Rolling the Dice: Guided by the Stars, Math, and God (in that order)

by Eve Wolynes, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Notre Dame

Special Collections’ spotlight exhibit for May, “Blasphemous Fun: Late Medieval and Early Modern Game of Chance and Fortune,” features a pair of medieval and Early Modern books on fortune-telling dice games: a modern facsimile of the Libro delle Sorti (The Book of Fates) and the Dodechedron de Fortvne.

The original Libro delle Sorti, held at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, was written in 1482 by Lorenzo Spirito Gualtieri in Perugia and was illustrated by Umbrian painters in the circle of Pietro Perugino and the young Raphael. Its pages contain a guide to using three six-sided dice to divine the answers to any of twelve questions about the future, in a somewhat comically roundabout method.

First, the reader choses a question, which then points them to a “king” — an image of one of twelve historical and biblical figures, including Priam, last king of Troy, and King Solomon. These kings then instruct the reader to a “sign” — a table associated with celestial bodies, animals and mythical figures, such as a unicorn, a scorpion, or the moon. These tables provide combinations of dice rolls — whatever the reader rolls, they find that combination on the table, which then directs to a “sphere” of different celestial signs and their Roman Gods — such as the sphere of the Sun (shown in the exhibit) or Taurus (shown here), but also the sphere of Cancer, Capricorn, Mercury, Apollo and Mars. These spheres finally direct to a “list” of decided fates, organized according to the prophets of Christianity. The rather convoluted links of the game intertwine Roman mythology, biblical figures and astrology in its pages to tell a story of Italian medieval culture that dipped into multifaceted heritages — Roman and Catholic pasts interlinked, with astrological stars and theological heavens brought to bear on earthly concerns.

The Dodechedron, meanwhile, is attributed to medieval poet French Jean de Meun, famous for his scandalous and obscene Roman de la Rose, and earliest manuscripts date to roughly the first quarter of the 14th century. The work regained popularity as a printed text in the late 16th and early 17th century – as demonstrated in our 1615 printed edition, and found itself translated into English around the same time. It describes a game of dice played using a 12-sided die connected to the twelve signs of the zodiac in order to predict the future.

Twelve repeats itself frequently throughout the game, which requires that the player choose one of twelve questions from twelve different “houses” (144 questions total) about a wide breadth of topics from a child’s future health to whether a judge in a court case would honestly uphold to justice. Readers then pick a house and a question, correlate those numbers to a 12-by-12 grid and roll a 12-sided die to count out the final tally of their numbered fortune from a list of answers. The repetition of 12 places the Dodechedron into a tradition of spell books that relied upon mathematical calculations founded on astrological divination to calculate the future.

Dice games games were nominally frowned upon in the Middle Ages — and gambling with dice barred to members of the church, though that didn’t stop them — and the connections between chance determining the future and pagan practices of divination through dice meant that these games bordered on blasphemous and played on the boundaries of “everyday magic.” Indeed, dice games were often paired with blasphemy as players prayed to God, Mary and saints in the lead up to their rolls — and cursed them when things didn’t go their way. In the 13th century the King of Castile, Alfonso X, attempted to regulate dice games in his Ordinances of Gaming Parlours, and began with punishments for various levels of blasphemy during such games, up to having part of one’s tongue cut off. In discussions of dice games and gambling, the worship of Decius (dice) was often put in contrast with worshipping Deus (God) to characterize such games as a form of pagan or satanic ritual, as referenced in the 14th century Manuale Sacerdotum by John Mirk, preaching that, “He [who gambles with dice] makes of the gaming table an altar for himself, upon which he offers up the goods of the Church to the Devil.” [1]

Fortune-telling games, rather than gambling with dice, however, escaped complete censure by the medieval church and remained closer to the practice of divining “Lots”, also called Sortes Sanctorum (Fates of the Saints), through bible verses and the practical application of astrology, which were both frequently interlocked as such games referenced astrology and the stars throughout their manuals, and games often instructed their players to offer prayers or recite psalms before casting their dice.

The advent of Protestantism after the first half of the 17th century in Europe coincided with a heightened lockdown on fortune-telling as a form of magic that contradicted the omnipotence of God wherein any event was not chance but a direct reflection of personal virtue in God’s eyes. Still, the temptations of chance, future and fortune were hardly daunted by whispers of blasphemy — dice games and fortune telling continued in popularity well into the early modern era and beyond, and live on in our gambling dens and friendly tabletop games today.

 

 

 

[1] Rhiannon Purdie, “Dice-games and the blasphemy of prediction,” in Medieval Futures: Attitudes to the Future in the Middle Ages, 2000. P. 178.

Upcoming Events: May and through the summer

Currently there are no events scheduled to be hosted this summer in Rare Books and Special Collections.

