'The Complaynt off Sanct Cipriane'

It is a truth universally accepted that a lone researcher in possession of time and archive access will be beset by fascinating material that bears no relation to the specific field or topic they set out to research. So it was I stumbled upon the following sixteenth-century poem concerning Saint Cyprian of Antioch while attempting to look into something else. 

Saint Cyprian – patron of grimoires and nigromancy – is a figure especially close to my heart. Not only did I co-edit an anthology dedicated to Him and His saviouress, the Blessed Virgin Martyr Saint Justina, I also wrote a chapter bound into that collection investigating the links between the Sorcerer Saint and the Four Demonic Kings of the European grimoiric traditions – Oriens, Paimon, Maymon (or Amaymon), and Egyn (alternatively sometimes “Ariton”). These Four Kings, or Regents as I prefer – for there are already so many different sorts of “kings” in Western demonology – are a central and yet undervalued component of goetic conjuration of the forms elucidated by the grimoires and their folk necromancy, so recently reanimated by the work of Jake Stratton-Kent, especially in his Encyclopedia Goetica series

So it was with particular relish that I discovered that the poem in question, by the astrologer, physician and clergyman Anthony Ascham (or Askham), actually specifically name-checks two of the Regents! Fred C. Robinson points out that the ‘ultimate source’ for the poem’s content is the early and popular prose tract ‘The Confession of Saint Cyprian’, and that the poem’s phrasing ‘corresponds closely’ to a particular Latin edition of the ‘Confession’ that would later be edited by Bishop Fell from manuscripts from the thirteenth, the fifteenth, and the seventeenth centuries. [Fred C Robinson, ‘'The Complaynt off Sanct Cipriane, the Grett Nigromancer': A Poem by Anthony Ascham’, The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 27, No. 107 (Aug., 1976), 258-259] 

Significantly however Robinson points out that the Regents thus named, Paymon and Maymon, are not taken from this main text of inspiration for Ascham:

‘These names do not occur in any version of the 'Confession' which I have seen. They are evidently to be identified, however, with two of the ‘quatuor spiritus magne virtutis’ described by Cecco d'Ascoli in his commentary on Sacrobosco's Tractatus de sphere viz., Oriens, Amaymon, Paymon, and Egim. Cecco notes that each of the four demons commands twenty-five legions of spirits. He says nothing about a ‘kynge occidentall’, but he does say that each of the demons is associated with one of the four points of the compass. It was probably while preparing his own work on The Sphere that Ascham encountered Paymon and Maymon in Cecco's commentary, and thus their inclusion here would mark a conscious link between Ascham's astrological writings at the beginning of the manuscript and his concluding penitential poem.’ [Robinson, ‘Complaynt’, 263-264]

As I have discussed in my chapter ‘‘In the Manner of Saint Cyprian’: A Cyprianic Black Magic of Early Modern English Grimoires’ in Cypriana: Old World, there are many other examples of Cyprian and His Book being linked to the Four Regents of the cardinal directions, and the subordinate spirits under them. Exploring these connections offers devotees of Cyprian both a traditional spirit catalogue and conjurational procedures for working with such spirits. It is illuminating to see examples of these connections – between the Sorcerer Saint and (as Agrippa calls them) the ‘Four Princes of the Spirits, upon the four angles of the world’ – present in the poetry of the sixteenth century, as well as in the reports of demonologists and heresiographers. It certainly seems to bespeak a further dimension to a learned but nevertheless popular instantiation of Cyprianic folk necromancy. 

Without further adieu, I present Anthony Ascham’s poem:

The Complaynt off Sanct Cipriane the Grett Nigromancer Mayd after that He Was Convertid off the Virgyne Justyne

[Beinecke MS. 337, ff. Io5v-Io6v] 

O mortall man in this lyffe transitore, 
I Indewyde with grace throwght power celestiall, 
Beholde and se my lyffe fulle off misere, 
Dewoyde off grace throwght worldly pomps fatall, 
My tyme abuside, and most in especiall
By incantation and demoniall cerimony, 
Whiche to Godes precept is clene contrary.

