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Title: A History of Magic and Experimental Science, Volume 1 (of 2)

During the First Thirteen Centuries of Our Era

Author: Lynn Thorndike

Release Date: April 7, 2022 [eBook #67792]

Language: English

Produced by: Tim Lindell, Les Galloway and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)


Transcriber’s Notes

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variations in hyphenation and accents have been standardised but all other spelling and punctuation remains unchanged.

On page 313 “sees no reason why divination in darkness, in a wall, or in sunlight, or by potions and incantations,” while well seems more likely than wall the original text is unchanged.

Footnote 1477: century, fols. 156-74 has been replaced by 56-74.

The table of contents lists the contents of volume 2 as well as volume 1.

The cover was prepared by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.








Copyright 1923 Columbia University Press
First published by The Macmillan Company 1923

ISBN 0-231-08794-2
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7

[Pg v]


Preface ix
Abbreviations xiii
Designation of Manuscripts xv
List of Works Frequently Cited by Author and Date of Publication or Brief Title xvii
1. Introduction 1
Foreword 39
2. Pliny’s Natural History 41
I. Its Place in the History of Science 42
II. Its Experimental Tendency 53
III. Pliny’s Account of Magic 58
IV. The Science of the Magi 64
V. Pliny’s Magical Science 72
3. Seneca and Ptolemy: Natural Divination and Astrology 100
4. Galen 117
I. The Man and His Times 119
II. His Medicine and Experimental Science 139
III. His Attitude Toward Magic 165
5. Ancient Applied Science and Magic: Vitruvius, Hero, and the Greek Alchemists 182
6. Plutarch’s Essays 200
7. Apuleius of Madaura 221
8. Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana 242
9. Literary and Philosophical Attacks upon Superstition: Cicero, Favorinus, Sextus Empiricus, Lucian 268
10. Spurious Mystic Writings of Hermes, Orpheus, and Zoroaster 287
[Pg vi]
11. Neo-Platonism and Its Relations to Astrology and Theurgy 298
12. Aelian, Solinus, and Horapollo 322
Foreword 337
13. The Book of Enoch 340
14. Philo Judaeus 348
15. The Gnostics 360
16. The Christian Apocrypha 385
17. The Recognitions of Clement and Simon Magus 400
18. The Confession of Cyprian and Some Similar Stories 428
19. Origen and Celsus 436
20. Other Christian Discussion of Magic Before Augustine 462
21. Christianity and Natural Science: Basil, Epiphanius, and the Physiologus 480
22. Augustine on Magic and Astrology 504
23. The Fusion of Pagan and Christian Thought in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries 523
24. The Story of Nectanebus, or the Alexander Legend in the Early Middle Ages 551
25. Post-Classical Medicine 566
26. Pseudo-Literature in Natural Science 594
27. Other Early Medieval Learning: Boethius, Isidore, Bede, Gregory 616
28. Arabic Occult Science of the Ninth Century 641
29. Latin Astrology and Divination, Especially in the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Centuries 672
30. Gerbert and the Introduction of Arabic Astrology 697
31. Anglo-Saxon, Salernitan and Other Latin Medicine in Manuscripts from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century 719
32. Constantinus Africanus (c. 1015-1087) 742
33. Treatises on the Arts Before the Introduction of Arabic Alchemy 760
34. Marbod 775
General 783
Bibliographical 811
Manuscripts 831
[Pg vii]
35. The Early Scholastics: Peter Abelard and Hugh of St. Victor 3
36. Adelard of Bath 14
37. William of Conches 50
38. Some Twelfth Century Translators, Chiefly of Astrology from the Arabic 66
39. Bernard Silvester; Astrology and Geomancy 99
40. Saint Hildegard of Bingen 124
41. John of Salisbury 155
42. Daniel of Morley and Roger of Hereford 171
43. Alexander Neckam on the Natures of Things 188
44. Moses Maimonides 205
45. Hermetic Books in the Middle Ages 214
46. Kiranides 229
47. Prester John and the Marvels of India 236
48. The Pseudo-Aristotle 246
49. Solomon and the Ars Notoria 279
50. Ancient and Medieval Dream-Books 290
Foreword 305
51. Michael Scot 307
52. William of Auvergne 338
53. Thomas of Cantimpré 372
54. Bartholomew of England 401
55. Robert Grosseteste 436
56. Vincent of Beauvais 457
57. Early Thirteenth Century Medicine: Gilbert of England and William of England 477
58. Petrus Hispanus 488
59. Albertus Magnus 517
I. Life 521
II. As a Scientist 528
III. His Allusions to Magic 548
IV. Marvelous Virtues in Nature 560
V. Attitude Toward Astrology 577
[Pg viii]
60. Thomas Aquinas 593
61. Roger Bacon 616
I. Life 619
II. Criticism of and Part in Medieval Learning 630
III. Experimental Science 649
IV. Attitude Toward Magic and Astrology 659
62. The Speculum Astronomiae 692
63. Three Treatises Ascribed to Albert 720
64. Experiments and Secrets: Medical and Biological 751
65. Experiments and Secrets: Chemical and Magical 777
66. Picatrix 813
67. Guido Bonatti and Bartholomew of Parma 825
68. Arnald of Villanova 841
69. Raymond Lull 862
70. Peter of Abano 874
71. Cecco d’Ascoli 948
72. Conclusion 969
General 985
Bibliographical 1007
Manuscripts 1027

[Pg ix]


This work has been long in preparation—ever since in 1902-1903 Professor James Harvey Robinson, when my mind was still in the making, suggested the study of magic in medieval universities as the subject of my thesis for the master’s degree at Columbia University—and has been foreshadowed by other publications, some of which are listed under my name in the preliminary bibliography. Since this was set up in type there have also appeared: “Galen: the Man and His Times,” in The Scientific Monthly, January, 1922; “Early Christianity and Natural Science,” in The Biblical Review, July, 1922; “The Latin Pseudo-Aristotle and Medieval Occult Science,” in The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, April, 1922; and notes on Daniel of Morley and Gundissalinus in The English Historical Review. For permission to make use of these previous publications in the present work I am indebted to the editors of the periodicals just mentioned, and also to the editors of The Columbia University Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law, The American Historical Review, Classical Philology, The Monist, Nature, The Philosophical Review, and Science. The form, however, of these previous publications has often been altered in embodying them in this book, and, taken together, they constitute but a fraction of it. Book I greatly amplifies the account of magic in the Roman Empire contained in my doctoral dissertation. Over ten years ago I prepared an account of magic and science in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries based on material available in print in libraries of this country and arranged topically, but I did not publish it, as it seemed advisable to supplement it by study abroad and of the manuscript material, and to adopt an arrangement by authors. The result is Books IV and V of the present work.

My examination of manuscripts has been done especially at the British Museum, whose rich collections, perhaps because somewhat inaccessibly catalogued, have been less used by students of medieval learning than such libraries as the[Pg x] Bodleian and Bibliothèque Nationale. I have worked also, however, at both Oxford and Paris, at Munich, Florence, Bologna, and elsewhere; but it has of course been impossible to examine all the thousands of manuscripts bearing upon the subject, and the war prevented me from visiting some libraries, such as the important medieval collection of Amplonius at Erfurt. However, a fairly wide survey of the catalogues of collections of manuscripts has convinced me that I have read a representative selection. Such classified lists of medieval manuscripts as Mrs. Dorothea Singer has undertaken for the British Isles should greatly facilitate the future labors of investigators in this field.

Although working in a rather new field, I have been aided by editions of medieval writers produced by modern scholarship, and by various series, books, and articles tending, at least, in the same direction as mine. Some such publications have appeared or come to my notice too late for use or even for mention in the text: for instance, another edition of the De medicamentis of Marcellus Empiricus by M. Niedermann; the printing of the Twelve Experiments with Snakeskin of John Paulinus by J. W. S. Johnsson in Bull. d. l. société franç. d’hist. d. l. méd., XII, 257-67; the detailed studies of Sante Ferrari on Peter of Abano; and A. Franz, Die kirchlichen Benediktionen im Mittelalter, 1909, 2 vols. The breeding place of the eel (to which I allude at I, 491) is now, as a result of recent investigation by Dr. J. Schmidt, placed “about 2500 miles from the mouth of the English Channel and 500 miles north-east of the Leeward Islands” (Discovery, Oct., 1922, p. 256) instead of in the Mediterranean.

