Cornelius Agrippa’s Double Presence in the Faustian Century

This essay was first published in The Faustian Century: German Literature and Culture in the Age of Luther and Faustus, edited by Jim Van der Laan and Andrew Weeks (New York: Camden House, 2013), pp. 67-91. In that version the footnotes are abbreviated; here they are given in full.


1. Double vision in the canon of ‘great men’

The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris is not merely a great library, and one of the mid-nineteenth century’s architectural triumphs: it is also, like the Panthéon, which it faces from the north side of the Place du Panthéon, a structure visibly devoted to commemorating the illustrious dead. That commemoration, however, contains one notable error that offers a point of entry into this chapter’s subject, which is the peculiarly redoubled participation of the early sixteenth-century humanist, occult philosopher, skeptic, satirist, and proto-feminist Cornelius Agrippa—or Henricus Cornelius Agrippa ab Nettesheym, to give his full Latin name—in what we are calling in this book “the Faustian century.”

One aspect of that redoubled participation stems from Agrippa’s place within an intellectual current of the fifteenth to early seventeenth centuries which celebrated unconstrained human capacities in a manner some twentieth-century scholars—with a nod to Goethe’s Faust, no doubt, and perhaps also to Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West—identified as having “Faustian” qualities. The other has to do with Agrippa’s posthumous demonization, which both paralleled and contributed to the development of the sixteenth-century legend of Faustus—a narrative that was itself shaped by wider currents of religious repression. Taken together, they point on the one hand to a ‘road not taken’ in European culture, a pattern of thought and interpretation that, although influential in art and literature, and viewed by some cultural historians as a defining feature of the Renaissance, nonetheless remained marginal within the major institutions of learning—and on the other hand, to the forces of repression that ensured its marginality.

The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève’s entire second floor is an immense reading room, more than eighty metres in length and nearly twenty metres wide. The external stone facings of this second storey are ornamented with a tall arcade of shallow arches—four on the building’s west side, nineteen across its south face, and another four on the east side—that are pierced in their upper part by windows. Below these windows in each arch are panels inscribed with the names of great writers, thinkers, lawmakers and artists: thirty under each arch. Beginning on the library’s west side with Moses and Homer, the names continue in historical sequence across the south face, ending on the last arch of the east side with figures including Beethoven, Hegel, the astronomer Laplace, the natural scientist Cuvier, and the writers Chateaubriand and Sir Walter Scott.

The library thus presents to strollers in the Place du Panthéon a canonical recital of human greatness up to the time of its completion in 1851—a mighty list of eight hundred and ten memorable names. But the flâneur of pedantic disposition who devotes a few minutes to skimming over this list will discover a peculiar anomaly: it incorporates, in fact, only eight hundred and nine distinct people, for one of the names occurs twice.

Under the sixth arch from the right on the south face we find, after L’ARIOSTE, and preceding THOMAS MORUS and ERASME, the name of AGRIPPA (qualified in smaller letters as DE NETTESHEIM)—who reappears under the fifth arch from the right, sandwiched between LE TASSE and JEAN BODIN. Though the name this time is given as C. AGRIPPA, it is unquestionably the same person.

The banal explanation of this double appearance in the catalogue of greatness—a privilege not granted to Plato, Virgil, Dante, or Shakespeare—must be that this early sixteenth-century humanist had fallen into such obscurity that the list’s compilers failed to note the identity of his Latin writings with the vernacular translations and later editions of his works that earned him continuing notoriety for generations after his death.

Of that mid-nineteenth-century obscurity there can be no doubt. Goethe gave Agrippa’s first name, Heinrich, to his Faust—a sly tribute, it would seem, to his own early reading of Agrippa.1 But a more juvenile enthusiast for Agrippa’s writings, Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein, was rebuked at the age of thirteen by his father for reading such “sad trash.”2 And by the time the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève was built, Agrippa had fully descended into the nursery: “The Story of the Inky Boys” in the 1848 English rendering of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter tells in simple rhymes how three little racists are punished by “tall Agrippa” by being dipped into his enormous inkwell, from which they emerge as black as the boy they have been tormenting.3


2. Agrippa’s contexts: life and legend

Strange error though it seems, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève’s double mention of Agrippa can nonetheless be of some assistance in contextualizing this writer.

Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) was known early in his career as a diplomat and soldier in the service of the Emperor Maximilian, and a well-traveled humanist of encyclopedic learning, who had done advanced study in law and medicine. He practiced both professions—as city advocate and orator in Metz, as civic physician in Geneva and Fribourg, and as court physician to Louise de Savoie, the mother of François I and regent of France during the king’s captivity in Madrid. At the universities of Dôle, Cologne, Pavia, and Turin, he lectured on various subjects (including principally what we might call, depending on our preconceptions, either theology or theosophy). He secured royal patronage with the Hapsburgs as well as with the Valois court, but his two main stints of court service, in the French court at Lyons, and in Antwerp in the court of Margaret of Austria, who was governor of the Netherlands for her nephew the Emperor Charles V, both ended badly.4

Agrippa’s wide circle of correspondents included Desiderius Erasmus and Philipp Melanchthon, whose names appear with his under the first of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève arches we have noted. So also does that of Marguerite de Valois (better known as Marguerite de Navarre),5 author of the Heptameron, sister of François I, and generous patron of humanist scholars and poets. (Agrippa sought her patronage during his time in Lyons; the names of two writers whom she thought more deserving, François Rabelais and Clément Marot, appear under the same arch of the library’s facade, and a third, Pierre de Ronsard, under the next one.)

As his difficulties with royal patrons might suggest, Agrippa was a controversial figure—and combative to boot. In 1509, after lecturing at the University of Dôle on the celebrated German humanist Johann Reuchlin’s Christian appropriation of the Kabbalah in his book De verbo mirifico (1494), he was denounced in a sermon by the head of the Franciscan order in Burgundy, Jean Catalinet, as a “judaizing heretic.” That put an end to Agrippa’s teaching in Dôle—though not of course to his work as a transmitter of the Hermetic, Neoplatonic, Christian-Cabalist, and other magical doctrines he imbibed from Reuchlin, as well as from Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico, Johannes Trithemius, and others: a first version of Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia was completed in 1510, and circulated in manuscript in Italy and France.6 Agrippa also circulated an angry response to Catalinet,7 which made him an early contestant in the controversies that swirled around Reuchlin for more than a decade after 1510, pitting humanist scholars against theological conservatives in the universities and the church hierarchy.

In January 1509, Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Jewish convert and a member of the Dominican order, had launched a scurrilous antisemitic campaign aimed at securing the confiscation and destruction of all Jewish books in the Holy Roman Empire. When the Archbishop of Mainz raised objections, the Emperor Maximilian asked Reuchlin, a noted jurist as well as the leading Christian Hebrew scholar in Europe, to be one of a group of advisors on this subject—and although Reuchlin was the only one to oppose the confiscation, the Emperor decided not to proceed with it. Outraged by this result, Pfefferkorn promptly libeled Reuchlin, whose indignant response led to open warfare with the Dominican order—involving, in short order, a condemnation by the University of Cologne’s theological faculty, and legal actions against Reuchlin by the inquisitor Jacob Hoogstraten, first in Mainz and then in Rome.8

The controversy developed into what Andrew Gow has called a “dirty war,” with vicious slanders on both sides.9 However, Reuchlin’s humanist supporters made at least one intervention of enduring literary value: Ulrich von Hutten’s and Crotus Rubeanus’s satirical Letters of Obscure Men (1515, expanded in 1516 and 1517). This collection of purported correspondence—most of it featuring the University of Cologne humanist Ortwin Gratius, who had been involved from the beginning in Pfefferkorn’s campaign10—mercilessly lampooned Reuchlin’s enemies as ignorant buffoons. The hapless Gratius’s response, a collection of Lamentations of Obscure Men (1518), contains an abusive exchange of letters between “Agrippa Stygianus,” a practitioner of sinister demonic rites, and “Georgius Subbunculator,” who is anxious about the possibility that (as Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus would speculate seventy years later) “hell’s a fable.”11 The infernal implications of “Stygianus” are obvious enough: people who concern themselves with the traffic across the river Styx are necromancers. The other name appears to be a derisive modification of the humanist cognomen under which the self-proclaimed necromancer Georgius Sabellicus Faustus had advertised himself in 1506-07 in what was probably a printed broadsheet (parts at least of the text are preserved in a letter written in 1507 by the magician and Benedictine Abbot Johannes Trithemius).12 “Subbunculator” means a botcher-up of old clothes—an apt enough debunking metaphor for Faustus’s wildly eclectic heterodoxy.13 Gratius thus seems to have initiated a pairing of Agrippa, the occult philosopher, with Faustus, the necromancer and diviner, that would become habitual later in the century.

