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Reviewed by:
  • The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents
  • Darin Hayton
Lodovico Lazzarelli . The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents. Ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff and Ruud M. Bouthoorn. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 281. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2005. xii + 356 pp. index. bibl. $45. ISBN: 0-86698-324-4.

Lodovico Lazzarelli's place in the hermetic revival in the Renaissance has rested largely on two texts: his translation of the last three books of the Corpus Hermeticum and his own Crater Hermetis. Lefèvre d'Étaples published Lazzarelli's Crater in 1505 alongside Marsilio Ficino's translations of the Pimander and the Asclepius. In 1507, Symphorien Champier printed Lazzarelli's translation of the Hermetica under the title Diffinitiones Asclepii. With characteristic prescience, P. O. Kristeller drew attention to the importance of the hermetic tradition in his 1938 article on Ficino and Lazzarelli. Two decades later D. P. Walker interpreted Lazzarelli's texts within the framework of Renaissance magic. Unlike Ficino's magic, which was both orthodox and astrological, Walker claimed that Lazzarelli's was neither. Frances Yates considered Lazzarelli the most enthusiastic and exaggerated hermetist when she incorporated him into her work on Giordano Bruno. While both Walker and Yates understood Lazzarelli's hermetism to be deeply [End Page 831] religious (if dangerous), their works contributed to an image of Lazzarelli as practicing hermetic magic. One of the achievements of the current volume is to refocus attention on Lazzarelli's religious and prophetic interests.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff and Ruud M. Bouthoorn have succeeded admirably in producing an edition and translation of Lazzarelli's important hermetic writings, including his Epistola Enoch and his Crater Hermetis with its three prefaces to Giovanni da Correggio. Indeed, this volume is more than an edition, for it includes additional texts meant to illuminate further Lazzarelli's hermetic philosophy. In most cases, Hanegraaff and Bouthoorn have compared previously published editions against surviving incunabula or manuscripts to ensure that they have a clean and accurate text. Although Lazzarelli's texts have been published previously, some with Italian translations, they are here presented for the first time with facing-page English translations, which are both faithful and readable. What makes the collection more appealing are the supplementary texts — by Johannes Trithemius, Filipo Lazzarelli, and Giovanni da Correggio — and Hanegraaff's learned introduction.

Hanegraaff's lengthy essay reconstructs Lazzarelli's biography and the contours of his philosophy. In the process, Hanegraaff makes two important points. First, he presents Lazzarelli's hermetism as a "Christian hermetism," perhaps one of the purest examples of it in the Renaissance. Consequently, Lazzarelli deserves a more central place in the scholarship on Renaissance hermetism. Second, Hanegraaff argues against the interpretation of Lazzarelli's hermetism as a form of magic. Both arguments extend conclusions Hanegraaff has drawn elsewhere and merit further attention. Neither argument is, however, as original as Hanegraaff would like to claim. His first point has been made at least in passing by a number of scholars, including Yates herself. Hanegraaff's related argument about the term "hermetic tradition" has likewise attracted much scholarly attention. While Hanegraaff does recognize that some readers might not find his arguments innovative, he justifies repeating them by positing a controlling Yatesian grand narrative that has marginalized Lazzarelli in the historical scholarship. Perhaps the most suggestive aspect of Hanegraaff's introduction is his description of Lazzarelli's relationship with the mysterious Giovanni da Correggio. The picture of Lazzarelli and da Correggio locates them within the contemporary prophetic beliefs and invites further investigation to uncover their roles in millenarian and prophetic politics at the end of the fifteenth century.

Any quibbles with this volume remain minor. Nevertheless, two points might be raised. First, the polemic tone, which permeates Hanegraaff's essay and the paragraphs that introduce the texts themselves, contributes little. Too frequently the authors deride previous scholarship in terms that risk detracting from their own work. Hanegraaff's construction of "Yates's grand narrative" as some insidious plot is similarly unhelpful. A slightly more significant point pertains to the goal of the introductory essay. For many people, Lazzarelli's life and work will not contain the same "intrinsic historical interest" (103) that it does...


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pp. 831-833
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Archived 2009
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