The Art of Forgetting the Middle Ages: Cornelius Agrippa’s Rhetoric of Extinction

Tomas Zahora

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


    The appearance of arts of forgetting during the golden age of mnemotechnics
    offers a unique perspective on the interaction between history, memory, and
    forgetting at a time of paradigmatic change. This article explores this interaction
    through Cornelius Agrippa’s De incertitudine et vanitate artium et scientiarum,
    a declamation calling for a return to simple faith and understanding.
    Drawing on the work of Umberto Eco and Paul Ricoeur, I propose that De incertitudine can be read as a rhetoric of extinction analogous to arts of forgetting. Its systematic undermining of human knowledge reveals that Agrippa’s search for origins was also informed by a desire to consciously sever the links with medieval traditions. Awareness of the parameters and limitations of this aimed forgetting contributes a new dimension to understanding the work of Agrippa and his contemporaries, and also invites a reconsideration of its continuing impact on the perception of the European Middle Ages.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)359 - 385
    Number of pages27
    JournalSixteenth Century Journal
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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