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Agrippa’s Latin Edition of the Ars Notoria and Robert Turner’s 1657 English Translation Thereof

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

What was Robert Turner’s Latin source for his 1657 English translation of the Ars Notoria?


The most popularly known copy of the Ars Notoria is a seventeenth-century Latin edition published in the Opera Omnia (Collected Works; c. 1620), vol. 2 (pages 603-660) of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486 – 1535). There it is titled Ars Notoria, quam Creator Altissimus Salomoni revelavit (The Notory Art, which the Almighty Creator Revealed to Solomon). This Latin edition (named hereafter as the “Agrippan Latin text”) was not actually authored by Agrippa. The Latin edition was edited along with other assorted works by the Beringos brothers who compiled and published these works, featuring Agrippa as the leading author of material found therein. The multiplicity of editions and careless work of the Beringos brothers has made it impossible to track down the original manuscript used for this Latin edition of the Ars Notoria. In 1657, Robert Turner of Holshott (c. 1626-1666) translated the Agrippan text into English, and he titled it as Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon, Shewing the Cabalistical Key of Magical Operations, The liberal Sciences, Divine Revelation, and The Art of Memory.



What does the Agrippan Latin text contain? How does it relate to the greater ars notoria tradition?


The seventeenth-century Agrippan Latin text is a composite of the Ars Notoria (Version B), the Ars Brevis, and special blended material of both. First, it is necessary to identify these three parts. Firstly, the Agrippan Latin text contains an incomplete, highly redacted, and reorganized form of the Ars Notoria (Version B). Version B is the long and glossed version of the most primitive and earliest version of the Ars Notoria, which is dubbed Version A.


Version A and Version B are classifications created by the French scholar Julien Véronèse to represent the textual tradition of the Ars Notoria. Véronèse has been widely recognized by the scholar community at large, including such authors as Stephen Skinner, Joseph H Peterson, Claire Fanger, Frank Klaassen, Sophie Page, and others. For more information on Julien Véronèse’s work and the Latin tradition of the Ars Notoria, see my other blog entry entitled “Where are the Original Latin Texts of the Ars Notoria Tradition?”


Now the best exemplar manuscripts classed as Version B are dated to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Version B contains all the material found in Version A, plus its own glosses and special variant passages. Both Version A and Version B present the original pictorial figures called notae. The Ars Notoria (Version A) is dated to the thirteenth century and contains the earliest material about the notory art of Solomon. Now in the manuscript tradition, the earliest extant manuscript is Mellon 1, dated to 1225, which is held in New Haven at Yale University in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Véronèse has classified Mellon 1 as a Version A manuscript.


Secondly, the Agrippan Latin text contains an incomplete version of the Ars Brevis (The Short Art), a fourteenth-century derivative text of the Ars Notoria (Version B). Both the glossed version of the Ars Notoria and the Ars Brevis draw upon an earlier mid-thirteenth century derivative text called the Opus Operum (The Work of Works), although this evidence is scant in the Agrippan Latin text. The Ars Brevis is comprised of two books – the "Blessed Book of John" and the "Book of Divine Revelation". The "Blessed Book of John" contains four magical experiments, but only one is partially represented in the Agrippan Latin text, which involves the so-called figure of memory. The "Book of Divine Revelation" compiles a mix of Ars Nova (New Art) and Special prayers from the Ars Notoria.


Thirdly, the compiler and editor of the Agrippan Latin text created his own special blended material of these two sources. Aside from the compiler creating his own rubric headings, abridgments and rewrites of the Version B material, the bulk of the special blended material is situated between that section which begins “Oration ad recuperationem ingenii & intellectus, etc.” (which is recognized by Véronèse’s section numbering as 125; Opera Omnia, page 647) and the beginning of the Ars Brevis material which reads, “Experimentum verum & probatum ad intelligendum omnes artes & secreta totius mundi, etc.,” (Opera Omnia, page 652).


In summary, the Agrippan Latin text is imperfectly constituted from the glossed Ars Notoria (Version B), the Ars Brevis, and a special blended material of these two heavily redacted editions. The Agrippan Latin text is defective, missing key elements of the original and earlier textual tradition (see the next section below). The Agrippan Latin text lacks substantial authority as an abridged, corrupted, and late composite of the ars notoria tradition.


What is missing from the Agrippan Latin text? What is so different about it that marks it as less authoritative than the earlier textual tradition?


