An early history textbook: chronological tables

A meticulous manuscript copy of a printed work: the German polymath Christoph Helwig’s Theatrum Historicum, originally published in Gessen in 1609 and reprinted throughout the seventeenth century, including English editions in Oxford in 1651 and 1662, and an English translation in 1687. Helwig’s tabular format adapts a structure as old as Eusebius to the modern discipline of chronology. The scribe has reproduced the format of the printed editions down to the typographic emphasis placed on significant names and events, as on the page depicted here, where only the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V is given greater emphasis than Martin Luther, who ‘wrote against indulgences in the year 1517’. Several other reformers are dated more approximately, and categorised according to doctrine: ‘Doctors of the Church’ (Melanchthon and Bucer), ‘Pontifical Doctors’ (Erasmus and Peter Canisius), ‘Sacramentarians’ (Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and on the next page, Jean Calvin), and the truly damning category of ‘Other fanatics and heretics,’ which includes, just for a start, all Anabaptists. In this copy, Helwig’s work is followed by a genealogical table that begins with Adam and leaves off abruptly in the seventh century. The immense labor of producing such a meticulous copy is perhaps reflected in several idle inscriptions of the aphorism ‘Cura facit canos’ (‘care makes grey hairs’) on the final leaf of the volume. BW

Christoph Helwig, ‘Theatrum historicum sive chronologiae systema novum’, MS. copy and continuation, c. 1652.

CUL: MS Dd.2.10

Further Reading

Christoph Helwig, Theatrum historicum sive chronologiae systema novum (Gessen: Nicolaus Hampelius, 1609), (Herzog August Bibliothek).

Anthony Grafton and Daniel Rosenberg, Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline (Princeton, 2010).

Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea (Cambridge MA, 2006).

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