The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

by Jacob Burckhardt

translated by S.G.C. Middlemore, 1878

Part Six


Influence of Ancient Superstition

But in another way, and that dogmatically, antiquity exercised perilous influence. It imparted to the Renaissance its own forms of superstition. Some fragments of this had survived in Italy all through the Middle Ages, and the resuscitation of the whole was thereby made so much the more easy. The part played by the imagination in the process need not be dwelt upon. This only could have silenced the critical intellect of the Italians.

The belief in a Divine government of the world was in many minds destroyed by the spectacle of so much injustice and misery. Others, like Dante, surrendered at all events this life to the caprices of chance, and if they nevertheless retained a sturdy faith, it was because they held that the higher destiny of man would be accomplished in the life to come. But when the belief in immortality began to waver, then Fatalism got the upper hand, or sometimes the latter came first and had the former as its consequence.

The gap thus opened was in the first place filled by the astrology of antiquity, or even of the Arabs. From the relation of the planets among themselves and to the signs of the zodiac. future events and the course of whole lives were inferred, and the most weighty decisions were taken in consequence. In many cases the line of action thus adopted at the suggestion of the stars may not have been more immoral than that which would otherwise have been followed. But too often the decision must have been made at the cost of honour and conscience. It is profoundly instructive to observe how powerless culture and enlightenment were against this delusion; since the latter had its support in the ardent imagination of the people, in the passionate wish to penetrate and determine the future. Antiquity, too, was on the side of astrology.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century this superstition suddenly appeared in the foreground of Italian life. The Emperor Frederick II always travelled with his astrologer Theodorus; and Ezzelino da Romano with a large, well-paid court of such people, among them the famous Guido Bonatto and the long-bearded Saracen, Paul of Baghdad. In all important undertakings they fixed for him the day and the hour, and the gigantic atrocities of which he was guilty may have been in part practical inferences from their prophecies. Soon all scruples about consulting the stars ceased. Not only princes, but free cities, had their regular astrologers, and at the universities, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, professors of this pseudo-science were appointed, and lectured side by side with the astronomers. The Popes commonly made no secret of their stargazing, though Pius II, who also despised magic, omens, and the interpretation of dreams, is an honorable exception. Even Leo X seems to have thought the flourishing condition of astrology a credit to his pontificate, and Paul III never held a Consistory till the stargazers had fixed the hour.

It may fairly be assumed that the better natures did not allow their actions to be determined by the stars beyond a certain point, and that there was a limit where conscience and religion made them pause. In fact, not only did pious and excellent people share the delusion, but they actually came forward to profess it publicly. One of these was Maestro Pagolo of Florence, in whom we can detect the same desire to bring astrology to moral account which meets us in the late Roman Firmicus Maternus. His life was that of a saintly ascetic. He ate almost nothing, despised all temporal goods, and only collected books. A skilled physician, he only practiced among his friends, and made it a condition of his treatment that they should confess their sins. He frequented the small but famous circle which assembled in the Monastery of the Angeli around Fra Ambrogio Camaldolese. He also saw much of Cosimo the Elder, especially in his last years; for Cosimo accepted and used astrology, though probably only for objects of lesser importance. As a rule, however, Pagolo only interpreted the stars to his most confidential friends. But even without this severity of morals, the astrologers might be highly respected and show themselves everywhere. There were also far more of them in Italy than in other European countries, where they only appeared at the great courts, and there not always. All the great householders in Italy, when the fashion was once established, kept an astrologer, who, it must be added, was not always sure of his dinner. Through the literature of this science, which was widely diffused even before the invention of printing, a dilettantism also grew up which as far as possible followed in the steps of the masters. The worst class of astrologers were those who used the stars either as an aid or a cloak to magical arts.

Yet apart from the latter, astrology is a miserable feature in the life of that time. What a figure do all these highly gifted, many-sided, original characters play, when the blind passion for knowing and determining the future dethrones their powerful will and resolution! Now and then, when the stars send them too cruel a message, they manage to brace themselves up, act for themselves, and say boldly: 'Vir sapiens dominabitus lustris', the wise man is master of the stars--and then again relapse into the old delusion.

In all the better families the horoscope of the children was drawn as a matter of course, and it sometimes happened that for half a lifetime men were haunted by the idle expectation of events which never occurred! The stars were questioned whenever a great man had to come to any important decision, and even consulted as to the hour at which any undertaking was to be begun. The journeys of princes, the reception of foreign ambassadors, the laying of the foundation-stones of public buildings, depended on the answer. A striking instance of the latter occurs in the life of the aforenamed Guido Bonatto, who by his personal activity and by his great systematic work on the subject deserves to be called the restorer of astrology in the thirteenth century. In order to put an end to the struggle of the Guelphs and Ghibellines at Forli, he persuaded the inhabitants to rebuild the city walls and to begin the works under a constellation indicated by himself. If then two men, one from each party, at the same moment put a stone into the foundation, there would henceforth and for ever be no more party divisions in Forli. A Guelph and a Ghibelline were selected for this office; the solemn moment arrived, each held the stone in his hands, the workmen stood ready with their implements. Bonatto gave the signal, and the Ghibelline threw down his stone on to the foundation. But the Guelph hesitated, and at last refused to do anything at all, on the ground that Bonatto himself had the reputation of a Ghibelline and might be devising some mysterious mischief against the Guelphs. Upon which the astrologer addressed him: 'God damn thee and the Guelph party with your distrustful malice! This constellation will not appear above our city for 500 years to come.' In fact God soon afterwards did destroy the Guelphs of Forli, but now, writes the chronicler about 1480, the two parties are thoroughly reconciled, and their very names are heard no longer.

