Sample Posts? Searching for Something?

Get the flavor of Capito’s different types of posts in the samples below:

Scenes of daily life:  What Day is It?   In the Land of the Blind

Reflections of 16th-century thought:  Earthquakes and Plagues; Ordination Angst

Modern Issues:  Blackwater;  When Banks Rule  

Interesting Adventures:  The Weird Woman;  The Frankfurt Fair

Times of Change:  City Air Makes Men Free;  Of Truth and Cards


If you wish to follow Capito’s life through his extraordinary century, begin here and click next at the end of each post.


If you arrived by way of a search engine but don’t find your topic, use our Index by Subject  


This week’s post appears directly below.

Published in: on August 28, 2011 at 7:29 am  Leave a Comment  

What Day is It?

“Sweet Calliope!” Zell said, as he dragged the end of the bench back farther from our table at the Hog Snout and slid onto it.  “What is that smell?”

Regretfully, I stopped chewing long enough to answer him.  “Quail.”

“Quail!”  He pushed up the sleeves of his robe and reached into the basket on the table.  “How came we by quail?”

“Michael,” I said.

The young monk looked embarrassed at the excitement caused by his contribution to our dinner, as Fabri joined us.  “By the muses, is that quail?  Who hunts at this table?”

We all laughed, for, of course, no one was allowed to hunt except the nobility.  To be caught hunting, even on common grounds, carried severe penalties.  A peasant could lose a hand for such an offense.

“They are left from the Abbot’s table,” Michael said.  “Count von Bühlingen gave them to him, but he had a surplus, and I happened to be passing the door as the dinner was breaking up.  The Abbot just waved his hand and ordered the cook’s girl to gather the remains for me.”

He dropped his voice.  “I slipped her some, too, for she had to pluck them all.”

“Little quail.  How tiny its breast,” Zell said.  “One life for hardly more than a bite.”

“But you’ll still eat it,” I said.

“She wants me to help her learn how old she is,” Michael said.  “She thinks me a great scholar because I know my age exactly.”

Fabri was the only one to have eaten quail before, for he lived with Ulrich Zasius.  “Who?”

“The scullery maid.  She wants to know how old she is.”

“How old is she?” I said, trying to count just how many quail would be my fair share.

“I couldn’t tell.  She knows only that she was born on Quasimodo in the year the moles ate the beets.”

I laughed, and, I think, so did the others.  But Michael looked pained.

“That’s how the poor tell time,” Fabri said, his tone gentle.  “She can’t read.  No one in her family can read.  They don’t have a calendar.  Perhaps they don’t know any big events happening in the world, like a battle or a coronation.  Each village is a little isolated island of time.  They know what year the moles ate the beets.”

“But not exactly,” Michael said.  “For she asked her mother, and she even asked the village priest.  But he moved to that village after the year in which the moles ate the beets.  So he didn’t know.”

Zell motioned to the Hog Snout proprietor for another pitcher of ale.  “Aren’t there baptismal records?”

“The church was struck by lightning and burned.”

“What year was that?” Fabri said.

Michael sighed.  “No one knows.”

I laughed again.  Again, the young monk looked pained.  “It’s a simple thing to want to know your age,” he said, rather crossly.

“Time is the purview of the educated and the urban,” I said.  “In a rural village, they know only the seasons and the church feasts.  They don’t have any way to know the date.”

“Neither do we,” Fabri said, putting some quail onto Michael’s bread, and I saw then that the young monk had not been eating.  Fabri went on.  “Zasius had a letter from a friend in Rome.  The Council has finally convened, and one of the items to be discussed is a reform of the calendar.”

“What do you mean?” Michael said.

“The calendar is off from the movement of the heavens and the length of days.  The council has asked various learned men to submit their proposals for correcting it.  Apparently there’s a medical doctor named Copernicus, who might be able to heal the calendar.”

“What do you mean?” Michael said again.

“The equinoxes are off by ten days,” Fabri said.  “So the longest day is not really the longest day.  By our reckoning now, the shortest day is December 11 and the longest June 11.  The error grows a little greater each year.”

Michael at last began to eat.  “How can that be fixed?”

“Perhaps a gap in time.  Some days–ten, I guess–will be skipped.”

“What?” Michael said.  “Shall the heavens stand still?  Shall they stick like gears in a great machine and then break loose, with a massive shudder, and jump forward?”

