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University of Groningen Library
University of Groningen Library Gauronica

A Frisian Abroad

By Adrie van der Laan

Mundum docet Plinius. I read these words once in an old edition of Pliny’s Naturalis historia. A reader had written them down long ago. “Pliny teaches the world.” Such traces of former readers are now called ‘material evidence’. The Consortium of European Research Libraries is collecting them in the database Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI). This also contains a composite volume in the University of Groningen Library in which Pieter Beyntsma a.k.a. Petrus Poetinus from Stavoren has written many notes. We tell the tale in our Stories of Frisia.

initial h3r
The initial M on fol. h3r in which Poetinus identifies himself

The world wide web easily brings together books that are far apart in the physical world. A recent addition to MEI illustrates this in a spectacular way: it now contains another incunable which Petrus Poetinus once owned and in which he wrote a large number of notes. This incunable is in Taipei! It’s an edition of Pliny’s Naturalis historia printed in 1479 in Treviso (GW M34310 ). This university town is near Venice, which is where the three incunables were printed that are now in the University of Groningen Library. It would seem that Poetinus was in that area when he bought these four books. That’s not improbable either, since in the 1470s there was quite a large number of students from Frisia at Ferrara, another university town near Venice. Among them were Rodolphus Agricola, Adolphus Occo and Wilhelmus Frederici. They were all humanists. Petrus Poetinus clearly was one, too. His copy of Pliny was edited by the Italian humanist Filippo Beroaldo and Poetinus’s very own notes testify to his humanist mind—by the nature of their Latin, their contents, and because they were copied partly from commentaries by Italian humanists.

Owner's entry Petrus Poetinus
Owner's entry by Petrus Poetinus on fol. M3r

Poetinus wrote down his name on the final printed page (fol. M3r ): “Liber petri Statoris poetini Beyntsma de Stauria Fresie.” Exactly the same version we find in his book in the University of Groningen Library. Pliny’s text is very lengthy, this edition contains 720 pages in folio format. Nevertheless, in the entire book all initials left out by the printer were added manually in red or blue ink. There is also illumination in white, red, and green as well as pen decoration in the margins. Furthermore, throughout the book Poetinus wrote down many notes in the margins. So, this book has really been used, from cover to cover.

Quite regularly, Poetinus’s notes have been cut off. This indicates that the present binding is not original. When a book is rebound, it is also recut which can cause marginalia to be amputated. Poetinus didn’t write down his notes all in one go. Over time he used three colours (black, brown, and red) and sometimes he later wrote a note around an existing one—on fol. T7v, for example, where Poetinus first indicated the topic (in black ink) and later added a lengthier explanation (in brown).

Although most of his notes are in Latin, Poetinus occasionally uses Dutch, too, for the purpose of translation: “Resupinare, den hals achterwert boghen”; “Solidipes dat heel foeten heft. bisulcus animal, dat ghespleten foeten heft”; “Suber korck boem”; “Missile lis, id quod mitti potest datmen werpen of schieten mach […] Tormentum, dicitur quo aliquid torquetur. daermen wat mede warpt”. Poetinus’s book in Groningen contains no such translations into the vernacular.

A few times his notes show his Frisian background. For instance, when he comments on the word conventus on fol. d7v: “Conuentus hac in parte significat loca, ubi a magistratibus iudicii gratia populi prouincie congregabantur. Erant enim in prouinciis statuti conuentus per rectores earum ad iudicia facienda, een waerstal dierma deels ryocht halt.” The word ryocht is Frisian for law. And when Pliny (19.123) remarks that only ‘stolen’ rue (a herb) is fertile, Poetinus notes: “Dij Fria fresa seyt. Stellen Cruud Wreit best.” quoting a saying of “the free Frisians.”

Annotations in the margins of Plinius' text about Germania
Poetinus's notes in addition to Pliny's text about Germania on fol. f1r

Poetinus’s Frisian background also accounts for the many notes by which he improves upon Pliny’s tekst on Germania (4.98-101). On fol. f1r we read:

Vangiones Wormes. Phrisii, die frye friesen. eciam Chaus. Cauchi parui, die eemder friesen tushen die eems ende Weser. Cauchi minores, die friesen tushen die Weser ende die elue. holsten friesen. int land van holsten. Vistillus siue Vistillia, Wysel flu<men> per Gedanum. vulgariter dansck. Aluus die eelue, iuxta hamborg. apud tholomeum albis dicitur. Visurgis, die Weser bremis. Amissius, die eems in fresia. Viderus die Vechte. Hericynium iugum, die haerd by gosler. Fleuum siue fleuo, die zie by staueren. dat flie.

This Frisian character is, of course, to be expected from a man from Stavoren who must have lived and worked in Frisia his entire life. Unfortunately, we know very little about the man Pieter Beyntsma. So it is really a blessing that he reveals a little more about himself in this book. He identifies himself in two gorgeous initials. On fol. f2v, we read in the A “petrus poetinus de stauria”. Nothing new so far, but on fol. h3r he wrote down in the M: “Petrus Wibodi beyntsma de Stauria Curatus in boxem”. So he was a curate in the village of Boxum (near Leeuwarden) while writing in his book, and his father was called Wibodus.

As a humanist should do, Poetinus even practices textual criticism, though rarely. A fine example is found on fol. E6r at Plin. nat. 32.20. The printed edition reads pollicerent and pollinctum which Poetinus emends to pollucerent and polluctum. The proud humanist declares: “Ego Petrus Poetinus Stator sic erratum emendaui. Fidelis liber hic habet Ni pollucere<n>t et ad polluctum. quia ridiculum dicere, quod Numa de funere piscium legem tulerit. Ad polluctum: idest ad magnificum epulum.” In other words: “I, Petrus Poetinus Stator, have thus mended a mistake. A reliable book here reads ni polluceret and ad polluctum. For it would be ridiculous to say that Numa proposed a law concerning the burial of fishes.” Poetinus’s emendations already occur in medieval manuscripts of Pliny’s text, but they were not printed until Sigismund Gelenius did so in 1554 in his edition of Pliny.

Poetinus himself informs us that his Pliny was in Boxum once. How it ended up in Taiwan remains a mystery, but we know it travelled by way of Göttingen and Japan. Since 1928 it is in Taipei, since 2023 in the whole world.

Last modified:22 August 2023 1.51 p.m.
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