Scott Wells

title.none: Jostmann, Sibilla Erithea Babilonica (Scott Wells)

identifier.other: baj9928.0711.006 07.11.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Scott Wells, California State University, Los Angeles,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Jostmann, Christian. Sibilla Erithea babilonica: Papsttum und Prophetie im 13. Jahrhundert. Monumenta Germaniae HIstorica: Shriften 54. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2006. Pp. xvii, 549. $75.00 3-7752-5754-3. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.11.06

Jostmann, Christian. Sibilla Erithea babilonica: Papsttum und Prophetie im 13. Jahrhundert. Monumenta Germaniae HIstorica: Shriften 54. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2006. Pp. xvii, 549. $75.00 3-7752-5754-3. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Scott Wells
California State University, Los Angeles

The 1240s found the papacy embroiled in several major politico- religious crises, including the rapid decline of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, recurring failures to achieve a reunification of the eastern and western churches under Roman primacy, the faltering crusade against Islam conjoined with apparent proliferation of heresy within Christendom, and the intensifying conflict with Frederick II and the Ghibelline/Staufen faction in Italy. As Christian Jostmann demonstrates, the pseudonymous text known as the Sibilla Erithea Babilonica (or Vaticinium Sibillae Erithreae) addresses all of these concerns, placing them in a context of prophetic world history starting from the Trojan War and ending with the apocalyptic victory of the church. Although the Sibilla Erithea--reputedly predictions made by the Sibyl to the Greek troops assembled before the walls of Ilium--survives today in at least seventy-two manuscripts from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries (some of whose readers included Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Coluccio Salutati), and though its prophecies were widely cited and analyzed throughout those same centuries, Jostmann's is the first modern scholarly monograph devoted specifically to this text. His analyses of manuscript transmission and textual reception produce a persuasive revision of previous assumptions about the dating of various versions of the "Erythraean Sibyl," while the two hundred pages (142-343) he devotes to an illuminating close reading and literary, intellectual and political contextualization of this rather brief source both reinforce his dating hypothesis and present a well-supported argument about authorship of this work at the papal curia that is sure both to prove contentious and to open new areas for future research.

The Sibilla Erithea survives in two principal forms, a short version (Jostmann's K1) and a long version (Jostmann's L1), though four manuscripts do preserve a text which integrates all the elements of K1 and L1 into a composite text (Jostmann's L2) while a fifth manuscript contains an initial, partial effort to integrate L1 into K1 (Jostmann's K2). Oswald Holder-Egger, who published the standard editions of L1 and K1 in Neues Archiv in 1890 and 1905 among a number of Italian prophetic texts he edited because they were cited by Salimbene's Cronica, considered L1 to be the original version and K1 a later condensed and simplified recension. Holder-Egger then dated the composition of L1 to shortly after Frederick II's death in 1250. However, by examining the manuscript transmission, preparing an excellent new edition of K1 (498-506; and also of K2 and L2, 507-527, though he lets Holder-Egger's edition of L1 stand and directs readers to the Neues Archiv for that complete text), and comparing the specific language of the earliest citations of the Sibilla Erithea to the texts of K1 and L1, Jostmann is able to show that K1 is the original version and was already in circulation by the mid- 1240s. Here he reinforces, refines and definitively proves Sabine Schmolinky's hypothesis of an early 1240s dating for K1 made in her 1991 study of Alexander Minorita's Apocalypse commentary, one of the earliest works to cite the Sibilla Erithea. Indeed, Jostmann argues that K1 was written in conjunction with a 1241 crisis confronting Gregory IX's papacy, specifically a political and marital alliance between Frederick II and John III Vatatzes of Nicaea which threatened to return Constantinople to Greek control. Regarding the date of composition for L1, Jostmann follows the argument laid out by Paul J. Alexander in his posthumously-published 1980 article, "The Diffusion of Byzantine Apocalypses in the Medieval West and the Beginnings of Joachimism." Alexander argued from his own close reading of the long version that the Sibilla Erithea must have been written in January 1249 in association with preparations for the sending off of a papal delegation to John III Vatatzes of Nicaea under the leadership of the Franciscan Minister General John of Parma, an assessment Jostmann supports (18-21 and 339-340).

