Faustus, Valdes and Cornelius: With Friends Like These…

From the 'Faust' collection, central library, German Classic, National Research and Memorial Sites, Weimar.
(From Jürgen Ludwig, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I talked about angels, real and imagined, last month; mentioned Doctor Faustus’ big plans, including putting a brass wall around Germany, and said that I’d talk about Valdes and Cornelius next month.

Then I got sick. I’m still running a fever; but considering that this is COVID-19, it could be worse.

“Next month” is now this month, so I’d better introduce Valdes and Cornelius: “friends to Faustus,” Marlowe calls them in the dramatis personae.

Magic, Multiple Bacons and a Bit of Greene

Liebig's Extract of Meat Company Trading Card, 1929
(From Chemical Heritage Foundation, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.
(Albertus Magnus: as imagined on a 1929 trading card.)

Seems that Valdes and Cornelius have been promoting “magic and concealed arts” as keys to fame, fortune, and enchanting women.

Since this is an Elizabethan drama, Faustus takes 114 word to say ‘I’m convinced!’

Then Valdes and Cornelius speak at even greater length on what their “demonstrations magical” can do for Faustus.

[Faustus] “…Know that your words have won me at the last
To practice magic and concealed arts….

“…CORNELIUS. The miracles that magic will perform
Will make thee vow to study nothing else….
…Then tell me, Faustus, what shall we three want?

“FAUSTUS. Nothing, Cornelius. O, this cheers my soul!
Come, shew me some demonstrations magical,
That I may conjure in some bushy grove,
And have these joys in full possession.

“VALDES. Then haste thee to some solitary grove,
And bear wise Bacon’s and Albertus’ works,
The Hebrew Psalter, and New Testament;
And whatsoever else is requisite…”
(“…Faustus…,” Marlowe (1604, From The Quarto Of 1616) Edited by The Rev. Alexander Dyce (1870))

Maybe Marlowe had Sir Francis Bacon in mind when he wrote “wise Bacon,” but I’m guessing that he didn’t.

Sir Francis Bacon was roughly 30 years old when Marlowe’s “Faustus” opened. Bacon’s “Novum Organum” wouldn’t be published for another three decades.1

Even if Marlowe somehow guessed that Sir Francis Bacon’s ideas would eventually get credit for inspiring the scientific method, I doubt that he’d risk assuming that a London theater audience would make the same guess.

Will the Real Bacon Please Stand Up?

Friar Bacon's brazen head and Miles, from James Baldwin's retelling of 'Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay.' (1905) Illustration by A.J. Keller, E.J. Meeker, H.C. Edwards, Victor Perard, or Malcom Fraser.
(Illustration from James Baldwin’s “Thirty More Famous Stories Retold,” via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Friar Bacon’s servant and a magic brass head. (1905))

Another possible Bacon is Robert Greene’s Friar Roger Bacon, one of two title characters in “Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay.”

Although Greene’s play shares features with Marlowe’s, including plans for encircling the wizard’s country with a brass wall, Greene’s Friar Bacon finally renounces magic.

“…Conjuring and abjuring devils and fiends,
With stole and alb and strange pentageron…
… and Tetragrammaton;
With praying to the five-fold powers of heaven,
Are instances that Bacon must be damn’d
For using devils to countervail his God….
“…Bungay, I’ll spend the remnant of my life
In pure devotion, praying to my God
That He would save what Bacon vainly lost….”
(“Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay,” Robert Greene (ca. 1588-1592) transcribed by Risa Bear (2007) from G. B. Harrison’s edition (1927)

Another Greene/Marlowe parallel is that Marlowe and Greene based their magicians on real people. More accurately, on folklore involving real people.

While Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus draws from stories inspired by Johann Georg Faust, a Renaissance con man, Greene’s Friar Roger Bacon is based on Franciscan friar Roger Bacon.2

A Scientist Who Wasn’t

Roger Bacon, as imagined in James Baldwin's retelling of 'Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay.' (1905)Friar Bacon, the real one, is a 13th century philosopher with a posthumous reputation for wizardry.

