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New Acquisition: Justinian’s Institutes in Emblemata, Johannes Buno’s Memoriale Institutionum Juris

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This post was created with the assistance of Elizabeth Korres, Library Technician in the Law Library’s Global Legal Collection Directorate.

Memorization is an inevitable part of studying law, and it has been for a very long time. To grapple with this, authors have tried to offer students strategies for memorization that will make learning the law a little more manageable. Take, for example, an item that the Law Library recently acquired for its rare books collection: the memorable legal study aid, Memoriale Insitutionum Juris (Ratzeburg, 1672), written by the seventeenth-century German minister and secondary school instructor Johannes Buno.

This image provides the title page of the work described in this post, Memoriale Institutionum Juris
Title page of Johannes Buno’s Memoriale Institutionum Juris. Ratzeburg: Typis Exscripsit Nicolaus Nissen, 1672. Photo by Nathan Dorn.

The book is an example of what Buno called his Emblematische Lehrmethode, or emblematic teaching method, which was a way of using emblemata to help students memorize their lessons. Originally introduced by the French humanist jurist Andrea Alciato in his 1531 publication Emblematum Liber, emblemata were exceedingly popular in renaissance Europe. Essentially, emblemata are formed by the combination of a picture with a short motto and an epigram. They usually incorporated vignettes from fables and mythology. Part of their novelty was that by combining images and words, an author could allow the interplay of these components to communicate ideas by implication and suggestion.

Buno first published on the use of emblemata for teaching in 1649, in a book that taught world history and the history of the Christian church through fables and pictures. The way he used emblemata was to create an image that captured, often in an unexpected or comical way, some part of the meaning of a passage in the text he is teaching. This was based on a well-known strategy for memorization. The idea was that by associating the ideas that you are trying to memorize with strange or shocking images you will be more likely to remember them. It is a strategy that goes back to antiquity but is often traced through the works of the renaissance philosopher and magician Giordano Bruno, whose work helped to popularize the ars memorativa  – or the art of memory. Buno’s innovation was to apply this strategy to memorizing canonical textbooks passage by passage. Over the course of his life, Buno created a number of works that related to the law. In three books in particular (see below), he covered the contents of the major works of Roman law. This book, Memoriale institutionum juris, covers the contents of Justinian’s Institutes, which was used as an introduction to Roman law.

This photo shows the foldout engraving of the images that the author uses as mnemonic aids for teaching Justinian's Institutes
Foldout with illustrations for Books I-IV of Justinian’s Institutes. Photo by Ellie Korres.

In the following example, taken more or less at random from the work, you can see how Buno’s system works. The item appears in the lower left-hand quadrant of the foldout depicted above. It is in the section dedicated to book III of the Institutes. A close-up of that section can be seen in the image below. The item is labeled with a number 8 and it has the word “Habit” printed next to it. Typographically, it appears as “HAbit”.

This photo provides a close-up of the item that this post analyzes in its dicussion of Memoriale Institutionum Juris
Detail of the foldout containing Buno’s illustrations for Book III of Justinian’s Institutes. Of special interest is the item numbered 8 in which a child holds out a hat while a man wearing a hat looks on. Photo by Ellie Korres.

For each illustration on the foldout, Buno gives an explanation on a nearby page in a column under the heading “imaginum explicatio,” or “explanation of the images.” For this image, Buno explains that the word “Habit” should make us think of the hats that you see in the image. He writes, “Habitus libertorum olim erat pileus,” which means, “The manner of dress of freedmen was once the hat called a pileus.” Roman law recognized slavery. This particular image relates to the chapter in the Institutes which lays out the laws of inheritance as they relate to freedmen [formerly enslaved people]. In the Roman Empire, a pileus was a hat that was a sign of a freedman’s freedom. It showed that a freedman had achieved the status of a Roman citizen. Still, freedmen were not entirely independent. They were counted as part of their enslaver’s household. The enslaver could even, under some circumstances, inherit the freedman’s property.

This photo provides a close-up of the item that this post discusses to explain Johannes Buno's emblematic teaching method.
A close-up image of a boy, the son of the freedman, and a man, the former enslaver, standing together on a hat. Photo by Ellie Korres.

The image shows a boy, reaching out toward or holding a hat. It also shows a man standing near him who is similarly wearing a hat. The two in turn are standing on a hat. Buno explains that the boy is the son of a freedman, and that the man is the enslaver (who, he says, you can identify by the luxurious quality of his clothes). The fact that they both have a hat is meant to remind us that they share something under rules of inheritance as they relate to freedmen. The son of a freedman inherits not only his father’s status as a free man, but also his father’s wealth. The enslaver too, however, can inherit the freedman’s wealth where the freedman has no other heir. The image depicts both the enslaver, and the freedman’s son on a single hat because “ambo stant in pileo tanquam in hereditate,” or “as both stand on [lit. “in”] the pileus, likewise they stand in inheritance.”

This photo shows a foldout engraving from Buno's Memoriale Institutionum Juris.
A foldout engraving from Buno’s Memoriale Institutionum Juris. Photo by Nathan Dorn.

The book is in two parts and it contains five foldout plates of illustrations. The work, along with the others in  the series (listed below), is an artistic treasure that stands out in the literature of its day for its playful approach to the law.

Buno, Johannes [1617-1697]. Memoriale Institutionum Juris… Ratzeburg: Typis Exscripsit Nicolaus Nissen, 1672.

Buno, Johannes [1617-1697].  Memoriale Juris Civilis Romani… Hamburg: Typis exscripsit G. Rebenlin, prostat Guelferbyti apud C. Bunonis heredes, 1673-1674.

Buno, Johannes [1617-1697]; [Justinian I (483-565 CE), Emperor of the East].  Memoriale Codicis justinianei, Authenticarum seu novellarum et consuetudinum feudorum…  Hamburg: Typis exscripsit G. Rebenlin, prostat Guelferbyti apud C. Bunonis heredes, 1673-1674.


“Buno, Johannes,” in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, v. 3 (1876), p. 540–541.




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