Monthly Archives: October 2012

Halloween at Special Collections

Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin’ clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu’ blithe that night.

Hallowe’en by Robert Burns

Although Halloween has its roots in the pagan practices of Scotland and Ireland, its name comes from the Scottish phrase “All Hallows’ Even”, the night before the Christian holiday, All Hallows’ Day.  The word, Hallowe’en was first used in the 16th century.  Halloween is most closely linked with the Celtic holiday, Samhain, the day, it was thought, in which the natural and supernatural realms were nearest to each other and the dead could revisit the living.

The Reformation brought Halloween rituals under attack, although the customs still flourished in most of Scotland and Ireland.  Furthermore, the popularity of Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th every year also put a damper on Halloween in England.  The Puritans who sailed to America did not bring the Halloween traditions with them and Halloween was largely ignored until the 19th century influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants.  By the early 20th century, the popularity of Halloween in America had taken hold of the majority of the population.

Today, Halloween is a huge commercial enterprise.  In the U.S., Halloween generates $2.4 billion in sales.  More candy is sold on Halloween than Valentine’s Day and more parties are held on Halloween than on New Year’s Eve.  In terms of gross sales, Halloween is second only to Christmas.  Almost every television show and cartoon has a Halloween episode at some point and every comic has a Halloween theme as well.  The two comic books, Batman’s “The Long Halloween” and “Garfield in Disguise” are two such examples.

At Special Collections, such spooky tales like The Night Hag and Dante’s Inferno might tickle your fancy this time of year.  Come on by our Reading Room at 401 Ellis to take a look at our Halloween themed books and comics.  Have a safe and happy Halloween!

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Our New Acquisition: Textus sequentarium with comments by Hermann Torrentinus, 1496.


Title page

Textus seque[n]tiaru[m] cu[m] optimo comme[n]to, was one of a few incunabula we acquired last year. Published in Cologne by Heinrich Quentell in 1496, the book is a collection of Sequences with extensive comments and explanations for students by a well known Nederlandish scholar and grammarian Hermann Torrentinus (ca.1450-1520)  

Liturgical Sequences were an integral part of the Roman Mass. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) defines the Sequence (Sequentia, or Prose [Prosa]),-as “the liturgical hymn of the Mass which occurs before the Gospel, while the hymn (poetry), belongs to the Breviary.” In other words, while hymns were part of the Mass from the earliest times, sequences originated in the ninth century as “texts written to accompany what had hitherto been a wordless musical extension of the final -a of the Alleluia at the end of the antiphon sung between the Epistle and Gospel.” * Some scholars think that sequences came from the Byzantine rite; others insist that it was an independent invention of the Roman Church. **


Sequence from Graduale e Missale, St. Mark convent, Florence, XV cent.


The word “Sequentia” was first introduced in the 9th century by Notker Balbulus (ca. 840-912), monk of St. Gall (Switzerland nowadays), who put some liturgical texts into rhythmical melodic phrases. The structure of these sequences was completely new — it was none of the traditional structure of Latin sacred verse, but was “unfolding in a vigorous series of free rhetorical periods, cast in the sonorous cadences of classical Latin diction, and, in the Notker case, –in a more exuberant diction rich with assonance.” ***

One of the best known sequences today is the Christmas carol Adeste Fideles, known in English as “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, also the Marian sequence Stabat Mater by Jacopone da Todi.

Writing commentaries on sequences was, it would appear, a quite common literary pursuit in the twelfth or thirteenth century. It was part of the extensive commentary literature, especially widespread in the German-speaking countries. Besides Hermann Torrentinus we know the names of Jacob Wimpheling (1450-1528), Caesarius von Heisterbach (ca. 1180 – ca. 1240), and Johannes Adelphus (1445-1522). Such commentaries likely played an important didactic role in schools or universities, depending on the depths of the analysis, which ranged from a basic explanation of the meaning of a phrase to a philosophical treatise.