But Friar Roger Bacon wasn’t a scientist. Nobody was in the 13th century. Natural philosophers weren’t “scientists” until William Whewell coined the word in 1834.

Friar Bacon described a cycle of observing, hypothesizing, experimenting and verifying. Whether or not that was “scientific” depends on who’s talking.

I suspect quite a few folks still believe that medieval Europe was just simply awash in superstition, stupidity and stinky peasants. And that’s another topic.

I’ll grant that Roger Bacon didn’t use gamma matrices, and that calculus didn’t exist until Newton and Leibniz developed math that describes continuous change.

Then there were ideas discussed by Eudoxus, Archimedes, Liu Hui, Zu Chongzhi and maybe some Babylonian geometer before all of them.3

Monasteries, Medical Texts and the High Middle Ages

Dominican doctor taking a pulse. From LJS 24, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, Penn Libraries. (1225-1275)Friar Roger Bacon — the real one — wasn’t the only medieval philosopher who’s occasionally given credit for systematically studying this universe.

Since monasteries served as hospitals for nearby communities and were centers of learning, monks and nuns studied ancient medical texts.

They also compared old assumptions with clinical data, removing useless information, adding results from their own practical experience and experiments. They’d even reorganize the ancient texts, adding tables of contents.

That was the High Middle Ages, the 11th to mid-13th century, roughly. Then the Renaissance happened, and by the 14th century non-monastic doctors were respectfully following ancient medical texts, unsullied by monkish machinations.

And that’s yet another topic.

Or maybe not so much.

Folks like Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Hidegard of Bingen, and Robert Grosseteste weren’t scientists and couldn’t be, since that word didn’t exist until 1833.

But they paid attention to natural phenomena, recorded their observations, analyzed the data, drew conclusions and observed some more.

Maybe that’s not “scientific,” since they didn’t use mathematics that wouldn’t be invented for nearly another millennium. But I’m willing to think that they and natural philosophers like them were laying groundwork for today’s sciences.

Some, like Albertus Magnus and Hildegard of Bingen, are recognized Saints.4

That’s neither because they were “scientists” nor despite their willingness to study God’s creation; and that’s yet again another topic.

“…Who Need Enemies?”

'Radio Theater Break: Small Problems,' 'Girl Genius.' Illustration by Christopher Baldwin, colors by Cheyenne Wright, based on a radio play by Phil and Kaja Foglio, Foglio Studios. (January 13, 2014) Used w/o permission.Or maybe not so much.

I’ve yet to hear someone actually denounce “tampering with things man was not supposed to know.” Not in so many words.

But I’ve run into the attitude often enough. Too often, actually, for my taste.

I don’t know why Saint Albertus Magnus and Friar Roger Bacon are credited — or accused — with practicing wizardry.

Or why occasionally-demonic brass heads figure so prominently in European folklore.

Or why Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Greene’s Friar Bacon planned specifically brass walls as defensive perimeters. I’d have thought that non-conductive materials would work better, although concerns regarding EMP and directed energy weapons wouldn’t be issues for another half-millennium.5

And that’s — you guessed it — still another topic.

I could blame playwrights like Marlowe and Greene for leading the masses astray with such cautionary tales as “…Dr. Faustus” and “Friar Bacon….” But I figure they were tapping into existing beliefs and fears.

And I’m forgetting something. Let me think. Marlowe’s “…Dr. Faustus.” Sir Francis Bacon and a medieval monk’s posthumous reputation. Medicine and mathematics. Right.

Valdes and Cornelius: friends Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus could have done without.

Maybe this fictional Faustus would have negotiated himself into Hell anyway, but Valdes and Cornelius arguably get credit for revving up his enthusiasm for conjuring “in some bushy grove.”

I’d planned on talking about more this week, including “whatsoever else is requisite.”

But I’m running out of time. And besides, I’d prefer being a bit less feverish when discussing the Tetragrammaton/Tetragram.

So I’ll stop here, add the usual links and call it a day. Or, rather, a week.

Stuff that’s related, and maybe some that’s not:

1 Two famous Englishmen:

2 Faust and fictional friars:

3 Philosophers, mathematics and a new(ish) word:

4 Mostly medieval medicine:

5 Miscellany:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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