“The heavens are moving just fine,” I said.  “It’s our reckoning that’s in error.”

Fabri nodded.  “But this Copernicus says that it is premature to discuss correcting the calendar until the length of the tropical year can be ascertained.”

“So,” Zell said, leaning back as if his appetite were finally appeased, “does this mean that a movable feast day, Easter, may have been wrong?”

“Yes,” Fabri said.  “But that is not to be noised abroad to the people.”

“Then Quasimodo,” Michael said, “the day of her birth, the Sunday after Easter, was not really Quasimodo.  Whatever year it was.”  He sighed.

“But does it matter?” I said.  “If we don’t even know when Christ was resurrected, perhaps it is a small thing if a maid does not know the year of her birth.”

But he looked even more cross and said only, “Some scholars we are!”

Detail, Pieter Aertsen, A Cook, 16th century

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Published in: on August 26, 2011 at 6:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Project Gutenberg

A spring of truth shall flow from it; like a new star, it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance and cause a light, heretofore unknown, to shine amongst men. 

Johannes Gutenberg referring to the printing press

Making Vellum

Johannes Gutenberg’s dream was that information, knowledge, and truth should be available to the masses.  While his Bible still cost three-years’ wages for a clerk, it was more affordable than the expensive hand-copied manuscripts available only to the rich and noble.

Making Paper

Because of printing, we, in this 16th century, now stand upon the threshold of the golden age of learning, the renaissance of the arts, the studies of the humanities, the progress of science, and the age of exploration.  For surely the foundation of all these advances is the international communication of ongoing discovery and continuous creation.  Printing makes that sharing across lands possible.  (Columbus, as a child, possessed a printed geography book.)  This is why Gutenberg is considered the most influential man of this millennium. 

Casting type

Today, Capito praises not only Gutenberg, but the thousands who follow in his footsteps via the medium known, most appropriately, as Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg was begun by Michael Hart, a first-year student at the University of Illinois, who entered the American Declaration of Independence into his computer on July 4, 1971.  An inauspicious beginning, but Hart, like Gutenberg, had a vision.  (His once-stated goal was to make a million books available to 10% of the world’s population.  Doubtless that will prove to be too modest.)

Typesetting & printing

Today, after 40 years, Project Gutenberg is the largest repository of electronic books in the world.  At this date, close to 40,000 books have been digitized in fourteen major languages.  These books are available in multiple formats and can be read on many instruments.  Usually available to read in less than a minute.  And always without cost.


 The worthy objective of Project Gutenberg is vastly advanced by the mustering of the common herd of us ordinary people through the organization known as Distributed Proofreaders.  Founded in 2000 by Charles Franks, Distributed Proofreaders provides a simple way for any reader to donate a tiny bit of his time to proofreading a text before it is finalized.  One can proofread as little as a page.

Cutting woodblocks

As of today, 21,414 texts have been proofread by volunteers for Distributed Proofreaders and posted to Project Gutenberg.  Five hundred and thirty-five are being proofread right now.  Sign in and you can begin helping immediately.  As one who has proofread his share of texts at the printers, Capito can attest to the importance of this function.

One of the books recently made available through the efforts of Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg is  Of the Just Shaping of Letters by Albrecht Dürer released on August 16.

In this book, the great artist instructs his readers on the geometry behind the formation of the letters in the Latin alphabet.  Even if you are not an artist, stone carver, or one otherwise engaged in the Art Pictorial, Dürer’s brief introduction is most amusing and reflects the great man’s personality.

Printing woodblocks

To think that this book, written in German in 1535 should be immediately available for the English reader to enjoy in his chair, without cost, astounds the mind.  By the muses, what a great age in which to be alive!

Book binding

And how appropriate and delightful that though Johannes Gutenberg was a business failure and his very grave is lost, his name lives on through the continuation of his dream, vastly multiplied.

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They Call the New Land America

“Look at this,” Fabri said, his robes swirling with his excitement, as he joined Michael and me at our usual table at the Hog’s Snout.  “Look what Zasius just received.  I saw it at the Frankfurt fair, but did not get a chance to study it.”

It was not a large book, but only a booklet of approximately 40 pages.  Cosmographiæ introductio…Quatuor Americi Vespucii Navigationes.  Introduction to Cosmography and an Account of the Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci.

