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Contents of the Speculum Historiale

This description of the contents of the Speculum Historiale is based on the latest version of this speculum, the Douai version. For the contents of the four older versions, see ##link## the page A genesis of the Speculum Historiale.


The Speculum Historiale describes world history in 32 books, from the Fall to Vincent's own life. It provides an overview of kings, emperors and popes and key events that occurred during their reigns. Between these, Vincent interweaves anthologies of moralizing quotations from writings by Christian and non-Christian Latin prose writers and poets who lived during the time of a particular king or emperor. These florilegia helped create the enormous size of the Speculum Historiale: more than a million and a half words.


Like the other specula, the first book of the Speculum Historiale contains the Libellus Apologeticus, the apologetic introduction to the whole Speculum Maius. Vincent of Beauvais here explains in detail the basic principles of the Speculum Maius and offers a justification and defence of his content choices. This Libellus ends — like in the other specula — with a short prologue that deals specifically with the content of the speculum in question, here the Speculum Historiale. As in the other specula, this is followed by the table of contents of the specific speculum, here again, the Speculum Historiale. Finally, the first book contains an alphabetical index to the Speculum Historiale.


The proper text of the Speculum Historiale then begins in Book II. It contains, to start with, a summary of the other specula that make up the Speculum Maius. Then the historical section itself begins, in which Vincent of Beauvais covers history from the Fall to the birth of Moses. Book III runs from the time of Moses to the Babylonian captivity, Book IV from King Cyrus to the birth of Alexander the Great, after which Book V is devoted entirely to Alexander. Book VI discusses Alexander's successors up to Julius Caesar, who is mentioned as the first Roman emperor. This book contains extensive anthologies from the works of authors of that period. The same goes for Book VII, which is devoted to the reigns of Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus. This book also presents the birth of Jesus. Book VIII is devoted to Jesus' active life and the miracles of the Virgin Mary, which are placed in the time of the emperors Tiberius and Caligula. The Acts of the Apostles and their miracles, the Council of Jerusalem, the sacraments, and the biographies of evangelists Mark and Luke and of Mary Magdalene, and the first martyrs form the main ingredients of books IX (time of Claudius) and X (period up to Vitellius).


Books XI to XV cover the period from emperors Vespasian to Valens. They deal with Christians' persecutions and the young Church's spread and provide an extensive hagiographical corpus. It is remarkable, then, that Vincent of Beauvais placed in the following book XVI that material for which he was unable to find precise dates. Thus we find here the history of Barlaam and Josaphat and a description of the Desert Fathers.


Book XVII, dated to the time of Emperor Gratian (375-383), describes the origins of the empires of the Romans, Persians, Franks, Anglo-Saxons, Vandals, Lombards, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Huns, and lists their kings, insofar as they have not already been mentioned. However, the bulk of this book is devoted to a florilegium from the works of Church Father Jerome. Similar extensive anthologies from writings of church fathers and other great Christian authors are included in books XVIII to XXII, along with a series of saints' lives. These books span the time from the emperors Theodosius the Great to Phocas. We find florilegia from Church Fathers Ambrose and John Chrysostom (XVIII), Augustine (XIX), Cassian (XX), Boethius and Cassiodorus (XXII), and Pope Gregory the Great (XXIII). Book XXIV covers the succession of 14 emperors from Heraclius to Constantine V and describes the Quran.

Book XXV begins with the crowning of Charlemagne as the Emperor of the Romans in the year 800 and ends with the death of Emperor Otto III in 1002. Books XXVI to XXXII cover the period from Emperor Henry II until around 1254, Vincent's own lifetime. Here too, extensive anthologies can be found from the works of such important authors as Peter Damian and Peter Alfonsi (XXVI), Hugh of Saint-Victor (XXVII), Bernard of Clairvaux (XXIX) and Helinand of Froidmont (XXX). Books XXX, XXXI and XXXII contain extensive passages on the Tartars and Mongols. The Speculum Historiale concludes in book XXXII with facts about Vincent's own days and an account of the End of Times and the coming of the Antichrist.

Image: Lyon, Bibliothèque municipale, 180, f° 3ro.

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