500 years Utopia

Quentin Matsys, portrait of Pieter Gilles

Portrait of Pieter Gillis by Quentin Matsys – Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – source: Wikimedia Commons

This year I have succeeded so far in avoiding centenary celebrations, but some of them are definitely interesting from the perspective of legal historians. In 1516 Erasmus published his edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, the Novum Testamentum graece, with for us a remarkable title, Novum Instrumentum (…) (Basel: Johann Froben, 1516; VD16 B 4196; online for example at the Swiss portal e-Rara). Even with all its shortcoming this edition proved to be a starting point for many developments in scholarship and theology. Legal historians might prefer to leave the onset of the Reformation to church historians and theologians, but they will certainly not want to forget another book published in 1516, Thomas More’s Utopia (Louvain: Dirk Martens, 1516; more bibliographic details in the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen).

The flood of literature about More, his book and his circle make it almost impossible to look at it without preconceived opinions and views. Is it possible to say something new, something worth reading at all within the compass of a blog post? However you may think about this state of affairs, I would like to present one of the main figures appearing in More’s Utopia. Pieter Gillis was a humanist scholar who merits attention for his work in the field of legal history, in particular with his edition of a source for the history of Roman law, yet another book printed by Martens in Louvain. In fact, it is seldom noted at all Gillis was a trained lawyer, and thus certainly prepared for his tasks as the city registrar of Antwerp. He is not the only lawyer you will encounter here.

First editions from Louvain

Why should authors in the early sixteenth century turn to Dirk (Thierry) Martens (1446-1534) for the publication of their books? The Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek has a fine article on him (vol. VI, col. 633-637). Martens printed his first book already in 1473 in his native city Aalst. He was among the earliest printers of the Low Countries. His first publication – published together with Johann of Paderborn – was a religious work, the Speculum conversionis peccatorum of Dionysius Cartusianus (Denis of Ryckel), a book digitized in the Flemish digital library Flandrica (GW 8420). From 1492 onwards Martens had his firm in Antwerp and since 1512 in Louvain, the only university town of the Low Countries. In 1491 he used for the first time in the Low Countries Greek type fonts. Printing the works students needed provided him with a stable market. Martens is even credited with promoting the use of the Roman type font. He was definitely a printer with some remarkable feats on his record.

Pieter Gillis (latinized Petrus Aegidius) (1486-1533) initially studied law at Orléans (1501). However, soon he became active as a corrector for the printing firm of Dirk Martens. Already in 1503 or 1504 he met Desiderius Erasmus, one of the authors coming to Antwerp to have his books published by Martens. In 1504 Gillis registered as a student at the university of Louvain, and in 1509 Gillis became the city registrar of Antwerp. In 1512 he got the degree of a licentiatus in law from the university of Orléans. Dealing with Gillis is indeed entering also the book trade of his time, one of the reasons I supply for the book titles in this post at least some bibliographical references. The NBW has a good biographical article on Gillis by M. Nauwelaerts (vol. I (1970), col. 4-7). A much older article in German by A. Rivier for the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie can also be consulted online (ADB (1875) 125-126).

The road to More’s Utopia

Ambrosius Holbein, image with More, Aegidius and Hythlodaeus

Ambrosius Holbein’s illustration with the protagonists of More’s Utopia – edition Basel 1518, p. 25; copy Yale University, Beinecke Library

Before going to More’s Utopia I must acknowledge here the great assistance offered in writing this post by the very useful and extensive International Thomas More Bibliography of Romuald Lakowski. The story of how More came to write Utopia scarcely needs retelling. As a diplomatic envoy he met Pieter Gillis in 1515. The two men became friends, and one of the fruits of their meeting was More’s book. In the prologue of Utopia More tells about his encounters with Gillis and Raphael Hythlodaeus, the stranger recently arrived from Brazil whose stories are the very heart of his book. When preparing this post I wondered where people would have found the famous images taken from the first edition of Utopia, the image of the island and the Utopian alphabet. Surely this last feature came into existence thanks to the suggestions and expertise of both Gillis and Martens. Lakowski provided me with the link to a digital version of the first edition of Utopia at a library where you probably will not expect a copy, the Gleeson Library of the Geschke Center at the University of San Francisco. The digital books in this library cannot be found using regular online search tools such as the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog and the Universal Short Title Catalogue (University of St. Andrews). Other early editions such as the one published in Paris by Gilles de Gourmont in 1517 (Gallica) and the famous edition by Froben (Basel 1518) can readily be found in various libraries, the latter for example in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

