Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim Criticism - Essay

Henry Cornelius Agrippa (letter date 1510)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: A letter to John Trithemius in the year 1510, in Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic, Book One: Natural Magic by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, edited by Willis F. Whitehead, 1897. Reprint by The Aquarian Press, 1971, pp. 28-30.

[Here, Agrippa announces to his former teacher, John Trithemius, his intention to try to restore a respect for magic among his readers.]

To R. P. D. John Trithemius, an Abbot of Saint James, in the Suburbs of Herbipolis, Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim sendeth Greeting:

When I was of late, most reverend father, for a while conversant with you in your Monastery of Herbipolis, we conferred together of divers...

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John Trithemius (letter date 1510)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: A letter to Henry Cornelius Agrippa on April 8, 1510, in Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic, Book One: Natural Magic by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, edited by Willis F. Whitehead, 1897. Reprint by The Aquarian Press, 1971, pp. 31-32.

[Trithemius, who was the Abbot of Saint James, Herbipolis, was well-known as an avid and learned student of philosophy and occult science. Below, he congratulates his former pupil, Agrippa, on the excellence of his Occult Philosophy, warning him to chose carefully with whom he communicates regarding his work.]

John Trithemius, Abbot of Saint James of Herbipolis, formerly of Spanhemia, to his Henry Cornelius Agrippa of...

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Henry Cornelius Agrippa (essay date 1533)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: A preface to Occult Philosophy by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, in Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic, Book One: Natural Magic by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, edited by Willis F. Whitehead, 1897. Reprint by The Aquarian Press, 1971, pp. 25-27.

[In his preface to Occult Philosophy, Agrippa emphasizes his view that a magician is not a sorcerer, but "a wise man, a priest, a prophet."]

I do not doubt but the title of our book of Occult Philosophy, or of Magic, may by the rarity of it allure many to read it, amongst which, some of a disordered judgment and some that are perverse will come to hear what I can say, who, by their rash ignorance, may take the...

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Desiderius Erasmus (letter date 1533)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: A letter to Henry Cornelius Agrippa on April 21, 1533, in A Renaissance Treasury, edited by Hiram Haydn and John Charles Nelson, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1953, pp. 394-95.

[A Dutch classical scholar, philosopher, writer, and translator, Erasmus is one of the dominant intellectual figures of Renaissance Europe. His most famous work, The Praise of Folly (1509), written in Latin, is a powerful satire on clerical hypocrisy. Here, he praises Agrippa's On the Uncertainty and Vanity of the Sciences, but warns him of the dangers of becoming embroiled in disputes with the monks who considered his work heretical.]

I wrote to you at first in few words,...

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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (essay date 1853)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "A Conjuror and a Quack of the Olden Time," in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, Vol. 20, No. 517, November 26, 1853, pp. 340-42.

[In the excerpt below, the anonymous writer considers Agrippa an example of a scientist more interested in wealth and self-promotion than in new discoveries.]

In these days of wonder-working and new lights, it may not be amiss to turn our observation to the lights and wonders which awed and astonished our ancestors. The search after the elixir vitae and the philosopher's stone was a dignified and difficult life employment, to say the least of it; and the great alchymists should not be despised or forgotten by electro-biologists,...

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The Eclectic Review (essay date 1857)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Cornelius Agrippa," in The Eclectic Review, n. s. Vol. 1, May, 1857, pp. 467-88.

[In the excerpt below, an anonymous reviewer briefly describes a number of Agrippa's writings, portraying him as a misunderstood and tragic figure.]

[Agrippa's On the Nobleness and Superiority of the Female Sex] is a very learned but exaggerated assertion of the superiority of women to men; every weakness—physical, mental, moral—being exalted into a merit. One can scarcely conceive such a production to be the serious accomplishment of a serious mind, its extravagant perversion of fact and argument so much resembling that grave banter which is the most pungent ridicule....

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Putnam's Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art (essay date 1857)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Cornelius Agrippa-Doctor, Knight, and Magician," in Putnam's Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art, Vol. IX, No. XLIX, January 1857, pp. 70-79.

[Here, an anonymous reviewer provides an overview of Henry Morley's Life of Cornelius Agrippa Von Nettesheim (1856), favorably commenting on several of Agrippa's works.]