Shortly after the publication of Gratius’s attack, Agrippa tangled in Metz with a powerful member of the Dominican Order, the inquisitor Nicholas Savini. Acting in his function as city advocate, Agrippa secured the release of a woman whom Savini had tortured on a charge of witchcraft, restored her confiscated property, and accused the inquisitor of heresy (Savini’s claim that the woman was a witch because her mother had been one amounted, he said, to denying the efficacy of baptism).14 At much the same time, early in 1519, Agrippa was drawn into a controversy in which the leading French humanist, Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, had become enmeshed, over the apparently absurd question of how many times St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, had been married. There was in fact a scholarly point to it: Lefèvre’s criticisms, on philological grounds, of unscriptural legends peddled by preachers had drawn turf-war attacks from the Paris theological faculty. And Agrippa’s involvement was evidently unplanned: having supported Lefèvre’s position in discussions in Metz, he was denounced from the pulpit as a heretic—a repetition of his experience with Catalinet—and consequently wrote as much in his own defense as in Lefèvre’s.15

The cumulative effect of these controversies seems to have been to persuade some factions among the burghers of Metz that Agrippa’s talents might be better exercised elsewhere—and to convince Agrippa himself that Metz was “the stepmother of all good letters and virtues.”16

By the time Martin Luther’s concurrent difficulties with Church authorities had blossomed into an open schism, Agrippa’s reputation was such that the Strasbourg humanist and Reformer Wolfgang Capito could recount to him, in a letter written in 1522, a conversation with an admirer of Agrippa’s encyclopedic learning and brilliant refutations of sophistry: this person identified him as “a forerunner of Luther’s, [who] therefore cannot oppose him: what Luther sees now, he saw long ago.”17

Despite Capito’s evident desire to bring him onside, and his own early role in disseminating Lutheran texts, Agrippa never committed himself to the Reformation; his affinities were rather with what has been called the Radical Reformation,18 and after his death he was harshly criticized by two of the leading magisterial Reformers. Since he also refused to temporize in the manner of Erasmus with the theologians of the mendicant orders, it cannot have been altogether a surprise that when he published his two major works, De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium atque excellentia Verbi Dei declamatio (1526, printed in 1530; commonly referred to as De vanitate), and De occulta philosophia libri tres (ms. version 1510, expanded version printed 1531-33), the former was promptly condemned by the theological faculties of Louvain and the Sorbonne, while the printing of the latter was interrupted and delayed by more than a year due to attacks by the Cologne Dominicans19—and resulted, according to late and possibly unreliable sources, in Agrippa’s banishment from the Holy Roman Empire.20

Hounded by the mendicant orders, and persecuted by secular authorities as well, Agrippa died in poverty in 1535. But several of the contemporaries whose names appear with his under the first of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève’s arches found occasion to remember him in ensuing decades. The naturalist Conrad Gesner, who had been a student of Capito’s and became a follower of the Zwinglian Heinrich Bullinger, devoted what Paola Zambelli describes as “a long and accurate article” to Agrippa in his Bibliotheca universalis (1545); but while crediting him with resistance on many points to Roman Catholic doctrine and authority, Gesner also criticized Agrippa for concealing “his deep convictions.”21

Other contemporaries, whose comments contain elements of fiction, of polemic, or of both together, were more unflattering. François Rabelais’s Tiers livre des faictz et dictz Heroïques du noble Pantagruel, published in 1546, contains a chapter in which the court soothsayer “Her Trippa,” consulted by Panurge about his plans for marriage, informs him, in a giddy list of more than three dozen forms of divination, that he will infallibly be a cuckold—all this from one who, while “seem[ing] very clearly to see all heavenly and terrestrial things without spectacles […], was not able with all the skill and cunning that he had, to perceive the bumbasting of his [own] wife” by the lackeys of the court.22

In the same year, Paulo Giovio (1483-1552), whose name likewise appears beside Agrippa’s under the first of the two Sainte-Geneviève arches, published an account of him in his Elogia virorum literis illustrium that both echoes Ortwin Gratius’s attack and also prefigures the key features of the legend of Faustus. Giovio writes that Agrippa, though possessed of a marvelous genius, came to scorn the sciences he had acquired and the truths of religion, and was in the end exposed as a servant of the devil:

For, having by his unlimited powers of comprehension and his prodigious memory mastered the principles and inner secrets and scaled the heights of all arts and sciences, he proceeded to attack the sciences, to challenge the truth of religious doctrines, and in his witty discourses to ridicule the labor spent on all studies. And this he did the more emphatically and effectively because he supported such novel arguments with the weight of Holy Writ […].

He died before he reached old age in a mean, dark inn at Lyons, execrated by many as a wretch suspected of practicing black art, because they thought he took about with him an evil genius [“Cacodaemon”] in the shape of a black dog. Therefore, when, as death drew near, he was urged to repent, he took off the dog’s leather collar studded with nails in a pattern of magic symbols and angrily burst out with these last words, “Begone, accursed beast that hast utterly destroyed me!” And that favorite dog, the constant companion of all his journeyings, deserted his dying master and was never seen again, for with one mad leap he plunged into the Arar and those who asserted they had seen the incident think he did not swim out again.23

This narrative appears to have helped to launch the legend of Doctor Faustus, for two years later, in 1548, the Lutheran pastor Johannes Gast sought to outdo Giovio by claiming that the necromancer Faustus’s dog, and his horse as well, were both devils—and that the manner of his death left no trace of doubt as to his damnation: “he was strangled by the devil and his body on its bier kept turning face downward even though it was five times turned on its back. God preserve us lest we become slaves of the devil.”24 Giovio’s story also became part of the generally accepted assessment of Agrippa’s life, reappearing, for example, in the preface to James Sanford’s 1569 translation of De vanitate.25

Two much better-known theologians, both Reformers, whose names stand among Agrippa’s contemporaries on the Sainte-Geneviève façade, disapproved of him no less violently. Jean Calvin denounced Agrippa in his De scandalis (1550) as one of a band of “Lucianici homines,” imitators of the satirist Lucian of Samosata, who in their wild madness “vomited up execrable blasphemies.”26

And Philipp Melanchthon, who shared Martin Luther’s fondness for adapting patristic and apocryphal narratives to his own needs, incorporated a mention of Agrippa into his late lectures at Wittenberg in the mid-1550s. Shaping motifs from patristic accounts of the arch-heretic and necromancer Simon Magus into a parallel narrative about the magician Faustus, Melanchthon effectively validated his own quasi-apostolic authority by placing himself in the position occupied by the apostles Philip and Peter in their encounter with Simon in the canonical Acts of the Apostles. He knew “Ioannes” Faustus, who was born, he claimed, in Knittlingen, a short distance from Melanchthon’s home town of Bretten (there is in fact good evidence that the notorious Dr. Faustus, whose Christian name was Georg or Georgius, was born in one or another of the two villages of Helmstadt in the vicinity of Heidelberg and Würzburg).27 The Wittenberg students were solemnly informed that Faustus had, like Simon Magus, attempted to fly; that he died at the devil’s hands in the Duchy of Württemberg; and that during his life he “had with him a dog which was a devil, just as that scoundrel who wrote De vanitate artium likewise had a dog that ran about with him and was a devil.”28 Melanchthon also emphatically refuted the boast of “Faustus magus, a most filthy beast and a sewer of many devils,” that all of Charles V’s victories in Italy had been won by his magic. “This,” he says severely, “was an utter lie. I mention this for the sake of the young, so that they may not readily give ear to such vain men.”29 These concluding remarks indicate that together with the devil-dog motif, Agrippa’s brief service in the court of the Emperor Charles V—emblazoned on the title pages of his books—had been absorbed into stories about Faustus.

Reflection on the contemporaries of Agrippa’s whose names appear with his under the first of the two arches can thus give some sense of the intellectual currents to which he belonged, as well as an appreciation of the manner in which the demonizing tactics of an opponent like Gratius modulated in later decades into a process of polemical legend-formation intimately linked to the elaboration of the Faustus legend.

In the reappearance of “C. AGRIPPA” under the next arch of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, he is surrounded by writers some of whom had scarcely been born by the time of his death. We need mention just three: the doctor and polymath Jerome Cardan (1501-1576), who in two books dating from the mid-1550s denounced Agrippa as a man “born to all evil and pernicious to the human race,” and called the Abbot Trithemius, a letter from whom prefaced all early editions of De occulta philosophia, “more mendacious even than Agrippa”;30 the political philosopher Jean Bodin (1530-1596), whose De la démonomanie des sorciers, published in 1580, described Agrippa as the worst sorcerer of his age—indeed, one of the worst of all time;31 and the lucidly skeptical Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), whose Essais, first published in the same year, give evidence in contrast of a serious and attentive reading of De vanitate.32

The near-concurrent publication of a two-volume edition of Agrippa’s Opera, a French translation of De vanitate, and a Latin edition of the same work (in 1580, 1582, and 1584 respectively) indicates that printers thought there to be a continuing potential readership.33 One can see how the compilers of the Sainte-Geneviève canon could have idly taken Agrippa for a contemporary of Bodin and Montaigne—though another reference to him from the same period, had they encountered it, might have alerted them to his actual place in history. The supposed boast of Faustus so earnestly denied by Melanchthon three decades previously seems to have undergone a lateral drift: in 1584 the historian André Thevet felt it necessary to refute the opinion that the military victories of the Emperor Charles V (who abdicated in 1556 and died two years later) had been won by Agrippa’s magic.34


3. From Marlowe to the “classical” paradigm

On the other side of the English Channel, meanwhile, Agrippa was being read with interest by writers like Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, and the playwright John Lyly, who in the court prologue to Campaspe (1584) wrote that “Whatsoever we present, we wish it may be thought the dancing of Agrippa his shadows, who in the moment they were seen, were of any shape one could conceive….”35 By the end of that decade, the first canonical form of the Faustus legend, the Historia von D. Johann Fausten (1587), had been printed, translated into English, and promptly dramatized by Christopher Marlowe. His Dr. Faustus, appearing on stage for the first time in 1589, announced in the play’s opening scene his ambition to “be as cunning as Agrippa was, / Whose shadows made all Europe honor him.”36

The German humanist and occult philosopher is more significantly present in this play than the mere mention of his name would suggest. Hostile readers of Agrippa like André Thevet had understood his claim in De vanitate to be “Professinge Divinitee”37 as mere hypocrisy: despite the book’s evangelical orientation, they suspected that its rhetorical demolitions of the orthodox forms of knowledge were designed to prepare readers for the magical doctrines espoused in De occulta philosophia.38 (“Would to God he had drowned alone in this gulf of impiety,” Thevet added: “today we would not have such a heap of atheists, blasphemers and scoffers as this century has produced….Agrippa hatched infinite swarms both of magicians and atheists.”)39

This pattern of a scoffing doubt that leads directly into a commitment to magic is echoed in the first speech of Marlowe’s Faustus. Having earned his doctorate in divinity, Faustus proclaims himself a hypocrite: he will be “a divine in show.”40 After rehearsing a sophistical critique of the standard academic disciplines, of which there is no hint in Marlowe’s principal source, the Historie of the damnable life, and deserved death of Doctor John Faustus (1588), or English Faust Book, he bids farewell to divinity. Proclaiming that “These metaphysics of magicians / And necromantic books are heavenly,” he rapturously celebrates the “world of profit and delight, / Of power, of honor, of omnipotence,” that magic offers its practitioners41—in language that is paralleled in De occulta philosophia but not in Marlowe’s source.

