BODIN, Jean. De Magorum Demonomania libri IV

Basle, per Thomas Guarinum, 1581


FIRST EDITION thus. 4to. pp. (xxxii) 488 + 8 added blank ll. at rear, probably for annotations. Roman letter, little Italic, occasional Greek. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p, decorated initials and ornaments. Fore-edge a little soiled in places, mostly light age browning, occasional marginal foxing or ink spots, occasional light water stain to upper margin, one leaf repaired without loss. A good, well-margined copy in contemporary red-painted vellum, lacking ties, all edges yapp, all edges blue, minor repair at head of spine, upper hinge partly detached but still holding. Small modern booklabel to front pastedown, ms. ‘J.P. Krebs 1800’, ‘Lud[ovicus] Casimir Cramer Jenae 1768’, and two crossed-out earlier inscriptions to t-p, occasional C18(?) underlining. In morocco folding box.

A good, unsophisticated, well-margined copy of the scarce first Latin edition of this influential classic of occultism. ‘La meilleur des traités de démonomanie’ (Caillet). Originally published in French as ‘La Démonomanie des sorciers’ (Paris, 1580), the Latin version was produced by the Protestant theologian Franciscus Junius (1545-1602), under the pseudonym of Lotarius Philoponus. Jean Bodin (1530-96), professor of law at Toulouse and member of the Parlement de Paris, was one of the most influential political philosophers of the Renaissance. ‘In a corpus of work often marked by its rationalism and reliance on logical and legal argumentation or its striving towards a methodical, comparative historical and juridical analysis, [this] demonological and juridical analysis of witchcraft’s magical crimes, seems out of place’ (Power, 496).

The four books are prefaced by Bodin’s famous autobiographical narrative of a witch trial over which he presided in 1578 against Joanna Harvilleria, later executed. The first book begins with a definition of ‘magi’ (witches)—‘those who, though perfectly aware [‘sciens prudens’] of the ways of the devil, use them to achieve something’. The legal phrase ‘sciens prudens’ highlights the underlying theme, which ties up with Bodin’s rationalism: the use of free will and the understanding of the difference between good and evil in a world populated by spirits. The first book discusses the difference between good and bad spirits, prophecy and other ways of knowing occult things (teratoscopia, hieroscopia, orneomantia). The second focuses on magical invocations, the renunciation of God, witches’ demonic extasy, their transformation into beasts, their copulation with demons and ability to cause illnesses, sterility, tempests, etc. The third deals with ways of opposing witches, e.g., how to subvert their invocations or cure the illnesses they cause. The fourth book is an inquisitorial manual on witch trials, evidence, voluntary and coerced confession, accusations and torture. In Bodin’s political theology, witchcraft is a crime against God, the only source of superhuman knowledge, which he communicates through angels, spirits, dreams or visions. These are by some mistaken with the false prophecies of witches (and astrologers), who side against God; when proven guilty, should be suitably punished. Appended at rear is Bodin’s ‘Opinionum Ioannis Wieri Confutatio’, a critique of the defence of witches formulated by the physician and occultist Johannes Wier. The latter’s new book ‘De Lamniis’ was, we read, given to Bodin by the printer to whom he had just sent the final draft of ‘Démonomanie’.

This copy was in the library of the classicist J.P. Krebs (1771-1850), author of grammars and lexica of Latin and Greek, including the important ‘Antibarbarus’ (1822), which discussed the differences between classical and later Latin.

Only Newberry, Cleveland and Columbia copies recorded in the US. Wellcome I, 921; Durling 602; Caillet I, 1274; Graesse I, 460 (mentioned); Bib. Esot. 391 (1603 ed.). C.R. Power, ‘Witchcraft, Human Nature, and Political Theology in Jean Bodin’s De la Démonomanie des sorciers’, Political Theology 21 (2020), 496-511; J. Bodin, Colloquium of the Seven about Secrets of the Sublime (2008).
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