Having placed the composition of K1 at ca. 1241 and of L1 at 1249 (leaving the dating for K2 and L2 undetermined but prior to 1300), Jostmann turns to his meticulous reading of the Sibilla Erithea itself, focused primarily on K1 which he shows to be more clearly structured than L1 and to contain all the themes and topics also found in the latter text (though the anti-Greek and apocalyptic emphases are much expanded in the longer version). The Sibilla Erithea is organized into three sections, each setting a different struggle in the context of divinely-ordained history, culminating in an apocalyptic scenario. The first section discusses the history of Greco-Roman imperial relations, starting with the period of Greek hegemony from the Trojan War to Alexander, then shifting to the emergence of Roman hegemony in the world from the war with Hannibal to the conversion of Constantine, at which point imperial hegemony shifts again to the Greeks with that emperor's donation to Pope Sylvester and move to Constantinople. All of this provides context for more detailed discussion of Byzantine history from Manuel I Komnenos (d. 1180) to the Fourth Crusade, when the Greeks will lose Constantinople to the Latins; then, in a genuine prediction by the Sibilla Erithea's author, it is foretold how the goat (i.e. the Greeks) will retake Constantinople with the help of the eagle (i.e. Frederick II). The second section describes the foundation of the church through Jesus, Peter and Paul, recounts struggles between that church and the people of Rome which ultimately will result in victory for the Bride, then focuses on the apocalyptic resistance of the church to the conjoined forces of Islam (the beast of 666 years) and heresy (a dragon spewing forth water like the Nile) until eventually the entire world will be united under the Lamb. The third section begins with the end of Hauteville rule in Sicily following the death of the Christ-like king William II, when the German Henry VI gains the crown though his wife Constance; the Sibyl then focuses on the apocalyptic role of the Staufen as aggressive, bestial enemies of the church from Henry VI through Frederick II and (in another set of predictions made by the Sibilla's author) his two successors; the Staufen will engage in this end-of-days attack upon the church with the assistance of their goatish (Greek) ally, whom Frederick will have restored to the Constantinopolitan throne. The three strands of the Sibilla Erithea are thus interrelated, giving the text as a whole a clear and eloquent structure. Both the contents and the formal unity of the text, Jostmann argues, constitute definitive evidence that the author(s) of the work should be located in the curia of the 1240s, the circle most engaged with this intersection of crises and in particular with the fate of the Latin Empire of Constantinople. In doing so he decisively challenges two earlier hypotheses regarding authorship of this text.

In two of the eight surviving manuscripts of K1 (though these are among the earliest, and two of the three on which Jostmann principally bases his edition) a preface describes the text as a translation from the Greek original into Latin by Eugenius, admiral of Sicily. Of the fifty-nine witnesses to L1 used by Jostmann, thirty-six supply this same information; all but four of these add the further information that the Greek text was itself a translation from an even earlier Chaldean (Syrian) original by a learned cleric named Doxapater. Holder-Egger ignored this information, presumably regarding these attributions as dubiously as that of the original to the Erythraean Sibyl herself; but Charles Homer Haskins raised the possibility that the roles assigned to Eugenius and Doxapater might be genuine, a suggestion intensively pursued by Evelyn Jamison in her study Admiral Eugenius of Sicily (1957). Nicholas Doxapater can be documented as a Byzantine official exiled from Constantinople who settled in Sicily as a monk around 1140, while a Sicilian monk Nilus Doxapater was commissioned by King Roger II in 1143 to write a treatise in Greek on the five patriarchates, opposing Roman primacy. These were probably the same individual. Furthermore, Nilus Doxapater served as a witness to a property sale by a relative of Eugenius. The Palermitan Eugenius (d. ca. 1202), in turn, is documented as a native speaker of Greek who translated Ptolemy's Optics from Arabic into Latin, who served as a high official of the court of Sicily under William II and Tancred of Lecce, and who spent time as a prisoner of the Staufen monarch Henry VI. Based primarily on this data, the ascription of the core of the Latin Sibilla Erithea to Eugenius (partly as a translation from the Greek, partly as an original composition) has been generally accepted. The role of Doxapater and the existence of a Chaldean original has met with more skepticism, being questioned for instance by Paul Alexander ("Diffusion of Byzantine Apocalypses," p. 100, n. 78), but has not been aggressively opposed.

