The Kalendar and Compost of Shepherds

fol. a3r


At this point in the project the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries have digitized a collective 1048 incunabula: 624 from the Vatican and 424 from the Bodleian. These works demonstrate the range and flexibility of early European printing, including:



- an illustrated edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Douce 218)

- a collection of Latin vocabularies and grammars in English (Auct. 2Q 5.9)

- a glossed German Bible with 92 woodcuts (Auct. M 3.9)

- Ovid's Heroides, Ars amatoria and De remedio amoris, printed in Lyons, with woodcuts (Inc. d. F2.1495.1)

- a Venetian printing of Dante's Divine Comedy in astonishingly clear type (Auct. 2Q inf. 2.46)

- Augustine's City of God (Inc. S 1)

- a lavish edition of Zerbi's Quaestiones metaphysicae (Membr.II.19)

- a collection of Dürer woodcuts (Stampe.V.79)



Today, we would like to draw your attention to the Bodleian's Douce 161, the Compost et kalendrier des bergiers, printed in Paris in 1500. This late incunable, illustrated with 60 woodcuts, is a particularly interesting example of the popular applications of early printing.


The Compost et kalendrier des bergiers—translated into English in the early 1500s as the Kalendar and Compost of Shepherds—contains elements of calendar, horoscope, medical textbook and spiritual guide. By mapping the months and days of the year onto the years of the human life (one month per six years of the Biblically prescribed lifespan), the text links a practical accounting of days and months to an analysis of the stages of life and the signs of the zodiac. It also contains enumerations of the ten commandments, a 23-page breakdown of the seven deadly sins and the punishments accorded to each, a diagram showing the best locations for bloodletting, a list of character traits associated with specific physical features (long ears, for example, signify folly), instructions for staying healthy during each of the four seasons (in the summer, shepherds are advised to drink sweetened water, but in the winter they are to avoid water as much as possible), and a section on the various apparitions and comets seen by shepherds in the fields at night.


Little appears to be known about the origin of this text, but the printed version was evidently a success, judging by a note at the front of this copy that gives the closely-spaced chronology of French editions. It seems likely that the book found its market not in its nominal audience, shepherds, but in wealthier individuals participating in the Early Modern fashion for the pastoral. In any case, the book is now a window into 15th-century perspectives on medicine, nutrition, astronomy and right behaviour.


Some excerpted woodcuts:


The calendar page for January (fol. a8v):

fol. a8v



The envious in a frozen flood, according to Lazarus's account (the punishments for the other six deadly sins are also depicted) (fol. e6r):


fol. e6r



Death, on a horse, being chased by hell (fol. g6r):


fol. g6r



A diagram of the regions of the body governed by each planet (fol. h2r):


fol. h2r



Visions seen by shepherds at night, including a flying dragon and "goats of fire leaping" (fol. l6v):


fol. l6v



For more information, see Heseltine's 1930 edition of the 1518 English translation of the Kalendar and Compost of Shepherds, published by P. Davies.