The Dialogus Creaturarum

Incunabula are books that were printed in the early days of the printing press in Europe, from the 1450s to the end of the 15th century. Because this technological advancement came when books were still hand-copied and decorated (manuscripts) the typography and decoration was designed to mimic their more time-intensive predecessors. Because that’s what books looked like, you know?

The Dialogus creaturarum optime moralizatus (or, Dyalogus creaturarum moralizatus) is a collection of 122 fables in Latin and conversations of creatures. It was the first book ever printed in Sweden, in 1483 by Johann Snell. Five copies of the original printing survive today.

From WikipediaThe fables are organised in sections according to the different kinds of protagonists: first the astronomical, then the elements, followed by living things. The fables tell of the interactions of various anthropomorphized animals and ends with a moral explanation. Common human problems are solved according to the teachings of the Bible, church fathers or classical Greek or Roman philosophy. The author is unknown, but surviving manuscripts suggest the fables may have been gathered and edited by either Mayno de Mayneri (Magninus Mediolanensis) or Nicolaus Pergamenus, both active in the 14th century. A number of the fables are from Aesop, such as The Lion’s Share, The Frog and the Ox and The Wolf and the Lamb.

The first English edition of Dialogus creaturarum was published in 1530.

Color digitization, from the Ghent University Library, Belguim: [Link]

English Translation: The dialoges of creatures moralysed: a critical edition, by G. C. Kratzmann and Elizabeth Gee (1988): [Worldcat] [AbeBooks]

Excerpts from English translation with original illustrations: [Wayback Machine]

And, because of the ones I have found in English so far, this is my favorite:

About the Monkey who wrote Books: Dialogue 97


Symea, a monkey, used to write the most beautiful of books; but he was never completely whole-hearted about what he was doing. He would rather talk with other people, or listen to what they were saying, and because of that he used to spoil his books by writing in them what he was saying, or what he heard the others say. But since he refused to improve himself, no-one would offer him any work, and from his poverty he said:

Nichil scriptor
corde si non meditatur

– “Nothing the scribe writes will have its effect if it is not meditated in the heart.”