In the sixth chapter of Book III, for example, Agrippa writes that the magus who works through religion can learn to exercise quasi-divine powers:

Our mind therefore, pure and divine, burning with religious love, adorned by hope, and directed by faith, placed in the height and summit of the human soul, attracts the truth, and suddenly comprehending, beholds in the divine truth itself, as though in a certain mirror of eternity, all the conditions, reasons, causes and sciences of things both natural and immortal…. Hence it comes to us, who are established in nature, sometimes to rule over nature, and to accomplish operations so wonderful, so sudden, and so difficult, whereby the spirits of the dead may obey, the stars be disordered, the divine powers compelled, and the elements enslaved: so men devoted to God, and elevated by these theological virtues, command the elements, drive away mists, summon winds, collect clouds into rain, cure diseases, raise the dead….42

Subtract the references to religion and divine truth, and one might be left with something not unlike Faustus’s rhapsody:

All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command. Emperors and kings
Are but obey’d in their several provinces, 
Nor can they raise the wind, or rend the clouds; 
But his dominion that exceeds in this
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man! 
A sound magician is a mighty god: 
Here tire, my brains, to get a deity!43

By the time he refers to Agrippa by name, Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus has already been emulating—or parodying—him for more than a hundred lines.

The admiring references to “shadows” by Lyly and Marlowe’s Faustus allude to that kind of necromancy that Agrippa termed “scyomantia,” divination through the invocation of the “umbrae” or shadows of the dead.44 Like Marlowe’s friend Thomas Nashe, who in The Unfortunate Traveller (1594) called Agrippa an “abundant scholar” who “bare the fame to be the greatest conjurer in Christendom,” and represented him as earning this reputation with necromantic displays resembling the one with which Marlowe’s Faustus entertained the Emperor Charles V,45 these writers identify Agrippa as not just a theorist of necromancy, but a practitioner. They may have been influenced in this by a spurious fourth book of De occulta philosophia, available by the late 1560s in at least three editions,46 which contained detailed instructions for rituals of ceremonial magic, and, as Gareth Roberts noted, was widely read in late-sixteeenth-century England, along with other magical handbooks like Peter of Abano’s Heptaemeron that were printed with it.47

In 1625, Gabriel Naudé criticized those who, condemning Agrippa as a magician and thereby following “the ignorance or the passion of Paulo Giovio and of demonologists, rather than the truth of history,” arrived at “so unfavourable and sinister a judgment of a man who was not only a new Trismegistus in the three higher faculties of theology, law, and medicine, but who also traveled in body through every part of Europe, and exercised his mind on all the sciences and disciplines….” Naudé argued that Agrippa deserved better than to be abused with stories “which would be much more appropriate in the magical tales of Merlin, Maugis, and of Doctor Faust, than in writings which are (or rather should be) serious and well-examined….”48 But by this time, the patterns of thought and interpretation that Agrippa had participated in were on the verge of being permanently displaced by a new paradigm.

Just two years previously, in 1623, a man was burned at the stake in the city of Moulins in the Auvergne for the crime of merely possessing a copy of De occulta philosophia.49 Also in 1623, the Minim friar Marin Mersenne published a massive polemic against occultist, naturalist, and skeptical tendencies in France, in the course of which he denounced Agrippa as “Archimagus”50—and in that same year made the acquaintance of the young philosopher René Descartes, whose reputation and writings Mersenne would help very materially to advance over the next two decades.

Descartes’ most widely-read texts, the Discours de la méthode (1637) and the Méditations métaphysiques (1641), contributed decisively to what Michel Foucault described as a major shift in the configuration of knowledge and interpretation, a modification of “the fundamental dispositions of the whole épistémè of Western culture”51—the supplanting of a sixteenth-century épistémè based on similitude and a system of visible signatures which make manifest the hidden analogies that shape and resonate through the whole cosmos, by “la pensée classique,” whose key element, according to Foucault, is a “Cartesian critique of resemblance” that “excludes it as fundamental experience and the primary form of knowledge, denouncing it rather as a confused mixture that must be analyzed in terms of identity and differences, of measure and order.”52

The slender evidential basis of Foucault’s schema, and its capricious non-recognition both of an institutionally dominant scholastic-theological paradigm that was visibly in conflict with the épistémè of resemblance and analogy during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and also of emergent elements of a “classical” structuring of knowledge within sixteenth century culture, have rightly received criticism: none more brilliant, perhaps, than that of Gary Tomlinson, who after identifying some of Foucault’s major deficiencies—and using Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia as a corrective to his distinctly arbitrary structuring of the field of resemblance and analogy—conceded nonetheless that Foucault’s paradigm-shift narrative retains a significant degree of validity.53

While acknowledging that a paradigm shift indeed occurred during the mid-seventeenth century, we should also admit that it was preceded by a situation of extraordinary complexity. Tomlinson notes that—as one would expect—there are significant anticipations of the emergent classical paradigm within the sixteenth century. As I have argued elsewhere, there are also textually explicit connections in Descartes’ writings between the ad fontes project of speculative-occultist humanism that underlies the paradigm of resemblance and analogy, and the Cartesian project of providing philosophy with a secure foundational structure of existential-metaphysical axioms.54 More to the point, for present purposes, is the fact that most of the sixteenth-century critics of Agrippa whose comments have been surveyed above were participants, in one way or another, in the demonizing and demonological discourses of what I have termed a scholastic-theological paradigm.

A wider-angle interpretive lens is needed, however, if we are to make sense of Cornelius Agrippa’s direct and conscious—as opposed to his shadowy, penumbral, and largely posthumous—participation in “the Faustian century.”


4. The Faustian paradigm and its contexts

In every aspect of Agrippa’s intellectual life—whether we choose to focus on his participation in a highly self-conscious humanist movement whose leading figures during the decades of his maturity were Erasmus, Lefèvre d’Étaples, and Reuchlin; on his lifetime project of a synthesis of magical traditions derived from Hermetic, Neoplatonic, Kabbalistic and other sources with a Christianity largely purged of medieval accretions; or on his early sympathy for Luther and his subsequent influence on radical reformers—he was involved with the defining Renaissance project of a return ad fontes, to the sources.

That project can be understood as having unfolded in three overlapping phases. The first was primarily philological—though its program, exemplified in the fourteenth century by Petrarch, of recovering classical texts, reviving a classical Latinity, and emulating the literary achievements of ancient Rome and Greece, revealed in the work of Lorenzo Valla a century later a capacity to shake dominant orthodoxies.

Admired as a leading scholar and Latinist, Valla also initiated critical comparisons of the Vulgate New Testament with the Greek original, challenged the linguistic, metaphysical, and methodological foundations of scholastic Aristotelianism in his Repastinatio dialectice et philosophie (1439),55 and frontally attacked the Church’s claims to temporal power and its corrupt political machinations in his De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione declamatio (1440). Valla knew that in challenging the papacy’s “priestly violence” (“iniuria pontificis”), he was risking not just excommunication, but death. Undaunted by “this terrifying, twofold peril” (“duplex hic periculi terror”)—and fortified perhaps by the fact that his patron, Alfonso V of Aragon, was at war with the Pope—he announced in ringing tones the public intellectual’s duty to speak truth to power: “With strength of mind, full confidence, good hope, the cause of truth, of justice, of God must be defended! Nor can one who speaks well be esteemed a true orator, unless he also dares to speak. Let us then dare to accuse whoever deserves accusation. And let him who sins against all be censured by one voice on behalf of all.”56

A second phase of the return ad fontes involved a restoration, or more properly a reinvention, of Plato and the Platonic tradition. Two key figures in this were Valla’s contemporary Nicholas of Cusa and, several decades later, the Florentine Marsilio Ficino, who in addition to providing the first Latin translation of the entire Platonic corpus also wrote commentaries on some of the major dialogues and on key Neoplatonic texts, as well as influential expositions of his own magically-inflected Platonism.

Cusa, though he recovered manuscripts of Pliny and Plautus in good humanist fashion, and anticipated by some years Valla’s exposure of the Donation of Constantine, is principally remembered as a philosopher of striking originality. As Ernst Cassirer observed, he rediscovered the Platonic concepts of chorismos, the radical and irrevocable separation of the super-sensible and the sensible, and methexis, or participation, which he understood as giving access to a paradoxical knowledge of divine otherness57 envisaged through various forms of coincidentia oppositorum, among them the relationship of likeness-in-incommensurability that connects microcosm and macrocosm.

Cusa’s recognition of chorismos challenged both the Neoplatonic and scholastic concern with a hierarchy of mediations between an originary One and the level of ordinary experience, and also the Aristotelian-scholastic method of syllogistic argument based on a logic of non-contradiction and the excluded middle.58 No less importantly, he repeatedly expressed his understanding of methexis in terms derived from the supposedly ancient Egyptian philosopher, priest, and monarch Hermes Trismegistus.59 The Hermetic definition of God as an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere recurs in Cusa’s writings as an expression of the coincidence of maximum with minimum, and is related to his understanding of the human intellect as “capax Dei.”60 Moreover, his sense of man as a microcosm who, Cassirer writes, “includes the natures of all things within himself” and is thus “the bond that joins the world,”61 likewise comes largely from Hermetic sources.