“It’s the work of a Martin Waldsee-Müller,” Fabri said, as he handed me the book.  “Zasius knows him.  He attended the university here in Freiburg.  Then he was in Basel for a while, working on an edition of Ptolemy.  Now he’s at Sankt Diedolt, which they call in French, St. Die, near Strasbourg.”

Quarta orbis pars,” Michael read.  “A fourth continent.”

“Yes,” Fabri said.  “And he proposes to call it ‘America,’ the feminine form of Amerigo, for he says that Europe and Asia are named for women.  Though Amerigo himself only calls it ‘mundus novus,’ the New World.”

from the German translation of the 1st letter of Columbus

“But what of Columbus?” Michael asked.  “I read his letter of the first voyage, and I think they should name the land for him.”

But Fabri was too involved in the new acquisition to worry about Columbus.  “See,” he said, “the book is made to accompany a huge map of twelve sections engraved on wood.  It is said to cover 36 square feet.”

“Does Zasius have this map?”  I asked, for I determined to see it.

“No,” Fabri said.  “Though, of course, he wants one.  But he does have this.”  The document Fabri pulled from his satchel was only one page, about 10 by 15 inches.

“What is it?”  Michael asked.

“It’s a gore map,” I said.  “See these strips are intended to be pasted on a sphere to create a globe.”

Martin Behaim “Earth Apple”

“That’s right,” Fabri said.  “Waldsee-Müller also printed these, to bring his map to the general public.”

“It wouldn’t be very large,” I said.  “Nothing like Behaim’s earth apple.”

“No,” Fabri said, “but more accurate.”

“Look,” Michael said.  “It has America.” He grinned.  “Let’s put it together.”


Of the four surviving copies of Waldsee-Müller’s gore map, one resides in the University of Minnesota’s James Ford Bell Library The only known copy of his giant wall map is at the Library of Congress. 

Capito acknowledges The Cosmographiæ introductio of Martin Waldseemüller in facsimile, followed by the Four voyages of Amerigo Vespucci, with their translation into English.   Many thanks to Herr Google for digitizing this book.

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Christian Holy War?

Featuring the words of Erasmus with images of St. George (who was Turkish), dragon slayer and patron saint of soldiers. 

I cannot sleep tonight. Fabri and I met the young monk Michael for supper. I shared the letter I received from my cousin Diether, a knight on Rhodes, which is daily threatened by the Turks.  Diether believes he risks his life in the cause of Christ.

But Michael was of another opinion. He had a book by Erasmus which he pulled out and began to read. Now, Capito cannot sleep, for he knows not if he still agrees with Diether, whose heart is good, or with Erasmus, whose logic is inestimable. For who can argue with the most eloquent scholar of our age:

Murder a Stranger

See the slaughtered and the slaughtering. Heaps of dead bodies, fields flowing with blood, rivers reddened with human gore. A man, actuated by this fit of insanity, plunges the sword into the heart of one by whom he was never offended, even by a word!

Dragons live in Peace

A dog will not devour his own species; lions, with all their fierceness, are quiet among themselves; and dragons are said to live in peace with dragons.

But to man, no wild beast is more destructive than his fellow man.

A Holy War

Yet, war is so much sanctioned by authority and custom that it is considered impious—even heretical—to protest against it.

We are always at war, either in preparation, or in action. There are thousands and tens of thousands of Pseudo-Christians–Christians only in name–who are ready to applaud it all, to extol it to the skies, to call these truly hellish transactions a Holy War.

Encouraged by Sermons

There are men who spirit up princes to war, mad enough as they usually are of themselves. One man mounts the pulpit, perverting the words of the Psalm to the wicked purpose of war: “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.” Psalm xci. 5.

Send Christ to a Brothel?

Whereas a true Christian teacher or preacher never can give his approbation to war. For where is the kingdom of the devil, if not in a state of war? Why do we drag Christ thither, who might, much more consistently with his doctrine, be present in a brothel, than in the field of battle?

Just and Necessary (and Profitable)

I am well aware what a clamour those persons will raise against me who reap a harvest from public calamity. “We engage in war,” they always say, “with reluctance, provoked by the aggression of the enemy. We are only prosecuting our own rights. Whatever evil attends war, let those be responsible who furnished the occasion of it, a war to us just and necessary.”

A Just War

The definition of a just and necessary war is as follows: That which, whatsoever it be, howsoever it originates, on whomsoever it is waged, any prince whatever thinks proper to declare.

