COPENHAVER, BRIAN P.
Cambridge History of Early Modern Science, (Camrbidge, 2006)
The Middle Ages took magic seriously, though it was not a key issue for that period of European history, as it had been in late antiquity. Many medieval theologians treated magic with fear or loathing, in fact, and philosophers were often indifferent. But in the late fifteenth century, magic enjoyed a remarkable rebirth, acquiring the energy that kept it at the center of cultural attention for nearly two hundred years, as great philosophers and prominent naturalists tried to understand or confirm or reject it. After Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) took the first steps in the renaissance of magic, prominent figures from all over Europe followed his lead: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94), Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522), Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1525), Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, c. 1493-1541), Girolamo Cardano (1501-76), John Dee (1527-1608), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Giambattista Della Porta (c. 1535-1615), Tomasso Campanella (1568-1639), Johann Baptista van Helmont (c. 1580-1648), Henry More (1614-1687) and others of equal stature. Eventually, however, as Europe’s most creative thinkers lost confidence in it, magic became even more disreputable than it had been before Ficino revived it. Around 1600, some reformers of natural knowledge had hoped that magic might yield a grand new system of learning, but within a century it became a synonym for the outdated remains of an obsolete world-view. Before examining its extraordinary rise and fall in post-medieval Europe, we can begin with magic as described by one of its most voluble advocates, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535), a German physician and philosopher.