A man who once wrote in Dublin[1] complained of the difficulty of composing a learned work so far from the Bodleian and British Museum, and I have often felt the same way. When able to visit foreign collections or the largest libraries in this country, or when books have been sent for my use for a limited period, I have spent all the available time in the collection of material, which has been written up later as opportunity offered. Naturally one then finds many small and some important points which require verification or further investigation, but which must be postponed until one’s next vacation or trip abroad, by which time some of the smaller points are apt to be forgotten.[Pg xi] Of such loose threads I fear that more remain than could be desired. And I have so often caught myself in the act of misinterpretation, misplaced emphasis, and other mistakes, that I have no doubt there are other errors as well as omissions which other scholars will be able to point out and which I trust they will. Despite this prospect, I have been bold in affirming my independent opinion on any point where I have one, even if it conflicts with that of specialists or puts me in the position of criticizing my betters. Constant questioning, criticism, new points of view, and conflict of opinion are essential in the pursuit of truth.

After some hesitation I decided, because of the expense, the length of the work, and the increasing unfamiliarity of readers with Greek and Latin, as a rule not to give in the footnotes the original language of passages used in the text. I have, however, usually supplied the Latin or Greek when I have made a free translation or one with which I felt that others might not agree. But in such cases I advise critics not to reject my rendering utterly without some further examination of the context and line of thought of the author or treatise in question, since the wording of particular passages in texts and manuscripts is liable to be corrupt, and since my purpose in quoting particular passages is to illustrate the general attitude of the author or treatise. In describing manuscripts I have employed quotation marks when I knew from personal examination or otherwise that the Latin was that of the manuscript itself, and have omitted quotation marks where the Latin seemed rather to be that of the description in the catalogue. Usually I have let the faulty spelling and syntax of medieval copyists stand without comment. But as I am not an expert in palaeography and have examined a large number of manuscripts primarily for their substance, the reader should not regard my Latin quotations from them as exact transliterations or carefully considered texts. He should also remember that there is little uniformity in the manuscripts themselves. I have tried to reduce the bulk of the footnotes by the briefest forms of reference consistent with clearness—consult lists of abbreviations and of works frequently cited by author and date of publication—and by use of appendices at the close of certain chapters.

Within the limits of a preface I may not enumerate all the libraries where I have been permitted to work or which[Pg xii] have generously sent books—sometimes rare volumes—to Cleveland for my use, or all the librarians who have personally assisted my researches or courteously and carefully answered my written inquiries, or the other scholars who have aided or encouraged the preparation of this work, but I hope they may feel that their kindness has not been in vain. In library matters I have perhaps most frequently imposed upon the good nature of Mr. Frederic C. Erb of the Columbia University Library, Mr. Gordon W. Thayer, in charge of the John G. White collection in the Cleveland Public Library, and Mr. George F. Strong, librarian of Adelbert College, Western Reserve University; and I cannot forbear to mention the interest shown in my work by Dr. R. L. Poole at the Bodleian. For letters facilitating my studies abroad before the war or application for a passport immediately after the war I am indebted to the Hon. Philander C. Knox, then Secretary of State, to Frederick P. Keppel, then Assistant Secretary of War, to Drs. J. Franklin Jameson and Charles F. Thwing, and to Professors Henry E. Bourne and Henry Crew. Professors C. H. Haskins,[2] L. C. Karpinski, W. G. Leutner, W. A. Locy, D. B. Macdonald, L. J. Paetow, S. B. Platner, E. C. Richardson, James Harvey Robinson, David Eugene Smith, D’Arcy W. Thompson, A. H. Thorndike, E. L. Thorndike, T. Wingate Todd, and Hutton Webster, and Drs. Charles Singer and Se Boyar have kindly read various chapters in manuscript or proof and offered helpful suggestions. The burden of proof-reading has been generously shared with me by Professors B. P. Bourland, C. D. Lamberton, and Walter Libby, and especially by Professor Harold North Fowler who has corrected proof for practically the entire work. After receiving such expert aid and sound counsel I must assume all the deeper guilt for such faults and indiscretions as the book may display.

[Pg xiii]


Abhandl. Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der Mathematischen Wissenschaften, begründet von M. Cantor, Teubner, Leipzig.
Addit. Additional Manuscripts in the British Museum.
Amplon. Manuscript collection of Amplonius Ratinck at Erfurt.
AN Ante-Nicene Fathers, American Reprint of the Edinburgh edition, in 9 vols., 1913.
AS Acta sanctorum.
Beiträge Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, ed. by C. Baeumker, G. v. Hertling, M. Baumgartner, et al., Münster, 1891-.
BL Bodleian Library, Oxford.
BM British Museum, London.
BN Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
Borgnet Augustus Borgnet, ed. B. Alberti Magni Opera omnia, Paris, 1890-1899, in 38 vols.
Brewer Fr. Rogeri Bacon Opera quaedam hactenus inedita, ed. J. S. Brewer, London, 1859, in RS, XV.
Bridges The Opus Maius of Roger Bacon, ed. J. H. Bridges, I-II, Oxford, 1897; III, 1900.
CCAG Catalogus codicum astrologorum Graecorum, ed. F. Cumont, W. Kroll, F. Boll, et al., 1898.
CE Catholic Encyclopedia.
CFCB Census of Fifteenth Century Books Owned in America, compiled by a committee of the Bibliographical Society of America, New York, 1919.
CLM Codex Latinus Monacensis (Latin MS at Munich).[Pg xiv]
CSEL Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum, Vienna, 1866-.
CU Cambridge University (used to distinguish MSS in colleges having the same names as those at Oxford).
CUL Cambridge University Library.
DNB Dictionary of National Biography.
EB Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition.
EETS Early English Text Society Publications.
EHR English Historical Review.
ERE Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. J. Hastings et al., 1908-.
HL Histoire Littéraire de la France.
HZ Historische Zeitschrift, Munich, 1859-.
Kühn Medici Graeci, ed. C. J. Kühn, Leipzig, 1829, containing the works of Galen, Dioscorides, etc.
MG Monumenta Germaniae.
MS Manuscript.
MSS Manuscripts.
Muratori Rerum Italicarum scriptores ab anno aerae christianae 500 ad 1500, ed. L. A. Muratori, 1723-1751.
NH C. Plinii Secundi Naturalis Historia (Pliny’s Natural History).
PG Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus, series graeca.
PL Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus, series latina.
PN The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. Wace and Schaff, 1890-1900, 14 vols.
PW Pauly and Wissowa, Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft.
RS “Rolls Series,” or Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores, 99 works in 244 vols., London, 1858-1896.[Pg xv]
TU Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, ed. Gebhardt und Harnack.


Individual manuscripts are usually briefly designated in the ensuing notes and appendices by a single word indicating the place or collection where the MS is found and the number or shelf-mark of the individual MS. So many of the catalogues of MSS collections which I consulted were undated and without name of author that I have decided to attempt no catalogue of them. The brief designations that I give will be sufficient for anyone who is interested in MSS. In giving Latin titles, Incipits, and the like of MSS I employ quotation marks when I know from personal examination or otherwise that the wording is that of the MS itself, and omit the marks where the Latin seems rather to be that of the description in the manuscript catalogue or other source of information. In the following List of Works Frequently Cited are included a few MSS catalogues whose authors I shall have occasion to refer to by name.

[Pg xvii]


For more detailed bibliography on specific topics and for editions or manuscripts of the texts used see the bibliographies, references, and appendices to individual chapters. I also include here some works of general interest or of rather cursory character which I have not had occasion to mention elsewhere; and I usually add, for purposes of differentiation, other works in our field by an author than those works by him which are frequently cited. Of the many histories of the sciences, medicine, and magic that have appeared since the invention of printing I have included but a small selection. Almost without exception they have to be used with the greatest caution.

Abano, Peter of, Conciliator differentiarum philosophorum et praecipue medicorum, 1472, 1476, 1521, 1526, etc. De venenis, 1472, 1476, 1484, 1490, 1515, 1521, etc.

Abel, ed. Orphica, 1885.

Abelard, Peter. Opera hactenus seorsim edita, ed. V. Cousin, Paris, 1849-1859, 2 vols.

Ouvrages inédits, ed. V. Cousin, 1835.

Abt, Die Apologie des Apuleius von Madaura und die antike Zauberei, Giessen, 1908.

Achmetis Oneirocriticon, ed. Rigaltius, Paris, 1603.

Adelard of Bath, Quaestiones naturales, 1480, 1485, etc. De eodem et diverso, ed. H. Willner, Münster, 1903.