To counter this circumstantial evidence Jostmann offers the text itself, virtually all of whose information about and from the eastern Mediterranean he demonstrates can be derived from sources readily available in Latin, including Greek and Syriac apocalyptic texts widely know in translation such as the Tiburtine Sibyl, Pseudo- Methodius, and an earlier text associated with the Erythraean Sibyl by Augustine (City of God, XVIII.23); narratives of the Trojan War in the Ilias Latina and Dares of Phrygia; Isidore of Seville's description of the Erythraean Sibyl; and accounts in letters, reports, and Latin chronicles about Byzantine affairs from the reign of Manuel Komnenos through the Fourth Crusade. Jostmann's arguments against any involvement of Eugenius or Doxapater as translators of a supposed earlier redaction of the text are compelling--especially when combined with his explication of K1's literary unity, which further complicates any effort to regard the text as a product of multiple authors spanning multiple generations (let alone languages). Jostmann instead hypothesizes that Eugenius, still remembered in educated south and central Italian circles of the thirteenth century as a translator of Greek heritage who had been a high official in the kingdom of Sicily, was named as "translator" of the Sibilla Erithea by the actual (Latin) author to give the text a more convincing ancestry (236-238). In the longer version, this authenticating provenance was extended back even further to a supposedly Chaldean archetype translated by a fictional Doxapater, nomenclature requiring no intended reference to or knowledge of Nicholas/Nilos but instead a coinage based on the relative frequency of this name among the Greeks of contemporary southern Italy and Byzantium, as well as its literal meaning of glorious/learned father (241-242).

Even those who have supported a compositional role for Eugenius agree that substantial portions of the Sibilla Erithea cannot be attributed to him either as compiler or translator, since they prophesy events occurring subsequent to his death. These sections (or, as in the case of Holder-Egger, the entire text) have been universally ascribed to thirteenth-century Joachite authorship, to followers of Joachim of Fiore--including Florensian monks--centered in southern Italy who were producing works under his name in the mid-1200s. One of the earliest of these was the Expositio super Sibillis et Merlino, which purports to be Joachim's explication of the Sibilla Erithea and another prophetic work about the Staufen known as the Verba Merlini. Since the Expositio is definitely Joachite, and since it and other clearly Joachite works closely engaged with the Sibilla Erithea, that text is viewed as Joachite as well. Jostmann rejects this attribution by association, and instead articulates the case for the papal curia as the environment in which this pseudo-Sibylline work was produced. He provides substantial evidence for his claim and in the process offers many illuminating reflections on the thirteenth-century papal court (building, for example, on the scholarship of Agostino Paravicini Bagliani). The multiple personnel who made up the curia, he argues, possessed the education and libraries to make one of their number the most likely possessor of the historical, theological, and literary knowledge reflected in the Sibilla Erithea. He also documents how the Sibyl's theological perspective resonates strongly with that of Innocent III on several issues, including both the association of 666 with the number of years Islam would endure and the notion that the crusader conquest of Constantinople of 1204 was of apocalyptic significance in preparing the way for the final union of all Christians under papal leadership. Jostmann also notes how such aspects of the text as the portrayal of Constantine's donation as positive rather than negative, and the highlighting of the citizens of Rome as persecutors of the Roman church, likewise suggest a curial rather than a Joachite origin. As a center of communication, for the receiving and transmission of information and personnel, the papal court was unparalleled. Thus the Sibyl's familiarity with affairs in Constantinople, as well as the rapid spread of the text as far as England and northern Germany, are further points Jostmann raises to support his position. He also proposes a convincing argument for the Council of Lyons in 1245 as a key moment for the dissemination of the Sibilla Erithea, and cites other examples of papal and curial association with prophetic texts in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (e.g. Eugenius III's interest in Hildegard of Bingen; the Prophetia ignota or Sibyl of Samia discovered among the papers of Cardinal Matthew of Angers; and the Prophetia filii Agap discovered by the cardinal legate Pelagius at the siege of Damietta during the Fifth Crusade). To further corroborate the likelihood of a curial point of origin for the Sibilla Erithea, Jostmann identifies two specific "suspects" to whom authorship might be attributed, given their connections with Florensians, Cistercians and Franciscans, their links with England, and their documented interest in prophecy and forecasting the future: Rainier of Viterbo and John of Toledo.

