Beloit College - Nuremberg Chronicle
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Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), a native of Nuremberg, first studied in Leipzig from 1456 to 1462, obtaining the degree of Master of Arts (Magister Artium). Schedel then followed his teacher, Peter Luder (c. 1410-1472) to Padua, Italy to continue his humanistic studies and also to study medicine. While there, he was one of the first Germans to study Ancient Greek under Professor Demetrios Chalkondydes (1424-1511). After receiving his doctorate in medicine in 1466, Schedel returned to Nuremberg. Medicine, however, would always play second fiddle to Schedel's great passion in life—books. In fact, most of his library still survives, consisting of 370 manuscripts (many of them copied out by himself) and 670 printed books. Also extant is Schedel's 1498 inventory of his library, which lists in the following thematic order works of grammar, logic, rhetoric, astronomy, astrology, mathematics, philosophy, a variety of books relating to Schedel's studies in the humanities, medicine, surgery, and the history of science, and, lastly, religion and theology. Indeed, it was an intense, life-long communion with these books that can help to explain how Schedel composed the text for the Nuremberg Chronicle.

Schedel's Compositional Technique

"Among the most learned and outstanding men who have described the true nature and history of the creation of the world and the first birth of man, a twofold opinion has emerged. We wish to write briefly of these first days and the beginnings, as much as befits things that lie so far in the past. Some have put forward the opinion that the world is without beginning and indestructible, and that the human race has existed for eternity. And that there was no beginning and no origin. Others maintain that the world was created and is destructible. And they say that mankind had its beginnings in a birth."

These first sentences of the Chronicle provide a window into Schedel's compositional technique. The non-italicized words are those of the first-century BC Greek writer Diodorus Siculus, whose work was translated into Latin by the Florentine humanist Poggio in 1481. The italicized text is Schedel's own words.

From one perspective, we might conclude that Schedel is at best a copyist (the modern term plagiarist does not apply to a fifteenth-century writer) who occasionally interweaves additional material into the text for clarification (e.g., the phrase of the creation of the world and the first birth of man, the word opinion) or personal commentary (we wish to write briefly...). But from another perspective it is these very additions to his source material, additions that have been estimated to make up less than 10% of the Chronicle's text, which can often reveal something about Schedel's own mindset as well as that of the culture which produced him. For example, Schedel apparently inserted the phrase of the creation of the world and the first birth of man into the first sentence not only to specify what the 'most learned and outstanding men' are talking about, but also to balance the phrases 'that the world was created' and 'mankind had its beginnings in a birth' in the last two sentences of the citation. But an even more important reason for its inclusion, perhaps, was that, as a product of Judeo-Christian culture, the creation of the world and the birth of man, given their important theological ramifications, were such pivotal events in Schedel's world view that they were unworthy to be simply understood from the context. This was not the case for Diodorus or other ancient Greeks, to whom these questions were simply scientific/philosophical ones open to investigation and debate.

Even the sentence that reads We wish to write briefly of these first days and the beginnings, as much as befits things that lie so far in the past, though innocuous enough on the surface, carries a Thucydidean echo in its important historiographical claim that the treatment of ancient history must, of necessity, be of a somewhat different nature than that concerning the recent past or contemporary events.1 This is not to suggest that Schedel is to be equated with Thucydides for his historical insight-far from it!-or that his views on ancient history were applied equally to biblical and non-biblical sources. For Schedel, a deeply religious man, the Bible's account was not to be questioned, since it was vouchsafed by God. Ancient Greek and Roman history, however, was, in Schedel's opinion, recorded by human (and therefore fallible) individuals, often at a much later date than the historical events themselves.


1See especially Thucydides, 1.3, "For though the events of remote antiquity, and even those that more immediately precede the war, could not from lapse of time be clearly ascertained, yet the evidences which an inquiry carried as far back as was practicable lead me to trust, all point to the conclusion…" (Richard Crawley translation).
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