As Cassirer observed, Cusa’s declaration in De conjecturis (1443) that the human microcosm is capable of becoming divine, angelic, or beastly62 anticipates the famous passage in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486, printed 1496) in which God tells Adam he is free to fashion himself into whatever shape he prefers—to become vegetative or brutish, or else to be reborn into rational and heavenly, or into intellectual and angelic forms, or, finally, to attain unity with the divine.63 But both passages echo the praise of human powers of self-fashioning in the Hermetic Asclepius, according to which men can adopt the natures of lower species, remain content with an intermediate position, or else become like daemons or gods: “Hence, Asclepius, what a great miracle is man, a being worthy of reverence and honour! For he passes into the nature of a god as though he were himself a god; he is familiar with the race of daemons, knowing himself to have come from the same origin….”64 In Cusa’s statements of an insatiable human desire—and capacity—for development into an ever-closer resemblance to our divine original, Cassirer found the “clearest philosophical expression and […] deepest philosophical justification” of what he called “the basic Faustian attitude of the Renaissance.”65

In Book 14 of his Theologia Platonica (1484), Marsilio Ficino’s exposition of the ontological importance of the human soul in terms of its capacity to imitate the attributes of God makes pivotal use of the same passage from the Hermetic Asclepius;66 elsewhere he alludes repeatedly to the regeneration tractates of the Hermetic Pimander, which he had translated in 1463.67 My aim in drawing attention to these facts is neither to revive the “troppo facili syntesi,” as Eugenio Garin called them, of Dame Frances Yates’s reconstructions of a Renaissance Hermetic-Cabalistic tradition which she saw Ficino as having initiated with his translation of the Hermetica;68 nor, conversely, to prompt repetitions of the contrary excesses of some of her critics, who on occasion went so far as to deny those texts any influence, either philosophical or magical.69 I wish rather to suggest that the pivotal presence of Hermetic elements in the Platonic revival of the fifteenth century can help us clarify the differences between this and the ensuing third phase of the return ad fontes, the Reformation.

While the magisterial Reformers confined the sources to which they wanted to return and the traditions they wanted to revive to the canonical Scriptures, supplemented by a selection of patristic interpreters, the revivers of Platonism happily consented to a radical dispersal of originary authority. Cusa, distinguishing in De pace fidei between the unchanging signified of faith and the shifting signifiers of religious rites in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—“signa autem mutationem capiunt, non signatum”70—made allowance for a generous relativism, while Ficino went beyond recognizing Plato as a Greek-speaking Moses (as Clement of Alexandria had done in the second century),71 and understood the Egyptian Hermes as a source not just for Plato but also, as he sometimes daringly insinuated, for Moses.

This genealogy offered the exciting prospect of healing the rift between faith and reason in European culture (a rift exacerbated in the arts faculties of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the partial supercession of the Thomistic via antiqua by a nominalistic via moderna)—for, if the texts of Hermes took us back to a common source of our religious and philosophical traditions, they thereby provided cues for a restorative reinterpretation of both traditions.

It also gave exalted status to the Hermetic creation myth of the first tractate of the Pimander (a text recognized in the early seventeenth century, once Greek philology reached the level that had been attained by Latinists like Valla in the mid-fifteenth century, as a gnostic midrash on Genesis dating from the early centuries of the Christian era), and reinforced a Neoplatonic anthropology whose central motif, the recovery of an originally divine human nature, was expounded in the first, fourth, seventh, and thirteenth tractates of the Pimander.72 Supplemented by the Christian Cabala of Giovanni Pico (who also wrote the Heptaplus, an exposition of the deep philosophical content supposedly enfolded by Moses into the creation story of Genesis) and of Johannes Reuchlin (who claimed that the Kabbalah, the orally-transmitted wisdom imparted to the patriarchs and to Moses, made possible a reconstitution of the Pythagorean philosophy that was Plato’s source), this Ficinian tendency offered to de-centre a culture whose foundational principles included clear distinctions between sacred and secular canons, as well as between the sacramental magic of the Mass and other forms of magic, which the Church regarded either as suspect or as illicit and demonic.

Related to this Ficinian tendency was the work of Lefèvre d’Étaples, who although he recoiled after the early 1490s from the magical doctrines of Ficino and Pico,73 published the editio princeps of Cusa’s Opera in 1514, and also saw through the press a sequence of humanist retranslations of Aristotle, whom some of his prefatory epistles intimated could be viewed as a darker exponent of the same prisca theologia that Aristotle’s teacher Plato had inherited from a line of wisdom that could be variously described, but usually included Pythagoras, Hermes, and Zoroaster.74

In this second, largely pre-Reformation phase of the return ad fontes, we can see at least the outline of what I am calling a “Faustian paradigm” of thought and interpretation. If that outline seems blurred, we might think it a fitting consequence of faultlines within the paradigm itself—the rift, for example, between the embrace of magic by Ficino, Pico, Reuchlin, and Agrippa, and its rejection by Lefèvre and his followers; or between the initiatic elitism of the Florentine Neoplatonists and the potential social radicalism of Cusa’s docta ignorantia—a radicalism that is strongly revived in the concluding chapters of Agrippa’s De vanitate, where ordinary unlearned people, or asini, are exhorted to “cast aside human sciences,” escape from “the darkness of ignorance,” and “awaken to the true light.”75 An effect of blurring might also be appropriately linked to what Umberto Eco, following Foucault’s lead, has called “Hermetic drift”—an unlimited semiosis resulting from “the interpretive habit which dominated Renaissance Hermetism and which is based on the principles of universal analogy and sympathy, according to which every item of the furniture of the world is linked to every other element (or to many) of this sublunar world and to every element (or to many) of the superior world by means of similitudes or resemblances.”76

The earliest moment in the repression of this “Faustian paradigm” is marked by a curious coincidence. In 1486, Marsilio Ficino published his De vita coelitus comparanda, and Giovanni Pico his famous Conclusiones—and later in the same year two Cologne Dominicans, Heinrich Kramer (or Institoris) and Jacob Sprenger, published the notorious Malleus Maleficarum. This was of course a master-text in the coming darkness, since its appearance marked the point at which all of the gradually-assembled elements required for a full-scale witch-craze were at last in place: belief in a divinely-permitted satanic conspiracy deploying human agents against humankind; a conviction that witches met with one another and their demonic master in periodic sabbats; and a persuasion, contrary to the long-accepted Canon Episcopi, that their powers included transvection as well as sorcery and physical transformations.77

Paola Zambelli has noted that Ficino’s De amore, a commentary on Plato’s Symposium that deals centrally with magic, “was received without a stir” in 1469—while in 1486-87, in contrast, “Pico and Ficino were forced to write Apologiae for their theses on magic, which form the core of (respectively) Pico’s Conclusiones and Ficino’s De vita coelitus comparanda.” Pico’s defence of the thirteen of his theses that had been declared to savour of heresy was promptly condemned by Pope Innocent VIII, who shortly thereafter “was induced by Kramer to issue his famous bull against witches [….], the Summis desiderantes affectibus, [which] was included as a preface to Malleus maleficarum in 1487—the Pope’s stamp of approval.”78

Just ten years previously, in 1476, one of the more noteworthy messianic peasant insurgencies of the fifteenth century had occurred in southern Germany. Hans Böhm, a young shepherd who was born at Helmstadt in Franconia (possibly the same Helmstadt that would also produce, just a few years later, the historical Dr. Faustus), and who lived in the village of Niklashausen, was told in a vision by the Virgin Mary to give up his playing of fife and drum, and instead to preach to the peasantry a message of radical social equality and of leveling contempt for the clergy and nobility. When peasants began to assemble in tens of thousands to hear the inflammatory message of this Holy Youth or Drummer of Niklashausen, the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg intervened decisively: his cavalry abducted Böhm one night and took him to his fortress (named, ironically, the Marienberg), where the Holy Youth was burned at the stake—singing hymns to the Virgin in his vernacular, the Abbot Trithemius callously informs us, until the heat of the flames reduced his words to incoherent howls.79

One of the more persuasive causal explanations of the European witch-craze of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries is that of the anthropologist Marvin Harris, who speculated that it developed as the clerisy’s response to upheavals of this kind. However illusory the hopes that the messianism of prophets like Böhm inspired among working people, it correctly identified their oppressors and moved them toward collective action. The witch-craze, in contrast, fragmented and disempowered the populace, subjecting them to the double terror of an imagined enemy of appalling power, combined with the very real repression of chain-reaction torture-denunciations that could be activated at will by inquisitorial agents of the religious and civil authorities, whose terroristic interventions—to compound popular bewilderment—were represented as the only recourse within human power against the afflictions of famine, disease, sexual impotence and sudden death brought on by the devil and his human servants.80

This is, in part, what the late nineteenth-century historian W. E. H. Lecky was referring to when, in more abstract terms but with the commendable frankness of his age, he termed the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a period of “religious terrorism,”81 and judged that a train of developments culminating in the Reformation “diffused through Christendom a religious terror which gradually overcast the horizon of thought.”82

One can see why Ficino and Pico were anxious to defend their own magical practices as natural and licit—and what courage, on the other hand, it took for scholars like Agrippa to confront the witch-hunters directly. There is a certain pathos to the fact that what appears to have been his most extended text on this subject, Adversus lamiarum inquisitores, is known to us only through comments on it, written several decades after Agrippa’s death, by the inquisitor Sisto of Siena.83


