A Most Unexpected Find. A List of Books Kept in Pope Innocent III’s Bedchamber

by April A. Pril, Librarian, Hermes Academy of Business and Management Studies, Little Big Hoax, WY, USA

I’m most grateful to the editors of the Iter Austriacum Blog for allowing me to publish a first account of what I believe is a most exiting find which might well shed new light on the private life and favourite pasttimes of one of the greatest medieval popes, pope Innocent III.

The Fiddler A. Greedy Memorial Library of the Hermes Academy of Business and Management Studies recently acquired a copy of a German academic dissertation, published in 1623 in Munich and concerned with lying and fraud. It is therefore of tremendous importance for any formation in entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately the provenance of the book, which was acquired from the antiquarian bookdealer Shady Books Inc., is not known – somebody has taken great pains to remove a few lines of text and a stamp on the upper pastedown of the volume. Rumours have it that the last owner was a former highranking official of the US government and well known practitioner in the field of lies and fraud who recently suffered a severe career-setback.[1]

The short pamphlet (only 37 pages) was wrapped in a leaf of parchment which was removed in the course of conservation treatment. On the reverse side of the leaf, although heavily damaged, writing could be recognized which upon closer inspection turned out to be a letter by pope Innocent III to his chamberlain Octavian. Traces of folding and cuts in the margins indicate that the leaf is the original letter, which was dispatched as a letter close – the cuts resulting from the opening of the letter. The leaden bull once affixed to the document of course is lost. The damaged state of the parchment notwithstanding the reading of the text is not problematic. What follows, is a provisional edition of the text and a short commentary. However, due to the lack of appropriate equipment, so far it had not been possible to produce images. These will be provided on a later occasion.

Innocentius episcopus servus servorum Dei dilecto in Christo filio Octaviano camerario nostro salutem et apostolicam benedictionem. Salvatore nostro hortante qui dicit “Venite seorsum in desertum locum et requiescite pusillum” [Mc 6,31] nuper de Urbe ad Sublacensem monasterium accessi sumus ut sedentes cum Maria secus pedes Domini audiamus verbum eius [Lc 10,39]. Sed inimicus hominum nec etiam septima die quiescit [Gn 2,2] immo non desinit zizaniam superseminare agro dominico [Mt 13,25] ita ut incessanter cum Martha solliciti esse debemus et turbari erga plurima [Lc 10,41]. Sed heu, quia quietem expectantes fuimus et non laborem, unum tantum librum nobiscum portavimus, memores illius qui frequentem meditationem carnis adflictionem esse dixit [cf. Ecl 12,12]. Nunc vero dierum malitia [Mt 6,34] compulsi plurimorum librorum copia nobis necesse est, illo testante qui lectorem unius libri timendum esse asseruit[2]. Ideoque discretionem tuam per apostolica scripta precipiendo mandamus ut in cubiculum nostrum ingrediens hos sequentesque libros accipias et nobis tam cito quam possis transmittere curas. Libri vero sunt isti:
Pars regestorum cancellarie nostre annorum 3 et 4 pontificatus nostri complectens
Item magistri Philippi de Grevia liber poematum qui incipit “Pater sancte dictus”[3]
Item Aristotelis philosophi de Poetica liber IIus[4]
Item Ioachimi abbatis liber de consideratione ad Innocentium papam[5]
Item tractatus Gualteri cantatoris de nimia iuventute pape, scriptus in lingua barbarica, quem episcopus Pataviensis nuper ad nos transmisit[6]
Item dictatus pape de damnanda et detestanda gente persecutorum qui incipit „Bellum in terris et tabula rasa“[7]
Datum apud monasterium Sublacense, V Idus Augusti, anno quinto [9 August 1202]

It is a well known fact that Innocent III in 1202 spent part of the summer as a guest of the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco in Lazio. The stay was not without inconveniences, as a vivid description written by a member of the Curia shows[8]; several papal letters were issued in the respective period.[9] The letter in question thus fits well with the papal itinerary. There is also evidence that Innocent III was an avid reader, always keeping books at his bedside. The Welsh cleric Gerald, while persuing business at the papal Curia, presented the pope with some of his works which the pope kept in his private chamber near his bed for more than a month.[10] There is even a picture showing an abundantly filled bookshelf above the papal bed:

Fra Angelico, Coronation of the Virgin and Life of St Dominic (Detail)
(Louvre, Département des Peintures, INV 314)

The authenticity of the letter can therefore be regarded as proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

A further point is to be made – the entries in the list provide the names of several works of medieval latin literature which so far have escaped scholarly attention. The letter is therefore an important addition to our knowledge of medieval latin literature.[11]

A more detailed enquiry in this important source should be left to scholars more competent in the field of papal history than I am. I would however like to use the occasion and make an offer to my esteemed scholarly audience. While the dissertation De mendacio ac dolo is obviously of the greatest relevance for business and management studies, Innocent III’s letter is not. The Hermes Academy of Business and Management Studies therefore decided to deaccession the document. The most interesting and quite unique parchment is therefore for sale. Offers will be accepted until April 1, 2022. Please write to nosuchaddress@foolish.com. Advance payments only, only Bitcoins accepted. Don’t miss this opportunity – when it is gone it is gone!

