Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cryptic Rabanus

"no work more precious to see, more pleasing to read, sweeter to
remember, or more laborious to write can or could ever be found."
Cluny of Odilo

9th century German theologian Rabanus (or Hrabanus or Reabanus) Maurus, also called Maurus Magnentius Rabanus or Hrabanus Magnentius, was considered to be the most knowledgeable man of his day. As an elected Abbott he helped establish Fulda as a centre of learning and Maurus's breadth of knowledge on matters both religious and secular together with his success as an educator became known throughout Europe. Later he would be appointed Archbishop of Mainz and the title of Praeceptor Germaniae ('Teacher of Germany') was conferred on him.

Among his many writings was an interesting collection of poetry - De Laudibus Sancte Crucis ('In Praise of the Cross') - "a collection of twenty-eight encrypted religious poems, rendered before 814 AD. He was said to be the inventor of a cyphering system of 36 lines containing 36 letters evenly spaced on a grid. In this grid, Maurus included figurative images, putting the poems in visual terms. The poem filling the cypher grid was enriched by these smaller images, as most of the letters contained within them created tiny individual poems." Thus his writings could be appreciated at least on one level by the largely illiterate populace.**

The top 2 images are from the (totally impenetrable to me) Vatican Library and are posted on the Almaleh website -- there is no date with them and I removed the watermarking. There are more example images at their site.

The 3rd image is from a complete 1503 copy of the work by Thomas Anshelm, posted at Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes website which is itself notable...
"This somewhat remarkable book is the first edition of the author's poem "In Praise of the Holy Cross." The piece is printed as a figure poem, that is, a poem over which are superimposed a variety of figures. These include Christ Crucified, evangelistic symbols, cherubim, and King Louis the Pious of France. Some pages were printed entirely from movable type.

In more complicated instances, the entire page is cut with its figures on wood in imitation of type. In still other cases, the letters immediately surrounding the figure are cut on the block, while the remaining area of the page is filled in with movable type. Although figure poems were common in manuscripts, the De Laudibus Sancte Crucis is the first instance of this form of symbolic poetry to appear in printed form."

Addit: **That sentence is a paraphrase from the source - thinking about it later, it seems a bit improbable that books by the upper echelons would be made available to the rabble. I think the Linksentiment is rearward projection.

****UPDATE**** (August 2011): 'De laudibus Sanctae Crucis - Cod.theol.et phil.fol.122 {Lorch 1490} [In Praise of the Holy Cross] is a gorgeous manuscript and has just gone online (Stuttgart State Library) [click 'zur Werkansicht']

****UPDATE**** (December 2012) Bern's e-Codices portal has now placed a full manuscript of 'De laudibus Sanctae Crucis - Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 9' Hrabanus Maurus, Liber de Laudibus Sanctae Crucis {parchment, 11th cent.} online.


Anonymous said...

I've been tempted to write about Maurus myself, but lived in hope of finding some larger, un-watermarked images from his manuscripts. I don’t recall seeing mention of that 1503 book when I went looking though: what a great find!

peacay said...

See also: Princeton Graphic Arts blog.

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