19 October 2018 from 11:00 to 17:00

Symposium on prognostic texts in the pre-modern past

On October 19th Utrecht Centre for Medieval Studies (UCMS) will organise a symposium on prognostic texts between Late Antiquity and the Early Modern Period. This symposium has been organised by Prof. Els Rose and Bram van den Berg. 

Telling the future in the pre-modern past

What does it mean when you hear thunder coming from the East? How does the age of the moon influence the character of new-born children? How can you know what are good and bad days for undergoing medical treatment? Should you be worried if you dream about dragons? Are there days that are too dangerous to do anything at all?

Texts in which people try to get to grips with their uncertainties about what the future has in store for them are nearly as old as the invention of writing itself. The key to such knowledge has always been the close observation of natural phenomena and their patterns, such as the movements of stars and planets of the night sky, extra-ordinary meteorological phenomena, or even the way in which a sheep’s shoulder blade burned in a fire. The writings that record attempts to find patterns and meanings in these observations are called prognostics, and it is such texts that this symposium wishes to introduce and discuss. Prognostic texts reveal fascinating insights in the knowledge and beliefs of societies past, in which these writings have been regarded as everything between venerable wisdom and laughable farmers’ superstition.

subjects and programme

The range of subjects presented during this day is wide, and covers the millennium between ca. 800 and 1800; it will take us from Cairo to Low Countries, and from serious medicine to dubious astrology. Speakers are both established scholars and Utrecht RMA-students, while the number one Dutch expert on the subject will provide comments and reflections at the end of the day. All are cordially invited to join, but please let us know of your intention to come via: b.vandenberg@students.uu.nl

  • 11:00: Open
  • 11:15: Introduction
    - Carine van Rhijn, Utrecht University
  • 11:30-12:00: Divination in Translation
    Transmission of Mantic Knowledge in the Cairo Genizah
    - Ortal-Paz Saar, Utrecht University
  • 12:00-12:30: 'Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening' 
    On accepted and rejected prognostications by thunder in the Early Middle Ages
    - Bram van den Berg, Utrecht University
  • 12:30-14:00: Lunch break
  • 14:00-14:30: There will be blood
    Deciding on the best and worst days to let blood in Carolingian times
    - Ria Paroubek-Grounewoud, Utrecht University 
  • 14:30-15:00: Something wicked this way comes?
    On bad luck, time and cyclical thinking in texts on the Egyptian days in Carolingian manuscripts
    - Annemarie Veenstra, Utrecht University
  • 15:00-15:30: Coffee break
  • 15:30-16:00: Selling prognostications in the Early Modern Low Countries
    Reflections on the sales strategies of the Utrecht printer-bookseller Jacob van Poolsum 
    - Rozanne Versendaal, Utrecht University
  • 16:00-16:30: Astrology and prognostications in the Early Modern Low Countries
    - Jeroen Salman, Utrecht University
  • 16:30: Response
    - Sandor Chardonnens, Radboud University

Followed by a discussion and drinks afterwards

Start date and time
19 October 2018 11:00
End date and time
19 October 2018 17:00
Entrance fee
Free entrance