The exhibit As Printers Printed Long Ago: The Saint Dominic’s Press, 1916-1936 will run through the summer and close in late July.

The current spotlight exhibits are The Work of Our Hands: A Multi-Venue Exhibition of Liturgical Vestments (March – May 2019) and Blasphemous Fun: Late Medieval and Early Modern Games of Chance and Fortune (May 2019).

Rare Books and Special Collections is open
regular hours during the summer —
9:00am to 5:00pm, Monday through Friday.

RBSC will be closed Monday, May 27th, for Memorial Day and Thursday, July 4th, for Independence Day.

Upcoming Events: March and early April

Please join us for the following event being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Tuesday, March 26 at 4:00pm | “An Enchanted Circle Surrounding Me Like Magic: Heidelburg & its literary heritage from the Middle Ages to today,” a talk with Dr. Gertrud Roesch (Max Kade Distinguished Visiting Professor of German Studies, Notre Dame).

Sponsored by The Department of German and Russian Languages and Literatures.

Wednesday, March 27 at 4:00pm | A Conversation with Sandow Birk. Renowned illustrator Sandow Birk will be visiting Notre Dame on March 27 and 28. He will speak about his work, including his illustrations of the Divine Comedy and the Qur’an.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Italian Studies , the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, the Devers Family Program in Dante Studies, and the Program in Liberal Studies.

Thursday, March 28 at 5:00pmThe Italian Research Seminar: “Pasolini Screenwriter for Fellini” by Prof. Claudia Romanelli (Alabama).

Sponsored by the Center for Italian Studies.

Thursday, April 4, 5:00pm | Medieval Institute Byzantine Series Lecture: “The Gospel of John in the Byzantine Tradition” by Fr. John Behr (St. Vladimir’s Seminary)


The spring exhibitAs Printers Printed Long Ago. The Saint Dominic’s Press 1916-1936, curated by Dennis Doordan (Emeritus Professor, Notre Dame School of Architecture), opened in January and runs through the summer. The exhibition features different types of publications and posters produced by Saint Dominic’s Press, setting the story of the press within the larger history of the private press movement in England and examining its artistic as well as literary achievements.

The current spotlight exhibits are: Theresienstadt (Terezín), in remembrance of all the victims of the Holocaust, and Creeley/Marisol: Presences (through March 6, 2019). Both spotlight exhibits will be changed in early March to Purchas his Pilgrimes and John Smith (March 2019), and The Work of Our Hands, a multi-venue exhibition organized in conjunction with the Notre Dame Forum 2018-19: “The Catholic Artistic Heritage: Bringing Forth Treasures New and Old” (March – early June 2019).

If you would like to bring a group to Special Collections or schedule a tour of any of our exhibits, please email rarebook @ nd.edu or call 574-631-0290.


Rare Books and Special Collections will be open regular hours, 9am-5pm, during Notre Dame’s Spring Break (March 11-15).

Recent Acquisition: The Golden Qurʼan from the Age of the Seljuks and Atabegs

by Julie Tanaka, Curator, Rare Books

Recently acquired is a full-size, color facsimile of the Golden Qur’an (Cod.arab. 1112), held in the Bavarian State Library (BSB) in Munich. The original manuscript was restored by the BSB’s Institute of Book and Manuscript Restoration in 1967. This true-to-size facsimile replicates both the physical appearance and features of the restored codex. Some loss of the ornamental decoration along the edges indicates the text block was trimmed when the codex received a later binding.

The Golden Qur’an is among a small number of Qur’ans written using colored writing materials. The most notable example of these colored works is the late 9th- or early 10th-century Blue Qur’an from Tunisia that was written in Kufic script on indigo-dyed vellum.

The holy text in the Golden Qur’an is written in black Naskh cursive on gold-coated paper. The image below reveals the reflection from these golden pages.

Each sura heading is framed in blue, white, and reddish-brown script and is decorated with floral and arabesque patterns. Verses are separated by rosettes.

This Qur’an probably originated in Iraq or Iran. It has many features which indicate that it was a product of the school of Ibn al-Bawwab, the early 12th-century Persian illuminator and calligrapher. The Qur’an employs ink colors—white, brown, crimson, and black—that had been introduced by Ibn al-Bawwab. The vertical letters slant slightly to the left and are written in a dense but clear style that is characteristic of his school. In addition, the first page features an unusual arrangement of two sura titles. In the basmala (the name for the Islamic phrase which translates into English as “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”), the Arabic letter “sin” is elongated.

Upcoming Events: April and early May

Please join us for the following events being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Thursday, April 5 at 5:00pm | A talk on the reception of Medieval Catalan poet Ausiàs March in Early Modern Iberia, by Albert Lloret (UMass Amherst). Sponsored by Iberian and Latin American Studies, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

Wednesday, April 11 at 4:30pm | “Centering Black Catholics, Reimagining American Catholicism” by Matthew Cressler (College of Charleston). Sponsored by the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism.