5. Conclusion

Exponents of the current of thought and interpretation that for present purposes I have labeled the “Faustian paradigm” were not wholly excluded from positions in the institutions of higher learning. Some undoubtedly achieved positions during what has been called “the humanist tide” in German universities during the first decade of the sixteenth century;84 and two disciples of Ficino, Leonico Tomeo and Francesco Cattani da Diacetto, held appointments in the early sixteenth century at Padua and Pisa respectively (though their official teaching was devoted to expounding the works of Aristotle).85 Francesco Patrizi, a thinker of major stature, was appointed to lecture on Plato at Ferrara in 1578 and at La Sapienza in Rome in 1592;86 and Giordano Bruno taught from 1586 to 1588 at Wittenberg, which appears for some years to have tolerated work in the line of Ficino and Pico.87 Perhaps more typical, however, is the situation Bruno encountered at Oxford when he delivered a lecture there in 1583: a hostile audience he described as made up of pedants contained at least one member whose private reading of Ficino enabled him to identify with precision a passage of which Bruno was making unacknowledged use.88

Surprisingly, perhaps, analogous patterns of exclusion persist within contemporary scholarship. Historians of humanism, for example, have tended to exclude “speculative humanists” like Reuchlin and Agrippa from full membership in the tribe,89 while confessional and disciplinary boundaries have produced similar deflections within the historiography of the Reformation: Paola Zambelli’s illuminating work on the Agrippan links between magic and radical reformation remains under-appreciated—perhaps, as she ruefully suggests, because of “the great distance still existing between the history of philosophical thought and the history of religious ideas and movements in the sixteenth century.”90 It may indeed be the case, as Christopher Lehrich has suggested, that some reconfiguration of our own structures of knowledge will be needed before we can adequately make sense of the magical discourses of the Renaissance.91

Our difficulties may to some extent be eased by a recognition of suggestive analogies between certain recent trends in the human sciences and currents within Agrippa’s own writings—which include the proto-feminism of his treatise On the Nobility and Pre-Eminence of the Feminine Sex, and the resonances with Derridean deconstruction that a contemporary reader can scarcely avoid remarking in De vanitate and De occulta philosophia—where, as though in mocking anticipation of Derrida’s famous essay “Plato’s Pharmacy,” Agrippa suggests that his own book could have an ambiguously medicinal value: “for they that look into the books of physicians, do together with antidotes and medicine [pharmacis], read also poisons.”92

We may want to recognize as well that what Eco termed “Hermetic drift” is also a matter of trans-discursive slippage, in which reading moves not just along semiotic linkages of resemblance and analogy, but also across disciplinary boundaries. As I remarked more than twenty years ago, Agrippa’s own reading passed smoothly between philosophical and theological texts—between (let us say) the Hermetica or Pico’s Conclusiones and patristic writings like pseudo-Clement, Irenaeus, and Eusebius.

But the likenesses, even identities, that this reading produced—between Hermes, the source of wisdom, and Simon Magus, the demonic fountain of all heresies, between Giovanni Pico’s claim, in the twelfth of his Conclusiones magicae, that “The form of all magical virtue is from man’s soul standing, and not falling,” and the claim of Simon Magus in the Clementine Recognitiones to be “the Standing One”93—resulted in an active awareness on Agrippa’s part of fissures within the traditions he inherited that foreshadowed the terms in which he would himself be condemned.




1  The intertextual links between Agrippa and Goethe’s Faust have long been recognized: see Gerhard Ritter, “Ein historisches Urbild zu Goethes Faust. (Agrippa von Nettesheym,” Preussische Jahrbücher 141 (1910): 300-05, Harold Jantz, Goethe’s Faust as a Renaissance Man: Parallels and Prototypes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), pp. 55, 58, 124-27, both of whom are cited by Charles Nauert, Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), pp. 330-31; and also Rolf Christian Zimmerman, Das Weltbild des jungen Goethe. Bd. 1, Elemente und Fundamente; Bd. 2, Interpretationen und Dokumentation (2 vols., Munich: Fink, 1969-79), vol. 2, pp. 92-106. Mephistophiles’ first appearance in the second and third scenes of Faust in the form of a black poodle is a deliberate echo of the polemical legends (discussed below) that formed around Agrippa after his death. In my quotations from early modern texts, u/v and i/j are modernized throughout. I have not otherwise modernized spelling, punctuation, or accents.

2  Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. The 1818 version, ed. D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf (2nd ed., Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1999), p. 68.

3  See Heinrich Hoffmann, Der Struwwelpeter oder lustige Geschichten und drollige bilder. Nachdruck des Frankfurter Originalausgabe (Stuttgart: Loewe Verlag, 1986) and The English Struwwelpeter or Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures for Little Children. After the sixth edition of the celebrated German work of Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann (Leipsic: Friedrich Volckmar, 1848). In Hoffmann’s original 1846 text, the giant disciplinarian in “Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben” is “der große Nikolas,” a stern (and very much pre-Santa Claus) St. Nicholas. Hoffmann’s rhyme conflates elements of different traditions about the saint (in the Netherlands, “Sinterklaas” brings children gifts on December 5, the eve of his feast day, accompanied by Black Peter, “Zwarte Piet,” who disciplines naughty children; in parts of Switzerland the saint’s companion, “Schmutzli,” is said to carry off bad children in a sack and sometimes to drown them). One can only guess as to why the English translator substituted Agrippa for St. Nicholas; Morley’s biography, which contributed to Agrippa’s slow return to intellectual respectability, wasn't published until 1856.

4  See Nauert 1965, pp. 84-103, 105-11.

5  Also known as Marguerite d’Angoulême, then d’Alençon (after her first husband), she was married again in 1527, to Henri II of Navarre. This Valois princess (1492-1549) is not to be confused with the later Marguerite de Valois (1553-1615), the daughter of King Henri II of France and Catherine de’Medici, who became an unwilling consort (‘La Reine Margot’) of the king of Navarre, later Henri IV, and who wrote a scandalous memoir.

6  See Paola Zambelli, White Magic, Black Magic in the European Renaissance: From Ficino, Pico, Della Porta to Trithemius, Agrippa, Bruno (Leiden: Brill, 2007), p. 129.

7  See Nauert 1965, pp. 25-29. For the text of this Expostulatio contra Catalinetum, disseminated in 1510 from England, where Agrippa then was, see Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, Opera, ed. Richard H. Popkin (2 vols., c. 1580; rpt. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1970), vol. 2, sig. Hh6v-Iiv (492-98).

8  English translations of key texts, together with a useful brief account of the Reuchlin affair, are provided by Erika Rummel, The Case Against Johann Reuchlin: Religious and Social Controversy in Sixteenth Century Germany (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002). See also James Overfield, “A New Look at the Reuchlin Affair,” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 8 (1971): 167-207, and his Humanism and Scholasticism in Late Medieval Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), as well as Charles Zika, “Reuchlin and Erasmus,” in Exorcising Our Demons: Magic, Witchcraft and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe (Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 69-97.

9  Andrew Colin Gow, The Red Jews: Antisemitism in an Apocalyptic Age, 1200-1600 (Leiden: Brill, 1995), p. 138. Pfefferkorn’s initial campaign was clearly antisemitic, but there was also antisemitism on the other side of the controversy—most viciously in the blood libel directed at Pfefferkorn in a pamphlet from 1514/15, Die Geschicht unnd Bekantnuß des getaufften Juden / genannt Johannes Pfefferkorn. See Gow, pp. 138-39, and Heiko A. Oberman, “Johannes Reuchlin: Von Judenknechten zu Judenrechten,” in Arno Herzig, Julius H. Schoeps, and Saskia Rohde, eds., Reuchlin und die Juden (Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 1993), p. 61, n.82.

10  See Gow, Red Jews, pp. 133-35; Peter G. Bietenholz and Thomas B. Deutscher, eds., Contemporaries of Erasmus: A Biographical Register of the Renaissance and Reformation, Volumes 1-3 (1985, rpt. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1995), p. 124; and Dietrich Reichling, Ortwin Gratius: Sein Leben und Wirken, eine Ehrenrettung (Heiligenstadt: Wilhelm Delion, 1884), pp. 41-56.

11  For Gratius’s Latin text, see Paola Zambelli, “Agrippa von Nettesheim in den neueren kritischen Studien und in den Handschriften,” Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 51, Heft 2 (1969): 280; and for an English translation, Zambelli, “Magic and Radical Reformation in Agrippa of Nettesheim,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 39 (1976): 70. Georgius Subbunculator asks: “Si non sunt inferi, si non sunt regna Plutonis, si Elysium ac Chymeras juxta habemus, quid obsero nobis erit, qui Rege coeli contempto et virtutibus denique omnibus in exilium missis, inter saxum et sacra perpetuo lamentabimur?” There may be a reminiscence of this text in Marlowe’s Faustus, who “confounds hell in Elysium” (Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: A Critical Edition of the 1604 Version and of the Censored and Revised 1616 Text, ed. Michael Keefer [Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2008], I. iii. 60,195), and says (to the devil Mephastophilis, of all people), “Come, I think hell’s a fable” (II. i. 128, 210).

12  The letter was addressed to Johannes Virdung von Hassfurt, astrologer to the Elector Palatine at Heidelberg, who had also received a copy of Faustus’s text, and had indicated to Trithemius his eagerness to meet the man. For a reading of Trithemius’s letter (and of Faustus’s eclecticism), see Frank Baron, Doctor Faustus from History to Legend (Munich: Fink, 1978), pp. 11-39.

13  See Michael Keefer, “Misreading Faustus Misreading: The Question of Context,” The Dalhousie Review 65.4 (Winter 1985-86): 528; and Marlowe, p. 66.