Beholde and se me dolorous criature,
Whiche in my yowght was geuene in oblation
To the god Appolyus to be the more sure
In warks diabolyke and eke invocation
Off infernall fures to know the altercation
Off Paymon and Maymon with the kynge occidentall, 
Whiche to Gods precept is clene discordiall. 

Remembre all criatures my malewrows fortone, 
Whiche at my .vii. yere fulle off enormite
In the temple off Appollo was fyrste begone. 
To accumulatte vices by the fends frelte
There was I geuene by false ydolatre. 
A vowe I mayd to the powre diabolicall, 
Whiche to Gods precept is bud fantasticall.

O nature humayne in this terrayne mansion, 
Behold, at my tenthe yere so fulle off iniquite
I was keplet by farnall instigation
With plays before the ydolle superstitiosite, 
Which callyd was Demetra. And thus throwght vanite
I past furthe the tyme in warks detestable, 
Which to Gods precept is most reprobable.

In the Mownt off Diane this sciens I usyd, 
Most wricchid kaytyffe, to my confusion; 
Yit ryght sone aftere I was prest sacrede
In the Mownt Olimpo, where that by illusion
Aperyd to me in many sondri fation
The bodyes infernall with blasts tempestius, 
Which to Gods precept is yll and tedius. 

Then forty days in the Mownt Olimpo
I dyde remayn where I dyde se
Company off fends how they dyde come and go
Frome man to man in dyverse cuntre
Tempynge the criatures by ther gret cruelte
There sowlles to perische. Myselfe I thus appliede, 
Which to Gods precept is vtterly renyede.

There I dyde behold the company infernall, 
What was ther power in euery degre; 
The which space and tyme for my fude corperall
Aftere the son settynge off leues one the tre
I toke repast persewynge myn iniquite. 
Infecte I was with demoniall incantation, 
Which to Gods precept is uere intoxication.

Ffrome Egipte into Calde I toke the redy way
To lerne and know the sciens off astrology
With vertew off herbes and flowres in May, 
The mowyngs off planetts as Venus & Mercury
With all the aspects inducynge to domofy. 
Intycer to art magyke this sciens I may call, 
Which to Gods precept is clene disordinall.

There [I] dyde know the vertew and powre
Off spirits off the are fell & vigorus, 
The cowrse off the firmament with mynut & howre, 
And dyuerse shapps off spirits furius. 
Thay dyde me shew by pictures odius
In magyke bokes the dredfulle visiones
Which to Gods precept is bud illusiones.

 Ffrome carnall meettes and eke frome lechery
Me to obstene thay dyde me cownsell, 
Sayng it was cheffe introductory
To art magyke the fures to expell. 
Thus at my call I hade the spiretts fell
By marvelus vesiones and gastfulle cowntenance. 
Which to Gods precept is lyttell off substance. 

Thre hundrethe and sexty I had at obedience
And .v. spirits the whiche off there properte
Sume for dissentione, errore, maledicence, 
Covitus, turpilucrum, and iniquite, 
Sume for vaynglory, fornication, and lechere.
Lucifere hymselfe I hade at my plesure, 
Contrary Gods precept and Holy Scripture. 

O hewenly Diademe & Lord off myght, 
Apone thy grace for mercy I call, 
Besechyng thy mageste to ellumyne my syght
Frome the mysty vapors and fumes infernall. 
My ees was hyde with the blasts demoniall, 
Whiche now may se throwght thy gret mercy
Thy holy precepe to observe and apply. 

To thy gret mercy, Lord, me retayn, 
Which was ne lost by the fends incombrement. 
Thynke on me, kaytyffe and wofulle Cipriane, 
As on the rode thy blod thu shent. 
For me and all mankynd thy body was rent. 
Have pety on me, Lord; for mercy I cry. 
Thy holy precept I shall neuer deny. 

Quod Anthony Askham