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Heinrich Cornelius
Agrippa von Nettesheim

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535) was a controversial theologian, physician, and philosopher from Cologne.

Agrippa was born in 1486 in the city of Nettesheim (Cologne). He studied at the University of Cologne from 1499 to 1502, graduating with an M.A. In 1509, he received a doctorate in theology from the University of Dôle in Burgundy, then under Hapsburg rule. In the same year, he visited Johannes Trithemius (1462–1516), the famed occultist and cryptographer, who would become Agrippa’s mentor in occult subjects. This was not his first contact with this field of study, however, since according to Christopher Lehrich (2003), Agrippa’s father had previously taught him some astrology. There are also claims that Agrippa had belonged to a secret society devoted to the occult sometime after 1507. Some of his interests, including Kabbala, aroused suspicion, and he was accused of heresy on at least two occasions (1509, ca.1518). Agrippa travelled widely within Europe in his lifetime: he lived in Italy from 1511 until 1518, and later in a variety of cities within the Holy Roman Empire and France.

A prolific writer, he is best known for De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum atque artium, atque excellentia verbi Dei declamatio [Declamation on the uncertainty and Vanity of the Sciences and the Arts, and on the Excellence of the Word of God], published in 1527, and De occulta philosophia libri tres [Three Books of Occult Philosophy]. The latter was first published in its entirety in 1533 although Agrippa had already started writing it when he met Trithemius in 1509. In addition to these two texts, Agrippa published the Declamatio de nobilitate et praeccellentia foeminei sexus [Declamation on the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex] in 1529. In this work, dedicated to Margaret of Austria, Agrippa proposed that women and men were fundamentally equal and that they were treated differently because of social conditioning, differences in education and the hegemony of men. The text was very influential at the time: it was translated into four languages (French, Italian, English, and German) and was also plagiarized.

Agrippa died under obscure circumstances in 1535 in Grenoble. After his death, many rumours circulated about Agrippa, including one that alleged that his dog was actually the Devil incarnate.

 

Sources

Lehrich, Christopher I. The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003.

Rabil, Albert Jr. “Agrippa and the Feminist tradition.” Declamation on the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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Traité de la noblesse et de la précellence du sexe féminin