Ahrens, K. Das Buch der Naturgegenstände, 1892.

Zur Geschichte des sogenannten Physiologus, 1885.

Ailly, Pierre d’, Tractatus de ymagine mundi (and other works), 1480 (?).

Albertus Magnus, Opera omnia, ed. A. Borgnet, Paris, 1890-1899, 38 vols.

[Pg xviii]

Allbutt, Sir T. Clifford. The Historical Relations of Medicine and Surgery to the End of the Sixteenth Century, London, 1905, 122 pp.; an address delivered at the St. Louis Congress in 1904.
The Rise of the Experimental Method in Oxford, London, 1902, 53 pp., from Journal of the Oxford University Junior Scientific Club, May, 1902, being the ninth Robert Boyle Lecture.
Science and Medieval Thought, London, 1901, 116 brief pages. The Harveian Oration delivered before the Royal College of Physicians.

Allendy, R. F. L’Alchimie et la Médecine; Étude sur les théories hermétiques dans l’histoire de la médecine, Paris, 1912, 155 pp.

Anz, W. Zur Frage nach dem Ursprung des Gnostizismus, Leipzig, 1897.

Aquinas, Thomas. Opera omnia, ed. E. Fretté et P. Maré, Paris, 1871-1880, 34 vols.

Aristotle, De animalibus historia, ed. Dittmeyer, 1907; English translations by R. Creswell, 1848, and D’Arcy W. Thompson, Oxford, 1910.

Pseudo-Aristotle. Lapidarius, Merszborg, 1473.
Secretum secretorum, Latin translation from the Arabic by Philip of Tripoli in many editions; and see Gaster.

Arnald of Villanova, Opera, Lyons, 1532.

Artemidori Daldiani et Achmetis Sereimi F. Oneirocritica; Astrampsychi et Nicephori versus etiam Oneirocritici; Nicolai Rigaltii ad Artemidorum Notae, Paris, 1603.

Ashmole, Elias, Theatrum chemicum Britannicum, 1652.

Astruc, Jean. Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la Faculté de Médecine de Montpellier, Paris, 1767.

Auriferae artis quam chemiam vocant antiquissimi auctores, Basel, 1572.

Barach et Wrobel, Bibliotheca Philosophorum Mediae Aetatis, 1876-1878, 2 vols.

Bartholomew of England, De proprietatibus rerum, Lingelbach, Heidelberg, 1488, and other editions.

[Pg xix]

Bauhin, De plantis a divis sanctisve nomen habentibus, Basel, 1591.

Baur, Ludwig, ed. Gundissalinus De divisione philosophiae, Münster, 1903.

Die Philosophischen Werke des Robert Grosseteste, Münster, 1912.

Beazley, C. R. The Dawn of Modern Geography, London, 1897-1906, 3 vols.

Bernard, E. Catalogi librorum manuscriptorum Angliae et Hiberniae in unum collecti (The old catalogue of the Bodleian MSS), Tom. I, Pars 1, Oxford, 1697.

Berthelot, P. E. M. Archéologie et histoire des sciences avec publication nouvelle du papyrus grec chimique de Leyde et impression originale du Liber de septuaginta de Geber, Paris, 1906.
Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, 1887-1888, 3 vols.
Introduction à l’étude de la chimie des anciens et du moyen âge, 1889.
La chimie au moyen âge, 1893, 3 vols.
Les origines de l’alchimie, 1885.
Sur les voyages de Galien et de Zosime dans l’Archipel et en Asie, et sur la matière médicale dans l’antiquité, in Journal des Savants, 1895, pp. 382-7.

Bezold, F. von, Astrologische Geschichtsconstruction im Mittelalter, in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, VIII (1892) 29ff.

Bibliotheca Chemica. See Borel and Manget.

Björnbo, A. A. und Vogl, S. Alkindi, Tideus, und Pseudo-Euklid; drei optische Werke, Leipzig, 1911.

Black, W. H. Catalogue of the Ashmolean Manuscripts, Oxford, 1845.

Boffito, P. G. Il Commento di Cecco d’Ascoli all’Alcabizzo, Florence, 1905.
Il De principiis astrologiae di Cecco d’Ascoli, in Giornale Storico della Letteratura Italiana, Suppl. 6, Turin, 1903.
[Pg xx] Perchè fu condannato al fuoco l’astrologo Cecco d’Ascoli, in Studi e Documenti di Storia e Diritto, Publicazione periodica dell’accademia de conferenza Storico-Giuridiche, Rome, XX (1899).

Boll, Franz. Die Erforschung der antiken Astrologie, in Neue Jahrb. f. d. klass. Altert., XI (1908) 103-26.
Eine arabisch-byzantische Quelle des Dialogs Hermippus, in Sitzb. Heidelberg Akad., Philos. Hist. Classe (1912) No. 18, 28 pp.
Sphaera, Leipzig, 1903.
Studien über Claudius Ptolemaeus, in Jahrb. f. klass. Philol., Suppl. Bd. XXI.
Zur Ueberlieferungsgeschichte d. griech. Astrologie u. Astronomie, in Münch. Akad. Sitzb., 1899.

Boll und Bezold, Sternglauben, Leipzig, 1918; I have not seen.

Bonatti, Guido. Liber astronomicus, Ratdolt, Augsburg, 1491.

Boncompagni, B. Della vita e delle Opere di Gherardo Cremonese traduttore del secolo duodecimo e di Gherardo da Sabbionetta astronomo del secolo decimoterzo, Rome, 1851.
Della vita e delle opere di Guido Bonatti astrologo ed astronomo del secolo decimoterzo, Rome, 1851.
Estratte dal Giornale Arcadico, Tomo CXXIII-CXXIV. Della vita e delle opere di Leonardo Pisano, Rome, 1852.
Intorno ad alcune opere di Leonardo Pisano, Rome, 1854.

Borel, P. Bibliotheca Chimica seu catalogus librorum philosophicorum hermeticorum usque ad annum 1653, Paris, 1654.

Bostock, J. and Riley, H. T. The Natural History of Pliny, translated with copious notes, London, 1855; reprinted 1887.

Bouché-Leclercq, A. L’astrologie dans le monde romain, in Revue Historique, vol. 65 (1897) 241-99.
[Pg xxi] L’astrologie grecque, Paris, 1899, 658 pp.
Histoire de la divination dans l’antiquité, 1879-1882, 4 vols.

Breasted, J. H. Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt, New York, 1912.

A History of Egypt, 1905; second ed., 1909.

Brehaut, E. An Encyclopedist of the Dark Ages; Isidore of Seville, in Columbia University Studies in History, etc., vol. 48 (1912) 1-274.

Brewer, J. S. Monumenta Franciscana (RS IV, 1), London, 1858.

Brown, J. Wood. An inquiry into the life and legend of Michael Scot, Edinburgh, 1897.

Browne, Edward G. Arabian Medicine (the Fitzpatrick Lectures of 1919 and 1920), Cambridge University Press, 1921.

Browne, Sir Thomas. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1650.

Bubnov, N. ed. Gerberti opera mathematica, Berlin, 1899.

Budge, E. A. W. Egyptian Magic, London, 1899.
Ethiopic Histories of Alexander by the Pseudo-Callisthenes and other writers, Cambridge University Press, 1896.
Syriac Version of Pseudo-Callisthenes, Cambridge, 1889.
Syrian Anatomy, Pathology, and Therapeutics, London, 1913, 2 vols.

Bunbury, E. H. A History of Ancient Geography, London, 1879, 2 vols.

Cahier et Martin, Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et de littérature, Paris, 1847-1856, 4 folio vols.

Cajori, F. History of Mathematics; second edition, revised and enlarged, 1919.

Cantor, M. Vorlesungen über Geschichte der Mathematik, 3rd edition, Leipzig, 1899-1908, 4 vols. Reprint of vol. II in 1913.

Carini, S. I. Sulle Scienze Occulte nel Medio Evo, Palermo, 1872; I have not seen.

[Pg xxii]

Cauzons, Th. de. La magie et la sorcellerie en France, 1910, 4 vols.; largely compiled from secondary sources.

Charles, E. Roger Bacon: sa vie, ses ouvrages, ses doctrines, Bordeaux, 1861.

Charles, R. H. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, English translation with introductions and critical and explanatory notes in conjunction with many scholars, Oxford, 1913, 2 large vols.
Ascension of Isaiah, 1900, and reprinted in 1917.
The Book of Enoch, Oxford, 1893; translated anew, 1912.

