contributor.author: Williams, Gerhild

title.none: Mora/Shea, Witches, Devils, and Doctors

identifier.other: baj9928.9512.003 95.12.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Williams, Gerhild, Prof. of German/Comp. Lit. and Associate Vice Chancellor, Washington U., St. Louis

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1995

identifier.citation: Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: Johann Weyers, De Praestigiis Daemonum. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 73. Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1991. Pp. 790. ISBN: ISBN 0-86698-083-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 95.12.03

Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: Johann Weyers, De Praestigiis Daemonum. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 73. Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1991. Pp. 790. ISBN: ISBN 0-86698-083-0.

Reviewed by:

Williams, Gerhild
Prof. of German/Comp. Lit. and Associate Vice Chancellor, Washington U., St. Louis

The English translation cum introduction and detailed notes of Johann Weyer's De Praestigiis Daemonum is a most welcome addition to the collection of early modern primary texts on witchcraft and magic accessible to the English speaker. This translation is the result the cooperative efforts by colleagues from the fields of medicine, phsycology, history of science, social history, and languages and literatures. The project took nearly thirty years from inception to completion. Looking at the finished product, it is clear that it was well worth the wait. This translation will be a model for future undertakings of this kind. Johann Weyer's De Praestigiis Daemonum, published first in 1563 and appearing in numerous translations and editions thereafter, has come down to us as the first substantial effort by a scholar/physician to separate the supposed propensity of women for doing evil and consorting with the Devil from the pathology of melancholy and madness. The tract represents an important link in the discussion on the witch phenomenon that was taken up with much passion during the second half of the sixteenth century. The De Praestigiis Daemonum is, among other things, a passionate critique of the inquisitorial pronouncements of the Malleus Maleficarum published by Heinrich Institoris in 1487. About twenty years after Weyer's work, the French jurist Jean Bodin condemns Weyer's tract on juridical grounds in his Demonomanie des Sorciers (1580). No discussion of the witchcraze can be considered complete without some attention being paid to the polemics that characterize these three texts and their progeny. Weyer's tome is a tour-de-force through the vast areas of early modern daemonology, sorcery, medicine, history of magic. It is as well an extended social commentary on the role and nature of women. The sheer size of this volume, more than 500 pages of the text alone, signal to the modern reader the seriousness and profound learning with which this protestant physician at the court of Cleve approached his task. Beyond detailing the historical and religious roots of the witch phenomenon, Weyer offers many entertaining tales from past and present. He liberally dispenses medical diagnosis and advice, and he offers fascinating vignettes about his wife's practical support of his work. It is clear that--keeping with the rhetorical prescription of the times, however unnerving the topic-- Weyer meant his work to entertain as well as to instruct his reading public. The translation is faithful to the original and imminently readable, no small feat considering some of the cumbersome constructions governing texts of this kind. Beyond the instruction and entertainment afforded the reader, translation and editorial team took great care to produce a detailed yet not overly long introduction. Brief bio-bibliographies of major figures pertaining to the text as well as detailed notes appear at the end of the volume. This scholarly apparatus makes the edition an excellent research and teaching tool for the specialist; the clear and uncluttered style recommends the translation to students of early modern culture, witchcraft and magic, feminist and gender studies, as well as of the history of medicine and mental illness. For all these reasons, this reviewer hopes that the editors find a way to produce the text in paperback which would reduce the not inconsiderable cost and encourage faculty to use it as a textbook on all levels of instruction.