Agrippa von Nettesheim

Charles G. Nauert

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Agrippa von Nettesheim

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy



Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (b. 14 September 1486 in Cologne—d. 1535 in Grenoble) was famous (or infamous) as the author of works on magic and the occult sciences not only in his own time but also centuries later. He was known for his declamation De incertitudine (see Individual Works) that denounced all human learning (including his own), probably the most frequently reprinted and translated of his publications, and also for a short treatise De nobilitate (see Collected Works) on the superiority of women, which succeeding generations discounted as a witty paradox but which modern feminist scholarship has taken very seriously. The major intellectual problem that his work has posed for modern intellectual historians is the apparent contradiction between his work on occult philosophy and his book denying the value of all fields of learning, including his own treatise on magic. Educated first at the University of Cologne (licentiate in arts, 1502), he traveled widely in France, Spain, England, and especially Italy, where he probably received degrees in both law and medicine (two professions that he practiced in later years), although no record of an Italian doctorate has been discovered. His work is especially important because of his lifelong study of ancient Platonic, modern Neoplatonic, Cabalistic, and Hermetic writings, an interest that began in his early years, matured during his years in Italy, and remained active throughout his life. Helpful modern scholarship on Agrippa is available in a variety of Western languages. In one form or another, the great majority of Agrippa’s numerous works are available in most academic research libraries. Some are available in English translation. Translations of De incertitudine were printed in several vernaculars (English in 1569, London: Henry Wykes and a modern reprint in 1974, Northridge: California State University). Less widely circulated was De occulta philosophia (see Individual Works) (first English edition in 1651, London: R.W. for Gregory Moule). Despite the existence of a few modern translations and more numerous older translations of questionable reliability, no reader should be deceived; serious study of Agrippa requires a reading knowledge of Latin, the language in which he wrote all of his works.

Article.  6708 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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