Eros and Magic in the Renaissance






Phantasms at Work



Empirical Psychology



Dangerous Liaisons



Pneumatic Magic



Intersubjective Magic



1. (pp. 3-27) "Phantasms at Work".

pp. 5-6 understanding and languages, by means of phantasms

p. 5

"Called phantasia or inner sense, the sidereal spirit transforms messages from the five senses in phantasms perceptible to the soul. For the soul cannot grasp anything that is not converted into a sequence of phantasms ... . ... The sensus interior, inner sense ..., ... is to keep its importance even for Descartes and to reappear ... at the beginning of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. ...


Fundamentally, ... body and soul speak two languages, which are not only different, even inconsistent, but also inaudible to each other. The inner sense alone is able to hear and comprehend them both, also having the role of translating one into the other. But considering the words of the soul’s language are phantasms, everything that reaches it from the body ... will have to be transposed into a phantasmic sequence. ...

Whence two separate and distinct grammars ... : a grammar of the spoken language and a grammar of the phantasmic language. Stemming from the soul, itself phantasmic ... ,

p. 6

intellect alone enjoys the privilege of understanding the phantasmic grammar ... . ... The doctrine of the phantasmic pneuma is ... the horizon of hope toward which human existence stretched for ... our species."

p. 7 distinct pneumata

"Erasistrates, whose opinions have come down to us through the writings of Galen, ... makes of the heart’s left ventricle the seat of the vital pneuma (Zotikon) and ...

he locates the psychic pneuma (psychikon) in the brain."

p. 9 the nature of pneuma

"Whereas, for Aristotle, the pneuma was just a thin casing around the soul,

{cf. the maya-kos`a-s (‘sheaths’) surrounding the atman (‘soul’)}

for the Stoics ... the pneuma is the soul itself, which penetrates the whole human body".

{cf. [in the Jaina system] the jiva co-extensive with the body}

p. 9 hegemonikon

In "Stoic theory ... a cardiac synthesizer, the hegemonic Principal (hegemonikon) receives all the pneumatic currents ... produced by the "comprehensible phantasms" (phantasia kataleptike) apprehended by the intellect. This has the only means to recognize "prints made upon the soul" ... produced by the Principal, which, like a spider in its web, from its seat in the heart ... is on the lookout for all information transmitted to it". [p. 226, n. 1:13 : "The comparison is in Calcidius, Commentary on the Timaeus, chap. 220". {according to Calcidius, "Chrysippus likens it to a spider in the midst of its web." (EGPhC, pp. 190-1)}]

EGPhC = By Ute Possekel : Evidence of Greek Philosophical Concepts in the Writings of Ephrem the Syrian. Louvain : Peeters, 1999.

p. 19 immoderate cogitation

[quoted from Andreas Capellanus : On Love (p. 228, n. 1:50 : written c. 1170 Chr.E.)] "When a man sees a woman deserving of erotic attentions, he at once ... explores [rimari, lit : splits] the private parts of her body."


2. (pp. 28-52) "Empirical Psychology".

p. 34 mnemonics

"alphabets propounded in 1520 by Johan Romberch in his Congestiorum artificiosae memoriae; in one of these each letter of the alphabet is replaced by a bird whose name starts with the appropriate letter ... .

The Florentine Dominican Cosimo Rosselli replaces birds with animals ... ."

"The Renaissance knew two Arts of memory : one, strictly utilitarian, was soon to degenerate into the alphabets of Romberch and Rosselli;

the other was a continuation of medieval mnemotechnics and the universal Art of Ramon Llull, who ... intended to construct a world of phantasms supposed to express approximately the realities of the intelligible order of which our world is but a distant and imperfect copy."

pp. 35-6 theatre of the phantasmic

p. 35

"intelligential relationships can be represented in the form of theater, ... by ... the Friulian Giulio Camillo Delminio ... . A professor at Bologna, Giulio Camillo ... set forth his schema ... published in Florence in 1550, L’Idea del Teatro. His construction, which had the form of an amphitheater of seven sections, ... as the sets linking terrestrial phenomena to corresponding planets ... were constructed according to correlations between a planet and certain animals, plants and stones ... transmitted by tradition ... of Hellenistic astrology. ...

p. 36

The subject matter ... came from Florentine Platonism. For example, the idea of the incorporation of the soul was represented by the image of Pasiphae and the Bull on the door of the fifth level. Pasiphae symbolized the soul attracted by the body (the Bull)".

p. 37 hieroglyphics & figurae

"The treatise, Hieroglyphica, attributed to Horapollon .... made ... the art of emblems that Giovanni Andrea Alciato (1492-1550), in his Emblematum Pater et Princeps, was to develop ..., not without debt to his precursor Pierio Valeriano (Giovan Pietro della Fosse, 1477-1558)". (cf. ME&H)

"Ficino ... conceived of ... a gradual rise in intellectual loftiness receiving in response from the intelligential world a phantasmic revelation in the form of figurae." (MF&A, p. 105, no. 5)

"These figurae, characters of an inner phantasmagoria staged by the soul itself, represent the modality by means of which the vision of the soul opens before the oculus spiritalis, the organ that has taught the inner consciousness about existence, through diligent meditation. This experience ... has to do with the formation of an "inner awareness," ... a phantasmal process ... to discover a means of communication between reason and intellect (the soul), and this means is provided by the spiritual eye, the mysterious organ that permits us to look upward toward the higher ontological levels." (ChO&Th, pp. 370 sq)

ME&H = E. Iversen : The Myth of Egypt and its Hieroglyphs in European Tradition. Copenhagen, 1961.

