Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance 2503582974, 9782503582979

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Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
 2503582974, 9782503582979

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Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Volume 43

General Editor Robert E. Bjork

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Edited by

Robert E. Bjork

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

© 2019, Brepols Publishers n.v., Turnhout, Belgium All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. D/2019/0095/52 ISBN: 978-2-503-58297-9 e-ISBN: 978-2-503-58298-6 DOI: 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.116420 ISSN: 2034-5585 e-ISSN: 2294-8546 Printed on acid-free paper

Table of Contents Introduction vii robert e. bjork The Rhetoric of Catastrophe in Eleventh-Century Medieval Ireland: The Case of the Second Vision of Adomnán Nicole Volmering


The Virgin Mary and the Last Judgment in the Old Norse-Icelandic Maríu saga Daniel Najork


Personalized Eschatology and Lorraine Apocalypses, ca. 1295–1320 Karlyn Griffith


William Langland’s Uncertain Apocalyptic Prophecy of the Davidic King Kimberly Fonzo


Res papirea and the Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist Alison Beringer


Consider this Tomb: An Unedited Italian Sonnet about Death and Final Judgment Fabian Alfie


“The Lesser Day of Resurrection”: Ottoman Interpretations of the Istanbul Earthquake of 1509 H. Erdem Çipa


Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel: Spirals toward Destruction Catherine Shultz McFarland


Inhuman Rage: Linguistic Apocalypse in a Sixteenth-Century Huguenot Poetic Commemoration of the Sack of Lyon Evan J. Bibbee


Fire in the Sky: Celestial Omens of Catastrophe in a French Renaissance Painting Katrina Klaasmeyer




The Wrath of God and the Soul on Trial: Late Medieval and Puritan Eschatological Fears and the Clerical Uses of Apocalyptical Imagery Joanna Miles (Ludwikowska)


The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia: The Sermon on the Antichrist J. Eugene Clay


Notes on Contributors


Index 201

Introduction Robert E. Bjork In the twenty-first century, insurance companies still call them “acts of God.” Note the upper case and singular form in regard to the deity. In insurance circles, an act of God is defined as any accident or event not influenced by human beings. They are accidents caused by nature; hurricanes, floods, hail, tsunamis, wildfires, earthquakes, tornados, lightning strikes, even falling trees are all considered acts of God. The key is whether a human or humans could reasonably be considered at fault — at least until insurance companies find a way to sue God. This collection of essays, the result of the 2014 ACMRS Conference, treats the topic of catastrophes and their connection to apocalyptic mentalities and rhetoric in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, both in Europe and in the Muslim world, and specifically to the last book of the Christian Bible.

A Matter of Definition The authors in this volume use terms that are simultaneously helpful and ambiguous for a whole range of phenomena and appraisal that have their remote origin in the Hebrew Bible. During the Second Temple period of Judaism a new literary form developed called “apocalyptic” as a mediated revelation of heavenly secrets to a human sage concerning messages that could be cosmological, speculative, historical, teleological, or moral. However, the best known development of this type of literature came to fruition in the New Testament and is, of course, the Book of Revelation, attributed to the apostle John. These revelations carry connotations of removing veils (literally, re-velo) or of opening stage curtains, and thus often have an intrinsically dramatic, quasi-theatrical character and a “technicolor” mise-en-scene. Such reveals, as we might call them, can either be vertical or horizontal. In the first, vertical revelation, the secrets of the inner workings of heaven and the universe are brought on stage, so to speak, while in the second, horizontal revelation, human history and its end/goal are unfolded before the reader or gazer. More often than not, horizontal revelations disclose a play in three acts: a present crisis or catastrophe, a coming decisive divine Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. vii–xii.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117175


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intervention or judgment, and the final reward or punishment for human behavior. We see this pattern best displayed in John’s Apocalypse. Allied to this unveiling are ancillary terms like eschatology, meaning beliefs concerned with the end of time and the final destiny of humankind, but without implying a particular timetable. Apocalypticism normally suggests that the End, however conceived, is imminent. The concept of millenarianism or chiliasm springs from John’s presentation of a thousand-year reign of peace before the End, but later writers did not necessarily hold that to be literally true as 1000 calendar years. It could often be interpreted as a final period of happiness that will be collective, temporal, and earthly (rather than spiritual and eternal). It has some resonance with the Early Modern term utopia, and the theme of utopianism. 1

Catastrophe and PTSD Modern psychology has coined the phrase “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) to describe the mental anguish that accompanies catastrophic tragedies, and historians have found the term useful in understanding cataclysmic events. Trauma is a violent event that the individual or community is helpless to avoid, and it is the feeling of radical helplessness that causes long-term physiological disturbances such as nightmares, chronic anxiety, guilt, and social isolation. Another consequence is that individuals and communities cease to view the world as meaningful; they lose their ability to symbolize and imagine in healthy ways. Trauma also encourages apocalyptic thinking, either as a nostalgic desire for a lost, blissful past, or as existential dread of the future accompanied by fantasies of revenge. 2 Remedies for this loss, or at least tools that promote recovery, have been found in the making of art, in forms of “serious” play-acting, and in ritualized behaviors that are perceived as reparative and restorative. Rituals and art works can be therapeutic because they create transcendent meanings that offer an explanation or a spiritual remedy for the unexplainable. As the historian of religions Mircea Eliade pointed out, suffering is made tolerable in this context because it is no longer absurd. 3 Rites enacted in common also allow for an acceptable public expression of sentiments that are normally private or secret; they foster social bonding or, as anthropologist Victor

1   Not all authors are in agreement on these terms. See the essays by Bernard McGinn and Paula Fredriksen in The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, edited by Richard Emmerson and Bernard McGinn (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 3–19 and 20–37 respectively. 2   Derek Daschke, “Apocalypse and Trauma,” in The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature, ed. John Collins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 457–72. 3   Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 98.



Turner called them, feelings of communitas. 4 It should be remembered that even with its catastrophic episodes of plague, warfare, and blood, the Apocalypse ends on a happy note: a bejeweled and foursquare city descends to earth and its inhabitants live in a perpetual communitas ad eternam. Ever since the time of Gregory the Great in the sixth century, the reaction to catastrophic events had always been a communal display of penance, ritualized as the rogation procession and done barefoot, accompanied by intercessory litanies with a display of icons and the relics of saints. 5 There is no question that Pope Gregory expected the end of the world in his lifetime, a belief he based on atmospheric signs and the invasion of the barbarian Huns. He wrote of such in his homily for the First Sunday in Advent, based on Luke 21:25–33: “There will be signs in the sun and the moon.” The sermon tells of what is to come: With regard to the earthquakes converting numberless cities into lamentable heaps of ruins, the accounts of them are not unknown to you, and reports of the like events reach us still from various parts of the world. Epidemics also continue to cause us the greatest sorrow and anxiety; and though we have not seen the signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars mentioned in Holy Scripture, we know, at least, that fiery weapons have appeared shining in the sky, and even blood, the foreboding of that blood which was to be shed in Italy by the invading barbarian hordes. As to the terrible roaring of the sea and of the waves, we have not yet heard it. However, we do not doubt that this also will happen; for, the greater part of the prophecies of our Lord being fulfilled, this one will also see its fulfillment, the past being a guarantee for the future. . . . What we have experienced these last three days is not unknown to you; how suddenly raging storms have rooted out the largest and strongest trees, have pulled down houses and destroyed churches! Many of the inhabitants, who at the end of the day quietly and in good health projected new plans for the morrow, were taken away by a sudden death during the night, and buried under the ruins of their dwellings. 6

Gregory’s homily was included in all medieval and Early Modern breviaries and was read year after year at the start of Advent, in both the Old World and the New. This fact suggests that apocalyptic concerns were initially spread by the literate clergy, as opposed to the largely unlettered pre-Modern laity. Certainly, in the early Middle Ages, only the clergy would have access to calendars and be aware of   Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Hawthorne, NY: Adline de Gruyter, 1969), 96–97. 5   See Jaime Lara, Christian Texts for Aztecs: Art and Liturgy in Colonial Mexico (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 172–73 and fig. 6.2. 6   Gregory the Great, “Homily for the first Sunday in Advent,” in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, ed. M.F. Toal (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1957), 17–20. 4


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significant dates, such as the year 1000 and the turning of the millennium or the half-millennium. Moreover, the Advent liturgical season, with its teleological view of human history (as well as being the beginning of winter in Europe), might have lent itself for more fearful ruminations of the last book of the Bible. These are far-reaching and sweeping topics. The writers of this present volume do not attempt to deal with all of the issues stated above, but rather they have focused their attention on the first act of the End Time play: the larger meanings, receptions, and interpretations of catastrophic occurrences. Our essayists have also expanded the notion of catastrophe to include calamities that might be social, political, or dogmatic. In this collection, we have thought that a roughly chronological presentation of the conference papers would be the best way to proceed. Nicole Volmering begins our project with the study of a sermon on the Apocalypse in eleventh-century Ireland. As a form of visionary rhetoric, the narrative involves disaster and punishment, but also the intercession of the saints and the possibility of preventing catastrophe by holy fasting. According to the preacher, it seems that the Irish had a privileged place in human history: They would be spared the tribulations of the Last Judgment by a surprise event unique to the Emerald Isle. Daniel Najork takes us further north with an Old Norse saga that deals with the influence of post–New Testament apocryphal literature such as the Visio Pauli. In the aftermath of the IV Lateran Council, that literature became part of theological controversies in the thirteenth century: the question of a particular judgment versus a last judgment, and the topic of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The saga also raises questions about what the afterlife might look like. The production of illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts is dealt with in Karlyn Griffiths’ art historical essay. The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries saw the rise of a new book culture; here the focus is the vernacular and illustrated texts of the book of Revelation for elites around the Lorraine region. The influence of the mendicant preaching orders is noticeable in the desire to bring the Apocalypse into the present lived moment of the readers/hearers, and one discerns the novel importance given to the figure of Antichrist. We have to ask why pictures of that shadowy figure suddenly come to the fore, and how did those pictures, in turn, shaped rhetorical descriptions of the Man of Sin and his dreaded deeds. Prophecies of the End Time are the focus of Kimberly Fonzo’s study. Fourteenth-century English literature is here studied as political rhetoric wherein the biblical Saul and David become symbols of the French and English monarchies. The author offers a reading of familiar texts through the prism of the prophecies of Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202), the medieval abbot, pundit, and artist. Understood in this light, those texts seem to both favor and criticize an English saviour king. Alison Beringer continues with the theme of prophecy in poetry, this time within the sphere of fifteenth-century Germany. The invention of printing opened new possibilities, but it also fostered a critique of “fake news” and the deceits of propaganda. Printed paper, it seems, could just as easily be a means of communicating Antichrist lies, and printing might even be a diabolical technology or, at



least, be ambivalent in the disclosure or concealment of the soon-to-be-expected Man of Sin. Fabian Alfie offers us a more personal view of human calamity by examining poetry in southern Europe in the same fifteenth century, and he highlights a sonnet ruminating on death and the subsequent judgment. Research suggests that the poem was intended to be displayed above an individual’s tomb. The lasting influence of the mind of Saint Jerome is felt in the pervasive memento mori tradition of the Italian peninsula, especially as it was transmuted by Dante and later vernacular literature. With Erdem Çıpa we move out of the Euro-Christian paradigm to the news of an earthquake, tsunami, and flood in the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim world. The author reminds us that apocalyptic scenarios and prophecies are very much part of the Qur’ān and later Islamic literature. The comparison with the biblical narratives of contemporary sixteenth-century Europe is enlightening, especially because the tragic events befalling the Turks were interpreted in rival ways. The catastrophic changes brought on by the Reformation and its polemics are documented visually by Catherine Schultz McFarland. By comparing and contrasting two paintings by Pieter Bruegel on the theme of the biblical Tower of Babel, larger themes and sharper critiques of church and state are unveiled. Seen in the context of their religio-political time and place, the winding tower becomes a metaphor for Netherlandish communities spiralling toward destruction, either ecological or social. Staying in France and the same century, Evan Bibbee also explores CatholicProtestant conflicts, but as witnessed in elegiac literature of the time. The so-called Sack of Lyon and the massacre of Huguenots are poetically recast as events taken from the book of Revelation. The poetry hints at larger issues of the change and transformation transpiring in a troubled century. Katrina Klaasmeyer returns us to an art historical approach to cosmic signs with a study of a solar eclipse in sixteenth-century France and its interpretation by way of painting. The essay highlights the blurry line between astronomy and astrology at the time, and the rival claims of Catholics and Protestants regarding divine messages written in the heavens. Seventeenth-century England was no less troubled and polemical. Joanna Ludwikowska examines the rise of the Puritan movement and shows that much of its rhetoric of fear was remarkably similar to that of the Catholic Middle Ages. Additionally, a comparison of Calvinist England and Puritan New England demonstrates continuity even within the changed circumstances and locales. We see that themes of Antichrist and doomsday are amazingly consistent. Finally, the spectral figure of Antichrist returns in the religious rhetoric of Early Modern Russia. Eugene Clay brings to light a sermon on the Man of Sin, attributed to the fourth-century theologian and poet Ephraem the Syrian, which was published in the mid-seventeenth century. The translation and new interest in the ancient sermon attests to tensions inherent in attempts at liturgical and political reforms in contemporary Russia and to current Orthodox-Catholic hostilities.


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We hope that this volume of Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance will make a further contribution to the vast and ever-growing body of scholarship on the topics of apocalypticism, prophecy, millennialism, (super)natural cataclysms and their interpretation in art and literature, and in historical, political, and religious thinking. The ACMRS thanks our outstanding academic contributors, and especially Brepols Publishers of Belgium, for being our partner in disseminating this exciting body of knowledge.

The Rhetoric of Catastrophe in EleventhCentury Medieval Ireland: The Case of the Second Vision of Adomnán Nicole Volmering Vae, uae, uae uiris Hiberniae insolae mandata Domini transgredientibus! Vae regibus et princi[pi]bus qui non di[l]igunt ueritatem et diligunt iniquitatem et rapinam! Vae doctoribus qui non docent ueritatem et consen[t]iunt uanitatibus imperfectorum! Vae meritricibus et peccatoribus qui sicut foenum et stipula concremabuntur a bura ignita in anno bisextili et embolesmi et in fine circuli et in Decollatione Iohannis Bautistae! IN sexta feria autem plaga conueni[e]t in illo anno, nisi deuota poenitentia prohibuerit, ut Níniuetae fecerunt! 1

In modern colloquial usage, the terms apocalypse and catastrophe commonly go hand in hand. Modern conceptions of the term apocalypse incorporate not just the events of the Christian End Time, but also the end of the world in general, or catastrophic and irreversible damage to human civilization. The emphasis on disaster in these interpretations of apocalypse overshadows its original sense of “revelation” and betrays the lasting influence of the Book of Revelation, with its harrowing

  The Second Vision of Adomnán, ed. and trans. Nicole Volmering, “The Second Vision of Adomnán,” in The End and Beyond: Medieval Irish Eschatology, ed. John Carey, Emma Nic Cárthaigh, and Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh (Aberystwyth: Celtic Studies Publications, 2014), 656–57: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the men of the island of Ireland transgressing the Lord’s commandments! Woe to the kings and princes who do not love truth and love injustice and plunder! Woe to the teachers who do not teach truth and consent to the folly of the imperfect! Woe to the harlots and sinners who will be burned up like hay and stubble by a fire kindled in an embolismic leap year and at the end of a cycle and on the [Feast of] the Decollation of John the Baptist! On a Friday in this year a plague will come, unless devout penance will have prevented it, just as the Ninevites did!” 1

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 1–14.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117176


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imagery of the events heralding the End Time, on Western thought. 2 The relevance of these connotations for the present essay is two-fold. First, they color how we think about apocalyptic literature, whether ancient, medieval, or modern. 3 Second, the association between catastrophe and apocalypticism is evident also in many medieval accounts speculating on the eschaton, the arrival of the Antichrist, or the meaning of celestial and environmental portents, but the correspondence between catastrophe and apocalypticism is a matter of degree and context. To an extent, then, this essay seeks to explore the question: when is a prophecy of catastrophe not apocalyptic? In a narrow sense, apocalypticism is understood as a world of ideas similar to that which is found in apocalypses; 4 but in this respect it must also be pointed out that apocalypses, as texts, are defined by more than their eschatological outlook. 5 More often it is extended to refer to the anticipation of the imminent End Time, which will restore order to a world flawed or in crisis and which coincides with the hope of judgment, salvation, and transcendence. 6 In addition, when speaking of apocalypticism in

2   John J. Collins, “Apocalypse: An Overview,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Lindsay Jones, Mircea Eliade, and Charles J. Adams, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2005), 409–14. 3   As Richard Landes has argued, a preoccupation with the “terrors” and fears perceived in apocalyptic literature, until recently, dominated discussions of works written around the turn of the first millennium, leading to a polarization into a pro- and anti-Terrors faction. See Richard Landes, “The Fear of an Apocalyptic Year 1000: Augustinian Historiography, Medieval and Modern,” Speculum 75, no. 1 (2000): 97–145, here 97–101; and Landes, “The Terribles Espoirs of 1000 and the Tacit Fears of 2000,” in The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950–1050, ed. Richard Landes, Andrew Gow, and David C. van Meter (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3–11. 4   John J. Collins, Seers, Sybils and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 27; Martin McNamara, “Apocalyptic and Eschatological Texts in Irish Literature: Oriental Connections?” in Apocalyptic and Eschatological Heritage: The Middle East and Celtic Realms, ed. Martin McNamara (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003), 76; Adela Yarbro Collins, “Apocalypse Now: The State of Apocalyptic Studies near the End of the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century,” Harvard Theological Review 104, no. 4 (2011): 447–57, here 447–48. See also the overview of scholarship in Lorenzo DiTommaso, “Apocalypses and Apocalypticism I & II,” Currents in Biblical Research 5, no. 2 & 3 (2007): 235–86, 367–432. 5   That is, apocalypses can be defined by a distinct combination of recurrent features typical of the genre. See John J. Collins, ed., Apocalypse. The Morphology of a Genre (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979); revisited in his “The Apocalyptic Genre,” in The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to the Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 2nd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 1–42; and David Hellholm, “The Problem of Apocalyptic Genre and the Apocalypse of John,” in Early Christian Apocalypticism: Genre and Social Setting, ed. Adela Y. Collins (Decatur, GA: Scholars Press, 1986), 13–64. 6  John Collins, “Apocalypse: An Overview,” 410; Bernard McGinn, Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 3–4, 7–9.

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relation to medieval literature of the period concerning us here, often what is meant is millennialism (that is, anxiety concerning the approach of the turn of a millennium) 7 as well as anxiety resulting from calendrical speculation regarding the approach or delay of the Day of Judgment. These must in turn be separated from a general awareness of living in the Last Age, which can be traced throughout the early Christian and medieval periods. Recent scholarship has suggested that a somewhat heightened, uneasy awareness of the potential relevance of millennial predictions derived from the Book of Revelation may be discerned in works from the tenth and eleventh centuries and may have underpinned a number of ostensibly or overtly apocalyptic moments and movements. To a degree, this apocalyptic anxiety may have given rise to the interpretation of distressing environmental, celestial, or political events as apocalyptic portents, or it may have led to their reassessment in the light of apocalyptic history. 8 While these preliminaries contextualize the complex association between prophecies of catastrophe and apocalypticism in medieval literature, this connection is sometimes hastily made, without regard to the relationship of such texts to the apocalyptic literature from which the term derives. There certainly is no shortage of literary speculation on the events of the Last Days in medieval Irish literature, e.g., on the signs preceding Doomsday, 9 or, for that matter, on related disasters predicted to befall the Irish before that time. Among the most well-known of these traditions are two prophecies of catastrophe, which have bearing on the subject of this essay. The first is the flood said to wipe out the Irish seven years ahead of Judgment Day so that they may be spared its tribulations; this was one of the favors granted to St. Patrick by the Lord. 10 The 7   I here follow Richard Landes in distinguishing the term from millenarianism or chiliasm (also frequently referred to as millennialism), which is the anticipation of a thousand-year utopian period. See Landes, “The Fear,” 101. 8  McGinn, Visions of the End, esp. 28–36. However, McGinn points out (88–89) that this does not imply that apocalyptic hope in the tenth and eleventh centuries was especially fervent compared to other periods. See also Norman Cohn, The Pursuit Of The Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, rev. ed. (London: Pimlico, 1993); David C. van Meter, “Apocalyptic Moments and the Eschatological Rhetoric of Reform in the Early Eleventh Century: The Case of the Visionary of St. Vaast,” in Landes, Gow, and van Meter, The Apocalyptic Year 1000, 311–25; David C. van Meter, “Selected Documents on Eschatological Expectations and Social Change around the Year 1000,” in Landes, Gow, and van Meter, The Apocalyptic Year 1000, 337–45; and Mark Williams, Fiery Shapes: Celestial Portents and Astrology in Ireland and Wales 700–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1–33. 9   See now all essays in “Part II: The Judgement and its Signs,” in vol. 2 of John Carey, Emma Nic Cárthaigh, and Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh, The End and Beyond: Medieval Irish Eschatology. Cf. William W. Heist, The Fifteen Signs Before Doomsday (East Lansing: Michigan State College Press, 1952); and Martin McNamara, “The (Fifteen) Signs Before Doomsday in Irish Tradition,” Miscellanea Patristica, Warszawskie Studia Teologiczne 20, no. 2 (2007): 223–54. 10   See e.g., Tirechán, Collectanea 52, ed. and trans. Ludwig Bieler, The Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh, Scriptores Latini Hiberniae 10 (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies,


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second is the prophecy that a fiery plague, which will slay three-quarters 11 of the Irish, will strike Ireland on the Feast of the Decollation of John the Baptist (29 August) because the Irish druid Mog Ruith killed John the Baptist. 12 The text I wish to discuss in this essay, namely, a homily referred to as the Second Vision of Adomnán, 13 draws on these traditions and takes as its starting point the prophecy printed above, which announces that the catastrophe will come when the Decollation of John of the Baptist falls on a Friday in an intercalary leap year at the end of a cycle. The homily tells us that it was revealed to St. Adomnán in a vision that the Irish would suffer this catastrophe as punishment for their sinful conduct. The text has an introduction in Latin, which provides the details for predicting the date of the catastrophe, and a shorter one in Irish, which details that only the mercy of God and St. Patrick will save them. It then outlines the catastrophe to come and the sins of the Irish. As a remedy for this situation, it prescribes a series of commandments, most important among them a regular series of three-day fasts, to be held at the three Lents and, of course, at the Feast of the Decollation of John the Baptist. The text then concludes with a series of exhortative exempla to emphasize the efficacy of the recommended procedure. The belief that the Feast of John the Baptist was unlucky is also corroborated by a set of annal entries for the year 1096, which record a great fear because the Feast was to fall on a Friday (see below) and provide details specifically associating it with the tradition represented in the Second Vision. For this reason, the text and the year 1096 have, on more than one occasion, been associated with apocalyptic or millennial fervor. Benjamin Hudson and Aideen O’Leary both place this event 1979), 165; the Vita Tripartita, ed. Kathleen Mulchrone, Bethu Phátraic: The Tripartite Life of Patrick (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1939), 73–74; and the Vita Tripartita, ed. and trans. Whitley Stokes, The Tripartite Life of Patrick with Other Documents Relating to That Saint, 1st ed., Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores 89 (London: H.M. Stationery Office, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1887), 117–19. 11   Or two-thirds in some texts, e.g., in The Beheading of John the Baptist by Mog Ruith §§41– 42, ed. and trans. Annie M. Scarre, “The Beheading of John the Baptist by Mog Ruith,” Ériu 4 (1910): 173–81; and in the eschatological section of Immacallam in Dá Thuarad, ed. and trans. John Carey, “The End of the World in The Colloquy of the Two Sages,” in Carey, Nic Cárthaigh, and Ó Dochartaigh, The End and Beyond, 629–45. 12  Scarre, “The Beheading,” §41–42; Käte Müller-Lisowski, ed. and trans., “Texte Zur Mog Ruith Sage,” Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 14 (1923): 145–6. 13   Volmering, “The Second Vision.” Four known copies of this text survive, the earliest of which is contained in a fifteenth-century manuscript. The text itself, however, may be dated to the second half of the eleventh century. The copies are Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 P 16 (1230), pp. 258–59, dated ca. 1408–1411 (B, known as the Leabhar Breac); Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1317 (H.2.15b), pp. 137–53, ca. 1643 (T), a copy of B; Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 O 48 (cat. 476), fol. 22r–v (F, known as the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum), abridged; and Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 24 P 9 (cat. 739), pp. 89–104 (P 9), a freely adapted and modernized version of B.

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in the context of apocalypticism and institutional reform, and O’Leary goes so far as to argue that the legend of Mog Ruith mentioned above was the indirect cause of the panic of 1096. 14 According to O’Leary, this event formed the height of an apocalyptic climax, which in turn catapulted the twelfth-century reform movement in Ireland. For this position, however, the evidence from the texts is largely lacking or circumstantial. By contrast, Elizabeth Boyle argues that none of the vernacular eschatological homilies from the period 1000–1150 that she examines show any sign of anticipating an imminent apocalyptic judgment. In addition, she points out that the reform movement was well under way in Ireland by this time. She suggests, therefore, that the apocalyptic element in medieval Irish literature may have been overstated. 15 In light of these contrasting opinions, it seems to me that we ought to revisit the crux of the discussion surrounding the Second Vision and the year 1096, namely, the association between catastrophe and apocalypticism and the anticipation of fear and hope that they arouse. Given that a widely recognized aspect of apocalypticism and apocalyptic rhetoric is its reactionary function as an expression of hope and fear in the face of an eschatological crisis, it seems worthwhile to examine the responses to the catastrophe associated with John the Baptist and what relationship, if any, these have to apocalypticism.

Fear: The Feast of John the Baptist The Second Vision opens with the prognostication that the aforementioned catastrophe will take place on a Friday in a leap year with an intercalary moon, at the end of a cycle, and on the Decollation of John the Baptist. 16 It furthermore describes the catastrophe as a fiery plague, which will cleanse Ireland from the southwest and consume three-fourths of the men of Ireland:

  Benjamin Hudson, “Time Is Short: The Eschatology of the Early Gaelic Church,” in Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. Caroline Walker Bynum and Paul H. Freedman (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 101–23, 301–7; Aideen O’Leary, “Mog Ruith and Apocalypticism in Eleventh-Century Ireland,” in The Individual in Celtic Literatures, ed. J.F. Nagy (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), 51–60. 15   Elizabeth Boyle, “The Rhetoric and Reality of Reform in Irish Eschatological Thought, c. 1000–c. 1150,” History of Religions 55, no. 3 (2016): 268–88. In my own work on medieval Irish visions of the afterlife, I have likewise found that in such texts as Fís Adomnáin — the “first” vision of Adomnán — in which the Last Judgment lies at the center of its eschatological focus, there is no obvious indication of an imminent Doom, though the nature of this genre is such that the emphasis is on a different type of anticipation, that of an imminent individual judgment. 16   The Second Vision of Adomnán §1, in Volmering, “The Second Vision,” 656: “. . . in anno bisextili et embolesmi et in fine circuli et in Decollatione Iohannis Bautistae! IN sexta feria autem plaga conuenit in illo anno . . .” 14


nicole volmering IS dífaisnesi tra, 7 is doḟulachtu in plág thicfa and mine-foichligther co lléir .i. lasar thened, luathaigther athach ngáithe glanfus Eirinn aniardes, 7 is í insin tene loiscfes teora cetraimi fer n-Erenn fri prapad súla, firu, mná, macu sceo ingena, cen chomand, cen cóibsin, cen sacarbaic. .  .  . Oen do cét dib namá dochumm nime . . . ar bid tanaise do dígail lathi bratha in dígal dos-bera Dia for firu Erenn in amsir in dunibad-sin. 17

That the Feast of John the Baptist is particularly inauspicious in the Irish tradition is reflected in a complex network of catastrophic portents said to take place on this day in the reign of Flann Cinach (or Cithach), the last king of Ireland, just prior to the Day of Judgment. The full extent of this tradition has not to date been adequately explored, 18 but I discuss the most relevant texts here to illustrate the network of ideas to which the Second Vision is indebted. As mentioned, the reason for the ill-fated character of this day is that the Irish druid Mog Ruith is held responsible for the killing of John the Baptist. It is uncertain precisely how old this belief is. The story is largely preserved in Middle Irish texts, but a reference to it already appears in the wisdom text Sanas Chormaic. 19 It is also mentioned in a compilation of prophecies included in the commentaries to the Félire Óengusso concerning the scuab a Fanait [Broom out of Fánad], one of the manifestations in which the aforementioned catastrophe is attested. The account opens with the statement “Is i ndighail marbtha Eoin Bautist immorro tic in scuab a Fanait do erglanadh Erenn fri deredh in domain.” 20There is an echo of the tradition   The Second Vision of Adomnán §5, in Volmering, “The Second Vision,” 660: “It is unspeakable then, and unendurable, the plague which will come here, unless it is warded off diligently, that is, a flame of fire, as swift as a gust of wind which will cleanse Ireland from the southwest, and this is the fire which consumes three fourths of the men of Ireland in the blink of an eye, men, women, sons and daughters, without communion, without confession, without sacrament. Only one out of a hundred of them [will go] to heaven . . . for second only to the punishment of Doomsday will be the punishment which God will bring down upon the men of Ireland at the time of that mortality.” 18   Some of the relevant material was discussed in Eugene O’Curry, Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History (Dublin, 1861; Reprint, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1995), lectures 18–21, esp. 384–85, 399–406, and 423–30, but this discussion is now outdated. 19  s.v. cnámchaill, in Paul Russell, Sharon Arbuthnot, and Pádraic Moran, Early Irish Glossaries Database (Cambridge: Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, 2010), http://www. However, an earlier group of texts connecting Mog Ruith with Simon Magus appears to have no affiliation with the legends concerning the Feast of John the Baptist. See Käte Müller-Lisowski, “Texte”; and John Carey, “An Old Irish Poem about Mug Ruith,” Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 110 (2005): 113–34, here 125. 20   “In vengeance for the killing of John comes the Besom out of Fanait to expurgate Ireland at the end of the world.” See Félire Óengusso, ed. and trans. Whitley Stokes, Félire Óengusso Céli Dé: The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee, Henry Bradshaw Society 29 (London: Harrison and Sons, 1905; repr. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1984), 190–91; and Scuap a 17

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represented by this account in one of the later manuscripts of the Second Vision (F), the scribe of which felt spurred to insert into his copy of the text the phrase “ac sguabadh 7 ac glanadh Eirenn” [sweeping and cleansing Ireland]. Other variants of the catastrophe include the roth rámach [rowing wheel] — an object closely associated with Mog Ruith, who constructed it 21 — or the saighnen teintighi [fiery arrow], both of which are said to come sweeping across Ireland to lay waste a large part of its population. 22 The overlap between the scuap and the saighnen is especially close, though they are separated in the sources. These portents are in turn often associated with the invasion of a large fleet at Inber Domnann (modern Malahide), also said to precede the Judgment. Only one of the texts describing these catastrophes, in addition to the Second Vision, explicitly notes that the Feast of John the Baptist must fall on a Friday. 23 Most important for comparison with the Second Vision of Adomnán is the brief text known as the Lore of the Fiery Arrow or the Legend of Loch Bél Séad, which is preserved some fifteen pages before the Second Vision in the manuscript known as the Leabhar Breac. It describes a savage, flaming dragon which will only leave one-fourth of the Irish alive. It places the catastrophe in a leap year, five days after Easter, five years before the mortality (that is, Doomsday). The poem has significant verbal parallels with §§1 and 5 of the Second Vision regarding the nature of the catastrophe and the calendrical details that predict its arrival. I have compared the two texts in extenso elsewhere and concluded that the author of the Second Vision appears to have drawn from this text at various points. 24 Yet while both texts share the reference to a leap year, the notion that the year ought also to be embolismic is restricted to the Second Vision alone. A comparison of these texts as a group shows that various motifs have become entwined with one another, but also that the events prophesied are consistently dated to a period leading up to Judgment Day, so that they may be placed firmly Fánait, ed. and trans. Hugh Fogarty, “The Broom out Fánat,” in Carey, Nic Cárthaigh, and Ó Dochartaigh, The End and Beyond, 685–96. 21   E.g., Müller-Lisowki, “Texte,” 158–63. 22   The Lore of the Fiery Arrow, ed. and trans. John Carey, “The Lore of the Fiery Arrow,” in Carey, Nic Cárthaigh, and Ó Dochartaigh, The End and Beyond, 705–13; Mesca Coluim Chille, ed. and trans. John Carey, “Colum Cille’s Warning to Baíthín,” in Carey, Nic Cárthaigh, and Ó Dochartaigh, The End and Beyond, 697–704; Longas Inbir Domnann, ed. and trans. Máire Herbert, “The Fleet of Inber Domnann,” in Carey, Nic Cárthaigh, and Ó Dochartaigh, The End and Beyond, 715–20; and Immacallam in Dá Thuarad, ed. and trans. John Carey, “The End of the World,” in Carey, Nic Cárthaigh, and Ó Dochartaigh, The End and Beyond, 629–45. 23   Mesca Coluim Chille §61: “Tiucfa an feil Eoin ar aíne / da tiphraid oigh ilchaine / sirfe go Muir Torrian soir / ní fuigbe acht cetramad” [The feast of John will come on a Friday; on which young men will give many laments; It will reach as far as the Mediterranean; it will leave only a fourth alive]. 24   See the notes to §5 in Volmering, “The Second Vision,” 673–75. In B — but not in the other known copy — the festival is said to fall on a Tuesday, but I am more inclined to consider the reading of the second copy original on the basis of the stylistic arrangement of the quatrain.


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within a “harbingers of Doom” tradition of which the Feast of John the Baptist is a notable element. In the Second Vision we are specifically told that the punishment that God will bring down on the men of Ireland will be “tanaise do dígail lathi brátha” [second [only] to the punishment of the Day of Judgment]. As in the other accounts, the predicted catastrophe is thus presented as a terrifying and finite event, inaugurating a period of irreversible destruction, but it is nevertheless still at least one step removed from Doomsday. Nor is this catastrophe equated with the flood that will cover Ireland seven years before Doom, an event from which it is usually separated. While all of the catastrophic events outlined above may be considered fixed future events in the Irish tradition, they are not datable in any precise way. Thus, it should come as no surprise that we find them supplemented with calendrical speculation, as in the case of the Lore of the Fiery Arrow and the Second Vision of Adomnán. Like the events in Revelation, the precise date of these harbingers of doom remains elusive, dependent upon the recognition of obscure events or calculations, 25 and yet, because of this, they naturally attract speculation. The topic of calendrical speculation, then, brings us to the scare of the year 1096. Despite the detailed prognostication that opens the Second Vision, there is relatively little evidence for its significance for the events of year 1096. I have shown elsewhere that the computistical information presented was largely irrevelant: that is, there is no year in the eleventh century that meets all of the requirements mentioned in the text. While the year 1096 was both embolismic and a leap year, the most important factor appears to have been that the Feast of John the Baptist fell on a Friday. 26 The annals for this year record that there was a great fear as a

  Consider, e.g., the following obscure prognostication in the scuap a Fánait tradition (§6): “in tan bus rēil ethur for Loch Ru[d]raigei o dorus in praindtighe, as and do-thaot in Scuap” [when a boat is visible on Loch Rudraige from the door of the refectory, it is then that the Broom will come]. 26   Volmering, “The Second Vision,” 649–52. 25

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consequence. 27 It is perhaps of interest in this respect that all texts that associate the Feast with Friday are dated to the Middle Irish period. 28 There is one other aspect to the “John the Baptist” tradition not yet mentioned, which we find reflected in the Second Vision. The choice of St. Adomnán of Iona (ob. 704) as the visionary to whom the prophecy is attributed in the text is far from accidental, especially given that he plays no further role in the remainder of the text. St. Adomnán’s association with visionary activities is not historical, but it is nevertheless also found in Fís Adomnáin (ca. 1000), in which the abbot is said to have gone out of his body on the Feast of John the Baptist in order to receive a vision of the afterworld, 29 and in his Saint’s Life (Betha Adomnáin, ca.  950). The Life explains that Adomnán was said to have foretold a calamity at the festival of St. John, but that this calamity was fulfilled by his own death on 23 September — the eve of the festival of the Nativity of John the Baptist. 30 Adomnán’s association, in these two texts, both with prophetic ability and with the Feast of John the Baptist make him an excellent candidate for a role as prophet alongside St. Colum Cille and St. Moling, two of the saints to whom the aforementioned prophecies are regularly ascribed.   The Annals of Loch Cé, ed. and trans. William M. Hennessy (London: Longman, 1871), 1096.4, and The Annals of Ulster, ed. and trans. Seán Mac Airt and Gearóid Mac Niocaill (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1983), 1096.3: “Uaman mór for Feruibh Erenn [uile] ria b-fhéil Eoin na bliadna sin” [Great terror over the men of [all] Ireland before the feast of John of this year]; The Annals of the Four Masters, ed. and trans. John O’Donovan, Annala rioghachta Eireann: Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616, 7 vols, 2nd ed. (Dublin: Hodges, Smith & Co., 1856), 1096.9: “Feil Eóin for Aoine isin m-bliadhain-si. Ro ghabh imeagla mhór Fiora Ereann reimpi” [The festival of John fell on Friday this year; the men of Ireland were seized with great fear in consequence]; and the Chronicon Scotorum, ed. and trans. William M. Hennessy (London: Longman, 1866), 1096: “Bliadain na fele Eoin an bliadainsi for Aoine gur gab egla mor fir Erenn inte” [The year in which the feast of John fell on a Friday, and great fear seized the men of Ireland on account of it]. 28   That is, the Second Vision, the Mesca Coluim Chille, and the sole quatrain of the latter that is included in the commentaries to the Félire Óengusso (for which see Stokes, Félire, 190–91). 29   Fís Adomnáin §10, ed. and trans. John Carey, “Fís Adomnáin,” in Apocrypha Hiberniae II: Apocalyptica 2, ed. Martin McNamara (forthcoming): “Ro foillsiged dano fo deóid do Adamnán ua Thinne, do ardecnaid iarthair domain, aní pritchaither sunn, diaro escomla a ainimm asa churp i féil Iohain Bauptaist 7 dia rucad dochum ríchid co n-ainglib nime 7 ifirn cona doescurṡluag” [Finally, moreover, that which is preached here was revealed to Adomnán grandson of Tinne, to the high scholar of the west of the world, when his soul passed out of his body on the feast of John the Baptist, and when it was borne to heaven with the angels of heaven, and to hell with its rabble host]. 30   Betha Adamnáin, ed. and trans. Máire Herbert and Pádraig Ó Riain, Betha Adamnáin: The Irish Life of Adamnán (London: Irish Text Society, 1988), 85; Thomas Owen Clancy, “Adomnán in Medieval Gaelic Literary Tradition,” in Adomnán of Iona: Theologian, Lawmaker, Peacemaker, ed. J.M. Wooding et al. (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2010), 112–22. here 121. 27


nicole volmering

The Second Vision, in ascribing the opening words printed at the start of this essay to Adomnán, thus draws on a set of motifs concerning, on the one hand, the catastrophic events heralding Doomsday and, on the other, the death of one of Ireland’s most famous prophetic saints — all concentrating on the date of John the Baptist. These references would hardly be lost on a contemporary audience. In doing so, it initiates a discourse of fear, which in turn requires a discourse of hope.

Hope: Spiritual Direction and Penance Having established the nature of the catastrophe, the Second Vision proceeds to outline the reasons for it and the remedy proposed to avert it. In this part of the text, Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick, is the protagonist. Earlier in the text the reader is told that Patrick is the only saint not pleading against the people of Ireland and that his intercession is necessary for averting the plague. As the text explains, this is due to his special status as judge of the Irish on Doomsday — another favor he obtained from the Lord, as recorded by his hagiographers. 31 In paragraph six we are told specifically that the catastrophe will be brought upon the Irish because of díth [lack, destruction] of faith and worship in Ireland “amal ro fácaib Patraic leo” [as Patrick had left it with them], that is, when he converted the Irish and gave them the Faith. Instead, the Irish now appear to have reverted to paganism and are accused of committing every evil, apart from worshipping idols. 32 In other words, they have broken Patrick’s law. Paragraph seven, then, offers the remedy: the catastrophe can only be averted by obtaining God’s mercy on account of renewing one’s faith and through Patrick’s prayer to the Lord. This is followed by a detailed exposition that makes up one of the largest sections of the text, on the “law of spiritual direction” commanded by God and Patrick in order to successfully ward off the catastrophe. The legal undertones of the previous sections are made abundantly clear here. The people of Ireland are given a set of commands, whose fulfillment is, in accordance with early Irish legal practice, secured through the means of guarantors. Strikingly, the guarantors in question are St. Peter, the Virgin Mary, and the archangel Michael. 33 The commands include “a three-day fast every three months; and   Vita Tripartita, ed. Stokes, The Tripartite Life (see above, n. 10).   The Second Vision of Adomnán §§6–7, in Volmering, “The Second Vision.” 33   I have not been able to find a parallel elsewhere for this triad of guarantors, but it is likely inspired by their role as intercessors elsewhere, in versions of the Transitus Mariae. See notes to The Second Vision of Adomnán §8, in Volmering, “The Second Vision.” Alternatively, the text may here have been inspired by the Cáin Adomnáin §22, ed. and trans. Kuno Meyer, Cáin Adomnáin: An Old-Irish Treatise on the Law of Adamnan (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905), in which Adomnán’s law is secured with guarantors (ráthai), which include no less than the sun and moon and all other elements of God; Peter, Paul, Andrew, and the other apostles; Gregory; the two Patricks; and some thirty Irishmen, among whom bishops and abbots. 31


The Rhetoric of Catastrophe


‘making smooth from rough’; and two ordained men in every church of God for baptism, communion and singing requiems; and boys for studying; and Sunday free.” 34 The three-day fast envisioned here is quite strict, as it involves three days and nights without food or drink, rather than the more regular allowance of one meal per day. It is prescribed for the beginning of the winter Lent; the Wednesday after the beginning of the spring Lent; the Wednesday after Pentecost, and the Wednesday after the beginning of autumn, in addition to fasting on the Feast of John. There are, in addition, penalties for those who refuse, although provision is made to exempt sick people, infants, and old people. This part of the text, therefore, presents the fast as if it was canon law but places it in the context of eschatological justice. Patrick’s law is presented as the spiritual order that has been broken but that can be restored if the Irish make an effort to renew their faith by accepting these new commandments. Each of the two protagonists in this text has been awarded a distinct role. Adomnán is the messenger delivering the warning; he functions as the authoritative source, modeled on the biblical prophets. Patrick’s role, by contrast, is both that of eschatological judge and that of guardian of the divine law on earth. When his law is violated and his people are on the brink of catastrophe, he is the only one who can obtain grace on their behalf. It is through acceptance of his commandments that the balance may be restored and the plague may be warded off. This emphasis on the law and on the commandments is hardly accidental. The author is creating a deliberate parallel with Moses. Our text here draws on earlier hagiography, in particular the Vita Tripartita, a lengthy work on Patrick written at the center of his cult, in Armagh. In this work, as previously mentioned, Patrick obtains favors from the Lord by fasting against him — a legal procedure in medieval Ireland — on top of a mountain, “after the manner of Moses son of Amra, for they were alike in many things.” 35 Patrick is thus presented as the Irish Moses. Indeed, the promise that everything can be obtained by asking it of God and Patrick through fasting and prayer is followed by a series of five Old Testament exempla demonstrating the efficacy of fasting and prayer. The first of these recalls Moses’ fast on Mount Sinai without food or drink in Exodus and his ability to lead God’s people through the Red Sea. The analogy with Patrick’s task of leading the Irish out of danger is obvious. Other examples include Joshua’s defeat of the tribes of Canaan through prayer, Jonas’ escape from the belly of the whale, and the release of the three boys from the fiery furnace. We may observe, then, that the catastrophe here foretold is presented, much in the tradition of the Old Testament, as a punishment for the sinful. 36 Yet

  The Second Vision of Adomnán §8, in Volmering, “The Second Vision”: “tredan cecha tremsi, 7 denum redi do amrédib 7 dias cech eclasi De, do æs graid fri bathis 7 comaind 7 gail n-ec[n]arci 7 maccu do legend 7 soire domnaig.” 35   Vita Tripartita, in Stokes, The Tripartite Life, 115. 36   In fact, the text alludes to this in paragraph six. 34


nicole volmering

while the text laments a world filled with sin and injustice, it anticipates its restoration to spiritual order and exhorts its audience to fasting and prayer. The annals record a similar approach; similar enough, in fact, that we cannot be sure that one was not based on the other. The variation is in the details rather than the approach: one entry records that the three-day fast was held every month rather than at the three Lents and the Feast of John the Baptist, as in our text. In addition, it prescribes daily fasting for a year and alms-giving. 37 Thus, while they cannot be equated with the Second Vision without question, the annals provide a historical basis to the 1096 scare and underscore that an active effort was made in that year to prevent the calamity by prescribing, like in the Second Vision, a remedy of prayer and fasting. The most significant element arising from the extant record is perhaps that the information mainly survives in annals generally associated with the vicinity of Armagh. In close analogy with the Second Vision, the annals underscore that the comarb [ecclesiastical successor] of Patrick was in charge of the implementation of a reforming rule designed to deal with the fear described. Whether or not this was a nation-wide program may yet be called into question by the absence of relevant records in, for instance, The Annals of Inisfallen. 38

An Apocalyptic Message? So what do the Second Vision and these annal references have to do with apocalypticism? The text only counts a few aspects that might in one way or another be associated with apocalypticism or apocalyptic rhetoric. The text opens with a revelation to an authoritative prophet by an angel. The angel’s words “Vae, uae, uae uiris Hiberniae . . . !” even echo the phrase “Vae, vae, vae habitantibus in terra . . . !” from Revelation 3:18. Furthermore, it places itself firmly in a tradition of Irish apocalyptic portents in which St. Patrick reigns as eschatological Judge. The text thus draws freely from available apocalyptic imagery in order to create its argument; yet does not have a strictly apocalyptic outlook. The text is concerned with the flaws of the contemporary world but does not anticipate that this flawed world be overthrown in its entirety and replaced with a utopian land of saints. Rather, it argues for a more personal type of reform, a reconversion in fact. The threatening catastrophe is presented as a form of punishment, as vengeance even, for the sins of the Irish, but it is not equated with the Final Judgment. The Second Vision presents 37   Chronicon Scotorum, 1906: “conidh í comairle ar ar cinnettur clerigh Erenn da dichor.i. tredenus gach mí 7 trosgadh gach laoi go cenn mbliadhna 7 almsana don Coimdhedh” [and what the clerics of Ireland resolved on to dispel it was that there should be a three-days fast each month and abstention every day for a year and alms [should be given] to the Lord]. 38  The Annals of Tigernach only refer to 1096 as a bad year, without additional detail. Yet, that the comarb of Patrick went on a circuit of Munster in 1094 suggests that Armagh was attempting to establish its authority there.

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a narrative which inspires action, but at no point is its argument hysterical or even urgent. Much like the poetic works from which it draws, its rhetoric is designed to be emotive, calling up images of terror. But like Revelation, it plays out a drama 39 leading its audience from fear into hope by providing them, not with images of the Kingdom Come, but of a clear path towards penance and faith. The cautionary, pragmatic and reformist tone of our text is matched only in the entry in the Chronicon Scotorum. All of the annal entries given above, however, suggest there was a real and widespread fear of an imminent catastrophe on the Feast of John. Placed against the wider background of traditions surrounding the Feast of John the Baptist, it does not seem altogether unlikely that the prognostication, or rather the Feast of the Decollation falling on a Friday, might have inspired fear. But it is unlikely to have been an apocalyptic fear. Rather, I think the events recorded for 1096 are perhaps better regarded as an a posteriori reaction — in the words of Bernard McGinn — to environmental upheaval. 40 The Second Vision specifically indicates that the Feast of John itself will also be preceded by a number of plagues. If this belief was indeed current in the late eleventh century, the combination of recurrent environmental disasters and a severe plague in the years preceding 1096 41 with prognostications regarding the Decollation may have led to the reinterpretation of such current events by writing them into God’s divine plan and making them part of the larger narrative of sin and penance. If, like in the Second Vision, or, for that matter, biblical history in general, catastrophe is to be equated with divine vengeance, then its avoidance surely lies in removing the offence. A program of increased devotional activity fits that paradigm. Such a response is neither unusual nor uncommon and is, in fact, of a similar fabric to many apocalyptic moments inspired by political or environment upheaval. 42 The Second Vision and the programme of fasting proposed in the Chronicon Scotorum share this reactionary element with such apocalyptic moments recorded elsewhere, but that in itself does not imply that either should be considered part of an apocalyptic movement in eleventh-century Ireland. Nor does this single instance of preventitive fasting equate to (or even reference) a full-blown reformation of the church. The rhetoric of the Second Vision is carefully woven around existing images of judgment and justice, yet its aspirations are decidedly earthly. As a result, it is able to transform its prophecy of doom into a reform-inspiring rhetoric of catastrophe. 43

39   On Revelation as a drama, see the remarks in McGinn, Visions of the End, 31–36; and Stephen D. O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), esp. chap. 3. 40  McGinn, Visions of the End, 33. 41   Volmering, “The Second Vision,” 651–52; Boyle, “Rhetoric and Reality.” 42   Van Meter, “Selected Documents,” 337–45; McGinn, Visions of the End, 89. 43   The research undertaken for this article was made possible due to generous sponsorship from the Irish Research Council and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

The Virgin Mary and the Last Judgment in the Old Norse-Icelandic Maríu saga Daniel Najork The Old Norse-Icelandic Maríu saga chronicles the Virgin Mary’s life from her conception to her death and Assumption and supplements the vita with theological commentary on Scripture and explanations of church ritual and doctrine. The saga is an original narrative compiled from a mixture of canonical and apocryphal sources and exhibits a gifted and learned scholar behind its composition. Much of the material is based on the Evangelium de Nativitate Mariae attributed to Jerome, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the Trinubium Annae, and Flavius Josephus’ Antiquitates Judaicae. Theological explanations are sourced from authoritative church figures such as John Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, Augustine, and Jerome. The saga also relies on the commentary available in the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor, the Elucidarius of Honorius of Autun, and perhaps some version of the Transitus Mariae. The Speculum historiale of Vincent of Beauvais has been postulated also. 1 Kygri-Björn Hjaltason (d. 1237 or 1238) has traditionally been credited with the authorship of the saga due to a statement in Arngrímr Brandsson’s (d. 1361) Guðmundar saga D, in which Arngrímr notes that “Var Kygri-Björn mikilsháttar klerkr, sem auðsýnast má í þvi, at hann hefir samsett Maríu sögu” [Kygri-Björn was a distinguished cleric, as may be clearly seen in that he has compiled the saga of Mary]. 2 There is little proof to support or deny the attribution to Kygri-Björn, and thus most scholars generally accept him as the author of the saga. If he is indeed the   On the sources of the saga, see Wilhelm Heizmann, “Maríu saga,” in Philip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf, et al., eds., Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland, 1993), 407–8; and Kirsten Wolf. The Legends of Saints in Old Norse-Icelandic Prose (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013), 231. 2  Jón Sígurðsson and Guðbrandur Vigfússon, eds., Biskupa Sögur (Kaupmannahöfn: Í Prentsmiðju S.L. Möllers, 1858), 186. Translations are my own unless otherwise indicated. 1

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 15–28.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117177


daniel najork

author, then the saga must have been written before his death in 1237 (or 1238) but also probably after 1215, since Kygri-Björn was in Rome in 1214. There are details regarding the chronology of Christ’s life in the saga which could be an indication that the author was present for the discussion of this matter at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. In any case it is unclear how closely the saga as it has survived resembles the text composed by Kygri-Björn, if indeed he ever composed a life of the Virgin Mary. The saga survives in nineteen manuscripts; five of these preserve the saga in its entirety. 3 Oslo, National Archives (hereafter NRA), MS 78 (ca. 1250–1300) and Copenhagen, Árni Magnússon Institute (hereafter AM) MS 240 XI fol. (ca. 1275–1300), both fragments, provide the earliest evidence for the saga. Carl Rikard Unger (d. 1897), the first editor of the saga, identified separate redactions of the narrative within the manuscript tradition and edited two versions of the Old NorseIcelandic life of Mary with variants from other manuscripts. 4 Unfortunately no critical edition based on the complete manuscripts has been undertaken, 5 but in his unpublished dissertation Das Altisländische Marienleben, 6 Wilhelm Heizmann provides transcriptions of the three main redactions of Maríu saga: the A-redaction, represented by AM MS 234 fol. (ca. 1340), the S-redaction preserved in Stockholm, Royal Library (hereafter Stock.) MS Perg. 4to no. 11 (ca. 1325–75), and the E-redaction represented by Stock. MS Perg. 4to no. 1 (ca. 1450–1500). Since we can point to revisions among the manuscript tradition 7 and we cannot know if   The five manuscripts that preserve the saga in its entirety are: Copenhagen, Árni Magnússon Institute (hereafter AM), MSS 232 fol. (ca. 1350), 234 fol. (ca. 1340), 633 4to (ca. 1700– 1725); and Stockholm, Royal Library, MSS Perg. 4to no. 1 (ca. 1450–1500) and Perg. 4to no. 11 (ca. 1325–1375). Of the nineteen saga manuscripts, fourteen also contain collections of the miracles of the Virgin Mary. On the manuscript tradition of the saga, see Heizmann, “Maríu saga,” 407; and Wolf, The Legends of Saints, 231. 4   C.R. Unger, Maríu saga: Legender om Jomfru Maria og Hendes Jartegn (Christiania: Trykt Hos Brögger & Christie, 1871). Unger’s first version, on pp. 1–62, is based on Stock. Perg. 4to no.  11, with variant readings from two other manuscripts and two paper copies. The second version, on pp. 339–401, is based on AM 234 fol., with variant readings from five manuscript fragments. On this, see Heizmann, “Maríu saga,” 407. 5   There is an Icelandic edition based mainly on Stock. MS Perg. 4to no. 11, though. See Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Gunnar Ágúst Harðarson, and Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, eds., Maríukver: sögur og kvæði af heilagri guðsmóður frá fyrri tíð (Reykjavík: Hið íslenska bókmenntafélag, 1996). 6   Wilhelm Heizmann, Das Altisländische Marienleben, vol. 1, Historisch-philologische Studien, and vol. 2, Edition der drei Redaktionen nach den Handschriften AM 234 fol., Holm 11 4to, und Holm 1 4to (Habilitationsshcrift, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, 1993). 7   In her analysis of the three redactions of the saga, Laura Tomassini argues that all should be seen as “parallel redactions of the same saga” that do not originate from one another. See Laura Tomassini, An Analysis of the Three Redactions of Maríu saga, with Particular Reference to Their Style and Relation to Their Latin Sources (Ph.D. diss., Copenhagen University, 1997), 15–18. Tomassini adopts the A-redaction as the base text. 3

The Virgin Mary and the Last Judgment


the saga as we have it reflects Kygri-Björn Hjaltason’s work, I have opted to use ambiguous terms such as author and compiler. In his introduction to the saga, Wilhelm Heizmann suggests that it is the “numerous theological opinions and commentaries” which “give the saga its distinctive stamp.” 8 Heizmann observes further that “it is not the literary quality of Maríu saga that accords it a special place within the genre of Marian vitae, but the unusual, or even eccentric, way of interweaving vita and theological commentary.” 9 Christelle Fairise, however, has recently argued that in structure and aim the saga is actually quite similar to contemporary Continental lives of the blessed virgin. 10 The closing chapters of the saga are unique, though, within both the corpus of Old Norse-Icelandic literature and the Continental biographies of Mary. In these final chapters, the author discusses the death and Assumption of Mary and in the process offers some knowledge about the place of the Last Judgment and Scholastic arguments about the fate of bodies and souls after death. Defining the particulars of the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment, and the fate of the souls and bodies of the righteous and damned is and always has been a complicated endeavor. Because significant questions about the final days remained unanswered by John’s Apocalypse in the thought of many medieval Christians, apocryphal writings on the Apocalypse circulated widely from the second century onward. 11 These texts were copied in Latin and translated into various vernacular languages until the Scholastics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries took up the matter, but by then the narratives had been absorbed into popular collections such as the Legenda Aurea. Often the interest of these apocryphal narratives was in imagining the torments of hell and the joys of heaven. But other questions had to be addressed. Where would the Judgment take place? 12 Were the souls of the righteous and damned waiting for the Final Judgment or were they judged immediately after death? Gregory the Great had taught that the souls of the absolutely righteous passed straight to heaven after death and the wicked straight to hell. The somewhat good had to endure the process of purification. 13 These conclusions led to the belief

  Heizmann, “Maríu saga,” 407.   Heizmann, “Maríu saga,” 408. 10   Christelle R. Fairise, “Relating Mary’s Life in Medieval Iceland: Maríu saga. Similarities and Differences with the Continental Lives of the Virgin,” Arkiv för nordisk filologi 129 (2014): 165–96. 11   These texts include, for example, the Apocalypses of Peter, Thomas, and Daniel. The Visio Pauli should also be mentioned. Apocalypses and otherworldly visions continued to be composed well into the Middle Ages, as the example of the twelfth-century Visio Tnugdali shows. 12   On this, see Thomas N. Hall, “Medieval Traditions about the Site of Judgment,” Essays in Medieval Studies 10 (1993): 79–97. 13   For Saint Gregory’s thoughts on death and judgment, see the Dialogues, bk. 4, especially chaps. 25, 28, and 37–45. 8 9


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in an individual judgment and the Last Judgment. 14 But if each soul was judged immediately after death, was the Last Judgment necessary? How was it different? What happened to the bodies of those judged immediately after death? That the Icelandic church taught that there would be a Last Judgment with the righteous enjoying heaven and the damned suffering in hell is clear based on the number of references in surviving manuscripts, but one must piece together the various threads to identify what the Icelandic clergy hoped to impart to their audience about Christian teaching on the End Times and how one should prepare for that eventuality. 15 Maríu saga’s treatment of the Last Judgment is unique in the Old Norse-Icelandic corpus, not only because of its focus on Mary but also because it is concerned solely with the joys awaiting the righteous rather than the torments intended for the damned. There is no graphic cataloguing of the awful terrors to be meted out on the sinful. There are no descriptions of the destruction of the earth. For the Maríu saga author, the Last Judgment is an event to look forward to, not fear. Mary, through her acceptance of the Incarnation, helped to redeem the body and promised salvation at the Last Judgment to those who follow her and her son. Though the author raises doubts about the authenticity of the apocryphal accounts of Mary’s bodily Assumption, he seems sympathetic to the idea. Thus, though it is seemingly an aside, the passage on the Last Judgment forms an important part of the saga’s presentation of Christian doctrine. In this account the Icelandic author engages two important subjects — Incarnational theology and eschatology — which preoccupied medieval thinkers. There is nothing unique to the theology of this commentary — though the Icelandic author makes specific choices in including and omitting material from his sources — but the fact that this discussion appears in a biography of Mary at all is unusual when compared with contemporary Continental works dedicated to the Virgin. 16 That this discussion appears in the Old Norse-Icelandic narrative account of Mary’s life, and not in other contemporary vitae, may be explained by the needs of the Icelandic audience. The author’s commentary and theological explanations   That a person would be subject to an immediate individual judgment after death and a general judgment at the end of time was defined in the fourteenth century (1336) in the Papal Constitution, Benedictus Deus, issued by Benedict XII. 15   References to the Last Judgment, the circumstances of death, or the torments of hell and joys of heaven appear in Old Norse translations of otherworldly visions such as the Visio Pauli, the Visio Tnugdali, and Gregory the Great’s Dialogues. A translation of “The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday” also survives in Old Norse. A number of Old Norse-Icelandic homilies remind their audiences that judgment is coming but do not provide specific doctrinal information. Perhaps the only discussion of the Last Judgment comparable to Maríu saga in length and presentation of doctrine is preserved in Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs. On the similarities and differences in the accounts of the Last Judgment in these sagas, see below. 16   No similar passages or discussions on the subject of the Last Judgment are found in the Vita Rythmica, Thomas of Hales’s Vita Sancte Marie, or in Wace’s Conception Nostre Dame. 14

The Virgin Mary and the Last Judgment


repeatedly attempt to smooth out points of doctrine and provide a clear introduction to Christian theology and ritual. 17 The author pauses at length over Mary’s death and the Last Judgment because what information was available about the end of time and the fate of souls was often vague or contradictory in other Old NorseIcelandic texts. 18 The Icelandic clergy may have faced some difficulty in presenting consistent material on the placement of the Last Judgment, whether the souls of the righteous and damned were waiting for final judgment or were judged immediately after death, and what happened to the bodies of those awaiting judgment. It is precisely these subjects which are discussed at length by the author of Maríu saga and must represent an attempt to expand the available vernacular material on eschatological doctrine. The Maríu saga author begins his commentary on the Last Judgment with the circumstances of Mary’s death and throughout this discussion attempts to instruct his audience in Christian theology on the experience of death and the transformative process it begins. In his description of Mary’s final moments on earth, the author creates a narrative through the combination of the apocryphal Transitus Mariae and Jerome’s (in this case the Carolingian Paschasius Radbertus) letter on the Assumption sent to the nuns at Soissons, commonly known as Cogitis me. Mary’s death is special, of course — this is made clear by the miraculous arrival of all of the apostles at Mary’s deathbed 19 — but discussion of the ascension of Mary’s soul allows the saga author to reveal what saints experience immediately after dying and what those present for their deaths witness. 20 The Icelandic compiler, relying on Paschasius Radbertus’ letter, suggests that God’s angels greet saints with a sweet smell and great light and that those present at the funeral can sense a heavenly scent, hear beautiful song, or see bright light. 21 The saga author concludes his account of Mary’s death with the belief that:   Defining a particular audience for the Maríu saga is difficult. On the one hand the author seems to imagine an audience in need of some basic instruction in Christian doctrine and Church ritual, but on the other he includes some complicated theological arguments that would be more digestible by a monastic audience. 18   Examples will be given below for comparison to Maríu saga. David Ashurst observed a similar problem in Old Norse-Icelandic depictions of Paradise in his paper delivered at the Thirteenth International Saga Conference; he suggested that “the contradictions and uncertainties in the lore concerning Paradise . . . would no doubt have been a source of frustration to anyone in search of exact doctrinal correctness.” See Ashurst, “Imagining Paradise,” in John McKinnell et al., eds., The Fantastic in Old Norse/Icelandic Literature: Sagas and the British Isles. Preprint Papers of the 13th International Saga Conference, Durham and York, 6th–12th August 2006 (Durham, UK: The Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006), 78. 19   This is a detail popularized by the apocryphal Transitus Mariae. 20   The implication at the end of the saga, which will be discussed below, is that the souls of those who follow the example of Mary will enjoy the same transit to Paradise. 21   The saga author here invites his audience to further imagine the spectacle of Mary’s death. Unger, Maríu saga, 51: 17


daniel najork önd hennar var upphafin yfir öll engla fylki, ok lúta allir englar henni, ok allir helgir men á himni. En líkami sællar Marie var iarðaðr í dal þeim, er heitir Vallis Josaphat. Þar var síðan dýrlig kirkia gör henni til dýrðar. En nú er gröf hennar tóm fundin. [her soul was assumed over all the angels, who bowed down to her along with all the saints in heaven. The body of Mary was buried in that valley which is called Josaphat. There was afterwards a glorious church built there in her honor. But now her grave is found empty.] 22

The Icelandic author has relied on two different sources for his account of the death of Mary with one supporting a bodily Assumption and the other expressing hope but urging caution in the use of apocryphal narratives. The Icelandic author does not commit to either position. His argument to come about the spiritual and corporeal gifts one can expect at the Last Judgment might suggest that he favors a bodily Assumption, but he never offers his opinion on the matter and states only that her body is missing and that this has led some to believe that Christ raised her body to his throne, which, he notes, Jerome suspects. Though he does not speculate any further about the fate of Mary’s body, the fact that Mary’s grave is empty leads the author to a discussion of the fate of souls and bodies after death and at the Last Judgment. Much of the Icelandic author’s commentary on the transformative process of death and the circumstances of the Last Judgment is based on book three of the Elucidarius, 23 but he is not translating from Honorius directly. Rather, he is synthesizing theological material he has read or heard into his own discourse on salvation and judgment. The Last Judgment has come to the saga author’s mind because the place where Mary was buried, the Valley of Josaphat, is also the place where Christ ascended to heaven: “En af því fialli Oliveti steig dróttinn Jesus til himna” [and

Þat finz opt í sögum heilagra manna, at guþs englar koma ok vitraz í andláti þeira með miclum ilm ok liósi, ok þeir er hiá standa, kenna himneskan ilm eþa heyra fagran söng, eþa siá biart liós. En ef dróttin Jesus Cristr veitir opt micla dýrð í andláti þræla sinna eða þióna, þá megum vér at líkindum ráða þaðan af, hversu mikla dýrð hann munde veita í andláti móþur sinnar, er drótning er allra heilagra mann, eða elligar hefði hann eigi halldit lög sin siálfr, þau er hann setti, fyrir því at hann bauð hverium manni at vegsama föþur sinn ok móþur. [I find it often in the sagas of saints, that God’s angels appear to them at death with a sweet scent and great light. And those who stand near can perceive a heavenly scent, or hear beautiful song, or see bright light. If the Lord Jesus Christ often offers so much glory at the death of his thralls or servants, then we may consider it likely from that, how much glory he must show his mother, who is the queen of all saints, at her death. Otherwise he would not observe his own law, the one which he set, when he asked every man to honor his father and mother.] 22  Unger, Maríu saga, 51. 23   Patrologia Latinae cursus completes, Series Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne, 221 vols. (Paris, 1841– 1885), vol. 172 (hereafter PL).