Nothing that depended upon the stars was more important than decisions in time of war. The same Bonatto procured for the great Ghibelline leader Guido da Montefeltro a series of victories, by telling him the propitious hour for marching. When Montefeltro was no longer accompanied by him he lost the courage to maintain his despotism, and entered a Minorite monastery, where he lived as a monk for many years till his death. In the war with Pisa in 1362, the Florentines commissioned their astrologer to fix the hour for the march, and almost came too late through suddenly receiving orders to take a circuitous route through the city. On former occasions they had marched out by the Via di Borgo Santi Apostoli, and the campaign had been unsuccessful. It was clear that there was some bad omen connected with the exit through this street against Pisa, and consequently the army was now led out by the Porta Rossa. But as the tents stretched out there to dry had not been taken away, the flags--another bad omen--had to be lowered. The influence of astrology in war was confirmed by the fact that nearly all the Condottieri believed in it. Jacopo Caldora was cheerful in the most serious illness, knowing that he was fated to fall in battle, which in fact happened. Bartolommeo Alviano was convinced that his wounds in the head were as much a gift of the stars as his military command. Niccolo Orsini-Pitigliano asked the physicist and astrologer Alessandro Benedetto to fix a favourable hour for the conclusion of his bargain with Venice. When the Florentines on June 1, 1498, solemnly invested their new Condottiere Paolo Vitelli with his office, the Marshal's staff which they handed him was, at his own wish, decorated with pictures of the constellations.

Sometimes it is not easy to make out whether }n important political events the stars were questioned beforehand, or whether the astrologers were simply impelled afterwards by curiosity to find out the constellation which decided the result. When Giangaleazzo Visconti by a master-stroke of policy took prisoner his uncle Bernabo, with the latter's family (1385), we are told by a contemporary that Jupiter, Saturn and Mars stood in the house of the Twins, but we cannot say if the deed was resolved on in consequence. It is also probable that the advice of the astrologers was often determined by political calculation not less than by the course of the planets.

All Europe, through the latter part of the Middle Ages, had allowed itself to be terrified by predictions of plagues, wars, floods, and earthquakes, and in this respect Italy was by no means behind other countries. The unlucky year 1494, which for ever opened the gates of Italy to the stranger, was undeniably ushered in by many prophecies of misfortune--only we cannot say whether such prophecies were not ready for each and every year.

This mode of thought was extended with thorough consistency into regions where we should hardly expect to meet with it. If the whole outward and spiritual life of the individual is determined by the facts of his birth, the same law also governs groups of individuals and historical products --that is to say, nations and religions; and as the constellation of these things changes, so do the things themselves. The idea that each religion has its day, first came into Italian culture in connection with these astrological beliefs. The conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn brought forth, we are told, the faith of Israel; that of Jupiter and Mars, the Chaldean; with the Sun, the Egyptian; with Venus, the Mohammedan; with Mercury, the Christian; and the conjunction of Jupiter with the Moon will one day bring forth the religion of Antichrist. Cecco d'Ascoli had already blasphemously calculated the nativity of Christ, and deduced from it his death upon the Cross. For this he was burnt at the stake in 1327, at Florence. Doctrines of this sort ended by simply darkening men's whole perceptions of spiritual things.

So much more worthy then of recognition is the warfare which the clear Italian spirit waged against this army of delusions. Notwithstanding the great monumental glorification of astrology, as in the frescoes in the Salone at Padua, and those in Borso's summer palace (Schifanoia) at Ferrara, notwithstanding the shameless praises of even such a man as the elder Beroaldus, there was no want of thoughtful and independent minds to protest against it. Here, too, the way had been prepared by antiquity, but it was their own common sense and observation which taught them what to say. Petrarch's attitude towards the astrologers, whom he knew by personal intercourse, is one of bitter contempt; and no one saw through their system of lies more clearly than he. The novels, from the time when they first began to appear from the time of the 'Cento novelle antiche,' are almost always hostile to the astrologers. The Florentine chroniclers bravely keep themselves free from the delusions which, as part of historical tradition, they are compelled to record. Giovanni Villani says more than once, 'No constellation can subjugate either the free will of man, or the counsels of God.' Matteo Villani declares astrology to be a vice which the Florentines had inherited, along with other superstitions, from their pagan ancestors, the Romans. The question, however, did not remain one for mere literary discussion, but the parties for and against disputed publicly. After the terrible floods of 1333, and again in 1345, astrologers and theologians discussed with great minuteness the influence of the stars, the will of God, and the justice of his punishments. These struggles never ceased throughout the whole time of the Renaissance, and we may conclude that the protestors were ill earnest, since it was easier for them to recommend themselves to the great by defending, than by opposing astrology.

