Friday, November 22, 2013

Graphing Neddermeyer

The most ambitious attempt to gather into one place and analyze all known data concerning European manuscript and printed book production remains Uwe Neddermeyer's two-volume work from 1998, Von der Handschrift zum gedruckten Buch. Neddermeyer's work was criticized both for the reliability of the data and the methods used for analyzing it, but I've always thought that, whatever its shortcomings, it was a project worth undertaking, and that the author managed to accomplish a surprising amount based on data that was broadly dispersed and not yet available in any electronic format.

So to consider the question of what the distribution of known print runs in the fifteenth century looks like ("known" here including everything from firm historical records to modern scholarly hunches), there is still no better place to turn. Neddermeyer calculates arithmetic means of a few different kinds, but I wanted to see the actual distribution.

Here's the distribution for 1450-1479, which is heavily influenced by the known edition sizes from the print shop of Sweynheym and Pannartz in Subiaco and Rome (36 of 86 editions), nearly all of which are recorded as 275 copies.
 Fig. 1: Distribution of known print runs before 1480

In other words, if not for Sweynheym and Pannartz, we would see the greatest number of editions below 250 copies, followed by those betwen 250 and 500, and with another group at 750-1000. The dominance of Sweynheym and Pannartz, coupled with the small number of known edition sizes from any other source, makes the evidence difficult to interpret with much confidence.
Fig. 2: Distribution of known print runs, 1480-1500

After 1480, the data sources are somewhat more varied. Interestingly, there's still some sign of a bimodal distribution with one peak in the range of 250-500 and another in the range of 750-1000. (A few broadsides with print runs in the range of 3,000-20,000 copies are not included here, but would not amount to a bin of any notable height.) Having a sense of what the distribution possibly looked like is often more useful than establishing a precise figure for an average print run, particularly if the average print run was not actually all that common.

How representative is Neddermeyer's sample? His table of known fifteenth-century print runs (2:753-62) also includes the number of surviving copies where a specific edition could be identified, and the number of surviving copies suggests we should treat this all with some caution. For the 152 items in his sample with a known number of surviving copies, the average number of copies is 40 - or almost three times the average of 14.4 copies for all known incunables. As averages are especially in this case not nearly as useful as distributions, let's take a quick look at how the number of surviving copies in Neddermeyer's sample is distributed. The initial graph is messy:
 Fig. 3: Distribution of surviving copies from Neddermeyer

Even here, the 0- and 1-copy editions are the most frequent. We can make the data easier to visualize with a histogram with bins that are ten units wide.
Fig. 4: Distribution of surviving copies from Neddermeyer (bin size = 10)
And so the customary distribution of incunable survival emerges again. The predominant number of copies is 1-10; the green bar to the right comprises the editions with  zero known copies.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reading and hearing prophecy in the thirteenth century

The sixth book of Wolfdietrich D contains the hero's battle with the knife-throwing heathen king Belian. The scene I've always been most fascinated by, however, is the confrontation between Wolfdietrich and the king's daughter Marpaly. The hero is an unwilling guest in Belian's castle, but has not yet revealed his name to his host - which is good, since Belian knows that the only person who can defeat him in battle is someone from Greece named Wolfdietrich. Belian has consigned Wolfdietrich to Marpaly's bedchamber, where he expects the hero to end up like all the others whom his daughter rejects; their heads line the castle wall the next morning. But things get off to a better start this time, as Wolfdietrich and Marpaly are somewhat inclined to pursue a more permanent relationship; the one catch for Wolfdietrich is that he refuses to entertain the prospect of marriage to a non-Christian. As for Marpaly, she knows exactly who she is destined for. She says to Wolfdietrich,
 "I tell you indeed, I have preserved my virginity for fifty years for the sake of a worthy prince born in Greece whose name is Wolfdietrich. I have chosen him as my lord above all others."

"Beautiful woman, how do you know his name? Please tell me; it's no shame to you to do so. Has he already been born? You can tell me that."