The Virgin Mary and the Last Judgment


from this Mount of Olives Jesus ascended towards heaven]. 24 It is also here — where Mary was buried, according to the holy writings — that Christ will appear in the sky at the Last Judgment. 25 The Lord’s left hand turns towards earth, that is the damned, and his right toward heaven and the faithful (“ok horfir en vinstri hönd dróttins til iarðar, en hœgri til himins”). 26 In connecting Mary’s gravesite with the geographical location of the Last Judgment, the saga author reveals an awareness of contemporary theological discourse focused on determining, through Scripture, the earthly location of the End Times. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Honorius Augustodunensis, Rupert of Deutz, Peter Lombard, Richard of St. Victor, and Thomas Aquinas all connected Mary’s burial site, the Valley of Josaphat, with the Last Judgment. What remained an open question, however, was whether or not judgment would take place on earth, on either the Mount of Olives or Mount Sion, or in the air above the valley between the mountains. The Icelandic author follows the Elucidarius in settling this matter and imagines the Lord passing judgment from the sky. 27 After locating the place of Judgment, the author shifts his attention to the most theologically complicated section of his commentary on the Last Judgment: the transformation of the souls and bodies of the righteous. Here the saga author engages two related theological traditions under close scrutiny among the Scholastic theologians in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries: the transfiguration of Christ and the dotes (dowries, gifts) of the resurrected body. 28 The dotes tradition can be traced back to Augustine, 29 but it was revived by Anselm and Eadmer of Canterbury, who defined seven gifts of the spirit and seven of resurrected bodies; 30 this schema of seven and seven was adopted by Honorius for the Elucidarius. By the thirteenth century — after the interventions of Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard, Bonaventure, and Albertus Magnus, among others — this catalog of dotes

 Unger, Maríu saga, 52.  Unger, Maríu saga, 52: “Þat er sögn heilagra ritninga, at dómr enn efzti, sá er dróttin skal dœma um allt mannkyn, skal þar vera í loptinu uppi yfir dalinum Josaphat” [It is said in the holy writings, that at the Last Judgment, when the Lord will judge all mankind, he will be in the sky up above the Valley of Josaphat]. On this, see Hall, “Medieval Traditions.” 26  Unger, Maríu saga, 52. 27   On debates about the geographical location of the Last Judgment, see Hall, “Medieval Traditions,” 81–87. 28  The dotes tradition has been understood to be based on 1 Corinthians 15:42–54. 29   See Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200– 1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 100. 30   See Anselm’s Proslogion, chap. 25; and Eadmer of Canterbury, Liber de beatitudine coelistis patriae, PL 159, cols. 587–606. 24 25


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of resurrected bodies became narrowed to four: agilitas, claritas, subtilitas, and impassibilitas. 31 Thus the Icelandic author again reveals his engagement with contemporary theological discourse when he highlights the fourfold magnificence of the resurrected bodies of believers: þá skulo likamir góþra manna taka ferfallda prýðe, því at hverr maðr er skapaðr af fiórum höfutskepnum, elldi ok lopti, vatni ok iörðu. Ok ero þessi efni saman fœrð til allra líkamligra luta af guði, en önd er af öngu efni sköput. [Then the bodies of the righteous will take a fourfold magnificence because everyone is shaped from four elements, that is fire and air, water and earth. These are the materials brought together in all bodily things by God, but the soul is not created from any of these materials.] 32

The bodies of the faithful will enjoy fjórum ástgiafar (four gifts); they will be léttfœrr and skjótr (nimble and quick), and gagnfœrr and smugall (penetrating and subtle). 33 The body “skal vera .vii. lutum biartari en sól” (will be seven times brighter than the sun) 34 and it will “lifa þaðan frá án siúkleika ok án allri meinsemi, hrumaz hann alldregi né hrörnar, öngu sýtir hann né kvíðir, því at allt hefir hann, eptir því sem hann beiþir” [live from then on without sickness and without any pain. It is never

 See Bynum, The Resurrection, 132, 246–47. Bonaventure takes up the matter in his Breviloquium (part VII, chap. 4); Peter Lombard in distinctions 44 and 49 of book 4 of the Sentences; Aquinas in Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 86, and the Supplementum to the Summa Theologica, quaestiones 69–99; and Albertus Magnus in his commentary on the Sentences. 32  Unger, Maríu saga, 52. 33   Léttfœrr and skjótr both correspond to agilitas, gagnfœrr and smugall to subtilitas. This is likely not based on Honorius, who outlines seven corporeal and seven spiritual gifts, but there is clearly some correspondence between the gifts listed in Elucidarius and in the saga. See Elucidarius, PL 172, col. 1169D: “Septem speciales glorias corporis habebunt, et septem animae. In corpore quidem pulchritudinem, velocitatem, fortitudinem, libertatem, voluptatem, sanitatem, immortalitatem: In anima autem sapientiam, amicitiam, concordiam, potestatem, honorem, securitatem, gaudium” [They will have seven particular glories of the body, and seven of the spirit. In body, in fact, they will have beauty, swiftness, strength, freedom, pleasure, health, and immortality. In the spirit, on the other hand, they will have wisdom, friendship, harmony, power, honor, security, and joy]. 34   The author identifies here the clarity and brightness of the resurrected body. Unger, Maríu saga, 52. See also Elucidarius, PL 172, col. 1168D: “Discipulus: Replesti me de bonis domus Domini: dic, qualia corpora habebunt sancti? Magister: Septies quam sol splendidiora, et prae animo agiliora” [Student: You have filled me with the goods of the house of the Lord. Tell me, what sort of bodies will the saints have? Master: (Bodies) seven times more splendid than the sun, and more nimble on account of their spirit]. 31

The Virgin Mary and the Last Judgment


made infirm nor decays; it does not mourn nor fear because it has everything it asks for]. 35 Here the Icelandic author senses a doctrinal complication. The only body known to him to have been resurrected was that of Christ, which “getinn var af Maríu meyiu án synd” [was born from the Virgin Mary without sin]. 36 Since our bodies were gotten through human infirmity (“getinn af mannligri óstyrkt”), 37 we might have some cause to be concerned about whether our bodies deserve to be resurrected. The Icelandic cleric reassures his audience that they can obtain their body in heaven if that body is first “hreinsaðr frá öllum syndum” [cleansed from all sins]. 38 This was achieved because of Christ’s Incarnation; Mary’s Virginity was not broken, and the flesh was redeemed. 39 We are also able to know these things, the author suggests, because Christ revealed the future glory of the human body when he rose up on the third day. That the human body would be seven times brighter than now was proved when the Lord went up on Mount Tabor and revealed his body to Peter, John, and James. It was white like snow. That sight, which was so beautiful to them, is what every faithful body will enjoy after the Last Judgment. 40 To these four corporeal gifts are added three spiritual gifts. The souls of the faithful will have skynsemi (reason), fýsi (desire), and bræði (irascibility). 41 We were promised these gifts, the author claims, when God created humanity in his image and likeness. There is one further joy: just as Peter recognized Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor without ever having seen them before, all those taken to heaven will have the power of recognition. The Icelandic author is relieved that this question can be removed from the minds of the faithful. In arguing for four corporeal gifts and three spiritual gifts, the Maríu saga author disagrees with the author of the Old Norse-Icelandic Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs (ca. 1300), who, after describing the arrival and death of the Antichrist, lists seven corporeal gifts of resurrected bodies instead of four but also notes that humanity is shaped from four elements. The Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs author does not suggest a specific number of spiritual gifts but seems to indicate

35  Unger, Maríu saga, 52. Here the author describes the doctrine of the impassibility of the resurrected body. 36  Unger, Maríu saga, 53. 37  Unger, Maríu saga, 53. 38  Unger, Maríu saga, 53. 39  Unger, Maríu saga, 53. Christ’s body was born without sin (“En sá hinn sami líkami, er getinn var af Maríu meyiu án synd”), and Mary’s maidenhood was not broken during the birth (“þvi at þá er hann lèt beraz frá henni at óbrugðnum meydómi hennar”). 40  Unger, Maríu saga, 54. 41   These three gifts are the Icelandic cleric’s rendering of “rationalis” (skynsemi), “irascibilis” (bræði), and “concupiscibilis” (fýsi) . These three gifts are present in Elucidarius, PL 172, col. 1158B; and also in Innocent III’s sermon XIV on the Transfiguration of Christ.


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six. 42 This discrepancy between the two Icelandic authors is likely the result of contradictory source material. Most of the Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs commentary on the Antichrist, the destruction of the world, and the heavenly bliss to come is based, as Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir has shown, on Book 7 of the Compendium Theologicae Veritatis of Hugh Ripelin of Strasburg (ca. 1205–ca. 1270). 43 The Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs author does not depend on Hugh Ripelin’s work for the list of dotes, though, because Hugh also defines four of the body (specifically agilitas, claritas, subtilitas, and impassibilitas) and three of the soul, which corresponds with other thirteenth-century theologians. The Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs author seems to have combined source material here — his source on the dotes was most likely based on Anselm and Eadmer — and disregarded the number of dotes offered by the Compendium. The Maríu saga author’s presentation of the dotes of the souls and bodies of the resurrected faithful is clearly the more widely accepted doctrinal position when compared with contemporaneous theological discourse, but identifying a specific source is difficult due to the sheer number of commentaries on the matter. There is one particular text, however, which could possibly be the source for the Icelandic cleric’s account, and that is Innocent III’s (ca. 1161–1216) sermon XIV, In sabbato quatuor temporum, 44 which takes the Transfiguration of Christ as its subject. Innocent III also suggests that mankind was shaped from four elements and that this is the reason for four corporeal gifts (claritas, subtilitas, agilitas, impassibilitas). 45 The three spiritual gifts identified by Innocent III, rationalis, irascibilis, and concupiscibilis, correspond directly to the Icelandic author’s skynsemi, fýsi, and bræði. Though similar passages are to be found elsewhere — Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, for example — the verbal similarity here is striking, even if not convincing enough

42   See C.R. Unger, Postola Sögur (Christiania: Trykt Hos B.M. Bentzen, 1874), 624–26. The Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs author also believes the bodies of the faithful will become seven times brighter than the sun. 43   See Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, “Dómsdagslýsing í AM 764 4to,” Opuscula 20 (1996): 186– 93; and Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, “Universal History in Fourteenth-Century Iceland: Studies in AM 764 4to” (PhD diss., University of London, 2000), 206–16. 44   PL 217, cols. 0375–0382. 45   PL 217, cols. 0380D–0381A: “Quia vero corpus constat ex quatuor elementis, terra, aqua, igne et aere, ad stolam corporis quatuor proprietates pertinere dicuntur, claritas, subtilitas, agilitas et impassibilitas. Et quia spiritus tres habet naturales virtutes, vim rationabilem, vim irascibilem, et vim concupiscibilem, ad stolam spiritus tres asseruntur proprietates spectare, cognitio, dilectio et delectatio” [Because the body consists of four real elements — earth, water, fire, and air — four properties are said to pertain to the stole of the body — clarity, subtlety, agility, and impassibility. And because the spirit has three natural virtues — the powers of reason, irascibility, and desire — three properties are said to pertain to the stole of the soul — knowledge, love (devotion), and pleasure].

The Virgin Mary and the Last Judgment


to state categorically that Innocent III’s sermon is the source. 46 In any case, the Maríu saga author’s divergence here from the fourteen dotes of Elucidarius reveals that he either had a variety of material available or that he had accessed more contemporary theological material while abroad. Thus, though he has relied on the Elucidarius for some of his commentary on the Last Judgment, the Icelandic cleric does not cite Honorius and was not completely satisfied with the doctrinal information on the Last Judgment which that source provided. The Icelandic compiler has certainly borrowed from Elucidarius, but he also omits material from that source regularly. The Icelander’s commentary is based on two separate sections of Book 3, question 7 and questions 79–104. 47 He does not include Honorius’ statements about the age bodies will be at the resurrection, or the fact that the bodies of the saints are naked; he is also not interested in enumerating the many torments that await the damned or describing the coming destruction of the earth, as the Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs author is. The most curious omission though, is that the Icelandic cleric ignores Honorius’ argument that Mary’s (and John’s) bodily Assumption proves that the bodies of the pure will be taken to heaven by angels. 48 It could be suggested that the Icelandic author did not have access to this part of the Elucidarius, but he likely did, as this passage is preserved in the Old Norse-Icelandic translation of Honorius’ text. We must assume then that this is a deliberate omission by the Icelandic author. In concluding his chapter on the death and Assumption of Mary, the Icelandic author admits that it is because the faithful believe that the soul and body will be reunited after the Last Judgment that “flestra manna eða allra trúa náliga, at drótning allra hluta hafi af dauða risit ok siti á himni með allri prýði andar ok 46   Innocent III’s sermons are attested elsewhere in Old Norse-Icelandic literature. Excerpts from sermons VII and X are found in the margins of the fragmentary Officia Sanctorum in the fifteenth century manuscript AM 241 b II fol. The 1397 inventory for Viðeyjarklaustr lists “Sermones Innocentij tertij” among its holdings. Innocent III’s sermons have also been identified as sources for passages in Mǫrtu saga ok Maríu Magðalenu and Jóns saga baptista II. On these references, see the Islandia Latina database 47   PL 172, cols. 1158B and 1169A–1171B. 48  See Elucidarius, PL 172, col. 1164C: Justi, cum resurgent, mox ab angelis in aera obviam Christo rapientur, et electi viventes cum eis rapientur, et in ipso raptu morientur, et reviviscent: hoc praecessit in Maria matre Domini, et Joanne Evangelista: Maria, quae recepto corpore post mortem in gloriam est assumpta; Joannes qui vero fuit corpore raptus, et in ipso raptu creditur mortuus et reviviscens. Reprobi de ipso terrore morientur, et confestim reviviscent: et hoc est judicare vivos et mortuos [The just, when they rise again, will soon be carried off in the air by angels towards Christ. And the elect will be carried off alive with them, and in the same snatching up will die, and will live again. This happened before with Mary, the Lord’s mother, and John the Evangelist. Mary, who once she recovered her body, was assumed into glory after death; John, who was carried off in his actual body, and in this carrying off, it is believed, he died and lived again. The false will die in terror, and will immediately live again. And this is the judgment of the living and the dead].


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líkama myklu meiri en líkamlig óstyreþ megi hyggia eða ætlun á koma” [many, or nearly all, prefer to believe that Mary, queen of all things, rose from death in body and soul and now sits in heaven in complete magnificence rather than to think or consider that any bodily infirmity might have come to her]. 49 In his conclusion, the Icelandic author points out that Mary’s life reveals how the faithful can receive the sevenfold gifts of heaven and how they can obtain that glory through humility, patience, righteousness, moderation, and purification. And if they doubt their place, they must remember, as the Icelandic author reminds, Mary will be at the Last Judgment with her son, and she will grant even more than what is requested to those who love her. The occasion of the Assumption prompts the Icelandic author to present the basics of doctrine to his audience. He reminds them of the Incarnation and the Crucifixion and thus also of the redemption of the flesh. He informs his audience of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God and then enumerates the joys that have been promised to all the faithful. Though much of the source material used by the author would have contained lengthy lists of all of the torments that awaited the damned, he shows no interest in recounting them. The Maríu saga author disagrees with, and seems to have been more well versed in the matter than, his fellow Icelandic cleric who wrote the Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs, and the Maríu saga author’s account of Mary’s role in the Last Judgment greatly expands the knowledge on the subject available to Icelanders. The main outlets for information beyond the Maríu saga and Tveggja saga postola Jóns ok Jacobs were sermons, which seek to remind their audiences that a Final Judgment will come but provide little other doctrine. 50 Perhaps the most substantial statement on the Last Judgment in an Icelandic sermon occurs in The Old Icelandic Homily Book, in a sermon for the Lord’s Day in which the homilist reveals that there are two resurrections. 51 Most other sermon references attempt to instill a sense of fear 49  Unger, Maríu saga, 60. This resembles the arguments made in Pseudo-Augustine’s Liber de assumptione Beatae Mariae. The text was written near the end of the eleventh century, most likely by a disciple of Anselm. The author argued that it would not be right for the vessel that carried Christ to suffer bodily decay and become food for worms. The text is edited in PL 40. 50  In a translation of Gregory the Great’s 34th Homily, In Evangelia, preserved in the twelfth-century manuscript AM MS 237 a fol., the Icelandic audience is reminded that the Archangel will arrive at the Last Judgment to destroy the Antichrist with lightning. Another translation from Gregory (the 25th homily of In Evangelia), preserved in AM MS 686 c 4to, shares the belief that all will rise up at the Last Judgment. Numerous other references in Icelandic homilies address the subject of the Last Judgment, but few are more than a sentence and offer little in the way of doctrine. 51   Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen, ed., The Icelandic Homily Book. Perg. 15 4to in the Royal Library Stockholm (Reykjavík: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar á Íslandi, 1993), fol. 12v: “Vprisa drottens af dauþa veiter øs tvena upriso. aþra þa er vér rísom up af andar dauþa. Þat es fra synþom. en aþra þa es ver skolom uprísa a dóms dege. meþ aond oc líkam at locnom aollom heims

The Virgin Mary and the Last Judgment


and urgency onto their audiences, but for the Maríu saga author, death and the Last Judgment are good things and — if the individual has prepared properly and cleansed the body and spirit of all sin — something to be positively anticipated, not dreaded. In this view, the Maríu saga author departs from the teaching of his contemporaries. For the saga author, Mary’s Assumption serves as a strong reminder of what awaits all the faithful.

méinom” [the Lord’s resurrection from death grants us two resurrections. One is that we will be resurrected from spiritual death, that is, from sin. The other is that we will rise up on Judgment Day with soul and body, shut off from all earthly pain].

Personalized Eschatology and Lorraine Apocalypses, ca. 1295–1320 Karlyn Griffith The vibrant imagery in illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts gave clarity to John’s mystical and complex vision of the End of Days, a vivid example of which is seen in Figure 3.1. The number of extant illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts dating from the eighth century to the Renaissance testifies to the importance of these books in the formation of medieval eschatology, but also to their central role to medieval book culture. The necessity of imagery in Apocalypse manuscripts is evident in the fairly consistent copying of iconography since John’s Apocalypse first received illustration in the Late Antique period, an iconography that became even more standardized in the often deluxe manuscripts of the Anglo-Norman tradition produced in England in the mid- to late thirteenth century. 1 Sixty-seven illustrated Apocalypses remain from this period through to the mid-fourteenth century. The first Apocalypses of this group were made in England around 1250 and featured the Latin biblical text paired with excerpts from the commentary on Revelation by Berengaudus. 2 The extant Anglo-Norman Apocalypses possess some of the richest and most elegant illuminations among late medieval manuscripts. Around the turn

1   Peter Klein, “The Apocalypse in Medieval Art,” in The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. Richard K. Emmerson and Bernard McGinn (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 159–99; Richard K. Emmerson, Apocalypse Illuminated: The Visual Exegesis of Revelation in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2017); and “Medieval Illustrated Apocalypse Manuscripts,” in A Companion to Medieval Apocalyptic, ed. Michael A. Ryan (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 19–66, provide the best overviews of Apocalypse groupings. 2   For more see Nigel Morgan’s overview of Anglo-Norman Apocalypses, Illuminating the End of Time: The Getty Apocalypse Manuscript (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011), 9–13. For Berengaudus see Expositio super septem visiones libri Apocalypsis, in Patrologiae cursus completes, Series Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne, 221 vols. (Paris, 1841–1885), vol. 17, cols. 765–970 (hereafter PL).

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 29–52.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117178


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Figure 3.1: The Divine Warrior and his army confront the Devil. Liège Apocalypse (Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université, MS Wittert 5), fol. 38r. Metz, 1309–1316.

of the fourteenth century, however, Apocalypses began to look rather different, incorporating supplementary images and texts as well as displaying increased diversity in format and iconography. These changes accompanied two new phases of Apocalypse production. The first is the spread of illustrated Anglo-Norman Apocalypses to the continent, specifically to the Lorraine region east of the Kingdom of France, and the second is the creation of illustrated Apocalypses with vernacular texts, which coincided with a lull in the production of illustrated Apocalypses with Latin texts. 3 3   There are two notable exceptions: the Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College Library, MS R.16.2, ca. 1255) features an Anglo-Norman translation of Berengaudus; and Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 403 (ca. 1250–1255) was the first illustrated Apocalypse to use the vernacular translation of Revelation and prose commentary but follows the

Personalized Eschatology and Lorraine Apocalypses


The aim of this essay is to present ten illustrated Apocalypses made in Lorraine ca. 1295 to 1320, which shed light on how and why Apocalypses changed. 4 In contrast to Anglo-Norman Apocalypses first crafted about a half-century earlier in monastic contexts, the Lorraine Apocalypses demonstrate a new adaptability through format and supplementary visual or textual materials. These adaptations indicate that Lorraine patrons desired to manipulate Apocalypses, often in order to make Revelation more relatable and accessible. My study supplements those which view luxurious illustrated Apocalypses only as vehicles of spiritual self-fashioning and devotion by showing that Lorraine Apocalypses held cultural cachet in secular milieus that extended to material culture, secular literature, and popular religion. I have been able to isolate a corpus of ten Apocalypses that to varying degrees relate to Lorraine manuscript production and to each other via iconography, texts, artists, or specific imagery. 5 Until now, most of these manuscripts have only been identified as French and dated to the thirteenth or fourteenth century. These manuscripts are largely ignored in Apocalypse scholarship, probably because in comparison to their deluxe Anglo-Norman counterparts they are considered of lesser artistic quality and do not seem to belong to the iconographic groups scholars have created for earlier illustrated Apocalypses. At the time of Peter Klein’s extensive study of Anglo-Norman iconographic families, the Burckhardt-Wildt Apocalypse iconography of the Picture-Book Apocalypses. Compared to the Anglo-Norman Apocalypses with Latin texts, those with either the prose or metrical vernacular texts have received little attention from scholars. For an overview of the vernacular prose Anglo-Norman Apocalypses, see Aileen Laing, “The Queen Mary Apocalypse (London, British Museum, Royal MS 19 B.XV)” (PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1971); and Aileen Laing, “The Corpus-Lambeth Stem: A Study of French Prose Apocalypse Manuscripts,” Manuscripta 21 (1977): 17–18. For the metrical Anglo-Norman Apocalypses, see Sammye Lee Justice, “The Illustrated Anglo-Norman Metrical Apocalypse in England” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1993). 4   This essay is a brief summary of Part 1 of my dissertation and its conclusions. For detailed analyses of the manuscripts, their dates, provenance, filiations, layout, style, and iconography, see “Antichrist, Eschatology, and Romance in the Illustrated Harley Apocalypse, Sibylle Tiburtine, and the Tournoiement Antécrist (MSS Harley 4972 and Douce 308)” (PhD diss., Florida State University, 2014). 5   These are the Burckhardt-Wildt Apocalypse, now in various collections, and two Apocalypses with nearly exact iconography: the Laurenziana Apocalypse (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS Ashburnham 415) by the same artist; and a fragment (London, British Library, MS Add. 22493) by the Dresden Apocalypse artist. The Arras Apocalypse (Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, MS fr. 375) also forms part of this iconographic sub-group. Two vernacular Apocalypses, the Dresden Apocalypse (Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS Oc. 50) and the Liège Apocalypse (Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université, MS Wittert 5) also feature this iconography. Three Apocalypses by the painter Nicholaus contain original iconography: Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS Oc. 49; London, British Library, MS Add. 38118; and Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, MS nouv. acq. fr. 6883, which is mostly unfinished. The last is the Harley Apocalypse (London, British Library, MS Add. 4972).


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had just been discovered — although other manuscripts with the same imagery had been known since Leopold Delisle and Paul Meyer’s study of 1900. 6 Since then a few of these Apocalypses have been catalogued, primarily by French scholars, although this scholarship was mostly concerned with style and determining artistic authorship. 7 An important exception is the work of Nigel Morgan. His article on French Apocalypses dating from 1290 to 1330, the single study dedicated to these manuscripts until now, argues that the Burckhardt-Wildt Apocalypse, along with two nearly parallel Apocalypses — the Laurenziana Apocalypse (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS Ashburnham 415) and London, British Library, MS Add. 22493 — and the group of Apocalypses made in Normandy ca. 1320–1330 and exemplified by the Cloisters Apocalypse (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection 68.174), represent branches of iconography from early in the development of Anglo-Norman Apocalypse imagery. 8 In addition to the three Latin Apocalypses localized to Lorraine by Morgan, Alison Stones has recently placed three vernacular Apocalypses in Metz. 9 She divides these manuscripts and the Dresden and Harley Apocalypses (Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS Oc. 50; London, British Library, MS Add. 4972) previously identified as from Lorraine into Metz Groups A and B based on workshop and style affiliations. Grouping manuscripts according to criteria other than iconography, such as by artist or workshop, yields valuable information about the transmission and selection of texts and imagery. Thus, although I use Stones’ artist and style connections as criteria for the Lorraine group of Apocalypses, I also consider iconography and other patterns of association such as texts, mise-en-page, and distinct figures and decorative details. As a result, I merge the eight Apocalypses in Stones’ two Metz groups into single group and add to it the Arras Apocalypse (Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, MS fr. 375), which Stones stylistically relates to the Norman Apocalypses. The Arras Apocalypse, named for the regional style of its artist, forms part of the Lorraine group   Léopold Delisle and Paul Meyer, L’Apocalypse en français au XIIIe siècle: Bibl. nat. MS fr. 403 (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1900–1901). 7  See, for example, Écriture et Enluminure en Lorraine au Moyen Âge, exh. cat. (Nancy: Société Thierry Alix, 1984); Metz Enluminé: Autour de la Bible de Charles le Chauve. Trésor manuscrits des églises messines, exh. cat. (Metz: Éditions Serpenoise, 1989); and L’Art au temps des rois maudits: Philippe le Bel et ses fils, 1285–1328 (Paris: Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 1998). 8   Nigel Morgan, “Some French Interpretations of English Illustrated Apocalypses c. 1290– 1330,” in England and the Continent in the Middle Ages: Studies in Memory of Andrew Martindale, ed. J. Mitchell (Stamford, UK: Shaun Tyas, 2000), 137–56. Although their iconographic cycles are comparable, they are not related; see “Antichrist, Eschatology, and Romance,” 43–58. For the Cloisters Apocalypse, see the facsimile by Florens Deuchler, Jeffrey Hoffeld, and Helmut Nickel, The Cloisters Apocalypse (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971). 9   Alison Stones, Gothic Manuscripts, 1260–1320: Part Two. A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in France, 2 vols. (London: Harvey Miller, 2014). 6

Personalized Eschatology and Lorraine Apocalypses


because it follows closely the iconography of the Burckhardt-Wildt subgroup and is bound with two unillustrated vernacular texts, a prose commentary on Revelation and the prose Prophétie de la Sibylle Tiburtine, which were also copied in the Harley Apocalypse. 10 Thus, whether or not the artist painted this Apocalypse in Arras or traveled to Lorraine to create it, the manuscript bears clear connections to Lorraine manuscript production. I have also identified another Apocalypse (Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, MS nouv. acq. fr. 6883) that copies the unique mise-enpage of two nearly identical vernacular Lorraine Apocalypses (Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS Oc. 49; and London, British Library, MS Add. 38118) and was painted either by an artist who signed one of his manuscripts as “Nicholaus” or at his workshop. 11 These three Apocalypses feature a distinct representation of the Beast of the Sea also present in a fourth Lorraine Apocalypse, the Dresden Apocalypse (MS Oc. 50). 12 These ten illustrated Apocalypses form what I have termed the Lorraine group. I use this regional term despite the high likelihood they were made in Metz to avoid confusion with the destroyed Anglo-Norman “Metz” Apocalypse (Metz, Bibliothèque municipale, MS Salis 38) that is unconnected to later French Apocalypses. 13 The Lorraine designation for this group of Apocalypses also accounts for the likely movement of the artists, such as the Arras artist or Nicholaus, whose style indicates some connection with Champagne manuscript illumination. 14 This essay identifies three types of modifications to the early Anglo-Norman template carried out in Lorraine Apocalypses: format, inventive iconography, and supplementary texts or images. The consistent practice of modifying the appearance and contents of Apocalypse manuscripts is a characteristic feature of Lorraine Apocalypses. I argue that the modifications result from various socio-cultural developments — including the commercialization of the book trade, preference for vernacular languages, and the rise of book culture — and were undertaken to appeal to lay interests and aspects of lay eschatology. Using examples from across   Richard K. Emmerson and Suzanne Lewis, “Census and Bibliography of Medieval Manuscripts Containing Apocalypse Illustrations c. 800–1500. Part II,” Traditio 41 (1985): 367–409, no. 106. My examination of the Lorraine Apocalypses indicates that the Arras Apocalypse could not have served as the exemplar for any of the extant Lorraine Apocalypses. 11   Emmerson and Lewis, “Census and Bibliography,” nos. 112, 54, and 68. For more on this artist, see Alison Stones, “La contexte artistique du Tournoi de Chauvency,” in Lettres, Musique, et Société en Lorraine Médiévale: Autour du Tournoi de Chauvency (Ms. Oxford Bodleian Douce 308), ed. Mireille Chazan and Nancy Freeman Regalado (Droz: Geneva, 2012), 163–64. 12   Emmerson and Lewis, “Census and Bibliography,” no. 112. 13   Metz, Bibliothèque municipale, MS Salis 38, ca. 1250–1255 (the “Metz Apocalypse,” destroyed in WWII) and London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 209, represent the Metz-Lambeth iconographic group of illustrated Apocalypses with Latin texts made in England ca. 1250– 1270. There is no evidence that the “Metz” manuscript was in the Lorraine in the Middle Ages. 14   For Nicholaus’ connections to Champagne, see L’Art au temps des rois maudits, 319, no. 217. 10


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the Lorraine group, I will demonstrate how these adaptations not only alter the reception of Revelation but also make this esoteric biblical text more consumable to lay readers by referencing popular religion and literature. They thus reveal a newly developing secular, lay — rather than monastic — apocalypticism.

The Lorraine Group Around 1295, illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts were produced in northern France, the first since the early Middle Ages. More precisely, these manuscripts were made at Metz, which at this time was a leading center of manuscript illumination that drew artists from across northern France and produced some of the greatest manuscripts of the period. Metz was the urban heart of the Lorraine region, old Lotharingia, and was flanked by the County of Bar and Duchy of Lorraine. 15 The period of Apocalypse production in Lorraine corresponds with the manuscript patronage of Renaud de Bar, bishop of Metz from 1303–1316. 16 Seeking the most talented artists, Renaud and other members of the Bar family commissioned many sumptuous manuscripts. Bar was affiliated politically with Edward I of England, supporting him in war against France and Philip IV and marrying Edward’s daughter Eleanor in 1294. Quite plausibly Eleanor, whose parents commissioned the stunning Douce Apocalypse (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 180), brought with her the Apocalypse that was to inspire the sudden and brief burst of Apocalypse manufacture in Lorraine. 17 The first Lorraine copies of the Anglo-Norman Apocalypse follow closely their exemplar, but as these manuscripts grew in popularity, each incarnation underwent greater degrees of adaptation. Two extant Lorraine manuscripts, the BurckhardtWildt Apocalypse and the fragment BL Add. 22493, best represent the iconography and format of the English model. 18 The Burckhardt-Wildt Apocalypse, sadly carved up for a scrapbook in the 1800s, is the earliest extant Lorraine Apocalypse,   For the general history of Lorraine, see Michel Parisse, Histoire de la Lorraine (Toulouse: Privat, 1977); and Georges Poull, La Maison souveraine et ducale de Bar (Nancy: Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1994). 16   Kay Davenport, The Bar Books: Manuscripts Illuminated for Renaud De Bar, Bishop of Metz (1303–1316) (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2017). See also Stones, “La contexte artistique du Tournoi de Chauvency,” 151–204. 17   Patrick de Winter, “Visions of the Apocalypse in Medieval England and France,” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 70 (1983): 415–16; and Morgan, “Some French Interpretations,” 140. The Douce Apocalypse (ca. 1265–1270) belongs to the Westminster iconographic redaction. For the facsimile and commentary, see Peter Klein, Endzeiterwartung und Ritterideologie: die englischen Bilderapokalypsen der Frühgotik und MS Douce 180 (Graz: Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt, 1983). 18   Emmerson and Lewis, “Census and Bibliography,” nos. 38 and 66. 15

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dating to ca. 1295. 19 BL Add. 22493, a fragment of only four folios, features essentially the same iconography and format as Burckhardt-Wildt but was painted by the Master of the Dresden Apocalypse around 1300 and thus exhibits some stylistic and conceptual alterations to the iconography. 20 It is unclear if the later BL Add. 22493 was copied from Burckhardt-Wildt, if both artists shared the same exemplar, or if either artist worked directly from the English model. Nevertheless, these two Lorraine Apocalypses best record the mise-en-page and iconography of the AngloNorman exemplar, which would have had eighty-four large episodic illustrations painted above passages from Revelation and Berengaudus’ commentary arranged in two columns. The cycle of iconography preserved in Lorraine Apocalypses is important because it represents one of the earliest programs of iconography in Anglo-Norman Apocalypses, originating around 1255, and is no longer extant except in these later Lorraine versions. 21 This iconography, although similar to that in the AngloNorman Metz-Lambeth group, bears subtle differences that distinguish it from Anglo-Norman cycles. One of the most notable figures of Lorraine iconography is the Fourth Horseman (Rev. 6:7–8). 22 In Latin and vernacular Apocalypses with Lorraine iconography, including the Arras Apocalypse, Death on a pale horse is rendered as a skeleton wielding a sword, whereas most Anglo-Norman Apocalypses with Latin texts show Death as a man carrying an enflamed bowl or torch. 23 Another image typical of Lorraine Apocalypses is the woman seated in the wilderness (Rev. 12:6) positioned in the same miniature with the temple in heaven, the Red Dragon, and the woman clothed in the sun. These figures are also present in the Metz-Lambeth group, for example, and several other Anglo-Norman Apocalypse cycles, but in these manuscripts the woman in the wilderness is either set apart from the scene by a frame or paired with the wrong biblical text (Rev. 12:7–12). In

  Images of this Apocalypse were sold separately at auction; see Catalogue of single leaves and miniatures from western illuminated manuscripts which will be sold at auction by Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co. Monday, 25 April, 1983 (London: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1983), 1–44; and The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come, ed. Frances Carey (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), no. 12, 80–83. 20   For the work of this artist, see note 16 above. For my argument of artist attribution, see Griffith, “Antichrist, Eschatology, and Romance,” 66–68. 21   Griffith, “Antichrist, Eschatology, and Romance,” 43–58. 22  Morgan makes this observation in “Some French Interpretations,” 146–47. See, for example, the Dresden Apocalypse (fol. 14r) available online in the Digital Collections of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek. 23   For this figure see Suzanne Lewis, Reading Images: Narrative Discourse and Reception in the Thirteenth-Century Illuminated Apocalypse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 81–83. 19


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Lorraine iconography the woman in the wilderness appears over the correct passage and is fully integrated into the scene, if not the primary figure. 24 One of the most striking features of the Lorraine group is that the iconography is not limited to Apocalypses with Latin texts and can appear in manuscripts with vernacular biblical and commentary texts — a characteristic that immediately differentiates the Lorraine Apocalypse group from redactions of Anglo-Norman Apocalypses. The separation of iconography from words enabled the imagery to become one of several components to be selected or adapted according to the preferences of patrons. Variations to the Lorraine iconography, the creation of entirely original imagery, the diversity in mise-en-page, and the incorporation of supplementary materials demonstrate a production process specific to Lorraine Apocalypses and manuscript culture. It is important to note that, despite springing from an import, the Lorraine Apocalypses differ from families and redactions of Latin and vernacular Apocalypses made in England in several ways. Suzanne Lewis in her numerous studies on English illustrated Apocalypses has argued that the relative obscurity of the Berengaudus commentary and the clever word and image manipulations in AngloNorman Apocalypses indicate that these manuscripts were originally conceived in a monastic setting; and, if one of these manuscripts was commissioned for a lay patron, a clerical guide would have helped the reader-viewer navigate the reception of the images and texts. 25 In both monastic and commercial workshops in England, exemplars provided standardized iconography and formatting that was frequently copied. The pattern of artist collaboration in Lorraine manuscripts made ca. 1290– 1320 indicates that artists often worked in teams, with assigned pieces parceled out to independent workers and not part of a workshop system. I suspect that this was how the iconography was shared, rather than by artists following a single exemplar, without which artists and patrons were free to embellish and revise. The creative adaptation among Lorraine Apocalypses further suggests a desire to receive the apocalyptic material without clerical intervention, as evidenced by four factors. First is the clear preference for the vernacular prose commentary, which was more accessible to lay audiences because it explained Revelation by using contemporary concerns and figures of the Church rather than Berengaudus’ monastic gloss. This preference is demonstrated by the inclusion of the unillustrated prose commentary in the Arras Apocalypse and the eventual replacement of both Latin texts with the vernacular prose commentary and biblical text. Second, although the mise-en-page varies among Lorraine Apocalypses, all the versions lend themselves to a process of reading and viewing that corresponds to lay expectations of secular vernacular   See, for example, the Arras Apocalypse (fol. 7r) at Bibliothèque nationale de France’s digital database Mandragore. 25   For clerical involvement in the production of illustrated Apocalypses, see Suzanne Lewis, “The English Gothic Illuminated Apocalypse, lectio divina, and the Art of Memory,” Word and Image 7 (1991): 1–32; and Lewis, Reading Images, 44. 24

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illustrated manuscripts. Third, manipulations to received iconography or creation of new iconography provide a visual gloss that makes John’s often-opaque symbolism relevant to lay audiences. Fourth, the joining of other texts, illustrated or not, to Lorraine Apocalypses supplies both a book and a practice of studying apocalyptic materials within the larger context of personal, specifically lay (elite) eschatology.

Format Even among the earliest Lorraine Apocalypses, mise-en-page was a manipulable design element. The Laurenziana Apocalypse, illuminated by the BurckhardtWildt artist, retains the iconography but discards the Latin texts. 26 Each miniature has been stretched to cover the entire page, extending over the space occupied by textual passages to turn John’s visions into a picture-book. 27 Although the iconography and style closely follow the Burckhardt-Wildt Apocalypse, the elongated miniatures necessitated modifications to the composition to fill the space attractively. Clearly the patron of this manuscript did not want to read Latin. The opposite approach was taken in the Arras Apocalypse. This manuscript, iconographically in the Lorraine group, reduces miniatures from one half-page to two smaller, square miniatures per folio, each set over a single text column containing the Latin biblical passage and the Berengaudus excerpt. This adjustment permitted two episodes to be viewed per page but required much of the imagery to be compressed or abridged, which is surely why its iconographic connection to other Apocalypses has gone unnoticed. This pattern of small square miniatures preceding single columns of text recalls the mise-en-page of secular vernacular manuscripts in which small framed miniatures restricted to the width of a text-column are scattered throughout the text. That the patron of the Arras Apocalypse desired vernacular eschatological texts is evident in the placing of two unillustrated texts, the prose Apocalypse commentary and the Prophétie de la Sibylle Tiburtine, after the illustrated Apocalypse. All three items form a single codicological unit, and although the image style indicates an Arras provenance, the inclusion in the Harley Apocalypse of nearly exact copies of the two vernacular texts form another line of connection to the Lorraine group. 28   Emmerson and Lewis, “Census and Bibliography,” no. 59. There is a rare facsimile of the Laurenziana Apocalypse by Cesare Angelini, Apocalisse con le Miniature del Codice Ashburnham 415 della Biblioteca Laurenziana (Parma: Ricci, 1980). 27   There is no correlation between the Laurenziana Apocalypse and the early Anglo-Norman “Picture-Book” Apocalypses. 28   There is a second codicological unit of romance texts bound with the Arras Apocalypse in MS fr. 375. Alison Stones has localized the entire manuscript to Arras ca. 1300 based on the figural style of the Apocalypse imagery and pen-flourished initials in both volumes. See Alison Stones, “The Illustrated Chrétien Manuscripts and their Artistic Context,” in Les Manuscrits de 26


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Modifications to the mise-en-page in these Apocalypses indicate that Lorraine patrons, or perhaps manuscript designers, felt comfortable experimenting with the preferred way to receive the visual and textual content. The increasing market for vernacular texts introduced these new formats suitable for lay reception without clerical supervision. Soon after the first Lorraine Apocalypses were made, the Latin texts were tossed out and the received iconography squeezed into secular manuscript formats. This combination is quite unusual — only one other Anglo-French Apocalypse (Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, MS 403, England, ca. 1250–1255) combines only the French prose texts with iconography from a Latin model, but it preserved the Latin mise-en-page. The Dresden Apocalypse presents an early attempt to fit the Latin iconography into the divisions of the vernacular texts and secular mise-en-page. Correspondence between this manuscript and the Lorraine iconography is barely perceptible because the original imagery in the half-page miniatures was dramatically resized in this version of secular mise-en-page. Here, narrow rectangular miniatures spanning the two columns of text and small square miniatures the width of a single text-column precede the paired biblical and commentary texts; they can appear at different points on each page because the texts run continuously from folio to folio. Remarkably, this manuscript’s complete cycle of images comprises only seventytwo miniatures. To fit the eighty-four miniatures of the Lorraine exemplar into the different chapter divisions in the vernacular texts, the Dresden concepteur omitted some scenes, combined others, and even invented new iconography. Despite such modifications, characteristic iconographic figures, details, and compositions from the Lorraine cycle — such as the Fourth Horseman shown as a skeleton wielding a sword — indicate that the iconography derives from a Latin manuscript in the Lorraine group. 29 The Fourth Horseman and other examples of Lorraine iconography appear in the Liège Apocalypse (Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université, MS Wittert 5), which also replaced Latin texts with vernacular ones. 30 The format of this Apocalypse adheres even more closely to the typical secular mise-en-page, with only small square miniatures preceding biblical and commentary passages, thus requiring the imagery copied either directly from the Dresden Apocalypse or a shared exemplar to be condensed even further. Likewise, the remaining four vernacular Apocalypses in the Lorraine group follow this mise-en-page; these Apocalypses, however, feature new iconography with only minimal visual correspondence to the Lorraine or other Chrétien de Troyes = The Manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes, ed. Keith Busby et al., 2 vols. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993), 1:253–56. 29   Another example is the opening of the sealed book (Rev. 5:7–14) in which both the Dresden Apocalypse (fol. 11v) and Burckhardt-Wildt Apocalypse (fol. 10v) show some of the twentyfour elders holding vials, a detail absent from the Metz-Lambeth group. 30   The Liège Apocalypse is fully reproduced online at the Bibliothèques de l’Université de Liège website. Emmerson and Lewis, “Census and Bibliography,” no. 61.

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iconographic redactions. 31 The use of the secular mise-en-page most often found in illustrated romances or other works of popular narrative literature is a hallmark of the Lorraine group, and as Nigel Morgan reports, only these Apocalypses conform to this type of mise-en-page. 32 This is in contrast to most vernacular Apocalypses that feature iconography that developed independently from Latin exemplars and is set into larger or irregularly shaped miniatures within a single column of text. In addition to making alterations to convert the Latin Apocalypse into more accessible secular manuscripts, the Lorraine Apocalypse patrons, or designers, began to make further changes in order to fashion a visual text that glossed the prose commentary but also updated the decades-old imagery to be more culturally relevant.

Inventive Imagery An important and key characteristic of vernacular Lorraine Apocalypses is their adaptive and inventive imagery, some of which came about from efforts to convert illustrations from one format to another. In instances when new miniatures were required or simply when existing iconography was undesirable, manuscript designers fashioned unique and expressive imagery that went beyond visual translations of Revelation. Remarkably, the various extant Lorraine Apocalypses demonstrate different approaches to supplying new and relevant imagery, which can highlight a biblical passage, visually extrapolate upon the commentary, or allude to other vernacular texts and aspects of popular culture, legend, or religion that exist beyond the pages of the manuscript. The Liège Apocalypse demonstrates well how new and modified imagery incorporated into the Lorraine iconographic program directs a unique reception of the Apocalypse. Visual adaptation is found in the miniature depicting the Divine Warrior and his army (Rev 19:11–16). Some of the original Lorraine iconography is preserved in this scene, such as the Divine Warrior riding a white horse with a sword over his mouth (Fig. 3.1). The depiction of the Divine Warrior treading in the winepress, however, is omitted. In its place is an altar on which a devil sits crosslegged, gesturing toward the oncoming army. The pairing of the two groups in this miniature recalls the commentary explanation that the army following the Divine warrior signifies the Holy Church and fights against the devil through humility and prudence. 33 Much of the new imagery puts emphasis on certain textual themes,

  These are Dresden, Oc. 49; BL Add. 38118, BnF nouv. acq. fr. 6883; and the Harley Apocalypse. 32   Nigel Morgan, “The Bohun Apocalypse,” in Tributes to Lucy Freedman Sandler: Studies in Illuminated Manuscripts, ed. Kathryn A. Smith and Carol H. Krinsky (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007), 94. 33   Delisle and Meyer, L’Apocalypse en français, 106. 31


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Figure 3.2: Those without sin leave while Babylon burns. Liège Apocalypse (Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université, MS Wittert 5), fol. 34r. Metz, 1309–1316.

especially those supplied in the commentary, which in this case adds the devil infiltrating the Church as an apocalyptic event. In another example from the Liège Apocalypse, the need for extra illustrations allowed the artist or designer to expound upon John’s vision with more relevant and engaging imagery. Both this manuscript and the Dresden Apocalypse illustrate the destruction of Babylon (Rev. 18:1–20) in three miniatures, expanding upon the single miniature for this passage in the Anglo-Norman and Lorraine Latin traditions. The first miniature in the Liège series recalls the same illustration of Rev. 18:1–3 in the Dresden Apocalypse in which an angel flying overhead shows John the rubble of buildings that had been Babylon. For the second and third miniatures of this series, the Liège concepteur devised considerably different iconography than what is shown in the Dresden Apocalypse, which simply replicated the composition of the first miniature. In the Liège miniature for Rev. 18:4–10, an angel representing the voice from Heaven advises those who have not participated in the sins of Babylon to depart before the impending plagues and punishments (Fig. 3.2). A monk, or perhaps a friar, leads from the city a woman and child who represent those who have not sinned and are saved from God’s wrath while flames engulf the damned. The final miniature in this series, illustrating Rev. 18:11–20, shows a boat filled with people at sea on the left, a walled city on the right, and in between an

Personalized Eschatology and Lorraine Apocalypses


Figure 3.3: Mariners bewail the destruction of Babylon. Liège Apocalypse (Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université, MS Wittert 5), fol. 35v. Metz, 1309–1316.

angel carrying a scroll (Fig. 3.3). The figures in the boat are the forsaken mariners who bewail the loss of the city that made them rich. The artist, however, did not show the city destroyed but chose instead to focus on the shipmasters and mariners. Typically, however, the merchants and kings mentioned in verses 11 through 16 are represented in Anglo-French vernacular Apocalypses, including the Dresden Apocalypse. The choice of the mariners lies in the commentary. According to the gloss, the shipmasters and mariners are “the prelates of the Holy Church, great and small, who love earthly power,” whereas the merchants signify heretics and hypocrites in general. 34 Taken together, these two Liege miniatures juxtapose a dutiful cleric against a ship full of clerical reprobates. This pairing is also alluded to by the bishop who figures prominently among the damned burning in Babylon while the good cleric rescues the innocent. Combined, these images imply that not all representatives of the Church are trustworthy and reliable guides to salvation. Other modifications in the Liège Apocalypse demonstrate clever pictorial and textual integration across the manuscript as well as an original visual gloss. A striking example of this is the image of the Two Witnesses preaching above the text of Revelation 11. Nearly all Anglo-Norman Apocalypses, Latin Lorraine 34

  Delisle and Meyer, L’Apocalypse en français, 100.


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Figure 3.4: The Two Witnesses. Liège Apocalypse (Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université, MS Wittert 5), fol. 19r. Metz, 1309–1316.

Apocalypses, and the Dresden Apocalypse show some iteration of the Two Witnesses dressed generically in cloaks or in sackcloth. They carry walking sticks, spew fire against their enemies on the left, and on the right preach to a crowd as described in Revelation 11:3–6. The Liège Apocalypse depicts the witnesses in white hooded robes carrying books (Fig. 3.4). Christ stands opposite them, holding a book in one hand and a globe in the other. In between the witnesses and Christ are a pair of trees and a pair of candlesticks. This composition, though it eschews the passages traditionally illustrated in Anglo-French cycles, depicts rather clearly Revelation 11:4: “These [witnesses] are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks that stand before the Lord of the Earth.” The white garments foreshadow their martyrdom by the Beast of the Abyss (Rev. 11:7–8), who is Antichrist, according to both the vernacular and Latin commentaries. The robes also recall members of the contemporary preaching orders, likely the Franciscans. The equation of the Two Witnesses with contemporary mendicants is made perfectly clear in the final miniature of the Liège Apocalypse in which John holds an open book and addresses these same witnesses in white habits (Fig. 3.5). Standing directly beside him are two figures wearing Jews’ caps who replicate John’s preaching gesture but with the aid of a scroll. These are the Old Testament figures of Enoch and Elijah, who, the commentary of Revelation 11:3–6 explains, will be the witnesses who preach

Personalized Eschatology and Lorraine Apocalypses


Figure 3.5: John, the witnesses, and Enoch and Elijah. Liège Apocalypse (Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université, MS Wittert 5), fol. 49v. Metz, 1309–1316.

against Antichrist. 35 This culminating scene authenticates the designation of the contemporary mendicants as the apocalyptic witnesses and their advocacy of John’s message that Christ is returning soon. A unifying theme of the new Liège imagery is that particular members of the Church — especially Franciscans — better aide the devout in their preparations for final judgment. Two Lorraine Apocalypses by or associated with the local artist Nicholaus, which I call the Nicholaus Apocalypses, share iconography and texts and develop some of the most inventive imagery among the Lorraine Apocalypses. Both of these manuscripts, as well as the unfinished BnF nouv. acq. fr. 6883, have the vernacular biblical and prose commentary text with seventy framed miniatures throughout the texts, meaning that the miniatures rarely precede a pairing of biblical and commentary passages but may be placed anywhere. A signal feature of these Apocalypses is that nearly all of the iconography is original to this subgroup. On a few occasions, Nicholaus surprisingly drew iconography from much older cycles of Apocalypses produced from the eighth to the twelfth centuries in and around the Lorraine region. A good example is the representation of the Beast of the Sea (Fig. 3.6). The early medieval beast is more leonine, with small heads sprouting   Delisle and Meyer, L’Apocalypse en français, 52.



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Figure 3.6: Beast of the Sea. Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek — Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, [cf. below] MS Oc. 49, fol. 28r. Metz, ca. 1300–1320.

from the central neck, in contrast to the Anglo-Norman beast that is leopard-like, with seven equal-sized heads on long necks branching together from the torso. The other vernacular Lorraine Apocalypses similarly feature select instances of iconography from older cycles, which is another identifying characteristic of the group. That Lorraine artists drew upon older sources is unsurprising, for Apocalypses were produced in this region during the Carolingian and Ottonian periods, and it is quite likely that Apocalypse imagery was available ca. 1300 in various media. As in the Liège Apocalypse, clerical figures — nuns, bishops, monks, and mendicants — commonly appear in the Nicholaus Apocalypses. The most striking use of the trope is in the illustration of the Divine Warrior condemning the Beast and False Prophet to the pool of fire in Revelation 19:20–21 (Fig. 3.7). Here a two-horned, winged demon carries, or perhaps supports, a Dominican monk and a contemporary manifestation of Antichrist defeated by the Divine Warrior. The demon is the False Prophet, frequently equated with the Two-Horned Beast of the Earth from Revelation 13:11, and the Dominican is the Beast, who signifies Antichrist. 36 The black cappa over a white scapular and tonsure identifies this cleric as   Richard K. Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages: A Study of Medieval Apocalypticism, Art, and Literature (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981), 22–24; Delisle and Meyer, 36

Personalized Eschatology and Lorraine Apocalypses


Figure 3.7: The Divine Warrior and his army cast the False Prophet and Antichrist as a Dominican into the Pool of Fire. London, British Library, MS Additional 38118, fol. 37v. Metz, ca. 1300–1320. By permission of the British Library.

a Dominican. Representing Antichrist as a monk or mendicant was not unusual in manuscript illustration of the later Middle Ages, though such visual metaphors were uncommon in Apocalypse imagery. 37 If mendicants were portrayed in John’s Revelation, it was typically as the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11. Nevertheless, such an antifraternal characterization underscores Antichrist’s principal quality as a clever deceiver and can be found in popular culture, including representations of Faus Semblant as a Dominican in the Roman de la Rose and in the costuming of Antichrist as a Franciscan in the Jour du Jugement. 38 Like other clerical figures, the

L’Apocalypse en français, 108. 37   For antifraternal characterizations of Antichrist, see Timothy L. Stinson, “Illumination and Interpretation: The Depiction and Reception of Faus Semblant in Roman de la Rose Manuscripts,” Speculum 87 (2012): 470–72. See also Penn R. Szittya, The Antifraternal Tradition in Medieval Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); and Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages, 67–73. 38  For Faus Semblant as Antichrist, see Stinson, “Illumination and Interpretation”; and Richard K. Emmerson and Ronald B. Herzman, The Apocalyptic Imagination in Medieval Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 76–103. For Antichrist in the Jour du


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Figure 3.8: Third Horseman (Famine). Dresden Apocalypse (Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek, MS Oc. 50), fol. 13v. Metz, 1303–1316.

Dominican Antichrist also transfers Revelation from a mystical vision to an earthly and present-day setting. Other visual elements, even quite minor details such as lancet windows and gables, across the Lorraine group help situate the Apocalypse in an up-to-date landscape that aligns with the prose commentary as well as the visual tastes and experiences of lay reader-viewers. A notable example is the Third Horseman in the Dresden Apocalypse, shown in decidedly courtly costume, likely reflecting this manuscript’s audience (Fig. 3.8). In the Nicholaus Apocalypses the defeat of Gog and Magog resembles a contemporary military or tournament camp. These seemingly minor details visualize the Apocalypse in the appearance of contemporary events but also present them in the form of a linear narrative, similar to illustrations of popular vernacular literature such as romances. Both the linear reading process directed by a secular mise-en-page and the representation of John’s Revelation as a series of contemporary events help to clarify the narrative structure of John’s cyclical symbolism. Although later vernacular Apocalypses will similarly relocate the Apocalypse to a contemporary setting and linear format, the Lorraine Apocalypses were the first to move away from the visionary and timeless quality of illustration Jugement, see Karlyn Griffith, “Viewing the Romance of Antichrist in the Miniatures of the Jour du Jugement MS Besançon 579,” Athanor 27 (2009): 27–28.

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in earlier Latin Apocalypses. Such imagery aided devotional viewing practices by replicating the mystical quality of John’s prophecy, as is nicely demonstrated by the Getty Apocalypse’s pseudo-psychedelic woman in the sun (fol. 19v). By contrast, the Harley Apocalypse rejected the mystical Marian figure in favor of the Woman in the sun copied from early medieval Apocalypse iconography, which paradoxically provided a more contemporary and courtly looking queen (fol. 21r). 39 The desire to set the Apocalypse in the present also complements the aim of the vernacular prose commentary to interpret the complex symbolism of Revelation as designating corrupt prelates or predominant vices in contemporary culture. This relatable commentary surely inspired the turn to secular page layouts and much of the inventive imagery. Indeed, the prose commentary was written in Paris, quite likely by a mendicant around 1225 to gloss the Apocalypse passages in Moralized Bibles. 40 These sumptuous manuscripts designed for royal edification are remarkable for their vibrant imagery, especially the scenes that interpret moralization passages with recognizable and contemporary figures, including — unsurprisingly — mendicants. It remains unclear whether the appeal of the prose commentary primarily inspired the popularity of and modifications to Apocalypses, or if local mendicants, who frequently were advisors to the nobility, also influenced Lorraine Apocalypse production.