In the circle of Lorenzo the Magnificent, among his most distinguished Platonists, opinions were divided on this question. Marsilio Ficino defended astrology, and drew the horoscope of the children of the house, promising the little Giovanni, afterwards Leo X, that he would one day be Pope. Pico della Mirandola, on the other hand, made an epoch in the subject by his famous refutation. He detects in this belief the root of all impiety and immorality. If the astrologer, he maintains, believes in anything at all, he must worship not God, but the planets, from which all good and evil are derived. All other superstitions find a ready instrument in astrology, which serves as handmaid to geomancy, chiromancy, and magic of every kind. As to morality, he maintains that nothing can more foster evil than the opinion that heaven itself is the cause of it, in which case the faith in eternal happiness and punishment must also disappear. Pico even took the trouble to check off the astrologers inductively, and found that in the course of a month three-fourths of their weather prophecies turned out false. But his main achievement was to set forth, in the Fourth Book, a positive Christian doctrine of the freedom of the will and the government of the universe, which seems to have made a greater impression on the educated classes throughout Italy than all the revivalist preachers put together. The latter, in fact, often failed to reach these classes.

The first result of his book was that the astrologers ceased to publish their doctrines, and those who had already printed them were more or less ashamed of what they had done. Gioviano Pontano, for example, in his book on Fate, had recognized the science, and in a great work of his had expounded the whole theory of it in the style of the old Firmicus, ascribing to the stars the growth of every bodily and spiritual quality. He now in his dialogue 'Aegidius' surrendered, if not astrology, at least certain astrologers) and sounded the praises of free will, by which man is enabled to know God. Astrology remained more or less in fashion, but seems not to have governed human life in the way it formerly had done. The art of painting, which in the fifteenth century had done its best to foster the delusion now expressed the altered tone of thought. Raphael, in the cupola of the Capella Chigi, represents the gods of the different planets and the starry firmament, watched, however, and guided by beautiful angel-figures, and receiving from above the blessing of the eternal Father. There was also another cause which now began to tell against astrology in Italy. The Spaniards took no interest in it, not even the generals, and those who wished to gain their favour declared open war against the half-heretical, half-Mohammedan science. It is true that Guic- ciardini writes in the year 1529: 'How happy are the astrologers, who are believed if they tell one truth to a hundred lies, while other people lose all credit if they tell one lie to a hundred truths.' But the contempt for astrology did not necessarily lead to a return to the belief in Providence. It could as easily lead to an indefinite fatalism.

In this respect, as in others, Italy was unable to make its own way healthily through the ferment of the Renaissance, because the foreign invasion and the Counter-Reformation came upon it in the middle. Without such interfering causes its own strength would have enabled it thoroughly to get rid of these fantastic illusions. Those who hold that the onslaught of the strangers and the Catholic reactions were necessities for which the Italian people was itself solely responsible, will look on the spiritual bankruptcy which they produced as a just retribution. But it is a pity that the rest of Europe had indirectly to pay so large a part of the penalty.

The belief in omens seems a much more innocent matter than astrology. The Middle Ages had everywhere inherited them in abundance from the various pagan religions; and Italy did not differ in this respect from other countries. What is characteristic of Italy is the support lent by humanism to the popular superstition. The pagan inheritance was here backed up by a pagan literary development.

The popular superstition of the Italians rested largely on premonitions and inferences drawn from ominous occurrences. with which a good deal of magic, mostly of an innocent sort, was connected. There was, however. no lack of learned humanists who boldly ridiculed these delusions, and to whose attacks we partly owe the knowledge of them. Gioviano Pontano, the author of the great astrological work already mentioned above, enumerates with pity in his 'Charon' a long string of Neapolitan superstitions--the grief of the women when a fowl or goose caught the pip; the deep anxiety of the nobility if a hunting falcon did not come home, or if a horse sprained its foot; the magical formulae of the Apulian peasants, recited on three Saturday evenings, when mad dogs were at large. The animal kingdom, as in antiquity, was regarded as specially significant in this respect, and the behavior of the lions, leopards, and other beasts kept by the State gave the people all the more food for reflection, because they had come to be considered as living symbols of the State. During the siege of Florence, in 1597 an eagle which had been shot at fled into the city, and the Signoria gave the bearer four ducats because the omen was good. Certain times and places were favourable or unfavorable, or even decisive one way or the other, for certain actions. The Florentines, so Varchi tells us, held Saturday to be the fateful day on which all important events, good as well as bad, commonly happened. Their prejudice against marching out to war through a particular street has been already mentioned. At Perugia one of the gates, the 'Porta Eburnea,' was thought lucky, and the Baglioni always went out to fight through it. Meteors and the appearance of the heavens were as significant in Italy as elsewhere in the Middle Ages, and the popular imagination saw warring armies in an unusual formation of clouds, and heard the clash of their collision high in the air. The superstition became a more serious matter when it attached itself to sacred things, when figures of the Virgin wept or moved the eyes, or when public calamities were associated with some alleged act of impiety, for which the people demanded expia- tion. In 1478, when Piacenza was visited with a violent and prolonged rainfall, it was said that there would be no dry weather till a certain usurer, who had been lately buried in San Francesco, had ceased to rest in consecrated earth. As the bishop was not obliging enough to have the corpse dug up the young fellows of the town took it by force, dragged it down the streets amid frightful confusion, and at last threw it into the Po. Even Politian accepted this point of view in speaking of Giacomo Pazzi, one of the chiefs of the conspiracy of 1478, In Florence, which is called after his family. When he was put to death, he devoted his soul to Satan with fearful words; here, too, rain followed and threatened to ruin the harvest; here, too, a party of men, mostly peasants, dug up the body in the church, and immediately the clouds departed and the sun shone--'so gracious was fortune to the opinion of the people,' adds the great scholar. The corpse was first cast into unhallowed ground, the next day dug up, and after a horrible procession through the city thrown into the Arno.