Charles, R. H. and Morfill, W. R. The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, Oxford, 1896.

Charterius, Renatus ed. Galeni opera, Paris, 1679, 13 vols.

Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, see Denifle et Chatelain.

Chassang, A. Le merveilleux dans l’antiquité, 1882; I have not seen.

Choulant, Ludwig. Albertus Magnus in seiner Bedeutung für die Naturwissenschaften historisch und bibliographisch dargestellt, in Janus, I (1846) 152ff.
Die Anfänge wissenschaftlicher Naturgeschichte und naturhistorischer Abbildung, Dresden, 1856.
Handbuch der Bücherkunde für die ältere Medicin, 2nd edition, Leipzig, 1841; like the foregoing, slighter than the title leads one to hope.
ed. Macer Floridus de viribus herbarum una cum Walafridi Strabonis, Othonis Cremonensis et Ioannis Folcz carminibus similis argumenti, 1832.

Christ, W. Geschichte der Griechischen Litteratur; see W. Schmid.

Chwolson, D. Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, Petrograd, 1856, 2 vols.

Clément-Mullet, J. J. Essai sur la minéralogie arabe, Paris, 1868, in Journal asiatique, Tome XI, Sèrie VI.
Traité des poisons de Maimonide, 1865.

[Pg xxiii]

Clerval, Hermann le Dalmate, Paris, 1891, eleven pp.
Les écoles de Chartres au moyen âge, Chartres, 1895.

Cockayne, O. Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, in RS XXXV, London, 1864-1866, 3 vols.
Narratiunculae anglice conscriptae, 1861.

Congrès Périodique International des Sciences Médicales, 17th Session, London, Section XXIII, History of Medicine, 1913.

Cousin, V. See Abelard.

Coxe, H. O. Catalogi Codicum Manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Bodleianae Pars Secunda Codices Latinos et Miscellaneos Laudianos complectens, Oxford, 1858-1885.
Catalogi Codicum Manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Bodleianae Pars Tertia Codices Graecos et Latinos Canonicianos complectens, Oxford, 1854.
Catalogus Codicum Manuscriptorum qui in collegiis aulisque Oxoniensibus hodie adservantur, 1852, 2 vols.

Cumont, F. Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans, 1912, 2 vols. And see CCAG under Abbreviations.

Daremberg, Ch. V. Exposition des connaissances de Galien sur l’anatomie, la physiologie, et la pathologie du système nerveux, Paris, 1841.
Histoire des sciences médicales, Paris, 1870, 2 vols.
La médecine; histoire et doctrines, Paris, 1865.
Notices et extraits des manuscrits médicaux, 1853.

Delambre, J. B. J. Histoire de l’astronomie du moyen âge, Paris, 1819.

Delisle, L. Inventaire des manuscrits latins conservés à la bibliothèque nationale sous les numéros 8823-18613 et faisant suite à la série dont la catalogue a été publié en 1744, Paris, 1863-1871.

Denifle, H. Quellen zur Gelehrtengeschichte des Predigerordens im 13 und 14 Jahrhundert, in Archiv f. Lit. u. Kirchengesch. d. Mittelalters, Berlin, II (1886) 165-248.

[Pg xxiv]

Denifle et Chatelain, Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, Paris, 1889-1891, 2 vols.

Denis, F. Le monde enchanté, cosmographie et histoire naturelles fantastiques du moyen âge, Paris, 1843. A curious little volume with a bibliography of works now forgotten.

Doutté, E. Magie et religion dans l’Afrique du Nord, Alger, 1909.

Duhem, Pierre. Le Système du Monde: Histoire des Doctrines Cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic, 5 vols., Paris, 1913-1917.

Du Prel, C. Die Magie als Naturwissenschaft, 1899, 2 vols. Occult speculation, not historical treatment; the author seems to have no direct acquaintance with sources earlier than Agrippa in the sixteenth century.

Easter, D. B. A Study of the Magic Elements in the romans d’aventure and the romans bretons, Johns Hopkins, 1906.

Ennemoser, J. History of Magic, London, 1854.

Enoch, Book of. See Charles.

Epiphanius. Opera ed. G. Dindorf, Leipzig, 1859-1862, 5 vols.

Evans, H. R. The Old and New Magic, Chicago, 1906.

Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca, 1711.
Bibliotheca Latina Mediae et Infimae Aetatis, 1734-1746, 6 vols.
Codex Pseudepigraphus Veteris Testamenti, 1713-1733.

Farnell, L. R. Greece and Babylon; a comparative sketch of Mesopotamian, Anatolian, and Hellenic Religions, Edinburgh, 1911.
The Higher Aspects of Greek Religion, New York, 1912.

Ferckel, C. Die Gynäkologie des Thomas von Brabants, ausgewählte Kapitel aus Buch I de naturis rerum beendet um 1240, Munich, 1912, in G. Klein, Alte Meister d. Medizin u. Naturkunde.

Ferguson, John. Bibliotheca Chemica, a catalogue of al[Pg xxv]chemical, chemical and pharmaceutical books in the collection of the late James Young, Glasgow, 1906.

Fort, G. F. Medical Economy; a contribution to the history of European morals from the Roman Empire to 1400, New York, 1883.

Fossi, F. Catalogus codicum saeculo XV impressorum qui in publica Bibliotheca Magliabechiana Florentiae adservantur, 1793-1795.

Frazer, Sir J. G. Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, 3 vols., 1918.
Golden Bough, edition of 1894, 2 vols.
Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings, 2 vols., 1911.
Some Popular Superstitions of the Ancients, in Folk-Lore, 1890.
Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, 2 vols., 1912.

Garinet. Histoire de la Magie en France.

Garrison, F. H. An Introduction to the History of Medicine, 2nd edition, Philadelphia, 1917.

Gaster, M. A Hebrew Version of the Secretum secretorum, published for the first time, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1907, pp. 879-913; 1908, pp. 111-62, 1065-84.

Gerland, E. Geschichte der Physik von den ältesten Zeiten bis zum Ausgange des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts, in Königl. Akad. d. Wiss., XXIV (1913) Munich and Berlin.

Gerland und Traumüller, Geschichte der Physikalischen Experimentierkunst, Leipzig, 1899.

Giacosa, P. Magistri Salernitani nondum editi, Turin, 1901.

Gilbert of England, Compendium medicinae, Lyons, 1510.

Gloria, Andrea. Monumenti della Università di Padova, 1222-1318, in Memorie del Reale Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, XXII (1884).
Monumenti della Università di Padova, 1318-1405, 1888.

Gordon, Bernard. Lilium medicinae, Venice, 1496, etc.
Practica (and other treatises), 1521.

[Pg xxvi]

Grabmann, Martin. Forschungen über die lateinischen Aristoteles-Uebersetzungen des XIII Jahrhunderts, Münster, 1916.
Die Geschichte der Scholastischen Methode, Freiburg, 1909-1911, 2 vols.

Graesse, J. G. T. Bibliotheca magica, 1843; of little service to me.

Grenfell, B. P. The Present Position of Papyrology, in Bulletin of John Rylands Library, Manchester, VI (1921) 142-62.

Haeser, H. Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Medicin und der Volkskrankheiten, Dritte Bearbeitung, 1875-1882.

Halle, J. Zur Geschichte der Medizin von Hippokrates bis zum XVIII Jahrhundert, Munich, 1909, 199 pp.; too brief, but suggests interesting topics.

Halliwell, J. O. Rara Mathematica, 1839.

Hammer-Jensen. Das sogennannte IV Buch der Meteorologie des Aristoteles, in Hermes, L (1915) 113-36.
Ptolemaios und Heron, Ibid., XLVIII (1913), 224ff.

Hansen, J. Zauberwahn, Inquisition, und Hexenprozess im Mittelalter, Munich and Leipzig, 1900.

Haskins, C. H. Adelard of Bath, in EHR XXVI (1911) 491-8; XXVIII (1913), 515-6.
Leo Tuscus, in EHR XXXIII (1918), 492-6.
The “De Arte Venandi cum Avibus” of the Emperor Frederick II, EHR XXXVI (1921) 334-55.
The Reception of Arabic Science in England, EHR XXX (1915), 56-69.
The Greek Element in the Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, in American Historical Review, XXV (1920) 603-15.

The Translations of Hugo Sanctelliensis, in Romanic Review, II (1911) 1-15.
Nimrod the Astronomer, Ibid., V (1914) 203-12.

A List of Text-books from the Close of the Twelfth Century, in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, XX (1909) 75-94.