Additional Content Certainly, part of the appeal of the prose commentary is that it mentions Antichrist — more than forty times. This important eschatological figure resides in the cultural grey area of legend and popular religion rather than in church doctrine. Lay interest in the human incarnation of evil fed the flourishing of Antichrist’s legend, most notably at the instigation of Queen Gerberga, consort to Louis IV d’Outre-Mer, who in the mid-tenth century sought information on the life and career of Antichrist from Adso, who would become Abbot of Monteir-en-Der. In response, Adso compiled a sort of vita of Antichrist, fashioning his account of Antichrist’s appearance, deeds, and destruction from patristic, exegetical, and sibylline sources. 41 Because Revelation never refers to Antichrist, he is not typically depicted in Apocalypse illustrations, although Berengaudus does mention 39  Emmerson and Lewis, “Census and Bibliography,” no.  72. See Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, MS Bibl. 140, fol. 29v (Reichenau, ca.  1000), available online in the library’s digital collection. 40   John Lowden, “The Apocalypse in the Early-Thirteenth-Century Bibles Moralisées: A Re-Assessment,” in Prophecy, Apocalypse and the Day of Doom: Proceedings of the 2000 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. Nigel Morgan (Donnington, UK: Shaun Tyas, 2004), 195–217. 41  Richard K. Emmerson, “Antichrist as Anti-Saint: The Significance of Abbot Adso’s Libellus de Antichristo,” American Benedictine Review 30 (1979): 175–90.


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Antichrist several times. 42 A great exception further demonstrating lay interest in Antichrist is the insertion of an illustrated Antichrist cycle into the margins in the Lambeth Apocalypse (London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 209, ca. 1265) made for Lady Eleanor De Quincy. 43 Among the Lorraine Apocalypses, Antichrist is illustrated in the Nicholaus subgroup and the Harley Apocalypse. In the Nicholaus Apocalypses, one scene expressly disregards the biblical text of Revelation 13, which describes the TwoHorned Beast of the Earth commanding the worship of the Beast of the Sea and illustrates the “anti-trinity” (Fig. 3.9). This demonic trinity is formed by the dragon, the Beast of the Sea, and the Two-Horned Beast of the Earth. 44 The commentary explains that the dragon is the devil who has great power, the Beast of the Sea is Antichrist, and the Two-Horned Beast of the Earth signifies Antichrist’s disciples. 45 Antichrist appears again in the miniature illustrating Revelation 16:12–14, in which the Dragon, Beast, and False Prophet spew frogs, or unclean spirits. In this image, however, only the signified Antichrist is represented, demonstrating his importance, alongside a group of kings and the pouring of the sixth vial. Instead of frogs, he spits red demons, recalling verse 14: “For they [the frogs] are the spirits of devils working signs.” 46 The commentary explains that the spirits of devils making false signs are like the devils working through Antichrist and his disciples making enchantments and miracles that turn princes against the Church. 47 Thus the kings standing with Antichrist can signify the nobility, who will be corrupted by Antichrist and his “devils” in Revelation 6:14 and who also remind the reader of Antichrist’s likely presence on earth. The most well-known aspect of Antichrist legend, that he will kill God’s witnesses, heralding the Last Days, is represented in the Harley Apocalypse (Fig. 3.10). In this manuscript, an extra-long miniature depicts Antichrist’s confrontation with the Two Witnesses and their subsequent execution by Antichrist’s henchman. These scenes come entirely from legend and replace literal illustrations of the biblical text, which, as noted above, typically show the witnesses prophesying and then their death by the Beast from the Abyss. On the opposite folio, a supplementary miniature added before the commentary passage depicts a rather generic dragon rising from a well. It represents the Beast of the Abyss that was replaced by the Antichrist scenes. The commentary directly below explains that the Beast of the Abyss who kills the witnesses is Antichrist. Thus the pair of miniatures clarifies 42   Antichrist is illustrated in most Beatus Apocalypses, and a complete mini-life cycle is included in the Anglo-Norman Picture-Book manuscripts. 43  Nigel Morgan, The Lambeth Apocalypse: Manuscript 209 in Lambeth Palace Library; A Critical Study (London: Harvey Miller, 1990). 44  Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages, 22–24. 45   Delisle and Meyer, L’ Apocalypse en français, 58, 64, 67. 46   BL Add. 38118, fol. 30r. 47   Delisle and Meyer, L’ Apocalypse en français, 85.

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Figure 3.9: Two-Horned Beast of the Earth makes fire rain from heaven with the Beast of the Sea/Antichrist and Dragon. Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek, MS Oc. 49, fol. 29r. Metz, ca. 1300–1320.

that the human Antichrist, who was likely the more familiar antagonist, is equivalent to the biblical Beast of the Abyss. Within a framed column-filler, another type of supplementary image unique to the Harley Apocalypse, two mermaids call further attention to the Antichrist scene. When applicable, these column-fillers feature various beasts that can echo a word in the text or, as in this case, imbue a passage with greater meaning by alluding to popular literature and culture. According to bestiaries, mermaids tempt men with their alluring song and symbolize a pertinent vice among the laity: lust. Positioned between the Antichrist scenes and the Beast of the Abyss, the mermaids as symbols of temptation warn of one route through which Antichrist’s deceptions can derail the unsuspecting from their quest for salvation. The insertion of the Antichrist scenes and the two extra miniatures indicates that for this manuscript’s audience the Antichrist tradition was central to


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Figure 3.10: Antichrist confronts the witnesses and Antichrist orders his henchman to behead the witnesses; two mermaids; and the Beast from the Abyss. Harley Apocalypse (London, British Library, MS Harley 4972), fols. 19v–20r. Metz, ca. 1300– 1315. By permission of the British Library.

their understanding of the Last Days and issues a warning that must be followed in order to ensure salvation. In addition to this imagery within the Apocalypse itself, two vernacular illustrated texts pertaining to Antichrist were joined with the Harley Apocalypse. Both contributed to the design and imagery of the Apocalypse and influenced its reception. The Harley Apocalypse once formed the first part of a manuscript compilation that included the Prophétie de la Sibylle Tiburtine and the Tournoiement Antécrist, an allegorical romance written in Paris by Huon de Méry around 1235. 48 The Tournoiement Antécrist recounts how its author stumbled upon a tournament between Antichrist and his army of vices and Christ’s army of virtues. Thirty-five historiated initials and three framed miniatures feature mostly generic knights to   The final folio of the Sibylle tiburtine and the Tournoiement Antécrist are now bound in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 308 along with three other illustrated romance texts and a Chansonnier. For the codicology of this manuscript, see Martin Kauffmann, “Collation Structures Report,” in Mary Atchison, The Chansonnier of Oxford Bodleian MS Douce 308: Essays and Complete Edition of Texts (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 22–26. 48

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visually punctuate the text by drawing attention to particular virtues, such as Largess and Prowess, and to vices, such as Drunkenness and Fornication, that would surely be relevant to a lay, courtly audience. The few incidents of narrative imagery in the historiated initials create visual analogs between the Harley Apocalypse and the romance. For example, the similarity of the woman clothed in the sun from Revelation 12 (Harley Apocalypse, fol. 21r) and the Queen of Heaven who cheers on the virtues in the Tournoiement Antécrist (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 308, fol. 261v) nicely demonstrates the purposeful alignment of imagery between these texts, the result of which is the blending of genres as well as eschatological concepts. This compilation was not centered on Revelation, however. Rather, the joining of the Sibyl’s ancient prophecy, which explains how and when Antichrist will deceive, with a courtly tournament that serves as an allegory for personal salvation and with John’s Revelation creates an eschatological library of three generically diverse accounts of Antichrist and the Last Days. Among Anglo-French illustrated Apocalypses, the Harley Apocalypse is the only one to be originally joined to a romance. As a result, it underwent the greatest amount of adaptation and innovation among Lorraine Apocalypses. The visual innovations, extra-textual allusions, and additional texts within the entire compilation affected the reception of the Harley Apocalypse by filtering the mysteries of John’s biblical text through content more familiar to a courtly audience who would likely be reading this manuscript without clerical supervision. By the time of the Harley Apocalypse’s production in the early fourteenth century, vernacular Apocalypses in both England and Lorraine were just coming into vogue, and only a few would be joined with additional texts. Most items added in these and later vernacular Apocalypses allowed reader-viewers to understand Revelation through accessible visual and textual content, for example, the pater noster or popular didactic texts such as the Image du monde or the Lumiere a lais. Six of the ten Lorraine Apocalypses incorporate additional materials, including the items in the Harley Apocalypse compilation. 49 The idea to join other texts with the Apocalypse likely followed the practice of commercial booksellers to offer booklets from which patrons could choose in order to form a manuscript or, perhaps, to collect individually and later bind. 50 This process would give patrons the ability to edit the contents of their manuscripts and perhaps inspired the idea of selecting either Latin or vernacular texts in Lorraine Apocalypse manuscripts. Illustrated or not, the texts joined to Lorraine Apocalypses were just one of several elements that were added or manipulated. The changes and adaptations to Apocalypse manuscripts in the Lorraine group suggest a regional approach to

49  For more on these texts, see Appendix A in Griffith, “Antichrist, Eschatology, and Romance,” 478–79. 50   For booklets see Ralph Hanna III, “Booklets in Medieval Manuscripts: Further Considerations,” Studies in Bibliography 39 (1986): 100–11.


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manuscript production and an entirely new method of designing Apocalypse manuscripts. Perceiving Apocalypse manuscripts and their imagery as movable parts, much like books of hours, allowed manuscript owners to personalize their eschatology. New imagery often drew on ideas from the commentary or from other vernacular texts, heterodox legend, or popular religion. The function of this imagery was not only to fill in gaps in the image program but also to color the visual presentation of Revelation according to the individual interests or needs of Apocalypse patrons. The resulting adaptations demonstrate that Lorraine reader-viewers preferred to receive Revelation in terms of popular religion and contemporary cultural interests. Together this group of manuscripts reveals rare glimpses into lay rather than monastic or scholastic eschatological views that are not present in earlier groups of illustrated Apocalypses.

William Langland’s Uncertain Apocalyptic Prophecy of the Davidic King Kimberly Fonzo Fictional characters’ predictions of the Apocalypse transcend the literary situations in which they appear because they refer to events that would affect all of humanity. 1 For instance, when Beatrice prophesies the coming of a champion, enigmatically called “un cinquecento diece e cinque” [a five hundred ten and five] (XXXIII.43), who will slay the Beast of the Apocalypse, she tells Dante to write the warning for his readers so that all people will know what is to come. 2 This moment of the Pugatorio implicates readers in the prediction, imbuing the prophecy with a status that exceeds its fictional milieu. Similarly, this moment gestures to the author, Dante, himself as a genuine prophet who makes earnest predictions of future events. Dante unabashedly embraces the role of prophet in the Commedia, representing his narrative persona as God’s chosen messenger. William Langland (ca. 1325–1390), in contrast, represents his narrative persona, Will, as a perpetually confused dreamer who attempts to unravel the often contradictory instructions that he receives from various authorities. 3 This is because, unlike Dante, who is navigating hell, purgatory, and heaven, Will is navigating the Earth and all of its confusions. Piers 1   Claudia Rattazzi Papka has referred to this phenomenon as a “fiction of judgment.” See “Fictions of Judgment: The Apocalyptic ‘I’ in the Fourteenth Century” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1996). 2   Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, ed. Robert M. Durling (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). 3   For comparisons of Langland and Dante’s authorial personae, see Claudia Rattazzi Papka, “The Limits of Apocalypse: Eschatology, Epistemology, and Textuality in the Commedia and Piers Plowman,” in Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. Caroline Walker Bynum and Paul Freedman (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000); Mary Curruthers, The Search for St. Truth: A Study of Meaning in Piers Plowman (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973); and Pietro Cali, Allegory and Vision in Dante and Langland (Cork: Cork University Press, 1971).

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 53-65.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117179


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Plowman is part of a broader tradition of late fourteenth-century English poetry that portrays contemporary social, political, and ecclesiastical disorder as a signal of the End of Days. 4 The predictions to which the befuddled Will is privy carry weight as warnings to Langland’s audience to prepare for apocalyptic times to come. Like Dante, Langland puts apocalyptic prophecies into the mouths of his characters, most notably the allegorical personification of Conscience. In Passus III of Piers Plowman, Conscience prophesies the coming of a new King David who will reign over all Christian countries and convert the Jews and the Saracens. This has led critics to debate whether William Langland is, himself, predicting a reign of an ideal king on earth just prior to the Apocalypse or the reign of Christ on earth after it. Morton Bloomfield and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton have noted that the reign seems to be described as an earthly one and must therefore be based on the controversial writings of twelfth-century theologian Joachim of Fiore, who predicted an earthly age of perfection before the End of Days. 5 David Aers, Robert Adams, and Richard K. Emmerson, however, argue that Langland could have gotten similar ideas from the writings of St. Jerome and St. Augustine, who describe Christ’s post-apocalyptic kingdom on earth. 6 However, these debates over the theological implications of the Davidic reign in Piers Plowman overlook the most dominant source material of Conscience’s apocalyptic predictions: political prophecies. Langland is not advancing a particular theological perspective on the order of events that would occur at the end of the world. Rather, he has Conscience adopt the discourse of political prophecy in order to deconstruct it and the greed that motivates it. In this way, Langland’s use of prophecy does not imply his privileged access to truth but deconstructs the authority of others who claim that very access for personal gain. In this sense, Langland reminds readers of the political corruption in fourteenth-century England, which signals the coming of the Apocalypse. Conscience and Langland’s warnings therefore genuinely admonish readers to amend or eschew the political abuses parodied in the format of the prophecy as they prepare for the apocalyptic times that it predicts.   See Richard K. Emmerson, “The Prophetic, the Apocalyptic, and the Study of Medieval Literature,” in Poetic Prophecy in Western Literature, ed. Jan Wocjcik (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984), 40–54; and Penn Szittya, “Domesday Bokes: The Apocalypse in Medieval English Literary Culture,” in The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. Richard K. Emmerson and Bernard McGinn (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 374–97. 5   See Morton Bloomfield, Piers Plowman as a Fourteenth — Century Apocalypse (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1969); and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Reformist Apocalypticism and Piers Plowman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). 6   See David Aers, Chaucer, Langland, and the Creative Imagination (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), 62–79; Robert Adams, “Some Versions of Apocalypse: Learned and Popular Eschatology in Piers Plowman,” in The Popular Literature of Medieval England (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985), 194–236; And Richard K. Emmerson, “‘Yernen to Rede Redels?’ Piers Plowman and Prophecy,” The Yearbook of Langland Studies 7 (1993): 27–76. 4

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Conscience’s prophecy appropriately comes in the context of a political debate about advising the king, specifically in war. The debate appears in the midst of the trial of Lady Mede, a mysterious personification who can alternately signify indiscriminately distributed bribes or truly deserved monetary and spiritual rewards. The king has offered Lady Mede to Conscience as a wife, and Conscience rejects her, claiming that she is a whore. Defending herself, Lady Mede argues to Conscience that she has done a better job than Conscience has in counseling kings. Conscience points out that Lady Mede was a poor advisor to King Saul, whose fall is described in the Old Testament Book of Samuel. Conscience goes on to prophesy that “Saul shal be blamed” (B.III.286) and that “Dauid shal be diademed and daunten hem alle, / And oon critene kyng kepen [vs echone]” (B.III.287–288). 7 In the B version of Piers Plowmans, Conscience also describes how this Davidic king will bloodlessly convert the Jews and the Saracens: “And the myddel of a Moone shal make þe Iewes torne, / And Sarȝynes for þat siȝte shul synge Gloria in excelsis, / For Makometh and Mede myshappe shul þat tyme” (B.III.326–328). Conscience’s predictions of the fall of Saul and the rise of David, a unifying Christian emperor, and his predictions of the peaceful conversion of the Jews and Muslims are all derived from apocalyptic English political propaganda used in the late fourteenth century to promote Edward III’s wars against France. In situating the prophecy within debates of wartime spoils and discussions of the corrupt King Saul, Langland subtly highlights all that is sacrilegious and avaricious about the kind of political wartime prophecy that Conscience parodies.

The Prophets and Profiteers of the Hundred Years’ War English nobility who stood to gain money from the war with France patronized a variety of poems that used prophecy to incite wars. These poems often likened France’s ruler, Phillip VI, to Saul, the king who lost God’s favor through disobedience, and likened England’s ruler, Edward III, to David, the king who gained God’s favor instead. For instance, the anonymous Latin poem “An Invective Against France” warns France in apostrophe: Spiritus aspirans bonus a te, Saule, recessit, Ad David accessit, felicia prælia spirans. Est David Edwardus, sancto cum crismate clerens, Philip corde carens Saul est ad prælia tardus.

7   Piers Plowman: The B Version, rev. ed., in Piers Plowman: The Tree Versions, ed. George Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson (London: Athlone, 1988). All subsequent quotations are taken from this edition.


kimberly fonzo [The good spirit blowing from you, Saul, withdrew, It came to David, ushering favorable battles. Edward is David, shining with holy consecrated oil, Phillip, lacking in heart, is Saul, slow to battle.] 8

The poem, written in support of the English war effort, describes the reason for Phillip’s lack of holy favor as his reluctance toward war. In this way, the poem urges Edward and England to war not only with the message that Edward is the chosen ruler of France but also with the message that being chosen depends upon one’s willingness to fight. Edward must fight not only because he has been chosen by God but also because he too might lose his holy favor if he were to give up his claim to the French throne. The Prophecy of John of Bridlington, written for the notable war profiteer Humphrey de Bohun, also compares Phillip to Saul and Edward to David, recalling, “Rex Saul erravit quærens occidere David, / Quem Deus elegit” [King Saul erred trying to kill David, whom God chose.] 9 These comparisons play upon longstanding associations of the French kingship with an anointed leader in the tradition of David. In the Book of Samuel, God’s election of David, manifested through Samuel’s anointing him, symbolized a theocracy that was legitimized by God himself. This symbolism was especially useful during France’s regime changes because it allowed the new ruler to claim God as the source of his authority. The legitimacy of a king who ousted another king might easily be questioned by his new subjects, but the example of David, the king whose victory over the ousted king Saul signaled his favor from God, aided in sanctioning even the most violent regime changes. For instance, when Pepin deposed Childeric in 751, Pope Zachary anointed him to symbolize his Davidian status. Zachary and subsequent popes referred to the Carolingian rulers as “new Moses and David,” implying that the former Merovingian kings, like Saul, had fallen out of favor with God. 10 As Lesley Coote has noted, the French kings “either called themselves, or claimed to be, David, with a right to be the secular leader of the Christian world.” 11 The English co-opted this French symbolism of the anointed leader during their own attempts to supplant the French kings. Beginning in the reign of Edward 8   “An Invective Against France,” in Political Poems and Songs Relating to English History, ed. Thomas Wright (London: Longman, 1859), 26–39, here 30. Translation is my own. 9   “John of Bridlington,” in Political Poems and Songs, 123–214, here 166. For the Prophecy of John of Bridlington as war propaganda, see G.A. Holmes, The Estates of the Higher Nobility in Fourteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957), 22–24; and Michael Prestwich, Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 171. 10   See Josef Funkenstein, “Samuel and Saul in Medieval Political Thought,” Hebraic Political Studies 2, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 149–63. 11   Lesley Coote, Prophecy and Public Affairs in Later Medieval England (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer, 2000), 96.

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II and continuing all the way through Henry IV’s reign, a prophecy attributed to St. Thomas Becket circulated, relating how the Virgin Mary had appeared to Becket. She purportedly presented him with a flask of oil and said: Est eternim rex futures qui per ista[m] unccionem ungetur qui terras a parentibus amissas videclicet Normanniam & Aquitaniam recuperabit sine vi. Rex iste maximus erit inter reges & est ille qui recuperabit multas ecclesias in terra sancta & effugabit omnes paganos de Babilonia & ibidem plures ecclesias sanctas edificari faciet. [Truly, it is a future king who will be anointed with this oil, who will recover the lands lost by his ancestors, that is, Normandy and Aquitaine, without force. This king will be the greatest among kings and it is he who will win back many churches in the Holy Land and will drive all the pagans out of Babylon and he will cause many holy churches to be built there.] 12

Asserting that the English had the true God-given oil, passed down through Thomas Becket, this story and prophecy imply that an English king will actually fulfill the role of the Last Emperor, foretold in popular French and German prophecies of the Tibertine Sibyl. The prediction of the English king as the last emperor found its way into several prophetic predictions. For instance, “Adam Davy’s Dreams” describes how “þe kyng Eward com corouned myd gret blis; / þat bitokeneþ he shal be / Emperour in cristianete” (3.80–82). 13 A fourteenth-century chronicle, the Eulogium Historiarum, describes Edward as a leopard who will tear apart the lilies of Gaul, representing the French. 14 The leopard will then go on to conquer the world: Ecclesie subquo libertas prima redibit Hunc babilon metuet crucis hostes nam teret omnes Acon Jerusalem leopard posse redempte Ad cultum fidei gaudebunt se redituras Imperium mundi sub.

12  Cambridge, University Library, MS Gg. iv. 25, fol. 61v. Quotation and translation taken from Coote, Prophecy and Public Affairs, 95. Also see T.A. Sandquist, “The Holy Oil of St. Thomas of Canterbury,” in Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), 130–44. 13   Adam Davy’s 5 Dreams about Edward II: The life of St. Alexius; Solomon’s book of wisdeom; St. Jeremie’s 15 tokens before Doomsday; the Lamentacion of souls, ed. F.J. Furnivall (London: Trübner, for the Early English Text Society, 1878), 13. Although originally about Edward II, this poem circulated into the fifteenth century. For information about the manuscript, see Coote, Prophecy and Public Affairs, 8. 14   Frank Scott Haydon, Eulogium Historiarum sive temporis, 3 vols. (London: Longman, 1858–1863, 2:419–20.


kimberly fonzo [Under him the initial freedom of the Church will return; Babylon will fear him, for he will grind down all the enemies of the Cross. Saved by the Leopard’s power, Acre and Jerusalem will rejoice at their return to the cult of the faith; the empire of the world.] 15

These prophecies not only promoted the cause of English rule of France but also English translatio imperii and divine right. In a time when the papal office was asserting its supremacy to monarchies, and tending to favor the French during the Hundred Years’ War, these prophecies affirmed the English kingship as divinely appointed and approved. 16 The common thread of all of these prophecies was that they urged Edward into war with France and were typically patronized by people who stood to benefit from such a war. Given the popularity of political prophecies about a Davidic king during the Hundred Years’ War, Langland could have expected his audience to recognize Conscience’s prophecy as a political one. The political nature of Conscience’s prophecy is all the more apparent when considering that it comes just after his political debates with Lady Mede on the subject of war.

Lady Mede as War Monger It is only fitting that Conscience’s imitation of political prophecies appears in an argument with Lady Mede, the personification of political greed. Conscience’s prophecy satirizes the discourses of the very people for whom Lady Mede speaks in their exchange: the war profiteers. Mede blames Conscience for the king’s bad decision “in Normandie” (B.III.187) — an overt reference to Edward III’s controversial decision to sign the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, withdrawing his claim to the throne in exchange for a ransom payment of 3,000,000 écus for King John II of France. Mede, herself, personifies monetary reward, so her primary complaint against the treaty is, appropriately, its economic repercussions. Edward gave up his claim to the French crown in exchange for a hefty ransom for King John II of France. While having Lady Mede speak in opposition to a sizable monetary ransom may seem contradictory, the rationale of her critique is that the king and his subjects could have made much more money had they stayed in the war. She refers to  Haydon, Eulogium Historiarum sive temporis, 2:419. Translation quoted from Coote, Prophecy and Public Affairs, 115. 16  For the power struggle between Church and state after the Gregorian Reform, see Michael Wilks, The Problem of Sovereignty in the Later Middle Ages: The Papal Monarchy with Augustinus Triumphus and the Publicists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964); and Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (1957; repr. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). For the papacy’s favoring of France in the conflict with England, see John Barnie, War in Medieval English Society: Social Values in the Hundred Years War 1337–99 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974), 12. 15

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the ransom as “a litel siluer” (B.III.207), a paltry sum in contrast to ruling France, “þe richest Reaume þat reyn ouerhoueþ” (B.III.208). Lady Mede’s rebuke of Conscience represents the increasingly common negative public opinion of Edward’s decision to sign the treaty, especially among powerful magnates who had profited a great deal from the war. At the time of the treaty, the French had not defeated the English in battle in fifteen years, and the influx of French ransoms and spoils of plunder during the 1340s and 1350s had given the English a taste of economic prosperity. 17 Froissart’s Chroniques describe the anger of the English captains in particular, who had to sell off their various properties when ordered to evacuate territories lost in the treaties. 18 Langland composed the A version of Piers Plowman between 1368 and 1374, during which this negative opinion of the truce formed in Normandy in 1360 began to grow. After the peace treaty failed, and the war began again in 1369, the English began to suffer more casualties and more economic losses. An increasing number of English citizens developed a negative view of the treaty, believing that the negotiation had prevented them from winning the war back when they held the upper hand. 19 Lady Mede’s complaint — “He sholde haue be lord of þat lond in lengþe and in brede, / And [ek] kyng of þat kiþ his kyn for to helpe, / The leeste brol of his blood a Barones piere” (B.III.203–205) — echoes that of the Anonimalle chronicler, who claims that the treaty was entered into: a graunt perde et damage al roy Dengleterre et a ses heirs pur toutz iours, qare bien pres toute la communalte de Frauns fuist en subieccion et raunsoun a eux et si purroient les ditz captains od lour gentz deinz brief avoir conquis la roialme de Frauns al oeps le roy Dengleterre et ses heirs sil les voldroit avoir soeffre. [to the great loss and harm of the king of England and his heirs for ever, for nearly the whole of the community of France was in subjection and ransom to them; and within a brief period the said captains and their men could easily have conquered the kingdom of France to the advantage of the king of England and his heirs, if he had allowed them.] 20

Langland uses Lady Mede to voice the popular opinion that the treaty was a poor financial decision, not only for the king himself, but also for the entire realm of England, which had suffered without the king’s largesse. Mede’s counsel — “It bicomeþ a kyng þat kepeþ a Reaume / To yeue [hise men mede] þat mekely hym serueþ / To   See Barnie, War in Medieval English Society, 13–14.   Jean Froissart, Chroniques, ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove, 25 vols. (Brussels: Heussner, 1867– 1877), 6:298. 19  Froissart, Chroniques, 6:14. 20   Anonimalle Chronicle, ed. Vivian Hunter Galbraith (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1927), 49. John Erghome is also critical of the treaty in the prophetic verses ascribed to John of Bridlington. See Wright, Political Poems and Songs, 123–215. 17



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aliens, to alle men, to honouren hem with ȝiftes” (B.III.209–211) — draws attention to the king’s economic responsibility to his citizens and his personal failure to take that responsibility into consideration when deciding to sign a peace treaty. Mede’s critique of the treaty does not only outline the ways in which it was a financially poor decision; it also highlights the greed of Edward and others who supported entering the war in 1337 and re-entering it in 1369. When Langland wrote the A version of Piers Plowman, Edward was in the process of once again declaring war on France. As Denise N. Baker has argued, Mede’s “opposition to peace serves to interrogate the values of the warrior class and Edward III himself.” 21 Mede’s championing of the cause of Edward’s war is even more damning to him than her criticism of his handling of the peace treaty. Mede’s lamentations over what Edward had lost through the treaty, such as “The leeste brol of his blood a Barones piere” (B.III.205) highlight the less noble motives that Edward had for entering into the war and re-entering into it again. In putting the opinions of those who complained about the treaty into the mouth of Lady Mede, Langland highlights the self-interest inherent in that political position. Never does Lady Mede invoke the rhetoric that Edward is the rightful ruler of France. Her focus is entirely on the financial boons of war.

Edward III as Saul While Mede’s complaint emphasizes the greed of the war mongers, Conscience’s subsequent retort about how bad Mede was at advising Saul subtly highlights how the peace treaty itself was also motivated by money. In response to Lady Mede’s claim that she is helpful to kings in wartime, Conscience reminds Mede of the story of Saul and David. Through his explication of the kings’ story, Conscience illustrates that Mede was to blame for Saul’s loss of life and crown. He explains that God spoke to Saul through Samuel, instructing him to exact divine vengeance upon the people of Amalec: “Forþi,” seide Samuel to Saul, “god himself hoteþ [þ]ee Be buxom at his biddynge his wil to fulfille. Weend to Amalec with þyn oost and what þow fyndest þere sle it. Burnes and beestes, bren hem to deþe; Widwes and wyues, women and children, Moebles and vnmoebles, and al þow myȝt fynde, Bren it; bere it noȝt, þow shalt spede þe better” (B.III.266–272).

21   Denise N. Baker, “Meed and the Economics of Chivalry in Piers Plowman,” in Inscribing the Hundred Years’ War in French and English Cultures, ed. Denise N. Baker (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), 56.

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Conscience points to greed (the love of Lady Mede) as the source of Saul’s transgression against God’s orders to burn everything and take no prisoners: “And for [Saul] coueited hir catel and þe kyng [Amalec] spared, / Forbar hym and his beestes boþe” (B.III.273–274). Because Langland places Conscience’s accusation about Lady Mede’s poor advice to Saul immediately after Lady Mede’s complaint against the Treaty of Brétigny, it is easy to note the parallels between Saul’s decision to hold King Amalec for ransom (instead of following God’s orders) and Edward’s decision to take John II’s hefty ransom (instead of pursuing his supposed divinely mandated claim to the throne). Lady Mede’s tirade against the treaty illustrates how much the war was really an exercise in pillaging and title-seeking. However, Conscience’s allusion to Saul’s ransom money implies that the peace treaty was also motivated by avarice — desire for the “siluer” that Mede had disparaged as a lesser form of remuneration. While Edward III had paid for the war with taxes on the English people, all of John’s ransom went into Edward’s own pocket. 22 Chronicles of the late fourteenth century depict Edward’s decision as one of self-interest above all else. Froissart reports that Edward would have continued the war had it not been for the remonstrance of his cousin, the Duke of Lancaster, who argued that “This war . . . is not too favorable to you. Your people are the only real gainers by it.” 23 Many people saw Edward’s decision not only as an unwise economic one for the country, as Lady Mede communicated, but also as a personal act of greed — a scathing critique that Conscience can only intimate, not explain. Conscience tells us, after describing Saul’s unwise decisions: The culorum of þis cas kepe I noȝt to [shewe]; On auenture it noyed m[e] noon ende wol I make, For so is þis world went wiþ hem þat han power That whoso seiþ hem soþes is sonnest yblamed (B.III.280–283).

Conscience’s declaration that he does not care to interpret the story only drops more hints that the story of Saul’s greedy transgression is an indictment of the king — the personification of kingship who stands nearby and the real historical personage of Edward III, represented by that character. Conscience is not at liberty to analyze it because the story relates to one who “han power.” It is obvious, however, through the juxtaposition of Lady Mede and Conscience’s arguments, that Edward is quite similar to Saul. Conscience’s example of Saul’s greed, which precedes his prophecy of the Davidic king, implies that Edward is not God’s appointed emperor, since he, like Saul, has been seduced by Lady Mede. In this way, Langland formulates an incisive 22   K.B. MacFarlane, The Nobility of Later Medieval England: The Ford Lectures For 1953 and Related Studies (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973), 38. 23   Sir John Froissart, Chronicles of England, France, Spain &c., trans. Thomas Johnes (London: Bohn, 1852), 284.


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indictment of the hypocrisy behind the rhetoric sustaining Edward III’s war efforts. This political rhetoric co-opts and re-contextualizes the sacred stories of the Bible itself for its own greedy purposes. Langland depicts such a biblical opportunist in Lady Mede herself. She attempts to defend herself from Conscience by quoting Solomon’s Proverbs 22:9 out of context, arguing that “holy writ telleþ: Honorem adquiret qui dat munera & c.” (B.III.335–336) [He that maketh presents shall purchase victory and honor]. 24 Conscience then reminds her to read the rest of the line which warns, “Animam autem aufert accipientium & c.” (B.III.350) [but he carrieth away the souls of the receivers]. Here Mede embodies the opportunistic biblical readers whom Langland has been parodying throughout the entire passus. Edward, Langland illustrates, is no David, in spite of what the war propagandists have to say about the matter. Like the allegorized king of Piers Plowman, he is too caught up in the allure of Lady Mede to reign righteously.

The Ambiguous Identity of David The Davidic king of Conscience’s prophecy is not a war hero. Although Conscience describes a ruler who will conquer the Holy Land, he describes a peaceful conversion: “the myddel of a Moone shal make þe Iewes torne” (B.III.326). Using analogous riddles from the Secretum philosophorum, Andrew Galloway has identified the “myddel of a Moone” as the beginning of a popular riddle whose answer is cor, or love. 25 Thus a change of heart will convert the Jews and Muslims to Christianity, not a war. A more likely candidate for the “cristene kyng” whom Conscience describes is Christ himself. The prophecy of Ezekiel 37:22–24, to which this part of Conscience’s prophecy alludes, similarly describes a future national unification of Israel: “And I will make them one nation in the land on the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king over them all . . . And my servant David shall be king over them.” The Glossa Ordinaria identifies this king as Christ. 26 Furthermore, “Christ” means “anointed one.” David is the king who prefigures Christ in the Bible, so prophesying the coming of David could easily be a prophecy of the Second Coming. 27   Langland only cites the beginnings of these biblical passages. Translations and extensions of passages taken from William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman, 2nd ed., ed. A.V.C. Schmidt (London: Dent, 1995). 25  See Andrew Galloway, “The Rhetoric of Riddling in Late Medieval England: The ‘Oxford’ Riddles, the Secretum philosophorum, and the Riddles in Piers Plowman,” Speculum 70, no. 1 (Jan. 1995): 68–105. 26   Textus biblie cum Glosa ordinaria, Nicolai de lyra postilla, Moralitatibus eiusdem Pauli Burgensis additionibus Matthie Thoring replicis: Repertorium alphabeticum, 7 vols. (Basel: Johannes Petri and Johannes Frobenus, 1506–1508), vol. 4, fol. 263r. 27   For more discussion of this association, see Adams, “Some Versions of Apocalypse,” 222. 24

Uncertain Apocalyptic Prophecy


However, it is not necessarily a prophecy of the Second Coming. Langland exploits this ambiguity inherent in prophetic symbolism in order to examine wartime prophecies’ expectations for an earthly savior monarch. Subtly, through the figure of Saul, Langland points to the ineffectiveness of the current monarch to live up to these expectations. Ironically, the king’s major shortcomings stem from the warring practices heartily endorsed by the kinds of prophecies that Conscience is mimicking. Prophecies of the coming English savior king promoted the war with France, but Langland, through Mede and Conscience’s speeches preceding the prophecy, has illustrated that the war with France is motivated by greed. Because it is ambiguous, the prophecy does not entirely rule out the possibility of an earthly king fulfilling it. However, Langland shows that such an earthly king would need to reform himself entirely. According to tradition, David is a reformed king whose realm suffered because of his own relationship with Bathsheba, just as Edward’s kingdom suffers for his relationship with Lady Mede, the allegorical personification of monetary greed. By invoking David as a model of kingship throughout Piers Plowman, Conscience implies that Edward too could reform and prove successful in his reign. Much of Conscience’s advice to the king comes from David’s psalms. He poses the central question of kingship with David’s question, “Domine, quis habitabit in tabernaculo tuo? / Lord, who sahl wonye in þi wones wiþ þyne holy seintes, / Or resten in þyne holy hills: þis askeþ Dauid” (B.III.234–236). Then Conscience describes how “Dauid assoileþ it hymself ” (B.III.237) by answering: Qui ingreditur sine macula et operatur Iusticiam. Tho þat entren of o colour and of one wille And han ywroght werkes wiþ right and wiþ reson, And he þat vseþ noȝt þe lyf of vsurie, And enformeþ pouere [peple] and pursueþ truþe” Qui pecuniam suam non dedit ad usuram et munera super innocentem (B.III.238–242).

Because he is denouncing Mede, Conscience ends the answer with a direct quotation from Psalm 15 that specifically deals with usury and bribes. Conscience sets up David as a model king to the king in the story, and therefore to Edward III as well. However, instead of urging war in order to bring about a Davidic reign, Langland singles out the banishment of Mede — the vice which caused Saul to fall in the first place. In the subsequent passus, the allegorical king fulfills Conscience’s prophecy that “Reson shal regne and Reaumes gouerne” (B.III.285) by sending for Reason to be his advisor and ultimately banishing Mede from his court. In this way, Langland demonstrates a path to reform but ultimately leaves the question of whether a real king would take such necessary actions to reform his military and legal policies in order to rule according to reason. Conscience’s prophecy touches upon the central tension of Piers Plowman: can individuals and communities begin to approach perfection, even if it is occasionally


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flawed, or are they doomed to live in a sinful society until God intervenes? This tension within the work is what has led scholars such as Morton Bloomfield and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton to identify Conscience’s prophecy as Joachimist. 28 Joachim of Fiore believed that there would be a final, third age of history in which humans, through their own will, would live in an ideal Christian manner before the Apocalypse. 29 Conscience’s prediction of a reign of David/Reason easily resembles a preapocalyptic Age of the Holy Spirit in the Joachimist tradition. 30 However, one does not need to look to Joachim of Fiore’s heterodox apocalyptic doctrines to find Langland’s inspiration for his description of the Davidic Christian king. This figure abounded in English political prophecy, and Langland invokes him to cast doubt on an earthly king’s ability to fulfill the hopes that the Davidic Last Emperor represents. Although it does not advance a specific vision of order of events to come at the End of Days, the prophecy is still ultimately an apocalyptic one. In highlighting war profiteers’ abuses of Scripture, the prophecy reminds readers of the belief that contemporary moral decay will bring about the Apocalypse. Thus Langland conveys the message that the only wise course of action is one that focuses on penitence rather than political schemes disguised as salvation.

  See Kerby-Fulton, Reformist Apocalypticism, 171–72. Kerby-Fulton concedes that she is dealing in the realm of speculation. Of her Joachimist reading of the prophecy, she says, “If this reading is correct (and we have no way of knowing whether it is or not), then all the symbols would be somehow associated with the saving of mankind from tribulation and death” (172). 29   For more on the relative obscurity of Joachim of Fiore in relation to other teachings on apocalypse, see Emmerson, “‘Yernen to Rede Redels?’” 53–54. 30   For more on the Trinitarian view of history, see Marjorie Reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), 18–19, 129–32, 135–44. 28

R es papirea and the Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist Alison Beringer

In his famous song Vor langer frist, 1 the late fifteenth-century German Meistersinger Hans Folz reports the claim that the Antichrist is expected to arrive in a great mass of paper. This paper, Folz continues, will be used to turn away pious Christians, so that the devil can fill their souls with false teachings. 2 Such dire warnings about the arrival of the Antichrist were nothing new in the fifteenth century. Bernard McGinn cites eleven dates for the imminent arrival of the Antichrist just between 1346 and 1450, 3 while Richard Emmerson observes 1   Die Meisterlieder des Hans Folz, ed. August L. Mayer, Deutsche Texte des Mittelalters 12 (Berlin: Weidmann, 1908): 251–55, no. 68 (available online at der?printsec=frontcover&output=reader&id=od3TAAAAMAAJ&pg=GBS.PA251). The song is transmitted in Weimar, Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Cod. Q566. The exact date of this poem is not known; I follow Wright’s suggestion that it was composed at the start of Folz’s printing career (as of 1479, Folz operated a print shop in Nuremberg): Aaron E. Wright, “‘Die gotlich sterk gab daz der teutschen zungen’: Folz, Schedel, and the Printing Press in Fifteenth-Century Nuremberg,” Fifteenth Century Studies 19 (1992): 319–49. Hans-Friedrich Rosenfeld first drew scholars’ attention to this song as a nearly contemporary witness naming Johannes Gutenberg as the inventor of the printing press. He discusses the Antichrist passages: “Ein vergessenes zeitgenössisches Gutenberg-Zeugnis,” Zentralblatt für Bibliothekswesen 59 (1942): 135–40. 2   Vor langer frist, 3. 27–4.33. On Folz, see Johannes Janota, “Folz, Hans,” in Deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon, 2nd ed., ed. Kurt Ruh et al., 14 vols. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1979), vol. 2, cols. 769–93. 3   Bernard McGinn, Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 173. McGinn notes that these are just a selection, and he refers to Richard Emmerson’s Antichrist in the Middle Ages: A Study of Medieval Apocalypticism, Art, and Literature (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981). Emmerson cites similar predictions from both earlier and later sources, 53–56.

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 65–79.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117180


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that “the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries witnessed a growing apocalyptic sense of doom. . ..” 4 What is notable in Folz’s song, however, is the vehicle: it is paper that will bear both the Antichrist and his misleading word. The relationship posited in the Middle Ages between the Antichrist and the written word is more often an antagonistic one. The predictions of his advent invariably include the metaphorical destruction of a very specific species of the written word, as he recruits his followers with the false interpretation and misleading dissemination of Holy Scripture (fallaci doctrina). An important example, antedating Folz’s text by a generation, is the mid-fifteenth-century Antichrist-Bildertext, 5 which informs its reader in both text and picture that the first way in which the Antichrist will deceive people is by preaching “new teaching and new law.” In other words, the Antichrist will not adhere to Holy Scripture, but rather will pervert, subvert, and otherwise distort or destroy God’s word. Even before the advent of printing in the mid-fifteenth century, that destruction was not always anticipated to be merely metaphorical. The arrival of mechanical printing, however, coincides with a notable shift in the relationship between the Antichrist and the book: the material book becomes crucial. The Antichrist, rather than (merely) destroying the spiritual words of God contained in the Bible, now harnesses the material form of the Bible — the paper book — for his own purposes. Thus, the Antichrist’s relationship to the written word changes: no longer bent on destroying only the understanding of God’s teachings, he now recognizes and adopts the power inherent in the material, as opposed to the oral, manifestation of words. The Antichrist’s destruction of sacred books is visually represented as the destruction of physical books in the so-called Wellcome Apocalypse, a famous Sammelhandschrift produced around 1420–1425 and now housed in London in the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. 6 This Latin and German manuscript includes an illustrated narrative of the life of the Antichrist. Folio 10v, on which the Vita Antichristi begins, contains three illustrations of the Antichrist in horizontal registers occupying about two-thirds of the width of the folio. The brief  Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages, 55.   This anonymous work, a collection of illustrations (usually two per page) with two or three lines of text describing the depicted events of each picture, was compiled from various sources by an unknown Bavarian in the mid-fifteenth century and narrates the life of the Antichrist followed by the fifteen signs that precede the Day of Judgment. It is extant in manuscripts and blockbooks. The text relies heavily on Hugh Ripelin of Strasbourg’s Compendium theologicae veritatis. See Georg Steer, Deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon 1: cols. 400–401. This work is also called “Der Antichrist und Die Fünfzehn Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht.” A digitized copy of South German (Swabian?) origin, ca. 1465, now Munich, Graphische Sammlung, 118325–118354, is available at http://urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00047064–2. 6   Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, MS 49. A description of the manuscript is available at 4 5

The Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist


Latin texts in the remaining third, to the right of each illustration, are derived largely from the thirteenth-century Dominican Hugh Ripelin of Strasbourg’s Compendium theologicae veritatis. 7 The focus of the Wellcome manuscript’s first picture is the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple, which is directed by the Antichrist, who stands on the left edge of the illustration. Between him and the temple, a figure prods a fire in which two books are burning. Because of the Antichrist’s position at the far left, his pointing finger guides the viewer first to see the burning book and then to see the temple: thus, although the temple dominates the illustration, the viewer cannot miss the book burning. In addition, the bright red of the flames draws the eye. The Latin text beside the illustration provides a brief précis of the birth and life of the Antichrist, including the information that he will destroy the law of God and will literally burn it in a fire. 8 The Wellcome Apocalypse is not the only manuscript to visually present the Antichrist’s hostile relationship to books. An earlier example is found in the midfourteenth-century Prague picture bible known as the Velislaus Bible. 9 The 747 extant illustrations in this work include pictures of the Antichrist’s life, likewise relying on Hugh’s Compendium theologicae veritatis. 10 The lower picture on folio 135r 11 (Fig. 5.1) shows a group of four people; behind the head of the central figure, a monstrous figure — the devil — is lurking. The central figure points towards a raging fire in which several books are burning. He may also be pushing the Antichrist, who stirs the fire with a rake. One burning book is open, letting the viewer decipher the words “deus noster est .  .  . deus deus.” The one-line caption above this picture reads “Ibi antichristus occisis theologis et phylosophis comburit omnes libros eorum et omnes libros theologye” [Here the Antichrist, after the theologians and the philosophers have been killed, burns all their books and all the books of theology]. 7   See Rosemary Muir Wright, Art and Antichrist in Medieval Europe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 174. 8   “. . . Destruet legem dei et igne comburet.. . .” 9   Prague, Národní knihovna České republiky (National Library of the Czech Republic), MS XXIII.C.124. A later example is a woodcut in the first typographic blockbook of “Der Antichrist und Die Fünfzehn Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht” [Antichrist-Bildertext], Strasbourg, ca. 1480. All three illustrations are depicted in Thomas Werner, Den Irrtum liquidieren. Bücherverbrennungen im Mittelalter Veröfffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte 225 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), plates 1, 2, and 4. 10   According to Werner’s comprehensive study of book burning in the Middle Ages, however, the Compendium does not explicitly describe an act of book burning but rather “imprecisely speaks of a ‘destruction of the law.’” See Werner, Den Irrtum liquidieren, 66–67n226. 11  The full manuscript is available online through http://www. docId=set 03112148.


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Figure 5.1: Prague, Národní knihovna České republiky (National Library of the Czech Republic), MS XXIII.C.124, fol. 135r. Velislaus Bible. Photo courtesy of the National Library of the Czech Republic.

The Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist


Rosemary Muir Wright observed twenty years ago that the Antichrist as bookburner may serve as a reminder of “historical attempts to gain control over men’s minds,” 12 but it is more fruitful for present purposes to pursue Richard Emmerson’s suggestion that this iconography depicts the Antichrist’s “opposition to the law of God,” 13 a suggestion affirmed by the inscription in the Wellcome Apocalypse. In seeking to identify possible inspirations for the image of Antichrist as a burner of books, Emmerson suggests a passage from the Apocrypha 14 that recounts the destruction of law books by fire on the order of Antiochus Epiphanes (the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV), the second-century bce ruler of Judea whose oppression of his Jewish subjects would lead to the first Jewish war of independence, recounted in the book of Maccabees. The Middle Ages understood this Antiochus as a type prefiguring the Antichrist. 15 As another possible source for the Antichrist book-burning imagery, Emmerson suggests the writings of Lactantius, the so-called “Christian Cicero,” who served as tutor to Constantine’s son. 16 In the Institutiones divinae, Lactantius describes the modus operandi of the Antichrist as including the “enwrap[ping of] righteous men with the books of the prophets, and thus burn[ing] them.” 17 While this second possible source may again intend a metaphorical rather than a literal burning, in both Maccabees and the Lactantius text, the Antichrist (or his type) is associated with the destruction of books by fire. By the later fifteenth century, when Hans Folz composed his Vor langer frist, the relationship between the Antichrist and the book had become more complicated. No longer is the Antichrist only misinterpreting or (even) burning books; on the contrary, he seems to be harnessing the contemporary innovation of the printing press for his purposes. The Antichrist is exploiting the uncontrolled multiplication of books made possible by the growing availability of paper and printing. “[T]he Antichrist . . . would arrive in a mass of paper by means of which Christian pious men might be turned away and their souls filled with the fog of totally false art by the devil” (lines 22–33). Hearing or reading these words, one might easily conclude that Folz is casting aspersions on the new technology. 12   Rosemary Muir Wright, Art and Antichrist in Medieval Europe (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1995), 174. The image is reproduced in black and white on page 175. 13  Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages, 131. 14   1 Maccabees 1:56. Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages, 131n51. 15  Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages, 28. 16  Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages, 131 and 284n51. 17   English translation by W. Fletcher, The Latin reads, “Idem justos homines obvolvet libris prophetarum, atque ita cremabit; et dabitur ei desolare orbem terrae mensibus quadraginia duobus.” http://www.documentacatholicaomnia. eu/02m/0240–0320,_Lactantius,_Divinarum_Institutionum_Liber_VII,_MLT.pdf Liber VII, 17A.


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Although the connection between printing and the Antichrist is not unique to this poem, 18 that Hans Folz should express this sentiment is surprising, given that he himself owned and operated a printshop. Born in Worms, probably between 1435 and 1440, Hans Folz became a citizen of Nuremberg in 1459; 19 he is described as a barber, a profession which also provides medical services, “Wundarznei.” From 1479 to 1488 he owned a print shop, where he published almost all of his own works, though not most of his 100 Meisterlieder. 20 Folz was a prolific and versatile author; in addition to the Meisterlieder, his oeuvre ranges from Fastnachtspiele (short dramas written for Shrove Tuesday festivals) and Reimpaarsprüche (including secular and spiritual short narratives) to an advice book on running a household. 21 Folz has been described as “eine Art Bibliophagus aus dem Handwerkerstand” [a type of book devourer from among the tradespeople], and he was one of the first to harness the new technology of printing for disseminating vernacular literature. 22

18   Preuss lists five ways through which the Antichrist will conquer the world (hypocrisy, false teaching, miracles, gifts, violence). Regarding the second, fallaci doctrina, Preuss writes: Besonders leistet er viel in falscher Schriftauslegung, indem er die messianischen Weissagungen auf sich deutet. Seine Predigt wird liberal und tröstlich sein, so wie es die Menschen gerne hören, und alle bisherigen Ketzereien in sich vereinigen. Die ganze Schrift kann er Wort für Wort auswendig, aber auch die gesamte weltliche Wissenschaft beherrscht er, und ihre rationes naturales weiss er geschickt für sich zu verwenden. Damit gewinnt er die Gelehrten und Klugen dieser Welt . . . Als wirksamstes Werkzeug kommt ihm dabei die neuerfundene Buchdruckerkunst zu statten” (my emphasis) [In particular, he achieves a great deal in false teachings [fallaci doctrina] by referring messianic prophecies to himself. His preaching will be generous and comforting, such as people like to hear, and will combine all previous heresies. He knows all of Scripture word for word by heart, and in addition he has command over all worldly knowledge. He knows how to use the rationes naturales of secular knowledge cleverly for his own purposes. In this way he wins over the educated and the clever of this world . . . the most effective tool for him is the newly invented art of printing.(my emphasis)] Preuss adds a note simply saying this attitude is “frequent” (19n4); later (24n1) he refers also to chap. 103 of Sebastian Brant’s Narrenschiff, which I discuss below. Hans Preuss, Die Vorstellung vom Antichrist im späteren Mittelalter, bei Luther und in der konfessionellen Polemik. Ein Beitrag zur Theologie Luthers und zur Geschichte der christlichen Frömmigkeit (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1906), 19–20. 19   Janota, “Folz, Hans,” vol. 2, col. 769. By 1498 he is documented as a master surgeon and barber. 20   Printing does not seem to have replaced his main profession, which he continued even after the print shop closed. It is not known whether Folz voluntarily closed the print shop or whether he was forced to this decision: Janota, “Folz, Hans,” vol. 2, col. 771. 21   Janota, “Folz, Hans,” vol. 2, cols. 774–93. 22  Fritz Langensiepen, Tradition und Vermittlung. Literaturgeschichtliche und didaktische Untersuchungen zu Hans Folz, Philologische Studien und Quellen 102 (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1980), 33.

The Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist


Despite the words in his song, Folz appears to have reacted more positively than negatively to the new technology of print. How, then, can we reconcile his actions with the words of the song? Closer examination reveals that the lines warning of the Antichrist’s paper arrival are spoken not in Folz’s own authorial (poetic) voice, but rather are reported as the opinion of an unnamed holy man, who claims to have heard them from a supernatural voice: A holy man heard a voice that the Antichrist in his spite would arrive in a great mass of paper by means of which Christian pious men might be turned away and their souls filled with the fog of totally false art by the devil . . . (lines 25–33) 23

Immediately, Folz’s poetic voice goes on to refute this holy man’s prediction: But all the writing won’t be able to conceal his [Antichrist’s] evil. (lines 34–36) 24

The Antichrist is so manifestly evil, according to this argument, that no amount of paper could conceal him, and in fact a few lines later we learn that the mass of available writing — here meaning biblical Scripture — will be as a poison to the Antichrist; it will mean that many more people have access to that Scripture and will thus be encouraged to be on guard against the forces of evil. 25 Printing and the mass production and dispersal of texts it enables are redeemed, a redemption that the careful reader should have expected, as Folz’s second stanza introduces the idea that, though the art of printing books is new on earth, God in his eternity   “Ein geistlich man / Hat in einr stim vernumen / Wie der Entcrist in seinem dracz / Her nech in eim papiren schacz, / Der nach dem gsacz / Vort wer der cristen frumen, / Und mit dem dunst / Gancz fallscher kunst / Werd in der dewfel fullen.” 24   “Do von all schrifft / In kaum furdrifft, / Sein pozeit zu verhullen.” 25   “Do wirt sulch schrifft / Im dan ein gifft / Wider sein falsche rete; / Wan waz allein / Und ungemein / Die schrifft von puchern hete, / Do sint all stifft nun mit gezirt. / Daz macht die cristenheit gefirt, / Dar durch geirt / wirt sulch deuflisch unstete” (lines 41–50). These lines are very difficult, and I present the translation suggested by Aaron Wright, “‘Die gotlich sterk gab daz der teutschen zungen,’” in note 54: “For now all cloisters are adorned with that [namely, religious truth] which was once made available exclusively and uncommonly in the writings of manuscript books.” On this passage, see Wright, 332, who notes the necessity of understanding “puchern” as specifically handwritten books, although such a use is not recorded by standard dictionaries. 23


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already knew it: there is nothing new on earth. He then admonishes the reader to praise God; the mention of printing is thus clearly connected to God, such that the new art is indirectly given divine sanction. That Folz ultimately comes down in favor of printing is made entirely clear several stanzas later, where the poetic voice directly informs the reader that there is no reason to disparage printing, as through it, Christian teaching is spread throughout the world. 26 Two important observations can be made about Folz’s poem. The first is that the image of the Antichrist has shifted. Where before, as in the Wellcome Apocalypse, the Antichrist was conceived as both a metaphoric and a literal destroyer of the book (Scripture), Folz’s holy straw man now asserts that the Antichrist will arrive under the cover of paper; Folz’s own voice determines that the evil of the Antichrist is so great not all the paper in the world can conceal it. The Antichrist’s relationship to the material book is now made ambiguous: the reader must be on guard, but the mere fact that a technology is new does not make that technology evil. The potential for evil lurks in how the technology is used: the Antichrist might harness it, but that does not mean that printing itself is evil. The second observation is that Folz is aware of the competing contemporary attitudes to printing; although he ultimately praises the new technology, his poem bears witness to the fact that the response to the advent of the printing press was not exclusively positive. 27 An important example of a less positive response is contained in the Benedictine abbot Johannes Trithemius’s 1494 De laude scriptorum. 28 Composed at the request of a fellow Benedictine abbot, this tract expounds the advantages of the art of manual copying for monks. Of the sixteen chapters treating the value of the scribal art, chapter 7 is of particular interest: Quod propter impressuram a scribendis voluminibus non sit desistendum [That monks should not stop copying because of

26   “Ye doch schillt ich dez drukez nicht, / . . . / Dar durch in kurczen jaren / Die cristlich ler / So weiten wer / In alle wellt entsprungen” (lines 127–33). The poem goes on to first praise God and then Johannes Gutenberg, the first printer (lines 134–38). 27   Particularly useful here is chap. 3 in Martyn Lyons, A History of Reading and Writing in the Western World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), entitled “Was there a printing revolution?” (26–42), especially the section “Damage control” (41–42). As others before Lyons, notably Hans Widmann, have pointed out, the advent of printing did lead to concerns about and subsequent implementation of greater censorship: as printing allowed for much faster and more widespread dissemination of texts, it had the potential to spread heretical as well as traditional religious ideas. As early as 1487 there was a papal bull introducing Church censorship of print. See briefly Widmann, Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Erfindung des Buchdrucks (Mainz: GutenbergGesellschaft, 1973), 34–35, and the bibliography cited there. Throughout, Widmann’s work includes contemporary examples both in praise of and in condemnation of the new technology. 28   Johannes Trithemius, De laude scriptorum (1494), ed. and intro. Klaus Arnold and trans. Roland Behrendt (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1974). The English translation faces the Latin text. For my discussion of Trithemius, see Widmann, Vom Nutzen, 25–26.

The Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist


the invention of printing]. 29 In this chapter, Trithemius adduces the reasons that printing should not be seen as making copying obsolete. To begin with, those who claim that printing allows one to build a great library cheaply are simply trying to hide their laziness. But also, manuscripts are written on parchment, a material that “will last a thousand years,” whereas the (hugely inferior) paper will endure for perhaps two hundred. 30 The ephemerality of the printed book is so considerable a point for Trithemius that it is already mentioned in chapter 1: the printed book is a thing of paper — res papirea — a circumstance that necessarily means it will quickly disappear. 31 In chapter 7, Trithemius goes on to argue that not all books will be printed; some will survive only in manuscript form and remain worthy of copying. The scribe stays independent, and his choice does not rely on the printer. Moreover, the act of copying will increase the value of a book and bear witness to the scribe’s genuine attachment to Scripture and concern for the edification of future generations. Finally, Trithemius adduces an aesthetic argument: printed books are not as visually appealing as manuscripts; in addition, they are orthographically marred. This “paper thing,” then, is not an improvement over the parchment codex. Time will mellow Trithemius’s attitude to printing — by 1515, he will praise printing as “a wonderful and formerly not known art”; 32 nonetheless, his initial distance from the new technology reminds the modern reader that printing was not uncritically embraced in its first decades, and it provides a good example of contemporary awareness of the limitations of the new medium. We have already seen above that the relationship between the Antichrist and books becomes more complicated with the advent of printing; the complexity of this relationship is nowhere showcased better than in Sebastian Brant’s Narrenschiff  33 [The Ship of Fools], printed the same year as Trithemius’s De laude scriptorum,  Trithemius, De laude scriptorum, 62–65.   Trithemius is drawing an equivalence between material (parchment or paper) and practice (copying or printing). Though such an equivalence is acceptable as a generalization, one should remember that in reality, printing was not exclusively on paper; occasionally parchment was used (e.g., a few copies of the Gutenberg Bible were printed on vellum, including one now in the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek in Göttingen), and conversely, many late medieval manuscripts were copied on paper (e.g., the Diebold Lauber manuscripts), but the standard material for printing was paper. 31   “Impressura enim res papirea est et brevi tempore tota consumitur.” In Behrendt’s translation: “The printed book is made of paper and, like paper, will quickly disappear.” See Trithemius, De laude scriptorum, 34 (Latin), 35 (English). 32   Quoted in Widmann: “ars illa mirabilis et prius inaudita imprimendi et caracterizandi libros.” The context is Trithmius’s Annales Hirsaugienses. See Widmann, Vom Nutzen, 27. 33   Sebastian Brant, Das Narrenschiff, trans. H.A. Junghans (Stuttgart: Reclam Jun., 1964). For quotations, I draw on the Early New High German text available at and based on M. Lemmer’s edition (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1964). 29



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about fifteen years after Hans Folz’s Meisterlied. Brant’s Narrenschiff enjoyed great popularity: by the time of the author’s death in 1521, it had reappeared in German seventeen times in both authorized and unauthorized editions, while Jakob Locher’s Latin translation (1497, Stultifera Navis) had been reprinted eighteen times. 34 The work consists of more than 100 chapters, each of which presents a verse description of a type of fool, and most of which are illustrated with a woodcut. 35 Chapter 103 is entitled “Vom endkrist” [About the Antichrist]. As H.A. Junghans notes in his edition, the German “endkrist” not only parallels the Latin Antichrist but also promotes the idea of the end (“Ende”) of the world, thus reminding the reader that the arrival of the Antichrist presages the Last Judgment. 36 This chapter twice raises the matter of the Antichrist’s relationship to the material book: the medium of printing is specified in the second example, but as the first emphasizes paper — in contradistinction to parchment — it is plausible to assume an indirect reference to the printed book here as well. As expected, given the larger context of the work, the metaphor of a ship is central; indeed, chapter 103 adds another ship to the main one filled with fools, namely “Sant Peters schyfflin,” the little ship of St. Peter, representing the Catholic Church. 37 The first time that the materiality of the book is mentioned is near the beginning of the chapter, where Brant describes Scripture as a “paper ship” (“bapyren schyff ”). This image immediately suggests vulnerability, given paper’s inevitable disintegration in the medium for which ships are intended. This ship is made sodden by those who deceive themselves (and others) by “making crooked and bending” Scripture. 38 But the damage to which the paper boat is subjected far exceeds dampness; each passenger (“Eyn yeder”) continually rips parts of it off — even taking the 34   Joachim Knape, “Die Entstehung von Brants Narrenschiff in Basel 1494,” Jahrbuch der Oswald von Wolkenstein Gesellschaft 7 (1990–1991): 293–301; here 299. Jakob Locher was a student of Brant. 35   Winkler identifies seventy-three of the woodcuts as by Albrecht Dürer, among them the one for chapter 103. See Friedrich Winkler, Dürer und die Illustrationen zum Narrenschiff Forschungen zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte 36 (Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1951), 34–35. 36  Brant, Narrenschiff, 386. Junghans’s commentary is informed by the nineteenth-century editions of Friedrich Zarncke (Leipzig, 1854), and Felix Bobertag (Berlin and Stuttgart, 1889). 37   Line 63. On the ships in Brant’s text, see Stephan Fuchs. “‘. . . und netzen das bapyren Schyff ’: Schiffsmetapher, Buchmetapher und Autordiskurs im Narrenschiff Sebastian Brants,” Neophilologus 82 (1998): 83–95. 38   “So fynd ich noch die rechten knaben / Di by dem narren Schiff vmb traben / Wie sie sich / vnd sunst vil betriegen / Die heilig gschrifft krümmen vnd byegen . . . vnd netzen das bapyren scyff ” (lines 3–8). The verb netzen can mean both “to catch with a net” and “to make wet.” Given that it is the deceivers who are the subject, both meanings are plausible: the deceivers catch Scripture with the net in the sense that they trap it and control its meaning, but given my focus on the materiality of Scripture, the second definition is more useful. See Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. “netzen.”

The Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist


frame and the oars — with the inevitable result that the ship sits ever lower in the water and is threatened with sinking. 39 This image of people ripping up paper is a useful metaphor for the act of excerpting Scripture as proof texts and neglecting their broader context — surely a key way in which the deceivers mistreat the Bible. Brant tells his readers that many of those who rip at the ship of Scripture believe themselves sufficiently erudite to interpret it without recourse to the many texts available to them; though they recognize the truth in Scripture, they deliberately recast the text (and the truth) in order to showcase their brilliance. 40 Such people follow the teaching of the false prophets, that is, those prophets who disobey the interpretive teachings of the Holy Ghost and about whom God has warned us. These people pray to the Antichrist; they are, in fact, doing much of the Antichrist’s work for him. 41 Thus, the first image introduces the reader to people who follow the Antichrist and engage in destroying the paper (printed?) book of Scripture both by tearing it and by soaking it. Rather than fire, here it is its elemental opposite — water — that provides the critical matrix for the process of destruction. But just when the reader is comfortable in reassigning to the Antichrist and his cohort the role of destroyer of books, we reach the second relevant passage, one that suggests an opposite role for the Antichrist. This second passage begins by introducing St. Peter’s ship, a vehicle that is in danger of sinking: under attack from waves on all sides, it is rocking greatly. 42 This little ship represents the Catholic Church, its diminutive size (“schifflin”) presumably reflecting the diminished number of its true followers. That the ship belongs to St. Peter both recalls his original profession of fisherman and evokes his role in guarding the gates to heaven, through which the faithful will enter. St. Peter’s role as gatekeeper is made explicit in the woodcut to chapter 103, which shows the apostle standing on terra firma, guiding the little ship towards himself with an object reminiscent of a key, his usual iconographic attribute. 43 The description of the storm is followed by an observation on the contemporary scarcity of truth and   “Eyn yeder ettwas rysßt dar ab / Das es dest mynder bort me hab / Růder / vnd ryemen nymbt dar von / Das es dest ee moeg vndergon (lines 9–13). 40   “Vil sint jn jrem synn so klůg / Die dunckent sich syn witzig gnůg / Das sie vß eygner vernunfft jnfall / Die heilig gschrifft vß legen all / Dar an sie fælen doch gar offt / Vnd wyrt jr falsche ler gestrofft / Dann sie vß andern gschrifften wol / (Der allenthalb die welt ist vol) / Mœhten sunst vnder richten sich / Wann sie nit woltten sunderlich / Gesehen syn / für ander lüt / Do mit verfart das schiff zů zyt” (lines 13–24). 41   “Die übertrætter des gesatz / Die sůchen dem endkrist syn schatz / Das er hab ettwas vil entvor” (lines 41–43). 42   “Sant Peters schyfflin ist jm schwangk / Ich sorg gar vast den vndergangk / Die wællen schlagen all sytt dran / Es würt vil sturm vnd plagen han” (lines 63–66). 43   See the note by Junghans on line 63: Brant, Narrenschiff, 388. On St. Peter’s ship, see also Fuchs, “. . . und netzen das bapyren Schyff,’” 84–85. 39


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the misinterpretation of Scripture: “But little truth one hears nowadays; Scripture is twisted and interpreted in ways different from those of the voice of truth.” 44 While the little ship of the Church tosses and twists in the storm, the Antichrist is also arriving by sea, but he sits in the large ship. 45 Nineteenth- and twentieth-century commentators on the Narrenschiff identify this ship as that of the erstwhile faithful, which the Antichrist has taken over. 46 This accords with the idea, frequently expressed in late medieval apocalyptic literature, that large numbers of Christians will be duped by the Antichrist. 47 Of particular interest is Brant’s description of how the Antichrist has prepared for his imminent arrival: he has disseminated his message throughout the land, and those who have proven particularly helpful in spreading his word are the printers. Printers are the ones who have busily contributed to the daily augmentation of falsehoods. 48 With a touch of irony, Brant’s poetic voice comments that many books today could be burned, given their false content; 49 however, to the reader, it is clear that instead of destroying books, the Antichrist has made particularly good use of them. Printers are treated scathingly by the poetic voice: many think only of profit, seeking works for their presses and their sales stalls but paying no attention to correction and revision, concentrating only on “vil drucken” — printing in great quantities. 50 Unlike Folz’s song, which defends the new technology of printing by assuring us that the mass production of printed books will never be able to conceal the evil of the Antichrist, Brant’s lines on the Antichrist do not take sides on the value of printing. In Brant’s text, the Antichrist is seen both as the force behind those who rip away at the paper (boat) of Scripture, thus destroying paper books, and simultaneously as the force that harnesses the new technology to spread falsehoods and prepare for his arrival, thus embracing and exploiting the new medium. In his   “Gar wenig worheyt man yetz hœrt / Die heilig gschrifft würt vast verkœrt / Vnd ander vil yetz uß geleitt / Dann sie der munt der worheit seyt . . . (lines 67–70).” Whether this description of the current state of affairs is intended to depict society in general or whether it is targeted more specifically at the Catholic church remains unspoken; however, the apology offered in the next line — “Verzych mir recht wæn ich hie triff ” [forgive me, whoever is struck by these words] — shows that Brant is fully aware of the biting condemnation inherent in the description. 45   “Der endkrist sytzt jm grossen Schiff ” (line 72). 46  Brant, Narrenschiff, 388. 47   For example, the Antichrist-Bildertext notes that the Antichrist wins many people just by his distribution of gold and silver. See note 5 above. 48   “Der endkrist sytzt jm grossen schiff / Vnd hat sin bottschafft vß gesandt / Falscheit verkundt er durch all landt / Falsch glouben vnd vil falscher ler / Wachsen von tag zů tag ye mer / Dar zů důnt drucker yetz gůt stür” (lines 72–77). 49   “Wann man vil bůcher würff jnns für / Man brannt vil vnrecht falsch dar jnn” (lines 78–79). 50   “Vil trachten alleyn vff gewynn / Von aller erde sie bücher sůchen / Der correctur etlich wenigh růchen / Vff groß beschisß vil yetz studyeren / Vil drucken wenig corrigyeren (lines 80–84). 44

The Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist


depiction of the Antichrist as both destroyer and user of the printed word, Brant conveys a neutral stance toward the medium itself. Unlike Folz, it is not his intention to vindicate printing. Instead, Brant suggests that the problem posed by the new technology is people’s interaction with it. This is particularly well expressed in Brant’s assertion that some printers “print themselves out of the country.” 51 Brant’s punning use of the verb drucken in the reflexive conveys the idea that the printers leave quickly, quietly, and without notice, slinking away secretly. 52 Presumably, Brant is making a jab at printers who fail financially and subsequently flee from their creditors. 53 Brant goes on to point out that it is not only the printers who are misusing the new technology. The fear of the imminent arrival of the Antichrist is expressed in lines 92 and 93, “The time, it’s coming! It’s coming, the time. / I fear the Antichrist is not far,” 54 which is followed by an explanation that the three pillars of the faith — absolution, books, and teaching — are all disregarded by the people. Again, the mass of printed books is mentioned, but it is not the books themselves that are a problem, but rather readers’ response — or lack thereof — to the books. There are so many books that people no longer pay any attention, just as there are so many schools and so many learned people that no one regards them either. Knowledge is disdained; scholars are ashamed of the name and must hide indoors. People no longer respect what has become plentiful — this lack of respect, Brant’s poetic voice warns, will result in the utter disappearance of knowledge and learning. 55 That loss of knowledge cannot be blamed on the advent of the new technology of printing: it must be blamed on the people’s attitude toward that technology. Technology itself is not evil; the evil and the potential danger lie in how people   “Mancher der druckt sich vß dem land” (line 88).   For this reflexive use of the verb drucken, see Grimm, Wörterbuch, s.v. drucken, 7d. Brant’s line is cited by Grimm here as an example. More familiar to modern German speakers will be the verb sich ducken, which Grimm gives as a synonym. 53   On financial problems and bankruptcy among printers, see Rudolf Hirsch, Printing, Selling, and Reading 1450–1550 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1967), 43–44. 54   “Die zyt die kumt es kumt die zyt / Ich voercht der endkrist sy nit wyt” (lines 92–93). 55   “Das man das [imminence of the Antichrist’s arrival] merck­­­­­so næm man war / Vff dry ding vnser gloub stat gar / Vff apploß bücher vnd der ler / Der man yetz gantz keyns achtet mer / Die vile der gschrifft spürt man do by / Wer merckt die vile der truckery / All bücher synt yetz fürher bracht / Die vnser elttern ye hant gmacht / Der sint so vil yetz an der zal / Das sie nütz geltten überal / Vnd man jr schyer nüt achtet mer / Des glichen ist es mit der ler / So vil der schůlen man nie fand / Als man yetz hat jn allem land . . . Do werden ouch vil gelerter lüt / Der man doch yetzt gantz achtet nüt / Die kunst verachtet yederman / Vnd sicht sie über die achseln an / Die gelerten müssen sich schier schâmen / Ir ler vnd kleyt vnd jres namen / . . . Die gelerten müssen hynder die thür / Man spricht schow vmb den schluderaffen / Der tüfel beschißt vns wol mit pfaffen / Das ist eyn zeychen das die kunst/ Keyn ere me hat keyn lieb noch gunst / Do mit würt abgon bald die ler / Dann kunst gespyset würt durch ere / Vnd wann man jr keyn ere důt an / So werden wenig dar noch stan” (lines 94–125). 51



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use that technology and react to its productions. The Antichrist and his complex relationship to the printed word are perilously flexible; he will either destroy or employ the printed page, depending on which approach serves his purpose. 56 The most effective tool against the Antichrist is not condemnation of printing but the intelligent and discerning use of its products. Books must be read — not excerpted or ripped apart, not simply produced for profit or indiscriminately reproduced. For readers of Das Narrenschiff, this attitude toward the book is familiar. In the very first chapter, the first-person poetic voice, the leader of the fools, sits up in the bow of the Fool’s Ship, where he is surrounded by books he neither reads nor understands. 57 Owning and possessing books suffices for this fool; his books have only an economic value, not an intellectual one. Throughout the chapter, this fool prides himself on his successful (mis-)use of books: in learned conversations he is able to participate by mentioning that he has various books at home, but he always avoids discussing their content. 58 He argues against burdening himself with study: those who study become dreamers. Instead, with his money, he can act like a lord and hire someone to study for him. 59 He has a fragmentary knowledge of Latin — among his great linguistic achievements in this language are the words for “wine” and “fool” 60 — and he admits that he is particularly pleased with the Teutonic Knights, presumably because of their significant contribution to the rise of literary translation into the vernacular. 61 The chapter reverberates with mockery of those engaged in actually reading and studying books, implying the utter waste of time of such activities. And yet, in the final couplet of the chapter, the narratorial fool, that figure who ultimately must tell the truth, no matter how unpalatable it may be, admits that it is a fortunate thing his ears are hidden. Were they visible, one would recognize his identity: he is an ass. 62   In the mid-sixteenth-century world chronicle by the theologian Theodor Bibliander, the art of printing is described as coming from Christ, through Gutenberg, in order to fight the attacks of the Antichrist. Quoted in Widmann, Vom Nutzen, 24. 57   “Von büchern hab ich grossen hort / Verstand doch drynn gar wenig wort” (lines 5–6) and again later “Ich hab vil bücher . . . vnd lys doch gantz wenig dar jnn” (lines 18–19). Contemporaries of Brant read this first-person voice as an ironic reference to the author himself, an identification that Junghans doubts. See Brant, Narrenschiff, 13. But see Joachim Suchomski, “Der satirische Autor als Narr unter Narren. Zur Rezeption des ersten Kapitels Sebastian Brants Narrenschiff,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 52 (1978): 400–429. 58   “Wo man von künsten redden důt / Sprich ich/ do heym hab jchs fast gůt / Do mit loß ich benügen mich / Das ich vil bücher vor mir sych” (lines 9–12). 59   “Worvmb wolt ich brechen myn synn / Vnd mit der ler mich bkümbren fast / Wer vil studiert würt ein fantast / Ich mag doch sunst wol sin eyn here / Vnd lonen eym der für mich ler” (lines 20–24). 60   “Ich weyß das vinum heysset win / . . . stultus eyn dor” (lines 30–31). 61   “Des tütschen orden bin ich fro / Dann jch gar wenig kan latin” (lines 28–29). 62   “Die oren sint verborgen mir / Man sæh sunst bald eins mullers their” (lines 33–34). 56

The Catastrophic Arrival of the Antichrist


More than one hundred chapters later, the problem of the proper use of books clearly remains central for Sebastian Brant. The Antichrist, the greatest and most dangerous enemy of the faithful, the one who presages catastrophe and destruction, is shown to manipulate printed books to his advantage, to exploit or destroy the new technology as he sees fit. But, as the careful reader recognizes, the danger lies not in mass production of the word, but rather in lack of care and attention paid to it. The iconography and texts examined here suggest strongly that the fifteenth century witnessed a shift in the way the relationship between the Antichrist and writing was conceived. That same century saw some of the most significant and enduring technological advances in western history, and it is no surprise that the changing role of textuality in the Apocalypse was cast in terms of the age’s most famous and most influential invention, the printing press. Not coincidentally, both Folz and Brant were bound up personally and artistically with the advance of the new medium. Hans Folz operated his own press in Nuremberg for a period in the last decades of the century, and Sebastian Brant, perhaps more than any other humanist of his early generation, took full advantage of the opportunities of mass production — and was himself exploited by publishing pirates. In Folz’s Meisterlied “Vor langer frist” and Brant’s Narrenschiff, each author explores the complex set of circumstances created by the new potential for textual production and dissemination. Both, by speaking in a variety of voices, adduce arguments on both sides: Folz’s anonymous holy man warns about the “great stores of paper” that will conceal the arrival of the Antichrist, while Brant’s fools rip and tear at the paper, even while it is the medium of which their ship is made. Especially Brant lets — forces — the voices of his Narrenschiff and their metaphors mix and swirl in ways that reflect the contemporary difficulty in thinking about printing on paper and the challenge of distinguishing between textual abundance and textual surplus, between the book as enemy of the Antichrist and the book as his instrument.

Consider this Tomb: An Unedited Italian Sonnet about Death and Final Judgment Fabian Alfie The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of the English Language defines apocalypse with reference to a series of Jewish and early Christian writings that expressed “the expectation of an imminent cosmic calamity in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom” (emphasis added). 1 Various passages from the New Testament describe the Universal Judgment of humanity at the end of time in apocalyptic terms. Matthew portrays the event thus: “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (24:31). Paul depicts it in similar terms in 1 Corinthians: “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (15:52). But in 1 Thessalonians, Paul modifies his image of the Final Judgment slightly, adding that God himself will descend from heaven: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (4:16). Of course this listing of biblical passages is not exhaustive, but it serves to illustrate the central images of the Universal Judgment. For centuries, the symbolism of a trumpet blast awakening the dead, who re-clothe themselves in their flesh and gather before Christ to face their eternal judgment, was found in numerous artworks, musical compositions, literary pieces, sermons, religious tracts, and teachings. The topic of this essay is one such literary work: a heretofore unedited sonnet extant in seven fifteenth-century Italian manuscripts. The poem invites its readers to consider their eventual deaths and to reflect upon God’s eternal judgment. It taps into a broad network of teachings   “Apocalypse,”, accessed 10 July 2014, 1

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 81–96.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117181


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about the Christian apocalypse in the culture of fifteenth-century Italy. At the end of this essay, I will address a second sonnet, which is related to the first and which is found in one of the source manuscripts of it. Since the sonnet is unedited, its philology should be briefly addressed (for a fuller discussion of the philology, including transcriptions of all known versions of the sonnet, see the appendix). For this sonnet, two manuscripts should be considered the most definitive because they contain most of the characteristics found across a majority of the versions. The two versions are found in Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II.ii.40 (formerly known as Magliabechiano MS VII.1009), and in Novara, Biblioteca Seminario S. Gaudenzio, MS 3. Like many other poems of the age, this sonnet has a dual manuscript circulation, with one codicological tradition in Tuscany and another found north of the Apennines in Lombardy and in the Veneto. 2 The two exemplars illustrate the two traditions, with Firenze II.ii.40 representing the Tuscan circulation and Novara Seminario S. Gaudenzio 3 representing the northern Italian circulation. The sonnet has been transcribed below, keeping as close as possible to the original forms of the manuscripts. To aid in readability, the following conventions have been followed: scribal abbreviations have been expanded and rendered with italic letters; u has been distinguished from v; word separations have been regularized and noted with a raised period; punctuation and diacritics have been introduced following modern conventions; and editorial interventions appear in square brackets. The two versions read:

Version 1: Firenze II.ii.40 (fol. 126r)

O tu che ghuardi nella misera tomba lev’alti gli occhi e.lleggi se.ttu saj: ch’i’ fu’ nel mondo là dove ttu vaj sì dove ‘lpondo che lla morte piomba e.lla mia mente senpre mi rinbonba del mal c’ho fatto e ‘lben ch’assai lasc[i]aj e.lla paura non si parte maj che.ssenpre mi pare udir sonar la tromba che dic’a’ morti, “venite al g[i]udizio  The phenomenon of a dual manuscript tradition has been most often identified with Cecco Angiolieri (ca. 1260–1312). For an overview of the codicology of Cecco Angiolieri, see Elena Landoni, “Il problema linguistico nella tradizione manoscritta angiolieresca: quanti i senesismi?” Studi e Problemi di critica testuale 46 (1993): 5–42, here 7. For a general panorama of Angiolieri’s manuscripts, see Aldo Francesco Massèra, “Introduzione,” in I sonetti di Cecco Angiolieri, ed. Aldo Francesco Massèra (Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli, 1906), iii–lx. However, the phenomenon of a dual tradition can be seen in the lyrics of other poets as well; see Fabian Alfie, “Noterella sulle rime di Pietro de’ Faitinelli: Il Magliabechiano VII 1034,” Letteratura Italiana Antica 8 (2007): 137–40. 2

Consider this Tomb


cho’ chorpi vostri con ‘ qua’ vo’ peccasti al fuocho ardente ch’è doloroso spizio: e voi benedetti che ciel meritasti pigliando la vertù, lasc[i]ando il vizio, venite al ghaldeo che voi disiderasti.” [Oh, you who gaze into this miserable tomb raise up your eyes and read if you can: for I was in the world where you are walking until the weight of death pulls one down; and in my mind is always echoing the evil I did and the great good that I abandoned, and the fear never leaves me; for I always seem to hear the trumpet that calls to the dead: “come to the Judgment with your bodies with which you sinned to the burning fire and the dolorous hospice; and you, the blessed that earned Heaven choosing virtue and abandoning vice, come to the joy that you yearned for.”]

Version 2: Novara 3 3 (fol. 179v)

Rubric: Dante di sopra la suua sepoltura O tu che guardi questa misera tonba leva alto li ogi e lege se tu sai: e’ fui nel mondo e vidi ove tu vai al ponte de la morte ove si i plonba: e sempre ne la mente ne ribonda el mal ch’i’ fece e ‘lben ch’à far lasai: e la paura non se parte mai ch’ lme par sempre odir sonar la tronba che dic’a’ morti, “Veniti all’ iudicio con li corpy vestri con que’ peccasti, al foco ardente al doloroso hospicio; ma voi benedeti ch’ el celo meritasty sequendo le virtù e lasando el vicio, venite al gaudio che voi meritasti.”

  In her study on Dante’s impact on fourteenth-century culture, Elisabetta Cavallari mentions the version of this sonnet from Novara, Biblioteca Seminario S. Gaudenzio MS 3, cited from Giuseppe Mazzatinti (Inventari dei manoscritti delle biblioteche d’Italia, vol. 6, 65–66), calling it the work of a poor poet. See Elisabetta Cavallari, La fortuna di Dante nel Trecento (Florence: Società Anonima Editrice Francesco Perella, 1921), 34–35. 3


fabian alfie [Rubric: Dante, upon his sepulcher Oh, you who gaze into this miserable tomb raise up your eyes and read if you can: for I was in the world where you are walking to the bridge of death where one plummets; and in my mind is always echoing the evil I did and the good that I abandoned, and the fear never leaves me; for I always seem to hear the trumpet that calls to the dead: “come to the Judgment with your bodies with which you sinned to the burning fire and the dolorous hospice; and you, the blessed that earned Heaven following virtue and abandoning vice, come to the joy that you deserved.”]

To begin, the poem’s formal qualities warrant some comments. The poem adheres to a typical sonnet form, with the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDC DCD; however, the B-lines (vv. 2, 3, 5, 6) are truncated hendecasyllables that end on the tenth syllable instead of on the eleventh. The alternation between typical eleven-syllable and truncated ten-syllable hendecasyllables in the quatrains is found in all seven extant versions and therefore should be considered as intrinsic to the text. The use of two different types of hendecasyllable is unusual in a sonnet, and it thus might indicate that the anonymous poet had some skill in composing verse. Three of the codices contain rubrics for the sonnet. Parma, Palatino Biblioteca, MS 1081 simply identifies the poem’s genre (“sonetto”), and therefore it contributes almost nothing to the discussion. Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana Barberini, MS Latin 4047 ascribes the poem to a poet named “Benuccio” (“sonetto di benuccio”). It is not clear who the scribe intended with his attribution to Benuccio, although one possible candidate is the poet-barber Benuccio da Orvieto (b. late fourteenth century). 4 Little is known about Benuccio da Orvieto, but this sonnet does not appear as part of his works in any of the studies on him. The third rubric is found in Novara Seminario S. Gaudenzio 3: “Dante, upon his sepulcher” (“Dante di sopra la suua sepoltura”). There are two ways to interpret the rubric: the first is that Dante himself wrote it with the intention that it would appear over his tomb; 4   Information about Benuccio da Orvieto can be found in Riccardo Scrivano, “Benuccio,” in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, vol. 8 (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1966), 655–56. See also Franco Sacchetti, Il libro delle rime, ed. Alberto Chiari (Bari: Laterza, 1936), 325–27; and Luigi Gentile, “Rime inedite di Jacopo da Montepulciano e d’altri a lui,” Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 3 (1884): 222–30. A less promising candidate for “Benuccio” is Sennuccio del Bene (1275–1349). Information about Sennuccio del Bene’s literary corpus is derived from Sennuccio del Bene, Un amico del Petrarca: Sennuccio del Bene e le sue rime, ed. Daniele Piccini (Rome: Antenore, 2004).

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the second interpretation is that the poem communicates Dante’s own meditation upon his eventual death and burial. With this interpretation the sonnet would be, in short, Dante’s reflection upon the tomb, metaphorically speaking. The attribution to Dante is surely spurious, and the rubric itself is unreliable because it only appears in one of the seven codices. Nevertheless, the two perspectives it offers are based in the sonnet itself, making it, as such, a valuable guide to the interpretation of the poem. The idea that the poem was intended to be displayed above a tomb is supported by its opening verses. In them, the poet exhorts the readers to raise their eyes and consider this miserable sepulcher (vv. 1–2). Although there is no evidence that the poem ever appeared near the great poet’s grave, for centuries there existed a literary topos regarding Dante’s tomb. 5 The first quatrain establishes that this sonnet represents a dialogue between the first-person narrator, who is dead and in hell, and the second-person reader, who is still alive. The narrator explains that he too was once in the world until he reached the moment of death (vv. 3–4). In the fourth verse, as mentioned above, the versions are not in accord: the narrator may have reached the bridge (“ponte”), acquired the weight (“pondo”), or reached the point (“punto”) of death. Despite these variants, the poem’s overall message to reflect upon death is clear, and thus it vividly reflects the culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. For centuries, memento mori, or the reminder to reflect upon one’s eventual death, was a common motif of the arts, literature, and culture. Sculptures and monuments portrayed the dead body decaying and being eaten by worms, a warning to the rich and powerful about the vanity of the pleasures of life. Tombs often included statements such as “I was what you are, what I am you will be” (“Quod es fui, quod sum eris”; “Quod sumus hoc eritis, fuimus quondque quod estis”). 6 Similarly, numerous visual arts called on viewers to meditate upon their demise. For example, in fifteenth-century Italy there circulated an engraving in which Death surprises two lovers, again with the purpose of dissuading people from mundane delights. 7 The literary tradition too contains examples of memento mori. In his vast literary corpus the religious poet Iacopone da Todi (ca. 1230–1306), for example, left at least one poem, “Quando t’alegri, — omo d’altura” [When you rejoice, man of high station], in which he relates the dialogue between a living man and a dead body:

  For an overview of the topos of Dante’s tomb, see Ludovico Frati and Corrado Ricci, eds., Il sepolcro di Dante: documenti raccolti (Bologna: Commissione per i testi di lingua, 1969). 6   Frederick Parkes Weber, Aspects of Death and Correlated Aspects of Life in Art, Epigram, and Poetry (New York: Hoeber, 1918), 101. 7   Horst W. Janson, “A ‘Memento Mori’ among Early Italian Prints,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 3, no. 3–4 (April–July 1940): 243–48, here 243–46. 5


fabian alfie “Or me respundi,   tu om seppellito, che cusì ratto   d’esto monno èi ‘scito: o’ so’ li be’ panni,   de que eri vestito, cà ornato te veio   de multa bruttura.” (vv. 7–10) [Now answer me   you buried man who so quickly   left from this world: where are the nice clothes   that you dressed yourself in, for now I see you adorned   in so much filth.] 8

The touchstone of literary culture in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy, Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374), composed the allegorical Trionfi, whose third portion is the Triumph of Death. At one point in the work, Death speaks: “Ora a voi, quando il viver più diletta, / drizzo il mio corso, inanzi che Fortuna / nel vostro dolce qualche amaro metta” (Triumphus mortis I, vv. 46–48) [Now I turn my course to you, when life is most pleasing, before Fortune can insert some bitterness in your sweetness]. 9 This is not to suggest that the anonymous sonnet is directly related to the poetry of either Iacopone da Todi or Francesco Petrarca; rather, the citation of those other poets is intended to illustrate the pervasive nature of the memento mori trope in the culture of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy. As these few examples demonstrate, memento mori frequently consisted of a second-person dialogue between the dead person and the living. The corpse offers the invitation for us, the living, to meditate on our eventual bodily decomposition after death. The sonnet under examination differs in that it does not discuss physical decay but, instead, God’s eternal judgment of the soul. Nonetheless, it taps into the cultural commonplace for the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. While the attribution to Dante is spurious, the recollection of him in the rubric is not entirely unmotivated. The description of hell in the eleventh verse as a dolorous hospice (“doloroso spizio,” Firenze II.ii.40; “doloroso hospicio,” Novara 3) is a direct borrowing from Dante’s Comedy. In canto 5 of Inferno, Dante and Virgil pass before Minos, the judge of the damned. Minos warns Dante about the underworld, describing hell with precisely the same expression: “O tu che vieni al doloroso ospizio [. . .] guarda com’ entri e di cui tu ti fide” (vv. 16, 19; emphasis added ) [O you who come to the dolorous hospice [. . .] beware how you enter and to whom you entrust yourself]. 10 The sonneteer clearly lifted the expression “dolorous hospice” from 8   Iacopone da Todi’s poetry is cited from Iacopone da Todi, Laude, ed. Franco Mancini (Bari: Laterza, 1974). The translation is mine. 9   The poetry of Francesco Petrarca is cited from Francesco Petrarca, Trionfi, Rime estravaganti, Codice degli abbozzi, ed. Vinicio Pacca and Laura Paolino (Milan: Mondadori, 1996). The translation is mine. 10  Dante’s Inferno and its translation are cited from Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, vol. 1, Inferno, ed. and trans. Robert M. Durling (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

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Dante’s magnum opus, but that is not the only reference to Inferno in the poem. The sonnet’s A-rhyme itself recalls another passage from Inferno, as it employs three of the same rhyme words: tomb (“tomba”), trumpet (“tromba”), and echo (“rimbomba”). In canto 6, after Virgil and Dante have conversed with Ciacco the glutton, the sinner crosses his eyes and falls faint to the ground. Virgil then explains: [. . .] Più non si desta di qua dal suon de l’angelica tromba, quando verrà la nimica podesta: ciascun rivederà la trista tomba, ripiglierà la sua carne e sua figura, udirà quel ch’in eterno rimbomba. (vv. 94–99; emphases added) [[. . .] Never again will he arise this side of the angelic trumpet, when he will see the enemy governor: each will see again his sad tomb, will take again his flesh and his shape, will hear what resounds eternally.]

The similarity between the anonymous sonnet and Inferno 6 go beyond the use of the same rhyme words, as both works describe the Universal Judgment almost identically: the dead will arise with the trumpet blast, will take up their flesh, and their judgment will echo for an eternity. Furthermore, the sonnet’s description of the tomb as miserable (“misera”) appears based on Dante’s “sad tomb” (“trista tomba”), with the substitution of a nearly synonymous term. By the fifteenth century, Dante’s influence in Italy was not limited to his own writings; the criticism on the Comedy itself had a major impact on the culture. A passage from one of the fourteenth-century commentators on the Comedy only reinforces the connection of the passage from canto 6 of Inferno to the sonnet. Benvenuto da Imola (1375–1380) makes reference to religious teachings in his description of the trumpet mentioned by Virgil: idest citra diem judicii quando Angelus clamabit: “surgite, mortui, venite ad judicium,” et ideo dicit: “quando vedrà la nemica podesta,” idest potestatem dei inimicam sibi et aliis damnatis, sed amicam salvatis. [that is, until the time of Judgment Day when the Angel will call, “Arise, Dead, come to your judgment,” and when he says: “when he will see the enemy governor,” for the power of God is hostile to the damned, or friendly to the saved. 11

  All the commentators of Dante’s Comedy are cited from the Dartmouth Dante Project website: The translations of the commentators are mine. 11


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As we shall see shortly, Benvenuto in this passage introduces a citation of great cultural relevance to the understanding of the Day of Judgment during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The A-rhyme of the sonnet does not recollect only the sixth canto Inferno, as another passage of Dante’s underworld also shares the same rhyme words; in this instance, they are trumpet (“tromba”), tomb (“tomba”), and falls (“piomba”). Canto 19, which deals with Simony, opens with an admonition to clerics who profit from ecclesiastical offices: O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci, che le cose di Dio, che di bontate deon essere spose, e voi rapaci per oro e per argento avolterate, or convien che per voi suoni la tromba, però che ne la terza bolgia state. Già eravamo, a la seguente tomba, Montati de lo scoglio in quella parte ch’a punto sovra mezzo ‘1 fosso piomba. (vv. 1–9; emphases added) [O Simon Magus, o wretched followers, you who the things of God, that should be brides of goodness, rapaciously adulterate for gold and for silver, now the trumpet must sound for you, because you are in the third pocket. We had already climbed to that part of the ridge that is exactly above the center of the next tomb.

The connection between the passage and the sonnet is not as clear as that from canto 6. In this instance, the fourteenth-century commentaries are again of assistance. For instance, the anonymous “ottimo commento” (ca. 1338) explains Dante’s passage thus: “il mio canto che a guisa di tromba sonerae per tutto e paleserae le vostre opere” [my song, which like a trumpet will sound for all and will reveal your works]. Similarly, Guido da Pisa (ca. 1327–1328) writes: “Propter sacrilegia que in bonis spiritualibus commisistis convenit ut tuba, idest vox — subaudi poetica — intonet contra vos” [Because of the sacrilege that you committed towards spiritual goods, it is necessary that the trumpet, that is, the voice — understood as a poetic voice — resounds against you]. The commentators note that the trumpet in this passage represents Dante’s own poetic voice that exposes the Simonists’ sins. In canto 19, the trumpet is not the sound that calls the dead to the Universal Judgment but, rather, is the public exposure of their misdeeds. The anonymous sonnet seems to recollect this passage, for the actions of the dead — both negative and positive — will echo in their ears for an eternity (vv. 5–6). Unlike Ciacco, who will forever hear God’s judgment, the dead in the sonnet will feel the pangs of conscience for all time. In this respect they are closer to Dante’s Simonists. Clearly,

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then, the anonymous author had some familiarity with Dante’s Inferno, because he or she worked elements of it into the sonnet. Yet Dante is not the only authority alluded to in the poem under examination. As mentioned above, the poet made reference to a cultural commonplace regarding the Final Judgment. Verses 8 and 9 of the sonnet explain that the narrator always awaits with dread the trumpet that will call the dead to arise and to face God’s eternal judgment (“che.ssenpre mi pare udir sonar la tromba” / che dic’a’ morti, “venite al g[i]udizio”); the passage is a near-perfect translation of a statement that was widely attributed at the time to Saint Jerome. Jerome, it was said, meditated continuously on his death and the Universal Judgment. According to one passage, he believed thus: “sive enim comedo sive bibo, sive aliud quid facio, semper videtur mihi tuba illa terribilis sonare in aurbus meis: SURGITE MORTUI, VENITE AD IUDICIUM” (emphasis added) [Whether I eat or drink, or whatever else I do, I always see the terrible trumpet that calls in my ears: “ARISE, DEAD, AND COME TO JUDGMENT”]. 12 Throughout the culture of the age, the statement attributed to Jerome was frequently repeated. In the commentary on Dante’s Comedy by Benvenuto da Imola, cited above, the statement was cited verbatim. As but two other examples: Saint Bernardo of Siena (1380–1444) mentioned it in a sermon; and Saint Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) quoted it in her theological treatise The Dialogue. 13 The sonnet too is part of a broad cultural discourse about the Universal Judgment in which Jerome’s teachings figure prominently. In light of the sonnet’s reference to Jerome, the second interpretation of the rubric from the Novarese manuscript, discussed above, makes sense: Dante, like Jerome, is seen as meditating on the tomb and, with it, the eventual Universal Judgment. Zygmunt Barański pointed out that Dante’s magnum opus was discussed

  Cited from Michael Pexenfelder, ed., Concionator historicus rariorum eventum exemplis ad instructionem moralem, part 3 (Monachii: Sumptibus Ioannis Wagneri, & Ioannis Hermanni à Gerldern, 1679), 549. The translation is mine. 13   Saint Bernard of Siena wrote: “ut Hieronymus dicere audeat: sive enim comedo sive bibo, sive aliud quid facio, semper videtur mihi tuba illa terribilis sonare in aurbus meis: SURGITE MORTUI, VENITE AD IUDICIUM. Tunc quipped omnes mortui resurgent ad imperium Christi.” Saint Catherine of Siena wrote: “E così sarà; però che in quella voce terribile quando sarà detto a loro: ‘Surgite mortui, venite ad judicium,’ tornarà l’Anima col corpo. E ne’ giusti sarà glorificato, e ne’ dannati sarà crociato eternalmente” [And so it will be. When that terrifying voice says to them, “Arise, you dead, and come to judgment!” their souls will return with their bodies. The bodies of the just will be glorified. But the bodies of the damned will be forever tortured]. Saint Bernard is cited from Saint Bernardo of Siena, Sancti Bernardi Senensis Opera Omnia (Venice: Andrea Poletti, 1745), Sermon 11, pg. 45. Saint Catherine of Siena is cited from Santa Caterina da Siena, Libro della Divina Dottrina, volgarmente detto Dialogo della Divina Provvidenza, ed. Matilde Fiorilli (Bari: Laterza, 1928), 77; the translation of Saint Catherine of Siena is from Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans., Suzanne Noffke, op (New York: Paulist, 1980), 45–46. 12


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in the theological schools of the trecento, 14 and the rubric puts Dante in the same category as Jerome, seemingly conferring the same authority to the great poet as to the church father. Aside from the passages mentioned above, Dante’s work contains apocalyptic predictions, particularly at the very end of Purgatorio (canto 33, vv. 40–45). Indeed, during the fifteenth century, several authors — for example, Matteo Palmieri, Cecchino Alberti, and Marino Jonata — based their spiritual visions on Dante’s works. 15 Other anonymous works were based upon the visions in Dante’s magnum opus as well. 16 Thus, the poem under examination is further proof that both writers, Jerome and Dante, were treated as authorities on the Universal Judgment during the quattrocento in Italy. Dante’s work was not merely viewed as a great literary achievement, as it is today, but also as a conveyor of Universal Truths on par with Patristic writings and sacred Scripture. The sonnet exerted some influence in the literary culture because it also inspired imitations. One of its source manuscripts, Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Magliabechiano VII 1034, which originated in fifteenth-century Florence, contains a similar sonnet (unicus). It too is a second-person dialogue between a first-person narrator, who is dead, and the second-person reader, still alive. It is transcribed here in the same manner of the two versions above: (fol. 40v) Voi gente che passate per la via davante e sopra la mia sepoltura, non trapassate ma ponete chura sì .che mio fatto asempro si vi .sia: ch’io, innamorato in vita mia d’una spietata angelica fighura, in ver di me à si mostrato aspra e dura, mesirai [sic] a disperar per una follia. Son disperato e nello ‘ferno giacio: in fuocho e in fiamma chome farebbe ereo: sicche del mio fatto non .mi date immpaccio m’à pregata idio, quel chan giudeo, per chui mi disperai e mi si allaccio. [You people who pass on the street before and above my burial, 14   Zygmunt Barański, “Appunti su Guglielmo Maramauro, sull’auctoritas e sulla lettura di Dante nel Trecento,” in “Accessus ad auctores”: Studies in Honor of Christopher Kleinhenz, ed. Fabian Alfie and Andrea Dini, MRTS 397 (Tempe: ACMRS, 2012), 223–37, here 226. 15   For an overview of such writings, see Vittorio Rossi, Il Quattrocento (Milan: Vallardi, 1945), 257–62. 16   For one such anonymous poem, see Fabian Alfie, “‘O cinquecento, e cinque, e diece guarda’: A Riddle Poem and Dantesque Mosaic,” Italica 81, no. 1 (2004): 1–15.

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don’t continue on, but pay some attention so that my case can be an example to you: for I, enamored in my lifetime of a pitiless, angelic figure who showed herself to be so harsh and hard to me, [mesirai] to despair out of folly. I am desperate and lie in hell: in fire and flame, as a heretic does, so that you shouldn’t take pity on my fate. That Jewish dog prayed God for me, she for whom I despaired and to whom I’m bound.]

The transcription of the sonnet in the codex is clearly defective, as it is missing a verse. Given the sonnet form’s flexibility in the tercets, the missing verse might have been the twelfth line (resulting in a rhyme scheme of CDC CDC) or the fourteenth line (resulting in a rhyme scheme of CDC DCD). Despite the missing verse, the overall message of the poem is rather clear. As with the previous sonnet, the dead man serves as an exemplum for the living. However, rather than discussing the Universal Judgment as before, the poet of this sonnet follows the more typical approach to memento mori, warning the readers about the vanity of life’s pleasures and, in particular, about passionate love for a woman. Because of her, he suffered both while alive and now in the afterlife. Thanks to its overt message against love, the poem probably serves a different function from that of the first sonnet. It may not communicate a religious teaching per se but, instead, appears to use a trope of religious literature to engage in a cultural debate. It was not uncommon for medieval scribes to deliberately position texts with opposed viewpoints next to one another, thereby asking the readers to determine which work, if either, has the more appropriate message. 17 The same process may explain the transcription of misogynistic texts among love lyrics: their very presence in the manuscript questions the validity of the depiction of women in love poems. In short, the folios of the codex were the location of a sic et non debate about the nature of women. Were they the exalted beings of love poetry, or the debased, demonic animals of misogynistic texts? This sonnet too poses the question about the legitimacy of love for a woman. In particular, the sonnet appears to challenge the angelicization of the woman by the poets of the dolce stil nuovo. The sonneteer describes her as a pitiless angelic figure (v. 6), compares his afterlife as fiery like the burning of a heretic (vv. 9–10), and apostrophizes the woman as a “Jewish dog,” that is to say, a non-Christian. Kenneth Stow has studied the centuries-long tradition of slandering Jews as dogs, determining that it derived from the view of Jews both as

  Katherine A. Brown, Boccaccio’s Fabliaux: Medieval Short Stories and the Function of Reversal (Gainesville, Tallahassee, Tampa, Boca Raton: University Press of Florida, 2014): 37. 17


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persecutors of Christianity and as befouling Christians. 18 She is, therefore, a traitor but also a persecutor of the poet as a Christian, and contact with her would defile him. In short, the language of the sonnet undercuts the depiction of the woman in Christological terms, such as is found in Dante’s Vita Nova. The sonnet, therefore, might not convey a religious teaching so much as a teaching against the many other compositions about love found in the source manuscript. In conclusion, the seemingly simple sonnet tapped into a pervasive religious teaching and expressed the anxiety of God’s impending judgment. It cited literary and religious authorities as diverse as Dante and Jerome to convey its terrible warning to its readership. In the process, it appears to place the two great writers and their works on nearly equal footing; thus, it illustrates the impact that Dante already exerted on the literary culture of central and northern Italy by the fifteenth century. Its manuscript tradition of seven codices — relatively widespread, for an anonymous sonnet — and the existence of at least one imitation demonstrate that the poem enjoyed a broad readership in the age.

Appendix: Diplomatic Transcriptions of all Seven Versions of the Sonnet, and of the Related Poem According to the Incipitario unificato della poesia italiana, a research instrument that lists all the incipit verses of Italian poems, versions of the sonnet are found in the following fifteenth-century manuscripts: Palatino 1081 (Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, MS 1081); Ottoboniensis Latin 681 (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Latin 681), and Barberiniano Latin 4047 (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS 4047); Novara Seminario S. Gaudenzio 3 (Novara, Biblioteca Seminario S. Gaudenzio, MS 3); Magliabechiano VII.1034 (Florence: Biblioteaca Nazionale Centrale, MS Magliabechiano VII 1034) and Firenze II.ii.40 (Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II.ii.40); and Riccardiano 1103 (Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1103). 19 None of the source manuscripts can be dated with any precision, although one of them, Riccardiana 1103, was probably compiled in the first decades of the fifteenth century. 20   Kenneth Stow, Jewish Dogs, An Image and Its Interpreters: Continuity in the Catholic-Jewish Encounter (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 4–7. 19   Marco Santagata, ed., Incipitario unificato della poesia italiana, vol. 2 (Panini: Modena, 1988), 1210. 20  For information about Parma Palatino 1081, see Emilio Costa, “Il codice Parmense 1081,” Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 12 (1888): 77–108; 13 (1889): 70–100; 14 (1890): 31–49. For information about Barberiniano Latin 4047, see Domenico De Robertis, “Censimento dei manoscritti di rime di Dante, VI,” Studi danteschi (1965): 419–74, here 436–37. For information about Novara Seminario S. Gaudenzio 3, see Giuseppe Mazzatinti, Inventari dei manoscritti delle biblioteche d’Italia, vol. 6 (Forlì: Bordandini, 1896), 65–66. For information about 18

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All the versions are quite similar, and most of the differences between them either reflect the spelling conventions of the age, which had not yet been standardized, or the differences in dialect (e.g., “ogi e lege,” Novara 3, v. 2). Some of the other versions also substitute synonymous terms (e.g., “miri” for “guardi,” Barberiniano Latin 4047, v. 1; “alza” for “lev’alti,” Parma Palatino 1081, v. 2). Perhaps the most notable variation occurs in the fourth verse, with the difference between “pondo” [weight] and “ponte” [bridge]; some of the other manuscripts have “punto” [point]. Similarly, several codices replace the final word in the last line “disiderasti” [you desired] with “meritasti” [you deserved], thus repeating the rhyme word of the twelfth verse. The other changes found in the codicological tradition are either extravagant, such as the addition of extra verses in a coda (Parma Palatino 1081), or defective, with verses missing (Ottoboniensis Latin 681). However, all the versions read quite similarly to one another and communicate the same overall message. In the transcriptions below, no editorial interventions are represented, except that scribal abbreviations have been expanded and marked with italic letters.

1. Parma Palatina 1081 (fol. 47r)

Rubric: Sonetto O tu che ghuardi in questa nostra tomba or alza gli ochi e leggi se tu sai chio fui al mondo e uenni oue tu uai al punto della morte che si impiomba e sempre nella mente me rimbomba il ben chio feci e lmal chio ui lassai ella paura non si parte mai che sempre parmi udir sonar la tromba, che dicha ai morti uenite al giuditio choi chorpi uostri chon che pecchaste al fuocho eterno doloroso hospitio uoi benedetti che il ciel meritaste seghuendo la uirtu lassando il uitio uenite al gaudio lo qual disiate poiche si mi honoraste

Magliabechiano VII.1034, see Anna Bettarini Bruni, “Studio sul Quadernuccio di rime antiche nel Magl. VII.1034,” Bollettino dell’Opera del Vocabolario Italiano 7 (2002): 253–372; see also Fabian Alfie, “Traditional, Comic Sonnets in the Magliabechiano VII 1034 Manuscript,” Rivista di Studi Italiani 21, no. 1 (giugno 2003): 15–37. For information about Firenze II.ii.40, see Giuseppe Mazzatinti, Inventari dei manoscritti delle biblioteche d’Italia, vol. 8 (Forlì: Bordandini, 1898), 151–62. For information about Riccardiana 1103, see Salomone Morpurgo, I manoscritti della R. Biblioteca Riccardiana di Firenze: Manoscritti italiani, vol. 1 (Rome: I principali librai, 1900), 112–21. Ottoboniensis Latin 681 in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana still awaits a full description.


fabian alfie uenite suso o dolcissimi frati e non dormite piu nelli pecchati

2. Vaticano Ottoboniensis Latino 681 (fol. 189r–189v)

O tu che guardi innella misera thoma Leva alti li ochi e lezi se tu say Chi fui inel mondo /o/ue tu uai Che al ponto dela morte che se pioma E sempre me pareano aldire sonare la tromba E che dica morti surgite uenite a lo iudicio Con li corpi uostri con que uui peccasti Ueni benedicti sequendo la uertude e lasando el uicio Ueni al gaudio che uoi desiasti FINIS

3. Vaticano Barberiniano Latino 4047 (fol. 124r) Rubric: sonetto di benuccio O tu che miri questa misera tonba lieua gli occhi elleggi settu sai chi fu al mondo doue tu uai al punto della morte chessi pionba e senpre nella mente mi rinbonba el mal chi feci, el bene che affar lasciai ella paura non si parte mai senpre mi pare udir sonar la tronba che dicha morti uenite al giudicio con opere chorpi conche uo pecchasti al fuocho ardente al doloroso spazio e uoi bendetti chel ciel meritasti pigliando le uirtu lasciando e uizi uenite al ghaulde che uoi desiasti

4. Novara Biblioteca Seminario S. Gaudenzio 3 (fol. 179v) Rubric: Dante di sopra la suua sepoltura O tu che guardi questa misera tonba leua alto li ogi e lege se tu sai e fui nel mondo e uidi oue tu uai al ponte de la morte oue si i plonba e sempre ne la mente ne ribonda el mal ch i fece e lben ch’ far lasai e la paura non se parte mai ch’ lme par sempre odir sonar la tronba che dica morti ueniti all’ iudicio con li corpy uestri con que peccasti

Consider this Tomb

al foco ardente al doloroso hospicio ma uoi benedeti ch’ el celo meritasty sequendo le uirtu e lasando el uicio uenite al gaudio che uoi meritasti

5. Magliabechiano VII.1034 (fol. 52r)

O tu che passi questa misera tomba le uolgo gli occhi e leggi se tu sai chio fu nel mondo la doue tu uai al punto della morte chessi piomba e sempre nella mente mi rimbomba el mal chio feci el be chio ui lasciai e la paura non si parte mai sempre me pare udire la tromba Dicendo morti uenute al giudiçio choi corpi uostri con che uoi pecchasti al fuocho arçente e dal doloroso spiçio e uoi benedetti chel ciel meritasti pigliando la uirtu lasciandol uiçio uenite al ghaudio che uoi desiasti/ meritasti [desiasti is written above meritasti]

6. Firenze II ii 40 (fol. 126r)

O tu ch ghuardi nella misera tomba leualti gli occhi elleggi settu saj chi fu nel mondo la douettu uaj si douel pondo chella morte piomba ella mia mente senpre mi rinbonba del mal cho fatto el ben chassai lascaj ella paura non si parte maj chessenpre mi pare udir sonar la tromba che dica morti uenite al gudizio cho chorpi uostri con qua uo peccasti al fuocho ardente che doloroso spizio e uoi benedetti che ciel meritasti pigliando la uertu lascando il uizio uenite al ghaldeo che uoi disiderasti

7. Riccardiana 1103 (fol. 117v)

O tu che guardi la misera tonba leua gli ochi e legi se tu sai i fu nel mondo e uene oue tu uai al punto de la morte oue si pionba e nela mente senpre mi rinbomba il mal chio feci el bon che fai lasciai



fabian alfie e la paura nosi parte mai parmi dudir sonar la trista tronba che dicha morti uenite al giudicio cho propri chorpi co qua uo pecaste al fuocho ardente al doloroso spizio uo benedetti chel ciel meritaste seguendo la uirtu fugiendo il uizio uenite a locho che uoi disiaste

8. Magliabechiano VII.1034 (fol. 40v)

Uoi gente che passate per la uia dauante e sopra la mia sepoltura non trapassate ma ponete chura siche mio fatto asempro si uisia chio innamorato in uita mia duna spietata angelica fighura in uer di me a si mostrato aspra e dura mesirai a disperar per una follia son disperato e nello ferno giacio in fuocho e in fiamma chome farebbe ereo sicche del mio fatto nonmi date immpaccio ma pregata idio quel chan giudeo per chui mi disperai e mi si allaccio

“The Lesser Day of Resurrection”: Ottoman Interpretations of the Istanbul Earthquake of 1509 H. Erdem Çıpa On 10 September 1509, Istanbul trembled. 1 Chroniclers of the Ottoman tradition as well as Venetian and Genoese observers who resided in the imperial capital at that time recorded in great detail the devastation caused by the earthquake in the city and its environs. 2 Undoubtedly the most valuable historical narrative about this earthquake was penned by Rūḥī of Edirne (Edrenevī, fl. ca.  1510s), whose

  Contemporary sources disagree on the date of the earthquake. Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī follows Ruḥī of Edirne and gives the date as 12 August, anonymous chronicles of the Ottoman tradition as 22 August, Kemālpaşazāde as 11 September, Marino Sanuto (via Mihnea, the Voivode of Wallachia) as 14 September. The earliest — and most trustworthy — piece of information comes from a letter penned five days after the earthquake by Nicolò Zustignan, a Venetian who was in Istanbul when the calamity hit the imperial capital. See Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī, Künhü’l-aḥbār, vol. 1, ed. Ahmet Uğur et al. (Kayseri: Erciyes Üniversitesi Yayınları, 1997), 920; Anonymous, Tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̱ mān, in Anonim Tevârîh-i Al-i Osman — F. Giese Neşri, transliterated by Nihat Azamat (Istanbul: Marmara Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Basımevi, 1992), 131; Ibn Kemāl [Kemālpaşazāde], Tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̱ mān, vol. 8, concluding section, in The Reign of Sultan Selīm I in the Light of the Selīm-nāme Literature, ed. and transliterated by Ahmet Uğur (Berlin: Schwarz, 1985), 36; and Marino Sanuto, I Diarii, vol. 9, ed. Nicolo Barozzi (Venice: Visentini, 1883), 564. For Nicolò Zustignan’s report, see Sanuto, I Diarii, 9:261. 2   For a list and a brief evaluation of contemporaneous and later sources on the earthquake, see Nicholas Neocles Ambraseys, “The Earthquake of 1509 in the Sea of Marmara, Turkey, Revisited,” Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 91, no. 6 (2001), 1398–1400; and Nicholas Neocles Ambraseys and Caroline Finkel, “The Marmara Sea Earthquake of 1509,” Terra Motae 2 (1990), 172–74. 1

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 97–111.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117182


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observations provided the textual foundation of later Ottoman chronicles. 3 According to Rūḥī’s account, large sections of the Theodosian Walls — which were erected during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II (r. 408–450) and protected Constantinople until the Ottoman conquest in 1453 — collapsed, and more than 1,000 private homes were demolished. 4 In addition to the destruction of more than 100 mosques, several architectural landmarks of the city also suffered considerable damage. We are told, for example, that one of the minarets of Hagia Sophia toppled, the dome of the Mosque of Meḥmed II “the Conqueror” (r. 1444–1446 and 1451–1481) was partially destroyed, and the dome of the Mosque of Bāyezīd II (r. 1481–1512) collapsed completely. 5 According to two contemporary anonymous leaflets (Flugblatt) that were circulated in Europe, the waters of the Golden Horn retreated from the shores of Istanbul and Pera before returning and flooding large areas along the coastline. When the waters finally settled, the ground near the coast opened up and was left fissured. 6 It is estimated that the earthquake claimed about 5,000 lives and left more than 10,000 Ottoman subjects injured. 7 The city’s terrified inhabitants took refuge in open spaces and spent the night on the streets until the intermittent tremors finally subsided after forty-one days. 8 Bāyezīd II, the ruling sultan at the time, spent ten days in a shelter erected for him in the gardens of the Topkapı Palace before leaving for the safety of the previous imperial capital, Edirne. Or so he thought: in Edirne, Bāyezīd was welcomed by yet another tremor, probably an aftershock of the Istanbul earthquake. 9 The 1509 earthquake featured prominently in sixteenth-century European leaflets and theological tracts, whose authors unsurprisingly considered the calamity a divine chastisement of the Ottomans who fought against Christian rulers. 10 3   The relevant sections from Rūḥī’s chronicle are published by Victor L. Ménage, “Edirne’li Ruhi’ye Atfedilen Osmanlı Tarihinden İki Parça,” in İsmail Hakkı Uzunçarşılı’ya Armağan (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1976), 321–33. 4  Rūḥī, who was not only a contemporary but possibly also an eyewitness, gives the figure 1,070 as the number of privates homes destroyed. See Ménage, “Edirne’li Ruhi,” 323. 5  Rūḥī puts the number of mosques that suffered significant damage at 109. See Ménage, “Edirne’li Ruhi,” 323. The collapse of one of the minarets of Hagia Sophia is mentioned in a letter sent by Mihnea, the Voivode of Wallachia, to the Doge of Venice. See Sanuto, I Diarii, 9:565. 6   For references to these two leaflets dated 1509 and 1510, see Ambraseys, “The Earthquake of 1509,” 1399. One of the sources for the information provided in these leaflets must have been the aforementioned letter composed by Mihnea, the Voivode of Wallachia. See Sanuto, I Diarii, 9:564–65. 7  Rūḥī records the loss of life as 5,000, whereas European estimates vary between 1,000 and 13,000. For Rūḥī’s estimate, see Ménage, “Edirne’li Ruhi,” 323. For various estimates based on occidental sources, see Ambraseys, “The Earthquake of 1509,” 1404–5. The estimate for the injured is based on Nicolò Zustignan’s report. For that report, see Sanuto, I Diarii, 9:261. 8   See Ménage, “Edirne’li Ruhi,” 323. 9   See Ménage, “Edirne’li Ruhi,” 324. 10   See, for example, Theodor Zwinger, Theatrum vitae humanae, vol. 3 (Basel, 1604), 901.

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They also spoke of miracles foretelling a resurgence of the Christian faith. Foremost among such heavenly signs was one concerning Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s quintessential Byzantine architectural landmark, which had been converted to a mosque by Meḥmed II immediately after the Ottoman conquest. In a Christian visual reappearance, scenes from the Passion and images of Christ and the saints were revealed on the walls and the vault of the dome of the church-mosque when the stucco applied by the Ottomans to conceal these precious mosaics flecked off due to tremors. 11 In addition to the extensive devastation, it was undoubtedly due to such seemingly miraculous phenomena that Genoese and Venetian sources ascribed a cosmic meaning to the earthquake and hence referred to this catastrophic event as the “Lesser Apocalypse” and the “Day of Judgment.” 12 As Sunnī Muslims, learned Ottomans likewise were not immune to apocalyptic sentiments. Until recently, however, Ottoman apocalypticism unfortunately has not been a focus of modern scholarship. 13 As noted by Kaya Şahin, “[h]idden behind the agendas of modern Turkish nationalism and Turkish political Islam, or seen as irrational and inconsequential by scholars focusing on institution building, Ottoman apocalypticism share[d] the fate of other post-1000 Muslim apocalyptical writings” in that it was either largely ignored as a legitimate subject of study or considered a spinoff of sectarian Shīʿite Islam. 14 In discernible agreement with the orthodox Muslim establishment, early scholarship in the field of Islamic 11  See, for example, Johannes Nauclerus, Compraehendentium res memorabiles seculorum omnium ac gentium, vol. 2 (Coloniae: Quentel & Geruvinum, 1564), 550–51. Such accounts were most probably based on the aforementioned letter penned by Mihnea, whose source of information was his son, who resided in Istanbul at the time of the earthquake. For the text of Mihnea’s letter dated 9 October 1509, see Sanuto, I Diarii, 9:564–65. 12   Giovanni Antonio Menavino, as cited in Ambraseys, “The Earthquake of 1509,” 1400. 13   For Ottoman messianic and apocalyptic thought in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, see Cornell Fleischer, Bureaucrat and Intellectual in the Ottoman Empire: The Historian Mustafa Âli (1541–1600) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 133–135, 138; Cornell Fleischer, “The Lawgiver as Messiah: The Making of the Imperial Image in the Reign of Süleyman,” in Süleyman the Magnificent and His Time, ed. Gilles Veinstein (Paris: La Documentation Française, 1992), 159–77; Cornell Fleischer, “Mahdi and Millennium: Messianic Dimensions in the Development of Ottoman Imperial Thought,” in The Great Ottoman-Turkish Civilization, vol. 3, Philosophy, Science and Institutions, ed. Kemal Çiçek (Ankara: Yeni Türkiye, 2000), 42–54; and Cornell Fleischer, “Ancient Wisdom and New Sciences: Prophecies at the Ottoman Court in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries,” in Falnama: The Book of Omens, ed. Massumeh Farhad and Serpil Bağcı (London: Thames & Hudson, 2009), 231–43. See also Barbara Flemming, “Ṣāḥib-Ḳırān und Mahdī: Türkische Endzeiterwartungen im ersten Jahrzehnt der Regierung Süleymāns,” in Between the Danube and the Caucasus, ed. György Kara (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1987), 43–62; and Barbara Flemming, “Public Opinion under Sultan Süleymân,” in Süleymân the Second and his Time, ed. Halil İnalcık and Cemal Kafadar (Istanbul: Isis, 1993), 49–57. 14   Kaya Şahin, “Constantinople and the End Time: The Ottoman Conquest as a Portent of the Last Hour,” Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010), 321.