[1] Personal information from Mr. William Libri, owner of Shady Books Inc.

[2] For this saying, cf. Andreas Fritsch, “Timeo lectorem unius libri,” Vox Latina, 19 (1983), pp. 309-315.

[3] Undoubtedly a collection of poems by the Paris master Philipp the Chancellor, who is known to be the author of a short piece dedicated to Innocent III himself, starting with the line Pater sancte dictus Lotharius.

[4] As the outstanding Italian medievalist Umberto Eco has convincingly demonstrated in his important book “Il nome della rosa” (Milan, 1980), the only copy of the second book of Aristotle’s Poetics was extant and ultimately destroyed in the library of an unknown cluniac monastery in the Apennine in the 1320s. Here, however, is evidence that in the early 13th century the book belonged to the papal library.

[5] There is of course Bernard of Clairvaux’s well known treatise De consideratione ad Eugenium papam, dedicated to pope Eugenius III. It seems that a certain Joachim – undoubtedly the Calabrian abbot Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202) – followed Bernard’s example and directed a similar treatise to Innocent III, which unfortunately is not known to survive. The implications of this are widereaching: as Eugenius was Bernard’s disciple, could it be thus established that Innocent was linked to Joachim in a similar way? It is known from elsewhere that the pope was quite familiar with the abbot’s thoughts and ideas. More research needs to be done on this intriguing question.

[6] This entry is a riddle. Is it possible that the Gualterus cantator is to be identified with the famous Minnesanger Walther von der Vogelweide? He was known to be close to Wolfger, bishop of Passau (Patavium) in Bavaria 1190-1204. Walther was actually complaining about the pope’s young age in one of his songs: „owê der bâbest ist ze jung, hilf, hêrre, dîner kristenheit“. This would fit the description of the language as „barbarica“ very well – for which see the thourough and definitive philological study by Mark Twain, The Awful German Language (Hartfort CT / London 1880).

[7] No such work is known to survive. It is just a wild guess that this is a treatise written by Innocent III (dictatus pape!) against the Hohenstaufen dynasty, now unfortunately lost. The use of gens persecutorum in Innocent’s other authentic letters gives some support to this hypothesis: see Regestum Innocentii III papae super negotio Romani imperii, ed. Friedrich Kempf (Miscellanea Historiae Pontificiae 12, Roma 1947) n. 29 p. 83 l. 12-3; n.. 33 p. 107 l. 1; n. 62 p. 174 l. 6; n. 92 p. 244 l. 3-4 etc.

[8] Karl Hampe, “Eine Schilderung des Sommeraufenthaltes der römischen Kurie unter Innocenz III. in Subiaco 1202,” Historisch Vierteljahresschrift 8 (1905), pp. 509-535; and see Brenda M. Bolton, “The caravan rests: Innocent III’s use of itineration,” Omnia disce – Medieval Studies in Memory of Leonard Boyle, O.P. Eds Anne J. Duggan, Joan G. Greatrex, Brenda M. Bolton (Church, faith, and culture in the medieval West, Aldershot 2005), pp. 41-60.

[9] Die Register Innocenz‘ III., 5. Pontifikatsjahr, 1202/1203. Texte. Ed. by Othmar Hageneder with Christoph Egger, Karl Rudolf and Andrea Sommerlechner (Publikationen des Historischen Instituts beim Osterreichischen Kulturinstitut in Rom II/1/5, Vienna, 1993), nos 73 (74)-82 (83), pp. 142-165.

[10] Gerald of Wales, De rebus a se gestis III, 18, ed. J. S. Brewer (Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores 21/1, London 1861), p. 119: “Libros autem illos papa, quia copiose literatus erat et literaturam dilexit, circa lectum suum indivisos per mensem fere secum tenuit …“

[11] Presumably all of them have been missed in Thomas Haye, Verlorenes Mittelalter. Ursachen und Muster der Nichtuberlieferung mittellateinischer Literatur (Mittellateinische Studien und Texte 49, Leiden / Boston, 2016) – but because this book has been published in German I’m not able to tell. Let me make this one point clear: it is irresponsible to publish important results in such minority languages as German and  thus withhold them from the competent scholarly audience they would otherwise reach.

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