AGRIPPA, Henrich Cornilius
Militiae Equitis Aurati...[I]n Artem Brevem Raymundi Lullii, CommentariaSolingen, Joannes Soter, 1538
8vo. pp  a-r8 s6. Roman letter, occasional Italic. Woodcut initials, t.p. with printer’s device of cherub within wreath, 8 woodcut diagrams of Lullian circles. Contemp. ex libris Antonius Dachselhof of Berne to Lly. Very minor damp stain and spot to t.p, woodcut circle on b5 just shaved at outer margin. A very good, clean and well-margined copy in contemporary limp vellum with 14 original blank unnumbered ll in front and 31 at end, contemp ink title to upper cover and spine, original kid ties.
Second edition of Agrippa’s (1486 – 1535) commentary on Raymond Lull’s (1232-1316) Ars Magna or ‘Ultimate General Art’, a system of logic blending influences from Arabic mysticism, Egyptian hermeticism, and Lull’s missions to Jews and Muslims. In his preface Agrippa praises Lull’s art ‘as easy to learn for students young and old’: in fact it is based on a confusing series of paper ‘machines’ Lull had developed to do his reasoning for him, comprising of circles with symbols representing key topics. When rotated together in any combination they yield only theologically ‘true’ statements, such as ‘Angels are Wise’, and ‘God is Eternal’. These so-called ‘Lullian Circles’ were intended as tools for debating faith with Muslims: ironically they were based from an Arabic astrological tool used to cast horoscopes known as the zairja.
Agrippa breaks down each circle and its function: there are nine main subjects including God, Angels, and Man, each assigned a letter B-K. The same letters are assigned to characteristics: Goodness, Greatness, Duration, Power, Wisdom, Will, Virtue, Truth, and Glory. The relationship between these sets of terms is determined by three triangles that highlight their differences, similarities, and magnitudes of importance to one another. There is a detailed discussion of the meaning of each circle’s constituent terms, including how it is possible to reduce all of philosophy to so few qualities from so many. The work concludes with the rules for using the Lullian Circle, and lists of all possible letter combinations that consider the meanings of some combinations, essentially meditating on the nature of goodness. The
work ends with a 4inal breakdown of Lull’s terms into tables showing how each relate to the other. An ambitious and strange book irrespective of Agrippa’s success in actually explaining Lull’s system: Jonathan Swift thought it ridiculous enough to feature in Gulliver’s Travels, but Borges credits him as the inventor of the ‘thinking machine’: what information scientists call the earliest type of computer.