PSELLUS, Michael


PSELLUS, Michael Peri energeias daimonon dialogos. De operatione daemonum Dialogus.

Paris, H. Drouart, 1615


EDITIO PRINCEPS. 8vo. 2 parts in 1, pp. (xvi) 99 [i.e., 101] (i), (ii) 105-53 [i.e., 177] (vii). Part I with facing Greek and Latin text, Part II in Roman letter, with Greek, occasional Arabic. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p, woodcut initials and ornaments. Slight age browning, clean tear from lower outer blank corner of t-p, extremely light water stain to outer blank margin of last four gatherings, worm trail at upper gutter of few gatherings, occasional tiny worm holes to upper blank margins. A good copy in C19 boards, gilt-lettered morocco label to spine. Early casemark(?) inked to t-p.

The editio princeps of this important work of demonology, written by a major Byzantine scholar. Michael Psellos (1017-96) was an influential official at the Byzantine court, serving several emperors, including Theodosia, and writing historical, philosophical and theological works. Preceded in the C16 by Latin, French and Italian translations, including one by Ficino, ‘De operatione daemonum’ first appeared in its original form in this edition, based on a Parisian ms. The appended commentary was provided by the editor G. Gaulmin (Gautier, ‘De  daemonibus’, 127-28), and the Latin text was taken from Pierre Morel’s 1577 translation. Although the attribution to Psellos has been disputed by modern scholars, the work remains an important witness to the syncretism of demonological thought in the Eastern Empire. The author ‘writes of daemons not with the philosophic detachment of Porphyry or Proclus, but with the conviction of one who has himself hobnobbed with them on occasion’ (Lowes, ‘Road’, 214). Divination, magic, astrology, demonology and theurgy were popular among the Byzantine lower classes, and were often practiced by Egyptians or Chaldeans; occultism was deemed dangerous for Christianity (Takakis, ‘Byzantine Philosophy’, 136). ‘De operatione’ studies the taxonomy of demons down to the workings of their physical nature (e.g., terrestrial, aerial or subterranean) and physiology (e.g., sperm, which generates worms, and excrements). A section is also devoted to demonic language. It tells the history of a sick, pregnant woman who began speaking in Aramaic upon a fit of delirium, even though she did not know the language or had ever met any speakers. The question thus arises on why different demons may speak in different tongues, usually Greek, Chaldean, Syrian or Persian. With its close analysis of demonic nature, the work sought to distinguish demons from humans, and to defy the Gnostic and Manichean view of evil as an eternal principle, and of the origins of humankind as generated by devils, to explain the Fall. A fascinating, important work.

Brunet IV, 946; Caillet IV, S3200b. Not in Thorndike or Bib. Esoterica.
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