The Latin text of More’s Utopia can be searched in several ways. You will find just the text in The Latin Library, and a colourful version at the Bibliotheca Augustana of Ulrich Harsch, based on the version created at the Oxford Text Archive. For a linguistic approach you can benefit from the search functions offered in the version at IntraText. At first I would have preferred to leave translations out, and thus honour the principle ad fontes so dear to sixteenth-century humanists, but having a translation within your reach is most helpful. The first translation of More’s Utopia was the work of a legal humanist, Claude Chansonnette (Claudius Cantiuncula). Interestingly Cantiuncula (around 1493-1560) had been at Louvain before going to Basle where he published his translation Von der wunderbarlichen Innsel Utopia genannt das andere Buch (…) (Basel: Bebelius, 1524; digitized at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). Cantiuncula decided to translate only the second part of More’s book, not the first half. At this point it is most welcome to point to the bibliographical survey of people connected to Desiderius Erasmus, Contemporaries of Erasmus. A biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation, [CE] P.G. Bietenholz and T.B. Deutscher (eds.) (3 vol., Toronto-Buffalo-London 1985-1987; reprint 2003). This work contains entries for Pieter Gillis (CE II, 99-101), Dirk Martens (CE I, 394-396) and Claude Chansonnette (CE I, 259-261), and of course for Thomas More (CE II, 456-459).

Among the modern German translations of Utopia the version of historian Gerhard Ritter (1898-1967) is still being reprinted. Ritter made his translation early in his career (1922). You can see in a post from last year my photograph of several pocket law books accompanied by the modern incarnation of Ritter’s translation which gives you also the Latin text.

A meeting of lawyers

Title page of Gillis' edition with the Epitome Aegidii

The title page of Pieter Gillis’ edition of the Epitome Aegidii – Louvain: Martens, 1517 – copy Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

The excellent website of Lakowski with its most useful bibliographies for many subjects concerning Thomas More and his Utopia taught me looking at legal matters around Thomas More is not something new. In this post I will just look at a few aspects. Let’s go back to Pieter Gillis who published in 1517 a number of sources in the field of Roman law. Dirk Martens printed his Summae sive argumenta legum diversorum imperatorum… Caii et Iulii Pauli Sententiis (USTC 403069; digital copy at the Digitale Sammlungen, Munich). The Latin title of his book is certainly long, but it does clearly indicate the constituing parts edited by Gillis. His work contains the editio princeps of the Epitome Aegidii, a shortened version of the Breviarium Alaricianum/Lex Romana Visigothorum, in itself a reworking of the Codex Theodosianus. The manuscript he used contained also a shortened version of Gaius’ Institutiones (Epitome Gai) and the Sententiae Pauli. Among the rare Early Modern editions of these texts is a very rare book by the famous Dutch book collector Gerard Meerman, Specimen animadversationum criticarum in Caii Jcti Institutiones (…) (Lutetiae Parisiorum: apud Merigot, 1747).

The story of Pieter Gillis’ edition is intriguing. What manuscript did he use? Surprisingly Marcel Nauwelaerts wrote in his article for Contemporaries of Erasmus about Gillis’ edition “of which is a manuscript is preserved in the library of the University of Leiden (MS BPL 191 ba)” (CE II, 101). Is there truly a manuscript once owned or written by Petrus Aegidius? Many manuscript catalogues at Leiden can be consulted online in its Digital Special Collections. The manuscript Leiden, UL, BPL 191 BA can even be viewed online. The catalogue entry by P.C. Molhuysen makes it very clear this manuscript belonged to Paul Petau who wrote a brief summary of the content on the flyleaf. It seems Nauwelaerts was too eager to find a manuscript connected with Gillis. The manuscript has also been described within the online project Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections, but here, too, things are not completely straightforward. Searching for the Epitome Aegidii yields only the manuscript Leiden, UL, VLQ [Vossiani Latini in quarto] 119. When searching directly for BPL 191 BA you find it with as its title Epitome legis Romanae Visigothorum, which is in itself not wrong, but not complete either.