Our book contains detailed comments by Torrentinus, including analysis of Latin phrases and their component parts in the 51 sequences written by Notker Balbulus. These are on the feasts of the Nativity of Christ (De Nativitate D[omi]ni), St. Stephen, St. John, The Innocents (slain by Herod), the Holy Trinity, St. Nicholas, St. Elizabeth, St. Katherine, the Virgin Mary, the Ascension, the Conception of the Virgin Mary, and many others.

A short introduction states the purpose and subject of the book: “laus divina” –Divine glory, than follows an explanation of the book’s structure. Torrentinus then dwells on the meaning of the first sentence of the sequence for the Nativity of Christ (Christmas), and the grammatical structure of it. His explanations of some of the words are quite curious, for example, the word “diabolus”:

Grates nunc omnes reddamus domino deo

Qui sua nativitate nos liberavit de dyabolica potestate.

(Item dyabolica est nome[n] adiectivium derivatum a nomine dyabolus. A dya q[uod] est duo…)

The word “dyabolica” is the adjective, derived from the noun “dyabolus”.

“Dya” means “duo”– double, and “bolos” – sting, as if {it were} a double sting which strikes our bodies and souls– says the author.

This explanation shows that the man, known as a great grammarian of his time, apparently didn’t have much Greek, giving a peculiar interpretation of the original Greek word: “Diabolus (from Greek: Δια + βάλλειν), where Δια — penetration through the line from one end to the other, often the effect of weapons, division, like in “diaphragm”,”diameter” ,diacritic”, and βάλλειν -“throw”, like in ballistics, so the whole word means a “divider”, “slanderer”,” backbiter”.

Most probably this book was intended for beginners studying Liturgy who knew Latin enough to understand instructions and explanations of the book. It has multiple marginal notes, comments by several contemporary owners, corrections, and in some cases an empty space, left for the illuminated or rubricated initial letter, is filled in pen or pencil.

Curiously enough, it doesn’t have a colophon. The only date mentioned in the text could be found on the verso of page signed [3iij], Folium iiij, where the author, while speaking of the Nativity of Christ, explains the principles of dating: “Annos dat ab Adam donec Xr[istu]s homo fact[us]. Sed a nativitate[m] Xri[st]i usque ad nu[n]c scribitur anno domini. Mcccclxxxxvi”, (“Dates used to be given from Adam to Christ’s incarnation. But from the nativity of Christ onwards they are written as Anno Domini .1496”} which gives us 1496 as a possible date of publication.

Who was the man to whom these comments are attributed?

Torrentinus belongs to that huge crowd of late mediaeval scholars whose names are known nowadays only to a small number of enthusiastic book lovers or medievalists.

A scholar. Einhardt painting from the Medieval manuscript

Hermann von der Beeke, known mostly under his Latinized name Torrentinus, or Torrentius (meaning “brook” or “torrent, as translated from the original word beeke ) was born around 1450 in Zwolle, Netherlands, about 80 miles north- east of Amsterdam. He received initial education in his native town in the School of the Brethren of the Common Life (Fratres Vitae Commune), a Roman Catholic religious community founded in the 14th century by Gerard Groote, and devoted to education and teaching. The brethren didn’t take up irrevocable vows, in difference from a regular monastic community, but led a simple and chaste life, practicing ascetic discipline and devoting all their time to attending Divine services, reading, and labors. They lived in the common houses and had meals together.

The year 1490 finds Torrentinus in Groningen, teaching rhetoric in the Brethren of the Common Life School. After the death of his father he had to return to Zwolle to help and support his mother, where he took a position of school teacher. Torrentinus is known as an editor of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics (1502), and as the author of a Elucidarius Poeticus (dictionary of proper names of people, places, plants, etc., encountered in history and poetry) (1498).

He revised and edited the first part of Alexander de Villa Dei’s standard Latin grammar, the Doctrinale (1504), and wrote several small books for use in his school. Around 1508 his eyesight was failing and Torrentinus had to leave his position as Head of Zwolle Brethren School. He died in Zwolle in 1520.

