The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum

By Midelfort, H. C. Erik | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum


Midelfort, H. C. Erik, The Catholic Historical Review


The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum. By Christopher S. Mackay. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. Pp. x, 657. $29.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-521-74787-5.)

Between i486 and 1669 the famous witch-hunting manual, Malleus Maleficarum, underwent twenty-eight editions, all in Latin. It was for two centuries one of the best known treatises on the nature of witchcraft, recommending harsh investigations and punishment. After 1900 this text had an even wider circulation owing to a spate of (often inadequate) translations into German, English, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Czech, Polish, Croatian, Dutch, and even Vietnamese. On the Internet it is available in Latin, in various translations, and as an audio recording. Parts of it have even been set to music. Unfortunately, many of these versions appealed to prurient or sensationalist interests; lacked the necessary scholarly apparatus required for understanding a complex late medieval exercise in canon law, theology, and demonology; and were often inaccurate. This was notably true of the English version produced by Montague Summers, the gothic fantasist (London, 1928). Recognizing these difficulties, scholars especially in Germany and the Englishspeaking world have published reprints of the original Latin edition (Göppingen, 1991; New York, 1992), an improved but abridged English translation by R G. Maxwell-Stuart (Manchester, UK, 2007), a much improved translation into German by W Tschacher, Wolfgang Behringer, and Günter Jerouschek (Munich, 2000), and an elaborate (and expensive) two-volume edition of an edited Latin text with introduction, notes, and an English translation by the classicist Christopher S. Mackay (Cambridge, UK, 2006). The massive volume under review is a reasonably priced paperback edition of Mackay's English translation with an abridged but still substantial introduction, improved running heads, and detailed notes. In addition to providing a much more reliable translation into English, Mackay has provided a useful outline, glossary, and detailed notes on the theological and legal sources cited. He has done heroic service in identifying the many ancient and medieval sources quoted or cited in the text, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, but also the Dominicans Johannes Nider; Nicolas Eymeric; and St. Antoninus, archbishop of Florence.

There are, however, a few issues to mention. First, it is noteworthy that Mackay's name appears on the title page as translator but with no original author. On the vexed issue of authorship, scholars are currently divided, but Behringer and Jerouschek have provided a strong argument that the Malleus was very much the product of one author, Heinrich Kramer (Henricus Institoris, O.P.) with no contribution from Jacob Sprenger. Perhaps their most important pieces of evidence are Kramer's claim to have written the book, the anecdotes in the Malleus that emanated from the south German and Austrian territories where Kramer was active as an inquisitor, and Sprenger's denial of authorship (as Servatius Fanckel, his successor as prior of the Cologne Dominican convent, declared one year after Sprenger's death in 1495). Bearing these facts in mind, it seems odd that Mackay declares that Kramer and Sprenger wrote the Malleus, and that arguments to the contrary are "nugatory" (p. 5). For Mackay, it seems decisive that Kramer claimed in a sworn statement that he had written the book in collaboration with Sprenger and that "only an imbecile" (p. …

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