[Pg xxvii]

Haskins and Lockwood. The Sicilian Translators of the Twelfth Century and the First Latin Versions of Ptolemy’s Almagest, Ibid., XXI (1910), 75-102.

Hauréau, B. Bernard Délicieux et l’inquisition albigeoise, Paris, 1887.
Histoire de la philosophie scolastique, 1872-1880.
Le Mathematicus de Bernard Silvestris, Paris, 1895.
Les œuvres de Hugues de Saint Victor, essai critique, nouvelle édition, Paris, 1886.
Mélanges poétiques d’Hildebert de Lavardin.
Notices et extraits de quelques mss latins de la bibliothèque nationale, 1890-1893, 6 vols.
Singularités historiques et littéraires, Paris, 1861.

Hearnshaw, F. J. C. Medieval Contributions to Modern Civilization, 1921.

Heilbronner, J. C. Historia Matheseos universae praecipuorum mathematicorum vitas dogmata scripta et manuscripta complexa, Leipzig, 1742.

Heim, R. De rebus magicis Marcelli medici, in Schedae philol. Hermanno Usener oblatae, 1891, pp. 119-37.
Incantamenta magica graeca latina, in Jahrb. f. cl. Philol., 19 suppl. bd., Leipzig, 1893, pp. 463-576.

Heller, A. Geschichte der Physik von Aristoteles bis auf die neueste Zeit, Stuttgart, 1882-1884, 2 vols.

Hendrie, R. Theophili Libri III de diversis artibus, translated by, London, 1847.

Hengstenberg, E. W. Die Geschichte Bileams und seine Weissagungen, Berlin, 1842.

Henry, V. La magie dans l’Inde antique, 1904.

Henslow, G. Medical Works of the Fourteenth Century, London, 1899.

Hercher, ed. Aeliani opera, 1864.
ed. Artemidori Oneirocritica, Leipzig, 1864.
ed. Astrampsychi oculorum decades, Berlin, 1863.

Hertling, G. von, Albertus Magnus; Beiträge zu seiner Würdigung, revised edition with help of Baeumker and Endres, Münster, 1914.

[Pg xxviii]

Hubert, H. Magia, in Daremberg-Saglio.

Hubert et Mauss, Esquisse d’une Théorie Générale de la Magie, in Année Sociologique, 1902-1903, pp. 1-146.

Husik, I. A History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy, 1916.

Ishak ibn Sulaiman, Opera, 1515.

James, M. R. A Descriptive Catalogue of the McClean Collection of MSS in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 1912.
A Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 1895.
A Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 1912, 2 vols.
A Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS in the Library of Gonville and Caius College, 1907-1908, 2 vols.
A Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS in the Library of Pembroke College, 1905.
A Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS in the Library of Peterhouse, 1899.
A Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS in the Library of St. John’s College, Cambridge, 1913.
A Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS in the Library of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, 1895.
The Ancient Libraries of Canterbury and Dover, 1903.
The Western MSS in the Library of Emmanuel College, 1904.
The Western MSS in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1900-1904, 4 vols.

Janus, Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Literatur der Medizin, 1846-.

Jenaer medizin-historische Beiträge, herausg. von T. M. Steineg, 1912-.

Joël, D. Der Aberglaube und die Stellung des Judenthums zu demselben, 1881.

John of Salisbury, Metalogicus, in Migne PL vol. 199.
Polycraticus sive de nugis curialium et vestigiis philosophorum, Ibid. and also ed. C. C. I. Webb, Oxford, 1909.

[Pg xxix]

Joret, Les plantes dans l’antiquité et au moyen âge, 2 vols., Paris, 1897 and 1904.

Jourdain, A. Recherches critiques sur l’âge et l’origine des traductions latines d’Aristote, Paris, 1819; 2nd edition, 1843.

Jourdain, C. Dissertation sur l’état de la philosophie naturelle en occident et principalement en France pendant la première moitié du XIIe siècle, Paris, 1838.
Excursions historiques et philosophiques à travers le moyen âge, Paris, 1888.

Karpinski, L. C. Hindu Science, in American Mathematical Monthly, XXVI (1919) pp. 298-300.
Robert of Chester’s Latin translation of the Algebra of al-Khowarizmi, with introduction, critical notes, and an English version, New York, 1915.
The “Quadripartitum numerorum” of John of Meurs, in Bibliotheca Mathematica, III Folge, XIII Bd. (1913) 99-114.

Kaufmann, A. Thomas von Chantimpré, Cologne, 1899.

King, C. W. The Gnostics and their Remains, ancient and medieval, London, 1887.
The Natural History, ancient and modern, of Precious Stones and Gems, London, 1855.

Kopp, H. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Chemie, Brunswick, 1869-1875.
Ueber den Zustand der Naturwissenschaften im Mittelalter, 1869.

Kretschmer, C. Die physische Erdkunde im christlichen Mittelalter, 1889.

Krumbacher, K. Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur, 527-1453 A. D., 2nd edition, Munich, 1897.

Kunz, G. F. The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, Philadelphia, 1913.
Magic of Jewels and Charms, Philadelphia, 1915.

Langlois, Ch. V. La connaissance de la nature et du monde au moyen âge d’après quelques écrits français à l’usage des laïcs, Paris, 1911.
[Pg xxx] Maître Bernard, in Bibl. de l’École des Chartes, LIV (1893) 225-50, 795.

Lauchert, F. Geschichte des Physiologus, Strassburg, 1889.

Lea, H. C. A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, New York, 1883, 3 vols.

Le Brun. Histoire critique des pratiques superstitieuses, Amsterdam, 1733.

Lecky, W. E. H. History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, 1870, 2 vols.
History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, revised edition, London, 1870.

Lehmann, A. Aberglaube und Zauberei von den ältesten Zeiten an bis in die Gegenwart; deutsche autorisierte Uebersetzung von I. Petersen, Stuttgart, 1908. The historical treatment is scanty.

Leminne, J. Les quatre éléments, in Mémoires couronnés par l’Académie Royale de Belgique, vol. 65, Brussels, 1903.

Lévy, L. G. Maimonide, 1911.

Liechty, R. de. Albert le Grand et saint Thomas d’Aquin, ou la science au moyen âge, Paris, 1880.

Lippmann, E. O. von. Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Alchemie, 1919.

Little, A. G. Initia operum Latinorum quae saeculis XIII, XIV, XV, attribuuntur, Manchester, 1904.
ed. Roger Bacon Essays, contributed by various writers on the occasion of the commemoration of the seventh centenary of his birth, Oxford, 1914.
ed. Part of the Opus Tertium of Roger Bacon, including a Fragment now printed for the first time, Aberdeen, 1912, in British Society of Franciscan Studies, IV.

Loisy. Magie, science et religion, in À propos d’histoire des religions, 1911, p. 166ff.

Macdonald, D. B. The Religious Attitude and Life in Islam, Chicago, 1909.

Macray, Catalogus codicum MSS Bibliothecae Bodleianae, [Pg xxxi] V, Codices Rawlinsonianae, 1862-1900, 5 fascs.; IX, Codices Digbeianae, 1883.

Mai, A. Classici Auctores, 1835.

Mâle, E. Religious Art in France in the Thirteenth Century, translated from the third edition by Dora Nussey, 1913.

Mandonnet, P. Des écrits authentiques de S. Thomas d’Aquin, Fribourg, 1910.
Roger Bacon et la composition des trois Opus, in Revue Néo-Scolastique, Louvain, 1913, pp. 52-68, 164-80.
Roger Bacon et la Speculum astronomiae, Ibid., XVII (1910) 313-35.
Siger de Brabant et l’averroïsme latin au XIIIme siècle, Fribourg, 1899; 2nd edition, Louvain, 1908-1910, 2 vols.

Manget, J. J. Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa, Geneva, 1702, 2 vols.

Manitius, Max. Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, Erster Teil, Von Justinian bis zur Mitte des zehnten Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1911, in Müller’s Handbuch d. kl. Alt. Wiss. IX, 2, i.

Mann, M. F. Der Bestiaire Divin des Guillaume le Clerc, 1888.
Der Physiologus des Philipp von Thaon und seine Quellen, 1884.

Mappae clavicula, ed. M. A. Way in Archaeologia, London, XXXII (1847) 183-244.

Maury, Alfred. La magie et l’astrologie dans l’antiquité et au moyen âge, 1877. Brief as it is, perhaps the best general history of magic.

