Onomantic Divination in Late Medieval Britain
Title Details

282 Pages

23.4 x 15.6 cm

17 b/w illus.

Series: Health and Healing in the Middle Ages

Series Vol. Number: 6

Imprint: York Medieval Press

Onomantic Divination in Late Medieval Britain

Questioning Life, Predicting Death

by Joanne Edge

  • Description
  • Contents
  • Author
Demonstrates the wide prevalence of supposedly impermissible divination techniques found in a wide range of manuscripts from medieval Britain.

When will I die? What is the sex of my unborn child? Which of two rivals will win a duel?As today, people in the later Middle Ages approached their uncertainties about the future, from the serious to the mundane, in a variety of ways. One of the most commonly surviving prognostic methods in medieval manuscripts is onomancy: the branch of divination that predicts the future from calculations based on the numbers that correlate to the letters of personal names. However, despite its ubiquity, it has been relatively little studied.

This book analyses the intellectual and physical contexts of onomantic texts in some 65 manuscripts of British provenance between around 1150 and 1500, focusing on its two main varieties It demonstrates that onomancies were copied, owned and used by a people from a wide range of literate society in late medieval England: medical practitioners; the gentry and aristocracy; university scholars; and monks. And it seeks to answer the question of why a divinatory device, condemned in canon law as "Pythagorean necromancy", enjoyed such popularity in mainstream books of religion, medicine, and scholasticism.
Introduction
1. A certain foretelling of future things: Divination and onomancy, definitions and types
2. Platonic relationships: onomancy's intellectual and visual contexts
3. Lost in translation: Greek beginnings and Latin corruptions, c. 400-1125
4. Body of evidence: The manuscript corpus
5. Anathema sit: condemnation and punishment
6. Certain death?: onomancy and the physician
7. Trial and error: onomancy and the nobility
8. A numbers game: onomancy at the university
9. Morbid curiosity: onomancy in the monastery
10. Reformations: onomancy c. 1500-c. 1700
Conclusion
Appendices
I. Transcriptions and editions of 'Sphere of Life and Death' texts
II. List of manuscripts containing onomancies of British provenance, 1150-1500

JOANNE EDGE is a historian of medieval and early modern Britain. She is presently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh.

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9781914049248

March 2024

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Title Details

282 Pages

2.34 x 1.56 cm

17 b/w illus.

Series: Health and Healing in the Middle Ages

Series Vol. Number: 6

Imprint: York Medieval Press