These facts and the like bear a popular character, and might have occurred in the tenth, just as well as in the sixteenth century. But now comes the literary influence of antiquity. We know positively that the humanists were peculiarly accessible to prodigies and auguries, and instances of this have been already quoted. If further evidence were needed, it would be found in Poggio. The same radical thinker who denied the rights of noble birth and the inequality of men, not only believed in all the mediaeval stories of ghosts and devils, but also in prodigies after the ancient pattern, like those said to have occurred on the last visit of Pope Eugenius IV to Florence. 'Near Como there were seen one evening four thousand dogs, who took the road to Germany; these were followed by a great herd of cattle, and these by an army on foot and horseback, some with no heads and some with almost invisible heads, and then a gigantic horseman with another herd of cattle behind him.' Poggio also believes in a battle of magpies and jackdaws. He even relates, perhaps without being aware of it, a well-preserved piece of ancient mythology. On the Dalmatian coast a Triton had appeared, bearded and horned, a genuine sea-satyr, ending in fins and a tail; he carried away women and children from the shore, till five stout-hearted washerwomen killed him with sticks and stones. A wooden model of the monster, which was exhibited at Ferrara, makes the whole story credible to Poggio. Though there were no more oracles, and it was no longer possible to take counsel of the gods, yet it became again the fashion to open Virgil at hazard, and take the passage hit upon as an omen ('Sorted Virgilianae'). Nor can the belief in daemons current in the later period of antiquity have been without influence on the Renaissance. The work of Iamblichus or Abarnmon on the Mysteries of the Egyptians, which may have contributed to this result, was printed in a Latin translation at the end of the fifteenth century. The Platonic Academy at Florence was not free from these and other neoplatonic delusions of the Roman decadence. A 'few words must here be given to the belief in demons and to the magic which was connected with this belief.

The popular faith in what is called the spirit-world was nearly the same in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. In Italy as elsewhere there were ghosts, that is, reappearances of deceased persons; and if the view taken of them differed in any respect from that which prevailed in the North, the difference betrayed itself only in the ancient name 'ombra.' Even nowadays if such a shade presents itself, a couple of Masses are said for its repose. That the spirits of bad men appear in a dreadful shape, is a matter of course, but along with this we find the notion that the ghosts of the departed are universally malicious. The dead, says the priest in a novel of Bandello, kill the little children. It seems as if a certain shade was here thought of as separate from the soul, since the latter suffers in Purgatory, and when it appears, does nothing but wail and pray. At other times what appears is not the ghost of a man, but of an event - -of a past condition of things. So the neighbors explained the diabolical appearances in the old palace of the Visconti near San Giovanni in Conca, at Milan, since here it was that Bernab• Visconti had caused countless victims of his tyranny to be tortured and strangled, and no wonder if there were strange things to be seen. One evening a swarm of poor people with candles in their hands appeared to a dishonest guardian of the poor at Perugia, and danced round about him; a great figure spoke in threatening tones on their behalf, it was St. Alo, the patron saint of the poorhouse. These modes of belief were so much a matter of course that the poets could make use of them as something which every reader would understand. The appearance of the slain Lodovico Pico under the walls of the besieged Mirandola is finely represented by Castiglione. It is true that poetry made the freest use of these conceptions when the poet himself had outgrown them.

Italy, too, shared the belief in demons with the other nations of the Middle Ages. Men were convinced that God sometimes allowed bad spirits of every class to exercise a destructive influence on parts of the world and of human life. The only reservation made was that the man to whom the Evil One came as tempter, could use his free will to resist. In Italy the demonic influence, especially as shown in natural events, easily assumed a character of poetical greatness. In the night before the great inundation of the Val d'Arno in 1333, a pious hermit above Vallombrosa heard a diabolical tumult in his cell, crossed himself, stepped to the door, and saw a crowd of black and terrible knights gallop by in amour. When conjured to stand, one of them said: 'We go to drown the city of Florence on account of its sins, if God will let us.' With this, the nearly contemporary vision at Venice (1340) may be compared, out of which a great master of the Venetian school, probably Giorgione, made the marvelous picture of a galley full of daemons, which speeds with the swiftness of a bird over the stormy lagoon to destroy the sinful island-city, till the three saintS, who have stepped unobserved into a poor boatman's skiff, exorcised the fiends and sent them and their vessel to the bottom of the waters.

To this belief the illusion was now added that by means of magical arts it was possible to enter into relations with the evil ones, and use their help to further the purposes of greed, ambition, and sensuality. Many persons were probably accused of doing so before the time when it was actually attempted by many; but when the so-called magicians and witches began to be burned, the deliberate practice of the black art became more frequent. With the smoke of the fires in which the suspected victims were sacrificed, were spread the narcotic fumes by which numbers of ruined characters were drugged into magic; and with them many calculating impostors became associated.

The primitive and popular form in which the superstition had probably lived on uninterruptedly from the time of the Romans, was the art of the witch (strege). The witch, so long as she limited herself to mere divination, might be innocent enough. were it not that the transition from prophecy to active help could easily, though often imperceptibly, be a fatal downward step. She was credited in such a case not only with the power of exciting love or hatred between man and woman, but also with purely destructive and malignant arts, and was especially charged with the sickness of little children, even when the malady obviously came from the neglect and stupidity of the parents. It is still questionable how far she was supposed to act by mere magical ceremonies and formula, or by a conscious alliance with the fiends, apart from the poisons and drugs which she administered with a full knowledge of their effect.

