The Philosophy of Natural Magic, by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, L. W. de Laurence ed. , at sacred-texts.com
Angling for private patronage was in the sixteenth century correlative to the habit not very uncommon in these days of using baits to catch the public favor. Men who once lived by the help of princes now owe their support to the whole people, and the pains bestowed upon the cultivation of the good-will of the people in these days are neither less nor more to be reprehended than the pains taken by scholars of past time to procure a safe means of subsistence through the good-will of a prince. It may be said, with a fair approximation to the truth, that as much as a man may do now, with the intention of deserving popularity, and not discredit himself in his own eyes or those of the great number of his neighbors, he might have done with as little discredit in the sixteenth century with the design of earning favor from the great. We have seen how, in the case of Reuchlin, a poor chorister was fostered at first by small princes of Germany, afterwards even by the emperor, and enabled to develop into a great Hebrew scholar, when one patron died having another ready to befriend him, and enjoying dignity and wealth with a complete sense of independence. That age was, in fact, as far removed as this is from the transition period, during which the patronage of letters by the great, extinct as a necessity, survived as a tradition, and the system that had once been vigorous and noble became imbecile and base.
Nobody at Dole was ignorant that the design of Cornelius Agrippa was to earn the patronage of Margaret, a liberal encourager of learning. Nobody considered it dishonorable to seek this by showing that it was deserved. The prevalent feeling was so far removed from any such impression, that from many quarters the young man was urged to magnify his claim on Margaret's attention by devoting not only
the orations, but also some piece of writing to her honor. Even the cordial vice-chancellor, desirous to advance the interests of the young orator, set aside his predilection for the spoken word, and was among the foremost in admonishing Cornelius to write. Not slow to profit by advice that ran the same course with his inclinations, the new doctor of divinity set himself to display his powers as a theologian in the true manner of the day, and with theological acuteness to combine a courtier's tact, by dedicating to the most conspicuous example of his argument a treatise on the Nobility and Pre-excellence of the Female Sex. As I have hinted, too, there was a private example of it known to his own heart.
Angling for patronage shown from another point of view!—mean arts used by mean spirits to compel the favor of the rich and base. But to secure the favor of the rich and noble the arts used were not to be accounted mean.
Now let us trace in a brief summary the argument for the Nobility of the Female Sex and the Superiority of Woman over Man, written at Dole, in the year 1509, by a doctor of divinity, aged twenty-three. He sets out with the declaration that when man was created male and female, difference was made in the flesh, not in the soul. He quotes Scripture to show that after the corruption of our bodies difference of sex will disappear, and that we shall all be like angels in the resurrection. As to the soul, then, man and woman are alike; but as to everything else the woman is the better part of the creation.
In the first place, woman being made better than man, received the better name. Man was called Adam, which means Earth; woman Eva, which is by interpretation Life. By as much as life excels earth woman therefore excels man. And this, it is urged, must not be thought trivial reasoning, because the
maker of those creatures knew what they were before he named them, and was One who could not err in properly describing each. We know, and the Roman laws testify, that ancient names were always consonant with the things they represented, and names have been held always to be of great moment by theologians and jurisconsults. It is written thus of Nabal: "As his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him." (1 Samuel, xxv., 25.) Saint Paul, also, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, speaks of his Lord and Master, as "made so much better than the angels, as he hath obtained a more excellent name than they." (Heb., i., 4.) The reader's memory will at once supply the next passage of Scripture quoted, I do not like to cite it. Agrippa then dilates, as well he may, on the immense importance of words, according to the practice of all jurists, he tells how Cyprian argued against the Jews that Adam's name was derived from the initials of the Greek words meaning east, west, north, and south, because his flesh was made out of the earth, though that derivation was at variance with Moses, who put only three letters in the Hebrew name. For this, however, adds Agrippa, Cyprian was not to blame, since, like many saints and expounders of the sacred text, he had not learnt the Hebrew language.