Where Agrippa is known, he is known as a magician. In the sixteenth century, everybody knew that he was in commerce with the devil, to whom he had sold his soul. Charitable Butler only says that

Agrippa kept a Stygian pug
I'th garb and habit of a dog,
That was his tutor,...

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Lynn Thorndike (essay date 1941)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Agrippa and Occult Philosophy," in A History of Magic and Experimental Science, Vol. V, Columbia University Press, 1941, pp. 127-38.

[Thorndike was an eminent scholar of medieval history and scientific activity in the Middle Ages. His major work is the eight-volume A History of Magic and Experimental Science (1923). In the following excerpt from a revised edition of that work, Thorndike presents an overview of Agrippa 's life and career and offers mixed reviews of On the Uncertainty and Vanity of the Sciences and Occult Philosophy.]

Neither is Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim himself to be reckoned of much weight in intellectual history nor...

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Joseph Leon Blau (essay date 1944)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Fantastic Cabala," in The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance. Columbia University Press, 1944, pp. 78-88.

[Blau examines Agrippa's writings in the context of sixteenth-century study of the cabala.]

In the sixteenth century magic was well-nigh respectable. Many of the most noted men of the century dabbled in it; to some, as to Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, magic spelled power. The universities did not teach magic, but many of their students practiced it. Magic went far beyond mere formulas of incantation; its doctrines were of far greater import than its practices. Much of the most original thinking of the period is to be found in books...

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Arturo Castiglioni (essay date 1946)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Natural Magic," in Adventures of the Mind, translated by V. Gianturco, 1946. Reprint by Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd., 1946, pp. 257-66.

[Below, Castiglioni comments on Agrippa's ideas about "natural magic," commending his attempt, "with a magnificent intuition of the truth, to lead magic into the highroad of the observation of nature."]

Throughout Europe, and particularly in Italy of the fifteenth century, with the revival of learning a first attempt is made by some great scholars to inquire into the problems of the universe, by trying to explain its mysteries rationally. The Humanist, home doctus, becomes the type of the new epoch, taking the...

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Hiram Haydn (essay date 1950)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Counter-Renaissance and the Repeal of Universal Law," in The Counter-Renaissance, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950, pp. 131-75.

[Here, Haydn briefly discusses Agrippa's repudiation of reason and the Law of Nature in On the Uncertainty and Vanity of the Sciences.]

Agrippa, as does Montaigne after him, assails the divine origin of law and its universal application [in his Vanitie and Uncertaintie]. He refers to the determination of "aunciente Lawe makers" to bolster the authority of their laws by persuading ignorant people "that they did as they were taught by the Gods." This same device has served Emperor and Pope alike:


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Donald T. Atkinson (essay date 1956)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Agrippa and the Beginning of Psychiatry," in Magic, Myth and Medicine, The World Publishing Company, 1956, pp. 85-92.

[Atkinson explores the influence of Agrippa's ideas in the formation of attitudes toward the treatment of mentally ill patients.]

Only in recent years has man been able to banish a fear of the unseen which for thousands of years had kept him in perpetual torment. Everywhere about him in the long ago were disembodied spirits, evil, malicious, and cunning. Invisible forms, lurking in every shadow, were thought to be ready to hurl at him some great and terrible misfortune. From the storm reached the outstretched hands of the denizens of the unseen...

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Charles G. Nauert, Jr. (essay date 1957)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Magic and Skepticism in Agrippa's Thought," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XVIII, April, 1957, pp. 161-82.

[In the following excerpt, Nauert examines the interrelationship between belief in occult science and skepticism about the limits of human knowledge, suggesting that both elements were present in all phases of Agrippa's work.]

From his own age down to the present, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535) has received widely varying evaluations from students of his thought. Some have dismissed him cursorily as an intellectual lightweight or as a wicked familiar of demons. Even those who have valued him highly have often done so for...

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D. P. Walker (essay date 1958)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Ficino's Magic in the 16th Century," in Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella, The Warburg Institute, 1958, pp. 85-144.

[Below, Walker focuses on the ways in which Agrippa's writings called attention to demonic elements in the philosophy of Marsilio Ficino.]