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studies focused almost exclusively on the accepted canonical texts and generally refrained from addressing apocalyptic traditions in later Muslim societies. 15 When the subject of Islamic apocalypticism was addressed at all, it was limited to the study of the belief systems and intellectual traditions of “heterodox” and/or Shīʿite religious groups, while the significance of its mainstream Sunnī variant tended to be neglected despite the fact that “[t]here is ample evidence of apocalypticism in the early, Meccan verses of the Qurʾān, which speak of the coming of the Hour as the prelude to resurrection.” 16 Several Qurʾānic verses refer, in no uncertain terms, to the approaching apocalyptic Last Hour, 17 while numerous others describe the various portents of the Last Hour (ishārāt al-sāʿa) that precede the Day of Resurrection (yawm al-qiyāma), including cosmic cataclysms such as the smoke (dukhān), 18 the folding up of the sun (takwīr), 19 the dimming of the stars and the disappearance of the mountains, 20 the splitting of the sky (infiṭār), 21 the scattering of the stars and the bursting of the seas, before finally “the graves are turned upside down.” 22 Further evidence for   For a succinct analysis of the state of the historiography regarding Islamic apocalypticism, see David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic (Princeton, NJ: Darwin, 2002), 29–33. On Islamic eschatology and the significance of the Day of Judgment in Islamic thought, see John MacDonald, “The Day of Judgement in Near Eastern Religions,” Indo-Iranica 14, no. 4 (1961), 33–53; John MacDonald, “The Day of Resurrection,” Islamic Studies 5, no.  2 (1966), 129–97; John MacDonald, “The Preliminaries to the Resurrection and Judgement,” Islamic Studies 4, no. 2 (1965), 137–79; and John B. Taylor, “Some Aspects of Islamic Eschatology,” Religious Studies 4, no. 1 (1968), 57–76. 16   For a superb study aimed at rectifying these shortcomings, see Saïd Amir Arjomand, “Islamic Apocalypticism in the Classical Period,” in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 2, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: Continuum, 1998), 238–83, quotation at 239. 17   See, for example, the following verses: “And verily the Hour will come; there can be no doubt about it” (Qurʾān 22:7); “The Hour is nigh!” (Qurʾān 33:63); “The Hour will certainly come; therein is no doubt” (Qurʾān 40:59); “And what will make thee realise that perhaps the Hour is close at hand?” (Qurʾān 42:17); and “The Hour is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder” (Qurʾān 54:1). All translations from the Qurʾān are rendered as they appear in The Meaning of the Holy Qurʾān, trans. ʿAbdullāh Yūsuf ʿAlī (Beltsville, MD: Amana, 2001). 18  Qurʾān 44:10: “Then watch thou for the Day that the sky will bring forth a kind of smoke (or mist).” 19  This phenomenon is explained in the 81st chapter (sūrah) of the Qurʾān entitled “al-Takwīr” (lit. “The Folding Up”), which begins with the phrase “When the sun (with its spacious light) is folded up.” 20  Qurʾān 81:2–3: “When the stars fall, losing their lustre; when the mountains vanish (like a mirage).” 21  This phenomenon is explained in the 82nd chapter (sūrah) of the Qurʾān entitled “al-Infiṭār” (lit. “The Cleaving Asunder”), which begins with the phrase “When the sky is cleft asunder.” 22  Qurʾān 82:2–4: “When the stars are scattered; when the oceans are suffered to burst forth; and when the graves are turned upside down.” One of the best-known compendia on the 15

The Lesser Day of Resurrection


the centrality of this apocalyptic vision of the End Time in mainstream Islamic religious thought is also found in well-respected collections of prophetic traditions (ḥadīth), all of which include a significant number of entries related to the Last Hour, usually classified under such chapter headings as “Book of Tribulations and the Signs of the Last Hour” (Kitāb al-fitan wa ishārāt al-saʿa), 23 “Book of Tribulations” (Kitāb al-fitan), 24 or simply “Tribulations” (fitan). 25 For the purposes of this essay, the most significant aspect of the cosmic upheaval alluded to in the Qurʾān is the image of the apocalyptic earthquake. In addition to several opaque expressions with apocalyptic overtones — such as “the inevitable” (wāqiʿa), 26 “commotion” (rājifa wa rādifa), 27 and “deafening noise” (ṣākhkha) 28 — the Qurʾān most notably includes a stern warning about the earthquake signaling the approaching Day of Reckoning: “O mankind! Fear your Lord! For the convulsion of the Hour will be a thing terrible!” 29 In fact, a complete chapter of the Qurʾān is devoted to the subject of the tremendous earthquake (zilzila/zalzāl) that will destroy the present order of the universe to replace it with a new one wherein justice and truth will reign supreme. 30 Since a thorough knowledge of the contents of the Qurʾān and of the traditions concerning the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muḥammad (ḥadīth), as well as the varied interpretations (tafsīr) of both of these corpora, constituted an essential part of the madrasa training of any learned Muslim, one can safely assume that

Portents of the Last Hour was penned by Ibn Kathīr (d. 1373), the prominent commentator of the Qurʾān. See Ismāʿīl ibn ʿUmar Ibn Kathīr, The Signs before the Day of Judgement, 3rd ed. (London: Dar al-Taqwa, 1994). On the End Time in classical Islamic thought, also see Jane Idleman Smith and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), chap. 3. 23   See [Imām] Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj al-Qushayrī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: Being Traditions of the Sayings and Doings of the Prophet Muḥammad, vol. 4, trans. ʿAbdul Ḥamīd Siddīqī (Lahore: Ashraf, 1975), 1493–1528. 24  Muḥammad ibn Ismāʿīl Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī: The Translation of the Meanings of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 9, trans. Muḥammad Muḥsin Khān (Beirut: Dār al-ʿArabiyya, 1985), 143–88. 25  See Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥusayn ibn Masʿūd ibn Muḥammad al-Farraʾ al-Baghawī, Mishkāt al-Maṣābīḥ, vol. 2, trans. James Robson (Lahore: Ashraf, 1975), 1143–54, 1161–95. 26  This phenomenon is explained in the 56th chapter (sūrah) of the Qurʾān entitled “al-Waqiʿah” (lit. “The Inevitable”), which begins with the phrase “When the event inevitable cometh to pass.” 27  Qurʾān 79:6–7: “One day everything that can be in commotion will be in violent commotion, followed by oft-repeated (commotions).” 28  Qurʾān 80:33: “At length, when there comes the deafening noise.” 29  Qurʾān 22:1. 30   See the 99th chapter (sūrah) of the Qurʾān entitled “al-Zalzalah” (lit. “The Earthquake”), which begins with the phrase “When the earth is shaken to its (utmost) convulsion.”


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most educated Ottomans were conversant in the field of Islamic apocalypticism. 31 In addition, the bureaucrats, scholars, and chroniclers who served the conquerors of Constantinople also were, albeit to varying degrees, the inheritors of Byzantine apocalypticism. 32 For them the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 must have constituted a warning to Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike about the coming of the Last Hour. 33 Considering that the conquest occurred only thirty-nine years before the 7,000th — and final — year of Creation according to the Byzantine apocalyptic tradition, “it required little imagination or juggling of the figures to believe that the reign of Antichrist had arrived,” as Paul Magdalino observed. 34 As a common trope in both Christian and Islamic apocalyptic traditions, 35 Constantinople thus served as the spatial hinge connecting the Byzantine and Ottoman variants of apocalyptic thought that considered the fall of the city as one of the portents of the End. Soon after the conquest of Constantinople, apocalyptic fears were expressed by contemporary Ottomans as well. Perhaps the most prominent among these figures is Yazıcıoġlu Aḥmed Bī-cān (d. after 1465), an Ottoman mystic whose cosmographical work entitled Dürr-i meknūn [The Hidden Pearl] includes a legendary account of the foundation of Constantinople. Aḥmed Bī-cān’s foundation myth about the city depicts a doomed locus: built at an inauspicious time, Constantinople suffered repeatedly from plagues, wars, and — most notably — earthquakes throughout its ill-fated, disaster-prone history. 36

  For an introduction to the impressive literary genre of Qurʾānic interpretation (tafsīr), see Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Tafsīr” (A. Rippin). 32   On apocalyptic tropes common to both the Islamic and Byzantine traditions and the emergence of Ottoman narratives that accord Constantinople an apocalyptic significance, see Stéphane Yerasimos, La fondation de Constantinople et de Sainte-Sophie dans les traditions turques: Légendes d’Empire (Istanbul: Institut français d’études anatoliennes, 1990). 33   Şahin, “Constantinople and the End Time,” 322. On the apocalyptic significance of the fall of Constantinople, see the articles in Stéphane Yerasimos and Benjamin Lellouch, eds., Les traditions apocalyptiques au tournant de la chute de Constantinople: Actes de la table ronde d’Istanbul, 13–14 avril 1996 (Istanbul: Institut français d’études anatoliennes, 1999). 34   Paul Magdalino, “The History of the Future and Its Uses: Prophecy, Policy, and Propaganda,” in The Making of Byzantine History: Studies Dedicated to Donald M. Nicol, ed. Roderick Beaton and Charlotte Roueché (London: Centre for Hellenic Studies, King’s College, University of London, 1993), 27. 35   Another common trope found in both traditions is “the Blond Peoples” (Banu al-Aṣfar). On the Blond Peoples and their place in the Islamic apocalyptic tradition, see Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Aṣfar” (Ignaz Goldziher). 36  Aḥmed Bīcān [Yazıcıoġlu], Dürr-i Meknūn, critical edition and commentary by Laban Kaptein (Asch: [Laban Kaptein], 2007), 457–58. On the place of Constantinople and its conquest in Yazıcıoġlu Aḥmed Bī-cān’s apocalypticism, see Şahin, “Constantinople and the End Time,” 339–50; and Yerasimos, La fondation de Constantinople, 69. For a discussion of Aḥmed 31

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It is worthy of note that variant renderings of this foundation legend were recorded by several later chroniclers of the Ottoman tradition, some of whom also provided an account of the Istanbul earthquake of 1509. 37 Thus it is safe to assume that members of the Ottoman intelligentsia were aware of fears concerning the ominous fate awaiting their imperial capital. As learned men, they must have been equally aware of the apocalyptic overtones of a significant number of Qurʾānic verses and prophetic traditions (ḥadīth). There is also little doubt that learned Ottomans were cognizant of the apocalyptic sentiments expressed by Ottoman authors such as Aḥmed Bī-cān, who may have composed his aforementioned cosmographical work as early as 1455, or a certain judge by the name of Mevlānā ʿĪsā (fl. 1530s), who penned his eschatological treatise entitled Cāmiʿü’l-meknūnāt [The Compendium of Hidden Things] in 1529. 38 A plentitude of apocalyptic anxieties and expectations were recorded in these and numerous other well-known Ottoman literary and historical texts composed from the middle of the fifteenth century onward. However, there is no textual evidence that any contemporary or near-contemporary Ottoman chronicler assigned to the Istanbul earthquake an apocalyptic significance in its immediate aftermath. 39 For example, prominent Ottoman historians such as Rūḥī, Ḥadīdī, Kemālpaşazāde (d. 1534), and Luṭfī Paşa (d. 1563), some of whom were eyewitnesses to the earthquake of 1509, not only describe in great detail the destruction caused by the main seismic shock and its tremors in Istanbul and beyond but also meticulously note the Ottoman state’s response to the disaster. They unanimously emphasize that Sultan Bāyezīd II ordered the mobilization of tens of thousands of men from both the Balkan and Anatolian provinces of the empire to repair the city walls and the damaged buildings within the imperial capital. 40 They also note that terrified subjects responded to the earthquake by busying themselves with “declaring the Bīcān’s mental universe, see Laban Kaptein, Apocalypse and the Antichrist Dajjal in Islam: Ahmed Bijan’s Eschatology Revisited (Asch: [Laban Kaptein], 2011). 37  Later chronicles that include variations of the legends concerning the foundation of Constantinople include but are not limited to Uruç bin ʿĀdil [Edirneli Uruç Beg], Oruç Beğ Tarihi, ed. Nihal Atsız (Istanbul: Tercüman, 1972), 110–15; Anonymous, Tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̱ mān, 78–102; Luṭfī Paşa, Tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̱ mān, ed. and transliterated by Kayhan Atik (Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı, 2001), 183–86; Saʿdeddīn [Ḫoca Efendi], Tācü’t-Tevārīḫ, 2 vols. ([Istanbul]: Ṭabʿḫāne-i ʿĀmire, 1279–1280/1863–1864), 1:434–47; and Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī, Künhü’l-aḥbār, 1:443–71. 38  Mevlānā ʿĪsā, Cāmiʿü’l-Meknūnāt, Leiden, University Library, Or. 1448. 39   Even Mevlānā ʿĪsā’s eschatological account mentions the earthquake only briefly, without a hint of an apocalyptical sentiment. See Mevlānā ʿĪsā, Cāmiʿü’l-Meknūnāt, Leiden Or. 1448, 74a. 40  Rūḥī mentions that a total of 66,000 workers (cerāḫor) were ordered to come to Istanbul for repairs — though the majority failed to reach the city. The number given by a contemporary anonymous author is 80,000. See Ménage, “Edirne’li Ruhi,” 325; and Anonymous, Tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̱ mān, 132.


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praises of God, pronouncing God’s oneness, repenting, and asking for forgiveness” (tesbīḥ, tehlīl, tövbe, istiġ fār). 41 Among these early sources, only one, the versified chronicle of Ḥadīdī (d. after 1533), makes an explicit, albeit brief, reference to the earthquake. He views the quake as an indication of divine wrath, stating that “God destroyed this city with an earthquake [when] the destitute [Ottoman subjects] moaned and sighed.” 42 Only one other textual account, İsḥaḳ Çelebi’s Selīmnāme, likens the effects of the disaster to the horrors of the Judgment Day by asserting that “God Almighty, with all his power, revealed to all creatures the terror of the Day of Resurrection.” 43 In an age when God’s omnipotence and omnipresence were assumed, however, getting the Divine involved in the making of the Istanbul earthquake is a far cry from assigning the event any apocalyptic meaning. The first Ottoman chronicle in which the earthquake of 1509 was implicitly framed within an apocalyptic interpretation was composed only decades later, around 1574, by Ḫoca Saʿdeddīn Efendi (d. 1599), the renowned scholar, historian, and statesman who served Sultan Murād III (r. 1574–1595) as his teacher and advisor before being appointed chief jurisconsult (şeyḫü’l-islām) during the reign of the following Ottoman ruler, Sultan Meḥmed III (r. 1595–1603). Saʿdeddīn’s chronicle entitled Tācü’t-tevārīḫ [The Crown of Histories] includes a lengthy account of the Istanbul earthquake in which the author notes that “both the visible and the invisible worlds trembled” when God caused the upheaval to express his omnipotence, reminding terrified Ottoman subjects of the Qurʾānic verse concerning the Day of Judgment. 44 Saʿdeddīn’s account is significant because it is the first Ottoman historical text that associated this catastrophic event with the Last Hour via a relevant verse from the Qurʾān. Saʿdeddīn’s chronicle is also noteworthy because it includes a lengthy account of an apocryphal statement in which Sultan Bāyezīd II reprimands Ottoman statesmen whose actions led to God’s wrath in the form of an earthquake. According to Saʿdeddīn, Bāyezīd accused his statesmen of oppression (ẓulüm), treachery (ḫıyānet), injustice, bribery (rüşvet), drinking wine, enmity against Muslim subjects, and even heresy/innovation (bidʿat) before ultimately asking: “Is it surprising that God the All-Compeller (ḳahhār) wants to destroy this realm?” 45 Saʿdeddīn’s rhetorical question reflects the role attributed to divine ire in the manifestation of natural disasters. They also echo the long-held Islamic belief that the   See, for example, Anonymous, Tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̱ mān, 131.   Ḥadīdī, Tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̱ mān, ed. and transliterated by Necdet Öztürk (Istanbul: Marmara Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Basımevi, 1991), 357: “Ki yoḳsul inledi vu eyledi āh / Bu şehri zelzeleyle yıḳdı Allāh.” 43  İsḥaḳ Çelebi, Selīmnāme, TSK Revan 1276, 8a: “Ḥaḳḳ teʿālānuñ kemāl-i ḳudreti ṣūret-i hevl-i ḳıyāmeti mecmūʿ-ı ḫalāʾiḳe āşikār idüb.” 44   For the reference to the Qurʾānic verse (22:1), see Saʿdeddīn, Tācü’t-Tevārīḫ, 2:133: “O mankind! Fear your Lord! For the convulsion of the Hour will be a thing terrible!” 45  Saʿdeddīn, Tācü’t-Tevārīḫ, 2:134. 41


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approach of the Last Hour would be heralded by pervasive moral degeneration and the emergence of social aberrations such as drinking of wine, usury, adultery, and homosexuality. 46 While Saʿdeddīn was the first Ottoman historian who passingly contextualized the Istanbul earthquake within an apocalyptic framework, it is only in renowned Ottoman bureaucrat and intellectual Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī’s (d. 1600) chronicle entitled Künhü’l-aḥbār [The Essence of History] that this association with the Day of Reckoning becomes explicit. Despite the fact that Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī mostly reiterates what earlier chroniclers of the Ottoman dynasty reported about the earthquake, he is the first one to refer to the catastrophe as the “Lesser Day of Judgment” (ḳıyāmet-i ṣuġrā). 47 In addition to detailing the destruction the earthquake caused in Istanbul, ʿĀlī is also the first author who mentions the unprecedented devastation caused by an equally strong earthquake and violent rainstorm (bārān) followed by a heavy flood (ṭūfān) in the city of Edirne a few months later. 48 His narrative thus creates a link between one sign of the Hour that revealed itself in Istanbul, the current imperial capital, and two other signs that became manifest in Edirne, the former Ottoman capital where the Ottoman sultan Bāyezīd II had taken refuge in 1509. When one considers the fact that later Ottoman historiographical tradition and its modern Turkish counterpart often utilize the appellation the “Lesser Day of Judgment” (ḳıyāmet-i ṣuġrā, or its modern rendering, küçük kıyamet) for the earthquake of 1509, the significance of Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī’s work becomes all the more apparent. 49 As the brief historiographical outline above suggests, the proliferation of explicit references to the Istanbul earthquake as “The Lesser Day of Judgment” is a development that dates to the last decade of the sixteenth century, despite the existence of expressions of apocalyptic fears and expectations in numerous earlier Islamic and Ottoman texts composed from the middle of the fifteenth century onward. This a posteriori phenomenon begs two vital and interrelated questions. First, why is it that there exists no textual evidence that any contemporary or near-contemporary Ottoman chronicler ever assigned to the Istanbul earthquake of 1509 an apocalyptic significance at the time of its occurrence? And second, why is it that we find the first such evidence more than half a century after the event, first — implicitly — in Saʿdeddīn’s Tācü’t-tevārīḫ and then — explicitly — in Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī’s Künhü’l-aḥbār?

  See Smith and Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection, 66–75.  Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī, Künhü’l-aḥbār, 1:920. 48  Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī, Künhü’l-aḥbār, 1:921. 49   A case in point is Ṣolaḳzāde Meḥmed Hemdemī Çelebi (d. 1657), whose chronicle covers the history of the Ottoman dynasty until 1657 and utilizes Kemālpaşazāde, Saʿdeddīn, Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī, etc. as its sources. See Ṣolaḳzāde, Tārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOs̱ mān, TSK Bağdat 199, 183b–184b. For a representative modern — and uncritical — use of the term as küçük kıyamet, see Kevork Pamukciyan, “Depremler: Osmanlı Dönemi,” in Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, vol. 3 (Istanbul: Türkiye Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfı, 1994), 34. 46 47


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An analysis of the Istanbul earthquake by Nicholas Ambraseys provides a potential, albeit incomplete, answer to the first question: namely, that the magnitude of the earthquake was not significant enough to warrant the appellation “Little Apocalypse.” Based on a systematic study of available data for historical seismicity on the Anatolian fault zone and historical narratives regarding the 1509 earthquake in both Ottoman and European sources, Ambraseys argues not only that “there is no evidence that the earthquake was a Little Apocalypse” 50 but also that there is no macroseismic or tectonic evidence to suggest that it was “a catastrophic event.” 51 Although the detached assessment of a seismologist at the turn of the twenty-first century may certainly be relevant for an explanation of the absence of an immediate apocalyptic response in the beginning of the sixteenth century, it still does not provide a satisfactory answer to the question of why the unprecedented devastation caused by the earthquake failed to kindle apocalyptic sentiments among early sixteenth-century Istanbulites, some of whom were evidently fearful for their lives. Yet the lack of an immediate apocalyptic response to the Istanbul earthquake fits a general pattern already commented upon by prominent theologian and historian Bernard McGinn. In his study on early Jewish apocalypticism and its roots, McGinn notes that: [T]here is no simple relation between the type or magnitude of a natural, political and/or social disaster and the apocalyptic response it may provoke. Great historical disasters have had little or no effect on apocalyptic beliefs and movements; seemingly minor dislocations have assumed major roles. There are no general rules for understanding why some crises have been accompanied by a rich outpouring of apocalyptic expectations and others have not. 52

Even though it is impossible to ascertain the exact reasons as to why the Istanbul earthquake did not ignite an immediate apocalyptic reaction, there exist several potential answers to the second question: namely, why Ottoman historians contextualized this destructive natural event within an apocalyptic framework during and after the last quarter of the sixteenth century. The first pertains to chronology, especially the approach of the Islamic millennium in the years 1591–1592, which   Ambraseys, “The Earthquake of 1509,” 1414.   Ambraseys estimates a moment magnitude (Mw ) of 7.2 + 0.3, according to the Richter scale, and argues that “The re-examination of this earthquake, in the context of the long-term seismicity of the region over the last 2000 yr and in comparison with larger historic and modern events in the region, shows no macroseismic, and to some extent, no tectonic evidence that the 1509 earthquake was a catastrophic event. It is one of the damaging shocks in the 17-centurylong history of Istanbul, of a magnitude that was smaller than the large events that can occur further east in the Anatolian Fault Zone.” See Ambraseys, “The Earthquake of 1509,” 1397. 52   Bernard McGinn, “Early Apocalypticism: The Ongoing Debate,” in The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature, ed. C.A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 16. 50 51

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coincidentally marks the date when Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī began to compose his monumental world history entitled Künhü’l-aḥbār. 53 Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī’s poetic production of the few years preceding the year 1000 of the Hijra was imbued with traces of “the millennial mood of Istanbul.” 54 As Cornell Fleischer underscores, moreover, amidst political turmoil, revolts in the provinces, great fires and a plague in Istanbul, and the turn of the Muslim millennium just around the corner, ʿĀlī may have “at least subconsciously participated in popular expectation that great events and calamitous changes would come about in the year 1000.” 55 It was no doubt the same millennial mood that catalyzed vivid, and at times sectarian, imagery in Ottoman manuscripts, most notably illustrated copies of the Aḥvāl-i Ḳıyāmet [The Conditions of Resurrection] produced at the end of the sixteenth century. 56 The “millennial mood of Istanbul” may partially explain why Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī is the first Ottoman author to refer to the Istanbul earthquake of 1509 as the “Lesser Day of Judgment” (ḳıyāmet-i ṣuġrā). However, millenarian and eschatological expectations prevalent in Ottoman society around the turn of the Islamic millennium were certainly not the only factors behind the apocalyptic overtones of his writings. The relationship between expressions of apocalyptic sentiments and a contemporaneous historical consciousness has been noted by prominent scholars of apocalypticism such as Paul Alexander and Bernard McGinn. 57 This is undoubtedly equally valid for the Ottoman context as well. In fact, there exists a clear connection between the apocalyptic sentiments expressed in several Ottoman chronicles and a historical consciousness of “decline” that permeated the writings of Ottoman intellectuals after the middle of the sixteenth century. 58

53   On the date of composition of Künhü’l-aḥbār, see Fleischer, Bureaucrat and Intellectual, 140n92. 54  Fleischer, Bureaucrat and Intellectual, 134. On “the millennial mood of Istanbul” and its effects on Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī’s thought, see Fleischer, Bureaucrat and Intellectual, 133–42. 55  Fleischer, Bureaucrat and Intellectual, 138. 56   For a discussion of the eschatological imagery in these manuscripts that served to promote a Sunnī apocalyptical worldview, see Christiane J. Gruber, “Signs of the Hour: Eschatological Imagery in Islamic Book Arts,” Ars Orientalis 44 (2014), 41–60, esp. 49–52 (special issue entitled Arts of Death in Asia, ed. Melia Belli). 57   See, in particular, Paul Alexander, “Medieval Apocalypses as Historical Sources,” American Historical Review 73, no. 4 (1968), 997–1018; and Bernard McGinn, “Introduction: John’s Apocalypse and the Apocalyptic Mentality,” in The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. Bernard McGinn and Richard Emmerson (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 1–19. 58   For a careful analysis problematizing the term decline, see Cemal Kafadar, “The Myth of the Golden Age: Ottoman Historical Consciousness in the Post-Süleymânic Era,” in Süleymân the Second and His Time, ed. Halil Inalcık and Cemal Kafadar (Istanbul: Isis, 1993), 37–48. For the uncritical usage of the term decline, see also Bernard Lewis, “Ottoman Observers of Ottoman Decline,” Islamic Studies 1, no. 1 (1962), 71–87; and Bernard Lewis, “Some Reflections on the Decline of the Ottoman Empire,” Studia Islamica Studies 9 (1958), 111–27.


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At this time, the Ottoman variant of a genre of literary-historical writing commonly referred to as “advice literature” (naṣīḥatnāme) proliferated. 59 Composed between the later years of Süleymān I’s (r. 1520–1566) reign and the beginning of the eighteenth century, advice works addressed a plethora of challenges and crises faced by both Ottoman state and society within the context of ever-changing historical circumstances during a particularly transformative period of Ottoman history. The texts’ authors were learned men of diverse backgrounds, most of whom had served the Ottoman polity as statesmen, administrators, bureaucrats, or scholars (or, as in most cases, a combination thereof). These individuals possessed varied skill sets, benefited and/or suffered from different life experiences, and expressed disparate and at times conflicting political and ideological viewpoints. Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī himself was the author of one such advice treatise entitled Nuṣḥatü’s-selāṭīn [Counsel for Sultans]. Composed in 1581, Nuṣḥatü’s-selāṭīn addressed several themes related to the social, political, and moral deterioration ʿĀlī observed in his day. Echoing the concerns voiced by Saʿdeddīn a few years earlier, ʿĀlī employed the common popular trope of moral decay, through which he portrays an Ottoman society whose scholars of religion were no longer learned or pious, whose statesmen were tyrannical and unjust, whose truly learned were disdained and dismissed, and where bribery and corruption were widespread. 60 The conditions ʿĀlī enumerates characterize the Ottoman world at the brink of what David Cook calls a “moral apocalypse,” itself a common variant of sociopolitical criticism included in most Islamic apocalyptic texts. 61 This form of criticism in the Ottoman context was not limited to apocalyptic texts, however. In addition to Aḥmed Bī-cān’s oeuvre composed in the middle of 59   Although a definitive monograph on the subject is still wanting, there are numerous studies, some of them excellent, that survey various aspects of the Ottoman advice literature. See, for example, Agâh Sırrı Levend, “Siyaset-nameler,” Türk Dili Araştırmaları Yıllığı: Belleten (1963), 167–94; Ahmet Uğur, Osmanlı Siyâset-nâmeleri (Kayseri: Kültür ve Sanat Yayınları, 1987); Kafadar, “The Myth of the Golden Age”; Lewis, “Ottoman Observers of Ottoman Decline”; Lewis, “Some Reflections on the Decline of the Ottoman Empire”; Douglas A. Howard, “Genre and Myth in the Ottoman Advice for Kings Literature,” in The Early Modern Ottomans: Remapping the Empire, ed. Virginia H. Aksan and Daniel Goffman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 137–66; Douglas A. Howard, “Ottoman Historiography and the Literature of “Decline” of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Journal of Asian History 22, no. 1 (1988), 52–77; and Pál Fodor, “State and Society, Crisis and Reform, in 15th–17th Century Ottoman Mirror for Princes,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 40, no. 2–3 (1986), 217–40. 60  See Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī, Nuṣḥatü’s-selāṭīn, ed. and trans. Andreas Tietze, in Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī’s Counsel for Sultans of 1581, 2 vols. (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1979–1982). 61   For a discussion of the issue of “moral apocalypse,” see David Cook, “Moral Apocalpytic in Islam,” Studia Islamica 86 (1997), 37–69; and Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalpytic, 230–68. For a brief discussion of the subject as it is embodied in Aḥmed Bī-cān’s works in the fifteenthcentury Ottoman context, see Şahin, “Constantinople and the End Time,” 339–41.

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the fifteenth century, 62 references alluding to a moral apocalypse appear in chronicles (tevārīḫ), advice treatises (naṣīḥatnāme), and even petitions addressed to Ottoman rulers (ʿarż). One such petition was penned a mere three years after the Istanbul earthquake by a certain ʿAlī b. ʿAbdülkerīm Ḫalīfe and was addressed to Selīm I (r. 1512–1520) in the wake of the latter’s controversial accession to the Ottoman throne. 63 In his petition, ʿAlī Ḫalīfe not only expresses his personal grievances but also provides an exposé of political problems, bureaucratic malfeasances, social ills, and religious perils that, in his opinion, were destroying the foundations of Ottoman society and polity alike. Not unlike earlier Islamic texts, which argue that the Last Hour would be preceded by widespread moral degeneration and the appearance of social aberrations, 64 ʿAlī Ḫalīfe’s petition explains, in a hortative tone, that judges (ḳāḍī), their representatives (nāʾib), and police prefects (subaşı) were all “corrupted sodomites.” Wine was consumed in such great quantities that there were no grapes left to eat in most parts of the Ottoman realm. His complaints are many: “Judges drink [wine], subaşıs drink, commanders drink, viziers drink, religious scholars drink, ignorant ones drink, animals drink, humans drink [. . .] the poor ones drink, the old ones drink, the young ones drink, boys drink, husbands drink, and, as we have sometimes become aware, even wives drink.” ʿAlī Ḫalīfe spoke of an immoral world “filled with innovation (bidʿat), corruption (ḍalālet), rebellion (ʿiṣyān), ingratitude (küfrān), and insubordination (ṭuġyān)” in which “everyone was so committed to drinking, adultery, sodomy, usury that they said that these abominable acts were sins but did not actually consider them sinful.” 65 A few years before ʿAlī Ḫalīfe addressed his verbally vivid petition to Selīm I, similar anxieties pertaining to moral, religious, administrative, and political affairs were expressed in a lengthy treatise entitled Daʿwat al-nafs al-ṭāliḥa ilā al-aʿāmāl al-ṣaliḥa. Composed in 1508, only one year before the Istanbul earthquake, by Selīm’s own brother Ḳorḳud (d. 1513) for the reigning Bāyezīd II (r. 1481–1512), Daʿwat served as a literary conduit through which the scholarly prince presented nothing short of a blistering critique of numerous Ottoman institutions and practices. 66 The expression of specific grievances by Ottoman princes in their 62   For a discussion of the works of this fifteenth-century Ottoman mystic, see Şahin, “Constantinople and the End Time,” 335–50. 63   For a discussion of Selīm I’s accession to the Ottoman throne, see Çağatay Uluçay, “Yavuz Sultan Selim Nasıl Padişah Oldu?” İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Tarih Dergisi 9 (1953), 53–90; 10 (1954), 117–42; 11–12 (1955), 185–200; and H. Erdem Çıpa, “The Centrality of the Periphery: The Rise to Power of Selīm I, 1487–1512” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2007). 64   For a discussion of such texts and their references to the drinking of wine, usury, adultery, and homosexuality as signs of the approaching End Time, see Smith and Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection, 66–75. 65   Topkapı Palace Museum Archives, Istanbul, E.3192. 66   For an analysis of Ḳorḳud’s Daʿwat, see Cornell Fleischer, “From Şeyhzade Korkud to Mustafa Âli: Cultural Origins of the Ottoman Nasihatname,” in Third Congress on the Social and


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correspondence with the ruling sultan and other prominent statesmen was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, Selīm himself was the author of several petitions in which he criticized his father’s viziers for the oppression of poor subjects in the Anatolian provinces and blamed these statesmen for neglecting their principal duty of “warding off the pertinacious sedition and mischief affecting Muslims.” 67 Prince Ḳorḳud’s treatise and ʿAlī Ḫalīfe’s petition had a lot in common. To begin with, both were essentially personal documents that do not appear to have circulated widely. As a petition addressed to Selīm, ʿAlī Ḫalīfe’s piece was intended for the sultan’s eyes only. Ḳorḳud’s Daʿwat is not mentioned in any other major historical work either. 68 The two documents are also comparable in that they address similar types of imperial abuses, utilize a primarily religious framework, include conventional tropes concerning the requirements for ideal Muslim monarchs, and even issue similar warnings about the otherworldly fate that awaits Ottoman sultans who fail to rule in strict accordance with Divine Law. Though neither Ḳorḳud’s treatise nor ʿAlī Ḫalīfe’s petition can be assumed to reflect Ottoman realities on the ground in the beginning of the sixteenth century, the observations and criticisms voiced by their authors were certainly “part of the common stock of Islamic juridical lore on worldly government.” 69 Perhaps more important for the purposes of this essay, these criticisms provide an intellectual link not only with advice literature but also with the chronicles that appear to have contextualized the Istanbul earthquake within an apocalyptic framework at a later date, especially during and after the last quarter of the sixteenth century.

• Already in the 1530s, Ottoman chronicler Ḥadīdī implicitly interpreted the earthquake as an indication of divine wrath. Writing in the early 1570s, and probably influenced by a consciousness of decline, prominent historian and religious scholar Ḫoca Saʿdeddīn Efendi associated the earthquake with the portents of the Last Hour in a more explicit fashion. In addition to including the Qurʾānic verse on the apocalyptic earthquake in his chronicle, Saʿdeddīn also alludes to the social ills and Economic History of Turkey, ed. Heath W. Lowry and Ralph S. Hattox (Istanbul: Isis, 1990), 67–77; and Nabil Al-Tikriti, “Şehzade Korkud (ca. 1468–1513) and the Articulation of Early 16th Century Ottoman Religious Identity” (PhD diss., The University of Chicago, 2004), chap. 5. 67   See Topkapı Palace Museum Archives, Istanbul, E.6185/2. 68   Some of Ḳorḳud’s other writings were known to Ottoman intellectuals. According to Cornell Fleischer, prominent Ottoman historian and bureaucrat Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī (d.  1600) “and others were apparently familiar with a collection, now lost, of the fatwās of the jurist-prince.” See Fleischer, “From Şeyhzade Korkud to Mustafa Âli,” 73. 69   Fleischer, “From Şeyhzade Korkud to Mustafa Âli,” 72.

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moral corruption that afflicted Ottoman society at his own time via an apocryphal address by Sultan Bāyezīd II, who scolded his statesmen for having angered God with their punishable actions, among them oppression, treachery, injustice, bribery, consumption of wine, and even heresy. Similarly, Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī’s narrative of the Istanbul earthquake endowed certain features or events of the author’s own time (or the recent past) with an unmistakably eschatological overtone. In these texts it thus becomes clear that a decline consciousness prevalent in Ottoman historical writing after the middle of the sixteenth century must have prompted first Ḫoca Saʿdeddīn Efendi and then Muṣṭafā ʿĀlī to retrospectively interpret the Istanbul earthquake of 1509 as one of the early portents of the Last Hour. Undoubtedly affected by a perception of a moral apocalypse in all spheres of life and writing at the turn of the Islamic millennium, ʿĀlī not only became the first Ottoman author to refer to the earthquake as the “Lesser Day of Resurrection” but also set the tone for future imaginings of this catastrophic event.

Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel: Spirals toward Destruction Catherine Schultz McFarland In addition to a lost miniature on ivory, Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted two Towers of Babel, one in 1563 and the other soon after, probably in the same year. These depictions of giant spiral shaped towers winding up into the sky must have had a special significance for the artist as he painted the subject at least twice, both incredibly detailed works. The larger and earlier of the two (Fig. 8.1), in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is sometimes described as the more interesting painting, with its fantastic construction so microscopically detailed, but the later work (Fig. 8.2), in Rotterdam, has a monumentality and moodiness that give it a frightening splendor. Although the Rotterdam Tower of Babel is a smaller painting, the tower depicted seems much larger, a colossal, impossible structure, that seems to glow at the top with a dark and ominous red light. Both paintings present the viewer with enormous edifices that reach the clouds, monstrously huge buildings, taller than most 20th century skyscrapers. Their size is dizzying, awesome even to a modern eye. Both works present us with a rich world on which we look across, as if from on high, upon thousands of tiny people toiling feverishly on an impossible project. This world conjured up by Bruegel’s vision evokes tensions and frustrations, conflicts and contradictions, and, as a consequence, these huge spiral buildings and their settings are suitably emblematic of the Reformation turmoil in the Lowlands in the 1560’s, as the semiotics of their iconography is full of the struggles of the late Renaissance. A traditional tale, the myth of the Tower of Babel, with archetypal core and Judeo-Christian overlay, is the vehicle for Bruegel’s specific cultural meaning, an image of a structure full of disharmony, a visual manifestation of the Reformation passion for ideologies despite the destruction these ideologies can bring. 1 1

  As William Bouwsma says of these tumultuous times (William J. Bouwsma, The Waning of the Renaissance, 1550–1640 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2000) x): “In the later Renaissance, Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 113–129.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117183


catherine schultz mcfarland

Figure 8.1: The Tower of Babel (large version), 1563. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

The story of the Tower of Babel first appears as a brief account in Genesis 11:1–9. According to the short passage, when God saw the tower being built, he realized that, since all people spoke the same language, there was nothing they could not attain, and so he destroyed their unity by making them mutually unintelligible. The tower appears again in Flavius Josephus 2 who first gave us the name of King Nimrod, whom he describes as a tyrant. Josephus says that Nimrod wanted to make the tower high and watertight in order to escape any future Deluge (thus making this story attractive to the flood conscious Lowlanders). Nimrod, traditionally described as a giant, directs the blasphemous, but impossible, building project and so the Tower of Babel story became a symbol of the hubris of monarchs. Nimrod appears again in St. Augustine’s City of God, where the story becomes associated with Babylon as a symbol of sin. 3

the impulses toward liberation seem to have become unendurable, and thus to have set in motion a reaction in the opposite direction.” 2   Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 1:4. 3  Augustine, City of God (de Civitate Dei), trans. P. G. Walsh (Oxford: Aris and Phillips Classical Texts, 2005), 16:4.

Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel


Figure 8.2: The Tower of Babel (small version), 1564? Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

These elements in the story, the pride and other sins, the blasphemy, the attempt to escape a deluge, the ultimate destruction, and particularly the confusion of languages, are all apropos for the situation of Antwerp in 1563. In fact, this Biblical vision of the multitudes speaking a hundred languages had already suggested to the sixteenth century Flemings aspects of their own land. Antwerp was often compared to “Babylon” by both Protestants and Catholics, with reference to the immigration of heretics, the religious disunity, and the corruption of the ruling powers 4. Bruegel’s hometown of Antwerp was the busiest port in Europe in the 1550’s, with people from all over the continent buying and selling in a dozen languages. Not only were there merchants and traders passing through, but also Italian bankers who settled permanently, Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had 4   Margaret D. Carroll, Painting and Politics in Northern Europe: Van Eyck, Bruegel, Rubens, and their Contemporaries (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008), 83–85, and Sarah Weiner, “The Tower of Babel in Netherlandish Painting” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia Univ., 1985), 167–87, 203–20.


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been exiled from Iberia in the previous century, and many Calvinists fleeing other parts of Northern Europe for the (relatively) sympathetic Lowlands. In addition to the many nationalities trying to understand each other in the mercantile world, there were publishing houses that printed books in many languages, in the Latin, Flemish, and French that one would expect, but also in Italian, German, and other languages. The translation and printing of the Bible into European vernaculars, the new multiplicity of written language material allowing people direct access to scripture, accelerated the fragmentation of the church, thereby facilitating the Reformation conflicts. Thus the linguistic confusion of the Tower of Babel story must have seemed particularly relevant in the tumultuous 16th century Lowlands. In fact, the history and geography of the Lowlands had given it not only an international and polyglot character, but a sympathy for free market activity. Foreigners flocked to the (relatively) tolerant Lowlands for economic as well as religious reasons. Enterprising businessmen, and even women, were encouraged. 5 The Hanseatic League of the German cities had a presence, and, in fact, Antwerp was a Kontor of the League beginning in the early 16th century. Despite the usual economic ups and downs, the population of the Lowlands was booming 6 particularly in the towns and cities, as more and more people left farming to become skilled artisans or merchants. These former peasants created all kinds of businesses that filled market niches, from bleaching linen and brewing ale, to designing ships and drawing maps. Finally, the city of Antwerp herself was ideally situated to become the locus of all this growth and prosperity. She had both a deep-water harbor and the Scheldt River, both of which were filled with ships on any given day in the 1560’s, much like the harbors depicted in Bruegel’s Tower of Babel paintings. Bruegel exaggerates this nascent capitalism and all its busy hard work by creating a swarm of workers obsessed with the realm of the earthly despite their putative goal of reaching heaven, reminding the viewer of the contradictions of so much passionate religious rhetoric in the midst of the mercantile bustle of Antwerp. Indeed, by the 17th century, the prosperity of their country would create for the Protestant Netherlanders the ambivalence that Simon Schama refers to as “the embarrassment of riches. 7 ” Finally, in his often-prescient way, Bruegel also seems to have captured even the literal future destruction of his hometown. Despite the energy and prosperity of Antwerp in the 1550’s and the early 1560’s, the diaspora of the Biblical story was 5   For information on mercantile culture of the Lowlands, see Ethan Matt Kavaler, Pieter Bruegel: Parables of Order and Enterprise (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999) and Peter Arnade, Beggars, Iconoclasts, and Civic Patriots: The Political Culture of the Dutch Revolt (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 2008). 6   The population of Antwerp was around 100,000 in 1560, a huge city for the time (Arnade, Beggars, Iconoclasts, and Civic Patriots, 5). 7  Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1987).

Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel


beginning to have an eerie echo in this bustling city. The political and religious conflicts were building to a crisis. Unlike his father, Philip II did not have any tolerance for the feisty Lowlanders. Of course, heretics had been persecuted earlier in the century, but not as they were under Phillip, when thousands were executed for sins against both church and state (really one and the same under the intolerant Spanish king.) As Calvinism grew in strength and numbers, the Spanish Inquisition became more and more determined to root out heresy in the Lowlands. Although many stayed, a huge number of Calvinist Flemings were beginning to leave Antwerp to hide in the northern countryside, where they could hear the illegal “hedge sermons” of itinerant preachers. Tensions were growing daily and the seeds of the Dutch Revolt were planted. The decades-long war against the Spanish officially began in 1569, but by 1562, the year before the Vienna Tower of Babel, the Spanish oppression and atrocities were growing intolerable. Amsterdam was becoming a rival port and a haven for those fleeing the south. It looked as if the upward climb of the city of Antwerp might end abruptly, leaving the citizens hanging precipitously like the people of the Biblical story on the edge of the aborted spiral tower. Indeed, by 1589 when the young Peter Paul Rubens returned to Antwerp from Germany with his widowed mother, the city was a shadow of its former self, with deserted streets and buildings falling into ruin. The religious troubles that had begun in the 1540’s culminated in 1576 in a near destruction of Antwerp by rampaging Spanish soldiers. The 1560’s were the last days of greatness for Antwerp. Immediately after Bruegel painted these two Towers of Babel (and himself moved the same year to Brussels), Antwerp began really to decline, until finally there was truly the kind of diaspora that is described in the Biblical story, with the bustling streets of Antwerp that had been full of the cacophony of many tongues, becoming the quiet streets of a provincial town. The intolerance of the Reformation almost destroyed Antwerp and many other cities in the Lowlands at the end of the Renaissance. The very subject of the paintings suggests these Reformation conflicts. The story of the Tower of Babel was considered a typological prefiguration of the Pentecost, because of the confusion of many languages, which then became unified and intelligible in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit descended and the apostles could understand and speak “in tongues.” Their new understanding of the “babble” of foreigners allowed the apostles to be sent out to convert the heathen (and to create a unified Church, said the Catholics). However, in the Reformation, the story of the miracle of Pentecost was appropriated by Lutherans and Calvinists as an example of God’s grace descending without the help of either Catholic clergy or “good works”, but only through faith and the will of God. Thus the very meaning of Pentecost and its prefiguration, the story of the Tower of Babel, were in contention, having been given a different interpretation and a new significance by the Protestants. In addition to the new use of the traditional typological meaning of the image, Bruegel’s Tower of Babel paintings allude to the specific historical context of their troubled time and place in other significant ways. The most widely understood


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meaning was that the tale is about Pride punished. By the sixteenth century, the story of the Tower of Babel had become a warning about the hubris of monarchs, in particular. Nimrod was sometimes evoked as a surreptitious criticism of Philip II. 8 Although Bruegel’s Vienna Tower of Babel does include Nimrod in the left foreground, the Rotterdam Tower has no such character that can be blamed for the folly and the sin. Even in the Vienna Tower, Nimrod is hard to make out in the teeming masses and seems an adjunct to the composition, and Bruegel omits him from the later work. It seems as if it is the people themselves, not the king, who dream of attaining the unattainable and who will be punished for it by the fragmentation of their unity, by God making them “babble” to each other in a thousand languages and so dispersing them into other lands. Thus the sin of Pride is here not limited to monarchs, but extends to the populace, a populace that bears a similarity to that of Bruegel’s Antwerp. 9 Pride (Superbia) was considered the foremost sin, as it was the cause of Lucifer’s fall, and is the prerequisite for all other sins. However, the Pride of King Nimrod of the Vienna Tower is not depicted as dangerous, but foolish. His gestures seem artificial and the men in front of him are bowing to him in an exaggeratedly obsequious manner. However, in the Rotterdam Tower, any message of foolishness is dispelled by the awesome and terrible blood-red glow that spills down the left side of the structure, and the Pride implied by the tower becomes ominous. Although we know rationally that the red is meant to be clay, it is depicted almost as a liquid and certainly calls to mind blood, and thus there seems to be a kind of danger in the Rotterdam work that is stronger than the folly in the Vienna Tower. In this second, smaller painting, the Superbia implied by the story of the Tower of Babel seems to be associated with blood, the humor of both procreation (lust and energy) and destruction, an iconographical choice that is significant 10. The blood suggested by the red on the Rotterdam Tower is also implied in the formal elements of both towers (as we shall see), and must allude also to both the growing violence in the conflict with the Spanish and the worldly nature of Antwerp. In the Rotterdam Tower, Bruegel has painted a distillation of the larger work, with a clearer, more powerful punch, but with the same emphasis on the tower, not on any individual. The people in both paintings are, in fact, relatively generic, as in many of Bruegel’s works, and thus, at first glance, it is the structure itself that is emphasized, not just 8

 In Van dat geesstlicke landt der beloften (Terra Pacis), Hendrik Niclaes, the founder of the Familia Caritatis, spoke of his time and place as a “Babylonian kingdom” ruled by a cruel king. (Carroll, Painting and Politics in Northern Europe, 83–84). 9   In fact, the physical profile of the harbor buildings has much in common with that of sixteenth century Antwerp (Carroll, Painting and Politics in Northern Europe, 75). 10   In medieval and Renaissance cosmology, it is an excess of the “humor” of blood, with its heedless, headstrong, energy that leaves one in the most danger of falling to the sin of Pride. The vain preening associated with Lust was often used as a symbol of Pride, as on Hieronymus Bosch’s Table of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel


in the smaller Rotterdam Tower, but in the more close-up depiction of the Vienna Tower, as well. And, in fact, it is the tensions inherent in the structure of the towers themselves that lead us into the semiotics of the paintings. Both of Bruegel’s towers are huge spiral ramps with a complicated warren of rooms inside. They are much larger and more complex then any previous depictions of the Towers of Babel. 11 The arcuated tiers that wind around call to mind the ancient Roman Colosseum (the Flavian Amphitheatre), which Bruegel certainly would have seen during his one trip to Italy ten years before. This obvious allusion to Rome has been noted before as a criticism of the Catholic Church, and, in the Rotterdam Tower, there is indeed a specific allusion to the Papal hierarchy. If one looks very carefully, almost exactly in the middle of the painting, one can make out a tiny red covered sedan chair making its way up the endless ramp. Only Cardinals traveled in these bright red palanquins. Certainly this might connect the giant tower with the Catholic Church, but is this necessarily a criticism of Rome? Or might this be a suggestion of the unity of purpose before the rifts in the Church, nostalgia for the lost power of a unified Christian world? It must be both. As do many works by Bruegel, the Tower of Babel paintings present us with ambiguous, even contradictory, iconography that avoids a fixed polemic. These oblique allusions to the Catholic Church are certainly a part of the iconology of these towers, but the significance of the structures lies more strongly in their architecture. They are both in the shape of a spiral, which the Colosseum is not, thus undermining somewhat the assumed association with, or criticism of, Rome. Unlike the balanced symmetry of the Flavian amphitheater, the marked tilt of the tower buildings in the manner depicted by Bruegel would have made the lower arches unbalanced and lead to their instability. Bruegel affirms this structural problem and, in fact, emphasizes it by depicting the lower tiers crumbling (Fig. 8.3, detail), particularly in the Vienna Tower. This kind of spiral shape would have been intrinsically unstable in such a tall building and thus would not have been a wise choice for the builders in Bruegel’s imagined Babylon. It was, however, a significant choice for Bruegel. The spiral has long been a symbol of the path of the Christian, suggested by the pseudo-spirals of the labyrinths laid into the floors of Gothic Cathedrals. One understanding of the spiral is as the archetypal visual manifestation of the passage of time in terms of the cycle of the seasons, always repeating, but always progressing. The implication of medieval spirals is that the path of life that leads around and around the seasons can lead to heaven if the Christian does not stray. These shapes, the spiral and the circular labyrinth, often imply a spiritual journey. In the

11   There are only a handful of earlier Tower of Babel depictions in the Lowlands, including The Grimani Breviary, Jan van Scorel’s Tower of Babel, and Martin van Heemskerck’s “Pride” (“hooverdicheyt”) in Vicissitudes of Human Affairs.


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Figure 8.3: detail of the Vienna Tower of Babel.

paintings the spiral alludes to the path of the Christian, but it is crumbling, undermining any notion that the path on these Towers of Babel might lead to heaven. This undermining of a fixed (traditional) ideological signifier, this tension, is actually built into the very architecture of Bruegel’s giant spiral constructions. The mathematics relating to their form presents us with a reduplication of the Golden Mean, the proportion that plays a central role in creating an aesthetic composition. Identified and elevated to the realm of the mystical by Pythagoras (or so said his followers) 12 it is the mathematical basis for beautiful form both in the natural world and in the art of humankind. The Golden Mean or the Golden Section is found by the relationship of parts such that on a line with points A, B, & C, segment AC is to AB as AB is to BC, the shorter section being .618033. . . (and so on, forever) of the longer section. Any good visual artist makes use of this inherently satisfying 12

  Via Plato’s Timaeus

Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel


and dynamic proportion, whether consciously or not. Bruegel was certainly aware of this truth. In the mid-sixteenth century, artists were particularly cognizant of the idea of mathematical harmony as a necessity for beauty and even as a divinely sanctioned ideal for creating art. Many Renaissance scholars and artists, such as the Neoplatonists, even hoped for a glimpse into the mind of God through the study of mathematical harmony. Pythagoras’ notion that mathematical harmonies and relationships have a reality above and beyond their physical manifestation was part of the cosmology of the Renaissance (via Plato), informing everything from architecture to poetry. 13An understanding of the abstract mathematical structure underlying the natural world was thought to lead the Christian scholar or artist closer to beauty and thus closer to the realm of the spirit 14 The spiral, however, problematizes the Golden Mean. As early as the 13th century, the mathematician Leonardo of Pisa (called Fibonacci) was using the Golden Mean in his search for God’s harmonies in numbers, and came upon a mathematical phenomenon that has an inherent contradiction. He identified the sequence of numbers created by the famous “rabbit problem,” of reproduction at a constant rate, exemplified by a pair of rabbits having two offspring a month. How fast does each month’s population of rabbits then reproduce? The number of rabbits would produce the sequence, 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13, 21, etc., each successive number being the sum of the previous two. This numerical sequence, (the “rabbit problem”) actually contains the Golden Mean. If one of these numbers is divided by the next number in the sequence, the result is .618.  .  . (The Golden Section, called Phi) and the number becomes more and more specific the farther one progresses up the sequence. For example, dividing 89 by 144 gives us .6180, but 377 divided by 610 is .61803. As the numbers get larger, the decimal becomes longer and more exact, or at least it becomes clearer to human computation. Moreover, the Golden Mean inherent in the mathematics of the process of unchecked reproduction, and also so necessary for beauty, can be expressed in a physical geometric form. These eponymous “Fibonacci” numbers, when used geometrically as a measurement of the sides of squares, create the kind of spiral that appears so often in nature, from nebulae to nautilus shells. In a “Golden Rectangle,” by which one can find the Golden Section, if one continues to create larger rectangles of the same shape and connects the 13

  S. K. Heninger, Jr., Touches of Sweet Harmony: Pythagorean Cosmology and Renaissance Poetics (San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1974). 14   In his madrigal # 107, Michelangelo says: Gli occhi mie vaghi delle cose belle E l’alma insieme delle suo salute Non hanno altra virtute C’ascenda al ciel, che mirar tutte quelle (“My eyes desirous of beautiful things, and my soul, likewise of its salvation, have no other means to rise to heaven but to gaze at all such things.”). The Poetry of Michelangelo, trans. James M. Saslow (Binghamton: Yale Univ. Press, 1991), 23.


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Figure 8.4: a Fibonacci spiral.

same three angles on each successively larger rectangle, one creates what is called today a Fibonacci spiral (Fig. 8.4). This spiral seems to chase the Golden Mean, as it needs to continually swirl around into larger and larger “circles” in order to keep the proportion balanced. When it stops, the composition looks aborted, as indeed it is. Thus when Fibonacci began to explore the mathematics of multiplication (“The Rabbit Problem”), he described a spiral that can never be completed. In one of the ironies of the visual arts, the aesthetic harmony of the Golden Mean has in it an inherent inability to complete the harmonious structure when expressed geometrically in a Fibonacci spiral. Bruegel engages the contradictory characteristics of this mathematical form by emphasizing in a number of ways the frustration, even disharmony, inherent in nature’s spiral. This mathematical characteristic of the Golden Mean and its geometric expression, the Fibonacci spiral, is an apt form for the myth of the Tower of Babel, as Bruegel tells us in his paintings. Although in the Biblical narrative, the upward progress is stopped by the power of God, in Bruegel’s paintings the towers are stopped by the physical reality of the shape. The spiral leads upward, supposedly to heaven, but the physical centripetal spiral leads in toward a finite center, in the end a sterile endeavor leading nowhere. Then, of course, the centrifugal spiral leads down and outward, like a spinning object throwing off any loose pieces, accelerating the speed of the people leaving the Tower of Babel, suggesting their spinning away into the world. In the material world, the abstract mathematics of

Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel


the Fibonacci spiral can’t actually keep progressing to infinity, swirling into smaller and smaller or larger and larger sections, because there are physical limitations. Nevertheless, natural spiral structures such as nautili and ferns are living things, and thus have a potential for growth that at least implies a continuation of the mathematical progression. The architecture of the Tower of Babel paintings has material form but no life, so the towers cannot ever be completed, leading either up to nothing or far away from the center. They are imperfect (in both the sense of “unfinished” and “not ideal”), thus expressing a frustration of human creativity in relation to perfect mathematical harmony. In the paintings, Bruegel uses an imperfect spiral to create his Towers, in order to express the imperfection of human endeavor when trying to recreate God’s work. Bruegel certainly uses the aborted spiral form to show the impossibility of the tower plan, but moreover, Bruegel’s spirals are imperfect forms in their own right, because they not perfect Fibonacci spirals, being too small at the bottom to support the potentially enormous weight on top of them. In his Tower of Babel paintings, Bruegel undermines that very spiral form that teases us with its ever-elusive Golden Mean. The towers are not the kind of spirals that God creates in the natural world and they would not be structurally sound (at least not without steel and modern concrete). Indeed, as we have seen, they are depicted as such. The towers seem to contain thousands of little brick arches that would have to support tons more brick. Bruegel gives us a failure of the geometric expression of the Golden Mean (and thus of Neoplatonic ideals) in his crumbling, doomed, unnatural spiral. Although Bruegel would not have necessarily known the actual mathematics behind a Fibonacci spiral, as an artist he certainly would have noticed the inherent resonant beauty in these shapes, as they appear often in the natural world. Moreover, he would have had access to works on the mathematics of harmony in art. 15 Nevertheless, Bruegel seems to see in these spirals the inherent inability to reach harmony, and so exaggerates their imbalance and aborted character for his paintings. He uses a frustrated natural spiral, mathematically distorted architecture, to express the failure of the tower endeavor. On a deeper level, Bruegel also uses the inherent significance of the mathematics of a natural (Fibonacci) spiral as a description of unchecked reproduction. The rabbit, the symbol of the numerical sequence that creates the Golden Mean, was seen in the Renaissance as the incarnation of lust, and was thus the symbol of the sanguine humor (blood), an excess of which could cause the sin of improper sexual desire. As we have seen, there is an implicit understanding of sexual reproduction in the spiral, particularly in the rate of mathematical progression in a natural

15  Antwerp’s Christopher Plantin was one of the most important publishers in Europe making thousands of works available to literate Netherlanders. Leon Voet in collaboration with Jenny Voet-Grisolle, The Plantin Press (1555–1589): a bibliography of the works printed and published by Christopher Plantin at Antwerp and Leiden (Amsterdam: Van Hoeve, 1980–83).


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Fibonacci spiral, and, as a result, there was an association of this rapid reproduction with the harmony that was purported to exist in the mind of God. In the original story of the Tower of Babel, the people try to reach heaven, in essence an attempt to emulate God’s energy and design, a blasphemous act. Bruegel emphasizes the blasphemy and associates it with unchecked reproduction. In the Tower of Babel paintings, the teeming masses that swarm over the towers imply a kind of fecund carnality in this spiral form. They are an impersonal horde that suggests something animal, an anthill or a beehive. In fact, the scale is so awesome and disturbing that Bruegel seems to be saying that humans cannot and indeed should not, engage in unchecked creation. Thus the spiral as an emblem of both God’s creativity and the spiritual journey is undermined. Instead, the spiral here suggests disintegration and futility in the fecundity, in the attempt to emulate God’s unlimited procreation. As a consequence, Bruegel’s Towers describe a Mannerist anxiety in the cosmic scale of the spirals, the swarms of maniacally focused workers, and the inherent imperfection and instability of the forms, rather than suggesting any kind of Classical Renaissance assurance for which an earlier Neoplatonist architect or painter would have aimed. The anxiety that is associated with this mathematical form is expressed in a less abstract and more tangible way by the emphasis on the working of the earth. As the paintings pull us into the towers, Bruegel makes us look so carefully at those thousands of tiny workers and their multitude of tasks that we can mark their movements, and we can’t help but enter the giant hives of activity. As we follow their actions we realize that the work they do seems not to be fruitful. There are a number of irrational aspects to these construction projects. The bottom tiers are not finished in parts and are crumbling away in others. The passageways and ramps seem to make no sense. Particularly in the Vienna Tower, there is no way the horses and wagons that appear on the top tiers could have climbed so high, as many parts of the ramps are unfinished or blocked. Many of the figures on the outside are using ladders to climb to the next level, although there do seem to be some inner stairways. Are there inner ramps? In neither tower is the construction progressing in any kind of methodical manner, and, in fact, seems almost demented in its maniacal swarming busyness. As we follow the thousands of tiny figures in and out of the monstrous mound of earth, we can feel the incarnation of their failure, the imbalance of the “rabbit problem” of unchecked reproduction as more and more people create a higher and higher tower. We feel their excess of the sanguine humor, even perhaps as the source of their excess of hubris. 16 As we accompany the countless human beings in their piling up of bricks, their digging and hoisting of

16   As mentioned above, both Pride and Lust were associated with physical desire. Pride was understood as amor propre instead of amor dei. An arrogant person is still described as “swollen with Pride.” Even the English expression “cock-o-the-walk” implies an association between the strutting walk of a rooster and the upright male member.

