De nuce maga Beneventana.

Naples, typis Io. Dominicis Montanari, 1635.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. 24. Roman letter, little Italic. Woodcut vignette with bird’s-eye view of Benevento and surrounding area, decorated headpieces and initials. Scattered worm holes and light waterstaining at gutter, light mainly marginal dampstaining. A good copy in contemporary vellum over pasteboards, a little wormed, early C16 Gothic printer’s waste as pastedowns. Bookplates of Pierre M. Lambert and Frédéric and Anne Max to front pastedown, early crossed-out ex-libris to fly and t-p, early monogram ‘W’ (?) and ‘F.P.’ to t-p and blank upper margin of first.

A good copy of the FIRST EDITION of this scarce and curious treatise on witchcraft. Pietro Piperno (fl. 1624-82) was a physician for the papal enclave in Benevento, most renowned for his ‘De magicis affectibus’ (1634) on torments caused by magic, to which was often appended ‘De nuce maga’, issued separately in 1635 and later translated into Italian. The latter was concerned with a walnut-tree located in the area of Benevento, livelily represented in the woodcut on the t-p, around which heathen rituals, and later witches’ Sabbaths, had taken place since the sixth century. Walnut-trees had long been seen as markers of a liminal area between the natural and the supernatural, and legends from all over Europe told stories of sorcerers’ rites taking place around them. Albeit focusing on Benevento, Piperno’s ‘De nuce maga’ was also the first systematic and very learned examination of this widespread legend with the help of ancient, medieval and contemporary sources. After discussing ‘maleficia’ mostly involving sexual intercourse, Piperno lists the good properties of the Benevento walnut-tree, an evergreen producing triangular nuts—e.g., the medical benefits of its crushed wood and leaves cut and mixed with vinegar. It continues with the history of heathen cults centred on the ‘superstitiosa nux’, such as that of a viper, and the identification of its location, this information having been gathered from the interrogations of local Inquisitors. The shade cast by the tree is the spatial perimeter where the natural and the ‘maga’ (supernatural, magical) dimensions blend and dances of sorcery take place; it also induces sleep and brings with it ‘maleficia’, including sexual and physiological excesses, as well as illnesses. However, not all witches came to the walnut-tree voluntarily to commit ‘maleficia’; only some, bearing a mark under their left breast, thoroughly abjured God and the sacraments. An unusual and incredibly early study of the ‘history of witchcraft’.

Only Cornell copy recorded in the US.

BM STC It. C17, p. 690; Thorndike VIII, 548; Graesse V, 302 (ed. 1647). Not in Caillet or Brunet.


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