Then the heathen woman retrieved a book. She quickly read the page where she found the name. "Yes, the bold knight has already been born," she said. "As I find it written here, the praiseworthy prince is thirty years, twelve weeks, and two days old. I'm not deceiving you - my family has owned this book of the old Sibyl for many years. A wise man wrote it from the prophetess herself. The praiseworthy prince has long since been born. I have kept the book for fifty years now. It tells of the prince, I tell you indeed, and how he will suffer in his youth but bear a crown above all other kings in his manhood."
 Even though we're clearly in the realm of the fantastic, this is a nice example of re-oralizing a written prophecy that is in turn a transcription of an originally verbal oracle. The media shifts do not lessen its force, nor does excerpting one prediction from a longer source. Marpaly and even Wolfdietrich express no doubt about the prophecy's validity, leaving Wolfdietrich to appeal to the Virgin Mary for aid and then to make the sign of the cross against Marpaly's magic. Wolfdietrich becomes Marpaly's master in a non-marital sense only after he kills her father Belian; Marpaly blinds Wolfdietrich with a magic fog, but Wolfdietrich finds one of her father's daggers and casts it at Marpaly, killing her. Reinterpreting a prophecy is usually not such a bloody matter.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Planning for Lust, Betrayal, and Murder (spring semester 2014)

I've been asked to teach a 400-level special topics literature course next semester, and I had to turn in a textbook order. I'm already teaching the upper-level students who comprise the target audience, so I ran some of the possibilities by them. Romanticism? Tepid interest. Twentieth century? My colleagues are already teaching it. Medieval literature?

In both courses, students expressed the most interest in medieval literature, so I let them talk me into it.

I decided to focus on family relationships as a topic that my students could easily connect to their readings in modern German literature and work for other courses. The course didn't need a theme, though, so much as it needed a slogan, something that would catch students' attention and convince them we'll be doing interesting things next semester. "Parent-child relationships in medieval German literature" wouldn't do at all. It needed drama. It needed action.

Thus was born "Lust, Betrayal, Murder: Family Life in Medieval German Literature."

We'll have time for about five of the smaller Reclam editions. I would have liked to do König Röther, but the payoff was higher with the Nibelungenlied, which is also available in selections in modern German translation. In addition, we'll read Hartmann von Aue's Gregorius and Der arme Heinrich (two works that seem to be relevant to just about any topic), Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (in selections again), and Werner der Gärtner's Meier Helmbrecht. This will be my first time using Helmbrecht in class, which should be interesting.

One thing I like about the topic is that I can fit in some of the early medieval material fairly easily, including the Hildebrandslied, discussion of Waltharius, and the Heliand (probably looking at a section on Mary and Joseph). I've already started a list of topics for student presentations (such as Konrad von Würzburg's Engelhard), and I can think of scenes or chapters from several late medieval and early modern works to look at along the way, like Brant's Narrenschiff and Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus. I'll need to look through the usual sources to see what relevant specimens of medieval poetry I can find. By the time it's ready in January, the syllabus should contain a mix of new material and things I've taught several times before.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rosenbach/Indagine cites Lichtenberger

If you want to see the context of Johannes Rosenbach/Johannes de Indagine citing Johannes Lichtenberger - the only vaguely credible claim to be an eyewitness account of Lichtenberger - the quick approach is to click here.

The long approach is to start with the footnotes in Dieter Kurze's work on Lichtenberger (11 n. 36 and 40 n. 289) and look up the cited edition (1522) of Rosenbach's Introductiones apotelesmaticae in chiromantiam. That's easy enough, and leads to VD16 R 3108. It's been digitized, so you can see the facsimile from the BSB here (if the URN resolver is working correctly - today it's not - and it doesn't require a cumbersome search to find the right link). We're looking for leaves 15v and 30v. If you turn to them, you of hands, but no mention of Lichtenberger. You can try counting the leaves from the beginning, and you might notice that the first few leaves may be misarranged in the Munich copy. Does it help to read through them carefully and try to restore their correct order? No, it does not. How does Kurze know that Rosenbach/Indagine cites Lichtenberger? Kurze cites the biography in ADB; does that offer any clues? No, not really. But the biography of Lichtenberger there mentions Rosenbach/Indagine's mention of Lichtenberger in his foreword to the Introductiones apotelesmaticae. Will reading the foreword turn up what you are looking for? No? Maybe in the 1523 German translation, or the 1534 or 1541 Latin editions? No, no, and no.

But if you spend enough time leafing through the Introductiones apotelesmaticae, you may eventually notice that the folio numbering restarts just as Rosenbach begins to discuss astrology. If you look at leaves 15v and 30v after that, you will find the discussion of Lichtenberger just as Kurze's footnotes indicated.

I recommend the quick approach.