Jostmann notes that while the Joachites were engaged with several of the issues at play in the text--e.g. raising apocalyptic expectations in relation to Frederick II, Islam, the mendicant orders, and the conversion of all peoples to the true church--they did not concern themselves with the fate of the Latin Empire of Constantinople. As a pointed example, Jostmann observes how the Joachite Expositio super Sibillis et Merlino ignores those portions of the Sibilla Erithea relating to Byzantium and the Greeks. By contrast, the papacy's focus on ecclesiastical reunification made coping with the Latin Empire's dimming fortunes one of its central priorities, and Jostmann argues that historians should focus on the pragmatic purposes behind the production of prophetic texts. Thus, in his analysis, K1 and L1 each expound a specific, even polemical commentary on policy debates occurring at the papal court in 1241 and 1249 respectively. When first drafted at the time of the alliance between Frederick II and John III Vatatzes, the Sibilla Erithea was intended to encourage support for the pope among those within the curia who doubted the wisdom of Gregory IX's principled anti-Staufen policy and might prefer a more politic course. Its message: while the threatened conjoining of Nicaea and the western empire could undermine the Roman church's position in the short term, God's divine plan foresaw this and promised at the culmination of its foreordained course the ultimate union of all humanity under papal suzerainty. Eight years later, when Innocent IV sent John of Parma on an embassy to John III Vatatzes, the Sibilla Erithea was revised and expanded (perhaps by the same author) to express opposition within the curia to the new papal policy of apparently forfeiting Constantinople to the Greek ruler of Nicaea in exchange for his promise to submit to ecclesiastical union with Rome. The message here: the decadent and effeminate Greeks were not to be trusted, and in any case ecclesiastical union would not be achieved through the actions of western or eastern emperors (whether good or wicked), or even through the missionary activity of mendicants like the Franciscan Minister General, but instead through the agency of God alone.

For all Jostmann's justified confidence in assigning the Sibilla Erithea to curial authorship, the implication shared by K1 and L1 that the papacy should not act aggressively or politically, but instead should confidently await the prophesied culmination of God's historical plan, has a rather Joachite ring. This does not mean that the text itself should be called Joachite, or attributed to Joachite authorship, though the Sibilla Erithea's pronounced interest in southern Italy and Sicily, its incorporation into many definitively Joachite works, and the patterns of its early manuscript transmission are also among the factors that leave such a possibility open. More likely, the text attests to the strong influence of Joachimism on at least certain segments of the curia, and in turn perhaps the involvement of certain Joachites (including the Florensians themselves) in curial affairs. Jostmann cites evidence which would support such an interpretation, including the role of Joachim's writings in shaping Innocent III's theology of history and the presence of the Florensian monk Joseph of San Giovanni in Fiore as a papal notary at the curia of Gregory IX, but in his desire to distinguish clearly between Joachites and curia as two separate foci of textual production perhaps doesn't engage the clear influence of Joachim (and Joachites) on the Sibilla Erithea--and on the thirteenth-century curia in general--as complexly or deeply as he might. And yet, as noted, these observations emerge from Jostmann's own reflections on precisely these connections, among the many other influences and motives he identifies as having shaped the Sibilla Erithea's author.

Jostmann's complex, magisterial analysis of this thirteenth-century prophetic text successfully establishes that the K1 version precedes L1, and persuasively situates the work in an entirely thirteenth- century context. His assigning the Sibilla Erithea to curial rather than Joachite authorship is compelling, though open to challenge and further inquiry, and in the process of making this claim he illustrates the relevance of the Sibyl's prophecies for investigating curial factions, political debates about eastern Mediterranean affairs, and the papal court's connections with Joachites and Florenisans during the crucial decade of 1240-1250. Additional contributions Jostmann presents to future researchers include a catalog of all manuscripts known to contain the Sibilla Erithea, compiled with the assistance of unpublished lists prepared by Matthias Kaup and Robert Lerner (377-495). The descriptions (some more detailed than others) will provide a useful foundation for scholars to study the transmission and reception of this text through the later Middle Ages. Such scholars will also want to note the hypotheses and general observations Jostmann makes about the transmission of L1 in particular. Finally, Jostmann's remarks on the contents and transmission of the Expositio super Sibillis et Merlino (80-124) supply a good starting point for embarking on a first edition of this key Joachite work.