The more innocent form of the superstition, in which the mendicant friar could venture to appear as the competitor of the witch, is shown in the case of the witch of Gaeta whom we read of in Pontano. His traveller Suppatius reaches her dwelling while she is giving audience to a girl and a servingmaid, who come to her with a black hen, nine eggs laid on a Friday, a duck, and some white thread, for it is the third day since the new moon. They are then sent away, and bidden to come again at twilight. It is to be hoped that nothing worse than divination is intended. The mistress of the servant-maid is pregnant by a monk; the girl's lover has proved untrue and has gone into a monastery. The witch complains: 'Since my husband's death I support myself in this way, and should make a good thing of it, since the Gaetan women have plenty of faith, were it not that the monks balk me of my gains by explaining dreams, appeasing the anger of the saints for money, promising husbands to the girls, men-children to the pregnant women, offspring to the barren, and besides all this visiting the women at night when their husbands are away fishing, in accordance with the assignations made in daytime at church.' Suppatius warns her against the envy of the monastery, but she has no fear, since the guardian of it is an old acquaintance of hers.

But the superstition further gave rise to a worse sort of witches, namely those who deprived men of their health and life. In these cases the mischief, when not sufficiently accounted for by the evil eye and the like, was naturally attributed to the aid of powerful spirits. The punishment, as we have seen in the case of Finicella, was the stake; and yet a compromise with fanaticism was sometimes practicable. According to the laws of Perugia, for example, a witch could settle the affair by paying down 400 pounds. The matter was not then treated with the seriousness and consistency of later times. In the territories of the Church? at Norcia (Nursia), the home of St. Benedict in the upper Apennines, there was a perfect nest of witches and sorcerers, and no secret was made of it. It is spoken of in one of the most remarkable letters of Aeneas Sylvius, belonging to his earlier period. He writes to his brother: 'The bearer of this came to me to ask if I knew of a Mount of Venus in Italy, for in such a place magical arts were taught, and his master, a Saxon and a great astronomer, was anxious to learn them. I told him that I knew of a Porto Venere not far from Carrara, on the rocky coast of Liguria, where I spent three nights on the way to Basle; I also found that there was a mountain called Eryx, in Sicily, which was dedicated to Venus, but I did not know whether magic was taught here. But it came into my mind while talking, that in Umbria, in the old Duchy (Spoleto)? near the town of Nursia, there is a cave beneath a steep rock, in which water flows. There, as I remember to have heard, are witches (striges), demons, and nightly shades, and he that has the courage can see and speak to ghosts (spiritus), and learn magical arts. I have not seen it, nor taken any trouble about it, for that which is learned with sin is better not learned at all.' He nevertheless names his informant, and begs his brother to take the bearer of the letter to him, should he be still alive. Aeneas goes far enough here in his politeness to a man of position, but personally he was not only freer from superstition than his contemporaries, but he also stood a test on the subject which not every educated man of our own day could endure. At the time of the Council of Basle, when he lay sick of the fever for seventy-five days at Milan, he could never be persuaded to listen to the magic doctors, though a man was brought to his bedside who a short time before had marvelously cured 2,000 soldiers of fever in the camp of Piccinino. While still an invalid, Aeneas rode over the mountains to Basle, and got well on the journey.

We learn something more about the neighborhood of Norcia through the necromancer who tried to get Benvenuto Cellini into his power. A new book of magic was to be consecrated, and the best place for the ceremony was among the mountains in that district. The master of the magician had once, it is true, done the same thing near the abbey of Farfa, but had there found difficulties which did not present themselves at Norcia; further, the peasants in the latter neighborhood were trustworthy people who had had practice in the matter, and who could afford considerable help in case of need. The expedition did not take place, else Benvenuto would probably have been able to tell us something of the impostor's assistants. The whole neighborhood was then proverbial. Aretino says somewhere of an enchanted well, 'there dwell the sisters of the sibyl of Norcia and the aunt of the Fata Gloriana.' And about the same time Trissino could still celebrate the place in his great epic with all the resources of poetry and allegory as the home of authentic prophecy.

After the notorious Bull of Innocent VIII (1484), witchcraft and the persecution of witches grew into a great and revolting system. The chief representatives of this system of persecution were German Dominicans; and Germany and, curiously enough, those parts of Italy nearest Germany were the countries most afflicted by this plague. The bulls and injunctions of the Popes themselves refer, for example, to the Dominican Province of Lombardy, to Cremona, to the dioceses of Brescia and Bergamo. We learn from Sprenger's famous theoretico-practical guide, the 'Malleus Maleficarum,' that forty-one witches were burnt at Como in the first year after the publication of the bull; crowds of Italian women took refuge in the territory of the Archduke Sigismund, where they believed themselves to be still safe. Witchcraft ended by taking firm root in a few unlucky Alpine valleys, especially in the Val Camonica; the system of persecution had succeeded in permanently infecting with the delusion those populations which were in any way predisposed for it. This essentially German form of witchcraft is what we should think of when reading the stories and novels of Milan or Bologna. That it did not make further progress in Italy is probably due to the fact that here a highly developed 'stregheria' was already in existence, resting on a different set of ideas. The Italian witch practiced a trade, and needed for it money and, above all, sense. We find nothing about her of the hysterical dreams of the Northern witch, of marvelous journeys through the air, of Incubus and Succubus; the business of the 'strega' was to provide for other people's pleasures. If she was credited with the power of assuming different shapes, or of transporting herself suddenly to distant places, she was so far content to accept this reputation, as her influence was thereby increased; on the other hand, it was perilous for her when the fear of her malice and vengeance, and especially of her power for enchanting children, cattle, and crops, became general. Inquisitors and magistrates were then most thoroughly in accord with popular wishes if they burnt her.

