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In the Company of Demons

Unnatural Beings, Love, and Identity in the Italian Renaissance

In the Company of Demons

Unnatural Beings, Love, and Identity in the Italian Renaissance

Who are the familiar spirits of classical culture and what is their relationship to Christian demons? In its interpretation of Latin and Greek culture, Christianity contends that Satan is behind all classical deities, semi-gods, and spiritual creatures, including the gods of the household, the lares and penates.But with In the Company of Demons, the world’s leading demonologist Armando Maggi argues that the great thinkers of the Italian Renaissance had a more nuanced and perhaps less sinister interpretation of these creatures or spiritual bodies.

Maggi leads us straight to the heart of what Italian Renaissance culture thought familiar spirits were. Through close readings of Giovan Francesco Pico della Mirandola, Strozzi Cigogna, Pompeo della Barba, Ludovico Sinistrari, and others, we find that these spirits or demons speak through their sudden and striking appearances—their very bodies seen as metaphors to be interpreted. The form of the body, Maggi explains, relies on the spirits’ knowledge of their human interlocutors’ pasts. But their core trait is compassion, and sometimes their odd, eerie arrivals are seen as harbingers or warnings to protect us. It comes as no surprise then that when spiritual beings distort the natural world to communicate, it is vital that we begin to listen.

232 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Folklore and Mythology

History: European History

Medieval Studies

Religion: Christianity


“In this book, Armando Maggi offers a series of very original and provocative readings of important Renaissance treatises that discuss different facets of the ‘familiar spirits.’ Each analysis is thought-provoking and enlightening, and often entertaining. But then, in an act worthy of a Renaissance magus, Maggi interconnects all his different readings into a completely new and original understanding of the essence of demonic spirits and their relations with humans. Weaving together disparate discussions of demons, language, identity, and desire, he uncovers for his readers a Renaissance in which familiar spirits were not marginal figures, but the very embodiment of what it meant to be human.”--Richard Kieckhefer, Northwestern University

Richard Kieckhefer

“Armando Maggi’s In the Company of Demons is a major contribution to the redefinition of Renaissance demonology as a protoscientific discipline, comparable in rigor to Renaissance anthropology, psychology, anatomy, and physiology. Maggi brilliantly demonstrates how Renaissance demonologists ‘read’ the demonic body and its interactions in search of a positive role for demons. By interweaving Classical pagan lore with medieval Christian ideas about the existence, nature, and habits of evil spirits, the Renaissance sought evidence of divine compassion and human salvation among beings traditionally spurned by theologians. Essential reading for anyone needing to understand Christian—and post-Christian—demonology.”--Walter Stephens, The Johns Hopkins University

Walter Stephens

“Armando Maggi has a genius for displaying the astonishing range and character of Renaissance demonology, far from its earlier exclusively Satanic character. In this marvelous book Maggi considers angels, demons, satyrs, incubi, succubi, and other ‘familiars’ in the work of sixteenth-century thinkers in terms of both their natures and their functions of teaching, warning, protecting, and loving humans. Identified in the distant pagan past and transformed by the incarnation of the Word, they even participate in the process of human salvation. Far beyond thought or speech, Maggi’s subject is the mayhem caused by an explosion of spirits, some enemies, all familiars.”--Edward Peters, University of Pennsylvania


Edward Peters

“In his new and fascinating book, Armando Maggi tries to understand the strange world of Renaissance demonology without dwelling on its obvious absurdities. . . . His aim is not to psychoanalyse but to sympathize, and his method is to enter into the spirit (so to speak) of this strange world.”

Neil Forsyth | TLS

“Maggi gives us an original and penetrating interpretation of Renaissance demonology, with a brilliant analysis and with a challenge to the reader for deeper thoughts on a theme that attracts scholars, but still has some new views.”

Michaela Valente | Renaissance Quarterly

"An extremely thought-provoking book of considerable interest to historians of Christianity, witchcraft, and the Renaissance; to literary scholars; and to theoreticians of metaphor and simile."

Jeffrey Burton Russell | Christianity and Literature

"An innovative and erudite study that sheds light on a series of cultural issues, such as demons’ existence, appearance, and contact with humans."

Andrea Marculescu | H-Net

"A valuable book. Certainly Maggi’s ideas and methodology are engaging! Maggi’s insistence on the rhetorical construction of demonic-human relationships and the compulsive need, even love, of spiritual beings for humans shouild force scholars of early modern demonology, folklore, religion, and culture to reexamine the role of language in these areas."

Kathryn A. Edwards | Sixteenth Century Journal

Table of Contents

Preface: Bodies of Metaphors
Introduction: Bodies of Desire
1. To Read the Body of a Monster
Exegesis and Witchcraft in Strix by Giovan Francesco Pico della Mirandola
2. To Recall the Spirits’ Past
Memory and Demonology in Strozzi Cigogna’s Palace of Marvels and of the Great Enchantments of the Spirits and of the Entire Nature
3. "The Shadows and Their Beloved Bodies"
Medicine, Philosophy of Love, and Demonology in Pompeo della Barba’s Interpretation of a Platonic Sonnet
4. What Does Human Mean?
Beings against Nature in Ludovico Maria Sinistrari’s Demoniality
A Conclusion: Bodies of Salvation

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