14  See Nauert 1965, pp. 59-60, and Zika, “Agrippa of Nettesheim and His Appeal to the Cologne Council in 1533: The Politics of Knowledge in Early Sixteenth-Century Germany,” in Exorcising Our Demons, pp. 146-49. In De vanitate, ch. 96, Agrippa gives an account of the case and of the arguments he used against Savini; see Agrippa, Of the Vanitie and Vncertaintie of Artes and Sciences, trans. James Sanford [1569], ed. Catherine M. Dunn (Northridge: California State University Press, 1974), pp. 351-52. Agrippa’s late text attacking the witch-hunters, Adversus inquisitores lamiarum, which fell into the hands of the inquisitor Sisto da Siena and was destroyed, has been reconstructed in Zambelli, “Cornelio Agrippa, Sisto da Siena e gli inquisitori,” Memorie domenicane n.s. 3 (1972): 146-64.

15  Nauert 1965, pp. 61-62.

16  Nauert 1965, p. 68, quoting Agrippa 1970, vol. 2, Epistolarum liber II. xxxiii, p. 681.

17  Agrippa 1970, vol. 2, Epistolarum liber III. xv, pp. 729-30: “Bonus hic vir de te coepit honorificè loqui in itinere: depinxit mihi virum quendam omnium eruditissimum, professione medicum, scientia simul verè cyclicum & omniscium, maximè autem valentem disputatione, qui levi articulo sophistarum impetus dimoveat. Percontabar de nomine. Agrippa, inquit, est oriundus Colonia, educatione Italus, experientia curialis, hoc est aulicus, urbanus, civilis. Improviso quidem gaudio ferè perturbatus subieci: Quid, inquam, medicus ille de Germanica haeresi sentit, num repugnat Luthero? ánne facit cum doctissimis Parisiensibus? tum ille, Nihil minus, inquit, nam praeire Luthero potest, resistere non potest, quae modò Lutherus ille olim vidit.” Enemies of the nascent Reformation were by this time attacking Erasmus, Reuchlin, and Lefèvre as precursors of Luther; see A. L. Herminjard, ed., Correspondence des réformateurs dans les pays de langue française (9 vols., 1866-97; rpt. Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf, 1965-66), vol. 1, p. 64.

18  See Zambelli 1976 (reprinted in Zambelli 2007, pp. 138-82).

19  Nauert 1965, pp. 108-09, 112-13.

20  See Zambelli 2007, pp. 162-63.

21  Conrad Gesner, Bibliotheca universalis (Zurich, 1545), fol. 309v; cited by Zambelli 2007, pp. 144-45.

22  François Rabelais, The Complete Works of Doctor François Rabelais […]. Trans. Sir Thomas Urquhart and Peter Motteux, ed. J. Lewis May (London: Abbey Library, c. 1960), Second Part, p. 62; Tiers livre, ch. xxv, in Rabelais Oeuvres completes, ed. Pierre Jourda (2 vols. Paris: Éditions Garnier Frères, 1962), vol. 1, p. 506: “luy un jour parlant au grand Roy des choses celestes et transcendentes, les laquais de court, par les degrez, entre les huys, sabouloient sa femme à plaisir […]. Et il, voyant toutes choses aetherées et terrestres sans bezicles […], seulement ne voioit sa femme rimballante, et oncques n’en sceut les nouvelles.” The layers of satirical fiction and of possible underlying actuality here are impossible to disentangle. While Agrippa’s first two marriages were happy, he divorced his third wife in 1535 (Johann Weyer, Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renassance: Johann Weyer, De praestigiis daemonum, ed. and trans. George Mora, Benjamin Kohl, and John Shea [Tempe, Arizona: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1998], II. v, p. 113). Ironically, one possible source for Rabelais’ extended joke is an epigram of Sir Thomas More’s that Agrippa quotes in De vanitate, ch. 31 (see Agrippa 1974, p. 103).

23  Paulo Giovio, An Italian Portrait Gallery: Being Brief Biographies of Scholars Illustrious within the memories of our grandfathers […], trans. Florence Alden Gragg (Boston: Chapman & Grimes, 1935), p. 139; Giovio, Pauli Iovii Novocomensis Episcopi Nucerini Elogia virorum literis illustrium […] (1546, rpt. Basle: Petrus Perna, 1577), sigs. qv-q2 (pp. 186-87): “Quis in Henrici Cornelij Agrippae sedato vultu portenosum ingenium latuisse crediderit? Hic enim immenso captu, vastaque memoria, scientiarum artiumque omnium rationes, arcanaqueintima & summos apices complexus disciplinas convellit, religiones in dubium revocat, studiorumque omnium labores festiva declamatione deridet: eoque vehementius atque validius, quod tantas novitatis argumenta sacrarum literarum auctoritate confirmentur […]. Excelsit è vita nondum senex apud Lugdunum ignobili & tenebroso in diversorio, multis eum tanquam Necromantiae suspicione infamem execrantibus, quod Cacodaemonem nigri canis specie circumduceret, ita vt quum propinqua morte ad poenitentiam urgeretur, cani collarelloreum magicis per clavorum emblemata inscriptum notis exoluerit, in haec suprema verba irate prorumpens, Abi perdita bestia, quae me totum perdidisti: nec usquam familiaris ille canis, ac assiduus itinerum omnium comes, & tum morientis domini desertor, postea conspectus est, quum praecipiti fugae saltu in Ararim se immersisse, nec enatasse, ab his qui id vidisse asserebant, existimetur.” This defamatory story was refuted by Johann Weyer, who had been Agrippa’s student and had walked his dog for him. The dog’s name was “Monsieur” (which we can identify as an Agrippan joke: this was the title in the French court of the Dauphin François [1518-1536]); and Agrippa died in Grenoble, not Lyons. See Weyer, II. v, pp. 113-14.

24  P. M. Palmer and R. P. More, The Sources of the Faust Tradition from Simon Magus to Lessing (New York: Oxford University Press, 1936), p. 98, quoting from Gast’s Sermones conviviales, vol. 2 (1548): “Canem secum ducebat et equum, Satanas fuisse reor, qui ad omnia errant parati exequenda. Canem aliquando servi formam assumere, et esculenta adferre, quidam mihi dixere. Atqui miser deplorandum finem sortitus est, nam a satana suffocatus, cuius cadaver in feretro facie ad terram perpetuo spectans, etsi quinquies in tergum verteretur. Dominus custodiat nos, ne satanae mancipia fiamus.”

25  See Agrippa 1974, p. 4.

26  Jean Calvin, De scandalis quibus hodie plerique absterrentur, nonnulli etiam alienantura pur Evangeli doctrina (Geneva: Joannes Crispinus, 1550), sig. G. iii (p. 53): “Quotquot ergo videmus hodie Lucianicos homines, qui totam Christi religionem subsannant”; sigs. G iiiv-Giv: “Agrippam, Villanovanum, Doletum, & similes vulgo notum est tanquam Cyclopas quospiam Evangelium semper fastuose sprevisse. Tandem eo prolapsi sunt amentiae & furoris, ut non modo in Filium Dei execrabiles blasphemias evomerent, sed quantum ad animae vitam attinet, nihil a canibus & porcis putarent se differre. Alii (ut Rabelaysus, Deperius, & Goveanus) gustato Evangelio, eadem caecitate sunt perculsi. Cur istud? Nisi quia sacrum illud vitae aeternae pignus, sacrilega ludendi aut ridendi audacia ante profanarant?”

27  See Baron, pp. 16-18; Marlowe, pp. 64-68.

28  Palmer and More, pp. 101-02, quoting from Johannes Manlius, Locorum communium collectanea (1563): “Vivens, adhuc habebat secum canem, qui erat diabolus, sicut iste nebulo qui scripsit De vanitate artium etiam habebat canem, secum currentem, qui erat diabolus.” For fuller explanations of the logic of apostolic validation at work in Melanchthon’s fabulations about Faustus, see Keefer, “Right Eye and Left Heel: Ideological Origins of the Legend of Faustus,” Mosaic 22 (1989): 88-89, and Marlowe, pp. 70-74. We can identify Melanchthon’s source for two of his contributions to the Faustus legend: his insistence that the man’s name was Joannes and that he had studied magic at Cracow. Melanchthon had known Johannes Virdung von Hassfurt, the recipient of Trithemius’s 1507 letter about Georgius Faustus: Virdung cast the young Melanchthon’s horoscope just a few years later, and he had studied at Cracow. A conflation of Faustus with Virdung is understandable: both were deeply interested in magic and practiced physiognomic and astrological divination, and both were associated with the University of Heidelberg, from which Faustus received his MA in 1490.

29  Palmer and More, p. 103, quoting from Manlius: “Idem Faustus magus, turpissima bestia, et cloaca multorum diabolorum, vane gloriabatur de se omnes victorias, quas habuerunt Caesariani exercitus in Italia, esse partas per ipsum sua magia. Id enim dico propter iuventutem, ne statim talibus vanis hominibus assentiantur.”

30  Jerome Cardan, Les livres de Hierome Cardanus medecin milannois, intitulés de la Subtilité, & subtiles inuentions, ensemble les causes occultes, & raisons d’icelles, trans. Richard le Blanc (Paris: Guillaume le Noir, 1556), sig. Vvv.iii (fol. 365): “Agrippa a rempli un livre de telles matieres [i.e. poisons], homme né à tout mal, & pernicious au genre humain.” (Cardan is referring to an apocryphal text attributed to Agrippa that he had encountered in manuscript.) See also Cardan, Hieronymi Cardani Mediolanensis medici De rerum varietate libri XVII (Basle: H. Petri, 1557 ), sig. dD8 (p. 803): “Fuit vir paulo ante nostram aetatem mendacior Agrippa […], Abbas Trithemius….”

31  Jean Bodin, De la démonomanie des sorciers (Paris: Jacques du Puys, 1580), fol. 219v: “Agrippa, le plus grand Sorcier qui fut onques de son aage”; fol. 220: “il ny a homme de sain iugement, qui ne confesse apres avoir leu les livres d’Aggrippa, que c’estoit l’un des plus grands Sorciers du monde.”