By far the most important field for the activity of the 'strega' lay, as has been said, in love-affairs, and included the stirring up of love and of hatred, the producing of abortion, the pretended murder of the unfaithful man or woman by magical arts, and even the manufacture of poisons. Owing to the unwillingness of many persons to have to do with these women, class of occasional practitioners arose who secretly learned from them some one or other of their arts, and then used this knowledge on their own account. The Roman prostitutes, for example, tried to enhance their personal attractions by charms of another description in the style of the Horatian Canidia. Aretino may not only have known, but have also told the truth about them in this particular. He gives a list of the loathsome messes which were to be found in their boxes--hair, skulls, ribs, teeth, dead men's eyes, human skin, the navels of little children, the soles of shoes and pieces of clothing from tombs. They even went themselves to the graveyard and fetched bits of rotten flesh, which they slyly gave their lovers to eat--with more that is still worse. Pieces of the hair and nails of the lover were boiled in oil stolen from the ever-burning lamps in the church. The most innocuous of their charms was to make a heart of glowing ashes, and then to pierce it while singing:

'Prima che'l fuoco spenghi,

Fa ch'a mia porta venghi;

Tal ti punga mio amore

Quale io fo questo cuore.'

There were other charms practiced by moonshine, with drawings on the ground, and figures of wax or bronze, which doubtless represented the lover, and were treated according to circumstances.

These things were so customary that a woman who, without youth and beauty, nevertheless exercised a powerful charm on men, naturally became suspected of witchcraft. The mother of Sanga, secretary to Clement VII, poisoned her son's mistress, who was a woman of this kind. Unfortunately the son died too, as well as a party of friends who had eaten of the poisoned salad.

Next comes, not as helper, but as competitor to the witch, the magician or enchanter--'incantatore'--who was still more familiar with the most perilous business of the craft. Sometimes he was as much or more of an astrologer than of a magician; he probably often gave himself out as an astrologer in order not to be prosecuted as a magician, and a certain astrology was essential in order to find out the favourable hour for a magical process. But since many spirits are good or indifferent, the magician could sometimes maintain a very tolerable reputation, and Sixtus IV, in the year 1474, had to proceed expressly against some Bolognese Carmelites, who asserted in the pulpit that there was no harm in seeking information from the demons. Very many people believed in the possibility of the thing itself; an indirect proof of this lies in the fact that the most pious men believed that by prayer they could obtain visions of good spirits. Savonarola's mind was filled with these things; the Florentine Platonists speak of a mystic union with God; and Marcellus Palingenius gives us to understand clearly enough that he had to do with consecrated spirits. The same writer is convinced of the existence of a whole hierarchy of bad demons, who have their seat from the moon downwards, and are ever on the watch to do some mischief to nature and human life. He even tells of his own personal acquaintance with some of them, and as the scope of the present work does not allow of a systematic exposition of the then prevalent belief in spirits, the narrative of Palingenius may be given as one instance out of many.

At San Silvestro, on Soracte, he had been receiving instruction from a pious hermit on the nothingness of earthly things and the worthlessness of human life; and when the night drew near he set out on his way back to home. On the road, in the full light of the moon, he was joined by three men, one of whom called him by name, and asked him whence he came. Palingenius made answer: 'From the wise man on the mountain.' 'O fool,' replied the stranger, 'dost thou in truth believe that anyone on earth is wise? Only higher beings (Divi) have wisdom, and such are we three, although we wear the shapes of men. I am named Saracil, and these two Sathiel and Jana. Our kingdom lies near the moon, where dwell that multitude of intermediate beings who have sway over earth and sea.' Palingenius then asked, not without an inward tremor, what they were going to do at Rome. The answer was: 'One of our comrades, Ammon, is kept in servitude by the magic arts of a youth from Narni, one of the attendants of Cardinal Orsini; for mark it, O men, there is proof of your own immortality therein, that you can control one of us: I myself shut up in crystal, was once forced to serve a German, till a bearded monk set me free. This is the service which we wish to render at Rome to our friend, and he shall also take the opportunity of sending one or two distinguished Romans to the nether world.' At these words a light breeze arose, and Sathiel said: 'Listen, our messenger is coming back from Rome, and this wind announces him.' And then another being appeared, whom they greeted joyfully and then asked about Rome. His utterances are strongly anti-papal: Clement VII was again allied with the Spaniards and hoped to root out Luther's doctrines, not with arguments, but by the Spanish sword. This is wholly in the interest of the demons, whom the impending bloodshed would enable to carry away the souls of thousands into hell. At the close of this conversation, in which Rome with all its guilt is represented as wholly given over to the Evil One, the apparitions vanish, and leave the poet sorrowfully to pursue his way alone.