Upon the word Eva it is further maintained that it suggests comparison with the mystic symbols of the Cabalists, the name of the woman having affinity with the ineffable Tetragrammaton, the most sacred name of the Divinity; while that of the man differed entirely from it. All these considerations, however, Agrippa consents to pass over, as matters read by few and understood by fewer. The pre-eminence of the woman can be proved out of her constitution, her gifts, and her merits.
The nature of woman is discussed, however, from the theologian's point of view. Things were created
in the order of their rank. First, indeed, incorruptible soul, then incorruptible matter, but afterwards, out of that matter, more or less corruptible things, beginning with the meanest. First minerals, then herbs, and shrubs, and trees, then zoophytes, then brutes in their order, reptiles first, afterwards fishes, birds, quadrupeds. Lastly, two human beings, but of these first the male, and finally the female, in which the heavens and the earth and their whole adornment were perfected. The divine rest followed, because the work was consummated, nothing greater was conceived; the woman was thus left the most perfect and the noblest of the creatures upon earth, as a queen placed in the court that had been previously prepared for her. Rightly, therefore, do all beings round about her pay to this queen homage of reverence and love.
The difference between the woman and the man is yet more strongly marked, says the deeply read theologian, because the man was made like the brutes in open land outside the gates of paradise, and made wholly of clay, but the woman was made afterwards in paradise itself; she was the one paradisiacal creation. Presently there follow Scripture arguments to show that the place of their birth was a sign to men of honor or dishonor. The woman, too, was not made of clay, but from an influx of celestial matter; since there went into her composition nothing terrestrial except only one of Adam's ribs, and that was not gross clay, but clay that had been already purified and kindled with the breath of life.
The theological demonstrations Cornelius next confirms by the evidence of some natural facts equally cogent and trustworthy, which were held in that day by many wise men to be equally true. It is because she is made of purer matter that a woman, from whatever height she may look down, never turns .giddy, and her eyes never have mist before
them like the eyes of men. Moreover, if a woman and man tumble together into water, far away from all external help, the woman floats long upon the surface, but the man soon sinks to the bottom. Is there not also the divine light shining through the body of the woman, by which she is made often to seem a miracle of beauty Then follows a clever inventory of all a woman's charms of person, written with due reserve, which might be here translated, if the English language had the terseness of the Latin. In short, woman is the sum of all earth's beauty, and it proved that her beauty has sometimes inspired even angels and demons with a desperate and fatal love. Then follows a chain of Scripture texts honoring female beauty, which all lead up to the twenty thousand virgins, solemnly celebrated by the church, and the admiration of the beauty of the Virgin Mary by the Sun and Moon.
Texts follow that must be omitted, and then the argument takes anatomical grounds of the most ingenious character, and shows how every difference of structure between the man and the woman gives to woman the advantage due to her superior delicacy. Even after death nature respects her inherent modesty, for a drowned woman floats on her face, and a drowned man upon his back. The noblest part of a human being is the head; but the man's head is liable to baldness, woman is never seen bald. The man's face is often made so filthy by a most odious beard, and so covered with sordid hairs, that it is scarcely to be distinguished from the face of a wild beast; in woman, on the other hand, the face always remains pure and decent. For this reason women were, by the laws of the twelve tables, forbidden to rub their cheeks lest hair should grow and obscure their blushing modesty. But the most evident proof of the innate purity of the female sex is, that a woman having once washed is clean, and if she wash in
second water will not soil it; but that a man is never clean, though he should wash in ten successive waters, he will cloud and infect them all.
Some other marvellous peculiarities I must omit, and pass to Agrippa's appreciation of the woman's predominance in the possession of the gift of speech, the most excellent of human faculties, which Hermes Trismegistus thought equal to immortality in value, and Hesiod pronounced the best of human treasures. Man, too, receives this gift from woman, from his mother or his nurse; and it is a gift bestowed upon woman herself with such liberality that the world has scarcely seen a woman who was mute. Is it not fit that women should excel men in that faculty, wherein men themselves chiefly excel the brutes?
