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Printing and Prophecy

Prognostication and Media Change 1450-1550

Jonathan Green

Publication Year: 2011

Printing and Prophecy: Prognostication and Media Change 1450-1550 examines prognostic traditions and late medieval prophetic texts in the first century of printing and their effect on the new medium of print. The many prophetic and prognostic works that followed Europe's earliest known printed book---not the Gutenberg Bible, but the Sibyl's Prophecy, printed by Gutenberg two years earlier and known today only from a single page---over the next century were perennial best sellers for many printers, and they provide the modern observer with a unique way to study the history and inner workings of the print medium. The very popularity of these works, often published as affordable booklets, raised fears of social unrest. Printers therefore had to meet customer demand while at the same time channeling readers' reactions along approved paths. Authors were packaged---and packaged themselves---in word and image to respond to the tension, while leading figures of early modern culture such as Paracelsus, Martin Luther, and Sebastian Brant used printed prophecies for their own purposes in a rapidly changing society. Based on a wide reading of many sources, Printing and Prophecy contributes to the study of early modern literature, including how print changed the relationship among authors, readers, and texts. The prophetic and astrological texts the book examines document changes in early modern society that are particularly relevant to German studies and are key texts for understanding the development of science, religion, and popular culture in the early modern period. By combining the methods of cultural studies and book history, this volume brings a new perspective to the study of Gutenberg and later printers.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Moder


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pp. xi

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Introduction: Printing and Prophecy

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pp. 1-14

The prophet is, first and foremost, a media phenomenon. Whether in biblical narrative or medieval history, what denes a prophet is not the prediction of future events but the communicative claims made by the...

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Chapter 1: The Sibyl's Book

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pp. 15-38

To speak of Gutenberg's literary contributions seems, at first glance, perverse, for he left behind no lyrical or prose compositions, if any ever existed. Instead, his life is known, all too incompletely, from official documents and...

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Chapter 2: Prophets in Print

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pp. 39-61

While the combination of astrology and prophecy had been debated by many and attempted by some for centuries, Johannes Lichtenberger's Prognosticatio of 1488 was the first successful combination of both...

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Chapter 3: Prophets and Their Readers

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pp. 62-84

The closer relative and nearer antecedent of Johannes Lichtenberger's Prognosticatio was not any of the monumental editions of Birgitta of Sweden's collected works but, rather, an early fifteenth-century compilation...

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Chapter 4: Visions of Visions: Functions of the Image in Printed Prophecy

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pp. 85-108

What do illustrations do? For those in late medieval and early modern printed books, Edgar Bierende identifies three basic functions: to delight, to teach in parallel to the text, and to help structure the reader's memory of the text. In addition, Bierende...

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Chapter 5: Practica Teutsch

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pp. 109-130

It should now be clear why works of popular astrology must be included in a study of prophecy in early modern society: the ties between the two fields are too numerous, the reciprocal influence too pervasive, and the...

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Chapter 6: Fear, Floods, and the Paradox of the Practica Teutsch

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pp. 131-150

As works that emphasized their foundation on scientific principles and that were intended to explain the workings of the world for a broad audience, practicas reflected anxieties over the shifting foundations of knowledge in early...

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Conclusion: The Prophetic Reader

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pp. 151-154

In the first centuries after Gutenberg, prophecy in its many forms provided a significant segment of the print market, a model of the social and semiotic interactions of authors with their audiences, and a metaphor for...

Appendix: Prophecy and Prognostication in Print, 1450-1550

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pp. 155-203


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pp. 205-243


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pp. 245-258


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pp. 259-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027583
E-ISBN-10: 0472027581
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117833
Print-ISBN-10: 0472117831

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 12 images
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Moder