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Agrippa von Nettesheim, Henry Cornelius' (1486-1535): A German soldier and physician, and an adept in alchemy, astrology and magic. He was born at Cologne on the 14th of September, 1486, and educated at the University of Cologne. While still a youth he served under Maximilian I. of Germany. In 1509 he lectured at the University of Dole, but a charge of heresy brought against him by a monk named Catilinet compelled him to leave Dole, and he resumed his former occupation of soldier. In the following year he was sent on a diplomatic mission to England, and on his return followed Maximilian to Italy, where he passed seven years, now serving one noble patron, now another. Thereafter he held a post at Metz, returned to Cologne, practised medicine at Geneva, and was appointed physician to Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I.; but, on being given some task which he found irksome, he left the service of his patroness and denounced her bitterly. He then accepted a post offered him by Margaret, Duchess of Savoy, Regent of the Netherlands. On her death in 1530, he repaired to Cologne and Bonn, and thence to France, where he was arrested for some slighting mention of the Queen-Mother, Louise of Savoy. He was soon released, however, and died at Grenoble in 1535. Agrippa was a man of great talent and varied attainments. He was acquainted with eight languages, and was evidently a physician of no mean ability, as well as a soldier and a theologian. He had, moreover, many noble patrons. Yet, notwithstanding these advantages, he never seemed to be free from misfortune; persecution and financial difficulties dogged his footsteps, and in Brussels he suffered imprisonment for debt. He himself was in a measure responsible for his troubles. He was, in fact, an adept in the gentle art of making enemies, and the persecution of the monks with whom he frequently came into conflict was bitter and increasing. His principal works were a defence of magic, entitled De occulta philosophia, which was not published until 1531, though it was written some twenty years earlier, and a satirical attack on the scientific pretensions of his day, De incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum et Artium atque Excellentia Verbi Dei Declamatio, also published at Antwerp in 1531. His other works included a treatise De Nobilitate et Praecellentia Feminu Sexus, dedicated to Margaret of Burgundy out of gratitude for her patronage.
His interest in alchemy and magic dated from an early period of his life, and gave rise to many tales of his occult powers. It was said that he was always accompanied by a familiar in the shape of a large black dog. On his death he renounced his magical works and addressed his familiar thus: "Begone, wretched animal, the entire cause of my destruction! The animal fled from the room and straightway plunged into the Saom, where it perished. At the inns where he stayed, Agrippa paid his bills with money that appeared genuine enough at the time, but which afterwards turned to worthless horn or shell, like the fairy money which turned to earth after sunset. He is said to have summoned Tully to pronounce his oration for Roscius, in the presence of John George, elector of Saxony, the Earl of Surrey, Erasmus, and other eminent people. Tully duly appeared, delivered his famous oration, and left his audience deeply moved. Agrippa had a magic glass, wherein it was possible to see objects distant in time or place. On one occasion Surrey saw therein his mistress, the beautiful Geraldine, lamenting the absence of her noble lover.
One other story concerning the magician is worthy of record. Once when about to leave home for a short time, he entrusted to his wife the key of his museum, warning her on no account to permit anyone to enter. But the curiosity of a boarder in their house prompted him to beg for the key, till at length the harrassed hostess gave it to him. The first thing that caught the student's attention was a book of spells, from which he began to read. A knock sounded on the door. The student took no notice, but went on reading, and the knock was repeated. A moment later a demon entered, demanding to know why he had been summoned. The student was too terrified to make reply, and the angry demon seized him by the throat and strangled him. At the same moment Agrippa entered, having returned unexpectedly from his journey. Fearing that he would be charged with the murder of the youth, he persuaded the demon to restore him to life for a little while, and walk him up and down the market place. The demon consented; the people saw the student apparently alive and in good health, and when the demon allowed the semblance of life to leave the body, they thought the young man had died a natural death. However, an examination clearly showed that he had been strangled. The true state of affairs leaked out, and Agrippa was forced to flee for his life.
These fabrications of the popular imagination were probably encouraged rather than suppressed by Agrippa, who loved to surround his comparatively harmless pursuits of alchemy and astrology with an air of mystery calculated to inspire awe and terror in the minds of the ignorant. It is known that he had correspondents in all parts of the world, and that from their letters, which he received in his retirement, he gleaned the knowledge which he was popularly believed to obtain from his familiars.