Mead, G. R. S. Apollonius of Tyana; a critical study of the only existing record of his life, 1901.
Echoes from the Gnosis, 1906, eleven vols.
Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, 1900.
Pistis-Sophia, now for the first time Englished, 1896.
Plotinus, Select Works of, with preface and bibliography, 1909.
Simon Magus, 1892.
[Pg xxxii] Thrice Great Hermes, London, 1906, 3 vols.

Medicae artis principes post Hippocratem et Galenum Graeci Latinitate donati, ed. Stephanus, 1567.

Medici antiqui omnes qui latinis litteris ... Aldus, Venice, 1547.

Mély, F. de et Ruelle, C. E. Les lapidaires de l’antiquité et du moyen âge, Paris, 1896. Mély has published many other works on gems and lapidaries of the past.

Merrifield, Mrs. M. P. Ancient Practice of Painting, or Original Treatises dating from the XIIth to XVIIIth centuries on the arts of painting, London, 1849.

Meyer, E. Albertus Magnus, ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Botanik im XIII Jahrhundert, in Linnaea, X (1836) 641-741, XI (1837) 545.

Meyer, Karl. Der Aberglaube des Mittelalters und der nächstfolgenden Jahrhunderte, Basel, 1856.

Migne, Dictionnaire des Apocryphes, Paris, 1856.
See also under Abbreviations.

Millot-Carpentier, La Médecine au XIIIe siècle, in Annales Internationales d’Histoire, Congrès de Paris, 1900, 5e Section, Histoire des Sciences, pp. 171-96; a chapter from a history of medicine which the author’s death unfortunately kept him from completing.

Milward, E. A Letter to the Honourable Sir Hans Sloane, Bart., in vindication of the character of those Greek writers in physick that flourished after Galen ... particularly that of Alexander Trallian, 1733; reprinted as Trallianus Reviviscens, 1734.

Mommsen, Th. ed. C. Iulii Solini Collectanea rerum memorabilium, 1895.

Moore, Sir Norman, History of the Study of Medicine in the British Isles, 1908.
The History of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, 1918, 2 vols.
The Physician in English History, 1913. A popular lecture.

Muratori, L. A. Antiquitates Italicae medii aevi, Milan,
[Pg xxxiii] 1738-1742, 6 vols. Edition of 1778 in more vols. Index, Turin, 1885.
See also under Abbreviations.

Naudé, Gabriel. Apologie pour tous les grands personnages qui ont esté faussement soupçonnez de Magie, Paris, 1625.

Neckam, Alexander. De naturis rerum, ed. T. Wright, in RS vol. 34, 1863.

Omont, H. Nouvelles acquisitions du départment des manuscrits pendant les années 1891-1910, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

Orr, M. A. (Mrs. John Evershed) Dante and the Early Astronomers, London, 1913.

Paetow, L. J. Guide to the Study of Medieval History, University of California Press, 1917.

Pagel, J. L. Die Concordanciae des Joannes de Sancto Amando, 1894.
Geschichte der Medizin im Mittelalter, in Puschmann’s Handbuch der Geschichte der Medizin, ed. Neuburger u. Pagel, I (1902) 622-752.
Neue litterarische Beiträge zur mittelalterlichen Medicin, Berlin, 1896.

Pangerl, A. Studien über Albert den Grossen, in Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie, XXII (1912) 304-46, 512-49, 784-800.

Pannier, L. Les lapidaires français du moyen âge, Paris, 1882.

Payne, J. F. English Medicine in Anglo-Saxon Times, 1904.
The Relation of Harvey to his Predecessors and especially to Galen: Harveian oration of 1896, in The Lancet, Oct. 24, 1896, 1136ff.

Perna. Artis quam chemiam vocant antiquissimi auctores, Basel, 1572.

Perrier, T. La médecine astrologique, Lyons, 1905, 88 pp. Slight.

Petrus de Prussia. Vita B. Alberti Magni, 1621.

[Pg xxxiv]

Petrus Hispanus. Summa experimentorum sive thesaurus pauperum, Antwerp, 1497.

Philips, H. Medicine and Astrology, 1867.

Picavet, F. Esquisse d’une histoire comparée des philosophies médiévales, 2nd edition, Paris, 1907.

Pico della Mirandola. Opera omnia, 1519.

Pistis-Sophia, ed. Schwartze und Petermann, Coptic and Latin, 1851. Now for the first time Englished, by G. R. S. Mead, 1896.

Pitra, J. B. Analecta novissima, 1885-1888.
Analecta sacra, 1876-1882.
Spicilegium solesmense, 1852-1858.

Poisson, Théories et symboles des Alchimistes, Paris, 1891.

Poole, R. L. Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought in the Departments of Theology and Ecclesiastical Politics, 1884; revised edition, 1920.
The Masters of the Schools at Paris and Chartres in John of Salisbury’s Time, in EHR XXXV (1920) 321-42.

Pouchet, F. A. Histoire des sciences naturelles au moyen âge, ou Albert le Grand et son époque considéré comme point de départ de l’école expérimentale, Paris, 1853.

Ptolemy. Quadripartitum, 1484, and other editions.
Optica, ed. G. Govi, Turin, 1885.

Puccinotti, F. Storia della Medicina, 1850-1870, 3 vols.

Puschmann, Th. Alexander von Tralles, Originaltext und Uebersetzung nebst einer einleitenden Abhandlung, Vienna, 1878-1879.
Handbuch der Geschichte der Medizin, Jena, 1902-1905, 3 vols. Really a cooperative work under the editorship of Max Neuburger and Julius Pagel after Puschmann’s death.
A History of Medical Education from the most remote to the most recent times, London, 1891, English translation.

Quetif, J. et Echard J. Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum, Paris, 1719.

[Pg xxxv]

Rambosson, A. Histoire et légendes des plantes, Paris, 1887.

Rashdall, H. ed. Fratris Rogeri Bacon Compendium Studii Theologiae, 1911.
The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, Oxford, 1895, 3 vols. in 2.

Rasis (Muhammad ibn Zakariya) Opera, Milan, 1481, and Bergamo, 1497.

Regnault, J. La sorcellerie: ses rapports avec les sciences biologiques, 1897, 345 pp.

Reitzenstein, R. Poimandres, Leipzig, 1904.

Renzi, S. de. Collectio Salernitana, 1852-1859, 5 vols.

Rose, Valentin. Anecdota graeca et graeco-latina, Berlin, 1864.
Aristoteles De lapidibus und Arnoldus Saxo, in Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum, XVIII (1875) 321-447.
Ptolemaeus und die Schule von Toledo, in Hermes, VIII (1874) 327-49.
ed. Plinii Secundi Iunioris de medicina libri tres, Leipzig, 1875.
Ueber die Medicina Plinii, in Hermes, VIII (1874) 19-66.
Verzeichnis der lateinischen Handschriften der K. Bibliothek zu Berlin, Band XII (1893), XIII (1902-1903-1905).

Ruska, J. Das Steinbuch des Aristoteles ... nach der arabischen Handschrift, Heidelberg, 1912.
Der diamant in der Medizin, in Deutsche Gesell. f. Gesch. d. Mediz. u. d. Naturwiss., Zwanzig Abhandl. z. Gesch. d. Mediz., 1908.
Zur älteren arabischen Algebra und Rechenkunst, Heidelberg, 1917.

Rydberg, V. The Magic of the Middle Ages, 1879, translated from the Swedish. Popular.

Salverte, E. Des sciences occultes, ou essai sur la magie, Paris, 1843.

[Pg xxxvi]

Sánchez Pérez, J. A. Biografías de Matemáticos Árabes que florecieron en España, Madrid, 1921.

Schanz, M. Geschichte der Römischen Litteratur, Dritter Teil, Munich, 1905; Vierter Teil, Erste Hälfte, Munich, 1914, in Müller’s Handbuch d. klass. Alt. Wiss., VIII, 3.

Schepss, G. ed. Priscilliani quae supersunt, 1889.

Schindler. Der Aberglaube des Mittelalters, Breslau, 1858.

Schmid, W. Die Nachklassiche Periode der Griechischen Litteratur, 1913, in Müller’s Handb. d. kl. Alt. Wiss., VII, ii, 2.

Schum, W. Beschriebendes Verzeichnis der Amplonianischen Handschriften-Sammlung zu Erfurt, Berlin, 1887.

Sighart, J. Albertus Magnus: sein Leben und seine Wissenschaft, Ratisbon, 1857; French translation, Paris, 1862; partial English translation by T. A. Dixon, London, 1876.