Those who would form a conception of the extent of the belief in those relations to the demons which could be openly avowed in spite of the penalties attaching to witchcraft, may be referred to the much-read work of Agrippa of Nettesheim 'On secret Philosophy.' He seems originally to have written it before he was in Italy, but in the dedication to Trithemius he mentions Italian authorities among others, if only by way of disparagement. In the case of equivocal persons like Agrippa, or of the knaves and fools into whom the majority of the rest may be divided, there is little that is interesting in the system they profess, with its formula, fumigations, ointments, and the rest of it. But this system was filled with quotations from the superstitions of antiquity, the influence of which on the life and the passions of Italians is at times most remarkable and fruitful. We might think that a great mind must be thoroughly ruined, before it surrendered itself to such influences; but the violence of hope and desire led even vigorous and original men of all classes to have recourse to the magician, and the belief that the thing was feasible at all weakened to some extent the faith, even of those who kept at a distance, in the moral order of the world. At the cost of a little money and danger it seemed possible to defy with impunity the universal reason and morality of mankind, and to spare oneself the intermediate steps which otherwise lie between a man and his lawful or unlawful ends.

Let us here glance for a moment at an older and now decaying form of superstition. From the darkest period of the Middle Ages, or even from the days of antiquity, many cities of Italy had kept the remembrance of the connection of their fate with certain buildings, statues, or other material objects. The ancients had left records of consecrating priests or Telestae, who were present at the solemn foundation of cities, and magically guaranteed their prosperity by erecting certain monuments or by burying certain objects (Telesmata). Traditions of this sort were more likely than anything else to live on in the form of popular, unwritten legend; but in the course of centuries the priest naturally became transformed into the magician, since the religious side of his function was no longer understood. In some of the Virgilian miracles at Naples, the ancient remembrance of one of these Telestae is clearly preserved, his name being in course of time supplanted by that of Virgil. The enclosing of the mysterious picture of the city in a vessel is neither more nor less than a genuine ancient Telesma; and Virgil, as founder of Naples, is but the officiating priest who took part in the ceremony, presented in another dress. The popular imagination went on working at these themes, till Virgil became also responsible for the brazen horse, for the heads at the Nolan gate, for the brazen fly over another gate, and even for the Grotto of Posilippo--all of them things which in one respect or other served to put a magical constraint upon fate, and the first two of which seemed to determine the whole fortune of the city. Medieval Rome also preserved confused recollections of the same kind. At the church of Sant' Ambrogio at Milan, there was an ancient marble Hercules; so long, it was said, as this stood in its place, so long would the Empire last. That of the Germans is probably meant, as the coronation of their emperors at Milan took place in this church. The Florentines were convinced that the temple of Mars, afterwards transformed into the Baptistery, would stand to the end of time, according to the constellation under which it had been built; they had, as Christians, removed from it the marble equestrian statue; but since the destruction of the latter would have brought some great calamity on the city--also according to a constellation--they set it upon a tower by the Arno. When Totila conquered Florence, the statue fell into the river, and was not fished out again till Charlemagne refounded the city. It was then placed on a pillar at the entrance to the Ponte Vecchio, and on this spot Buondelmonti was slain in 1215. The origin of the great feud between Guelph and Ghibelline was thus associated with the dreaded idol. During the inundation of 1333 the statue vanished for ever.

But the same Telesma reappears elsewhere. Guido Bonatto, already mentioned, was not satisfied, at the refounding of the walls of Forli, with requiring certain symbolic acts of reconciliation from the two parties. By burying a bronze or stone equestrian statue, which he had produced by astrological or magical arts, he believed that he had defended the city from ruin, and even from capture and plunder. When Cardinal Albornoz was governor of Romagna some sixty years later, the statue was accidentally dug up and then shown to the people, probably by the order of the Cardinal, that it might be known by what means the cruel Montefeltro had defended himself against the Roman Church. And again, half a century later, when an attempt to surprise Forli had failed, men began to talk afresh of the virtue of the statue, which had perhaps been saved and reburied. It was the last time that they could do so; for a year later Forli was really taken. The foundation of buildings all through the fifteenth century was associated not only with astrology but also with magic. The large number of gold and silver medals which Paul II buried in the foundation of his buildings was noticed, and Platina was by no means displeased to recognize an old pagan Telesma in the fact. Neither Paul nor his biographer were in any way conscious of the mediaeval religious significance of such an offering.

But this official magic, which in many cases only rests on hearsay, was comparatively unimportant by the side of the secret arts practiced for personal ends.

The form which these most often took in daily life is shown by Ariosto in his comedy of the necromancers. His hero is one of the many Jewish exiles from Spain, although he also gives himself out for a Greek, an Egyptian, and an African, and is constantly changing his name and costume. He pretends that his incantations can darken the day and lighten the darkness, that he can move the earth, make himself invisible, and change men into beasts; but these vaunts are only an advertisement. His true object is to make his account out of unhappy and troubled marriages, and the traces which he leaves behind him in his course are like the slime of a snail, or often like the ruin wrought by a hailstorm. To attain his ends he can persuade people that the box in which a lover is hidden is full of ghosts, or that he can make a corpse talk. It is at all events a good sign that poets and novelists could reckon on popular applause in holding up this class of men to ridicule. Bandello not only treats this sorcery of a Lombard monk as a miserable, and in its consequences terrible, piece of knavery, but he also describes with unaffected indignation the disasters which never cease to pursue the credulous fool. 'A man hopes with "Solomon's Key' and other magical books to find the treasures hidden in the bosom of the earth, to force his lady to do his will, to find out the secret of princes, and to transport himself in the twinkling of an eye from Milan to Rome. The more often he is deceived, the more steadfastly he believes.... Do you remember the time, Signor Carlo, when a friend of ours, in order to win a favour of his beloved, filled his room with skulls and bones like a churchyard?' The most loathsome tasks were prescribed--to draw three teeth from a corpse or a nail from its finger, and the like; and while the hocus-pocus of the incantation was going on, the unhappy participants sometimes died of terror.

