Frances A. Yates (1899–1981) was an English historian. She taught for many years at The Warburg Institute, where she studied the history of esotericism in the West.

An Alchemical Lear

Frances Yates died on September 29. This is one of the last reviews she wrote. We mourn the death of this brilliant and original scholar, a longstanding contributor and friend.—the Editors Among the “renaissances” of the Renaissance one of the most important was the renaissance of alchemy. Like the occultist …

In the Cards

This very large book is an elaborate history of the game of Tarot, a card game not unrelated to our modern cards, with suits and trumps, but much more complex, using packs of picture cards with strange images. From the fifteenth century this game spread over Europe with variations in …

A Magical Critic

Robert Klein was a Rumanian Jew, born in 1918. As was to be expected from this time and place of birth, his life was not an easy one. Before the out-break of the Second World War he studied philosophy in Prague, science in Bucharest. After the outbreak he first did …

The Fear of the Occult

When Fontenelle was composing his éloge of Isaac Newton for delivery in the Académie Royale des Sciences, he was able to consult notes by John Conduitt from which he would have learned that one of Newton’s motives in beginning his work in mathematics was to investigate whether judicial astrology had …

The Mystery of Jean Bodin

The book here presented in translation was once a secret, disseminated in manuscript copies among a few chosen spirits, and referred to with bated breath, if mentioned at all, though it may have been a power in the background, or the underground. It is in fact the Heptaplomeres, written by …

Science, Salvation, and the Cabala

In a book published in Italian in 1957 and in English translation in 1968 (Francis Bacon: From Magic to Science), Paolo Rossi drew attention to the millennial aspect of Bacon’s philosophy. He showed by quotation that Bacon thought of his “Great Instauration” of learning as an attempt to return to …

Broken Images

The population of images in medieval England was doubtless more numerous than the scanty population of living human beings. Figured in windows, sculptured in statuary, carved and painted in countless scenes, the images were the close companions of medieval man. From them he learned what he knew of history and …

II: Underground Routes

The revolution in the attitude to Renaissance thought which has taken place in recent years rests largely on a new understanding of Renaissance Neoplatonism. In the nineteenth century Neoplatonism meant a movement arising from the rediscovery of the works of Plato and the ancient Neoplatonists, centered in the Medici circle …

A Great Magus

In 1570, one of the most important books of the Elizabethan period was published in London. This was Henry Billingsley’s English translation of Euclid, with a preface described on the title page as …a very fruitfull Preface made by Maister John Dee, specifying the chief Mathematicall sciences, what they are, …

The Old New History

Among those gaps in knowledge to which Francis Bacon draws attention is the absence of any “just story of learning.” What are the antiquities and originals of knowledge? What have been the flourishings, oppositions, decays, depressions, oblivions, removes, “and all other events concerning learning throughout the ages of the world”? …

The Last Laugh

Of all writers of the first rank, Rabelais is perhaps the least read. The reasons for this are obvious. First of all the language, the torrent of words poured forth to suggest the talk, movements, ideas of the characters in his amazing novel—a language untranslatable and often unintelligible even to …

Bacon and the Menace of English Lit

Francis Bacon’s reputation has suffered strange vicissitudes. From being the admired father of the experimental method, dear to nineteenth-century progressives, he has been assigned a position of very limited importance by some, though not all, modern historians of science. These extreme oscillations are themselves an indication of the intrinsic power …

Bacon’s Magic

It is now more than ten years since Paolo Rossi’s book on Bacon was published in Italy. Those who have known this book have been aware that it made, for the first time, the right historical approach to Bacon. Now that it is at last available in translation, it makes …

Vicissitudes

In the late sixteenth century a French scholar surveyed his own times with feelings of mingled hope and despair. He had seen the Renaissance revival of learning take hold with tremendous force in France. Technological advance, the use of printing, had made the resulting proliferation of new knowledge and new …

Not a Machiavellian

Born in 1469 of an aristocratic but impoverished Florentine family, Niccolo Machiavelli saw in his youth the brilliance of Florence under the benevolent despotism of the Medici. He seems to have been unaffected by the Neoplatonic revival, for his formation was that of a purely Latin humanist, and the two …

Paradox and Paradise

Modern advance in the study of Renaissance historiography has concentrated mainly on Italy; the application of its results to English Renaissance historiography and literature has been curiously long delayed. This is strange, since the tracing of rhetorical themes in the English Renaissance has grown in recent years into a formidable …

New Light on the Globe Theater

It may seem impossible that anything new about Shakespeare or his theater could be discovered at this time of day, yet new light can be thrown on the Globe Theater through the pursuit of a neglected subject, the history of the classical art of memory. The Roman orators used a …

The Magic Christian

Agrippa of Nettesheim (1486-circa 1535), German occultist and mystic, played an important part in the Renaissance by popularizing in the North those magical practices and attitudes inherent in the Neoplatonic movement that was initiated in Florence by Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. The Renaissance ideal of the Magus, the …

Renaissance Man

Born near Naples in 1548, burned at the stake in Rome in 1600, Giordano Bruno is one of the most striking figures among the Italian philosophers of the Renaissance, and has been one of the most misunderstood. His old reputation as martyr for modern science and the Copernican theory has …

The Great Erasmus

This book is fascinating reading now. How the Colloquies must have been devoured when first-rate journalism was a thing as yet unknown, a thing only just made possible by the then newborn art of printing. For a women’s page on how to manage your husband read “Marriage.” Or for an …

The History of History

What is true history? Why do we write or read history? The humanists of the Renaissance had a firm answer to these questions. “True history” was history written in imitation of the classical historians, particularly Caesar, Sallust, and Livy, with carefully constructed battle scenes, long imaginary speeches put into the …

No Man’s Land

Renaissance philosophy is something of a no-man’s-land in the history of thought. Ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, modern philosophy beginning from Descartes—all these stand as monuments in the landscape having recognizable shapes. But what is Renaissance philosophy? A rather vague area populated by elusive formulae such as “humanism” and “Neoplatonism.” One …