It looks like an uneventful life. Appearances often deceive, however. In Groningen Torrentinus came under the influence of such a forceful figure as Wessel Gansfort whose anti-papal sentiments and rather unorthodox interpretations of the Bible****** were known. Some sources mutedly suggest that Torrentinus also might have entertained some peculiar ideas; however we know so little about him that it’s hard to prove.

Textus sequentarium binding

Our copy is bound in half red leather with decorated endpapers and boards, its spine is decorated with floral motif between raised bands in gilt and embossed with “c.1494”. Marginal annotations in Latin are in contemporary ink. Initial spaces are not rubricated; on rear lining paper there is a bookplate of Glenmore Whitney Davis, journalist for the New York Globe (New York daily newspaper published till 1923).


References and notes:

*Messenger, Ruth, The Medieval Latin Hymn, Washington DC, 1953

Kaske, R.E., Medieval Christian Literary Imagery: a guide to interpretation, Toronto.

**In the Byzantine Church/Orthodox Church it is called Alleluaria and was established on the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. See: Дмитревский И. И. Историческое, догматическое и таинственное изъяснение Божественной Литургии, p. 234 : Между пением Аллилуя возглашаются чтецом стихи, называемые Аллилуариями

***Richard Crocker, The Early Medieval Sequence, U of California Press, 1977.

**** Erika Kihlman, Expositiones sequentarum. Medieval Sequence Commentaries and Prologues. Editions with Introductions. Stockholm University,2012?

***** Though Gansfort firmly stands on a Catholic ground and he never had brushes with the Inquisition, his writings were on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Catholic Encyclopedia)


John Edwin Sandys (1844-1922) A History of Classical Scholarship: From the Revival of Learning to the End of the Eighteenth Century in Italy, France, England and the Netherlands.

Contemporaries of Erasmus: a biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation. Ed. Peter G. Bietenholz. Toronto, U of Toronto press, 1987


Posted in New Books, Our New Acquisition, Rare Book Collection

Martin Luther – Doctor in Bible

Five hundred years ago today, Martin Luther was awarded a doctorate in theology.  In 1512, Luther was 28 years old.  Seven years before, when Luther was attending law school at the University of Erfurt, a place he called a beerhouse and a whorehouse, lightning struck near where he was riding his horse.  This event made Luther realize that he feared for his soul and he made a promise to Saint Anna to become a monk.  It was a promise Luther thought he could not break, so he sold his law books and left university to join a monastery in Erfurt.  His father was furious at him!  How could Luther throw away all the education he received?

After only two years at the monastery, Luther’s sadness and deep introspection was too much for his superiors.  Luther was ordained as a priest in 1507 and ordered back to academia where Luther pursued degrees in theology, eventually obtaining a position with the University of Wittenberg’s faculty a mere two days after receiving his doctorate.  His position was that of Doctor in Bible.

Kirchen Postilla Exterior

Kirchen Postilla by Martin Luther

At Special Collections, we have a few items

Kirchen Postilla Interior

Kirchen Postilla by Martin Luther

published during Luther’s lifetime and just after.  The Kirchen Postilla : Das ist, Auslegung der Episteln und Evangelien an Sontagen und Furnemesten Festen durchs Gantze Jar is one prime example.  A rough translation of the title is Church Notes: That is, Interpretation of the Epistles and Gospels for Sundays and Festivals through the Entire Year.  This book was meant to be used by Protestant churches all over Germany as a reference book for Protestant ministers while they prepared their Sunday sermons.  The book came with two clasps, although one is now missing.  It was a chained book, which means that this particular copy that Special Collections possesses must have been chained to a desk.  This prevented the possibility of being stolen from the library, church, or monastery where it probably first resided.

