Johann Aurifaber's Tischreden (Table Talk)
Tischreden is German for ‘Table Talk’.
The word ‘Tischreden’ has become strongly identified with the talk by Martin Luther and his close friends and colleagues during and after meals at the house of Luther (the former Black Cloister in Wittenberg). The first student/colleague to record conversation at Luther's table is disputed. Conrad Cordatus claimed to be the first. In any event the thousands of notes by Cordatus and several others span the years from 1531 to 1546. Volatile Luther never indicated displeasure at that and even sometimes blustered, “Write that down!”
Martin Luther and wife Katherina (von Bora) by Lucas Cranach
Luther’s wife and touchy colleagues like Melanchthon were not so approving.
The conversation was earthy. This was not at all unusual for the time and place. Jaromir Homolka stated in Albrecht Dürer: The Feast of the Garlands (London: Spring Books, 1961) that banter between the great artist Dürer and his close friend Perkheimer “was expressed in the uncouth, jovial manner typical of Germany at the end of the Middle Ages.” But manners change. Luther scholars were long reluctant to draw on these unguarded, salty remarks. Johann Georg Walch finally incorporated ‘Table Talk’ in his twenty-four volumes of Luther’s works (Halle, 1739-1753). A much doctored version of ‘Table Talk’ had been published separately by Johann Aurifaber in 1566. This version gave rise to equally unreliable, abridged English versions by Captain Henry Bell in 1652 and by William Hazlitt about two centuries later.
Then, something of a miracle.
In the decades before and after 1900, scholars found more than 30 nearly contemporaneous manuscripts of Table Talk. From these as well as Aurifaber’s version, Ernst Kroker edited six volumes for the definitive Weimar edition (German and Latin) of Luther’s works (D. Martin Luthers Werke, often called the ‘Weimarer Ausgabe’ or ‘WA’). Additional Table Talk was found and included in a later volume of the Weimar edition. From this effort, Theodore G. Tappert selected and translated about 10 percent of the 1.5 million words of the Weimar edition to yield Volume 54 of Luther’s Works (Fortress Press: Philadelphia), published in 1967 as Table Talk. This Fortress Press volume is the standard English version of Table Talk (Preserved Smith had published a commendable but much smaller English version in 1907).
Q. Isn’t the 1967 English version of Table Talk, which used only 90 percent of the Weimerar German and Latin material, woefully lacking?
Next blog: What did Dr. Tappert leave out of Fortress Press’s English version of Table Talk?