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earth, it seems that there are too many of them and that they are obsessed. In the Vienna Tower, they burrow and dig into a large mountain on which the structure seems to be built. They must have been digging and piling like this for centuries, never looking up, just turning earth into a spiral tower. There are even little gardens that some people have created for their makeshift dwellings under the arches. This marked contrast between the people’s obsession with the working of the dirt and their intended destination, heaven, is more than ironic. The means contradict the telos, and this notion is so strongly emphasized by Bruegel that the toiling mass of humanity seems distinctly of the earth and its flesh, not of the realm of the spirit. The importance of the spiritual journey in Christian mythopoesis is here even more firmly obviated. In Neo-Platonic philosophy, there is a progression up to the Godhead that places the flesh at the bottom of the ladder and then assumes that as one becomes closer to God, one sheds the physical for the spiritual. Sexuality is associated with a separation from the realm of the spirit, from God. 17 The teeming fecundity of the Tower paintings implies this separation. Moreover, the combining of a tower and a spiral form in the two Towers is actually an archetypal sexual image. Indeed, the flesh as opposed to the spirit is a dichotomy inherent in the myth of the Tower of Babel, particularly as explored by Bruegel in these two works. 18 The failure to reach heaven is illustrated in the myth by a tower form. This physical structure thrusting upward, trying to reach some destination is obviously sexual. The tower is thus a masculine symbol, as a spiral is associated with the feminine, with its cyclical nature and its roundness leading to a center. Bruegel’s wedding together of these archetypes gives his works a sexual presence and supports our recognition of the “sanguine” nature of the towers and their depiction of unchecked creation. These archetypal images suggestive of both sexuality and (attempted) spiritual transcendence are not unique to Bruegel’s Tower of Babel paintings. Indeed, a 17   Marsilio Ficino, Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love, trans. Sears Jayne (Dallas: Spring Publications, Inc., 1985), Speech VI, Chapter 18. p. 141–44.   Marsilio Ficino, in his Commentary on Plato’s Symposium, also called just De amore, explains Plato’s understanding of love and spiritual levels in terms of Christian theology. Influenced by Plotinus, the 3rd century Neoplatonist, Ficino inspired the Christian Neoplatonism of the Medici Court. 18   Tower images associated with human desire to leave the bounds of earth are certainly universal. In some 16th and 17th century tarot images of the tower (called the “maison de dieu”), there is a figure falling from a toppling tower, the human failing to attain the heights of heaven, failing to achieve transcendence (both spiritual and physical). These tarot images are not meant to be the Tower of Babel per se, but they certainly suggest it and other failed ascents. There is something particularly archetypal about the image of the toppling tower and the human falling. Kandinsky used it as one of his apocalyptic images, particularly in his works before the nearapocalypse of August, 1914. Indeed, the fact that it was towers that fell on September 11th, 2001, and not another kind of building, makes it somehow more tragically resonant for us.


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Figure 8.5: The Way to Calvary, 1564. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

number of his paintings have both cyclical compositions and tower-like images, all contributing to the impact of the works, and imparting different kinds of carnal meaning. 19 The composition of The Way to Calvary (Fig. 8.5) is one huge spiral with the strange vertical rock formation as its center. Around the phallic central rock the people seem to make their way to Golgotha, and from there, on to Jerusalem in the distance, around again to the Holy Mourners in the front, and then away into the world. At the top of the tower-like rock stands a vaguely anthropomorphic windmill turning on its tilted axis, its arms like a cross standing much higher and more visible than the crosses on the distant Golgotha. The cycling image is repeated in the death wheel (gerecht) in the right foreground, implying, not only death following life, but life coming back around again, rebirth, and not just spiritual rebirth, but also an implied physical generation. So although there are no overt sexual acts in The Way to Calvary, the towering rock and the spiral composition 19

  Luilekkerland (Lusciousland or The Land of Cockaigne) also combines the tower and the cycle. It has a circular shape around a tree with the three sleeping men as spokes of the wheel, one figure with his codpiece half open and another with a phallic flail under him, in case the viewer misses the sexual allusion, the allusion to the flesh. Thus the indulgence of the senses inherent in this archetypal folktale is emphasized by the unity of tower and cycle.

Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel


suggest not only the rebirth of the Resurrection, but they also suggest procreation, and therefore emphasize the worldly, earthy crowd making their way through the mud, and ignoring Christ in the very center of the painting. Thus the semiotics of the geometric shapes is an inherent part of the meaning of the work, facilitating the inversion of the composition. It is striking that the many towers and cycles in this and other of Bruegel’s works recall Antwerp’s yearly Ommegang at the Festival of the Circumcision. The townspeople, and no doubt Bruegel himself, walked around and around the city walls every January 1st, holding high the holy relic of the Cathedral of Our Lady, the foreskin of Jesus, an actual piece of the sexual flesh of God the Son. It is as if Bruegel internalized Antwerp’s archetypal ritual of male and female with its connection between the flesh and the spirit, and used them in his paintings. In fact, in the Vienna Tower, there is a pinkish inner tower rising up out of the spiral of the outer structure, an inner tower that suggests a phallus emerging from a foreskin. Thus, in both the iconography and the formal elements in the Tower of Babel paintings, humanity is depicted as trapped in the realm of the earthly, of the flesh, not the spirit, and is striving for heaven on a futile path. In Bruegel’s world, the harmony of the spheres pursued by the Pythagorian Neo-Platonists does not translate into spiritual harmony on earth, either in terms of form or spirit. As we have seen, Bruegel seems to envision the Tower of Babel as an image that speaks to the struggles of his particular time, of the ideals and the failures. An even more obvious allusion for a sixteenth century viewer might elude us, namely that the shape of the towers and their cosmic scale suggests the giant tiered tower of Purgatory as described by Dante in the Purgatorio. Dante’s very specific imagining of this place of cleansing in hope of entering Paradise had become the image of Purgatory to Europeans by the 1560’s. 20 During the two hundred and fifty years since Dante’s very tangible description, the tower of Purgatory had been thought to exist outside the gates of Hercules (thus in the Atlantic Ocean) on a giant mountain 21, at the exact antipodes of Jerusalem. In other words, Purgatory was a very specific, very real place on the earth. It had, said Dante, seven levels plus the bottom “pre-Purgatory” levels. The bottom tier was for sinners suffering from Pride, and on up, sin by deadly sin, until one reached the top tier, which was for those who 20

  Robert Hollander states, in the introduction to his translation of Purgatorio, (New York: Doubleday, 2003), xxv: “. . . this lone poet’s imagination of what this place must look like and how it functions simply became the standard source of information about purgation for many who thought of it after. Purgatory has many creators; its definitive shape, as most ordinary Christians came to think of it, is essentially Dantean.” 21   Simon Schama explains (Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995) 433) that mountains were understood as both spiritual and hellish places for later Renaissance Christians: “The sixteenth-century humanist vision, from the heights, of an intelligible, harmonized universe has been superseded yet again, by the more histrionic view up from the dale where expendable man is trapped between the horrid crag and the rock of faith.”


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had been overcome by the throes of Lust. The Vienna Tower has seven finished tiers and an inner form emerging from its outer casing. The Rotterdam Tower has a top tier that glows red with the color flowing down its sides, further suggesting blood, the humor of lust. More obviously, blood is, of course, also a symbol of violence. In the new theology of the Calvinists and Anabaptists, there was no Purgatory, and this theological disagreement was one of the more emotional conflicts in the Reformation. Simon Fish in England had even posited the belief in Purgatory as the source of all the economic misery in his early 16th century society 22, because of the corruption of the clergy as a result of their supposed power to help the suffering souls in Purgatory. As the existence of Purgatory was fiercely debated, all sides in the Reformation schisms must have wondered about the fate of their deceased loved-ones. Bruegel does not try to take sides in the violent conflict, but he presents the seven-tiered towers with such a tangible detailed specificity that Purgatory is suggested, with all that it entailed: sins revealed, (here particularly Pride and Lust), yearning for salvation, pain and confusion of separation from God, and Reformation conflicts. His visual association of the Tower of Babel with the controversial idea of Purgatory, once again bespeaks a criticism of the fixed polemic, and in fact suggests the folly, even the danger, of such assurance of the rightness of one’s beliefs. The new “God’s eye view” of many Northern Renaissance artists, from Patinier to Altdorfer, and of course Bruegel, looks down at the path of life, its cycles, and the busy foolish actions of all the teeming masses. However, more than just wimmelbilder, Bruegel’s Tower of Babel paintings are also a function of the earlier Renaissance belief in Pythagorean cosmology and in harmonic proportions as an insight into the mind of God. The iconography suggests the harmonies, but then uses this belief to depict disharmony. Bruegel’s works reflect a waning of faith in these Neoplatonic ideals by the 1560’s. He made his structures of the earth and its human actors, even suggesting sexuality in the spiral around the tower, in the blood red glow, and in the unchecked reproduction amid the archetypal forms, thereby emphasizing the failure of the Neoplatonic progression from earth to the realm of the spirit. The “golden section” that held such promise as a window into the mind of God, is here depicted as the failed experiment of these spiral shaped towers, towers that seem paradoxically rooted in the earth and that have disharmony built into their very form. The ideals of the High Renaissance were giving way to the Reformation and Counter-reformation conflicts, and, in the visual arts, the harmony of mathematical proportion was morphing into the anxious formal distortions of Mannerism.

22  For discussion of Simon Fish, “A Supplication for the Beggars” (1529), addressed to Henry VIII, see Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel


Alluding here to the anxiety always inherent in (and a cause of) rapid cultural change, the Tower of Babel story is emblematic of the power of language itself, at this time when the many Bibles printed in the vulgates of Europe were threatening the unity of the Catholic Church, and the Protestant preachers were stirring dissent. However, Bruegel did not create works with any overt political or religious point of view. Instead we see allusions to the complexities that undermine ideological master narratives. These allusions are, however, much more than Bruegel engaging in political commentary. He uses the very notion of disharmony to augment the power of the works. There is an implicit but powerful tension in the paintings between Bruegel’s aesthetic, which offers the possibility of harmony in works of art, and his revelation of the disharmony in the frustrated human endeavor to reach heaven, exemplified by the Tower of Babel. In the Tower of Babel paintings, the climb from Earth up to Heaven emphatically fails to reach the realm of the spirit, and Bruegel amplifies this failure by denying the viewer any safe harbor of ideological assumption, even suggesting the disquieting notion of Purgatory. The iconography of the towers, particularly that associated with the spiral and its inherent inability to reach its conclusion, undermines in many ways the rigid and contentious ideologies of his contemporaries. In the two paintings, the Tower of Babel, traditionally a symbol of Pride punished, becomes in Bruegel’s vision a disturbing maniacal world unto itself, dominated by this spiral form, with its rich semiotic allusions, here emblematic of, among other things, the political and religious situation spinning out of control, the people in the former “Catholic” Church dispersing, and, above all, a belief in a Neoplatonic ideal harmony of form and spirit disintegrating into the earthbound empirical specificity of the Baroque.

Inhuman Rage: Linguistic Apocalypse in a Sixteenth-Century Huguenot Poetic Commemoration of the Sack of Lyon Evan J. Bibbee When talking about the French Wars of Religion, it has become commonplace to divide the decades-long series of hostilities into more or less distinct phases, usually by referencing a specific attack or battle such as the Massacre of Wassy as a starting point and a treaty such as the Edict of Amboise as its end. 1 This is a convenient yet potentially specious convention, as it tends to draw attention away from other less overtly shocking but nonetheless significant events that took place during the same historical period. In the case of the first War of Religion, there were numerous civic disturbances that began as early as 1560 in La Rochelle and Rouen and spread to a number of other cities over the following three years. Indeed, in many parts of France — especially near its western and eastern borders, as well as in a fairly substantial swath to the south of Lyon — the Reformation took very strong hold, the tenets of this new faith appealing to members from a wide range of social classes. Although clearly fewer in number than their Catholic adversaries, these converts had more than enough resolve and plenty of reasons to seek retaliation for a long list of injustices. In the vast majority of cases, these local disturbances resulted in few deaths, as most of the anger was directed toward the physical evidence of what the Huguenots saw as Catholicism’s inherent obsession with idolatry. In Lyon, one such Protestant uprising on 30 April 1562 resulted in a complete takeover of the city. Aided by the somewhat notorious François de Beaumont, Baron des Adrets, the rioters carried out a rather comprehensive iconoclastic 1   These two events, spanning the years 1562–1563, are considered to constitute the first French War of Religion. It is also interesting to note that Catholics did not have a monopoly on gratuitous violence during these wars, but there is relatively little mention of the 1567 massacre of Catholic clergy and laymen in Nîmes.

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 131–143.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117184


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cleansing of churches and other public spaces before establishing a council that would govern the city until shortly after the promulgation of the Edict of Amboise in 1563. By one (Catholic) account, the destruction was so complete that none of the churches even looked like churches anymore. 2 Like La Rochelle and other provincial cities where such riots took place, Lyon was a significant, if secondary, center of religious activity in France. In addition to several churches, the city hosted a very active and fervent group of canons who were said to have antagonized those of the reformed faith by conspiring to drive them out of the city in order to alienate them and perhaps even to facilitate their massacre. 3 Lyon was also a considerable player in the national economy, serving as a regional center for commerce within and without French borders. Apart from these attributes shared with other targets of the Huguenots’ zealous disdain, Lyon might be said to have had some unique factors that made its occupation, now commonly referred to as the “Sack of Lyon,” a more singular event and an important symbolic victory. First, Lyon had, since the time of the Roman Empire, played the role of political capital and economic center. As such, the city can also be seen as a cultural conduit to Rome and Roman civilization on Gallic soil, reinforcing its connection to other cultural traditions, including Catholicism’s of religious iconography and celebration of visual signs and structures. Second, it benefitted from a very active — and to a large extent Protestant — printing industry that helped to disseminate and popularize many of the Huguenot beliefs and political positions, both within and without Lyon. There were in fact a number of texts composed to celebrate this political, military, and ideological victory for the Protestants, including poems, plays, and rhetorical essays. 4 The current study will examine the connections between apocalyptic imagery and Protestant iconoclasm in one such publication. In his book Hatred in Print, Luc Racaut explores how Catholics’ skillful use of printed tracts helped them to turn popular opinion in sixteenth-century France against the Huguenots. 5 It was, of course, this same medium that made widespread dissemination of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses possible, first in Germany, then throughout Renaissance Europe. German reformers and counter-reformers alike quickly recognized the rhetorical impact of mass-produced sermons, theological essays, and political satire. However, compared to their Germanic counterparts,   Gabriel de Saconay, Discours des premiers troubles advenus à Lyon, avec l’apologie pour la ville de Lyon, contre le libelle faucement intitulé, La Juste & saincte defence de la ville de Lyon (Lyon, 1569), 137. Saconay even goes so far as to suggest that the Huguenot looters took baptismal fonts home with them to use as toilets (chaires percées). 3   For more on this accusation, see the text targeted by Saconay: La Juste et saincte defence de la ville de Lyon (Lyon, 1563). 4   For some examples of satirical compositions composed on the occasion of the Sack of Lyon, see E.P.C., Le piteux remuement des moines, prestres et nonains de Lion (1562). 5   Luc Racaut, Hatred in Print: Catholic Propaganda and Protestant Identity during the French Wars of Religion (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002). 2

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French Protestants had less access to printing presses, and their availability was to become even more scarce following the Affaire des Placards in October 1532. 6 Nonetheless, clandestine publications continued to be produced alongside those authorized by the Crown, both within the country and outside its borders in Protestant-friendly cities such as Geneva and Basel. Throughout the sixteenth century, the vast majority of active presses in France were located in one of two cities: Paris, where production favored highly specialized and more ornate volumes (i.e., books of hours); or Lyon, which, if not on par with Paris in terms of quantity, is generally recognized as having produced texts of equal quality. 7 From complex volumes of illustrated material to simple pamphlets and tracts and nearly everything in between, the success of Lyon’s printing trade and the technical skill of its artisans were, as Dylan Reid notes, the envy of other provincial cities like Rouen. 8 In fact, by mid-century, the former Lugdunum was home to more than 100 printers, some of whom chose to relocate there from the capital in an attempt to avoid increased scrutiny and censorship of their work. 9 Moreover, in a city in which it is estimated that at least one-third of the total population had converted to Protestantism, many in the printing industry were clearly sympathetic to Reformation ideology or, at the very least, more interested in the amount of livres in their purse than the theological content of the books coming out of their studios. In such a crowded and presumably competitive marketplace, 10 it is thus not terribly surprising that the anonymous author of the poem “La Fatale mutation lyonnoise” was able to find a printer willing to accept his order, despite its

6   Angering an otherwise conciliatory François I, this organized public assault on the Catholic liturgy prompted the king — in addition to calling for the arrest and execution of the perpetrators and their leaders, John Calvin included — to outlaw any unauthorized printing and sale of texts soon thereafter. 7   Evidence of the technical refinement and commercial success of Lyon’s printers includes production of a number of very ornate illustrated editions of classical and contemporary texts such as La métamorphose d’Ovide figurée, by J. de Tournes (Lyon, 1557), ark:/12148/bpt6k71516d. See Natalie Zemon Davis, “Le monde de l’imprimerie humaniste: Lyon,” in Roger Chartier and Henri-Jean Martin, Histoire de l’édition française, vol. 1: Le Livre conquérant. Du moyen âge au milieu du XVIIe siècle (Paris: Promodis, 1983), 255–77. 8   Dylan Reid, “Renaissance Printing and Provincial Culture in Sixteenth-Century Rouen,” University of Toronto Quarterly 71, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 1011–19. 9   Natalie Zemon Davis, “Holbein’s Pictures of Death and the Reformation at Lyons,” Studies in the Renaissance 3 (1956): 97–130. 10   In addition to its rather significant number of local printers and booksellers, sixteenthcentury Lyon was, as Philip Conner has outlined, an important commercial hub between the great printing centers of Switzerland to the north and Protestant strongholds such as Montauban and Nîmes in southern France. See Philip Conner, “A Provincial Perspective: Protestant Print Culture in Southern France,” in The Sixteenth-Century French Religious Book, ed. Philip Conner, Paul Nelles, and Andrew Pettegree (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), 286–302.


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controversial nature and confrontational tone. 11 Furthermore, it would not have been a very technically demanding project (relatively speaking at least) to complete typesetting and printing for the 114 decasyllabic verses of rhyming couplets that fill but six folios. Such brevity may be explained, at least in part, by the probable urgency with which it was written: like many other examples of Huguenot poetry composed during the French Wars of Religion, this poem was likely published no more than a few months after the event in question. 12 But while the simplistic style and rough vocabulary of some Protestant poems bespeak their hasty creation, 13 the same cannot really be said of “La Fatale mutation lyonnoise.” Despite its relative succinctness, straightforward poetic structure, and an unostentatious mise-en-page, the poem manages — thanks in large part to a striking use of linguistic imagery, clever secondary references, and internal wordplay — to make quite a memorable impression on its reader. Awash in allusions to symbols and events with close ties to apocalyptic predictions found in the Book of Revelation, the poem not only serves as a stylized account of the Calvinist occupation and pillaging of Lyon but also as a poetic re-enactment of and justification for the iconoclastic fury of those involved in the sack. Looking at its title, it is not immediately clear to what type of change (mutation) the poet is referring. What is evident, however, is where the transformation will take place, as well as the sentiment that it is in one way or another inescapable (fatale). Of course it would be easy to write off this self-assured wording as a mark of the composition’s commemorative function. Ironically, the poet leaves very little to fate, appending a carefully selected passage from the Gospel of Luke (1:51–52) to the first folio, just below the title: Il ha desconfit les orgueilleux en la pensée de leur cueur. Il a mis ius les puissans de leurs sieges et ha eslevé les petits. [He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.]

  “La Fatale mutation lyonnaise,” in Carl Wilhelm Adolph Schmidt, Poésies Huguenotes du seizième siècle (Strasbourg: Librairie Académique de C.F. Schmidt, 1882), 19–24. The same was true throughout France. While Luther’s teachings were known and respected by French Protestants (Huguenots), Calvinism, perhaps due to the geographical proximity of Geneva or linguistic affinities, had a much wider reach. 12   At any rate, the publisher’s mark bears the year 1562, leaving at the most a seven-month span. 13   Jacques Pineaux, “Poésies protestantes au XVIe siècle après la Saint-Barthélémy,” Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France 73, no. 5 (1973): 794–803. 11

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In this light, the word fatale and, indeed, the entire title take on another, much graver, hue. While not part of the official biblical account of the Apocalypse, the similarities between these verses and some of those in the Book of Revelation — and, in fact, elsewhere in Scripture — are difficult to ignore. Take, for instance, Revelation 21:6 in which the faithful are promised “water from the spring of life” while any unbelievers (murderers, sorcerers, and idolaters are mentioned, among others) will be thrown into “the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” The mutation in question, then, does not concern a single person or even group of people but, rather, the entire social order; it describes a coming upheaval that will reward those of lower standing (les petits) and strip the privileged (les puissans) of their undeserved wealth and power. This power, however, is an intoxicating substance and one that the faithful should be wary to not abuse. Such would seem to be the logic behind a strophe from Théodore de Bèze’s version of Psalm 73, one of the writers whose name has been advanced as a possible source of “Fatale mutation”: Leur bouche entreprend bien d’aller Jusqu’au ciel pour en parler Leur langue fausse et vilaine, Par tout le monde se pourmaine, Et les enfants de Dieu pourtant Reviennent toujours à ceci, En le voyant verser ainsi L’eau d’angoisse à boire d’autant. 14 [They set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue walketh through the earth. Therefore his people return hither; And waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.]

Whereas the full rhetorical significance of this excerpt could be lost on a casual reader today, the poet’s contemporaries would assuredly have been much more attuned to the reference and thus would have recognized it for the very grave cautionary note that it is. For the source of this decidedly unrefreshing drink is none other than the idolaters, referred to just a few verses earlier in the psalm as “those who try to reach heaven with their mouths.” They attempt, in other words, to speak for God, transforming by association any who drink of their words into idolaters themselves. Given that his poem celebrates an event predicated on the abhorrence and elimination of a visual superfluity to which Psalm 73 so clearly alludes, our poet is confronted with something of a representational dilemma. It is, in fact, a similar sort of   Théodore de Bèze, Psaumes mis en vers français (1551–1562): accompagnés de la version en prose de Loïs Budé (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1984), 121–24. 14


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double-bind that faced a great many Reformation artists, including, no doubt, the equally anonymous painter of Le Sac de Lyon, a visual depiction of this same Protestant triumph. 15 Long assumed to be the work of Antoine Caron, a Renaissance artist whose portfolio includes at least one very similarly executed work, art historians are now divided on its origins. 16 But if the painter’s identity remains uncertain, the canvas’s subject is not: church statues, linens, and other symbolic regalia are carted off, smashed, and sold in what has all the trappings of a early modern vide-grenier, or garage sale. 17 Whether hoisted over the shoulders of children, piled haphazardly onto a horse cart, or, as is depicted in the top center of the canvas, thrown onto a raging bonfire, these icons and other Catholic accouterments are subjected to a dual denigration that compromises both their structural integrity and symbolic value. Without being able to say whether he ever saw this particular painting, some of Calvin’s writings suggest that he may have — albeit grudgingly — approved of it. Indeed, its subject matter and technical style would seem to satisfy the Protestant leader’s most important standard for artistic creations to be deemed as something other than frivolous: Visual representations are of two classes — viz., historical, which give a representation of events, and pictoral, which merely exhibit bodily shapes and figures. The former are of some use for instruction or admonition. The latter, so far as I can see, are only fitted for amusement. 18

Similar to Augustine before him, Calvin lays blame not on the artist per se but, rather, on the undesirable ends to which the medium is sometimes put by those with less than pious ambitions. 19 Thus painting, sculpture, and, presumably, other types of artistic expression such as poetry can be tolerated and even useful in an iconoclastic culture so long as they do not celebrate the beauty of the artist’s creation over that of the Creator and provided that they do not harm their audience

15   Le Sac de Lyon par les Calvinistes en 1562, Oil on wood, http://www.gadagne.musees.lyon. fr/index.php/histoire_fr/Histoire/Collections/Oeuvres-choisies/Peinture, accessed 6 December 2013. 16   Massacres at the Triumvirate bears a number of similarities to the Sack of Lyon, including its specific use of perspective and the dispersal of figures within the scene. 17   In fact, whenever I look at this painting I find it hard not to think of the group in the foreground, each clutching some sort of religious curio as they wind their way through the city streets, as participants in a very early Antiques Roadshow. 18   Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (I:11.12), trans. Henry Beveridge (Lexington, KY: Pacific Publishing Studio, 2011, 2014). 19   This is, of course, the same reasoning found at the core of Reformation criticisms of Catholic liturgy and illicit clerical activities.

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with what Calvin calls “unbecoming representations,” an expression that brings to mind one of the criticisms leveled against poets in Plato’s Republic: 20 The only things, therefore, which ought to be painted or sculptured, are things which can be presented to the eye; the majesty of God, which is far beyond the reach of any eye, must not be dishonored by unbecoming representations. 21

In fact, similar concerns about the acceptable limits for poetic representation and the importance of elevating function over formal concerns were voiced by contemporaries of our anonymous poet. As Sara K. Barker explains in her excellent study Protestantism, Poetry and Protest, once Protestant ideology had begun to evolve and mature, it started to find sympathetic ears in more affluent and educated sectors of the population. 22 Among these one finds poetic partisans such as Antoine de Chandieu, the focus of Barker’s volume and a Protestant poet who took special care to defend this artistic form as a viable weapon in the Reformation’s rhetorical arsenal: Car qui use du vers à chanter sainctement, Il enrichit son or d’un riche diament. Mais le Poëte fol qui par le vers qu’il chante Verse dans nostre aureille une chose meschante, Il corrompt la bonté du vin délicieux, Y meslant du venin le mal pernicieux. 23 [For he who uses verse to sing sacred songs Enriches his gold with a rich diamond But the foolish poet who with the verses he sings Pours into our ear an evil thought, Corrupts the great bounty of delicious wine By mixing in venom of pernicious hatred.]

Recalling the “precious vessels” of Saint Augustine’s Confessions 24 with his clever series of oenological references, Chandieu makes it clear that only those lacking in 20   Plato’s discussion of poetry and rhetoric may be found in books II, III, and X of the Republic. 21  Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (I:11.12), trans. Beveridge. 22   Sara K. Barker, Protestantism, Poetry and Protest: The Vernacular Writings of Antoine de Chandieu (c. 1534–1591) (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 124. 23   Antoine de Chandieu, “Response aux Calomnies,” 11.39–44, in Barker, Protestantism, Poetry and Protest, 144. 24   In the first book of Confessions, Augustine states that it is not words themselves but their unscrupulous use — a wine of error poured into otherwise precious linguistic vessels — that can lead one away from God (I.16.26). Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Confessions and Enchiridion, trans. Albert C. Outler (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2000), 25.


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self-control or mental sanity (Poëte fol) would poison their versification and thus corrupt an audience. The task that the poet of “La Fatale mutation lyonnoise” has set for himself is thus a rhetorically delicate and, to some degree, foolhardy one: to create a poem that documents the spiritual decadence and depravity against which Protestant iconoclasts were fighting, without falling into a similar trap. And, if one were to take certain lines from his work out of their poetic context, this might well appear to have happened. Lines 19–29, for instance, present a compendium of natural and mythological horrors that springs forth from the zoomorphic Lyon. Ultimately, however, such hyperbolic and grotesque images are not merely gratuitous. In fact, I would suggest that the poet uses these and other similarly disturbing passages in the early lines of his text to facilitate their later dismantling and, ultimately, the creation of a new and different model of poetic representation that strives to incorporate the iconoclastic restrictions of the Reformation. Given the city about which he is writing, it is not surprising that the poet chose to portray the villainous behavior of its Catholic majority as an overproud and vicious lion who has terrorized the populace: Lyon, Lyon, plein de rage inhumaine, De cruauté, et fierté trop hautaine, Qu’est devenu ton geste audacieux, Et le sourcil de tes superbes yeux ? Où sont les dents de ta gorge sanglante, Et ta grand’langue hideuse et flamboyante, Qu’as tant de fois plongée au sang humain, Comme t’avoit appris ce loup romain.

(ll. 1–8)

[Lyon, Lyon full of inhuman rage Of cruelty, and overly haughty pride What happened to your audacious lineage And eyebrows of your superb eyes Where are the teeth of your bloody throat And your great tongue, so hideous and flamboyant, That has lapped up human blood so many times Just as that Roman wolf had taught you to do.]

Blurring the lines between the human and animal worlds, the lion’s deceptively pleasing and “superb eyes” (superbes yeux, l. 4) recall the enthralling yet damning allure of the “eau d’angoisse” mentioned in Psalm 73. At the same time, however, the poet suggests that, unlike the treacherous puissans, the beast Lyon is not entirely to blame for its deplorable behavior. Rather, it is, at least to some extent, a product of its unconventional childhood, suckled as it were on both the political and cultural breasts of mother Rome. Thus, when the poet’s “gracious God” (Dieu debonnnaire, l. 12) cuts open the enraged beast, it is not so much entrails or other


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bodily organs that spill out but, rather, all the internalized symbolic traces of its idolatrous upbringing: Et maint grand monstre horrible et redoutable Comme Python, Chimere espouvantable, Hidra difforme (à voir beste hideuse), Et Cerberus, Meduse dangereuse, Le Gerion, et Centaures terribles: Bref, hors de toy sont vermines horribles.

(ll. 25–30)

[And so many horrible and fearsome monsters Like Python, disgusting Chimera, Deformed Hydra (a hideous beast to behold), And Cerebus, dangerous Medusa The Geryon, and terrible Centaurs: In short, from you spring forth horrible vermin.]

Among the strangest and most disturbing of mythology, this rather diverse assemblage of monstrous beings nonetheless shares one significant attribute; their deceptive and confusing physical appearance. Whether equipped with several heads, various body parts from several different beings, or some other equally strange feature, all symbolize the fraudulent and potentially harmful spiritual effects of believing in such “unbecoming representations.” 25 In fact, despite the rather fearful portrait painted of it at the beginning of the poem, our lion/Lyon is, it turns out, something of a victim: Qui t’ont tenu en rage et felonnie, Si que faisois au corps trembler la vie De tout fidele, et de tous ceux en somme Qui cheminoyent aux droitz sentiers de l’homme.

(ll. 31–34)

[Who held you in rage and felony Such that you made the body and life Of every believer tremble, of all those in short Who followed the straight paths of man.]

Even if the lion has been duped into this aggressive and xenophobic behavior, it is, it would seem, guilty of the most blatant persecution of those who would affirm their faith in anything other than the duplicitous, corrupt signs that issue forth from its hideously flamboyant tongue. The poet further emphasizes the significance of this linguistic trickery by associating it with yet another physically ambiguous and merciless mythological creature:   See supra page 139 and note 20.



evan j. bibbee Fort bien savois le Sphinge contrefaire Caut et cruel, qui souloit ceux deffaire Lesquelz n’estoyent de sa demande instruitz.

(ll. 35–37)

[You knew quite well how to imitate the Sphinx Cautious and cruel, you enjoyed tricking those Who were not forewarned of its riddle.]

Turning the biblical imagery of Revelation on its head, it is now those who should have been saved (the faithful) who find themselves in a linguistic trap that leads to their fiery demise: Et s’ilz vouloyent confesser sans feintise Un seul vray Dieu, seul vray chef de l’Eglise, Alors soudain tes grandes pattes et dents Plongeoyent leur corps aux charbons tous ardents.

(ll. 49–52)

[And if they wanted to truthfully acknowledge One true God, the sole true head of the Church, Then suddenly your great paws and teeth Plunged their bodies into the fiery embers.]

What one finds in the first half of this poem is thus an apocalyptic vision, but one that has gone quite wrong, a scene in which the leading actors seem to have surreptitiously exchanged roles, leaving the reader with a disturbing sense of false familiarity, a spiritual world that is upside down. 26 In the second half of the poem, then, the poet is faced with the task of unraveling the confused tangle of grotesque and profane references that have to this point fueled his poetic language, to put his poem on the straight paths of man, as it were. The first step is to take any measure of freedom away from the beast: Or tu es prins, Lyon le furieux Desia, desia sont abaissez tes yeux.

(ll. 59–60)

[But now you are captured, Lyon the furious Already, already your eyes are lowered.]

Freed from the spell of its mythological origins, the lion’s haughty pride has seemingly turned to shame, its treacherous gaze now turned away from the gaze of its human captor. Seemingly helpless, the once formidable lion is now at the mercy of man, and the poet embarks on something of a poetic purification that renders its 26   The idea of the “world upside down” is of course a literary commonplace that carried over from classical and medieval literature. Cf. Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 94–98.


Inhuman Rage

most terrifying features harmless, a linguistic mutatio achieved through the artful use of rhyming pairs: Tes yeux iadis pleins de crudelité Ores sont ceux de tout humanité Ta gorge saffre et tes dents devorantes Sont maintenant moulses et innoncentes; Tes pattes sout douces et gracieuses, Qui tant estoyent rudes et dangereuses; Ta voix aussi, horrible et rugissante, Louange à Dieu gracieusement chante.

(ll. 61–68, emphasis mine)

[Your eyes that were filled with credulity Now are those of complete humanity Your gluttonous throat and your ravenous teeth Are now lax and innocent; Your paws are soft and kind, That were before so rough and dangerous; Your voice, too, horrible and snarling, Sings gracious praises to God.]

Similarly, the genetically confused vermin that crawled and slithered out of the lion’s parted belly, many of which blurred the lines between the animal and man, are here replaced by the much more mundane “all other animals” (tous autres animaux, l. 69) and “birds” (oyseaux, l. 77) or “fish” (poissons, l. 80). Interestingly, once the lion has been defeated and emptied of its demons, it is not condemned to the fires described in Revelation but instead retains something of a privileged status, with the poet even referring to it as the “master” (maistre, l. 73) of the other animals. Paradoxically, it is at this same moment in the poem that the lion ceases to have characteristics that the poet qualifies as “inhuman” and instead becomes humain: Et delaissez les plaisantes campaignes, Pour venir voir le Lyon vostre maistre, Qui est rangé, et qui ne veut plus estre Revesche, faux, ny cruel nullement, Mais gracieux, humain, doux et clement.

(ll. 72–76)

[And leave your pleasant countrysides, To come and see Lyon your master, Who is now orderly and no longer wishes to be Deceitful, false, nor cruel at all, But gracious, humane, sweet and merciful.]

However, the poet soon realizes that even this more pleasant and harmonious version of the Lion violates what he has himself established in the second half of his


evan j. bibbee

text as a rather strict separation of the worlds of men and animals. In other words, it is not sufficient for the lion’s voice to be gracious and sing praises to God, for even this intimates a crossing of the animal into the human world, a disturbance of the natural order that is akin to idolatry: Mais quoy! cela est hors d’intelligence, Hors de propos et toute connoissance, De parler cy à une beste brute; Non, non, cela n’est le blanc ny la butte.

(ll. 83–86)

[What is this? This is against all instruction, Against all logic and knowledge, Speaking in this way to a mere beast; No, no this is completely off the mark.]

Perhaps saving himself from drinking too much linguistic eau d’angoisse, the poet thus eliminates the last remnant of a symbolic connection between human and animal life in his poem, and from this point forward he will address not Lyon the lion, but simply Lyon the city. Ethnocentricity notwithstanding, the passage in question serves to call the audience’s attention to the only “acceptable” way in which to look at the imagery of the first half of the poem and the depraved religious behavior that it tries to portray. The docile animals that were encouraged to “come see Lyon your master” (Pour venir voir Lyon vostre maistre) are now themselves replaced by the human world, whose members are exhorted to follow the good example of a newly chaste Lyon: Oyez, oyez, peuples et nations, Les saints edictz et proclamations De l’Eternel: laissez voz vieilles peaux, Villes, cités, bourgades et chasteaux, Prenez exemple à vostre grand maistresse, Qui maintenant loue son Dieu sans cesse D’avoir chassé tant de bigotterie, Et ietté hors toute idolatrerie. [Hear ye, hear ye, people and nations, The saintly edicts and proclamations Of the Eternal; Cast off your old skins, Cities, towns, villages and castles, Follow the example of your great mistress, Who now praises god without rest Having chased away so much bigotry, And cast out all idolatry.]

(ll. 99–106, emphasis mine)


Inhuman Rage

The masculine (maistre) lion replaced by a feminized city (maistresse) Lyon, a representational circle would now seem to be closed, with Lyon symbolically submitting to the poetic and divine power that is beyond its control. This would also explain the poet’s insertion of a very pointed reference to what is likely the clearest and most recognizable symbol of linguistic excess there is, the tower of Babel: Et de Babel abominable et feinte Ha restably Jerusalem la sainte, Qui desormais en vertu reluira Et de miroer aux autres servira.

(ll. 93–96)

[And from Babel, abominable and feigned He reestablished Jerusalem the holy, Which from now on in virtue will shine And serve as a mirror to others.]

Erasing the confusing images from the poem’s first half and replacing them with a perfect expression of saintly virtue, the poet recasts Lyon as the holy city of Revelation promised to those who would receive God’s divine grace. As a historical event, the Sack of Lyon by Calvinist sympathizers and forces loyal to Henry of Navarre was much more religious than military in its execution. The gradual “emptying out” of linguistic signifiers in “La Fatale mutation lyonnoise” mimics the iconographical destruction perpetrated during the actual event, as well as certain aspects of Reformation painting, which is often characterized by its deliberate rejection of shading and perspective that would otherwise lend the painting a more realistic quality. Like the aforementioned visual commemoration of this event, 27 the poem “La Fatale mutation lyonnoise” does not hide its historical attachments, the topic being already somewhat clear from its title. At the core, it purports to communicate something about change, about how the municipality was transformed (mutatio) by the grace of God (fatale). Unlike a painting, it could thus be argued that this poem adheres rather well to the Protestant aesthetic by presenting the reader with a relatively clear and informative linguistic progression. Transitioning from ostentatious imagery and daring rhetorical devices to a fairly simple and direct poetic proclamation of a new Lyon, the writer strives to use the linguistic mirrors of his creation not to languish in the worldly images they contain, but to reflect divine illumination into the world.

  See supra note 15.


Fire in the Sky: Celestial Omens of Catastrophe in a French Renaissance Painting Katrina Klaasmeyer

The infernal glow of a blood-red sun permeates an ominous sky. A group of figures actively engaged with one another and their scientific instruments is situated close to small crowds pointing to the fiery sky and fleeing in terror. Looming over all is a statue of Urania, the muse of astronomy. 1 Detached from the anxiety of the crowds, she extends an arm toward the billowing clouds and dark orb of the sun. This bizarre painting (Fig. 10.1) has invited a wide variety of art historical interpretations since its discovery in 1947. 2 It was completed in the 1570s by French Renaissance artist Antoine Caron, whose work is typically associated with Fontainebleau and described generally as Mannerist. 3 Prior to 1929 there were no known paintings attributed to this artist. 4 Even now, only about a dozen paintings 1   “Often depicted as the Muse who fixes her eyes on the stars, Urania, associated with the heavens and sciences, is portrayed as rapt in silence and serious thought. Plato and Plutarch remark on her seriousness, and Ovid tells us that Urania is so potent in her silence that no voice can be heard but hers.” See Stella Revard, “‘L’Allegro’ and ‘Il Penseroso’: Classical Tradition and Renaissance Mythography, PMLA 101, no. 3 (May 1986): 343. For a discussion of the female personification of the sciences — and how nudity affirms the truth of the secrets she is about to reveal — see Londa Schiebinger, “The Face of Early Modern Science,” Critical Inquiry 14, no. 4 (Summer 1988):661–91. 2   Jean Ehrmann, “Antoine Caron,” The Burlington Magazine 92, no. 563 (Feb. 1950): 34. According to Ehrmann, Anthony Blunt discovered this painting at Christie’s in 1947. That same year it was exhibited at Wildenstein’s in London. 3   Fort Worth Art Center, The School of Fontainebleau: An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, Engravings, Etchings and Sculpture, 1530–1619 (Austin: University of Texas, 1965), 8–9. 4   Neil Cox and Mark Greengrass, “Painting Power: Antoine Caron’s Massacres of the Triumvirate,” Past and Present 7 (2012): 246. The authors claim that Caron’s massacre painting was

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 145–163.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117185


katrina klaasmeyer

Figure 10.1: Antoine Caron (French, 1521–1599), Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers, 1570s, oil on panel, 36½ × 28⅜ inches; Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Fire in the Sky


and numerous drawings are accepted as authentic. 5 This makes stylistic, thematic, and compositional comparisons difficult to assess. What can be deduced from other extant works — such as his propensity for architectural fantasy 6 (often blending structures from ancient Rome with modern-day Paris), an iconography representing the most intimate aspects of life at the Valois court, 7 and the inclusion of celestial allusions 8 — fits with the obscure and challenging nature of this painting. In sum, Caron’s work is considered typical of the most sophisticated Court Mannerism, with its emphasis on external ceremony and elaborate allegory and its love for the fantastic or irrational. 9 That this work is correctly attributed to Caron is undisputed; however, the identity of the figures depicted, the architectural setting, the celestial occurrence in the tumultuous sky, the religious and political undertones — all of these factors have been interpreted in a multitude of ways. In this essay I hope to explore in depth one aspect of this work which I find to be the major theme represented: astrology. More specifically, I seek to examine the use of astrology as a means to predict portents of disaster in late sixteenth-century European courts, with an emphasis on France and Catherine de Medici. Complementary to this, I will present a number of actual astronomical events which occurred in the 1570s of such significance that they changed the course of science. At this point in history, astrology and astronomy were so intertwined as to be nearly indistinguishable. 10 Indeed, astrology was a necessary requirement for any man of learning. As we will see, the greatest scientific minds of the sixteenth century regularly practiced astrology. This is due to a deep-seated belief that the heavens exerted a powerful influence on all aspects of life:

first reproduced in a surrealist journal in December 1929. They also state that it is the only painting the artist acknowledged and dated (see p. 244). 5   See also Henri Zerner, Renaissance Art in France (Paris: Flammarion, 2003), 152. 6   Frances Yates, “Antoine Caron’s Painting for Triumphal Arches,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 14, no. 1/2 (1951): 133. See also Margaret McGowan, The Vision of Rome in Late Renaissance France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 155–56. 7   See Sheila ffolliett’s discussion of Les Placets (The Petition) ca. 1560s, in “Casting a Rival into the Shade: Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers,” Art Journal 48, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 138–43. 8   Pascal-Francois Bertrand, “A New Method of Interpreting the Valois Tapestries, through a History of Catherine de Medicis,” Studies in the Decorative Arts 14, no. 1 (Fall-Winter 2006– 2007): 30–32. See also Margriet Hoogvliet, “Princely Culture and Catherine de Médicis,” in Princes and Princely Culture: 1450–1650, ed. Martin Gosman (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 118–28. 9   Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France, 1500–1700 (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1954), 102–5. 10   Mary Quinlan-McGrath, Influences: Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 2. This author goes one step further and states that whenever a distinction was made between the two disciplines, astrology was often thought the more important of the two.


katrina klaasmeyer . . . the heavenly bodies were regarded as exerting the highest powers among the natural causes, dominating all terrestrial things except the human intellect. And, as many cynics noted, celestial influence frequently dominates even free human action in virtue of the fact that most people follow the inclinations of their passions and these, as bodily functions, are subject to the stars and planets. Because the positions of the heavenly bodies were thought to control not only the seasons, weather, and tides, but also menstruation, the efficacy of medicines, and such processes as the growth of plants and animals, the smelting of ores, and the hardening of clay, astrology was considered naturalistic — an applied science rather than an occult art. 11

Astrology was an attempt to understand the world, to organize it into a rational order. At an observational level, the repeating patterns of the heavens, and the relationships of these patterns to days and nights, to the seasons, tides, and climates, had led philosophers to speculate that the universe was not random and accidental but, rather, had a purposeful and interrelated order. 12 Astrologers were initiates in deciphering these mysterious motions of the heavens and their subsequent effects on earth. To form their calculations and interpretations, an expert knowledge of mathematics, spherical geometry, astronomy, trigonometry, and so on was required, yet the astrologer retained something of the magical aura of the acts and incantations of a priest. 13 Four main branches of astrological interpretation have been identified. 14 First, the mundane, pertaining to society as a whole and including predictions about the weather, harvests, epidemics, politics, and war; next, natal, concerning the character and destiny of an individual; horary (or interrogations) gave answers to questions — of any kind, from the outcome of a battle to the prospect for a trip — based on the celestial bodies at the time the question was asked or received; and finally, elections sought to determine the most propitious moment for an action or enterprise. These types of interpretations entered into the councils of princes, guided the policy of nations, and ruled the daily actions of individuals great and small. In order to understand how the sun, moon, planets, and stars caused predictable events in the earthly world, both time and place mattered. 15 Celestial influences 11   Bert Hanson, “The Complementarity of Science and Magic before the Scientific Revolution,” American Scientist 74, no. 2 (March-April 1986): 133. 12  Quinlan-McGrath, Influences, 13. The author summarizes the belief in such harmonious operation as suggestive of the work of a single benevolent mind — a creator of that integrated whole. Therefore the Church and astrology were in accord. 13   Benson Bobrick, The Fated Sky: Astrology in History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 122. The four branches of astrological interpretation are taken from this source. See also Donald Papon, The Lure of the Heavens: A History of Astrology (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1980), 13. 14  Bobrick The Fated Sky, 12, 122. 15  Quinlan-McGrath, Influences, 31. Unless otherwise noted, all details of Renaissance horoscope charts are taken from this source. For a thorough explanation of the chart casting, see

Fire in the Sky


do not affect all points on the earth in a uniform manner, in much the same way that the sun’s effects on a given location are very different at sunrise, noon, and sundown. The astrologer’s first task was to determine the position of the celestial bodies at a given place or time, and then to map the complex relationships for further analysis. In the Renaissance, this mapping took the form of a horoscope. In Caron’s painting, at least two such horoscopes can easily be identified, both situated in the foreground. The first, presumably still being calculated by the man leaning over with a pair of dividers, lies flat on the platform in the midst of the figures. The second is propped up against the stairs, as if inviting the viewer’s analysis. Upon closer inspection we can see that the small putto in the immediate foreground, as well as the older scholar in the left mid-ground, are surrounded by the same types of instruments — a pair of dividers, right angle, and straight edge or, in a more mystical view, a divining rod. 16 This indicates that they are busy with their own calculations, perhaps even casting horoscopes, which would double the presence of astrological thought in this image. In this type of chart, the time of an event, such as that of a birth or other significant moment, and the geographic location of that event, are listed in the center square. This combination necessarily locks the relationship of the heavens to a particular place at the appointed time. Predictions were primarily based on the interrelationships of the planets and stars (represented by signs of the zodiac) and the effect these relationships could be expected to have on the twelve regions, or “houses of heaven,” that governed different life situations relative to that spot. These houses are marked as triangular divisions surrounding the inner square. In chart interpretation, they encompassed every aspect of human life, such as finances, health, marriage, death, friends, and enemies. 17 A detailed analysis of the signs and their characteristics, possible relationships, and interpreted consequences is outside the scope of this study; 18 however, it is important to note that the plotting of the positions of the celestial bodies was determined by actual astronomical data. Thus scientists could calculate a moment in the past or future if needed. The subsequent interpretation of these charts cannot be proven to be so scientific. It is impossible to guess the number of and frequency with which such charts were cast for Catherine de Medici, queen of France, whose faith in astrology was

Anthony Grafton, Cardano’s Cosmos: The Worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 22–37. 16   Ehrmann, “Antoine Caron,” 35. 17  Bobrick, The Fated Sky, 25. For a detailed explanation of the houses and signs, see 22–26. 18   As an example, for the astrological reading believed to explain the occurrence of the Black Death, see S.J. Tester, A History of Western Astrology (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1987), 185. It should be noted that this astrological reading was prepared by the Medical Faculty of the University of Paris and presented to the king as their official statement.


katrina klaasmeyer

far greater than her faith in church dogma. 19 A skilled astrologer herself, Catherine had a genuine talent for astronomy, physics, and mathematics, all of which complemented her fascination with the heavens and their influence. She was passionate in her belief in the power of astrology to prophesy, and she regularly sought the counsel of her most trusted advisor, Cosimo Ruggieri. He had an impressive record of accuracy, having foretold her marriage with a prince of France, the latter’s unexpected accession to the throne, the number and gender of children she would bear, and also the fact that three of her sons were to reign in succession, with two of her daughters also becoming queens. In addition to Ruggieri, the queen surrounded herself with mystics such as Nostradamus, a name recognizable by most people even today. Perhaps the best-known astrological prediction concerning Catherine relates to the gruesome death of her husband, King Henri II, in 1559. In what is considered to be the one verifiable prediction Nostradamus ever made, four years prior he wrote, “through the cage of gold his eyes will be pierced. Two wounds become one, followed by an awful death.” 20 It is interesting to note that earlier that same year, Luca Guarico, an astrologer of great repute and court advisor, warned King Henri II that in his forty-second year he ran the risk of being killed “during single combat in an enclosed space through an injury to the head.” The fateful year came, and the king was mortally wounded in a jousting tournament when the visor of his golden helmet flew open and large splinters from his opponent’s lance were driven through his eyes into his brain. In the year and manner predicted, the king of France died. Other details surrounding this event have been given a prophetic significance as well, such as the claim that Catherine had a dream the night before, envisioning the king’s bloody end. 21 Also, a partial solar eclipse had occurred earlier that year, around the time of Henri’s birthday, which may have played a role in Guerico’s prediction. 22 19   Leonie Frieda, Catherine de Medici (New York: Harper Collins, 2003), 83–84. Unless otherwise noted, my discussion of Catherine’s personal interest in astrology is taken from this source. 20  Bobrick, The Fated Sky, 131. Nostradamus published the following: “Le Lyon jeune le vieux surmontera, / En champ bellique par singulier duelle, / Dans cage d’or les yeux lui crevers, / Deux classes une puis mourir mort cruelle.” Bobrick translates as: “The young lion will overcome the old on the tournament ground in single combat. Through the cage of gold his eyes will be pierced. Two wounds become one, followed by an awful death.” Guarico’s prediction is also taken from this source. 21  Frieda, Catherine de Medici, 116. 22  Keith Hutchison, “Towards a Political Iconology of the Copernican Revolution,” in Astrology, Science and Society: Historical Essays, ed Patrick Curry (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1987), 97, 101. Hutchison explains that the belief that the sun was a metaphor for a king was well established by the Renaissance, as part of the larger concept that the heavens symbolized rulers and their authority.

Fire in the Sky


Devastated by Henri’s death, for the rest of her life Catherine appeared in public without exception wearing the black widow’s dress instead of the usual white, 23 and she abandoned their former residence, the palace of the Tournelles. 24 She commissioned several new building projects, including the Tuileries Palace situated in the parish of St. Germain; however, her trusted astrologer Ruggieri warned her that she would die “near St. Germain” so in 1572 this project was abandoned. Incidentally, she died at distant Blois in 1589, but astrology fans will be pleased to learn that the name of the priest who gave her the last rites was Julien de St.-Germain. 25 One structure she commissioned and saw to completion still stands today and is commonly referred to as the Colonne de l’Horoscope (Fig. 10.2). Now standing in the midst of the Bourse de Commerce in Paris, it originally was designed by architect Jean Bullant to be part of the courtyard and gardens of Catherine’s Hôtel de la Reine (later known as the Hôtel de Soissons). A number of art historians claim that this column can be identified within Caron’s painting; 26 however, a detailed consideration of this structure’s appearance makes that claim unlikely. The fluted Doric column is nearly 30 meters (99 feet) high. 27 Its decoration bears witness to Catherine’s grief, with carvings of fleurs de lys, torn love knots, broken mirrors, and Henri’s monogram. 28 This column is not just a memorial; it once had an astronomical function. 29 Inside, a spiral staircase leads to a terrace that was once balustraded on the architrave. It was wide enough to accommodate three people and was topped by an iron cage covered with lead sheeting and with six portholes offering views of the heavens. At the very top was a small dome carrying an armillary sphere. In Caron’s painting it is difficult to discern a free-standing column with these features; however, the artist has included three such armillary

  Hoogvliet, “Princely Culture,” 106–7, notes that Catherine’s key to power was her widowhood. Thus her lifelong mourning was not only a manner to express grief but also the legitimization of her political role. For more on Catherine’s political aims with her widowhood, and Caron’s role in its imagery, see Jeanice Brooks, “Catherine de Medicis, nouvelle Artemise: Women’s Laments and the Virtue of Grief,” Early Music 27, no. 3 (August 1999): 419–35. 24   R.J. Knecht, The French Renaissance Court (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 269. 25  Frieda, Catherine de Medici, 381. This story has been recounted in several sources. For an alternate interpretation of why she abandoned the Tuileries, see Knecht, The French Renaissance Court, 273. 26   As one example, Ehrmann, “Antoine Caron,” 35. 27   Gilles Desmons, Walking Paris (London: New Holland, 2008), 78. 28   Hoogvliet, “Princely Culture,” 111–12. 29   R.J. Knecht, “Royal Patronage of the Arts in France,” in From Valois to Bourbon: Dynasty, State and Society in Early Modern France, ed. Keith Cameron (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1989), 149. My description of the column’s astronomical appearance and function is taken from this source. 23


katrina klaasmeyer

Figure 10.2: Colonne de l’Horoscope or La colonne Médicis, attributed to architect Jean Bullant, 1574; Digital image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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spheres, as well as what appear to be two celestial globes. 30 These spheres were important scientific tools used for locating the zodiac constellations and understanding the geometry of the cosmos, and often were seen simply as a sign of intelligence and learning. It is generally acknowledged that Catherine erected this column for her favored astrologer Ruggieri. 31 Impressive as it is, this structure may seem a bit modest compared to the small island given to the Royal Astrologer Tycho Brahe in Denmark. What would become internationally famous as the Uraniborg estate extended over the whole island of Hven, and in addition to the house and garden, the complex consisted of an observatory with pioneering astronomical instruments, an alchemical laboratory, a paper mill and printing press, farms, woods, and fishponds. 32 Astrologers from all over Europe came to this island to work with Brahe, and the work done there — the unprecedented development of a large body of accurate celestial observations — is considered to be the basis of modern astronomy. 33 On the evening of 11 November 1572, Tycho Brahe was walking outside when, looking upward, he saw a “bright star which appeared as distinct as Venus, surpassing the other stars in brilliance.” 34 It was so distinct that it was visible for sixteen months; during the first two weeks it could even be seen at midday. At length it began to fade and change color, from bright white to yellow to a faintly reddish hue, until it vanished forever into eternal night. It was a supernova. With modern science, we know that a supernova is the death of a star; in this case, a type Ia supernova is the result of a very specific set of circumstances, with

30   For information about armillary spheres and celestial globes, see Bruce Stephenson et al., The Universe Unveiled: Instruments and Images through History (Chicago: The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, 2000), 112–13; and Samuel Edgerton, The Heritage of Giotto’s Geometry: Art and Science on the Eve of the Scientific Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 203–4. The figure in the far right foreground may be holding a zodiac sphere; see Szilvia Bodnar, “Two Fragments of a Renaissance Bronze Zodiac Frieze,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 42 (2007): 95–105. 31   Any detailed description of this column includes this fact. For example, Knecht, “Royal Patronage,” 149, or Hoogvliet, “Princely Culture,” 111–12. 32  Vivienne Parrott, “Celestial Expression or Worldly Magic? The Invisibly Integrated Design of Uraniborg,” Garden History 38, no. 1 (Summer 2010): 66–70. 33   Tycho Brahe is best known for his observational data; however, he is frequently depicted as the eccentric and arrogant builder of astonishing instruments who did not know what to do with his observations, dependent upon mathematician Johannes Kepler, who used this data to discover the laws of planetary motion and thereby disprove the belief that the Earth was the center of the universe. For a summary of, and challenge to, this position, see Owen Gingerich and James Voelkel, “Tycho and Kepler: Solid Myth versus Subtle Truth,” Social Research 72, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 77–106. 34  Bobrick, The Fated Sky, 152. All details about how the supernova appeared to Brahe are taken from this source.


