Agrippa Von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius
German mystic and alchemist, born of a once-noble family near Cologne in September 14, 1486 and died in 1535, almost certainly at Grenoble. His books on magic and occultism were widely known and he was both famous and infamous at the courts and universities of western Europe.
His real name was Heinrich Cornelis. After the fashion of the time, he latinized Cornelis into Cornelius and awarded himself the bogus noble title of Agrippa Von Nettesheim, from the Roman founder of Cologne and the name of a place near Cologne. Undisciplined, unstable and erratically brilliant, Agrippa was often forced to live by his wits and played at different times the roles of occult scholar and alchemist, faith healer and demonologist, court astrologer, theologian, lawyer and doctor (he studied both medicine and law at Cologne, apparently without taking a degree), historian; town orator, financial adviser and secret political agent. He worked now for the Pope and now for his rival the Emperor, switching sides as opportunity offered. He founded secret societies whose members he was not above exploiting. He mixed with royalty at one moment, only to find himself in prison for debt the next.
Educated at the University of Cologne, while still a youth Agrippa served under Maximilian I, of Germany. In 1509, when lecturing at the University of Dole, a charge of heresy was brought against him by a monk, John Catilinet, and to avoid any prosecution and probable harsh punishment, Agrippa left Dole and resumed his former occupation of soldier. The following year Agrippa was sent to England, on a diplomatic mission, and on his return followed Maximilian to Italy, where he spent 7 years serving various noble patrons. After practicing medicine at Geneva, he was appointed physician to Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I. After that he took a position under Margaret, Duchess of Savoy, Regent of the Netherlands, but not before falling out of favor with his former patroness. His capacity to assemble bitter foes was a constant throughout his life.
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Agrippa moved restlessly about Europe until his enemies caught up with him at Grenoble. Prison and torture left him so broken that he only survived his release a matter of weeks. Much of his career is shrouded in mystery and even before his death he had become the center of stories in which he figured as a master black magician. Goethe drew on some of these stories for the title character of his play Faust.
Agrippa's best-known work, De Occulta Philosophia (Occult Philosophy) was published in three volumes in 1531 but had been written much earlier, in 1510, possibly during a visit to England. It is based on ideas current at the time: that man is a miniature copy of God, made in the image of God' as the Bible says; that the whole universe, taken together, is God; and that man is therefore a miniature copy of the universe. The universe (the macrocosm or 'great world') is built on the model of man (the microcosm or 'small world') and so, like man, it has a soul. Agrippa said that everything which exists has a 'soul' or spiritual component, part of the total world soul, which shows itself in the magical properties of herbs, metals, stones, animals and other phenomena of Nature. For instance, the magnet attracts iron, whoever wears the stone called heliotrope becomes invisible, and a sure contraceptive for a woman is to drink mule's urine every month because mules are sterile.
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