The Translations of John of Rupescissa’s Vade mecum in tribulatione (1356) into Seven European Vernaculars

Robert Lerner

John of Rupescissa OFM was a highly influential late-medieval Latin author in terms of his role in Spiritual Franciscan propaganda, eschatological prophecy, and political discourse. Rupescissa’s incendiary Vade mecum in tribulatione, written in imprisonment in Avignon in 1356, was by far his most widely circulated work. As of today it is known to survive in some forty-one copies, aside from six others which have either been destroyed or are presently unlocatable. And that is only counting the Latin, for quite remarkably the work was translated into seven vernacular languages before roughly the year 1500. In alphabetical order these are, Castilian, Catalan, Czech, English, French, and German. Moreover, several of these languages were vehicles for more than one translation. For example, three independent French translations are known to exist. In some cases the vernacular versions do not encompass the entire work but are abbreviations or sets of selections: it is still too early to know the specifics. No more than two or three of the numerous texts here mentioned have been published. Accordingly, the numerous vernacular versions of the Vade mecum in tribulatione offer an extraordinarily rich data base for studying and comparing the choices and strategies, linguistic and ideological, that inhered in the translation of a Latin work, as well of course for studying comparative reception. It should be mentioned that while the data base is large, the original Latin work itself is of a manageable length—by a rough estimate it would come to about twenty octavo sized printed pages, divided into numbered units rather than extended prose. A critical edition of the Latin, obviously a prerequisite for studying the vernacular versions, will soon be completed and ready for use.

Evidently only an international consortium of linguistic experts and religious historians would be capable of doing the job of surveying the material outlined above. Thus a workshop comprised of scholars from many different countries is being scheduled for June 2012 to map out the work. The aim is a.) to take an inventory of all the transmissions, including multiple manuscripts (where the case arises) of any individual version, b.) to discuss methodical and theoretical possibilities of comparison of the transmitted versions, and c.) to probe the milieux of reception. The ultimate goal is a series of studies as well as the publication of editions of the various texts.