De spectris.

Geneva, Ioannem Crispinum, [1570].


FIRST EDITION thus. pp. (16), 272. Italic letter, some Roman. Small woodcut printer’s device on title. Floriated woodcut initials, woodcut headpieces and ornaments, book-label of “T Caillat” c. 1800, on pastedown, bibliographical notes on fly. Light age yellowing, some mostly marginal spotting, small light water-stain in upper margin in places. A very good copy in C17th French calf gilt, covers bordered with gilt rule, spine, with raised bands, richly gilt in compartments with fleurons and seme of small tools, combed marble endpapers, head and tail with tiny expert restoration.

First Latin translation of this important and influential treatise on ghosts and apparitions, first published the previous year in German. Lavater (1527-1586) was a prolific author, composing homilies, commentaries, a survey of the liturgical practices of the Zurich church, a history of the Lord’s Supper controversy, as well as biographies of Bullinger and Konrad Pellikan. His work on ghosts, ‘De spectris’ was one of the most frequently printed and widely translated demonological works of the early modern period, going into at least nineteen editions in German, Latin, French, English and Italian.

In this treatise on Lemures, or ghost shades of the dead which presage great disasters and the change of empires, he maintains that the many of these apparitions are not the souls of the dead but the work of demons. “[In] the ‘De spectris, lemuribus… of the Protestant physician Ludwig Lavater, published in Zurich in 1570, (we) find an impressive and varied picture of supernatural visions. Among the variety of phenomena he discusses, Lavater devotes particular attention to spectral combats, which, he states, are to be understood as bad omens. Such were swords, lances, and a large number of objects seen in the air; clashing armies or fleeing troops seen or heard in the air or the ground; the horrible sound of shouting voices and the clangor of clashing arms.” Ottavia Niccoli. ‘Prophecy and People in Renaissance Italy.’

Lavater does not attack witchcraft directly, but his theory of devils shows he must have believed in the power of sorcery. He also attacked those that used superstition for their own benefit. “Thus for Lavater, men who falsely believed that they saw ghosts, apparitions and visions, were either melancholic, or possessed madmen, or alternatively, just fearful, or weak in their senses, or finally drunkards. Priests and monks on the other hand, in spreading credulous beliefs, were deluding the people for the sake of personal profit and even sexual gratification. … Lavater substantiated his claim by adducing numerous anecdotes from classical and modern sources (among them Erasmus) in which priests, monks and friars had abused the trust of their flock, appearing as ghosts and spirits of the dead in order to seduce wives, extort money, obtain a bishopric, or prove a theological point by false miracles.” Michael Heyd. ‘Be Sober and Reasonable’. A most important and influential work.

Adams I: 301. Thorndike VI: 530. Caillet II 6237. “livre curieux et rare sur les spectres, lémures etc, dûs aux démons, les apparitions des fantômes, des esprits diaboliques et familiers et les accidents merveilleux qui précèdent souvent la mort et la suivent quelquefois.” Graesse, Bib. Magica et Pneumatica p. 81.


Print This Item Print This Item