MF&A = Andre’ Chastel : Marsile Ficin et l’Art. Geneva : Droz, 1954.

ChO&Th = Hans Lewy : Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy. Cairo, 1956. (reprinted Paris : Etudes augustiniennes, 1978)

p. 38 inheritance by mankind of original sin

"The ludus globi is the supreme mystical game, the game the Titans made Dionysus play in order to seize him and put him to death. From the ashes of the Titans struck down by the lightning of Zeus, arose mankind, a race guilty without having sinned because of the deicide of its ancestors. But, since the Titans had incorporated part of the god, men also inherited a spark from the murdered child, ... the metaphor of the ages : "Aion is a child who plays checkers : sovereignty of a child!"" [p. 231, n. 2:37 : (Herakleitos, fragment 52) on the Orphic interpretation of this fragment, see ENSO]

ENSO = V. Macchioro : Eraclito, nuovi studi sull’ Orfismo. Bari, 1922.

pp. 40-2 significance of the Hypn-eroto-machia

p. 40

"from Treviso, Francesco Colonna ... in Padua ... is the author of ... the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which ... had been finished ... 1467, but was not published until 1499 ... . ...

p. 41

Taken literally, the title Hypnerotomachia means a "live fight during sleep." ... The tale ... is an enigma

p. 42

whose solution is given only at the end. ... The first part tells of the endless roaming of Poliphilus amid the ruins of antiquity, of triumphs, emblems and impresae, each with its own secret meaning. ... In the end, Poliphilus finds Polia, and the lovers plead their case before the heavenly tribunal of Venus."


3. (pp. 53-84) "Dangerous Liaisons".

pp. 65-6 mnemonic phantasms

p. 65

"Egyptian statues, "full of life, full of intelligence and spirit ... . Those statues foresee the future"" (Asc., IX; cf. Ficino, Op., II, p. 1865; Bruno, Op. it., II, p. 180).

p. 66

"the contents of De gl’heroici furori" : "The fifth dialogue in part 1 is a course in the Art of Memory applied to the intellectual processes, in fifteen chapters. The impresae symbolizing the stages of ... sophistry are explained in sonnets, which, in turn are the subject matter of the prose commentary. ... mnemonic image appearing on the escutcheon of the "heroic furor" ... . ... Other impresae, twelve in number, are commented on in the first dialogue of part 2."

pp. 67-8 transformation of one’s self through the divine grace of Eros {this process is similar to one of a tantrik nature, the [Bodish] gtum-mo, of Taoist provenience : there, the fire of the sun is ignited at the navel} {The feat of changing a human into a divinity is a Taoist type of accomplishment.}

p. 67

"grace ... of ... the heroic Eros establishes ... heat generated in the in the soul by the intelligential sun, and a divine impetus (impeto) that makes it grow wings" ([Bruno,] II, pp. 333-34) – an allusion to the myth of Phaedrus and to the wings of the soul, which, damaged by ... our entry into the world, could only be recovered by a few chosen people".

p. 68

" "The feat of the Heroic Furors is the changing of man into God, the homoiosis theo," E. Garin [CFRI, p. 703] tells us".

CFRI = Eugenio Garin : La cultura filosofica del Rinascimento italiano. Florence : Sansoni, 1961.

p. 72 transforming subjectivity

[quoted from Heroic Furors] "one [the subject] is not dead, because one lives in the object; one is not live, because one is dead within oneself" (II, p. 327).

{"For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." (Epistle to the Colossians 3:3)}

Colossians 3:3

pp. 80-1 Amphitrite; Onorio

p. 80

"in La Cabala del cavallo Pegaseo (1585) ... "All spirits come from Amphitrite, who is spirit, and all return there.""

{cf. "spirits from the vasty deep." (Henry the 4th, Pt. I, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 52 – "VD")}


"Onorio, the donkey, came from the environs of Thebes. ...

{cf. the god Tuphon, whose "brutish ass-head touched the stars" (GM 36.a) is related to "Cadmeians" (GM 36.4).}

p. 81

When his body was buried, the soul of Onorio, the equal of all other souls, flew to the zenith.


Reaching the river Lethe, it pretended to quench its thirst but actually kept intact the memory of its ecstatic adventures."