Benvenuto Cellini did not die during the well-known incantation (1532) in the Colosseum at Rome, although both he and his companions witnessed no ordinary horrors; the Sicilian priest, who probably expected to find him a useful coadjutor in the future, paid him the compliment as they went home of saying that he had never met a man of so sturdy a courage. Every reader will make his own reflections on the proceedings themselves. The narcotic fumes and the fact that the imaginations of the spectators were predisposed for all possible terrors, are the chief points to be noticed, and explain why the lad who formed one of the party, and on whom they made most impression, saw much more than the others. but it may be inferred that Benvenuto himself was the one whom it was wished to impress, since the dangerous beginning of the in- cantation can have had no other aim than to arouse curiosity. For Benvenuto had to think before the fair Angelica occurred to him; and the magician told him afterwards that love-making was folly compared with the finding of treasures. Further, it must not be forgotten that it flattered his vanity to be able to say, 'The demons have kept their word, and Angelica came into my hands, as they promised, just a month later' (I, cap. 68). Even on the supposition that Benvenuto gradually lied himself into believing the whole story, it would still be permanently valuable as evidence of the mode of thought then prevalent.

As a rule, however, the Italian artists, even 'the odd, capri- cious, and eccentric' among them, had little to do with magic. One of them, in his anatomical studies, may have cut himself a jacket out of the skin of a corpse, but at the advice of his confessor he put it again into the grave. Indeed the frequent study of anatomy probably did more than anything else to destroy the belief in the magical influence of various parts of the body, while at the same time the incessant observation and representation of the human form made the artist familiar with a magic of a wholly different sort.

In general, notwithstanding the instances which have been quoted, magic seems to have been markedly on the decline at the beginning of the sixteenth century--that is to say, at a time when it first began to flourish vigorously out of Italy; and thus the tours of Italian sorcerers and astrologers in the North seem not to have begun till their credit at home was thoroughly impaired. In the fourteenth century it was thought necessary carefully to watch the lake on Mount Pilatus, near Scariotto, to hinder the magicians from there consecrating their books. In the fifteenth century we find, for example, that the offer was made to produce a storm of rain, in order to frighten away a besieged army; and even then the commander of the besieged town, Niccolo Vitelli in Citta di Castello had the good sense to dismiss the sorcerers as godless persons. In the sixteenth century no more instances of this official kind appear, although in private life the magicians were still active. To this time belongs the classic figure of German sorcery, Dr. Johann Faust; the Italian ideal, on the other hand, Guido Bonatto, dates back to the thirteenth century.

It must nevertheless be added that the decrease of the belief in magic was not necessarily accompanied by an increase of the belief in a moral order, but that in many cases, like the decaying faith in astrology, the delusion left behind it nothing but a stupid fatalism.

One or two minor forms of this superstition, pyromancy, chiromancy and others, which obtained some credit as the belief in sorcery and astrology was declining, may be here passed over, and even the pseudo-science of physiognomy has by no means the interest which the name might lead us to expect. For it did not appear as the sister and ally of art and psychology, but as a new form of fatalistic superstition, and, what it may have been among the Arabs, as the rival of astrology. The author of a physiognomical treatise, Bartolommeo Cocle, who styled himself a 'metoposcopist,' and whose science, according to Giovio, seemed like one of the most respectable of the free arts, was not content with the prophecies which he made to the many people who daily consulted him, but wrote also a most serious 'catalogue of such whom great dangers to life were awaiting.' Giovio, although grown old in the free thought of Rome 'in hac luce romana'--is of opinion that the predictions contained therein had only too much truth in them We learn from the same source how the people aimed at in these and similar prophecies took vengeance on a seer. Giovanni Bentivoglio caused Lucas Gauricus to be five times swung to and fro against the wall, on a rope hanging from a lofty, winding staircase, because Lucas had foretold to him the loss of his authority. Ermes Bentivoglio sent an assassin after Cocle, because the unlucky metopOscopist had unwillingly prophesied to him that he would die an exile in battle. The murderer seems to have derided the dying man in his last moments, saying that Cocle himself had foretold him he would shortly commit an infamous murder. The reviver of chiromancy, Antioco Tiberto of Cesena, came by an equally miserable end at the hands of Pandolfo Malatesta of Rimini, to whom he had prophesied the worst that a tyrant can imagine, namely, death in exile and in the most grievous poverty. Tiberto was a man of intelligence, who was supposed to give his answers less according to any methodical chiromancy than by means of his shrewd knowledge of mankind; and his high culture won for him the respect of those scholars who thought little of his divination.

Alchemy, in conclusion, which is not mentioned in antiquity till quite late under Diocletian, played only a very subordinate part at the best period of the Renaissance. Italy went through the disease earlier, when Petrarch in the fourteenth century confessed, in his polemic against it, that gold-making was a general practice. Since then that particular kind of faith, devotion, and isolation which the practice of alchemy required became more and more rare in Italy, just when Italian and other adepts began to make their full profit out of the great lords in the North. Under Leo X the few Italians who busied themselves with it were called 'ingenia curiosa,' and Aurelio Augurelli, who dedicated to Leo X, the great despiser of gold, his didactic poem on the making of the metal, is said to have received in return a beautiful but empty purse. The mystic science which besides gold sought for the omnipotent philosopher's stone, is a late northern growth, which had its rise in the theories of Paracelsus and others.