THE ANTICHRIST 'VITA' AT THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES: AN EDITION OF "THE BYRTHE AND LYFE OF THE MOOST FALSE AND DECEYTFULL ANTECHRYST"
RICKE, JOSEPH MARTIN
Doctor of Philosophy
The Byrthe and Lyfe of the Moost False and Deceytfull Antechryste, a unique copy of a late medieval English version of the life of Antichrist, resides at the University Library of Cambridge University. The life of Antichrist, or Antichrist vita, as developed by scriptural exegetes, preachers, historians, and devotional writers (discussed in Chapter One), became, in the fifteenth century, a popular subject for early printed illustrated vernacular texts. The German blockbook Antichrist vitae (appearing as early as 1460) told the life of the "Man of Sin" in a series of 45 woodcut illustrations, with a brief textual explanation provided for each woodcut. These blockbooks in turn influenced other late medieval European printers to produce typographic illustrated Antichrist vitae, oftentimes closely copying the original illustrations. These early books include the German Der Antichrist (Strassburg, 1480); the Spanish Libro del Anticristo (Burgos, 1495), the French L'Advenement de Antechrist (Paris, 1492) and Vie du Mauvais Antechrist (Lyons, 1495); and the English "Coming of Antichrist," a section of The Art to Live Well and Die Well (London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1505), and The Byrthe and Lyfe of the Moost False and Deceytfull Antechryste (London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1520 ?). Chapter Two analyzes and compares these European illustrated vitae. The two English vitae, although printed by the same shop, and sharing many woodcut illustration, are strikingly different. "The Coming of Antichrist" continually links the life of Antichrist with the moral and spiritual state of its audience. The Byrthe and Lyfe of Antechryste, on the other hand, has more illustrations, less moral commentary, and a more story-like tone. Chapter Three gives a detailed analysis of the sources, the content, and the printing history of these two works. Its treatment of The Byrthe and Lyfe of Antechryste, especially, relates that work to late medieval apocalyptic beliefs, the use of scripture in pre-Reformation vernacular literature, the characteristics of Wynkyn de Worde's printing, and the popularity of the orthodox Catholic interpretation of Antichrist at a time when newer Reformist and anti-Catholic apocalyptic views were growing increasingly popular. The edited text of The Byrthe and Lyfe of Antechryste, presented in Chapter Four, hopefully will prove useful to students of medieval and late medieval apocalypticism.