Finding out more about the Epitome Aegidii

Logo Bibliotheca legum

A few years ago Karl Ubl (Universität Köln) started the Bibliotheca legum, a project dealing with early medieval law in France. The project deals with many texts and a multitude of manuscripts, including those with Roman law texts and the early medieval codes conveniently known as the Völkerrechte, “laws of the nations”, because they were addressed to the populations of certain territories. The Breviarium Alaricianum, also known as the Lex Romana Visigothorum, is among them. The Epitome Aegidii, too, figures in this project, currently with thirty manuscripts. Here it becomes clear the Dutch manuscript portal should also refer to Leiden, UL, BPL 114, also consultable online. When you search for “Epitome edited by Aegidius” you will find it together with BPL 191 BA, but without Voss. lat. qu. 119. The Manuscripta juridica database at Frankfurt am Main uses the term “Lex Romana Visigothorum (“Breviarium Alarici”) (Epitome Aegidii)” and offers 25 manuscripts.

The Epitome Aegidii is also among the many subjects in the opus magnum of the late José Maria Coma Fort. His book Codex Theodosianus: historia de un texto (Madrid 2014) is also available online in the digital repository of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (PDF; 3,8 MB). Last year Faustino Martinez Martinez reviewed this book most approvingly for the online journal Forum Historiae Iuris. Here I can scarcely do justice to the efforts of José Coma Fort. He mentions Gillis at several turns and discusses his edition in detail at p. 371-375. He concluded the manuscript Gillis used is probably no longer extant. Coma Fort brings into relief the way Gillis’ edition was almost unknown until Meerman’s reimpression, and he looks in particular at the discussions concerning the Epitome Aegidii of humanist scholars such as Bonifacius Amerbach, Johannes Sichard and Johannes Cujacius. Did they willingly ignore the editio princeps? Even today it can be considered a rare book. One of the earliest general bibliographies, Konrad Gessner’s famous Bibliotheca universalis (Tiguri [Zürich] : Froschauer 1545; online at e-Rara) has an entry for Petrus Aegidius without his legal work (p. 543). The USTC has references to eleven copies. Using the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog I could add copies at Lausanne, Vienna (ÖNB, online) and Heidelberg. The Vatican Library, too, has a copy. The tenacity of Wouter Nijhoff and especially M.E. Kronenberg in creating together the Nederlandsche bibliographie van 1500 tot 1540 (‘s-Gravenhage 1923-1971) comes only sharper into view for current scholars with so many resources within easy reach online. In their bibliography NK 15 is the entry for Pieter Gillis’ book, and NK 1550 deals with Martens’ edition of More’s Utopia.

Dirk Martens of Aalst printed at Louvain in 1516 yet another editio princeps, the first edition of the book on legal argumentation by a Dutch lawyer, Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), his Topicorum seu de locis legalibus liber, a work I studied for my Ph.D. thesis. In 2011 I presented here a post about the digital versions of several sixteenth-century editions of this book, incidentally one of my most often read posts. It is only fitting to revisit in the 200th post of my blog Louvain in 1516. At the end of this post I realize how I like to bring things together in one post. Hopefully you will not mind the way I led you here to such important resources as the Bibliotheca legum and José Maria Coma Fort’s great book on the transmission of the Codex Theodosianus!

A postscript

University College London organizes on June 30 and July 1, 2016 the graduate conference Imagined Worlds in the History of Political Thought, an event also in coniunction with the quincentenary of Thomas More’s Utopia. You can send a proposal for papers before April 15, 2016, by mail to conference@historyofpoliticalthought.net.

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