32  Echoes of De vanitate are particularly apparent in Montaigne’s “Apologie de Raymond Sebond,” the longest of his essays; see Pierre Villey, Les sources et l’évolution des Essais de Montaigne, 2 vols., 1908; 2nd ed. (Paris: Hachette, 1933), vol. 2, pp. 166-70; and Keefer, “The Dreamer’s Path: Descartes and the Sixteenth Century,” Renaissance Quarterly 49 (1996): 48. Agrippa is quoted respectfully by other French writers of the period, among them the playwright Jean de la Taille, who describes him as “homme […] d’un merveilleux sçavoir” (Jean de La Taille, Dramatic Works, ed. Kathleen M. Hall and C. N. Smith [London: Athlone Press, 1972], p. 23).

33  The 1580 Opera is Agrippa 1970; see Jean George Théodore Graesse, Trésor des livres rare et précieux ou Nouveau dictionnaire bibliographique, 7 vols. ( Dresden: Rudolf Kuntza, 1859-69), vol. 1, p. 45 and Nauert 1965, p. 337 for notices of the 1582 French translation of De vanitate; and see Christopher I. Lehrich, The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2003), p. 235 for notice of the 1584 edition of De vanitate.

34  André Thevet, Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres (2 vols., Paris: Par la vesue I. Keruert et Guillaume Chaudiere, 1584), vol. 2, fol. 542v-543.

35  John Lyly, The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. W. Bond., 3 vols., 1902 (rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), vol. 2, p. 316. (Lyly is not included in the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève canon.) On Sidney’s awareness of Agrippa, see A. C. Hamilton, “Sidney and Agrippa,” Review of English Studies n.s. 7, no. 26 (1956); and on Spenser’s, see Keefer, “Agrippa,” in The Spenser Encyclopedia, ed. A. C. Hamilton (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990).

36  Marlowe, I. i. 118-19 (p. 183).

37  Agrippa 1974, ch. 1, p. 12.

38  See for example Thevet, vol. 2, fol. 544r-v.

39  Thevet, vol. 2, fol. 543v: “Et, pleut à Dieu, que tout seul il se fust noyé en ce goulphre d’impieté, aujourd’huy nous n’aurions un tas d’Athees, de mesdisans & brocardeurs, comme ce siecle les nous a produict…. Pour la Magie & Atheisme Agrippa en a enclos une infinite de formillieres.”

40  Marlowe, I. i. 3, p. 174.

41  Marlowe, I. i. 50-55, pp. 178-79.

42  De occulta philosophia, III. vi; Agrippa 1970, vol. 1, p. 321: “Mens itaque nostra pura atque divina, religioso amore flagrans, spe decora, fide directa, posita in culmine & fastigio humani animi, veritatem attrahit, omnesque rerum tam naturalium quam immortalium status, rationes, causas & scientias, in ipsa veritate divina, tanquam in quodam aeternitatis speculo intuetur, subito comprehendens…. Hinc provenit nos in natura constitutos, aliquando supra naturam dominari: operationesque tam mirificas, tam subitas, tam arduas efficere, quibus obediant manes, turbentur sidera, cogantur numina, serviant elementa: sic homines Deo devoti, ac theologicis istis virtutibus elevati, imperant elementis, pellunt nebulas, citant ventos, cogunt nubes in pluvias, curant morbos, suscitant mortuos….”

43  Marlowe, I. i. 57-64, p. 179.

44  De occulta philosophia, III. xlii; Agrippa 1970, vol. 1, sig. E3 (p. 437). Agrippa contrasts “scyomantia” with “necyomantia,” which involves blood sacrifice and the re-animation of corpses, as in the horrifying ritual of the witch Erictho in Lucan’s Pharsalia or De bello civili, ed. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1988), VI. 637-827. However, Agrippa’s discussion is confusing. He also refers to the witch of Endor’s raising of Samuel (1 Samuel 28: 11-20), and Kirke’s instructions to Odysseus for obtaining prophetic knowledge from the shade of Teiresias (Odyssey X. 516-30) and the ensuing nekuia (Odyssey XI. 23 ff). One might assume these to be instances of scyomantia. But Agrippa doesn’t appear to distinguish between these and the rite of Erictho, and Odysseus’s rite involved a blood sacrifice. The concluding paragraphs of the spurious fourth book borrow from this chapter, but omit the literary allusions; in this text (Agrippa 1970, vol. 1, sigs. M8v-N [pp. 560-61]), as in Agrippa’s chapter, the words “umbrae” and “animae” are used interchangeably.

45  Thomas Nashe, The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, revised by F. P. Wilson, 5 vols., 1958 (rpt. Oxford: Blackwell, 1966), vol. 2, p. 252; compare Doctor Faustus, IV. ii (Marlowe, pp. 238-41), a scene usually ascribed to a collaborator, but evidently part of the play’s original design.

46  In the mid-1550s Cardan stated that this fourth book had not yet been printed (Cardan 1556, sig. Xxx.iv [fol. 367v). Graesse, vol. 1, p. 45, notes editions of it in 1565 and 1567, as well as an edition printed in 1567 in Paris of De occulta Philosophia L. III, quibus accesser[unt] spurius Agrippae liber de Ceremoniis Magicis, Heptaëmeron Petri de Abano […]; the fourth book subsequently appears in editions of Agrippa’s Opera.

47  Gareth Roberts, “Necromantic Books: Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus and Agrippa of Nettesheim,” in Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture, ed.Darryl Grantley and Peter Roberts (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), pp. 151-55.

48  Gabriel Naudé, Apologie pour tous les grands personnages qui ont esté faussement soupçonnez de magie (Paris: François Targa,1625), p. 404: “…c’est plustost suivre l’ignorance ou la passion de Paule Jove & des Demonographes, que la verite de l’histoire, de faire un jugement si peu favorable & sinistre de cet homme, qui n’a pas esté seulement un nouveau Trismegiste és trois facultez superieures de la Theologie, Jurisprudence & Medecine, mais qui a voulu promener son corps par toutes les parties de l’Europe, & faire rouler son esprit sur toutes les Sciences & disciplines…”; p. 419: Cette preuve qui est la plus forte & la moins desguisee que puissent avoir nos adversaires, estant ainsi rendue vaine & de nulle consequence, il n’y a rien si facile que de venir a bout des autres, lesquelles se liroient beaucoup plus à propos dans les Romans magiques de Merlin, Maugis, & du Docteur Fauste, que dans les Escrits serieux & bien examinez, ou qui le devroient estre, de plusieurs Historiens & Demonographes….” (Maugis is a magician who figures prominently in the thirteenth-century chanson de geste Les quatre fils Aymon, and in later chapbook versions of the story.)

49  See Marin Mersenne, Correspondance du P. Marin Mersenne, ed. Cornelis de Waard et al., (18 vols., Paris: Mme Paul Tannery and Éditions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1932-1988), vol. 1, p. 51 n. This burning was not an isolated event; it followed the execution in Toulouse in 1619 of the deist Giulio Cesare Vanini, and in Paris in 1622 of the occultist Jean Fontanier; see A. C. Grayling, Descartes: The Life of René Descartes and Its Place in his Times (2005, rpt. London: Pocket Books, 2006), pp. 119-21.

50  Mersenne, Questiones celeberrimae in Genesim, cum accurate textus explicatione, in hoc volumine Athei et Deistae impugnantur (Paris, 1623), col. 490.

51  Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), p. 68: “toute l’épistémè de la culture occidentale se trouve modifiée dans ses dispositions fondamentales.”

52  Foucault, p. 66: “La critique cartésienne de la resemblance est d’un autre type. [….] c’est la pensée classique excluant la resemblance comme expérience fondamentale et forme primaire du savoir, dénonçant en elle un mixte confus qu’il faut analyzer en termes d’identité et de differences, de mesure et d’ordre.”

53  Gary Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 32-66, 189-90.

54  See Keefer 1996a, esp. 33-63.

55  For lucid expositions of Valla’s critique of the presuppositions and procedures of scholastic philosophy and theology, see Lodi Nauta, “Lorenzo Valla,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (June 2009 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta, and Nauta’s In Defense of Common Sense: Lorenzo Valla’s Humanist Critique of Scholastic Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009).

56  Lorenzo Valla, Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine, In Latin and English, ed. and trans. Christopher B. Coleman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922), available online at, pp. 23-24: “Forti animo, magna fiducia, bona spe, defendenda est causa veritatis, causa iustitiae, causa Dei! Neque enim is verus est habendus orator qui bene scit dicere nisi et dicere audeat. Audeamus itaque accusare eum quicumque digna committit accusatione. Et qui in omnes peccat, unius pro omnium voce carpatur.” (I have substantially modified Coleman’s translation.)

57  Cassirer notes Cusa’s insistence that “The Truth, ungraspable and inconceivable in itself, can only be known in its otherness: ‘cognoscitur inattingibilis veritatis unitas in alteritate conjecturali’.” Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, trans. Mario Domandi (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972), pp. 29-30, quoting De conjecturis, i. 2. In Nicolai Cusae Cardinalis Opera, ed. Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (3 vols., Paris, 1514; rpt. Frankfurt / Main: Unveränderter Nachdruck Minerva, 1962), vol. 1, fol. xliv, the text differs slightly: “Cognoscitur igitur inattingibilis veritatis unitas / alteritate conjecturali….” Cassirer also quotes Cusa’s concise definition of empirical knowledge: “conjectura est positiva assertio in alteritate veritatem uti est participans” (Cassirer 1972, p. 23, quoting De conjecturis i. 13; see Cusa, Opera, vol. 1, fol. xlviii).