The argument again becomes an edifice of Scripture text, and it is well to show the nature of it. though we may shrink from the misuse of sacred words, because it is well thoroughly to understand how Scripture was habitually used by professed theologians in the sixteenth century, and from this light example to derive a grave lesson, perhaps, that may be, even to the people of the nineteenth century, not wholly useless.
Solomon's texts on the surpassing excellence of a good woman of course are cited, and a cabalistic hint is given of the efficacy of the letter H, which Abram took away from his wife Sarah, and put into the middle of his own name, after he had been blessed through her. Benediction has come always by woman, law by man. We have all sinned in Adam, not in Eve; original sin we inherit only from the father of our race. The fruit of the tree of knowledge was forbidden to man only, before woman was made; woman received no injunction, she was created free. She was not blamed, therefore, for eating, but for causing sin in her husband by giving him to eat; and she did that not of her own will, but because the
devil tempted her. He chose her as the object of temptation, as St. Bernard says, because he saw with envy that she was the most perfect of creatures. She erred in ignorance because she was deceived; the man sinned knowingly. Therefore our Lord made atonement in the figure of the sex that had sinned, and also for more complete humiliation came in the form of a man, not that of a woman, which is nobler and sublimer. He humbled himself as man, but overcame as a descendant of the woman; for the seed of the woman, it was said, not the seed of man, should bruise the serpent's head. He would not, therefore, be born of a man; woman alone was judged worthy to be the earthly parent of the Deity. Risen again, he appeared first to woman. Men forsook him, women never. No persecution, heresy, or error in the Church ever began with the female sex. They were men who betrayed, sold, bought, accused, condemned, mocked, crucified the Lord. Peter denied him, his disciples left him. Women were at the foot of the cross, women were at the sepulchre. Even Pilate's wife, who was a heathen, made more effort to save Jesus than any man among believers. Finally, do not almost all theologians assert that the Church is maintained by the Virgin Mary?
Aristotle may say that of all animals the males are stronger and wiser than the females, but St. Paul writes that weak things have been chosen to confound the strong. Adam was sublimely endowed, but woman humbled him; Samson was strong, but woman made him captive; Lot was chaste, but woman seduced him; David was religious, but woman disturbed his piety; Solomon was wise, but woman deceived him; Job was patient, and was robbed by the devil of fortune and family; ulcerated, grieved, oppressed, nothing provoked him to anger till a woman did it, therein proving herself stronger than the devil. Peter was fervent in faith, but woman forced
him to deny his lord. Somebody may remark that all these illustrations tend to woman's shame; not to her glory. Woman, however, may reply to man as Innocent III. wrote to some cardinal, "If one of us is to be confounded, I prefer that it be you." Civil law allows a woman to consult her own gain to an-other's hurt; and does not Scripture itself often extol and bless the evil deeds of the woman more than the good deeds of the man? Is not Rachel praised who deceived her fathers Rebecca, because she obtained fraudulently Jacob's benediction? Is not the deceit of Rahab imputed to her as justice? Was not Jael blessed among women for a treacherous and cruel deed? What could be more iniquitous than the counsel of Judith? what more cruel than her wiles? what worse than her perfidy? Yet for this she is blessed, lauded, and extolled in Scripture, and the woman's iniquity is reputed better than the goodness of the man. Was not Cain's a good work when he offered his best fruits in sacrifice and was reproved for it? Did not Esau well when he hunted to get venison for his old father, and in the meantime was defrauded of his birthright, and incurred the divine hate? Other examples are adduced, and robust scholars, ingenious theologians, are defied to find an equal amount of evidence in support of the contrary thesis, that the iniquity of the man is better than the goodness of the woman. Such a thesis, says Agrippa, could not be defended.
From this point to the end Agrippa's treatise consists of a mass of illustrations from profane and Scripture history, classified roughly. Some are from natural history. The queen of all birds, he says, is the eagle, always of the female sex, for no male eagles have been found. The phœnix is a female always. On the other hand, the most pestilent of serpents, called the basilisk, exists only as a male; it is impossible for it to hatch a female.
