Thursday 22 July 2010

Are the dead happier than the living?

I have recently added a list of noteworthy texts on the right hand side of the blog. Most are books from the 17th and 18th centuries and most are in German, French or Latin. The majority are digitally scanned editions from various libraries and other providers, as these are most reliable (although the scans supplied by Google Books unfortunately often vary in quality from readable to unreadable). Also, most of the titles have been mentioned on this blog over the years, but I would like to draw attention to one exception: De miraculis mortuorum by Heinrich Kornmann published in 1610.

Beginning with the blood of Abel and other stories from the Old Testament, Kornmann collects a great number of tales and examples from the Bible and other literature on death, as well as beliefs and customs surrounding death. He also poses a few questions like e.g. 'Mortui an viventes feliciores?' in part 8, chapter 52): whether the dead are happier than the living?

Christian Friedrich Garmann who in 1670 published a book with the same title, accused Kornmann of indulging in nonsense ('quod varia admiscet exotica & incongrua, in recensendis fabulis & miraculis ab otiosis & nugacibus monachis excogitatis luxuriat nimiopere'). Still Garmann himself refers to Kornmann in his own writings on the masticating dead, as Kornmann e.g. writes about a woman who in death ate herself (De muliere mortua seipsam devorante, part 7, chapter 64).

Although Garmann was more sceptical than Kornmann, the verdict on Garmann himself was hard. Here according to Philippe Ariès in The Hour of Our Death:

(Garmann's ambigious approach to the question of the sensibility of the dead body) 'explains why Garmann was dismissed by the authors of medical biographies of the late eighteenth century - men almost modern in their thinking - as a credulous writer who believed the most absurd stories. It is true that he hesitates, not daring to make up his mind. Belief in the sensibility of the cadaver has the support of the people, and what we would call folklore, but scientists distrust the popular penchant for superstition. Garmann notes that there are a great many reliable observations in favor of this opinion, but he is cautious. When he tells an extraordinary story, he immediately adds a skeptical and rational commentary, but his reservations do not prevent him from giving all the details. This kind of prudence was a standard device for advancing controversial ideas while taking a minimum of risks.' (p. 356)

Back to Kornmann: He was, apparently, fascinated by miracula, so he also wrote a book about the wonders of the living: De miraculis vivorum, published in 1614 in Frankfurt. This book is fortunately also available online, if anyone should be interested. Here are lycanthropes, giants and various mythical beasts as well as many other wonders from the Bible and various other books.

Having Kornmann's collection of miracles of the dead at hand makes it easier to follow the thread to Garmann, Rohr, Ranft and so forth.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...