Thursday, April 19 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: “From Surface to Symptom and Back Again: Reading Isabella d’Este’s Correspondence” by Deanna Shemek (University of California, Santa Cruz). Co-sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame and the William and Katherine Devers Program in Dante Studies.

Thursday, April 26 at 5:00pm | “Towards a New Biography of Dante Alighieri” by Paolo Pellegrini (Verona). Co-sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame and the William and Katherine Devers Program in Dante Studies.

Friday, May 4 at 1:00pm | Awards ceremony for the annual Undergraduate Library Research Award (ULRA), followed by a reception in the Special Collections Seminar Room (103 Hesburgh Library).


The main exhibit this spring is In a Civilized Nation: Newspapers, Magazines, and the Print Revolution in 19th-Century Peru. This exhibit is curated by Erika Hosselkus and draws on strengths of Rare Books and Special Collections’ José E. Durand Peruvian History collection. Together these items offer diverse perspectives on Peruvian political events and cultural and religious practices and preferences from the colonial era, through the country’s birth in 1825, and beyond the turn of the twentieth century.

The spotlight exhibits during early April are From Distant Waters: Whaling Manuscripts in Special Collections and Baseball and Tin Pan Alley: Sheet Music from the Joyce Sports Collection, both curated by George Rugg. The baseball exhibit will end mid-month, with the exhibit Chaste, Choice and Chatty: Irish-American Periodicals of the Nineteenth Century, curated by Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, opening for the second half of the month and continuing through the summer.

Constable MS 4: a leaf from the so-called “Wilton Processional”

by David T. Gura, Curator, Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts

In August 2015, Giles Constable donated a small collection of fragments and charters in memory of his daughter, Olivia Remie Constable (1960-2014), who had been the Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame. The gift included a thirteenth-century leaf from a processional, later shown to be at Wilton Abbey, a women’s Benedictine house, until 1860. The parent manuscript was broken by Cleveland biblioclast, Otto F. Ege (1888-1951), who included leaves from it in his portfolio, Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscript. It was Leaf no. 8. Leaves from the processional were disseminated widely through Ege’s portfolios as well as from later dealers, and now are part of many American and Canadian collections. Processionals contain the antiphons and rubrics pertaining to the processions themselves. For example, Palm Sunday and the Visitatio sepulchri are included.

Constable MS 4 contains part of the procession for Palm Sunday. Of great interest, and rarity, is the use of feminine forms in the rubrics (e.g., ‘cantrix’). This shows intentional customization for a female religious community, whereas many other manuscripts often transmit the masculine forms even though they were used by women.

 

Bibliography

Alison Altstatt, “Re-membering the Wilton Processional,” Notes 72 (2016): 690-732.

David T. Gura, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016), pp. 480-482.

Scott Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts (Cayce, SC: De Brailes, 2013).

 


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Recent Acquisition: Leaf from a 13th-century illuminated Flemish Psalter-Hours

by David T. Gura, Curator, Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts

Frag. I. 36 is a single leaf from a type of devotional manuscript known as a Psalter-Hours. As its name implies, the book contained a Psalter as well as the Hours of the Virgin accompanied by other texts. The Psalter-Hours grew in popularity among the laity in the mid to late thirteenth century, whereas the few earlier examples were used by monastics. The Book of Hours became far more common in later centuries for the laity and eventually displaced the Psalter-Hours, though not completely.

mss_frag_i_36-r

This particular leaf contains a portion of the Office for the Dead, which the living would pray to ease the departed’s time in Purgatory. The end of Job 10.20 is followed by a responsory and a versicle. The text on the verso breaks off at Psalm 22.2.

The decorative borders are typical of Flemish painting during the thirteenth century. The initials are inhabited by grotesques and a playful illustration of a dog chasing a hare occupies the lower margin of the verso.

This fragment is fully described in David T. Gura, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016), pp. 452-53. Expected publication: November 2016.

 


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Recent Acquisition: Medieval Manuscript Facsimile

by Julia Schneider, Medieval Studies Librarian 

The Bamberg Apocalypse facsimile is an original-format copy of a manuscript commissioned by Otto III (980-1002 AD). After his untimely death, the manuscript was left unfinished in the scriptorium of the Benedictine Abbey of Reichenau in Southern Germany. His successor, Henry II (973-1024 AD) ordered it finished. Thus, the manuscript dates to 1000-1020.

