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Medieval Conceptions of Magic

Medieval Conceptions of Magic

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Published by: Jimny34 on Sep 12, 2012
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Hegeler Institute
SOME MEDIEVAL CONCEPTIONS OF MAGICAuthor(s): Lynn ThorndikeReviewed work(s):Source:
The Monist,
Vol. 25, No. 1 (JANUARY, 1915), pp. 107-139Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 12/09/2012 03:06
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SOMEMEDIEVALCONCEPTIONSOFMAGIC*
MAGICisattractingattentionto-day.Studentsoffolk-lore andof thehistoryofreligoncannotaffordtoneglectit.Anthropologistshavefoundthatitcolorsmuchofthe lifeofprimitiveman,andsociologistshavebeguntodeal withitas animportantsocial manifestation.Itoccupiesnosmallpartof thewritten remains ofAssyriaandBabyloniaandoftheGreekpapyri;infact,itstracesareevidentthroughouttheliteraturesofHellasandofRome. The middleagestoo,althoughtheyhaveasyetreceivedlittle attentionfromseriousmodernstudents ofmagic,wereatimewhentherewas agreatdealofmagicandnolittle talk aboutit.Itmayhelpusinformingasatisfactorydefinition andtheoryofmagicforour ownuse,ifwenotesomepreviousdefinitionsofitbymenwhoactuallylivedin themidstofitandbelievedinit. Inthecaseofthesavageweapplyourterm"magic"tocertain of hispractices,butmedieval
menusedtheverysameword"magic"aswe,andonthe
wholetheextantwritersof thetwelfth andthirteenthcenturiesdiscussmagicmorefullyanddirectlythanthoseevenofthedaysof the elderPlinyandApuleius.Thepresentarticlewillsetforthanumberofdiscussions ofmagicorsignificantallusionstheretoinbooksandwritersof thetwelfthandthirteenth centuries.Spacewillnotpermitmetogiveevenanidea of thevastcollection of
Theauthor hasnotseenproofsof thisarticle,owingtohisabsence
abroad.
 
8
THEMONIST.
medieval beliefsandpracticeswhichonemightclassifyasmagic.Wemustlimitourselvestoafewauthorswhodefinemagicandomitthemanywhoillustrate thethingwithoutdesignatingitbythatname.
THE"POLYCRATICUS"OFJOHNOF SALISBURY.
WeturnfirsttoPolycraticus,1written about1159byJohnofSalisbury,who studied andtaughtinvariousschoolsofwesternEurope,thenwaslongemployedinofficial churchbusiness,andfinallybecamebishopofChartresin1176.ThePolycraticusseemsdesignedassomewhatlightreadingforthe culturedpublic,andtreatssuch"trifles"(nugae)asgambling,hunting,the theaterandmusic.Johnconfessesthatthe bookislittlemorethanapatchworkof others'opinionswithoutacknowledgmentofauthorities;whatheprobablyprideshimselfonmostisthe Latinstyleandthenumerousquotationsfrom classical andChristianauthors.Inshort,it isaconservativework,repeatingtraditional attitudesinanattractive,dilletanteliteraryformandwithsuchrationalcriticismassomestudyof the classicsmaybesupposedtoproducewhenqualifiedbyscrupulousadherencetomedievalChris
tiandogma.
John'sdiscussionofmagiciswhatonemightexpectfrom thesepremises.Hegives,exceptforslightchangesinarrangementandwordingandtheintroductionofafewnewitems ofinformation,astockdefinitionprevalentamongChristian writersatleastsince thetimeofIsidoreofSeville.InhisEtymologies (VIII,9)Isidoreputtogetherfrom suchsources asPlinytheElder,Jerome,andAugustineanaccountofthehistoryandcharacter ofthemagicartswhichwouldfillaboutfiveordinarypages.Thispassage,somewhatalteredbyomittingpoeticalquotationsorinsertingtransitionalsentences,wasotherwisecopied
1JohannesdeSaresberia,"Polycraticussive Denugiscurialiumetves
tigiisphilosophorumMigne's Patrolog?a Latina,Vol.199.

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