The Arte de bien morir reproduced here has no title page but Konrad Haebler (no. 36 bis) says it was published by Pablo Hurus and Juan Planck at Zaragoza between 1480-84. Woodcuts from the German School (105 x 80 mm.) illustrating death-bed scenes framed by a filleted border precede each of the eleven chapters of the book. Some of the woodcuts are alluded to in the text and, at times, there are clear textual admonitions to readers asking them to examine an illustration. Small letters are printed in the spaces for capitals at the beginning of each chapter.
In addition to the one reproduced here, four other incunable editions are known to have been published in Spain: One printed by Pablo Hurus at Zaragoza in 1489 (Haebler 37, belonging to the Bodleian Library); two 1493 Zaragoza editions in Catalan by Pablo Hurus (Haebler 37 ); and a final one by Nicolás Spindeler published at Valencia in 1497 (Vindel III, no 69).
Latin artes moriendi had been printed in Germany since 1475. Subsequent translations into German, French, Dutch, Castilian, and Catalan testify to their broad acceptance in Europe in the late fifteenth century. To be sure, the Arte de bien morir y breve confessionario states at the outset that it was translated in order to educate and train those who do not know Latin. Shortly after the first epidemics of the Plague in the mid-fourteenth-century there developed a consolatory literature of death destined for use by the increasing number of literate lay-folk, of which the arte de bien morir forms an important part. The general Latin term ars moriendi, however, refers to two separate though related texts, each with its own variants and derivatives. There is a longer, earlier version and and a shorter later one. The longer version is generally found under the title of tractatus, or Speculum artis bene moriendi; the shorter is thought to be an off-shoot of the longer one and is generally found in late printed form with accompanying block prints. Both versions share the common end of instructing the Christian in the business of dying well and attaining eternal salvation. The shorter versions generally comprise a series of structured meditations on death with corresponding verbal and iconographic narrative. Intended for the person in sound health as well as for the sick and dying, an awareness of the possibility of the sudden onslaught of death and the mediatory role played by the sacraments and consecration are integral to the vision of dying that they portray.
The Arte de bien morir reproduced here is an instructional text filled with allusions to responses (phrases like "si a estas cosas respondiere" appear often), and was in all likelihood intended as a prelude to final confession and to be employed in a dialogue with moriens. The Castilian translator underscores the fact that the work is a mirror, or a speculum, in which the dying may also see themselves. Moriens is exhorted to contemplate and meditate on the death of Christ, an act which will conquer all final temptations sent by the Devil. In this way, Christ's passing becomes a model for all good deaths. The Devil's immediate foil is the dying person's Guardian Angel, who stands by the bedside, counsels, and protects the soul prior to its departure from the body.
The edited text reproduced on the left of the screen replaces & with et and amplifies abbreviations.
Fernández, Benigno. "Crónica de la Real Biblioteca Escurialense." Ciudad de Dios, 56 (1901): 63.
Haebler, Konrad. Bibliografía ibérica del siglo XV. 2 vols. Leipzig, La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff, 1903.
O'Connor, Mary Catharine. The Art of Dying Well: The Development of the Ars Moriendi. Columbia University Studies in English and Literature, 156. New York: Columbia UP, 1942.
Vindel, Francisco. Manual gráfico-descriptivo del bibliófilo hispanoamericano. 11 vols. Madrid: F.F. Vindel, 1930-31.