes Broscius in his Ramist prints and notebooks. Since October, I changed only the object of my study and the chronology-and-calendar related manuscripts and early modern some of them quite rare, prints from a number of Polish libraries replaced the Ramist textbooks as well as the pro- and anti-Ramist marginalia.

Recently, when I looked back at the past few months and what I have actually done, I started to worry that I did very little, especially if you take into consideration the fact thatI am a research fellow with no teaching obligations. I turned two conference papers into two, quite longish, articles and gave two conference papers (one at Vienna and the other at York). I am currently working on a third paper I am going to give at the Computus Conference at Galway this July. I also gave three papers at three different work-in-progress seminars held at my Faculty and two of them will be eventually turned into articles. Three book reviews for scholarly journals and two other reviews addressed to general public conclude this list. These doubts are, I believe, quite common to all academics who live under the shadow of reports on their progress and have to remember that their research projects, especially those funded by external funding agencies, are expected to bring the promised output. And when the daemon of doubt started to throttle me, I suddenly remembered that perhaps I did not write much, but I spent endless hours at the desk, either in my room or at the library or archive, copying words of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scholars. And the thousands of words I copied thus far constitute now a large corpus of both Latin and Polish source material.

At this point the gathered material is quite raw and still requires a thorough proofreading (no matter how slowly and carefully you transcribe, you will always make some typos or misread an abbreviation) and some decisions regarding the orthography and punctuation are still to be made. Although transcribing the documents is a painstaking activity, it gives me also a great satisfaction when, for instance, I manage to decipher some difficult part of a manuscript or when I suddenly hear echoes of other texts I overlooked earlier. This is also a great philological exercise which allows you to get to the level of historical text which is quite often neglected in the classrooms, even at the coursed dedicated to medieval and Renaissance literature. Eight years ago when I took an obligatory course in historical grammar, some problems seemed to me rather abstract. Now, when I decided to transcribe a considerable number of old Polish texts, some of them originated on the cultural and language borderlands, where Polish, Ruthenian and other languages influenced one other, the phonetic qualities and issues of the orthography of the old Polish become much closer than ever before. And so are these texts.

I believe that the work of a historian should be considered, at least partially, as storytelling. This point was made by a number of scholars, including William Cronon, who tackled the idea of historiography as strorytelling in his wonderful presidential address given at the 2013 AHA Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Yet besides the narrative skills, le métier d’historien is based also on editorship and and one of the goals of historians activity is to provide the sources with commentary and make them available to other readers. Editorship is for me as equally important as structuring one’s own argument, creating an interpretation of the past events or, to put it simply, writing an erudite narrative about them.

These documents, transcriptions of a number of manuscripts and polemical publications are awaiting for the second phase or stage of my work which will be twofold. Now, when up to a certain point I internalized these texts through transcription, I should provide them with critical apparatus that will explain both the peculiarities of their language and the arguments and references employed in the calendrical and chronological debates. Some of them will hopefully find their place in the appendices for the articles that still need to be written, some of them – and that’s the largest part of my scribal output – will provide a basis for a large editorial project which will document a large part of my both to date and future research.

Thanks to these long hours spent on transcribing some obscure Latin manuscripts from various Central European milieus and angry Jesuit and Uniate brochures regarding the calendar reform, I see layers of this discussion which could be easily dismissed after a one-time reading and I hope I will be able to render the qualities of these texts and the hidden currents of these debates in the editions and narratives to come.