All evil things began with men, and few or none with woman. We die in the seed of Adam and live in the seed of Eve. The beginning of envy, the first homicide, the first parricide, the first despair of divine mercy was with man; Lamech was the first bigamist, Noah was the first drunkard, Nimrod the first tyrant, and so forth. Men were the first to league themselves with demons and discover profane hearts. Men have been incontinent, and had, in innumerable instances, to each man many wives at once; but women have been continent, each content with a single husband, except only Bathsheba. Many women are then cited as illustrations of their sex in this respect, or for their filial piety, including Abigail, Lucretia, Cato's wife, and the mother of the Gracchi, the vestal Claudia, Iphigenia. If any one opposes to such women the wives of Zoilus, Samson, Jason, Deiphobus, and Agamemnon, it may be answered that these have been unjustly accused, that no good man ever had a bad wife. Only bad husbands get bad wives, or if they get a good one, are sometimes able to corrupt her excellence. If women made the laws, and wrote the histories and tragedies, could they not justly crowd them with testimony to the wickedness of men? Our prisons are full of men, and slain men cumber the earth everywhere, but women are the beginners of all liberal arts, of virtue and beneficence. Therefore the arts and virtues commonly have feminine names. Even the corners of the world receive their names from women—the nymph Asia; Europe, the daughter of Agenior; Lybia, the daughter of Epaphus, who is called also Aphrica.
Illustrations follow of the pre-eminence of woman in good gifts, and it is urged that Abraham, who by his faith was accounted just, was placed in subjection to Sarah his wife, and was told, "In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, harken unto her voice." (Gen., xxi., 12.)
There follows a host of other illustrations of the excellence of women, drawn from all sources; among others, illustrations of her eminence in learning. "And," adds Agrippa, "were not women now forbidden to be literary, we should at this day have most celebrated women, whose wit would surpass that of men. What is to be said upon this head, what even by nature women seem to be born easily superior to practiced students in all faculties? Do not the grammarians entitle themselves masters of right speaking? Yet we learn this far better from our nurses and our mothers than from the grammarians. For that reason Plato and Quintilian so solicitously urged a careful choice of children's nurses, that the children's language might be formed on the best model. Are not the poets in the invention of their whims and fables, the dialecticians in their contentious garrulity, surpassed by women? Was ever orator so good or so successful, that a courtesan could not excel his powers of persuasion? What arithmetician by false calculation would know how to cheat a woman in the payment of a debt? What musician equals her in song and in amenity of voice 3 Are not philosophers, mathematicians, and astrologers often inferior to country women in their divinations and predictions, and does not the old nurse very often beat the doctor?" Socrates himself, the wisest of men, did not disdain to receive knowledge from Aspasia, nor did Apollo the theologian despise the teaching of Priscilla.
Then follows a fresh string of illustrations by which we are brought to a contemplation of the necessity of women for the perpetuation of any state, and the cessation of the human race that may be consequent on her withdrawal. Through more examples we are brought then to consider the honor and precedence accorded by law and usage to the female sex. Man makes way for woman on the public road, and
yields to her in society the highest places. Purple and fine linen, gold and jewels are conceded as the fit adornments of her noble person, and from the sumptuary laws of the later emperors women were excepted. Illustrations follow of the dignity and privileges of the wife, and of the immunities accorded to her by the law. Reference is made to ancient writers, who tell how, among the Getulians, the Bactrians, and others, men were the softer sex, and sat at home while women labored in the fields, built houses, transacted business, rode abroad, and went out to do battle. Among the Cantabrians men brought dowries to their wives, brothers were given in marriage by their sisters, and the daughters of a household were the heirs. Among the Scythians, Thracians, and Gauls, women possessed their rights, but among us, said Agrippa, "the tyranny of men prevailing over divine right and the laws of nature, slays by law the liberty of woman, abolishes it by use and custom, extinguishes it by education. For the woman, as soon as she is born, is from her earliest years detained at home in idleness, and as if destitute of capacity for higher occupations, is permitted to conceive of nothing beyond needle and thread. Then when she has attained years of puberty she is delivered over to the jealous empire of a man, or shut up for ever in a shop of vestals. The law also forbids her to fill public offices. No prudence entitles her to plead in open court." A list follows of the chief disabilities of women, "who are treated by the men as conquered by the conquerors, not by any divine necessity, for any reason, but according to custom, education, fortune, and the tyrant's opportunity."