{As owner of a braying ass (Eurip. Cycl. – "S"), Silenos told of a stream which is able to age persons "backwards" (GM 83.b).}

"VD" =

"S" =


5. (pp. 107-29) "Pneumatic Magic".

pp. 112-3 Stoic philosophy

p. 112

"For the Stoics, the cosmos was conceived as a living organism, endowed with the faculty of reason, able to engender rational microcosms". (vide "MS", n. 85)


In "doctrine ... formulated by Zeno of Citium and developed by Cleanthes of Assos and his successor, Chrysippus ..., the macrocosm is also equipped with a hegemonikon, located in the sun, the heart of the world." (EDPS, p. 53)


According to Cicero (De divinatione I.30.63), "the Stoic philosophers practiced the prediction of future events through dreams. During sleep, Cicero informs us, the soul is detached "from contact with the body," ... to move about in time, learning things past or to come."

p. 113

"Stoic philosophers also develop a theory of phantasms produced by the hegemonikon. ... Stoics conceive of fantasy , according to Zeno and Cleanthes, as a "stamp upon the soul," a typosis en psyche.

Later, Epictetus is to state that phantasms are influenced by the state of the pneuma ... : "... external objects reflected in our psychic pneuma, ... are influenced by the present state of the pneuma."" (EDPS, p. 76)

"MS" = Ioan P. Couliano : "Magia spirituale e magia demonica nel Rinascimento". RIVISTA DI STORIA E LETTERATURA RELIGIOSA (Turin) 17 (1981):360-408.

EDPS = Ge’rard Verbeke : L’Evolution de la doctrine du pneuma du stoi:cisme. Louvain : D. de Brouwer, 1945.

pp. 113-4 soul-mirror & synthesizer

p. 113

"Credit for ... the theoretical basis for Renaissance magic is due to Synesius of Cyrene, ... the disciple of the Neoplatonist martyr, Hypatia of Alexandria (d. 415) ... . ...

p. 114

Synesius holds the pneumatic synthesizer responsible for soothsaying and magic. ... According to Platonic dogma, ... the synthesizer ... plays the role of a mirror, but a double-faced mirror that reflects both what is above ... and what is below ... . The synthesizer ... is formed by the "phantasmal spirit [phantastikon pneuma] which is the primary body of the soul in which visions and images are formed. ..."" (Synesius : De somniis 135d)

pp. 128-9 influence of Rosicrucianism

p. 128

"With respect to Tommaso Campanella, a dissident Calabrian monk at the beginning of the seventeenth century, whose political utopia seems to have exerted a decisive influence on the group of German friends who produced the "farce" (ludibrium) of the Rosicrucians [vide JT], he too cultivated a pneumatic magic deriving from

p. 129

Ficino, with ... rituals that were greatly appreciated by Pope Urban." (S&DM, pp. 203 sq)

JT = Klaus Arnold : Johannes Trithemius (1642-1516). Wu:rzburg, 1971.

S&DM = Daniel Pickering Walker : Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella. Warburg Institute, 1958.


6. (pp. 130-43) "Intersubjective Magic".

pp. 131-2 acquiring use of "the spirit of the world" {contrast : "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world ..." (1st Epistle to the Corinthians 2:12)}


spirit of the world


[quoted from Ficino : Vita coel., IV] "Man ... through his own spirit ..., thanks to art is made more compatible with the spirit of the world, namely, more heavenly. ...

First, the spirit must be purified by sufficient medicines to remove the vapors that becloud it.

Second, its luminosity must be restored by shiny things.

Third, it must be treated in such a way as to make it more subtle and harder."


[quoted from Ficino : Vita coel., XI] "When our spirit has been carefully prepared ..., it is able to receive many gifts through stellar rays, from the spirit of cosmic life. ... . ... it is possible to gain a great deal from the spirit of the world."

1st Corinthians 2:12 =

p. 133 contents of the space in the heart

"During sleep, the energies, or pranas, withdraw into the manas, or inner sense (a phenomenon known as "telescoping of pranas"); in the waking state, they circulate in the subtle body."

[(concerning akas`a hr.daya) quoted from the Chan.d.ogya 8:1] "The little space in the heart is as big as this great universe. The heavens and the earth are there, the sun, the moon, and the stars ...; and all that exists now and all that exists no longer".

"the Hesychastic mystic ... is using a technique called "cardioscopy," which consists in visualizing the space in the heart ... and trying to restore it all of its ... transparency."

p. 135 terms for ‘soul’

"the word thymos is itself related to ... Latin fumus, Sanscrit dhumah" {both meaning ‘smoke’}

{possibly, however, it may be related to [<ibri^] /dumah/ ‘silence’]

"As to the psyche, ... it derives from the verb psychein ("to breathe")".

{some /psukh-/ words mean ‘cold, cool; refrigerate’, however}

psukho = {Because this word is definitely not of Indo-European derivation, the Homeric meaning may not be determining.}

p. 137 bait enticing the soul

[quoted from Ficino : Vita coel., I] "For it is the universal soul itself that makes the bait [escas] that suits the soul and with which it can be bewitched {into remaining in the material body during life}, and it stay there { in the material body during life } willingly."

p. 139 sense-organ associations of the planets (Johannes of Hasfurt : De cognoscendis et medendis morbis, f. 113r)


its sense-organ


right eye


left [eye]










tongue & gullet

p. 141 activities stimulated by planets (according to Ficino : Vita coel., II)






"natural philosophy"


"virile certamina"

Sun & Mercury

"eloquence, music"






Ioan P. Couliano (transl. by Margaret Cook) : Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. U of Chicago Pr, 1987.