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very similar, observable results. 35 In 1998 scientists were able to use measurements of comparable supernova blasts as flashbulbs of standard brightness to show that the cosmos is expanding at an accelerating rate. 36 However, in 1572, the understanding of the universe was quite different. First, it was believed that the earth was at the center of the universe, with the sun revolving around it like any other planet. 37 The ideas expounded by Aristotle more than 1,000 years earlier were still accepted. In this view, the heavens and celestial bodies were incorruptible and unchanging; their motion was regular and eternal, circular and perfect. Any irregularity, such as the comet seen in the skies in 1556, was deemed a terrestrial anomaly and was placed in the upper atmosphere, just below the moon. Yet this nova, as it was referred to by its observers, caused a tremendous amount of excitement and speculation on both the scholarly and popular levels, and it was perceived as a much more shocking phenomenon than any kind of comet, however bright. 38 First, there was no known instance in the recorded history of the Western world of a new star appearing in the heavens. 39 This perceived lack of precedent meant the nova was not burdened with the traditional Aristotelian view of immutability and thus was able to serve as a kind of catalyst that forced the scholarly community to reconsider its fundamental tenets. Indeed, many of the leading astronomers agreed that the nova was located far above the moon. Second, the nova remained steadily consistent in its placement in the heavens, firmly in the constellation of Cassiopeia, and did not streak across the skies like a comet. But perhaps the most compelling reason for according the nova a place among the fixed stars   “Type Ia Supernovae,” The Hubble Telescope (NASA) official website, accessed 20 January 2014, For a detailed scientific description of supernova, see this site, as well as NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory official site, 36   Robert Irion, “Disks of Destruction,” Science 307, no. 5706 (7 January 2005): 66. 37   Although Copernicus had proposed a heliocentric universe in 1542, at this point in history it was still considered an idea merely for theoretical consideration, not an actual statement of fact. See W. Burke-Gaffney, “Celestial Mechanics in the Sixteenth Century,” The Scientific Monthly 44, no. 2 (February 1937): 150–56; and Owen Gingerich, “From Copernicus to Kepler: Heliocentrism as Model and as Reality,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 117, no. 6 (December 1973): 513–22. 38   Tabitta van Nouhys, The Age of Two-Faced Janus: The Comets of 1577 and 1618 and the Decline of the Aristotelian View in the Netherlands (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 124. Unless otherwise noted, my discussion of how the 1572 supernova and 1577 comet affected scientific thought is taken from this source. 39   Marie Boas Hall, The Scientific Renaissance: 1450–1630 (New York: Dover, 1994), 170. Three supernovae in our galaxy have been observed with the naked eye; they occurred in 1054, 1572, and 1604. The remnants of the first (observed primarily by astronomers in China and Asia) are widely known as the Crab Nebula in Taurus. Van Nouhys notes that in 125 bce Pliny reported one seen by Hipparchus; however, in my research, no other sources referenced this event or any knowledge on Brahe’s part of the SN1054 observed in China. For these reasons I maintain that Brahe believed this to be the first and only known occurrence of a “new star.” 35

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was simply its star-like appearance. Due to the novelty of the phenomenon, and the absence of authoritative opinions on the subject of new stars, it was therefore thought of as a sign from God beyond the natural order — a miracle. Such a wondrous event invited wild astrological speculation. In accordance with the widespread eschatological expectations of the age, many chose to associate it with the impending end of the world. 40 Others were a bit more restrained in their interpretations, predicting epidemics, wars, the death of rulers, the collapse of Lutheranism, or the conversion of the Jews. 41 Cornelius Gemma, a Dutch physician and astrologer, even suggested that the new star might be an angel, or perhaps God himself, appearing to humankind veiled in a cloak of light. Among the events linked to the celestial phenomenon was the election of Catherine’s fourth son, Henri III, as king of Poland, as this occurred shortly after the star’s appearance. 42 When it disappeared, in February 1574, writers stressed the coincidence with the date of Henri’s entry into Krakow. The new star was interpreted as proof that the heavens favored Henri and had helped the Polish to choose a French prince as their king, and it was seen as presaging the arrival of a great monarch. However, just three months later (30 May 1574), following the death of his brother Charles IX, Henri was proclaimed heir to the French throne. The Polish people did not consent to his departure to take up the French throne, so Henri fled Krakow at night. After a long journey full of lavish, elaborate ceremonies throughout northern Italy and southern France, Henri made his royal entry into Paris as the newly crowned king of France in February 1575. The artist we are considering, Antoine Caron, was chosen to paint the triumphal arches temporarily erected in Paris for this ceremonial entry. 43 Valois court festivals (magnificences) were acclaimed to be the most brilliant and original, and Catherine, as a highly cultivated and artistic queen, was the moving spirit behind them. 44 Nearly every aspect of these court festivals related in some way to astrology and celestial concerns, whether in the imagery, dance, theater, or music. The importance of fes Van Nouhys, The Age of Two-Faced Janus, 127–28. The statement about Cornelius Gemma is taken from this source. 41   Ewa Kociszewska, “Astrology and Empire: A Device for the Valois King of Poland,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 73 (2010): 229. Unless otherwise noted, all details about Henri III and the star are taken from this source. 42   Evelyn Korsch, “Diplomatic Gifts on Henri III’s Visit to Venice in 1574,” Studies in the Decorative Arts 15, no. 1 (Fall-Winter 2007–2008): 83. Henri was elected king of Poland on 11 May 1573 and entered Krakow on 18 February 1574; he fled on 18 June 1574. All details about Henri III’s departure for France are taken from this source. 43   Yates, “Antoine Caron’s Paintings,” 133. Details about the arches’ decoration are taken from this source. Yates characterizes Caron’s style as “flat, bold, and rather crude . . . (indicating) that his training was that of a painter employed for broad effects in public shows.” 44   Roy Strong, Splendor at Court: Renaissance Spectacle and Illusions (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973), 124, 156. 40


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tivals, ceremonies, and royal entries for members of the Valois court cannot be overemphasized, and Caron was a primary source of the artistic imagery for the splendors at Catherine’s court. Key components of this pageantry were the building of a series of temporary architectural structures, including triumphal arches, temples and obelisks, columns topped with statuary, fireworks machines, and wine fountains. 45 The influence of this ceremonial pageantry, its celestial imagery, and its architectural allusions to ancient Rome are consistently present within Caron’s paintings. Indeed, the various actors in this painting are arranged in an almost theatrical fashion along a gradually rising, central perspective with buildings arranged on both sides, like theater wings. 46 In consideration of the new star, our concern lies with the four triumphal arches that Caron was engaged to paint on the occasion of Henri’s royal entry to Paris. Historic accounts give a vague idea of the subjects Caron chose to portray: one was dedicated to the piety of Paris, another showed Charles IX and his two brothers ruling the world, and one was concerned with the constellation Cassiopeia. Caron painted the new star as part of this constellation, perhaps indicating that the celestial prophecy applied just as well in France as in Poland. Back in Denmark, Tycho Brahe’s official astrological prognostication offered to King Frederick II was not nearly so specific. He wrote that this “new star” predicted a New Age, one of peace and plenty, that would bring about great political and religious changes in the world. 47 Yet the forecast was cryptic and unclear and did not attempt to determine when the effects would occur. It concluded with the remark that Brahe knew a “truer and more secret” astrology, which he was not willing to divulge in writing. 48 Certainly, the mark of a shrewd astrologer was his ability to balance the specific and the vague, a trait that has not diminished over time. Another remarkable celestial phenomenon occurred just three years after the “new star” had faded. Having overcome the psychological barrier imposed by Aristotelian tradition, many astronomers viewed the comet of 1577 with fresh eyes and new ideas. Indeed, this comet was the first of its kind for which orbit computations were attempted, and it was the focal point of extensive debate among astronomers all over Europe. 49 Appearing first in November 1577 and remaining visible for three months, the comet had “a very long tail and a head of white light, not like that   Barbara Chabrowe, “On the Significance of Temporary Architecture,” The Burlington Magazine 116, no. 856 (July 1974): 386. 46   Lucile Golson, “The Approach to Science of a Renaissance Painter,” Gazette des BeauxArts 61, ser. 6 (1963): 203. 47  Hall, The Scientific Renaissance, 170–71. Unless otherwise noted, details concerning the prediction are from this source. 48   J.R. Christianson, “Tycho Brahe’s German Treatise on the Comet of 1577: A Study in Science and Politics,” Isis 70, no. 1 (March 1979): 118. 49  Doris Hellman, The Comet of 1577: Its Place in the History of Astronomy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944), 118. 45

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of a fixed star but somewhat darkish, much like the ‘star’ Saturn . . . The tail was very long, somewhat bent in the middle, of a burning dark red color, like a flame penetrating through smoke.” 50 Scientists in the twenty-first century describe comets as leftovers from the dawn of our solar system around 4.6 billion years ago, consisting mostly of ice coated with dark organic material. 51 These “dirty snowballs” are a significant distance from the earth, taking about 200 years or up to 30 million years to complete one orbit around the sun. Brahe determined the minimum distance of the 1577 comet to be between 230–300 earth radii, which placed the comet four to five times as far away as the moon. 52 Already in his report on the new star of 1572, Brahe had implied that Aristotle’s cosmology might be invalid; now his calculations of this comet were its final rejection. In his treatise Brahe argued that Aristotle’s explanation of comets was false, primarily because it was established by reason alone, not by mathematical observation or demonstration: They obtained such knowledge and opinions, not from experience or from mathematical observations of industrious masters, but from subtle argument by reasoning alone. Thought, however, in such things can rise no higher toward the truth than what apparent observation with correct instruments interpreted by trigonometry shows should be believed. 53

This rational and scientific establishment of the comet’s superlunary position, based on highly accurate observations and mathematical proof, marked one of the most momentous transitions ever to have taken place in the history of science. 54 Yet the majority of scholars at this time were firmly rooted in the medieval astrological tradition and were uninterested in these calculations. 55 In order to cast their prognostications, they simply needed to consider the color and shape of the comet, the direction of its tail, and its zodiacal position. 56 They also were inheritors of an extensive astrological tradition of forecasting death and destruction following the appearance of a comet, the effects of which were known to include dryness and heat in the air, strong and destructive winds, uncontrollable floods and massive earthquakes, the spoiling of grains and fruits of the earth, plagues, pestilence, war,  Hellman, The Comet of 1577, 125.   NASA official website, accessed 20 January 2014, See this source for a detailed explanation of comets’ scientific properties. 52   Tofigh Heidarzadeh, A History of Physical Theories of Comets, from Aristotle to Whipple (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008), 41–42. All details about Brahe’s calculations are taken from this source. 53  Hellman, The Comet of 1577, 124, 128. 54   Van Nouhys, The Age of Two-Faced Janus, 3. See also Papon, The Lure of the Heavens, 224. 55  Papon, The Lure of the Heavens, 136. 56  Sara Schechner Genuth, Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 51–65. 50 51


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bloodshed, and the death of great leaders. 57 The effects of this comet would be just as great and, due to its size and position within the zodiac, perhaps even more extensive. Writing in Paris the day after the comet first appeared, astrologer Francesco Liberati held that the comet signified divisions and heresies in Catholicism, riots and plagues, tempests and winds, and impending war. Danish astrologer Jorgen Dybvad asserted that this “terrible great comet” was one of manifold signs which revealed that “the day of the Lord, according to His promise, is at hand.” 58 In his treatise, which included a prayer for mercy and divine protection, he interpreted it as a celestial sign pointing to the impending apocalypse, writing that the Lord had let the winds and weather and the very fires of the firmament show His wrath. Perhaps Antoine Caron was alluding to this fiery apocalyptic destruction. The artist has set billowing dark clouds against vibrant yellows and fiery reds. The landscape and its people are consumed by the infernal glow; thin streaks of yellow flame, or perhaps bolts of lightning, radiate onto the city and its inhabitants. The small figures are fleeing in terror, vainly seeking an escape from the all-encompassing divine judgment raining down upon them. The belief in the impending apocalypse and the world’s annihilation by fire was ubiquitous during the 1570s. The comet was certainly considered an important sign, yet many astrologers looked ahead to a far more important series of celestial events: the conjunction of the two highest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, at the end of Pisces, which was to take place in May 1583, followed by a conjunction of nearly all the planets in Aries in 1584; this would be accompanied by an eclipse of the sun at 20 degrees of Taurus. 59 This was outstanding for two reasons. 60 First, it was a conjunction of a very rare and significant kind; as the astrologers emphasized, there were only six parallels in the entire history of the world, only one of which fell in the period since the birth of Christ. Second, it would happen at the end of the watery trigon or triplicity of the signs of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces and at the beginning of the fiery trigon or triplicity of the signs of Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. Since the heavens were known to influence earthly matters, such a significant shift in the alignment of the planets was certain to portend cataclysmic changes, new worlds, or perhaps the very end of the world. Far from being confined to an eccentric minority, these opinions were widespread and well known throughout Europe; great alarms, as well as a great amount of talk, were occasioned by astrological forecasts concerning the upcoming conjunction. For example, Cyprian Leowitz, a Bohemian astrologer and mathematician to the Holy Roman Emperor,  Hellman, The Comet of 1577, 132. Libertati’s prediction is taken from this source.   R. Christianson, “Tycho Brahe’s German Treatise,” 120. 59  Kociszewska, Astrology and Empire, 228. 60   Margaret Aston, “The Fiery Trigon Conjunction: An Elizabethan Astrological Prediction,” Isis 60, no. 2 (Summer 1970): 160. For a full explanation of these conjunctions, see this source. 57


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believed that the world was approaching its allotted span of 6,000 years and that thus the conjunction “undoubtedly announces the second coming of the son of God and man in the majesty of his glory.” 61 Writing in England, astrologer Richard Harvey noted that the transition from the watery to the fiery had heralded Christ’s birth, and the recurrence of these circumstances might well prefigure his return in majesty, to judge the quick and the dead, consuming the world in fire. It may seem problematic for the cryptic and complex practice of astrology to portend monumental biblical events; however, the relationship between astrology and Christianity was very close and had been for centuries. 62 The Bible itself is rich with astrological allusion. 63 It opens with the pronouncement that the “lights in the firmament of the heavens” were established in part “for signs,” and in Psalm 19, for example, we read: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” For this reason, the motions of the stars in the heavens were considered to be the alphabet of God. 64 Astrology was therefore a divine science, and those who mastered its celestial letters could only grow in piety and faith. 65 Yet there was a clear distinction between Catholics and Protestants regarding the purpose and limitations of astrology. 66 Even though Martin Luther wrote that astrology was an illicit art and a dangerous game with the devil, many leaders in the Protestant faith still regularly practiced it, arguing that only the pious scholar can decipher this celestial writing. 67 For Protestants, astrology’s purpose was to curb man’s bad inclinations and foster his good ones through its warnings and reminders of divine judgment. Catholics had other concerns; primary among them was the potential of deterministic astrological practices to threaten and undermine an individual’s free will. 68 It was crucial to practice astrology simply as a means to provide more information, helping an individual make an educated choice.

  Aston, “The Fiery Trigon Conjunction,” 166–67. Information regarding the writing of Leowitz and Harvey is taken from this source. 62   Ernst Zinner, The Stars Above Us (New York: Charles Scribner, 1957), 85–93. 63  Bobrick, The Fated Sky, 8. All biblical quotes are taken from this source. 64   Gingerich and Voelkel, “Tycho and Kepler,” 89. 65  Bobrick, The Fated Sky, 82. 66   See also Luc Racaut, “A Protestant or Catholic Superstition? Astrology and Eschatology during the French Wars of Religion,” in Religion and Superstition in Reformation Europe, ed. Helen Parish (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 154–69. 67   Claudia Brosseder, “The Writing in the Wittenberg Sky: Astrology in Sixteenth-Century Germany,” Journal of the History of Ideas 66, no. 4 (October 2005): 559. My statement about the purpose of Protestant astrology is taken from page 561. 68  Zinner, The Stars Above Us, 90. 61


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The painter Antoine Caron was Catholic, and he had a close friendship with the poet Louis d’Orleans, 69 who was actively involved in the extremist Catholic League, a loose coalition whose primary objective was the preservation of the Catholic Church and the elimination of heresy. 70 In their “holy war” against Protestants, members of the League argued that Catholic complacency had led to the manifestation of God’s anger at human society and that celestial apocalyptic signs were evidence of divine wrath and the Lord’s condemnation of heresy and sin. The ritual violence that erupted during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 until the Catholic League’s defeat in 1593 — the most violent period of the religious wars — developed from the fear of God’s anger and the coming of the end of the world. Considering the religious intolerance and violence in France at this time, connected with the artist’s Catholicism, some art historians have interpreted this painting as an illustration of the artist’s belief in the catastrophic consequences of excessive tolerance towards Protestants. 71 Others take a more moderate view, noting that the perplexing nature of Caron’s imagery prevents such a clear cut explanation. 72 The majority of art historical consideration of this painting has focused upon the burning orb of the sun, traditionally believed to be rendered by Caron as if in an eclipse. This would fit with the apocalyptic prophecy of the great planetary conjunction, as it was to be followed by an eclipse of the sun. Alternately, an eclipse could certainly stand on its own merit as an important astrological portent. A humorous example of the dramatic impact caused by this type of heavenly sign occurred in 1628: An eclipse of the moon took place in January, one of the sun in December. Astrologers predicted the death of the reigning Pope, Urban VIII. Frightened, he both published a bull forbidding such predictions and, under the guidance of Tommaso Campanella, carried out rituals to avert their evil effects. Hidden in a sealed room, the two men hung white cloths, sprinkled rose-vinegar, and lit candles and torches to represent the luminaries and the planets. They   Jean Ehrmann, “Massacre and Persecution Pictures in Sixteenth Century France,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 8 (1945): 199. Anthony Blunt goes one step further and asserts that Caron himself was active in the Catholic League (see Blunt, Art and Architecture, 98). 70  Dalia Leonardo, “‘Cut Off This Rotten Member’: The Rhetoric of Heresy, Sin, and Disease in the Ideology of the French Catholic League,” The Catholic Historical Review 88, no. 2 (April 2002): 248. All information about the Catholic League is taken from this source. See also Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Rites of Violence: Religious Riot in Sixteenth Century France,” Past and Present 59 (May 1973): 51–91; and Barbara Diefendorf, “Prologue to a Massacre: Popular Unrest in Paris, 1557–1572,” The American Historical Review 90, no.  5 (December 1985): 1067–91. 71   Robert Rosenblum, “The Paintings of Antoine Caron,” Marsyas 6 (1950–1953): 4; and Ehrmann, “Antoine Caron,” 35. 72   Ehrmann, “Massacre and Persecution Pictures,” 199. 69

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listened to Jovial and Venereal music, handled stones and other objects connected with the same beneficent planets, and drank liquors distilled by astrological principles. The pope survived the astral menace — though he and his successors continued to fear the malign influence of the stars. 73

This intense fear of eclipses was not limited to the pope. Even Martin Luther, who normally scorned astrological predictions, admitted that eclipses were “evil omens and portents”; he also believed that they were happening more frequently than ever before in his own lifetime — one sign among many that the end of time was approaching. 74 However, Caron’s imagery does not fit within an eclipse of any kind, either solar or lunar. In Caron’s painting it would appear that either a deep red moon is passing in front of the sun at the height of its brilliance, or the reddened sun is radiating a series of yellow discs asymmetrically. Either option is scientifically impossible for a number of reasons. 75 Among them, the yellow that appears around the sun does not look like the sun’s corona. The obscured part of the sun is darker than the surrounding sky. The landscape is too bright for either a total lunar or solar eclipse. The shadows in the foreground are pointing in the wrong direction. Additionally, modern astronomers have determined that neither of the two partial solar eclipses which occurred in this decade was visible from Paris. 76 If Caron was intending to portray an eclipse, and no apparent connection can be made with the many celestial occurrences in this decade, perhaps he was referring instead to another monumental occasion in the past signified by a dramatic 73   Anthony Grafton, “Some Uses of Eclipses in Early Modern Chronology,” Journal of the History of Ideas 64, no. 2 (April 2003): 213. 74   Grafton, “Some Uses of Eclipses,” 213. The main focus of Grafton’s article is the transition to a much less dramatic way of reading eclipses, one that also flourished in early modern Europe; this reinforces the important scientific transformations in the work of Brahe and Kepler. 75   Mary Kerr Reaves and Gibson Reaves, “Antoine Caron’s Painting ‘Astronomers Studying an Eclipse,’” Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 77, no. 456 (June 1965): 154. All scientific reasons listed are taken from this source. 76   Reaves and Reaves, “Antoine Caron’s Painting,” 155. The two eclipses — a solar eclipse of January 1571 and a solar eclipse of November 1574 — were invisible and “barely visible at best” in Paris, respectively. The authors also detail an extensive amount of information regarding eclipses during Caron’s lifetime, noting that there were no total or annular solar eclipses through Paris during Caron’s lifetime (1521–1599). There were noteworthy partial solar eclipses visible from Paris on 24 January 1544 and on 7 March 1598. Their magnitudes at maximum obscuration at Paris were 0.97 and 0.90 respectively — 96% and 88% of the area of the sun’s disc obscured by the moon. From the point of view of Caron’s artistic development, it is unlikely that this painting was done either that early or late in his career. Other noteworthy partial solar eclipses in Paris during Caron’s lifetime include: 31 August 1551 (0.62, 52%), 21 August 1560 (0.70, 62%), 9 April 1567 (0.73, 66%), and 25 February 1579 (0.75, 68%) — the figures in parentheses being the magnitude and percentage of the sun’s disc obscured in each case.


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eclipse. This would also help to explain the unusual clothing worn by the group in the foreground, which does not conform to fashions of this time period. 77 Curators at The J. Paul Getty Center contend that Caron is in fact alluding to the eclipse believed to have occurred at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. This has informed their identification of the individuals portrayed and has led to the attribution of a new title for this painting. Previously known simply as Astronomers Studying an Eclipse, it has been known since its acquisition by the Getty in 1986 as Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers. 78 Compelling evidence to support this interpretation is the astronomical fresco in the Escorial Library’s main gallery (Madrid, Spain, 1567–1584), which shows Dionysius the Areopagite observing an eclipse at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. 79 In the sixteenth century it was generally believed that the crucifixion was marked by a blood-red lunar eclipse, in part based on interpretations of the account according to Luke (23:44) wherein he writes, “about noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed.” 80 This idea seemed to be corroborated by a letter attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, 81 a judge of the Areopagus who, as related in the Acts of the Apostles, was converted to Christianity by the preaching of the Apostle Paul. For centuries scientists have tried to pinpoint a specific date of Christ’s death based

77   Bertrand, “A New Method,” 29. The author states that the fashions of the 1570s included the medium-sized ruff and the tall velvet hat, decorated on the front with jewels and small feathers, worn tilted back to the rear of the head. Also significant to aristocratic clothing of this decade was the chain of the Order of the Holy Spirit, founded by Henri III in 1578. Writing about the clothing in the Valois tapestries, Bertrand notes that Catherine appears in all of the tapestries but one, attributing this to Catherine’s interest in astrology, believing that to appear in all would be inauspicious. 78   John Walsh, “Acquisitions,” The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 14 (1986): 218–19. 79   Owen Gingerich, The Book Nobody Read: In Pursuit of the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus (New York: Walker, 2004), 190–91. 80  Bobrick, The Fated Sky, 81. 81   Colm Luibheid, trans., Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 268. In a letter addressed to Polycarp, pseudo-Dionysius states: What have you to say about the solar eclipse which occurred when the Savior was put on the cross? At the time the two of us were in Heliopolis and we both witnessed the extraordinary phenomenon of the moon hiding the sun at the time that was out of season for their coming together . . . We saw the moon begin to hide the sun from the east, travel across to the other side of the sun, and return on its path so that the hiding and the restoration of the light did not take place in the same direction but rather in diametrically opposite directions. See also Eric Colledge, “‘The Hours of the Planets’: An Obscure Passage in ‘The Recluse,’” Modern Language Notes 54, no. 6 (June 1939): 444. The details in this source are slightly different and include the fact that an earthquake is believed to have also occurred.

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on celestial activity. As recently as 1991, scientists were still disproving claims about the date and appearance of these crucifixion eclipses. 82 In conclusion, it would appear that Caron was not interested in an accurate scientific depiction of astronomical occurrences and instead chose to focus upon the relationship of celestial events with earthly affairs — the cornerstone of astrological belief and practice. All of the figures, great and small, are in some way interacting with the heavens. Whether running in fear, searching for meaning, or carefully calculating and analyzing, all of the people in this scene are fixated on the skies, illustrating the supremacy of celestial phenomena in the lives of men. The mysterious and complex nature of this painting seems fitting with the equally enigmatic practice of astrology in the sixteenth century. In an age that predated the development of modern science, intellectual exploration was an art, and ideas were expressed through painting, poetry and music, and in the scientific arts through alchemy and astrology, all developed within a philosophy that was both relational and interconnected. 83 Yet this desire to embrace something of the power and credibility of the heavens continues into the twenty first century; countless websites and telephone psychics claim to help you find your fate as written in the stars. Humanity seeks a connection with the cosmos. And, it turns out, we are connected — not in the cryptic, illogical way that astrologers pretend but in the deepest ways, involving the origin of matter. As Carl Sagan writes in his seminal work Cosmos: All of the elements of the Earth except hydrogen and some helium have been cooked by a kind of stellar alchemy billions of years ago in stars . . . The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff. 84

82   Bradley Schaefer, “Glare and Celestial Visibility,” Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 103, no. 665 (July 1991): 654. 83  Parrott, Celestial Expression, 68. 84   Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Ballantine Books, 1980), 190.

The Wrath of God and the Soul on Trial: Late Medieval and Puritan Eschatological Fears and the Clerical Uses of Apocalyptical Imagery  1

Joanna Miles (Ludwikowska) No culture in any historical period develops in isolation from its past. The study of recurring elements of cultural history, such as apocalyptic imagery, benefits from an inter-period investigation, as these elements transcend the boundaries raised between traditionally delineated epochs and are indicative of continuities even between periods traditionally conceived as disconnected. In the case of the Apocalypse, even periods positioned conversely on the Reformation axis appear strikingly symmetrical, both with respect to recurring imagery (largely, for both periods, taken more or less directly from the Book of Revelation) and in its use for political and social purposes. Thus, in the context of the Apocalypse, the late medieval and the early modern should not be seen as separate, as both belong to the conceptual eschatological timeframe of Old Europe, extending from the eleventh

  Research for this article was made possible by generous funding from the National Science Centre (Narodowe Centrum Nauki, NCN), project no. DEC-2013/09/N/HS2/02213. I am also grateful to the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (CRRS) at the University of Toronto for granting me access to the CRRS’s rare book collection and other University of Toronto libraries. 1

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 165–178.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117186


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century to the eighteenth. 2 Indeed, in the work of many Reformation scholars 3 there is growing consensus that the Renaissance was a repetition of earlier trends 4

  John Aberth, From the Brink of the Apocalypse: Confronting Famine, War, Plague, and Death in the Later Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 2009), 5. Other temporal delineations reconciling investigations of the late medieval and the seventeenth-century Puritan, or more widely early modern, context include Heiko Oberman’s idea of the Long Fifteenth Century, for which he proposes the timeframe of 1350–1520 and argues that if the artificial breaking point of the year 1500 is disregarded, the reform and innovations of the sixteenth century appear as a natural continuity of the late Middle Ages. See Heiko Oberman, “The Long Fifteenth Century,” in Die deutsche Reformation zwischen Spätmittelalter und früher Neuzeit, ed. Thomas A. Brady (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2001), 14–15. Perry Miller, in turn, claimed not only that the Middle Ages did not end until the mid-seventeenth century but also that both the Middle Ages and the Puritan period in England and New England were “an age when the unity of religion and politics was so axiomatic that very few men would even have grasped the idea that church and state could be distinct.” See Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953), 141–42. 3   Such as Perry G. Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983); Perry G. Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province; R.H. Tawney Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926; New Brunswick: Transaction, 1962); Lynn Townsend White, Medieval Religion and Technology. Collected Essays (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978); Milan Zafirovski, Liberal Modernity and its Adversaries: Freedom, Liberalism, and Anti-Liberalism in the 21st Century (Leiden: Brill, 2007); Milan Zafirovski, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Authoritarianism: Puritanism, Democracy and Society (New York: Springer, 2007); Milan Zafirovski, The Destiny of Modern Societies: The Calvinist Predestination of a New Society (Leiden: Brill, 2009); Berndt Hamm, The Reformation of Faith in the Context of Late Medieval Theology and Piety (Leiden: Brill, 2003); Oberman, “The Long Fifteenth Century,” 1–18; John Jeffries Martin, Myths of Renaissance Individualism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); and William Bouswma, The Waning of the Renaissance 1550– 1640 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002). 4   The relevance of the beginning of the Reformation and the Renaissance as marks of the end of the Middle Ages are, at best, questionable. Lee Petterson, for instance, argues that the tendency to treat the Middle Ages as “premodernity, the other that must be rejected for the modern self to be and know itself ” places the medieval as alien to the early modern and is simply an act of post-modern self-fashioning, making the Renaissance the origin of post-modern identities. See Lee Patterson, “On the Margin: Post-Modernism, Ironic History, and Medieval Studies,” Speculum 65, no. 1 (1990): 87–108, here 99. Among many historians, both Michael Bentley and John Jeffries Martin observe that explorations of medieval history and culture lend insightful conclusions about the early modern, allowing for a better “understanding of the simultaneity of both change and continuity.” See Michael Bentley, “Introduction: Approaches to Modernity: Western Historiography since the Enlightenment,” in Companion to Historiography, ed. Michael Bentley (New York: Routledge, 1997), 100; and quotation from Martin, Myths, 11–12. See also R.N. Swanson, The Twelfth-Century Renaissance (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), 4–5. 2

The Wrath of God and the Soul on Trial


and that the Puritans in particular continued many aspects of the late medieval cultural tradition, 5 including eschatological imagery and discourse. I intend in this essay to examine the cultural construction of the Apocalypse: the means of verbalizing and picturing the fear of the End with a persistent interpretive focus on catastrophes as signs of divine anger, performatively used in a pastoral context by the clergy in fourteenth-century England and Puritan seventeenth-century New England. Specifically, I will focus on late fourteenth-/early fifteenth-century England (from the 1370s to the death of Henry IV in 1413), a period ridden with the calamities of hunger, revolt (Lollardy), and plague; and on the second half of the seventeenth century in Puritan New England (after the failure of the Puritan Revolution in England and the decline of the initial missionary fervor, but before the Great Awakening). Though separated in time and space, audiences in both of these periods favored millennialism and witnessed an increase in eschatological motifs in literature and culture: in both cases, one meets a perception of ideological stagnation attendant upon a sense of imminent catastrophe. Since apocalyptic eschatology serves as (historical) commentary on the world, 6 the auditory and visual uses of the Apocalypse in our periods of interest are a reflection of events of the time as much as of theological trends. The first area of continuity between the two periods lies in their assessment of the present. Though fourteenth-century literature made use of previously developed paths of interpretation in certain respects, they were modified as the events of the century unfolded. Touched by famine (1315–1322), war (the Hundred Years War with France and internal conflicts such as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381), internal conflicts (the 1414 5   Strongly influenced by the writings of both Calvin and Luther, the Puritans acknowledged that their religious heritage derived from Augustine, Aquinas, Dun Scotus, William Ockham, Luther, Calvin, and many others, refuting arguments considered erroneous but openly acknowledging the accuracy of other arguments and their influence on Puritan religious thought. Thomas Goodwin for instance discusses Bonaventure and Aquinas alongside Willem Estius, Francesco Suarez, Martin Luther, and John Calvin (An Unregenerate Man’s Guiltiness before God, in Respect of Sin and Punishment, in The Works of Thomas Goodwin, D.D., Sometime President of Magdalene Colledge in Oxford, Vol. X, (1653; Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1865), 325). Charles Hambrick-Stowe proved that the Puritans were strongly influenced by later medieval theology, i.e., that they took freely (both openly and less so) from the extremely rich plethora of late medieval texts that were available in print to write their own texts of practical divinity, sermons, and treatises. Thus, while moving forward, the Puritans were very consciously also looking back for inspiration in their mission, which they were trying to fulfill from the sixteenth century until their gradual disappearance in the eighteenth century. By the same token, many aspects of pastoral care and devotional practice were retained or adapted by Puritan ministers as well as by the faithful, in a complex attempt to reconcile Reformation policies with actual practice. See Charles Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982). 6   Bernard McGinn and Richard Emmerson, eds., The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 6–8.


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insurrection, Jack Cade revolt of 1450), pestilence (the Black Plague from 1348), and death which raged through the country as a result of the previous three, many in England believed they were under attack by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and that time was in its final age, an age of ends and renewals. 7 The Great Schism (1378) and wars between popes and secular rulers appeared as the apocalyptic conflict between the tyrant and the false pope which announced impending doom. The Church was subject to attacks of fervent criticism, and talk of the Antichrist and the end of the world pervaded many texts describing current reality in apocalyptic imagery. In England, particularly in the 1370s and 1380s, it was believed that the best age of the world, before the Apocalypse, had already passed and that consequently, current events belonged to the age of the Antichrist. The conviction that the prophecies of the Book of Revelation applied specifically to England further heightened the sense of the upcoming End, 8 and many late medieval texts prophesied an upcoming renewal and the death of the Antichrist. 9 In other words, late medieval eschatological thought objectified many of the political, social, economic, and theological events of the fourteenth century. 10 These ideas on the End and renewal survived in Reformed thought. When we “look at the Reformation not from the twentieth but from the eleventh century,” it appears “very different: Protestantism becomes the culmination (. . .) of the 7   There were two views on the ages of the world. One assumed there were seven ages, according to the days of creation or the seals opened during Armageddon: the first four represented the past and the four riders; and the next three the future in a non-definite time. The second view — in accordance with the traditional teaching of the church fathers, which drew on Saint Paul — perceived the history of the world as comprised of three ages: the past, the present, and the future time of doom. These two models were used freely and interchangeably in both periods. See Brett Edward Whalen, Dominion of God: Christendom and Apocalypse in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 79; and Marjorie Reeves, “The Development of Apocalyptic Thought: Medieval Attitudes,” in The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature, ed. C.A. Patridges and Joseph Wittreich (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 40, 41. 8   Michael Wilks, “Wycliffe and the Great Persecution,” in Prophecy and Eschatology, ed. Michael Wilks (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 47. 9  This is particularly visible in late medieval England. Piers Plowman (ca.  13701390) — along with, e.g., the Wycliffite Last Age of the Church (ca. 1356?) or the Lanterne of Licht (ca.  1409-1415?) — attests to anti-clerical strains in apocalyptic literature, yet texts such as A Warnyng to be Ware (ca. 1382) and various Joachimist texts show that orthodox currents likewise promoted the ideas of renovatio. Together, both trends survived until the seventeenth century. See William Langland, Piers Plowman (London: Edward Arnold, 1978); The Last Age of the Church, in The Last Age of the Church, ed. James Henthorn Todd (Dublin: Dublin University Press, 1840); Anon, Lanterne of Licht, ed. James M. Dean, in Medieval English Political Writings (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996); and A Warnyng to be Ware, in Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries, ed. Russell Hope Robbins (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959). 10  Aberth, From the Brink of the Apocalypse, 4.

The Wrath of God and the Soul on Trial


most powerful religious tendencies of the late Middle Ages”; 11 this includes many eschatological fears and apocalyptic trends which after the Reformation became a continuation of a number of late medieval models. The Puritans were convinced that they lived in the world’s last age, which was to bring the end of the Antichrist, the Roman Catholic pope. Thomas Goodwin interpreted this as “the Light which (. . .) still increaseth, and shall, until Antichrist be consumed (. . .) &c. [and which is] much purer (. . .) than what shines in the Story and Writings of those three latter Primitive Ages.” 12 In other words, because the Reformers fashioned themselves as the army of God against the Antichrist in a war that had entered its final stage, the Puritans were justified in assuming that the end of the world was near and that the best age of the world had already passed. Concluding that England was God’s chosen nation, the New Israel (and New England the New Jerusalem), 13 they were willing to accept that assumption, particularly in the light of the situation unraveling in New England at the time. Late seventeenth-century New England found itself in dire circumstances. The consequences of the collapse of the Puritan mission in England culminated by the Restoration in 1660, royal disfavor of the colonies that continued throughout most of the second half of the seventeenth century, domestic issues such as religious dissent (e.g. from the Quakers and Arminianism), conflicts with Native American tribes, natural catastrophes, and concerns about divine anger with the “City upon a Hill” built up into a dense atmosphere of impending doom. Massachusetts Bay Colony went through a generation shift in which the founding saints gave way to their sons, but because they did not, in the view of many, satisfy the expectations of their fathers, preachers such as Increase Mather, Samuel Danforth, or Samuel Willard took up the task of calling their audiences to reform and return to the heroic religious zeal of the previous generation. 14 Catastrophe and divine anger  White, Medieval Religion and Technology, 105.   Thomas Goodwin, The Exposition of that Famous Divine, Thomas Goodwin, D.D. on the Book of Revelation (London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., 1842), 129. As Jeffrey Jue points out, while political and revolutionary situations of the first half of the seventeenth century were of formative importance on early modern millennialism, its formation was not restricted to these influences. See Jeffrey Jue, Heaven Upon Earth. Joseph Mede (1586–1638) and the Legacy of Millenarianism (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006), 141. In fact, millennialism after the Reformation as a genre of thought and texts was largely a Puritan domain, and, interestingly, other Protestants on the whole battled such tendencies. See John Schofield, Cromwell to Cromwell: Reformation to Civil War (Stroud: History Press, 2009), 208. Like some of the religious groups in fourteenthcentury England, the Puritans saw in the Book of Revelation hope for deliverance from their perceived oppression (enacted by, for instance, the conformity policy of Archbishop William Laud, which branded many Puritans as dissidents). 13   Francis Bremer, Shaping New Englands: Puritan Clergymen in Seventeenth-Century New England (New York: Twayne, 1994), 25. 14   Emory Elliott, Power and the Pulpit in Puritan New England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 89, 113. 11



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were to be the price for persistence in sin. Preachers such as John Wilson (the “Son of Thunder”) or Increase Mather were powerful voices in the public admonition of communal sins and convincing narrators of God’s wrath with the moral decay and corruption of the formerly exemplary Puritan community of Massachusetts. 15 However, the ministers of the second generation commanded much less authority than their first-generation predecessors. They were often rich and extremely influential, and this power and influence became increasingly criticized, exposing them also to unforeseen problems such as increased occurrences of unlicensed lay preaching. 16 In other words, Massachusetts Puritan clergy found themselves in a position similar to that of late medieval priests:  17 accused of corruption, elitism, and over-formality in worship and doctrine, having to deal with increased reluctance and resentment towards their participation in both communal and religious lives of their congregations, and lay preachers competing with them for their congregations’ attention. Though different in many ways, in the realm of social performances of pastoral power — conveying the indisputable infallibility of clerical speech, 18 using sermons to promote and establish clerical influence on the laity, or attending and participating in social rituals and events such as funerals, trials, and executions — late medieval and Puritan clergy display a set of commonalities

 Elliott, Power and the Pulpit, 91.   David D. Hall, The Faithful Shepherd. A History of New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 182, 184. Many ministers complained that the laity deemed themselves sufficiently knowledgeable in the matters of faith not to require the help and guidance of their spiritual advisors, and many felt that they were not being given the respect they felt they were due: [i]t was never good with us priests since every soldier and servingman could talk so much of the scriptures”, because “[m]any nowadays of the laity will challenge to themselves great knowledge, yea and think themselves. . .. wiser than their leaders”. See Anthony Gilby, A Pleasant Dialogue, Betweene a Soldier of Barrwicke, and an English Chaplaine, 1581, n.p.; and William Est, The Right Rule of a Religious Life, 1616, 168. Quotations adapted from David Zaret, The Heavenly Contract: Ideology and Organization in Pre-Revolutionary Puritanism (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985), 93-94. 17   For the sake of clarity, I use the term clergy to denote spiritual authorities in both the pre-Reformation and post-Reformation periods, even though there were differences in the social composition and background of priests and ministers in both periods, as there were differences in the organization of their pastoral service (parishes and congregations, means of remuneration, appointment, etc.). The clergy in late medieval England was comprised of priests who belonged to a nation-wide, organized structure governed from Rome, and the Reformed clergy often stood in opposition to episcopacy. Also, the role and influence of Protestant (e.g., Anglican) clergy was much less prominent in the social sphere compared to late medieval priests, yet Puritan ministers, particularly during the Interregnum and in New England, not only took prominent parts in social and lay life but also, very often, were involved in social, legal, and governmental policies of the land. 18  Bremer, Shaping New Englands, 25. 15 16

The Wrath of God and the Soul on Trial


in their pastoral performance and social standing, as well as their influence on the laity and lay life. The second area of similarities lies in the shared perception of catastrophes as a sign of divine wrath. Even a brief overview of apocalyptic currents in early America indicates that there was strong continuity of old world ideas. In the case of the Puritans, this continuity was with the late Middle Ages in particular. 19 Providentialism — the Puritan belief that God actively participates in the unfolding of world history and intervenes in the daily lives of the godly, visible to those able to read his signs such as comets, droughts, or storms — was directly inspired by medieval thought. 20 Also, the late medieval imagery of fiery punishments in hell awaiting unrepentant sinners at the End of Days found its way into Puritan mappings of hell, 21 their adaptations of ars moriendi motifs, 22 and sermons describing the purification of society through a fiery trial. 23 The explanation of catastrophes as divine punishment for the sins of the world allowed the Puritan audience to “make sense of the world” in fearsome but comprehensible terms, because many ministers “mat[ed] terror [with] evangelical inquiry,” 24. The London earthquake of 1382, for instance, was interpreted as God’s punishment for the city’s sinfulness and sexual debauchery. 25 And as fourteenth-century preachers voiced the late medieval conviction that wars, plagues, and famine were punishment for the decline of faith caused by sin and the Antichrist, 26 so Puritan ministers thundered from pulpits that the droughts 19   Stephen S. Stein, “American Millennial Visions: Towards Construction of a New Architectonic of American Apocalypticism” in Imagining the End: Visions of the Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern America, ed. Abbas Amanat and Magnus T. Bernhardsson (New York: Tauris, 2002), 193; Bryan W. Ball, A Great Expectation: Eschatological Thought in English Protestantism to 1660 (Brill: Leiden, 1975), 1, 5. 20  Ball, A Great Expectation, 103; Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956), 218. 21   Michael Wigglesworth, in his 1662 “Day of Doom,” describes a very traditional medieval vision of those rejected during the Last Judgment: “With Iron bands they bind their hands/and cursed feet together,/And cast them all, both great and small,/into the Lake [of fire] for ever,/ Where day and night, without respite,/they wail, and cry, and howl,/For tor’ting pain which they sustain/ In Body and in Soul.” See Michael Wigglesworth, “The Day of Doom,” EEBO, Wing (2nd ed., 1994)/ W2100, 1666, 63–ß64. The poem bears striking resemblance to the late medieval A Warnyng to be Ware. This and all subsequent quotations from primary sources are my own transcriptions. 22   David E. Stannard, The Puritan Way of Death: A Study in Religion, Culture, and Social Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 18–21, 87. 23  Elliott, Power and the Pulpit, 101. 24   David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgement: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 56. 25   Kim M. Phillips and Barry Reay, Sex Before Sexuality: A Premodern History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011), 49. 26   Wilks, “Wycliffe and the Great Persecution,” 52.


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(and resulting threats of famine), war (e.g. King Phillip’s War of 1675), plagues (epidemics of smallpox in the 1660s, yellow fewer and measles in the late 1680s), and death were the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, sent by God to punish His chosen people for spiritual laxity and immorality. The symbolic nature of the imagery of the Apocalypse, in turn, made it easy to interpret and manipulate, facilitating purposeful implementation in pastoral practice; in it we arrive at the main area of focus here. The “apocalyptic terror” in the latter halves of the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries was primarily provoked, enhanced, and enacted by religious authorities. Their position of power was threatened by the growing body of anti-establishment lay preachers (Lollards in the Middle Ages and religious dissenters such as Quakers in Puritan New England), the criticism of wealth and privilege of the clergy, and lay opposition to what was perceived by many as clerical authoritative hegemony. The use of apocalyptic imagery, serving as an explanation for catastrophic events, allowed the clergy to reassert their influence and privilege among their flocks. Public performances allowed the clergy to enforce control and, through that, communal morality and order: the (self)appointed duty of the clergy was not only to preach but also to secure communal peace and religious orthodoxy. Apocalyptic sermons aided in fulfilling this didactic purpose. Both for late fourteenth-century and late seventeenth-century clergy, “the sermonic and converse culture [remained] largely verbal,” 27 and, accordingly, sermons remained the most influential part of pastoral care. In this sense and use, imagery of the End was turned into a moralizing and humbling lesson of obedience and conformity. Death and the angry God as the ultimate judge of souls, set against the background of real and fearful events such as plagues and earthquakes, provoked and perpetuated fear in those hearing such sermons. Religion, after all, had significant cognitive and conceptual influence over communal order and morality in both periods: it shaped how people perceived deviance and threat, and what they feared. This required the clergy to participate, and perform, in a wider public context, extending the real and conceptual sphere of their influence beyond churches and pulpits. Puritan preachers thus used public settings and ritualistic discourse for a variety of rites of passage, 28 reasserting the validity of their preferred and co-created communal identity and the social and moral patterns of communal norms established, to a large extent with their help, in New England, and they participated in all aspects of social life. Having severed themselves from sacramental clerical mediation between the lay and the divine in sacraments rejected by the Reformation, they mastered rituals of power in various forms of authoritative religious expression outside of the

 Bremer, Shaping New Englands, 21.   Such as the conversion narrative. On this aspect of Puritanism, see Patricia Caldwell, The Puritan Conversion Narrative: The Beginnings of American Expression (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). 27


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sacraments, ultimately connecting “the natural and the social worlds to supernatural power” 29 of the divine voice, for which they were channels. 30 Both medieval and Puritan clergy used the imagery of the irrevocable judgment and the “drama of crisis” preceding the End of Days 31 to articulate a moral lesson from God, with whose voice they spoke. 32 Thomas Wimbledon’s fourteenth-century apocalyptic Redde Rationem Villicationis Tue (1388), through the “voice of God” calls for obedience and repentance, contextualized by the aftermath of the Peasants’ Revolt. The preacher supports his arguments with divine authority, conveying that God knows, sees, and hears all that every man feels, thinks, and does. He also implies that he, the preacher, partakes in this divine knowledge and is a chosen vessel for God’s voice: God him selfe shall heere thys rekening; he, that seeth all our dedis, and all our thoughtes fro the beggining of our lyfe to the ende, and he shall shew there the hid thingis of our hert, opening to all the world the rightfulnes of his dome: so that, with the myght of God euery mans dedis to all the world shall beth shewed (. . .) [t]hese bookes beth mens consciences, that now be closed, but than shulleth be opened to all the world to reden therin, both dedis and thoughtes. 33

The fact that God can see into every man’s book of conscience causes fear of the absolute objectivity and completeness of divine judgment, and it induces guilt among those who have not yet confessed their sins to a priest and therefore have not relieved themselves of the burden of a deed which God will relentlessly punish. The divine judge and the preacher become one, and so the priest is also the accuser in the name of God. In the absence of liturgy as the nucleus of public religious practice, preaching in Puritan England and New England combined religious, educational, and normative functions. 34 Increase Mather, one of the most prominent second-generation preachers in New England, was particularly renowned for his extensive use of the motifs of decline and doom referential to the overall ambience of the times and for   David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, 19–20, 168.   Many Puritan preachers, such as Increase Mather, followed Calvin to insist that signs with which God communicates with the world should only be read by those destined to be mediators between the human and the divine, i.e., ministers. 31   McGinn and Emmerson, The Apocalypse, 3, 6. 32   Mary Hayes, Divine Ventriloquism in Medieval English Literature: Power, Anxiety, Subversion (London: Palgrave McMillan, 2011), 1–12. 33   Thomas Wimbledon, A sermon no lesse godly then learned [Redde Rationem Villicationis Tue] [ca. 1388], in John Foxe, Actes and Monuments, EEBO, STC (2nd ed.)/ 11225, 1583, n.p. (pages are unnumbered). Hereafter referenced as Redde. 34   Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 1, 35. 29



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calling upon the audience to reform. He argued that storms, droughts, and social and political disorders were signs of people’s internal sinfulness and of God’s vengeful wrath: 35 such things should be observed among the Stars in heaven, as would be a Sign that Christ’s coming to Judge the World, did approach (. . .) Signs that the Lord is coming (. . .) to punish the World for their Iniquityes (. . .) such fearful Sights are tokens of God’s Anger (. . .) flaming Vengeance is kindled, and burning in Heaven against a sinful World. Now when God is angry, then Publick Judgements come. 36

Puritan preachers made extensive use of their self-proclaimed duty to interpret signs of God’s anger and to admonish sinners publicly, a duty warranted by God as a sign of mercy that would give sinners a chance to hear His warnings. Mather explored this to the full. For him, the Final Judgment was to be heralded by various acts of divine providence: “strange Divine Judgements, Tempests, Floods, Earthquakes, Thunders (.  .  .) [and] Remarkable Judgements upon noted Sinners.” 37 Comets, catastrophes, and calamities — such as the 1662 and 1666 great droughts, the 1664, 1665, and 1668 bad crops, or the 1666 and 1667 comets and ominous lights in the sky seen as shaped as a spear aimed at the heart of New England 38 — all indicated that God was going to bring the world to an end. Threatened with visions of God’s sweeping Judgements (HA, 23), people were to adhere to ministerial guidance: 39 “if Sinners turn not, the Arrows of Pestilence and Death shall fall down upon them speedily” (HA, 20). Having asserted that God was on their side, both Mather and Wimbledon focused on instruction about behavior necessary to evade eternal damnation. From Wimbledon’s sermon the audience learns that the spiritual state in which the soul died was decisive for salvation: “[w]ell ought euerie man drede the day of his death. For in what state a mans last day findeth hym, whan he dyeth out of this worlde, in the same state he bringeth hym to his dome” (Redde, n.p.). The very same meaning is conveyed by Mather, who also warns against facing judgment and death in the state of sin: “[a]nd now know for certain, that if destroying Judgements and Death overtake any in their Sins, and sweep them away to Hell, their blood shall be upon

 Elliott, Power and Pulpit, 89, 113.   Increase Mather, Heaven’s Alarm to the World, EEBO, Wing (2nd ed.)/ M1218, 1682, 12–14. Referenced hereafter as HA. 37   Increase Mather, An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providence, 1684, Preface. See George Lincoln Burr, ed., Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases 1648-1706, (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1914), 3-38. 38  Stout, The New England Soul, 72, 75. 39   Richard Godbeer, The Devil’s Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 129. 35


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their own heads” (HA, 31). 40 Thus, by impressing on the audience the importance of retaining spiritual purity in the face of the uncertain time of reckoning, both Wimbledon and Mather call the audience to trust, and obey, clerical instruction. In the medieval Church, the most basic tool of clerical control was confession, and Wimbledon indirectly augments its importance by asserting that the spiritual purity attained through confession is the only way to avoid damnation. For Mather and the Puritans, confession no longer had the redeeming power of a sacrament, although atonement, contrition, and both public and private repentance retained their purifying effect. The two discussed sermons thus prepared the ground for the final assertion of normative power, from indirect suggestions to open calls for adherence to ecclesiastical rites of purification and readmission to the ranks of the pure. The recommended remedy for divine wrath was timely repentance, which “in this life come neuer too late if it be trew (. . .) [And] by thys vengeaunce that God tooke on thys king, men should see, what it is to be vnobedient to God” (Redde, n.p.). Mather, likewise, measures the dramatic effect of the climactic moment as he reveals the remedy to God’s wrath: “I may safely speak (.  .  .) [i]f Repentance intervene, the Evils which otherwise must be looked for, may be diverted (.  .  .) Ay, a general Repentance is that which will do, if every man turn from his evil way” (HA, 32–33). Mather circumvented repentance’s lack of sacramental status as irrelevant to his main argument: organized, contrite, and guided repentance (Puritan ministers claimed absolute knowledge of the godly ways of Christian conduct) was the only way to avoid God’s anger. Emphasis was put on the necessity to submit to the Church’s power in a repeatable, regular, and humbling process of allowing it the right to control the conscience, morality, and actions of each individual in return for spiritual comfort and a sense of safety from divine anger. 41 Both texts highlight

40  Michael G. Hall, The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather 1639–1723 (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1988), 171. Publishing Heaven’s Alarm in 1682, Mather was convinced that the Apocalypse would come in 1697. In 1388 Wimbledon, in turn, argued that the end of the world would take place in the year 1400. 41   In Puritan teaching, “[w]hile the emphasis (. . .) was on individual confession in personal prayer before God, some also acknowledged the place of confession to another.” See Gordon Smith, “The Penitential: An Evangelical Perspective,” in Repentance in Christian Theology, ed. Mark J. Boda and Gordon T. Smith (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2006), 274. In the early seventeenth century, William Perkins voiced the need for an equivalent of Roman Catholic confession, noting that, apart from its theologically erroneous sacramental status, it was an overall necessary and important part of pastoral care: if the Minister be to confesse his peoples sinnes (. . .) then it followeth also that they must discouer and confesse them vnto him, (. . .) the want of this is a great fault in our Churches: for how euer we condemne Auricular confession (. . .) yet we not onely allowe, but call and cry for that confession, wherby a Christian voluntarily at all times may resort to his Pastor, and open his estate.


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the dire consequences for those who fail or refuse to conform to such ecclesiastical authority. In both sermons, the sense of guilt for individual sin is augmented by the branding of communal sin. Wimbledon describes the Final Judgment as a collective, “general” event in which God will discern sinners from saints, and as a time in which not only individual sins but also sins of the world will be punished. This speaks to the medieval conviction that the community was responsible for the sins of its individual members, and to the underlying fear within communities that God would exert divine collective punishment (as in the case of the 1382 earthquake). The predominant Puritan narrative was, likewise, that God held communities responsible for the crimes and sins of individuals, so keeping communal morality intact was the responsibility and duty of each individual member. 42 Social cohesion and uniformity in Christian living were essential for communal and individual safety, both physical and spiritual, and particularly important for Puritans in New England, who were struggling to keep the state they founded operational. In other words, since already in the 1670s the Puritans were, effectively, running a country, any transgression that threatened the spiritual (and thus social) well-being of the community was treated as an act of sedition and disloyalty and punished accordingly. 43 See William Perkins, Of the Calling of the Ministerie, Two Treatises, 1606, 21 EEBO, STC (2nd Ed.) 19733a. In subsequent years “there was significant continuity with the Roman Catholic tradition.” See Paul Chang-Ha Lim, In Pursuit of Purity, Unity and Liberty. Richard Baxter’s Puritan Ecclesiology in its Seventeenth-Century Context (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 45. Ministers of the next generation after Perkins, such as Richard Baxter, attempted to cater for this pastoral need by “protestantizing (. . .) the Catholic confessional system” (Chang-Ha Lim, In Pursuit of Purity, 45–46). For instance, Baxter wrote: if you have sinned (. . .) first open the case to some faithful Minister or able Christian in secret, that you may have good advice (. . .) And for Popish confession, I detest it: we would not perswade men that there is a necessity of confessing every sin to a Minister before it can be pardoned. Nor do we do it in a perplexed formality only at one time of the year: nor in order to Popish pardons, or Satisfactions. But we would have men go for Physick to their souls, (. . .) And let me advise all Christian Congregations to practice this excellent duty more. (. . .) we must go to those that God hath made our Directors and Guids [sic]. See Richard Baxter, The Right Method for a Settled Peace of Conscience and Spiritual Comfort, EEBO, Wing/ B1373A, 1653, 327, 516, 515. 42   In Massachusetts, people were encouraged to monitor their neighbors and report to the authorities any signs of immorality, witchcraft, crime, or blasphemy. Confirmed accusations were often rewarded financially. See Edgar J. McManus, Law and Liberty in Early New England: Criminal Justice and Due Process, 1620–1692 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), 38; see entire chap. 3, 38–56. 43  As proved by the apocalyptic texts where the divine judge gives authority to earthly judges, both secular and religious. Danforth’s The Cry of Sodom Inquired Into (1674) presents God

The Wrath of God and the Soul on Trial


The interpretive scope and uses of the Apocalypse in both periods, as shown above, display a certain number of similarities. The focus on catastrophes as signifying change and the End, as well as emphasis on the renewal of the Church as one of the most important features of the final age of time, set the scene for convincing clerical persuasion in both periods. Late fourteenth-century England and late seventeenth-century New England resemble each other with respect to the intensification of eschatological fears, audiences in both periods believing that they were living in the final age of the world and that the time of judgment was near. Simultaneously, in both periods anticlerical moods and lapses in communal piety made it imperative for the clergy to reassert their influence over society. The increase in the popularity and dissemination of the imagery of the final combat with Antichrist encouraged the laity to conduct moral self-examination, and it induced an enhanced sense of individual responsibility for the community. The clerical use of apocalyptic vocabulary and imagery was both the result of and reason for such heightened eschatological fears. Discourse of divine wrath for the sins of the world, God’s stern and merciless judgment, unavoidable punishment, and apocalyptic imagery interwoven with that of justice and repentance work together by forming a cultural space where a clerically induced sense of fear and guilt forces the audience to submit to the order and structure provided by the clergy by means of instruction and punitive social control. The purifying and reconciling effects of repentance in clerical hands are transformed into preventive measures against divine wrath at the End of Days, available only through submission to the authority of the clergy. Thomas N. Tentler’s argument about the ecclesiastical system of social control deriving from clerical “theology of law, authority, guilt and absolution,” 44 realized in the performance of penance, was successfully applied to public spectacles of ecclesiastical authority in order to boost social conformity and clerical supervision over social life. The clergy admonished sins, narrated the terror of God’s wrath with unrepentant sinners, and himself as the prosecutor: “that he might clear up the Equity (. . .) and set an Example unto Civil Judges, (. . .) and after accurate Examination to proceed to Sentence and Judgement; He condeseendeth after the manner of men, to make Proof and Triall of the truth.” See Samuel Danforth, The Cry of Sodom Inquired Into; Upon Occasion of the Arraignment and Condemnation of Benjamin Goad, for his Prodigious Villany, together with a Solemn Exhortation to tremble at God’s Judgements, and to Abandon Youthful Lusts, EEBO, Wing (2nd ed., 1994)/ D176, 1674, 2. As Danforth makes clear, civil judgment is a direct reflection of divine will. As pointed out by the anonymous 1692 Fair Warning to Murderers of Infants, religious and civil power are connected through the authority of God “who caused gibbets to preach, [and] make[s] the most Refractory of Rebels hear.” Quoted from Randall Martin, Women, Murder and Equity in Early Modern England (New York: Routledge, 2008), 90. 44   Thomas T. Tentler, “The Summa for Confessors as an Instrument of Social Control,” in The Pursuit of Holiness, ed. Charles Edward Trinkaus and Heiko Oberman (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 124.


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then offered a remedy to this wrath. Ritualized readmission into the community of the pure ensured that community’s integrity through positioning its members on the recipient side of ecclesiastical power. Thus the clergy of both periods formed a niche that they alone could fill. The clear connections between the late medieval and Puritan clerical control mechanisms in apocalyptic sermons are a result of a visibly shared apocalyptic tradition, and are underscored by similarities in historical context combined with the clerical drive (shared by both medieval and Puritan clergy) to enforce order and maintain authority. 45 In other words, the imagery of the Apocalypse as the impeding End, and of fiery punishments of hell and divine vengeance for sin, shared by both the late medieval and Puritan eschatological culture through a shared historical and social context, served also as a tool for enacting order and calming these fears; the clergy also used it to reaffirm their power as Vicars of Christ on Earth.

45   The late medieval sermon tradition was widely available to Puritan preachers. Wimbledon’s sermon, included in Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1563), was printed many times throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries (i.e., in editions of 1563, 1570, 1572, 1575, 1582, 1584, 1603, 1617, 1629, 1634, 1635, 1738) and in the seventeenth century was popularly included in collections of Puritan sermons as recommended reading. It was also printed later, in Anglican as well as Puritan collections, and is an example of the availability of late medieval examples of clerical rule for Puritan ministers, who studied and knew many other medieval writers and texts. See John Foxe, Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching matters of the Church, 1563. For discussion, see Gerald Robert Owst, Preaching in Medieval England: An Introduction to Sermon Manuscripts of the Period c. 1350–1450 (1926; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 361; and Lynne Staley, “Susanna’s Voice,” in Sacred and Profane in Chaucer and Late Medieval Literature, ed. Robert Epstein and William Robins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 57–58. A detailed study of the influence of medieval religious literature on Puritan authorship and religious culture was conducted by Charles Hambrick-Stowe in The Practice of Piety.

The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia: The Sermon on the Antichrist J. Eugene Clay The Sermon on the Antichrist [Slovo o Antikhriste] attributed to the Syriac Orthodox theologian and poet Ephraem Syrus (ca. 306–373) of Nisibis and Edessa remains to this day one of the most popular eschatological texts among Orthodox Christian Slavs. Found in Slavonic manuscripts as early as the eleventh century, the sermon was copied and recopied in illuminated codices, manuscript books, and personal devotional notebooks. First published in Moscow in February 1647, this homily was reprinted many times during Russia’s imperial period. 1 In the mid-nineteenth century, the Orthodox Church undertook a new translation of the sermon into Russian as part of a broader project of patristic publication. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ephraem’s sermon quickly reappeared in Russia in a 1993 reprint edition issued by the Moscow Patriarchate. 2 In vivid language, the author, who identifies himself as “sinful Ephraem, full of ignorance,” warns his audience against the blandishments and depredations of the coming Antichrist. Although attributed to Ephraem Syrus, the sermon probably dates to the sixth or seventh century, 200 or 300 years after the Syrian father’s death. Amid his descriptions of future horrors, the anonymous author offers quiet assurance and practical advice for his audience. He describes the persecutions, droughts, famines, and death that will take place once the Antichrist, the “shameless and cunning serpent who will confound the whole world,” seizes power. Despite the bleak future he portrays, the author also offers hope: God will preserve and watch over those faithful who devote themselves to prayer and endless weeping. Over the centuries, Pseudo-Ephraem’s voice has   Efrem Sirin [Ephraem Syrus], Poucheniia (Moscow: Pechatnyi dvor, 1647), fols. 295– 305; Francis Thomson, “The Old Bulgarian Translation of the Homilies of Ephraem Syrus,” Paleobulgarica 9, no. 1 (1985): 124–30, here 124n2. 2   Efrem Sirin, Tvoreniia, 8 vols. (Moscow: Izdatel’skii otdel Moskovskogo Patriarkhata, 1993–1995), 2:250–60. 1

Catastrophes and the Apocalyptic in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. by Robert E. Bjork, ASMAR 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 179–196.

FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASMAR-EB.5.117187


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provided comfort and counsel to those who saw themselves in a desperate struggle against the Antichrist or his forerunners. The Russian Old Believers, those religious rebels who rejected the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow (r. 1652–1658) and broke away from the official Russian Orthodox Church, turned to Pseudo-Ephraem (among other holy fathers) to understand how to respond to Nikon’s apostasy. In the nineteenth century, Russian dissenters in remote villages drew on Pseudo-Ephraem’s writings, which they regarded as inspired, to defend their eschatological views against the official church. 3 More recently, during the NATO aerial campaign against Serbia in 1999, some Russian Orthodox Christians turned to the saint to prove the apocalyptic significance of American hegemony. 4

The Historical Ephraem Syrus and Ephraem Graecus Born to a Christian family in Nisibis (present-day Nusaybin, Turkey) around 306, Ephraem served under Bishop Jacob (303–338). In his poetry he described himself as a shepherd, and he may have been ordained as a deacon, although he never formally claimed this title. 5 The historical Ephraem was never a monk, but he did live an ascetic life as a single person (ihadiya in Syriac) in imitation of Christ, the only begotten (ihidaya) Son of God. 6 After Emperor Julian’s disastrous campaign against Persia, the Byzantine Empire abandoned Nisibis in 363, and Ephraem had to leave the city along with many other refugees. Ultimately he ended up in Edessa (today’s Shanliurfa, Turkey), where he died ten years later, in 373. All Orthodox Christians know his name if only for the moving prayer attributed to him that is recited every day during Great Lent: O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk. But give to me Thy servant a spirit of soberness, humility, patience and love. O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to condemn my brother: for blessed art Thou to the ages of ages. O God, cleanse me a sinner. 7

 Aleksandr Lukanin, “Bezpopovtsy pomorskago tolka v Okhanskom uezde Permskoi gubernii,” Permskie eparkhial’nye vedomosti no. 17, neoffitsial’nyi otdel (24 April 1868): 277–83. 4   Oleg Slavin, Zagovor antikhrista (Moscow: Russkii vestnik, 1999). 5   Sydney H. Griffith, “Images of Ephraem: The Syrian Holy Man and His Church,” Traditio 45 (1989–1990): 7–33. 6   Joseph P. Amar, The Syriac Vita Tradition of Ephrem the Syrian (Louvain: Peeters, 2011), XI. 7   The Lenten Triodion, trans. Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1978), 69–70. In the Greek, the word despondency is replaced by “vain curiosity.” 3

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Ephraem wrote extensively in Syriac; because of his eloquent poetry, the Maronite and Jacobite churches call him the “Harp of the Holy Spirit” in their liturgies. 8 He often addressed his harp toward the intangible realities of the afterlife, the end of time, the Last Judgment, the punishment of the damned, and the rewards of the blessed. Against the heresies of Marcion (85–160) and Bar Daysan (154–222), who denigrated matter as something essentially evil, Ephraem celebrated creation with profoundly sensual poetic metaphors. 9 The historical Ephraem Syrus also used vibrant imagery to describe both Paradise and the Last Judgment. 10 Even before his death in 373, Ephraem’s work began to appear in Greek translation. Writing around 392, Jerome mentioned admiringly a Greek version of a work by Ephraem on the Holy Spirit; unfortunately, neither the original Syriac nor the Greek translation is extant. 11 In the mid-fifth century, the church historian Sozomen (ca. 400–ca. 450) noted that many of Ephraem’s works had been translated from Syriac into Greek and that even more translations were being made. 12 Although Theodoret of Cyrrhus (ca. 393–457) remarked approvingly that Ephraem was “totally untainted” by “Greek learning,” a later hagiographer, probably writing in the sixth century, claimed that God had miraculously granted fluency in Greek to the Syrian saint at the request of St. Basil the Great (330–379). 13 As time passed, more and more Greek works were attributed to Ephraem; the listing of works for “Ephraem Graecus” in the authoritative Clavis Patrum Graecorum includes more than 120 different titles. 14 Ephraem Graecus is a very different figure from the historical Syrian church father. In the Greek works attributed to him, Ephraem appears as a monk or as a hermit living in a cave rather than the urban churchman that he actually was. Although the historical Ephraem Syrus was a celibate deacon, he lived and served   Thomas J. Lamy, ed., Sancti Ephraem Syri hymni et sermons, 4 vols. (Mechliniae: Dessain, 1882–1902), 1: xxi. 9   Robert Joseph Morehouse, “Bar Daysan and Mani in Ephraem the Syrian’s Heresiography” (PhD diss., The Catholic University of America, 2013). 10   Ephraem Syrus, Hymns on Paradise, trans. Sebastian Brock (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990); Sebastian Brock, “Ephrem’s Letter to Publius,” Le Muséon 89 (1976): 271–305. 11   Hieronymus [Jerome], Liber de viris inlustribus, ed. E.C. Richardson (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1896), 51, cap. CXV. 12  Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, trans. Edward Walford (London: Bohn, 1855), 134. 13   “De Basilio Magno et S. Ephraem Syro,” in Giuseppe Simone Assemani, Petrus Benedictus, and Stefano Evodio Assemani, eds., Sancti patris nostri Ephraem Syri Opera omnia quae exstant Graece, Syriace, Latine: in sex tomos distributa: ad mss. Codices Vaticanos aliosque castigata, multis aucta, nova interpretatione, praefationibus, notis, variantibus lectionibus illustrata, 6 vols. (Rome: Ex typographia Vaticana apud Joannem Mariam Henricum Salvioni, 1732–1746), 1:xxxiv–xxxix; Amar, Syriac Vita Tradition, xxv. 14   Maurice Geerard, ed., Clavis Patrum Graecorum, 6 vols. (Turnhout: Brepols, 1974–2003), 2:366–467. 8


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Figure 12.1: Johan Sadeler I (1550–1600), Saint Ephraem. The Illustrated Bartsch. Vol. 70, pt. 2, p.222. Reproduced by the kind permission of Abaris Books.

in the city; he did not withdraw into a cloister or flee into the wilderness. The Greek Ephraem was an anchorite who addressed the concerns of cenobitic monks — those ascetics living communally under a common rule. His vita came to include entirely fictional episodes that connected him to both the Egyptian ascetic tradition and the Cappadocian fathers, especially Basil the Great and his brother, Gregory of Nyssa (335–394). In particular, according to his sixth-century hagiographer, Ephraem traveled to Egypt and lived there for several years in a monastery before visiting Basil in Cappadocia. 15 In art in both West and East, Ephraem is pictured as one of the Syriac stylites (as in this sixteenth-century print by the Belgian Johan Stadler, Fig. 12.1). In the Orthodox world, the Dormition of Ephraem can be found in many icons in Meteora and Mount Athos, as in a painting by the sixteenth-century Greek artist Emanuel Tsanfurnari, which resides in the Vatican (Fig. 12.2). For the Slavic world, Ephraem’s most important work, translated into Old Bulgarian by the early tenth century, was the Paraenesis, a collection of approximately 100 sermons (the number varies from 99 to 113 in different manuscripts), the first fifty of which were addressed to Egyptian monks about the ascetic life. Only a few of the Greek works seem to be translations of the compositions of the historical 15

  Griffith, “Images,” 7–33.