They would not, indeed, for the world, go to war from motives of revenge, but solely from a love of justice, and a desire to promote a righteous cause: but what man alive is there who does not think that his own cause is a righteous cause?

A Hook of Gold to catch a Fish

But if any one should exclaim: it would be unjust that he who has offended should not suffer condign punishment,

I answer that it is much more unjust that so many thousand innocent persons should be called to share the utmost extremity of misfortune, which they could not possibly have deserved.

Better to let the crime of a few go unpunished, than, while we endeavor to chastise one or two by war, (in which, perhaps, we may not succeed,) to involve our own people and the innocent part of the enemies, for so I may call the multitude, in certain calamity.

It is better to let a wound alone, which cannot be healed without injury to the whole body.

If the scales are held with an even hand, carefully weighing the advantages with the disadvantages, peace, even with some injustice, is better than a just war.

That which is risked is of far more value than what is gained. Who but a madman would angle for a fish with a hook of gold?

Let us Rob Thieves

Dragon in Leaves (Turkish, 16th century) attributed to Shah Quli

I, for one, do not approve the frequent holy wars which we make upon the Turks. Ill would it fare the Christian religion if its preservation in the world depended on such support.

If our religion was instituted by troops of soldiers, established by the sword, and disseminated by war, then indeed let us go on to defend it by the same mean.

The church did not rise, flourish, and became firmly established in the world by war and slaughter, but by the blood of the martyrs, by bearing and forbearing, and by submitting life to duty and conscience.

But the objector repeats, “Why may I not go and cut the throats of those who would cut our throats if they could?” Do you then consider it as a disgrace that any should be wickeder than you? Why do you not go and rob thieves? They would rob you if they could.

The Real Motive

If I long for some of the Turk’s riches, I cloak my real motive by calling it a zeal for the defense of religion. The wars of Christians appear to be merely systems of plunder. But if our real intention is only to extend dominion, if we are only opening our voracious jaws to swallow up their riches, why do we add the name of Christ to a purpose so vile?

It is a truth to be lamented rather than denied, that if any one examines the matter carefully and faithfully, he will find almost all the wars of Christians to have originated either in folly or in wickedness.

Our history of war, like Homer’s Iliad, contains, as Horace says, nothing but a history of the wrath of silly kings, and of people as silly as they.

And has often been the case, a war against an unbelieving nation can be a mere pretext for picking the pockets of Christian people, who are burdened to support such a war to the ruination of the nation.

But Christ said. . .

Those who revile us, we must not revile again. We must do good to them who use us ill. And we should pray for them who design to take away our lives.

One law Jesus Christ claimed as his own peculiar law, and it was the law of love or charity. Christ gives to his disciples nothing but peace; he leaves them no other legacy than peace.

Examine every part of Christ’s doctrine, you will find nothing that does not breathe peace. He ordered us to learn of him to be meek and lowly. He prohibited resistance to evil.

Such was his reign; thus did he wage war, thus he conquered, and thus he triumphed.

No Christian at All

We spit our spite against infidels, and think, by so doing, that we are perfectly good Christians. Yet perhaps, we are more abominable for the very act, in the sight of God, than the infidels themselves. For this conduct alone is sufficient to prove any man to be no Christian at all.

Do you consider it a noble exploit for a Christian, having killed in war those whom he thinks wicked, but who still are men for whom Christ died, to delight the devil in two instances: first, that a man is slain at all; and secondly, that the man who slew him is a Christian?

If the Christian religion be a fable, why do we not honestly and openly explode it? Why do we glory and take a pride in its name?

But if Christ is both the way, and the truth, and the life, why do all our schemes of life and plans of conduct deviate so from this great exemplar?

If we acknowledge Christ to be our Lord and Master, who is Love itself, and who taught nothing but love and peace, let us exhibit his model, not by assuming his name, or making an ostentatious display of the mere emblematic sign, his cross, but by our lives.

Turks, not Christians, in our Hearts

As we now go on, we engage in the field of battle on equal terms, the wicked with the wicked, and our religion is no better than their own.

I prefer an unbeliever in his native colours, to a false Christian painted and varnished over with hypocrisy. There is less harm in being openly and honestly a Turk or a Jew, than in being an hypocritical, a pretended, a nominal Christian.

For if we put aside the name of Christians and the banner of the cross, we are no better than Turks fighting against our brother Turks.

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Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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