Later, Luther published his German translations of various books of the Bible.  Der Prophet Sacharja (The Prophet Zechariah) was published in 1528.  The woodcut

Der Prophet Sacharja

Der Prophet Sacharja by Martin Luther

illustration on the title page depicts Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Zechariah is shown in the upper right hand corner giving the masses the prophecy that Jesus fulfilled that day.

After his death, Luther’s commentaries on the New Testament epistles, Der Erste [Bis Zwelffte] Teil der Bücher, were published.  These hefty volumes, twelve in all, not only include thousands of pages of text, but also a large amount of printed margin notes.  Like many German tomes of the period, these volumes included metal clasps and hinges to keep the books closed, but all that remains

Der Erste Teil

Der Erste Tail der Bucher by Martin Luther

now are the hinges.  On the title page, Martin Luther kneels at Jesus’ left and the Elector of Saxony, who guaranteed Luther’s security while Luther was being pursued by the Cardinal Cajetan, is shown kneeling on Jesus’ right.

Special Collections also owns a few copies of sermons published only a few years after Luther posted his famous 95 Theses.  Come by during our operating hours to check out what we have!


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Food Revolutions digital exhibit now online

If you missed Food Revolutions, our exhibition of food- and diet-related publications last spring, you can now view it online!  This exhibition examines our changing notions of healthy eating over two centuries.

The digital version of the exhibit features a video of Dr. Ingolf Gruen’s opening talk, as well as images and links to full text for many of the books we featured in the Ellis Library Colonnade. Food Revolutions was an event affiliated with Food Sense: The 8th Annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium.

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Banned Books Week: Comics and Controversy

Today marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, a yearly celebration of the freedom to read.  Special Collections is home to many banned books, and our extensive Comic Art Collection, which is approaching 4,000 comic book titles, contains some of the most controversial and often-suppressed literature in the library.

Horror and Suspense

Tales from the CryptHorror, crime and suspense comics became quite popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  EC Comics, edited by Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman, was one of the main purveyors of this type of literature.  The company published several highly popular titles, including Tales from the Crypt, Frontline Combat, Panic, and Shock SuspenStories.

Frontline CombatMovements to censor these types of comics began popping up around the country after World War II.  Sparked by the publication of Seduction of the Innocent by psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, Congress held an official inquiry on comics and juvenile delinquency in 1954, and many cities throughout the country passed or considered municipal bans on comic books in general.

The Comics Code Authority

PanicFearing government regulation, the comics industry turned to self-censorship, forming the Comics Code Authority (CCA) in late 1954.  The Code set a number of content and artistic standards, including the stipulation that good must always triumph over evil, a general ban on the words “horror” and “terror” in comic book titles, and strict guidelines for the handling of crime, race, sexuality, and political issues.

Although the CCA had no legal power, most distributors refused to carry comics without the CCA seal of approval.  Some publishers adapted to the new regulations, while others went out of business.  EC Comics cancelled all of its titles except for Mad magazine (which was not subject to the Code), and was later absorbed by DC Comics.

Underground Comics

The New Adventures of JesusBy the late 1960s, artists began exploring themes banned by the Code in self-published or small-press “underground” comics.  Many were inspired directly by EC Comics, Mad, and the work of Harvey Kurtzman.

The Fabulous Furry Freak BrothersFrank Stack, an emeritus professor of art at MU, is credited with creating the first underground comic book when he published The Adventures of Jesus in 1964 under the pseudonym Foolbert Sturgeon.  Artists such as Gilbert Shelton and R. Crumb also established the genre with publications such as The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fritz the Cat.

Crumb stated that the appeal of underground comics was their lack of censorship – and this is certainly expressed in their content.  Many underground comics deal with drug use, sex, and political issues such as racism, the anti-war movement, and women’s rights.

Fritz the CatBook Banning Continues

Comics and graphic novels of all genres remain controversial reading material, particularly for children and teens.  The American Library Association releases a yearly list of the top 10 most challenged books, and graphic novels usually figure among them.  For more information about current attempts to ban books, see Mapping Censorship from the Banned Books Week website.

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