A few leading objections are then answered. Eve was indeed made subject to man after the fall, but that curse was removed when man was saved. Paul says that "wives are to be subject to their husbands,
and women to be silent in the church," but he spoke of temporal church discipline, and did not utter a divine law, since "in Christ there is neither male nor female, but a new creature." We are again reminded of the text subjecting Abraham to Sarah, and the treatise closes then with a short recapitulation of its heads. "We have shown," Agrippa says, "the pre-eminence of the female sex by its name, its order and place of creation, the material of which it was created, and the dignity that was given to woman over man by God, then by religion, by nature, by human laws, by various authority, by reason, and have demonstrated all this by promiscuous examples. Yet we have not said so many things but that we have left more still to be said, because I came to the writings of this not moved by ambition, or for the sake of bringing myself praise, but for the sake of duty and truth, lest, like a sacrilegious person, I might seem, if I were silent, by an impious taciturnity (and as it were a burying of my talent) to refuse the praises due to so devout a sex. So that if any one more curious than I am should discover any argument which he thinks requisite to be added to this work, let him expect to have his position not contested by me, but attested, in as far as he is able to carry on this good work of mine with his own genius and learning. And that this work itself may not become too large a volume, here let it end."
Such was the treatise written by Cornelius at Dole for the more perfect propitiation of the Princess Margaret. Many years elapsed before it was printed and presented to the princess; doubtless, however, the youth read the manuscript to his betrothed very soon after it was written. Towards the close of the year a friend in Cologne wrote to Agrippa of the impatience of his parents for their son's return, but at the close of November another friend in Cologne, Theodoric, Bishop of Cyrene, asking as an especial
favor for his views upon judicial astrology so hotly opposed by Pico di Mirandola, says that his expression on the subject had appeared to him ambiguous when they conversed together. Probably he had then been offering to the embrace of his parents not a son only, but a son and daughter, for it is said to have been in the year 1509, when all was honor for him in the present, all hope in the future, that Cornelius von Nettesheim married Jane Louisa Tyssie, of Geneva, a maiden equal to him in rank, remarkable for beauty, and yet more remarkable for her aspirations and her worth. She entered with her whole soul into the spirit of her husband's life, rejoiced in his ambition, and knew how to hold high converse with his friends. The marriage was in every respect a happy one; there was a world of gentleness and loving kindness in Agrippa's heart. We shall have revelation of it as the narrative proceeds. The tenderness of his nature mingles strangely, sadly, with his restlessness, his self-reliance, and his pride,
So, full of hope and happiness, at the age of twenty-three, he took to wife a maiden who could love him for his kindliness, and reverence him for his power. He was no needy adventurer, but the son of a noble house, who was beginning, as it seemed, the achievement of the highest honors. He was surrounded by admirers, already a doctor of divinity, hereafter to attain he knew not what. Fostered by Maximilian's daughter, what might not his intellect achieve?
Poor youth, even in that year of hope the blight was already settling on his life! While he was writing praise of womanhood at Dole to win the smiles of Margaret, Catilinet, a Franciscan friar, who had been at the adjacent town of Gray when Reuchlin was expounded, mediated cruel vengeance on the down-chinned scholar. At Ghent, as preacher before the Regent of the Netherlands and all her court,
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System of the Interior or Empyrean Heaven showing the fall of Lucifer
[paragraph continues] Catilinet was to deliver in the Easter following the Quadragesimal Discourses. Against the impious Cabalist he was preparing to arouse the wrath of
[paragraph continues] Margaret during those same days which were spent by the young student in pleasant effort to deserve her kindness.
Now it was that Agrippa wrote his book on Magic.