Singer, Charles. Early English Magic and Medicine, 1920, 34 pp.
“Science,” pp. 106-48 in “Medieval Contributions to Modern Civilization,” ed. F. J. C. Hearnshaw, 1921.
Studies in the History and Method of Science, Oxford, 1917; a second volume appeared in May, 1921.

Stapper, Richard. Papst Johannes XXI, Münster, 1898, in Kirchengesch. Studien herausg. v. Dr. Knöpfler, IV, 4.

Steele, R. Opera hactenus inedita Rogeri Baconi, 1905-1920.

Steinschneider, Moritz. Abraham ibn Ezra, in Abhandl., (1880) 57-128.
Apollonius von Thyana (oder Balinas) bei den Arabern, in Zeitschrift d. deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, XLV (1891) 439-46.
Arabische Lapidarien, Ibid., XLIX (1895).
Constantinus Africanus und seine arabischen Quellen, in Virchow’s Archiv für pathologische Anatomie, etc., Berlin, XXXVII (1866) 351-410.
[Pg xxxvii] Der Aberglaube, Hamburg, 1900, 34 pp.
Die europäischen Uebersetzungen aus dem Arabischen bis Mitte des 17 Jahrhunderts, in Sitzungsberichte d. kaiserl. Akad. d. Wiss., Philos. Hist. Klasse, Vienna, CXLIX, 4 (1905); CLI, 1 (1906).
Lapidarien, ein culturgeschichtlicher Versuch, in Semitic Studies in memory of Rev. Dr. Alexander Kohut, Berlin, 1897, pp. 42-72.
Maschallah, in Zeitsch. d. deut. morgenl. Gesell., LIII (1899), 434-40.
Zum Speculum astronomicum des Albertus Magnus über die darin angeführten Schriftsteller und Schriften, in Zeitschrift für Mathematik und Physik, Leipzig, XVI (1871) 357-96.
Zur alchimistischen Literatur der Araber, in Zeitsch. d. deut. morgenl. Gesell., LVIII (1904) 299-315.
Zur pseudepigraphischen Literatur insbesondere der geheimen Wissenschaften des Mittelalters; aus hebräischen und arabischen Quellen, Berlin, 1862.

Stephanus, H. Medicae artis principes post Hippocratem et Galenum Graeci Latinitate donati, et Latini, 1567.

Strunz, Franz. Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften im Mittelalter, Stuttgart, 1910, 120 pp. Without index or references.

Studien zur Geschichte der Medizin herausgegeben von der Puschmann-Stiftung an der Universität Leipzig, 1907-.

Sudhoff, Karl. His various articles in the foregoing publication and other periodicals of which he is an editor lie in large measure just outside our period and field, but some will be noted later in particular chapters.

Suter, H. Die Mathematiker und Astronomen der Araber, in Abhandl., X (1900) 1-277; XIV (1902) 257-85.
Die astronomischen Tafeln des Muhammed ibn Musa-al-Khwarizmi, Copenhagen, 1914.

Tanner, T. Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica, London, 1748. Still much cited but largely antiquated and unreliable.

[Pg xxxviii]

Tavenner, E. Studies in Magic from Latin Literature, New York, 1916.

Taylor, H. O. The Classical Heritage, 1901.
The Medieval Mind, 2nd edition, 1914, 2 vols; 3rd edition, 1919.

Theatrum chemicum. See Zetzner.

Theatrum chemicum Britannicum. See Ashmole.

Theophilus Presbyter, Schedula diversarum artium, ed. A. Ilg, Vienna, 1874; English translation by R. Hendrie, London, 1847.

Thomas of Cantimpré, Bonum universale de apibus, 1516.

Thompson, D’Arcy W. Aristotle as a Biologist, 1913.
Glossary of Greek Birds, Oxford, 1895.
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[Pg xxxix]

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[Pg 1]



Aim of this book—Period covered—How to study the history of thought—Definition of magic—Magic of primitive man; does civilization originate in magic?—Divination in early China—Magic in ancient Egypt—Magic and Egyptian religion—Mortuary magic—Magic in daily life—Power of words, images, amulets—Magic in Egyptian medicine—Demons and disease—Magic and science—Magic and industry—Alchemy—Divination and astrology—The sources for Assyrian and Babylonian magic—Was astrology Sumerian or Chaldean?—The number seven in early Babylonia—Incantation texts older than astrological—Other divination than astrology—Incantations against sorcery and demons—A specimen incantation—Materials and devices of magic—Greek culture not free from magic—Magic in myth, literature, and history—Simultaneous increase of learning and occult science—Magic origin urged for Greek religion and drama—Magic in Greek philosophy—Plato’s attitude toward magic and astrology—Aristotle on stars and spirits—Folk-lore in the History of Animals—Differing modes of transmission of ancient oriental and Greek literature—More magical character of directly transmitted Greek remains—Progress of science among the Greeks—Archimedes and Aristotle—Exaggerated view of the scientific achievement of the Hellenistic age—Appendix I. Some works on Magic, Religion, and Astronomy in Babylonia and Assyria.

Magic has existed among all peoples and at every period.”—Hegel.[3]

Aim of this book.

This book aims to treat the history of magic and experimental science and their relations to Christian thought during the first thirteen centuries of our era, with especial emphasis upon the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. No[Pg 2] adequate survey of the history of either magic or experimental science exists for this period, and considerable use of manuscript material has been necessary for the medieval period. Magic is here understood in the broadest sense of the word, as including all occult arts and sciences, superstitions, and folk-lore. I shall endeavor to justify this use of the word from the sources as I proceed. My idea is that magic and experimental science have been connected in their development; that magicians were perhaps the first to experiment; and that the history of both magic and experimental science can be better understood by studying them together. I also desire to make clearer than it has been to most scholars the Latin learning of the medieval period, whose leading personalities even are generally inaccurately known, and on perhaps no one point is illumination more needed than on that covered by our investigation. The subject of laws against magic, popular practice of magic, the witchcraft delusion and persecution lie outside of the scope of this book.[4]

Period covered.

At first my plan was to limit this investigation to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the time of greatest medieval productivity, but I became convinced that this period could be best understood by viewing it in the setting of the Greek, Latin, and early Christian writers to whom it owed so much. If the student of the Byzantine Empire needs to know old Rome, the student of the medieval church to comprehend early Christianity, the student of Romance languages to understand Latin, still more must the reader of Constantinus Africanus, Vincent of Beauvais, Guido Bonatti, and Thomas Aquinas be familiar with the Pliny, Galen, and Ptolemy, the Origen and Augustine, the Alkindi and Albumasar from whom they drew. It would indeed be difficult to draw a line anywhere between them. The ancient[Pg 3] authors are generally extant only in their medieval form; in some cases there is reason to suspect that they have undergone alteration or addition; sometimes new works were fathered upon them. In any case they have been preserved to us because the middle ages studied and cherished them, and to a great extent made them their own. I begin with the first century of our era, because Christian thought begins then, and then appeared Pliny’s Natural History which seems to me the best starting point of a survey of ancient science and magic.[5] I close with the thirteenth century, or, more strictly speaking, in the course of the fourteenth, because by then the medieval revival of learning had spent its force. Attention is centred on magic and experimental science in western Latin literature and learning, Greek and Arabic works being considered as they contributed thereto, and vernacular literature being omitted as either derived from Latin works or unlearned and unscientific.

How to study the history of thought.

Very probably I have tried to cover too much ground and have made serious omissions. It is probably true that for the history of thought as for the history of art the evidence and source material is more abundant than for political or economic history. But fortunately it is more reliable, since the pursuit of truth or beauty does not encourage deception and prejudice as does the pursuit of wealth or power. Also the history of thought is more unified and consistent, steadier and more regular, than the fluctuations and diversities of political history; and for this reason its general outlines can be discerned with reasonable sureness by the examination of even a limited number of examples, provided they are properly selected from a period of sufficient duration. Moreover, it seems to me that in the present stage of research into and knowledge of our subject[Pg 4] sounder conclusions and even more novel ones can be drawn by a wide comparative survey than by a minutely intensive and exhaustive study of one man or of a few years. The danger is of writing from too narrow a viewpoint, magnifying unduly the importance of some one man or theory, and failing to evaluate the facts in their full historical setting. No medieval writer whether on science or magic can be understood by himself, but must be measured in respect to his surroundings and antecedents.

Definition of magic.