58  Cassirer 1972, pp. 8-23.

59  See Pasquale Arfé, “Ermete Trismegisto e Nicola Cusano,” in Hermetism from Late Antiquity to Humanism / La tradizione ermetica dal mondo tardo-antico all’Umanesimo, ed. Paolo Lucentini et al. (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003), pp. 223-243.

60  See Keefer, “Agrippa’s Dilemma: Hermetic ‘Rebirth’ and the Ambivalences of De vanitate and De occulta philosophia,” Renaissance Quarterly 41 (1988): 614-53. For one instance of this trope, derived from the late Hermetic text Liber XXIV philosophorum, see Excitationum, V, ex sermone “Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis,” Cusa, Opera, vol. 2, fol. lxxxviiiv. This same passage contains a statement that the human intellect is “capax est dei” (fol. lxxxix).

61  Cassirer 1972, pp. 40, 64.

62  “Regio igitur ipsa humanitatis Deum atque universum mundum humanali sua potentia ambit. Potest igitur homo esse humanus Deus atque Deus humaniter, potest esse humanus angelus, humana bestia, humanus leo aut ursus, aut aliud quodcumque” (Cassirer 1972, p. 87, quoting De conjecturis ii. 14; Cusa, Opera, vol. 2, fol. lx).

63  Cassirer, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and John Herman Randall, Jr., eds., The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 224-25; Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, De hominis dignitate, Heptaplus, De ente et uno, ed. Eugenio Garin (Florence: Vallecchi, 1942), p. 104.

64  “Propter quod et prope deos accedit, qui se mente, qua diis iunctus est, divina religione diis iunxerit, et daemonum, qui his iunctus est. Humani vero, qui medietate generis sui contenti sunt, et reliquae hominum species his similes erunt, quorum se generis speciebus adiunxerint. Propter haec, o Asclepi, magnum miraculum est homo, animal adorandum atque honorandum. Hoc enim in naturam dei transit, quasi ipse sit dues; hoc daemonum genus novit, utpote qui cum isdem se ortum esse cognoscat; hoc humanae naturae partem in se ipse despicit, alterius parties divinitate confisus” (Asclepius 5-6, ed. Nock and Festugière, in Corpus Hermeticum: Edizione e commento di A. D. Nock e A.-J. Festugière; Edizione dei testi ermetici copti e commento di I. Ramelli, ed. Ilaria Ramelli [Milan: Bompiani, 2006], pp. 520-22).

65  Cassirer 1972, pp. 68-69, referring to Idiota, Lib. III De mente, chs. 3, 7, 13; and quoting Excitationum, V, ex sermone “Si quis sermonem meum servaverit”: “Sicut vis visiva sensibilis est infinibilis per omne visibile (nunquam enim satiatur oculus visu), sic visus intellectualis nunquam satiatur visu veritatis. Semper enim acuitur et fortificatur vis vivendi: sicut experimur in nobis, quod quanto proficimus plus in doctrina, tanto capaciores sumus et plus proficere appetimus, et hoc est signum incorruptibilitatis intellectus” (Cusa, Opera, vol. 2, fol. lxxxiii).

66  See Paul Oskar Kristeller, The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, trans. Virginia Conant (1943, rpt. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1964), p. 117.

67  See Keefer, “Agrippa’s Dilemma,” 625, n. 35.

68  Eugenio Garin, “Divagazioni ermetiche,” Rivista critica di storia della filosofia 31 (1976): 466; and see Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), and The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979).

69  See Brian Copenhaver, “Astrology and Magic,” in The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, eds. Charles B. Schmitt and Quentin Skinner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 281: “Ficino’s Hermetica are not about magic, and what philosophy they contain is of small interest…. [U]nlike the Neoplatonic systems with which it is often confused, the corpus Hermeticum has little to offer to anyone who requires a consistent conceptual and terminological framework for analysis of the problems it presents. As far as Renaissance magic was concerned, the chief task of Hermes Trismegistus was genealogical or doxographic.” The first of these sentences is sufficiently refuted by Keefer, Agrippa’s Dilemma” and Keefer, “The Dreamer’s Path: Descartes and the Sixteenth Century.” Renaissance Quarterly 49 (1996): 30-76. As to genealogy, Kristeller devoted a chapter (146-70) to Ficino’s ontological doctrine of the “primum in aliquo genere” (“The first in every genus is the cause of the whole genus” [quoted on p. 147]), indicating that Ficino derived this doctrine in his early De voluptate from Mercurius Trismegistus. There is good evidence that Ficino, having placed Mercurius or Hermes as the first textually substantive figure in the genus of philosophers, applied this ontological principle by reading supposedly later philosophical texts through a Hermetic lens.

70  Cassirer 1972, p. 30, quoting De pace fidei 15 (Cusa, Opera, vol. 2, fol. cxxiv).

71  Mariateresa Fumagalli Beonio Brocchieri, Pico della Mirandola (1999, rpt. Bari: Editori Laterza, 2011), p. 25.

72  See Keefer “Agrippa’s Dilemma,” 624-28.

73  After meeting Pico in Florence, Lefèvre wrote De magia naturalis (1493)—a book which, however, he neither circulated in manuscript nor printed; he subsequently rejected belief in a supposedly pure natural magic and denied that any magic could be good; see Zambelli 2007, pp. 50-51.

74  See Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, The Prefatory Epistles of Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples and related texts, ed. Eugene F. Rice (New York: Columbia UP, 1972), Ep. 6, (p. 21); Ep. 9, (30-31); Ep. 43, (p. 134).

75  Agrippa, vol. 2, pp. 311-12: “proiectis humanis scientiis, omnique carnis & sanguinis indagine atque discursu, qualescunque illae sint […]. Amovete ergo nunc, qui potestis, velamen intellectus vestri, qui ignorantiae tenebris involuti estis […], evigilate ad verum lumen….” Paola Zambelli has remarked that “Socratism,” or “a re-evaluation of the intelligence of ‘simple’, uncultured men, who are able to understand what eludes scholastics and erudite men […] is a strong thread uniting Nicholas of Cusa, Erasmus, Lefèvre, Bovelles, Agrippa, Sebastian Franck and other Renaissance thinkers” (Zambelli 2007, p. 97).

76  Umberto Eco, “Unlimited Semiosis and Drift: Pragmaticism vs. ‘Pragmatism’,” in The Limits of Interpretation (1990, rpt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 24; quoted by Lehrich 2003, pp. 23-24.

77  The classic account of the development of the witch-stereotype is that of Norman Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons (1975, rpt. London: Paladin, 1976).

78  Zambelli 2007, p. 21.

79  Joannis Trithemii […] Annalium Hirsaugiensem [….] Complectens Historiam Franciae et Germaniae, Gesta imperatorem, regum, principum, episcoporum, abbatum, et illustrium virorum, ed. J. G. Schlegel (2 vols., St. Gall, 1690), vol. 2, pp. 490-91: “Cùm autem ligaretur ad palum comburendus, carmina quaedum seu Rhythmos de Domina nostra in lingua theutonica compositos altâ voce canebat. Inter astantes fuerunt plures, qui hominem incombustibilem fore credebant, propter meritum sanctitatis, quo dignum esse censebant, qui à Dei Parente servaretur illaesus. Unde propius stare metuebant, formidantes, ne forsam ignis divino furore dispersus consumeret intuentes. Alii vel daemonis operatione, vel quolibet maleficio defensum adolescentem non posse comburi timebant. Unde & spiculator eo metu laborans, omnes pilos eius feceret abradi, ne quod maleficium sive daemonium in eis latere potuisset. Ligatus ad stipitem adolescens suas personabat cantilenas, qui mox ut igne submisso sensit ardorem, flebili voce tertiò clamabat: ôVVeôVVeôVVe. Interclusáque ignibus voce nihil deinceps loquebatur, sed voracibus flammis consumptus, in cinerem resolutus est. Nihil in his omnibus miraculorum apparuit….”

80  See Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture (New York: Random House, 1974), pp. 225-40, esp. 239-40.

81  W. E. H. Lecky, History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols. 1865; rpt. New York: D. Appleton, 1888), vol. 1, pp. 37-38, 79-82.

82  Lecky, vol. 1, p. 81.

83  See Zambelli, 1972 and Zambelli, “Scholastiker und Humanisten: Agrippa und Trithemius zur Hexerei,” Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 67 (1985): 41-79.

84  Overfield 1976, 417.

85  Zambelli, 2007, p. 1.

86  See Fred Purnell, “Francesco Patrizi,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta.

87  One sign of this would be the publication at Wittenberg of the Hungarian humanist Petrus Monedulatus Lascovius’s re-hash of Pico in his De homine magno illo in rerum natura miraculo, et partibus ejus essentialibus lib. II (Wittenberg: Heredes Iohannis Cratonis, 1585). Lascovius began his studies at Wittenberg in 1578, visited Geneva in 1580 and 1583, and published there his Theorematum de puro et expresso Dei verbo, tam scriptis quam viva voce tradita (1584). See Théodore de Bèze, Correspondance de Théodore de Bèze, ed. Hippolyte Aubert et al. (34 vols., Geneva: Droz, 1960-2010), vol. 22, pp. 105-06, n. 3.

88  Yates 1964, pp. 207-10.

89  This tendency continues in Jill Kraye, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), where there is no mention of Agrippa, and a single reference to Reuchlin; for more balanced views, see Donald R. Kelley, Renaissance Humanism (Boston: Twayne, 1991) and Nauert, Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

90  Zambelli 2007, p. 185.

91  Lehrich, The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), pp. xi-xiv.

92  Agrippa 1970, vol. 1, sig. a2v; see Keefer, Lunar Perspectives: Field Notes from the Culture Wars (Toronto: Anansi, 1996), pp. 144-45.

93  Recognitiones II. 7, quoted in Keefer, “Agrippa’s Dilemma,” 646. 




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