A revelatory new account of the magus—the learned magician—and his place in the intellectual, social, and cultural world of Renaissance Europe.
In literary legend, Faustus is the quintessential occult personality of early modern Europe. The historical Faustus, however, was something quite different: a magus—a learned magician fully embedded in the scholarly currents and public life of the Renaissance. And he was hardly the only one. Anthony Grafton argues that the magus in sixteenth-century Europe was a distinctive intellectual type, both different from and indebted to medieval counterparts as well as contemporaries like the engineer, the artist, the Christian humanist, and the religious reformer. Alongside these better-known figures, the magus had a transformative impact on his social world.
Magus details the arts and experiences of learned magicians including Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Trithemius, and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Grafton explores their methods, the knowledge they produced, the services they provided, and the overlapping political and social milieus to which they aspired—often, the circles of kings and princes. During the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, these erudite men anchored debates about licit and illicit magic, the divine and the diabolical, and the nature of “good” and “bad” magicians. Over time, they turned magic into a complex art, which drew on contemporary engineering as well as classical astrology, probed the limits of what was acceptable in a changing society, and promised new ways to explore the self and exploit the cosmos.
Resituating the magus in the social, cultural, and intellectual order of Renaissance Europe, Grafton sheds new light on both the recesses of the learned magician’s mind and the many worlds he inhabited.
Sheds light on the golden age of occult writing…Magic could be made all-encompassing because language, belonging to a shared world view, allowed it to be…Grafton suggests that the mathematical and mechanical magic that allowed Agrippa and Dee to send artificial birds or insects flying over a stage set would develop into the science that produced the machinery of the Industrial Revolution.
Grafton’s magi are an appealing gang, inasmuch as they turn out to have occupied the liminal space between what was faith and what would become fact. The intellectual fabric that their investigations wove, as Grafton entertainingly relays, was an entanglement of absurd system and authentic discovery, of systematic fraud and startling originality, of obvious nonsense and pregnant novelty.
A richly informative study.
Through the principal magi of the high Renaissance, Grafton examines the often uneasy, sometimes beneﬁcial, three-way relationship that existed between religion, magic and science.
A brilliantly vivid exercise in intellectual history, as told through the biographies of the early modern magi, which will stir the thoughts of everyone who reads it.
Magus offers a rich set of observations on an oft-neglected intellectual tradition during a turning point in Western thought…Magic is once again beginning to merit serious study in the academy.
A superb account of the astrologers, alchemists, and sorcerers who practiced ‘natural magic’ in Europe from the Middle Ages through early modernity…Grafton combines extensive research with a flair for the idiosyncrasies of biography, spinning charmingly digressive character portraits…The result will delight readers interested in the historical intersection of art, science, and religion.
A brilliant reassessment of the magus and the role of magic in the philosophical and practical worlds of Renaissance Europe. Grafton’s eloquent study profoundly expands our understanding of the range and intellectual context of thinkers such as Marsilio Ficino, Johannes Trithemius, and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. In the process, it deepens our understanding of an entire era.
Magus is a thought-provoking study of ‘natural magic’ and its early modern practitioners, the wandering European scholars who were at once praised as divinely inspired and denounced as diabolical charlatans. Carefully presenting these complex, elusive personalities on their own terms, Anthony Grafton’s analysis of the magi is as closely woven as their schemes for calling down the powers that bind the universe.
Grafton brings clarity and verve to the study of Renaissance magicians, placing them in the motley company not only of humanists and Kabbalists, astrologers and necromancers, but also of cryptographers, forgers, and ‘engineers.’ He surveys a world peopled by striking individuals whose magical adventures and speculations are inseparable from the personalities that animated them.
A new understanding of the Renaissance—and a new understanding of magic—springs to life in this erudite, witty, and eminently readable book.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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