Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

A is for Agrippa von Nettesheim

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim was born in Cologne on September 14th, 1486. After several years as a mercenary in Spain and France, Agrippa received the patronage of Margaret of Austria, among others, and became a lecturer at the University of Dôle. His interest in Jewish theology led to his giving a course on Johann Reuchlin’s De verbo mirifico, one sign of his interest in Christian cabalistic texts. These lectures led to his receiving a doctorate in Theology.

For this series, which concentrates on women writers, but includes a handful of entries of men who wrote on women, my interest in Agrippa’s academic career concentrates on a book he wrote while at Dôle. De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminae sexus (On the Nobility and Excellence of the Feminine Sex), is a work that tried to prove the theological and moral superiority of women using Christian cabalistic ideas, many based on Reuchlin’s work.

For further reading:

Agrippa von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius, 1486?-1536. Declamation on the nobility and preeminence of the female sex, translated and edited with an introduction by Albert Rabil, Jr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.


6 thoughts on “A is for Agrippa von Nettesheim”

  1. Pedestals are dangerous places… they tend to be poorly balanced and topple easily. But, in a society that for so long had treated women not only as inferior but even damnable, a little extra praise must have seemed a good idea.

    1. Yes, von Nettesheim definitely goes overboard, and a bit too far on the pendulum swing, but I agree with you that it probably felt necessary to overreach in order to balance things slightly better. I liked opening with him, since the succeeding women writers also swing back and forth on that pendulum.

      1. Much the way history swings back and forth. I know I try to achieve a balance but rarely do. Maybe it’s human nature?

  2. Interesting choice! When I saw your theme, I made a private bet with myself (which I’ve obviously lost) that either A or B would be for Aphra Behn. However, your choice makes a lot of sense; sort of setting the tone of the A to Z, and reminding us that there were other views on the female sex besides that of Agrippa’s. A good choice, therefore. Thanks!

    1. Aphra is one of my favorites, and is an obvious choice. However, I interpersed some men at the beginning, near the middle, and near the end of the alphabet to resonate against the common male (usually religious) perspective of the Middle Ages. I’m glad you saw the rationale.

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