Any discussion of Agrippa's views on magic is made somewhat uncertain and complicated by the following facts. He did not publish his De Occulta Philosophia, which had been completed by 1510, until 1533, several years after the publication of his De Vanitate Scientiarum (1530), which contains a retraction of the former work and several discussions of various kinds of magic....

(The entire section is 1956 words.)

George H. Daniels (essay date 1964)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Knowledge and Faith in the Thought of Cornelius Agrippa," in Bibliotheque D'Humanisme et Renaissance, Vol. XXVI, 1964, pp. 326-40.

[Daniels discusses inherent contradictions in Agrippa's writings, noting that his main contribution was to demonstrate "the profound difference between the [Baconian] method… and the method of modern science."]

The enigmatic figure of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535) has been subjected to various interpretations since the early 16th Century. Even his contemporaries were never quite sure what to do with him. Lauded as a great scholar and leading man of letters on the one hand, he was condemned as a wicked...

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Richard H. Popkin (essay date 1964)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Revival of Greek Scepticism in the 16th Century," in The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes, revised edition, Van Gorcum & Comp., 1964, pp. 17-43.

[Below, Popkin focuses on On the Uncertainty and Vanity of the Sciences as an "example of fundamentalist anti-intellectualism" that nevertheless played an important role in the revival of interest in ancient skepticism.]

Probably the most notorious of those who have been ranked as sceptics in [the sixteenth century] is the curious figure, Henricus Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, 1486-1535. He was a man who was interested in many things, but most notably, occult science. A strange...

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Charles G. Nauert, Jr. (essay date 1965)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Agrippa and the End of a World" and "Fact and Fantasy: Agrippa's Position in Intellectual History," in Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought, University of Illinois Press, 1965, pp. 292-321, 322-34.

[In the following excerpt, Nauert discusses the influence of Agrippa's works, emphasizing the ways in which they "helped shatter the rational and orderly worldview of the great medieval intellectual syntheses" and pointed the way toward the scientific revolution.]

Despite Agrippa's failure to carry through consistently the exposition of his magical world view, and despite the fact that pessimism about human reason dominated his thinking even in his early...

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Barbara C. Bowen (lecture date 1971)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Cornelius Agrippa's De vanitate: Polemic or Paradox?," in Bibliotheque D'Humanisme et Renaissance, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, 1972, pp. 249-56.

[Below, Bowen elaborates on On the Uncertainty and Vanity of the Sciences as an example of the literary paradox, a genre popular in the sixteenth century. Bowen's remarks were originally delivered as a lecture in 1971.]

Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim (1486-1535), one of the most intriguing figures of the Renaissance, has received a good deal of critical attention but remains a tantalisingly shadowy figure. He has proved most interesting to historians of magic and science, because of his De Occulta...

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Frances A. Yates (essay date 1979)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Occult Philosophy and Magic: Henry Cornelius Agrippa," in The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979, pp. 37-47.

[Yates is a respected writer and scholar of Renaissance philosophy and literature. Her works include Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964), The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972), and Astraea: The Imperial Theme (1975). Here, she posits that Agrippa's brand of magic was "really a religion, claiming access to the highest powers, and Christian since it accepts the name of Jesus as the chief of the wonder-working Names."]

The reputation of Henry Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) has been...

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Diane Bornstein (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: An introduction to The Feminist Controversy of the Renaissance: Facsimile Reproductions, by Guillaume Alexis, Sir Thomas Bird, and Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1980, pp. v-xiii.

[In the following excerpt, Bornstein discusses The Nobility of the Feminine Sex, concluding that it is "an eloquent plea for the education and liberation of women."]

[Agrippa's De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminei sexus was written] in 1509, [and] it was dedicated to Margaret of Austria to win her favor. Agrippa did not have a chance to present the treatise to Margaret and did not publish it until almost twenty years later. He had to...

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Linda Woodbridge (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Early Tudor Controversy," in Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620, University of Illinois Press, 1984, pp. 18-48.

[Woodbridge comments on The Nobility of the Feminine Sex in the context of the early Tudor debate about women. She notes that in "sensing the [debate's] ultimate irrelevance to women's struggles, [Agrippa] stood virtually alone."]

When the great Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, scholar of international reputation, theorist of magic, at once humanist and critic of humanist pursuits, undertook a defense of women, something out of the ordinary was to be expected. It is true that his...

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