The Agrippan Latin text omits nearly all of the glosses (i.e., commentaries) on the Ars Notoria. The anonymous late 16th-early 17th century scribe also omits all the notory art figures called notae. The Agrippan Latin text is also missing the prayers called the novem termini (the “nine ends”) and “the compendium” which explains the ritual procedures; the reason for these omissions is not understood. The scribe reorganized the text with the intention to better suit the practitioner's needs in understanding the ritual procedure but fails modern readers in this endeavor. Unfortunately, the scribal reorganization only compounded the problems already laden within the original fourteenth-century glossed version of the Ars Notoria (Version B). One cannot understand the anonymous scribe's good intentions and his text without reading the original Ars Notoria (Version B). The fourteenth-century Version B scribe had set about creating a harmonization of the Flores Aurei (Golden Flowers) ritual procedure with that of the Ars Nova (New Art). The Flores Aurei is the foundational text which contains the notory art prayers and figures. The Ars Nova is the first derivative text of the Flores Aurei containing ten prayers which is capable as a stand-alone ritual. In the act of creating a harmonization of the Flores Aurei and the Ars Nova, the fourteenth-century Version B scribe made a number of errors. (These are detailed in my book. I have provided commentary to help guide anyone who wants to understand and practice the notory art as it was originally meant to be practiced.) Again, the anonymous late 16th-early 17th century scribe compounded these errors in reorganizing the text, leading to cross-references of prayers whose body of text is incomplete, marked by "&c." and also misidentifications as to which prayer is intended for a given step in the ritual procedure. English readers of the Robert Turner translation are often befuddled by these errors and imperfections.


The Agrippan Latin text presents an incomplete form of the Ars Brevis. Part of the reason for being incomplete is because the late 16th-early 17th century compiler (or someone before him) was probably a Protestant who excluded distinctly Catholic elements, such as the worship of the Virgin Mary, the intercession of saints, and the votive masses found in the Ars Brevis. These omissions were likely made in the historical context of the Protestant Reformation that swept through Europe during the sixteenth century; thus, the Agrippan Latin text is probably dated no earlier than the sixteenth century. Robert Turner also makes his own omissions of these Catholic elements, but they are quite minor compared to what was already done.


Now the Agrippan Latin text also contains the magical experiment of memory, which presents the so-called figure of memory, and this magical experiment draws directly from the Ars Brevis’ first volume called the "Blessed Book of John". The so-called figure of memory is the only figure found in the Agrippan Latin text. The Agrippan Latin text does not contain the complete text of the other magical experiments or their respective magical figures which belong to the Ars Brevis. See my other blog entry entitled, "Ars Brevis: The Contested Identities of the Figures for Magical Experiments." I have also created a new Latin edition of the Ars Brevis upon which my new English translation is based. A blog entry has also been created for this, entitled "New Latin Edition of the Ars Brevis, a Derivative of the Ars Notoria."






In summary, the Agrippan Latin text is a compositional nightmare and obscures the original instructions of the ritual procedures, making it difficult to understand. As already mentioned, the Agrippan Latin text shows dependency on the fourteenth-century Ars Notoria (Version B), although it lacks most of the glosses and all of the notory art figures of Version B. The reason for excluding most of the glosses is unclear, however, we know that the Agrippan Latin text relied upon Version B, as evidenced by its inclusion of material that is only found in Version B, such as its prologue and the following prayers: Alpha et Omega (Version B, variation 1), Eleminator, Caudones (Version B, 29b), Scio enim (Version B, variation 8), Conditor omnium (Version B, variation 12), and O sapiential Dei Patris incomprehensibilis (Version B, variation 13). Therefore, such inclusions can safely date the Agrippan Latin text to no earlier than the mid-fourteenth century. The Ars Brevis is also dated to the mid-fourteenth century. So it seems that the anonymous late 16th-17th century scribe had access to documents that originate from the fourteenth century, however, we cannot know for sure the status or date or those documents as they no longer survive.


Finally, the Agrippan Latin text is evaluated to be an abridged, reorganized, and incomplete composite of the Ars Notoria (Version B) and the Ars Brevis, which leads to obscuration and flaws. Due to its dependency on earlier sources, the deliberate rearrangment and imperfections of the text, and a late date of composition to the 16th or 17th century, the Agrippan Latin text lacks substantial authority compared to the earlier textual tradition of the Ars Notoria.


Bibliography


Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius. Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Translated by Eric Purdue. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2021.


Castle, Matthias. Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2023.


Skinner, Stephen. Ars Notoria: The Method – Version B Mediaeval Angel Magic (vol. 2). Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic, vol. 12. Singapore: Golden Hoard, 2021.


Skinner, Stephen, and Daniel Clark. Ars Notoria: The Grimoire of Rapid Learning by

Magic. Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic, vol. 11. Singapore: Golden Hoard, 2019.


Turner, Robert, trans. Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon. London: Cottrel, 1657.


The image associated with this blog entry is the front page of Robert Turner's 1657 English translation of the Ars Notoria.


This digital edition by Matthias Castle, Copyright 2023. All rights reserved.

Please do not copy this text to your website, or for any purpose other than private use.


[This blog entry is an expansion upon some of the content found in the Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon translated by Matthias Castle.]


Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon translated by Matthias Castle, published by Inner Traditions International and Bear & Company, © 2023. All rights reserved. http://www.Innertraditions.com Reprinted with permission of publisher.

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