Containing 106 leaves in total, the first fifty-seven leaves of the Bamberg Apocalypse (Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc. Bibl. 140) contain the text and images of the Apocalypse of St. John from the Bible (a.k.a., Revelation). The remaining leaves of the manuscript include gospel pericopes (extracted readings) for specific feasts. There are a hundred decorated initials throughout the manuscript along with fifty-seven images, or miniatures, forty-nine of which provide striking visual interpretations of the prophecies contained in the Apocalypse concerning the end of the world and the final judgment, all with significant gold decoration.

BOO_004408963-029v_030r

The image shown above, described in the facing text, depicts Apocalypse 12:1-5. The woman, who has brought forth a man child, is clothed with the sun and has the moon under her feet. The great dragon with its seven heads and ten horns looks on in the foreground. Though the text describes a red dragon, the image features a multi-colored dragon—red, gold, and purple. Standing in the background is the Church that houses the Ark of the Covenant.

There were many ornate apocalypses and apocalypse commentaries produced during the Middle Ages, and, while we do not own the manuscripts, Hesburgh Libraries’ Rare Books and Special Collections houses facsimiles of several in addition to this recently acquired version. Be sure to search “apocalypse” in our database of facsimiles for more information on these fascinating, illustrated manuscript facsimiles.

 

Recent Acquisition: Authoritative Sylburg Edition of Aristotle

BOO_004396443-t1-001Recently acquired is volume three of Friedrich Sylburg’s authoritative Greek edition of Aristotle’s works. Printed in 1584 in Frankfurt by Andreas Wechel, this volume contains Physikēs akroaseōs biblia 8, Peri ouranou 4, Peri geneseōs kai phthoras 2, Meteōrologikōn 4, Peri kosmou 1, and Peri phychē 3.

The volume is bound in contemporary, blind-stamped pig skin over boards. On the front is a central medallion with the bust of Ludwig the Pious, surrounded by a knotted foliate pattern and border with medallions of noted humanists including Erasmus, Martin [Luther], John [of Saxony], and Philip [Melanchthon].

BOO_004396443-t1-00a

BOO_004396443-t1-005

Who’s Who in RBSC: Dave Gura

Dave Gura joined Rare Books and Special Collections in August 2010 as Curator of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts. Trained in Greek and Latin with particular interests in textual criticism, Latin paleography, and manuscript studies, Dave earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. His doctoral research examined the transmission of the Roman poet Ovid in the Middle Ages and culminated in his dissertation, “A Critical Edition and Study of Arnulf of Orléans’s Philological Commentary to Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” under the supervision of Professor Frank T. Coulson.

Since coming to Notre Dame, Dave has been engaged in numerous projects that have brought attention to the library’s Medieval manuscript collection. He co-curated an exhibit with his colleague, David Sullivan, titled Readers Writing Books: Annotation in Context, 1200-1600 in Spring 2012 that featured medieval annotations in printed texts. Then in Spring 2013, Dave curated his first full exhibit, Hour by Hour: Reconstructing a Medieval Breton Prayerbook, and a version of this was put on display at the Snite Museum at Notre Dame for the Medieval Academy of America annual meeting in Spring 2015. This exhibit featured a fifteenth-century Book of Hours from Brittany, France that had been cut apart so that individual leaves could be sold. In curating this exhibit, Dave aimed to reconstruct the entire manuscript, searching for the various leaves that had been sold, and to inform viewers about the practice of book breaking.

Dave’s current exhibit features papal manuscripts, books, and other materials related to the Vatican. Vestigia Vaticana: An exhibition of papal manuscripts, books, and more in conjunction with the conference “The Promise of the Vatican Library” at the University of Notre Dame opened May 4, 2016, to coincide with the conference.

In addition to highlighting the collection through exhibits, Dave uses the medieval manuscript collection to teach a variety of classes that range from individual tutorials on Western codicology to graduate courses on Latin paleography. Students get hands-on experience analyzing these manuscripts. They learn basic aspects of Western codicology—the study of books as physical objects—including how to read different styles of Latin handwriting, identify bindings, and estimate the period in which the text was written.

Both his classes and exhibits reflect how Dave views his role as curator. He works with manuscripts in the RBSC collections, researching their provenance and content and using them to teach students, faculty, and the public. One of his main goals is to help undergraduates and graduate students develop the skills they need to conduct their own research with these types of materials.

A consummate scholar, Dave has an active research agenda. He recently completed his book entitled A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, which is forthcoming from the University of Notre Dame Press. Having finished installing his exhibit, he plans to resume research on a newly acquired fragment that is an unknown witness to a 13th-century French poem to Charlemagne’s mother.

From the hours he spends examining 13th-century papal bulls to evaluate their legitimacy to his dream of acquiring a perfectly glossed, complete, 13th-century copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Dave’s passion for what he does is quite apparent to all of us in Special Collections. To keep up with his research on ND’s medieval collections, follow him on Twitter.