The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia


Figure 12.2: Emanuel Tsanfurnari (Zanfurnari), Burial of the Hermit Ephraem, sixteenth century. Pinacoteca, Vatican City. Photo Credit: Scala / Art Resource, NY.

Ephraem Syrus; others have later Syriac prototypes; still others may have been originally composed in Greek, perhaps inspired by Ephraem’s corpus. The strong moral tone, poetic language, and exhortations to repentance of the sermons in the Paraenesis certainly echo the concerns of the historical Ephraem. By the ninth century, when the Greek brothers Cyril and Methodius began their mission to the Slavs, both Ephraem’s genuine works and his extensive pseudepigrapha had become authoritative for both Syriac and Greek Christians. Under the reign of Tsar Simeon (r. 893–927), the scriptoria of Preslav and Ohrid actively translated many important


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Christian works, including a Greek prototype (no longer extant) of the Paraenesis. The text of all the known Slavonic codices goes back to this early translation. 16 The many manuscript copies of the Paraenesis testify to its enduring popularity among Orthodox Slavs. The earliest witness, eight leaves from a codex that included the Paraenesis, is the eleventh-century Macedonian Fragment, copied in Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery in the Glagolitic script (the forerunner of the Cyrillic alphabet); the Macedonian Fragment preserves a section of the Sermon on the Antichrist. 17 Soon after Prince Vladimir of Kiev was baptized in 988, Christian monks brought the Paraenesis to the newly converted land. Old Russian literature abounds with references that testify to the importance of Ephraem’s work among the literate Christian elite. Around 1068, Abbot Feodosii of the Kievan Caves Monastery introduced the Studite rule that prescribed the reading of Ephraem’s sermons during Great Lent, and the twelfth-century monastery patericon includes a reference to the Syriac father. 18 On Mount Athos, a twelfth-century catalogue of manuscripts in the Xilourgou hermitage of the Theotokos, founded by monks from Kievan Rus’, also listed a book by Ephraem. 19 According to his vita, Avraamii of Smolensk (d. 1221) loved to read the saint’s homilies; significantly, Avraamii’s disciple, the author of the vita, took the name Efrem. 20 Later in the thirteenth century, Prince Vladimir Vasil”kovich of Volhynia (r. 1269–1289) commissioned one of the earliest complete extant copies of the Paraenesis, and many other later copies (such as the manuscript in the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, Fig. 12.3) have survived. 21 Monastery libraries   Horace Lunt, “Contributions to the Study of Old Church Slavonic,” International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics 1–2 (1959): 9–37, here 21. 17  Grigorii Andreevich Il’inskii, Makedonskii glagolicheskii listok: otryvok glagolicheskogo teksta Efrema Sirina XI veka (St. Petersburg: Izd. Otd-niia russkago iazyka i slovesnosti Imp. akademii nauk, 1909); Ivan Goshev, Rilski glagolicheski listove (Sofiia: Bulgarska akademiia na naukite, 1956). 18   According to the Slavonic translation of the Studite Rule of Patriarch Alexis of Constantinople (r. 1024–1043), preserved in a complete twelfth-century copy in Moscow’s State Historical Museum (Gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii muzei, Sin. 330), Ephraem’s works were to be read during Great Lent until Bright Tuesday (the Tuesday following Easter). See V.P. Vinogradov, Ustavnye chteniia: propoved’ knigi: istoriko-gomileticheskoe izsledovanie, vol. 1: Ustavnaia reglamentatsiia chtenii v grecheskoi tserkvi (Sergiev Posad: Tip. Sv.-Tr. Sergievoi lavry, 1914), 43; and D.S. Likhachev et al., eds., Pamiatniki literatury drevnei Rusi, XII vek (Moscow: Nauka, 1980), 514. 19   A.S. Arkhangel’skii, Tvoreniia ottsov tserkvi v drevne-russkoi pis’mennosti: izvlecheniia iz rukopisei i opyty istoriko-literaturnykh izuchenii, 4 vols. (Kazan’: Tipografiia Imperatorskogo universiteta, 1889–1890), 3:1–118. 20  Efrem, Die altrussischen hagiographischen Erzählungen und liturgischen Dichtungen über den Heiligen Avraamij von Smolensk (Munich: Fink, 1970). Although presumably written by Efrem in the thirteenth century shortly after his master’s death, the earliest copy of Avraamii’s vita dates only from the sixteenth century. 21   Rossiisskaia natsional’naia biblioteka, Rukopis’nyi otdel, sobranie Pogodina, No. 71a. Arkhangel’skii dated this manuscript to 1492, but Zholobov places it in the late thirteenth century. 16

The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia


Figure 12.3: Slavonic translation of Pseudo-Ephraem’s Sermon on the Antichrist. Fourteenth-century manuscript of the Russian State Library, fond 304, opis’ 1, edinitsa khraneniia 7, listy 229v.–230. Reproduced by the kind permission of the Russian State Library.

often held several editions of the Paraenesis, for it provided readings required by the Studite Rule. 22 The vibrant imagery of the homilies and their practical approach to spiritual questions eventually gained the work an audience outside the cloister. 23 See Arkhangel’skii, Tvoreniia 3:36; and Oleg Feofanovich Zholobov, “Korpus drevnerusskikh spiskov Efrema Sirina II: RNB Pogod. 71a,” Russian Linguistics 33, no. 1 (2009): 37–64. Zholobov has analyzed two other early manuscripts of the Paraenesis in his “Korpus drevnerusskikh spiskov Efrema Sirina, I: RGADA, Sin. 38,” Russian Linguistics 31, no.  1 (2007): 31–59; and “Korpus drevnerusskikh spiskov Parenesisa Efrema Sirina III, 1: BAN 31.7.2,” Russian Linguistics 35 (2011): 361–80. A partial list of manuscripts is in Thomson, “Old Bulgarian,” 124–25. 22   Opisi Solovetskogo monastyria XVI veka, ed. Z.V. Dmitrieva et al. (St. Petersburg: Bulanin, 2003), 34, 46, 76, 115, 158; Knizhnye tsentry drevnei Rusi: Solovetskii monastyr’ (St. Petersburg: Bulanin, 2001), 146–77; Knizhnye tsentry drevnei Rusi: Iosifo-volokolamskii monastyr’ kak tsentr knizhnosti, ed. D.S. Likhachev (Leningrad: Nauka, 1991), 16–23. 23   See, for example, the many personal copies of Ephraem’s sermons made especially by the Old Believers. T.V. Panich and L.V. Titova, Opisanie sobraniia rukopisei IIFiF SO AN SSSR (Novosibirsk: Nauka, Sibirskoe otdelenie, 1991), 27, 77–81, 148, 197–200, 234.


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The Sermon on the Antichrist The Sermon on the Antichrist entered the Slavic world as one of the eschatological sermons near the end of the Paraenesis. 24 In most manuscripts, the sermon is numbered 104, 105, or 106, grouped with a small number of homilies with similar themes. Part of the sermon’s appeal is the voice of the preacher, who directly addresses his “Christ-loving” and “perfect” brothers several times over the course of the homily. Pseudo-Ephraem’s word pictures expand on the vision of the eschaton, going beyond the canonical Scriptures in its imaginative detail. Although translated into Slavonic as prose, part of the Greek version of the text follows a metrical scheme. 25 Rather than simply providing a curriculum vitae of the Antichrist or indicating a set of pre-defined events determined by prophecy, Pseudo-Ephraem encourages his brothers to persevere in cultivating Christian virtues, to repent of their sins, and to remain faithful to their calling in Christ. He also assures them that God will give the faithful the ability to see through Antichrist’s wiles; God will also provide a refuge for them during the great tribulation that is to come. 26 The sermon is divided into an introduction and three additional sections, each of which is marked by a central exhortation. In the introduction the author begins in all humility by admitting that he is only “sinful Ephraem, full of ignorance,” who will speak about matters that are beyond his power to express. At the same time, he claims divine inspiration: God himself moves his tongue “for the good and edification of all.” 27 Pseudo-Ephraem introduces the main themes of his homily: God will allow the Antichrist, the “shameless and cunning serpent,” to come to power “because of the increase of lawlessness everywhere in the world.” 28 Through deceitful tricks and false miracles, the Antichrist will fool the whole world, except for those “who are found pleasing to God”; they “will be able to save themselves in the

24   Irina Ågren, Parenesis Efrema Sirina: k istorii slavianskogo perevoda (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1989); Georg Bojkovsky, ed., Paraenesis. Die altbulgarische Übersetzung von Werken Ephraims des Syrers, 5 vols. (Freiburg: Weiher, 1984–1990). 25   D. Hemmerdinger-Iliadou, “Ephrem grec,” Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique: doctrine et histoire, 10 vols. (Paris: Beauchesne, 1960), vol.  4, cols.  804–5; Wonmo Suh, “From the Syriac Ephrem to the Greek Ephrem: A Case Study of the Influence of Ephrem’s Isosyllabic Sermons (Memre) on Greek-Speaking Christianity” (PhD diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 2000), 315; Assemani et al., Sancti patris nostri Ephraem Syri Opera omnia, 2:222–30; 3:134–43. 26  Emmanouela Grypeou, “Ephraem Graecus, ‘Sermo In Adventum Domini’: A Contribution to the Study of the Transmission of Apocalyptic Motifs in Greek, Latin and Syriac Traditions in Late Antiquity,” in Graeco-Latina et Orientalia: studia in honorem Angeli Urbani heptagenarii, ed. Samir Khalil Samir and Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala (Córdoba: CNERU, 2013), 165–79. 27  Efrem, Poucheniia, 295. 28  Efrem, Poucheniia, 295v.

The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia


mountains and hills and empty places and in much prayer and countless tears.” 29 The reign of the Antichrist will be a time of sorrow, confusion, death, and famine. Pseudo-Ephraem ends the introduction with a call to prayer: “Let us pray diligently with tears day and night in prayers that we might help some people to be saved.” 30 After the introduction, Pseudo-Ephraem opens the body of the sermon with exhortations to pray for escape from the coming tribulation and for strength to endure it: “Therefore many prayers and tears will be required, beloved, so that we might be found firm against these attacks, for many will be the false visions wrought by the beast.” 31 Anyone who is even the least bit careless will fall captive to the serpent’s deceptions. “Such a person will find no mercy on the day of judgment; it will be revealed that by his own will he believed the tyrant.” 32 Elaborating on a tradition recorded by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, Ephraem compares the wiles of the Antichrist to those of the wicked biblical prophet Balaam, who secretly advised Balak, the king of the Midianites, about how to defeat the Israelites (Num. 22–25, 31). 33 Following the prophet’s counsel, Balak placed Midianite women on the rooftops in plain view of the Israelite men. To enter the city and fornicate with these “shameless” women, the Israelites had to perform a heathen sacrifice at the city gates; the women asked for no other payment. To catch everyone in their trap, the Midianites provided a suitable temptress for each class of men: princesses for the princes, rich women for the wealthy, and plain women for the commoners. Seduced into violating Mosaic law, the Israelites lost God’s favor: “Wielding fornication, that double-edged sword, the women killed those who came to them with two evil deaths: sacrifice and debauchery.” 34 Similarly, the Antichrist will “begin with the belly” (ot chreva nachinaet); he will use hunger, rather than sexual lust, to force everyone to accept his seal. 35 By having his officials purchase all available food, the Antichrist will take advantage of his monopoly to place his mark on the right hand and forehead of anyone who wishes to buy or sell (cf. Rev. 13:16–17). The seal of the serpent is strategically located so that the person who receives the mark will be unable to make the sign of the cross, which can overcome all evil. 36 Pseudo-Ephraem closes this section of the sermon with a hopeful exhortation to rely on the name of God and the sign of the cross: “If someone signs himself with the sign of Christ, then he will not be taken captive by his false visions, nor again  Efrem, Poucheniia, 296v.  Efrem, Poucheniia, 297. 31  Efrem, Poucheniia, 297. 32  Efrem, Poucheniia, 297v. 33   Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, bk. 4, chap. 6. The Bible identifies Balak as king of Moab, not of Midian (Num. 22:10). 34  Efrem, Poucheniia, 298. 35  Efrem, Poucheniia, 298v. 36  Efrem, Poucheniia, 298v. 29



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will the Lord abandon such a person, but will enlighten his heart and will draw him to Himself.” 37 The serpent will do all that he can to ensure that Christ’s name is not spoken in these days, for the name of the Savior renders him powerless. In spite of the beast’s efforts, the Lord himself will appear quietly to his true believers to protect them “from the intrigues of the beast.” For their part, Christians must “hold to the true and most pure faith of Christ,” which is able to drive away the power of the enemy. 38 In the second section of the body of the sermon, Pseudo-Ephraem calls the holy assembly to take up their spiritual weapons, especially the shield of faith, and prepare for the great trial that stands at the doors. Christians need to recognize the Antichrist, who “will take on the form of the true pastor to deceive the sheep of the flock.” Exhorting his audience to study the form that the serpent will take on earth, Ephraem provides a brief biography of the Antichrist. If he could, the “impure and most cunning enemy” would imitate Christ’s second coming and arrive on earth “in bright clouds like terrifying lightning” so as to deceive everyone. He cannot do this, however, for he is an apostate. Instead, the Antichrist must imitate Christ’s first coming. Knowing that Christ became incarnate in the womb of a virgin, the Antichrist will be born of an impure woman, who will serve as his vessel. PseudoEphraem hastens to say that Satan himself will not beget the Antichrist; nevertheless, the Antichrist will be born in the devil’s image as a “most impure thief.” 39 Significantly, in this sermon Pseudo-Ephraem does not claim that the Antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan, a tradition that goes back to Irenaeus of Lyons and Hippolytus of Rome — and one that is affirmed in De fine mundi, another famous eschatological discourse attributed to Ephraem. 40 Although “the Jews will greatly respect him for they await his arrival,” the Antichrist appears to be a Gentile ruler; initially his officials will come from the nations of Edom, Moab, and Ammon (cf. Dan. 11:41; Jer. 25:21). At the same time, “the barbarous and murderous Jews will begin to respect him and to rejoice at his kingdom,” for he will also respect them and provide a place and a church (i mesto i tserkov’) for them. Initially, the Antichrist will appear humble and pious, a hater of idolatry and a lover of the downtrodden. Deceptively charming and physically attractive, the Antichrist will win a wide following. Generous, he will demand no gifts; “he will not speak with anger, and he will not appear sad, but always joyful.” 41 Believing the Antichrist to be blessed and righteous, his many supporters will call for him to be crowned king. 42

 Efrem, Poucheniia, 299.  Efrem, Poucheniia, 299. 39  Efrem, Poucheniia, 300. 40   Gregory C. Jenks, The Origins and Early Development of the Antichrist Myth (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1991), 45–53, 77–78. 41  Efrem, Poucheniia, 300v. 42  Efrem, Poucheniia, 300v–301. 37


The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia


Once in power, however, the Antichrist will reveal his true nature. He will begin his career by killing three great kings in anger — an incident, drawn from the book of Daniel (7:8, 24–25), that informs many other accounts of the End Times. At that time “the serpent will pour out his bitterness.” 43 No longer will he appear to be pious or a lover of the poor, but he will be insolent, angry, irritated, clumsy, terrifying, immoral, hateful, loathsome, uncontrolled, cunning, and shameless. He will perform false miracles and command a mountain to move from one side of the sea to the other. Even though the mountain will in fact remain in place, the crowds of spectators will be fooled by the Antichrist’s deceitful trick. In the same way, he will hoodwink the masses into believing that he has raised a mountain from the floor of the sea. Likewise, he will be able to hunt without effort; simply by extending his arms, he will gather many animals and birds. Miraculously, he will also appear to walk in the air above an abyss as though on dry ground. 44 Deluded by these tricks, many people will begin to worship the Antichrist as God Himself. Pseudo-Ephraem, however, reassures his audience that “the one who keeps God in himself and who has enlightened the eyes of his heart” will recognize the Antichrist for who he really is. 45 In the concluding section, Pseudo-Ephraem describes the horrors of the Antichrist’s reign and the victory of the returning Christ. The whole world will suffer a famine, but only those who have accepted the tyrant’s seal will be able to purchase the small amount of available food. Entire families will perish from hunger; with no one to bury them, their corpses will rot on the streets and exude an overpowering stench. Gold and silver will lose their value; they will lie on the street, and no one will touch them. Wild animals and venomous reptiles will begin to attack and to feed on humans. The Antichrist’s followers will turn to him in vain and ask for something to eat, but the tyrant will angrily admit his impotence: “O people, where will I find something for you to eat and drink? Heaven does not give rain to the earth, so the earth gives no grain.” 46 In the desperate struggle for survival, physical beauty will fade away, brothers will die in each other’s embrace, and most will find no escape. 47 Turning from these disasters, Pseudo-Ephraem assures his listeners of God’s mercy. Even before the calamities begin, God will give the world one last chance by sending the famous Old Testament prophet Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kings 17–19) and Enoch, the patriarch who walked with God (Gen. 5:21–24). In keeping with an old tradition, Pseudo-Ephraem identifies these two men with the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11. They will speak “true faith” and “divine reason” to the human race, saying:  Efrem, Poucheniia, 301.  Efrem, Poucheniia, 301v. 45  Efrem, Poucheniia, 301v. 46  Efrem, Poucheniia, 302v. 47  Efrem, Poucheniia, 302v–303. 43



j. eugene clay O people, none of you should believe the Unclean One; he is a deceiver. None of you should listen to the tyrant, the enemy of God. Let none of you be afraid, for soon he will be no more. The holy Lord will come from heaven to judge all who have believed in the sign of the Antichrist. 48

Unlike other exegetes of the end time, Pseduo-Ephraem claims that the two prophets will successfully convert many who listen to their message, for God does not desire the death of sinners but, rather, their repentance. In keeping with his positive description of their mission, Pseudo-Ephraem provides no account of the martyrdom of the two witnesses. Indeed, thanks to the preaching of these two prophets, God will save many latecomers, who will pour out rivers of tears with sighs toward the Holy God to escape the serpent. And they will flee with great alacrity into the deserts and caves with terror. And they will sprinkle themselves with earth and ashes and with tears they will pray day and night with much humility. And they will be given help from God. 49

But those who have their minds fixed on the things of this world will be unable to recognize the Antichrist or escape from him. 50 As the tyrant’s reign reaches its apogee, all of creation will lament: “Then the whole earth and the sea and the air will weep. The wild animals and the birds will weep together. The mountains and hills and the trees of the field will weep.” 51 The sun, moon, and stars will also weep for the human race, which has turned away from God, rejected the true faith for the Antichrist’s deception, and replaced the Savior’s cross with the image of the beast. The true church, hidden in remote caverns and hills, will also weep, for the holy liturgy and singing and prayer will have disappeared from the earth. 52 At this darkest moment, Pseudo-Ephraem turns again toward hope and to a dramatic description of the parousia, the resurrection of the dead, and the final defeat of the tyrant. Like a flash of lightning, Christ will return in glory accompanied by a fiery river of angels and archangels. Lowering their eyes, the cherubim and seraphim will cry out, and the trumpet will sound to announce the resurrection of the dead: “Arise, sleeper, lo, the Bridegroom has come” (cf. Eph. 5:14, Matt. 25:6, 10). 53 “Then the graves will be opened and the rotting dust will hear the great and terrible coming of the Savior. And in the blink of an eye the whole human

 Efrem, Poucheniia, 303v.  Efrem, Poucheniia, 304. 50  Efrem, Poucheniia, 304–304v. 51  Efrem, Poucheniia, 304v. 52  Efrem, Poucheniia, 304v. 53  Efrem, Poucheniia, 305. 48 49

The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia


race will arise and will see the unspeakable glory of the Bridegroom.” 54 Christ will pronounce his judgment on the tyrant and his demons, who will be bound and cast into the inextinguishable fires of eternal torment. The saints who refused the mark of the beast will finally emerge from the caves and the pits where they had taken refuge, and “they will rejoice with the Bridegroom with unspeakable joy.” 55 Primarily concerned with encouraging his audience to remain faithful, Pseudo-Ephraem uses his abbreviated account of the End Times as an occasion for exhortation. He gives no sense that the end is near; indeed, he suggests that it is still possible to escape the great tribulation through prayer. He shows little interest in identifying specific historical events that fulfill the prophecies of Revelation, nor does he try to determine the precise time when the Antichrist will come. For Pseudo-Ephraem, an active Christian faith will prove more useful to his Christloving brothers than any eschatological speculation, for God himself will give discernment, encouragement, and endurance to the one who holds to the truth. Rather than speculate about the timing of the end, Ephraem urges his audience to remain steadfast.

The Influence of the Sermon Translated into Slavonic from Greek, the Sermon on the Antichrist became part of the Muscovite apocalyptic heritage, which included many of (Pseudo-)Ephraem’s other homilies as well as important eschatological texts attributed to the biblical patriarchs Enoch and Abraham, the Apostle Paul, and the church fathers Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170–ca. 235), Cyril of Jerusalem (313–386), and Methodius of Patara (d. 311). 56 Pseudo-Ephraem’s primary contribution to this apocalyptic literature were his vivid depictions — repeated almost verbatim in many of the homilies in the Paraenesis — of the Antichrist’s reign and of the Last Judgment. According to the Tale of Bygone Years (Povest’ vremennykh let), a twelfth-century Kievan chronicle, such poetic and artistic representations of Byzantine eschatology played an important role in the conversion of the Rus’ to Orthodox Christianity; a Greek “philosopher” who visited the Kievan court in 986 impressed Prince Vladimir with his stark verbal description of the Day of Judgment, as well as his canvas (zapona) that depicted the end of the world. 57 Some of the eschatological works that were translated into Slavonic and circulated among the eastern Slavs went so far as to give specific indications about the date of Judgment Day. Following an ancient patristic  Efrem, Poucheniia, 305.  Efrem, Poucheniia, 305v. 56   Michael Alexander Pesenson, “Visions of Terror, Visions of Glory: A Study of Apocalyptic Motifs in Early East Slavic Literature” (PhD diss., Yale University, 2002), 32–63. 57   The Povest’ Vremennykh Let: An Interlinear Collation and Paradosis, ed. Donald Ostrowski and David Birnbaum, 3 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003). 54 55


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tradition dating back to the second-century father Irenaeus, several texts, including Second Enoch and the Revelation of Methodios of Patara, posited that the world would last no longer than seven millennia: just as the world was created in seven days, so it would endure 7,000 years, for “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8, cf. Psalm 90:4). 58 This idea seems to have gained some traction among the literate elite of Kievan Rus’: as early as 1136, the Novgorod deacon Kirik, who wrote a treatise on numbers, made a special point of calculating the exact number of years (356) that remained before 7000 Anno Mundi, indicating the significance of that date. In speaking of the future, Kirik piously qualifies his calculations by stating “if God in his mercy preserves the world until that time.” 59 Notably, before the late fifteenth century, East Slavic Orthodox paschal tables, which were used to determine the date of Easter in accordance with church canons, did not continue past the year 7000 am (1492 ad). 60 Presumably, Christ’s return, which would occur by the end of the seventh millennium, would obviate the need for the calendar. At the end of the fifteenth century, this entire eschatological corpus came under question when the year 7000 came and went without incident. Even though Pseudo-Ephraem’s Sermon on the Antichrist offered no definitive timeline for the end of the age, it also suffered attacks. In the 1490s, the skeptics, who were tarred as “Judaizers” by their detractors, scoffed at the long delay of Christ’s Second Advent and mocked Ephraem in particular for his portrayals of Judgment Day. In order to defend (pseudo-)Ephraem, one anonymous Orthodox heresiologist composed a treatise that cited excerpts from the saint’s apocalyptic descriptions and compared them to the Scriptures and other holy writings. Finding the Syrian father’s eschatological views to be perfectly in accord with the Bible and church tradition, the anonymous author faulted the skeptics for claiming that: One thousand and one hundred years have passed since St. Ephraem wrote, and the Second Coming of Our Lord has not yet occurred. And if the writings of St. Ephraem were true, then the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ would have happened when St. Ephraem wrote about these things. 61

58  Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 5.28.3; Grant Macaskill, The Slavonic Texts of 2 Enoch (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 130; “Otkrovenie Mefodiia Patarskogo,” in Drevnerusskie apokrify, ed. V.V. Mil’kov (St. Petersburg: Izdatelstvo Russkogo Khristianskogo gumanitarnogo instituta, 1999), 652–88. 59  Kirik Novgorodets, “Uchenie imzhe vedati cheloveku chisla vsekh let,” Istorikomatematicheskie issledovaniia 6 (1953): 174–91; Gerhard Podskalsky, “Principal Aspects and Problems of Theology in Kievan Rus’,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 11, no. 3/4 (December 1987): 270–86. 60  “Drevnie russkie paskhalii na os’muiu tysiachu let ot sotvoreniia mira,” Pravoslavnyi sobesednik, part 3, no. 11 (1860): 331–56. The Byzantine calendar, which was adopted by Kievan Rus’, generally dated Christ’s birth to 5508 am. 61   N.A. Kazakova and Ia. S. Lur’e, Antifeodal’nye ereticheskie dvizheniia na Rusi XIV–nachala XVI veka (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1955), 409.

The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia


To counter this view, the Orthodox author tried to demonstrate that Ephraem’s teaching was completely consistent with a long line of prophecies stretching back to the patriarch Enoch, the putative author of 2 Enoch: Five thousand years ago or more, righteous Enoch wrote about these things, and three thousand years ago, the great Moses also spoke of them. Two thousand five hundred years ago, holy David wrote about this, and two thousand or more years ago the holy prophets wrote about these things. One thousand five hundred years have passed since the evangelical and apostolic writings. 62

According to the anonymous author, the remarkable uniformity of these different descriptions of the end of time, written by different inspired prophets over thousands of years, proved Ephraem’s reliability: “Behold, the writings of the prophets and the evangelists and the apostles and St. Ephraem speak of the same things!” 63 Shortly afterward, Iosif Volotskii (Ivan Ivanovich Sanin, 1439–1515), the abbot and founder of the prominent Volokolamsk monastery, composed his Enlightener (Prosvetitel’) to refute the so-called “Judaizing” heresy. 64 For his tenth sermon in the Enlightener, which defended Ephraem’s writings, Iosif relied heavily on the anonymous treatise — which he may have authored himself. 65 Like his predecessor, Iosif cited a handful of dramatic references to the Apocalypse from the Paraenesis. He begins with the terrifying ending to the Sermon on the Departed Fathers: “Lo, the Lord is standing at the doors to make an end of this vain age.” 66 Despite the scoffers, the Sermon on the Antichrist remained an authoritative text for Orthodox Christians for many centuries after this crisis. The Sermon became particularly relevant when its readers believed that the Antichrist had already arrived, for the holy father offered practical advice and comfort for the true Christians who found themselves under the rule of the Beast. In seventeenth-century Muscovy, as a newly established patriarchate sought to centralize authority, standardize ecclesiastical practices, strengthen clerical discipline, and correct and publish liturgical texts, it met resistance from local communities, which were often reluctant to acquiesce to the center’s new demands. 67 When in 1653 Patriarch Nikon (Nikita Minin) of Moscow reformed the liturgy and abandoned the ancient Russian custom of crossing oneself with two fingers   Kazakova and Lur’e, Antifeodal’nye, 413.   Kazakova and Lur’e, Antifeodal’nye, 413. 64  Iosif, Prosvetitel’, ili, oblichenie eresi zhidovstvuiushchikh (Kazan’: Tipografiia Imperatorskogo universiteta, 1882). For the contentious historiography on the “Judaizers,” see A.I. Alekseev, Religioznye dvizheniia na Rusi poslednei treti XIV — nachala XVI v.: strigol’niki i zhidovstvuiushchie (Moscow: Indrik, 2012), 215–50. 65   Kazakova and Lur’e, Antifeodal’nye, 392–93. 66  Iosif, Prosvetitel’, 247; Efrem, Poucheniia, 349v. 67   Georg Michels, At War with the Church: Religious Dissent in Seventeenth-Century Russia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999). 62



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(representing the two natures of Christ), many pious Orthodox Christians objected to the changes and accused Nikon of apostatizing from the true faith. Nikon not only engaged in major changes in ritual (largely to make Russian practice conform to that of the Greeks) but also sought to concentrate authority in his office. Moreover, Nikon undertook his reforms at a time of deep social crisis, just a few years after the legal enserfment of the Russian peasantry in 1649. In addition, decades of conflict between Orthodox Moscow and Catholic Poland had taken on apocalyptic dimensions; Orthodox refugees to Muscovy in the early seventeenth century condemned Catholicism in eschatological terms. 68 In the 1640s, the official church printing house published collections of apocalyptic writings, including PseudoEphraem’s Sermon on the Antichrist. 69 For Nikon’s opponents, Pseudo-Ephraem’s description of the Antichrist and his context provided one useful lens for understanding their historical moment. Significantly, Nikon had changed the sign of the cross that Pseudo-Ephraem had valued so highly. The new three-fingered cross that Nikon had established was the seal of the beast, as the Archpriest Avvakum Petrov (1620–1682), one of the most prominent leaders of the resistance, explained to a correspondent in the 1670s. 70 The figurative description of Antichrist as a serpent opened new vistas of interpretation. Metaphorically, a serpent might indicate not simply a distinct individual but a spiritual force as well. In the 1670s, an anonymous prisoner in a Siberian monastery wrote a letter entitled “The Antichrist and His Secret Kingdom,” in which he contended that the Antichrist had to be understood spiritually, as a malevolent influence operating in the world after Nikon’s apostasy. 71 In the eighteenth century, religious dissenters drew upon Pseudo-Ephraem’s Sermon to prove that the reforming czar Peter the Great (r. 1682–1725) was in fact the Antichrist. 72 Peter’s westernizing reforms, which included the creation of a navy and a standing army (and the heavy taxes and military draft needed to support them) imposed substantial burdens on peasants and townsmen. Peter also demanded that the Old Believers register with the state, pay a double tax, and wear distinct clothing so that the authorities could easily identify them. Frequently cit68   Hans Peter Niess, Kirche in Russland zwischen Tradition und Glaube? Eine Untersuchung der Kirillova kniga und der Kniga o vere aus der 1 Hälfte des 17 Jahrhunderts (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977). 69   Robert Crummey, Old Believers in a Changing World (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011), 183. 70   N. Iu. Bubnov and N.S. Demkova, “Vnov’ naidennoe poslanie iz Moskvy v Pustozersk,” Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury 36 (1981): 127–50. 71  Petr Semenovich Smirnov, Vnutrennie voprosy v raskole v XVIII veke: issledovanie iz nachal’noi istorii raskola po vnov’ otkrytym pamiatnikam, izdannym i rukopisnym (St. Petersburg: Tovarishchestvo Pechatnia S.P. Iakovleva, 1898), 019–034. 72  K.V. Chistov, Russkie narodnye sotsial’no-utopicheskie legendy XVII–XIX vv. (Moscow: Nauka, 1967), 91–124.

The Apocalyptic Legacy of Pseudo-Ephraem in Russia


ing the Sermon, one Old Believer unmasked Peter as “the ancient serpent, Satan, the deceiver, who was thrown down for his pride from the heavenly ranks of the angels.” 73 When, at his coronation, Peter kissed the cross to affirm his solemn promise to fulfill his obligations as an Orthodox ruler, he was in fact fulfilling Pseudo-Ephraem’s prophecy: “the deceiver will take the form of a true shepherd.” 74 Peter’s new “soul tax,” a capitation assessment on every male peasant and townsman, provided more proof as to the false czar’s diabolical identity: What is the soul? The soul is . . . the image of God dressed in flesh. . . . It should bring spiritual tribute to its Creator: true faith, undoubting hope, and sincere love. But this son of perdition has killed the thrice-holy virtues and replaced them with unbelief, hopelessness, and lack of love, just as Ephraem the Syrian testifies, “He will place fear, exhaustion, and fierce unbelief in human hearts.” 75

“Like a thief with deceptive piety,” Peter boasted of his accomplishments as ruler and appointed agents “to do his will in every place.” 76 Much later, in the 1860s, a group of Old Believers in the remote Perm’ province drew on Pseudo-Ephraem to prove that Nikon (rather than Peter the Great) was the “cunning and shameless” serpent of the Sermon on the Antichrist: If a serpent stings a person, then the poison will enter his body; that person will swell up and die. So, too, did Nikon put the poison of his heretical teaching into the body of the church of Christ and infected it. Many of the faithful spiritually died an eternal death. He was like the ancient serpent that tempted Adam and Eve and ruined the whole human race, so he is indeed a serpent. 77

For these Old Believers, Pseudo-Ephraem’s metaphors provided a powerful means for understanding their relationship to the oppressive state church. Well into the Soviet period, Christians continued to turn to Pseudo-Ephraem to resist government efforts to form cooperatives. In 1918, the Siberian peasant and Old Believer theologian Father Simeon (Safon Iakovlevich Laptev, 1895–1953?) quoted from the Sermon on the Antichrist in his circular letter, urging his fellow believers to refuse to join agricultural communes: “Observe, brothers, the great wickedness of the beast, his evil cunning, for he begins with the belly, and when someone falls in need and has no food, then   Anonymous, “Sobranie ot sviatogo pisaniia o antikhriste,” in Petr I v russkoi literature XVIII veka: teksty i komentarii, ed. S.I. Nikolaev (St. Petersburg: Nauka, 2006), 306–13. 74   Anon., “Sobranie”; Efrem, Poucheniia, 299v. 75   Anon., “Sobranie”; Efrem, Poucheniia, 295v. 76   Anon., “Sobranie“; Efrem, Poucheniia, 300, 298v. 77   Lukanin, “Bezpopovtsy,” 345. 73


j. eugene clay he must accept his [the Antichrist’s] seal.” St. Ephraem Syrus, who saw this from afar, tells us that in the last days bread and every other thing will be sold through the Antichrist’s mark. And we now see this in person. 78

In an effort to flee from the Antichrist, Simeon helped to organize a hermitage in the remote pine forests of the Kolyvan’ region in western Siberia. When even that refuge proved to be too vulnerable, he moved the hermitage to the Enisei River in eastern Siberia. In 1951, the agents of the Beast caught up with Father Simeon: the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) destroyed the hermitage and arrested Simeon and his thirty-two companions. Sentenced to twenty-five years in corrective-labor camps for anti-Soviet activity, Simeon quickly perished, for he refused to eat prison food — the food of the Antichrist. 79 With its evocative language and poetic metaphors, the Sermon on the Antichrist offered readers a wide array of hermeneutical possibilities as they faced persecution, oppression, heresy, and schism. Pointing to the homily’s few specific details about the Antichrist, some exegetes argued that its author had envisioned a particular person as the future incarnation of evil. Others, including many of Russia’s Old Believers, emphasized the sermon’s symbolic expressions and concluded that the Antichrist was a malevolent spiritual power rather than a specific individual; Pseudo-Ephraem identifies the Antichrist as “beast” and “serpent,” clearly figures of speech not meant to be taken literally. This interpretive flexibility clearly contributed to the homily’s popularity, which could be employed by broad communities engaged in an effort to understand the end of time. The author’s calm and hopeful exhortations to rely upon a loving God also proved powerfully attractive to Christians who believed that they were living under Antichrist’s reign. God will provide help to those who diligently seek him, Pseudo-Ephraem assures his readers, and ultimately He and they will triumph.

78   O. Simeon (Safon Iakovlevich Laptev), “Na soiuzy,” in Dukhovnaia literatura staroverov vostoka Rossii XVIII–XX vv., ed. N.N. Pokrovskii et al. (Novosibirsk: Sibirskii khronograf, 1999), 162. 79   Pokrovskii et al., Dukhovnaia literatura, 676–77.

Notes on Contributors Fabian Alfie is a professor of Italian at the University of Arizona. His research specialization is on the literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and he has published extensively on Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, as well as on the comic / satiric authors of the fourteenth century. Alison L. Beringer is Associate Professor of Classics and General Humanities at Montclair State University in New Jersey. A German medievalist, she is particularly interested in the reception of antiquity, and the materiality of late medieval and early modern German manuscripts and prints. She is the author of The Sight of Semiramis: Medieval and Early Modern Narratives of the Babylonian Queen (ACMRS 2016). Evan J. Bibbee is Associate Professor of French and Director of the French Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Robert E. Bjork is Foundation Professor of English at Arizona State University and specializes in Old English, Old Norse, Modern Swedish, and modern biomedical writing. He directed ACMRS for 24 years, from 1994 to 2018, before returning to full-time teaching and research in the Department of English. He’s a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and a Corresponding Fellow of the English Association (UK). H. Erdem Çıpa (PhD, Harvard University, 2007) is associate professor of Ottoman history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The primary focus of his work is the history and historiography of the Ottoman Empire, with a specific emphasis on dissident movements and succession struggles. He is the author of The Making of Selim: Succession, Legitimacy, and Memory in the Early Modern Ottoman World (2017); co-editor, with Emine Fetvacı, of Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future (2013); and co-editor, with Hakan Karateke and Helga Anetshofer, of Disliking Others: Loathing, Hostility, and Distrust in Premodern Ottoman Lands (2018). Trained in Russian history at the University of Chicago, J. Eugene Clay serves as head of the religious studies faculty at Arizona State University, where he writes and lectures about religious movements in Russia and Eurasia, the relationship



between religion and nationalism, and the encounters of the world religions. His work has appeared in scholarly journals such as Church History, Russian History/ Histoire russe, and the Cahiers du monde russe. He has received grant and awards from the Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Slavic Honors Society, and the International Research and Exchanges Board. Kimberly Fonzo is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research interests include medieval authorship, prophecy, and early theatre. Her articles have appeared in Modern Philology and Early Theatre, and she has directed a number of medieval and early modern plays, including the Chester Shepherds’ Play at the University of Toronto and Mankind at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She is currently working on a monograph, Prophetic Influence and the Creation of the Medieval English Author. Karlyn Griffith is an Assistant Professor of Art History at Cal Poly Pomona. She specializes in medieval illustrated manuscripts and material culture. Her current project is a book on Illustrated Apocalypses made in late medieval France. In support of this research, she has received grants from the Mellon Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the Bibliographical Society of the UK. Related essays on illustrated Apocalypses have recently appeared in Viator and Pecia. Katrina Klaasmeyer is an adjunct instructor of art history at multiple campuses throughout Los Angeles, where she also volunteers as a gallery docent at The J. Paul Getty Center. She received her master’s degree in art history from the University of Oregon. Another recent essay entitled, “On Their Own: Reconsidering Marianne Werefkin and Gabriele Münter,” will be published within the forthcoming book “Women in German Expressionism: Gender, Sexuality, Activism.” Catherine Schultz McFarland is retired as Professor of Art History at Flagler College. She did her undergraduate work at Smith College and her graduate work at Emory University. Prof. McFarland has taught at the Atlanta College of Art and at Oglethorpe University. She focuses on semiotics, particularly the iconography of mythology, and has published on 16th century Flemish painting and on film. She is currently working on a book on Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Joanna Miles (Ludwikowska) is Research Associate at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan (Faculty of English) and Post-doctoral research fellow at the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (CRRS), at the University of Toronto. She is also the chief editor of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series, at the CRRS, published in collaboration with Brepols.



Daniel C. Najork received his PhD in 2014 and is a Faculty Associate in the Arizona State University English Department. His research interests are Old Norse-Icelandic literature and manuscript culture, and Old and Middle English literature. He is currently working on a monograph titled Reading the Old NorseIcelandic Maríu saga in its Manuscript Contexts to be published by Medieval Institute Publications. Nicole Volmering is a Research Rellow at the Internationales Kolleg für Geisteswissenschaftliche Forschung of the Friedrich-Alexander Universität, Erlangen. She previously held an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship at Trinity College Dublin, an O’Donovan Scholarship at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and a De Finibus Fellowship at University College Cork, where she obtained her PhD. Dr Volmering is a philologist working on the textual culture of early Christian Ireland. Her research focuses on the concepts of time, personal eschatology, monastic culture, and text transmission, and she specializes in martyrologies, revelatory texts, genre theory, educational theory, and paleography.

Index A

Abraham, biblical patriarch: 191 Adams, Robert: 54 Adomnán, saint: 4, 9, 11; See also Second Vision of Adomnán Adso, abbot of Monteir-en-Der: 47 Aers, David: 54 Affaire des Placards: 133 Aḥmed Bī-cān, Yazıcıoġlu, Dürr-i meknūn (The Hidden Pearl): 102–3, 108–9 Aḥvāl-i Ḳıyāmet (The Conditions of Resurrection): 107 Alberti, Cecchino: 90 Albertus Magnus, saint: 21 Alexander, Paul: 107 Alfie, Fabian: xi ‘Ālī, Muṣṭafā Künhü’l-aḥbār (The Essence of History): 105, 107, 111 Nuṣḥatü’s-selāṭīn (Counsel for Sultans): 108 ‘Alī b. ‘Abdülkerīm Ḫalīfe: 109–10 Amboise, Edict of: 131–32 Ambraseys, Nicholas: 106 Annals of Inisfallen: 12 Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury: 21, 24 Antichrist: x–xi, 2, 24 dates for arrival: 65 in illustrated Apocalypse texts: 42–45, 45, 47–51, 49, 50 Peter the Great as: 194–95 and printing, use of: x, 65, 67, 69–79 and Puritans: 168–69, 171, 177 sacred books, destruction of: 66–69, 68, 72, 75 and Solomon’s Temple: 67 See also Antichrist-Bildertext; Sermon on the Antichrist; Vita Antichristi Antichrist-Bildertext: 66

Antiochus Epiphanes (Antiochus IV), Seleucid ruler: 69 Antwerp as Babylon: 115–17 Ommegang: 127 apocalypticism, terminology: viii, 1–3, 81 Aquinas, Thomas: 21 Aristotle: 154, 156–57 Arminianism: 169 astrology/astronomy and comets: 156–58, 171, 174 and supernova: 153–56 See also Caron, Antoine, Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers Augustine, saint, bishop of Hippo: 15, 21, 54, 136 City of God: 114 Confessions: 137 Avraamii of Smolensk: 184


Babel, Tower of: xi, 143; See also Brueghel, Pieter, the Elder Bar Daysan: 181 Barański, Zygmunt: 89 Barker, Sara K.: 137 Basel: 133 Basil the Great, saint: 181–82 Bāyezīd II, Ottoman sultan: 98, 103–5, 109, 111 Beaumont, François de, baron des Adrets: 131 Becket, Thomas, saint, archbishop of Canterbury: 57 Berengaudus: 29, 36–37, 47 Beringer, Alison: x Bernardo of Siena, saint: 89 Betha Adomnáin: 9

202 Bèze, Théodore de: 135 Bibbee, Evan: xi Black Plague: 168 Bloomfield, Morton: 54, 64 Bohun, Humphrey de: 56 Bonaventure, saint: 21 Breviloquium: 24 Boyle, Elizabeth: 5 Brahe, Tycho: 153, 156–57 Brandsson, Arngrímr, Guðmundar saga D: 15 Brant, Sebastian, Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools): 73–79 Brétigny, Treaty of (1360): 58, 61 Bruegel, Pieter, the Elder Tower of Babel paintings: xi, 113–29, 114, 115, 120 and Antwerp: 115–18 and Catholic Church: 119–20, 129 and Golden Mean/Fibonacci spirals: 129 and Neoplatonism: 121, 123–24, 128–29 and Purgatory: 127–29 and sexuality: 125–27 Bullant, Jean, Colonne de l’Horoscope: 151, 152


Cade, Jack: 168 Calvinism: xi, 117, 128, 134, 136–37, 143 Campanella, Tommaso: 160 Caron, Antoine: 136 Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers: 145–49, 146, 151 and astrology/astronomy: 147–49, 153–63 name of: 162 catastrophes, natural: xi fiery plague of Ireland: 4–13 flood of Ireland: 3, 8 Catherine of Siena, saint, The Dialogue: 89 Chandieu, Antoine de: 137 Charles IX, king of France: 155–56 Childeric III, Frankish king: 56 chiliasm. See millenarianism Chronicon Scotorum: 13 Chrysostom, John: 15 Çıpa, Erdem: xi

Index Clay, Eugene: xi Colum Cille, saint: 9 Comestor, Peter, Historia scholastica: 15 communitas: ix Constantinople: 102 See also Istanbul earthquake Cook, David: 108 Coote, Lesley: 56 Cyril, saint: 183 Cyril of Jerusalem, saint: 191


Danforth, Samuel: 169 Dante Alighieri Commedia: 53, 89–90 Inferno: 86–89 in Italian sonnet: 83–90, 92, 94 and memento mori: xi, 84–85 Purgatorio: 53–54, 90, 127 Vita Nova: 92 David, biblical king: x Christ, prefiguring: 62 new king: 54–58, 60–64 Delisle, Leopold: 32 Doomsday. See Judgment, Day of dotes tradition: 21–25 Dybvad, Jorgen: 158


Eadmer of Canterbury: 21, 24 eclipses, solar: xi, 150 and Christ’s crucifixion: 162–63 Edirne: 98, 105 Edward I, king of England: 34 Edward II, king of England: 56–57 Edward III, king of England: 55–56, 58–60 as Saul: 60–63 Eleanor, wife of Renaud de Bar: 34 Eliade, Mircea: viii Elijah, biblical prophet: 23, 42, 43, 189 Emmerson, Richard K.: 54, 65, 69 Enoch, biblical patriarch: 42, 43, 189–90 Ephraem Graecus: 181, 183 Paraenesis: 182–86, 191, 193 Sermon on the Antichrist, as author of: 184, 186

Index Ephraem Syrus (the Syrian): xi, 182 historical personage: 179–81 Sermon on the Antichrist, as author of: 179 works attributed to: 181 eschatology definition of: viii eschaton: 2 and Maríu saga: 18–194 See also Antichrist; Puritans, eschatology of Eulogium Historiarum: 57 Evangelium de Nativitate Mariae: 15




Ḥadīdī: 103–4, 110 ḥadīth: 101, 103 Harvey, Richard: 159 Henri II, king of France: 150–51 Henri III, king of France and Poland: 155–56 Henry IV, king of England: 57, 167 Herzmann, Wilhelm: 16–17 Hippolytus of Rome, saint: 188, 191 Honorius of Autun (Augustodunensis), Elucidarius: 15, 20–21, 25 Hudson, Benjamin: 4 Hugh Ripeln of Strasburg, Compendium Theologicae Veritatis: 24, 67 Huguenots: xi, 132–34 Hundred Years’ War: 58–62, 167 Huon de Méry, Tournoiement Antécrist: 50–51

Fairise, Christelle: 17 ‘La Fatale mutation lyonnoise’. See Lyon Félire Óengusso: 6 Feodosii, abbot of the Kievan Caves Monastery: 184 Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa): 121–24 Fís Adomnáin: 9 Fish, Simon: 128 Flann Cinach (Cithach), king of Ireland: 6 Fleischer, Cornell: 107 Folz, Hans Fastnachtspiele: 70 Meisterlieder: 70, 79 Reimpaarsprüche: 70 Vor langer frist: 65–66, 69–72, 74, 76–77, 79 Fonzo, Kimberly: x Frederick II, king of Denmark: 156 Froissart, Jean, Chroniques: 59, 61

Image du monde: 51 Imola, Benvenuto da: 87–89 Inber Domnann (Malahide): 7 Innocent III, pope: 24–25 Irenaeus of Lyons: 188, 192 ‘Īsā, Mevlānā, Cāmi‘ ül-meknūnāt (The Compendium of Hidden Things): 103 İsḥaḳ Çelebi, Selímnāme: 104 Istanbul earthquake damage from: 97–98, 103 in European writing: 98–99 and Hagia Sophia: 98–99 and Ottoman apocalyptical writing: 99–111



Gemma, Cornelius: 155 Geneva: 133 Gerberga, wife of Louis IV d’Outre-Mer: 47 Glossa ordinaria: 62 Goodwin, Thomas: 169 Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew: 15 Great Schism (1378): 168 Gregory of Nyssa: 182 Gregory I the Great, pope: ix, 15, 17 Griffiths, Karlyn: x Guarico, Luca: 150


Jacob, bishop of Nisibis: 180 Jerome, saint: xi, 15, 54, 89–90, 92, 181 Cogitis me: 19–20 Jesus Christ ascension: 20–21 Crucifixion: 26, 162–63 David, prefiguring: 62 Incarnation: 23, 26 resurrection: 23 second coming: 188 transfiguration: 21

204 Joachim of Fiore: x, 54, 64 John II, king of France: 58, 61 John the Baptist, saint, Decollation of: 4–13 John’s Apocalypse. See Revelation, Book of Jonas, biblical figure: 11 Jonata, Marino: 90 Josephus, Flavius, Antiquitates Judaicae: 15, 114, 187 Joshua, biblical patriarch: 11 Jour de Jugement: 45 Judgment, Day of (Doomsday; Last Judgment): xi, 3 date of: 191–92 and fiery plague: 6–10 and Maríu saga: 17–27 and New Testament: 81 See also Antichrist; eschatology; Sermon on the Antichrist Julian, Byzantine emperor: 180 Junghans, H. A.: 74


Kemālpaşazāde: 103 Kerby-Fulton, Kathryn: 54, 64 King Philip’s War (1675): 172 Kirik, deacon of Novgorod: 192 Klaasmeyer, Katrina: xi Klein, Peter: 31 Ḳorḳud, Da‘wat al-nafs al-ṭāliḥa ilā al-a‘āmāl al-ṣaliḥa: 109–10 Krakow: 155 Kygri-Björn Hjaltson: 15–17


La Rochelle: 131–32 Lactantius, Institutiones divinae: 69 Langland, William, Piers Plowman: 53–64 and Edward III as Saul: 60–62 and Lady Mede as war monger: 58–60, 63 and new David: 54–58, 60–64 sources: 54 Last Judgment. See Judgment, Day of Lateran Council, Fourth: x, 16 Leabhar Breac: 7 Legend of Loch Bél Séad. See Lore of the Fiery Arrow

Index Legenda Aurea: 17 Leonardo of Pisa. See Fibonacci Leowitz, Cyprian: 158 Lewis, Suzanne: 36 Liberati, Francesco: 157 Locher, Jakob, Stultifera Navis: 74 Lollardy: 167, 172 Lombard, Peter: 21 London, earthquake (1382): 171 Lore of the Fiery Arrow (Legend of Loch Bél Séad): 7–8 Louis IV d’Outre-Mer, Frankish king: 47 Ludwikowska, Joanna: xi Lumiere a lais: 51 Luṭfī Paşa: 103 Luther, Martin: 159, 161 Ninety-Five Theses: 132 Lyon: xi, 131, 134 ‘La Fatale mutation lyonnoise’: 133–35, 138–43 and printing trade: 133–34 Le Sac de Lyon painting: 136–37


Macedonian Fragment: 184 Magdalino, Paul: 102 Malahide. See Inber Domnann Man of Sin: x–xi Marcion: 181 Maríu saga authorship: 15–16 and Last Judgment: 17–27 manuscripts: 16 sources: 15, 20–21, 25 Mary, Virgin: 10 Assumption of: x, 15, 17–21, 25–27 and Becket, Thomas: 57 Continental works about: 17–18 gravesite of: 20–21 Immaculate Conception of: 23 See also Maríu saga Mather, Increase: 169–70, 173–75 McFarland, Catherine Schultz: xi McGinn, Bernard: 13, 65, 106–7 Medici, Catherine de: 147, 149–53, 155–56 Meḥmed II ‘the Conqueror’, Ottoman sultan: 98–99

Index Meḥmed III, Ottoman sultan: 104 memento mori tradition: xi, 84–85 Methodius, saint: 183 Methodius of Patara: 191–92 Metz: 32–34 Meyer, Paul: 32 Michael, archangel: 10 millenarianism, terminology: viii, 3 Mog Ruith, Irish druid: 4–7 Moling, saint: 9 Morgan, Nigel: 32, 39 Moses, biblical patriarch: 11, 23 Murād III, Ottoman sultan: 104


Najork, Daniel: x Nikon (Nikita Minin), patriarch of Moscow: 180, 193–94 Nimrod, biblical king: 114, 118 Nostrodamus: 150


O’Leary, Aideen: 4–5 The Old Icelandic Homily Book: 26 Orleans, Louis d’: 160 Orvieto, Benuccio da: 84 Óskarsdóttir, Svanhildur: 24


Palmieri, Matteo: 90 Paris: 133 Paschasius Radbertus: 19 Patrick, saint: 4 as eschatological judge: 11–12 and flood prophecy: 3 as Irish Moses: 11 and Second Vision of Adomnán: 10–12 and Vita Tripartita: 11 Paul, saint: 162, 191 Peasants’ Revolt (1381): 167, 173 penance: ix, 10–13, 64, 177 Pepin the Short, Frankish king: 56 Peter, saint: 10, 23 ‘ship’ of: 74–76 Peter the Great, czar of Russia: 194 Petrarca, Francesco, Trionfi: 86 Petrov, Avvakum, archpriest: 194

205 Philip II, king of Spain: 117–18 Philip IV, king of France: 34 Philip VI, king of France: 55–56 Pisa, Guido da: 88 plagues: ix, 40, 102, 107, 157–58, 167–68, 171–72; See also catastrophes, natural, fiery plague of Ireland Plato: 121 Republic: 137 printing and Reformation: 132–34 scribal art, compared to: 72–73 See also Antichrist, printing, use of The Prophecy of John of Bridlington: 56 Prophétie de las Sibylle Tiburtine: 33, 37, 50 Pseudo-Ephraem. See Sermon on the Antichrist PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder): viii Puritans: xi and Antichrist: 168–69, 171, 177 and ars moriendi: 171 and eschatology: 165, 167–78 and preaching: 169–70, 173–76 Pythagorus: 120–21


Quakers: 169, 172 Quincy, Eleanor De: 48 Qur’an: xi, 100–01, 103–4, 110


Racaut, Luc: 132 Reid, Dylan: 133 Renaud de Bar, bishop of Metz: 34 Revelation, Book of (John’s Apocalypse): vii–viii, 1, 3, 8, 13, 17, 165 and ‘La Fatale mutation lyonnoise’: 134–35 illustrated texts of: x Anglo-French Apocalypse: 38 Anglo-Norman: 29–33, 36 Arras Apocalypse: 32–33, 36–37 Cloisters Apocalypse: 32 Douce Apocalypse: 34 Dresden Apocalypses: 32–33, 35, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 46, 49 format: 37–39

206 Getty Apocalypse: 47 Harley Apocalypses: 32, 37, 47–51, 50 iconography: 33, 35–52 Lambeth Apocalypse: 48 Laurenziana Apocalypse: 32, 37 Liège Apocalypse: 30, 38–41, 40, 41, 42, 44 Lorraine: 30–52 Metz Apocalypses: 32–34, 45 mise-en-page: 35–39, 46 Nicholaus Apocalypses: 33, 43–46, 48 vernacular texts of: x, 32, 36 Revelation of Methodius of Patara: 192 Richard of St. Victor: 21 Roman de la Rose: 45 roth rámach (rowing wheel): 7 Rouen: 131, 133 Rubens, Peter Paul: 117 Ruggieri, Cosimo: 150–51, 153 Rūhī of Edirne (Edrenevī): 97–98, 103 Rupert of Deutz: 21


Sa’deddīn Efendi, Ḫoca, Tācüt-tevārīḫ (The Crown of Histories): 104–5, 110–11 Sagan, Carl: 163 Şahin, Kaya: 99 saighnen teintighi (fiery arrow): 7 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572): 160 Sanas Chormaic: 6 Saul, biblical king: x, 55–56 Edward III, compared to: 60–63 Schama, Simon: 116 Scholastics: 17, 21 scuab a Fanait (Broom out of Fánad): 6–7 Second Epoch: 192 Second Vision of Adomnán: 1 and apocalypticism: 12–13 and Decollation of John the Baptist: 4–10 manuscripts: 7 Selīm I, Ottoman sultan: 109–10 Sermon on the Antichrist: 184, 185 date of: 179 influence of: 191–96 popularity of: 179–80 structure and content of: 186–91

Index Simeon (Safon Iakovlevich Laptev), Father: 195–96 Simeon, tsar of Bulgaria: 183 sonnet, Italian, on apocalypse: 81 and Dante: 83–90, 92, 94 form of: 84 influence: 90–92 manuscripts of: 82, 90, 92–93 and memento mori: 84–85 transcriptions and translation: 82–84, 92–96 Sozomen: 181 Stadler, Johan: 182, 182 Stones, Alison: 32 Stow, Kenneth: 91 Süleymān I, Ottoman sultan: 108


Tale of Bygone Years (Povest’ vremennykh let): 191 Tentler, Thomas N.: 177 Theodoret of Cyrrhus: 181 Theodosius II, Byzantine emperor: 98 Todi, Iacopone da: 85–86 Transitus Mariae: 15, 19 Trinubium Annae: 15 Trithemius, Johannes, De laude scriptorum: 72–73 Tsanfurnari, Emanuel: 182, 183 Turner, Victor: viii–ix Tveggja saga postula Jóns ok Jacobs: 23–26


Unger, Carl Rikard: 16 Urban VIII, pope: 160 utopia/utopianism: viii, 12


Velasius Bible: 67, 68 Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale: 15 Virgil: 87 Visio Pauli: x Vita Antichristi: 66 Vita Tripartita: 11 Vladimir, prince of Kiev: 184, 191

Index Vladimir Vasil”kovich, prince of Volhynia: 184 Volmering, Nicole: x Volotskii, Iosif (Ivan Ivanovich Sanin), Enlightener (Prosvetitel’): 193


The Way to Calvary painting: 126–27, 126 Wassy, Massacre of: 131 Wellcome Apocalypse: 66–67, 69, 72 Willard, Samuel: 169

207 Wilson, John: 170 Wimbledon, Thomas, Redde Rationem Villacationis Tue: 173–76 Wright, Rosemary Muir: 69


Xilourgou hermitage of the Theotokos: 184


Zachary, pope: 56