Some may think it strange that I associate magic so closely with the history of thought, but the word comes from the Magi or wise men of Persia or Babylon, to whose lore and practices the name was applied by the Greeks and Romans, or possibly we may trace its etymology a little farther back to the Sumerian or Turanian word imga or unga, meaning deep or profound. The exact meaning of the word, “magic,” was a matter of much uncertainty even in classical and medieval times, as we shall see. There can be no doubt, however, that it was then applied not merely to an operative art, but also to a mass of ideas or doctrine, and that it represented a way of looking at the world. This side of magic has sometimes been lost sight of in hasty or assumed modern definitions which seem to regard magic as merely a collection of rites and feats. In the case of primitive men and savages it is possible that little thought accompanies their actions. But until these acts are based upon or related to some imaginative, purposive, and rational thinking, the doings of early man cannot be distinguished as either religious or scientific or magical. Beavers build dams, birds build nests, ants excavate, but they have no magic just as they have no science or religion. Magic implies a mental state and so may be viewed from the standpoint of the history of thought. In process of time, as the learned and educated lost faith in magic, it was degraded to the low practices and beliefs of the ignorant and vulgar. It was this use of the term that was taken up by anthropologists and by them applied to analogous doings and[Pg 5] notions of primitive men and savages. But we may go too far in regarding magic as a purely social product of tribal society: magicians may be, in Sir James Frazer’s words,[6] “the only professional class” among the lowest savages, but note that they rank as a learned profession from the start. It will be chiefly through the writings of learned men that something of their later history and of the growth of interest in experimental science will be traced in this work. Let me add that in this investigation all arts of divination, including astrology, will be reckoned as magic; I have been quite unable to separate the two either in fact or logic, as I shall illustrate repeatedly by particular cases.[7]

Magic of primitive man: does civilization originate in magic?

Magic is very old, and it will perhaps be well in this introductory chapter to present it to the reader, if not in its infancy—for its origins are much disputed and perhaps antecede all record and escape all observation—at least some centuries before its Roman and medieval days. Sir J. G. Frazer, in a passage of The Golden Bough to which we have already referred, remarks that “sorcerers are found in every savage tribe known to us; and among the lowest savages ... they are the only professional class that exists.”[8] Lenormant affirmed in his Chaldean Magic and Sorcery[9] that “all magic rests upon a system of religious belief,” but recent sociologists and anthropologists have[Pg 6] inclined to regard magic as older than a belief in gods. At any rate some of the most primitive features of historical religions seem to have originated from magic. Moreover, religious cults, rites, and priesthoods are not the only things that have been declared inferior in antiquity to magic and largely indebted to it for their origins. Combarieu in his Music and Magic[10] asserts that the incantation is universally employed in all the circumstances of primitive life and that from it, by the medium it is true of religious poetry, all modern music has developed. The magic incantation is, in short, “the oldest fact in the history of civilization.” Although the magician chants without thought of æsthetic form or an artistically appreciative audience, yet his spell contains in embryo all that later constitutes the art of music.[11] M. Paul Huvelin, after asserting with similar confidence that poetry,[12] the plastic arts,[13] medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry “have easily discernable magic sources,” states that he will demonstrate that the same is true of law.[14] Very recently, however, there has been something of a reaction against this tendency to regard the life of primitive man as made up entirely of magic and to trace back every phase of civilization to a magical origin. But R. R. Marett still sees a higher standard of value in primitive man’s magic than in his warfare and brutal exploitation of his fellows and believes that the “higher plane of experience for which mana stands is one in which spiritual enlargement is appreciated for its own sake.”[15]

Divination in early China.

Of the five classics included in the Confucian Canon, The Book of Changes (I Ching or Yi-King), regarded by[Pg 7] some as the oldest work in Chinese literature and dated back as early as 3000 B.C., in its rudimentary form appears to have been a method of divination by means of eight possible combinations in triplets of a line and a broken line. Thus, if a be a line and b a broken line, we may have aaa, bbb, aab, bba, abb, baa, aba, and bab. Possibly there is a connection with the use of knotted cords which, Chinese writers state, preceded written characters, like the method used in ancient Peru. More certain would seem the resemblance to the medieval method of divination known as geomancy, which we shall encounter later in our Latin authors. Magic and astrology might, of course, be traced all through Chinese history and literature. But, contenting ourselves with this single example of the antiquity of such arts in the civilization of the far east, let us turn to other ancient cultures which had a closer and more unmistakable influence upon the western world.

Magic in ancient Egypt.

Of the ancient Egyptians Budge writes, “The belief in magic influenced their minds ... from the earliest to the latest period of their history ... in a manner which, at this stage in the history of the world, is very difficult to understand.”[16] To the ordinary historical student the evidence for this assertion does not seem quite so overwhelming as the Egyptologists would have us think. It looks thinner when we begin to spread it out over a stretch of four[Pg 8] thousand years, and it scarcely seems scientific to adduce details from medieval Arabic tales or from the late Greek fiction of the Pseudo-Callisthenes or from papyri of the Christian era concerning the magic of early Egypt. And it may be questioned whether two stories preserved in the Westcar papyrus, written many centuries afterwards, are alone “sufficient to prove that already in the Fourth Dynasty the working of magic was a recognized art among the Egyptians.”[17]

Magic and Egyptian religion.

At any rate we are told that the belief in magic not only was predynastic and prehistoric, but was “older in Egypt than the belief in God.”[18] In the later religion of the Egyptians, along with more lofty and intellectual conceptions, magic was still a principal ingredient.[19] Their mythology was affected by it[20] and they not only combated demons with magical formulae but believed that they could terrify and coerce the very gods by the same method, compelling them to appear, to violate the course of nature by miracles, or to admit the human soul to an equality with themselves.[21]

Mortuary magic.

Magic was as essential in the future life as here on earth among the living. Many, if not most, of the observances and objects connected with embalming and burial had a magic purpose or mode of operation; for instance, the “magic eyes placed over the opening in the side of the body through which the embalmer removed the intestines,”[22] or the mannikins and models of houses buried with the dead. In the process of embalming the wrapping of each bandage was accompanied by the utterance of magic words.[23] In “the oldest chapter of human thought extant”—the Pyramid[Pg 9] Texts written in hieroglyphic at the tombs at Sakkara of Pharaohs of the fifth and sixth dynasties (c. 2625-2475 B.C.), magic is so manifest that some have averred “that the whole body of Pyramid Texts is simply a collection of magical charms.”[24] The scenes and objects painted on the walls of the tombs, such as those of nobles in the fifth and sixth dynasties, were employed with magic intent and were meant to be realized in the future life; and with the twelfth dynasty the Egyptians began to paint on the insides of the coffins the objects that were formerly actually placed within.[25] Under the Empire the famous Book of the Dead is a collection of magic pictures, charms, and incantations for the use of the deceased in the hereafter,[26] and while it is not of the early period, we hear that “a book with words of magic power” was buried with a pharaoh of the Old Kingdom. Budge has “no doubt that the object of every religious text ever written on tomb, stele, amulet, coffin, papyrus, etc., was to bring the gods under the power of the deceased, so that he might be able to compel them to do his will.”[27] Breasted, on the other hand, thinks that the amount and complexity of this mortuary magic increased greatly in the later period under popular and priestly influence.[28]

Magic in daily life.

Breasted nevertheless believes that magic had played a great part in daily life throughout the whole course of Egyptian history. He writes, “It is difficult for the modern mind to understand how completely the belief in magic penetrated the whole substance of life, dominating popular custom and constantly appearing in the simplest acts of the daily household routine, as much a matter of course as[Pg 10] sleep or the preparation of food. It constituted the very atmosphere in which the men of the early oriental world lived. Without the saving and salutary influence of such magical agencies constantly invoked, the life of an ancient household in the East was unthinkable.”[29]

Power of words, images, amulets.

Most of the main features and varieties of magic known to us at other times and places appear somewhere in the course of Egypt’s long history. For one thing we find the ascription of magic power to words and names. The power of words, says Budge, was thought to be practically unlimited, and “the Egyptians invoked their aid in the smallest as well as in the greatest events of their life.”[30] Words might be spoken, in which case they “must be uttered in a proper tone of voice by a duly qualified man,” or they might be written, in which case the material upon which they were written might be of importance.[31] In speaking of mortuary magic we have already noted the employment of pictures, models, mannikins, and other images, figures, and objects. Wax figures were also used in sorcery,[32] and amulets are found from the first, although their particular forms seem to have altered with different periods.[33] Scarabs are of course the most familiar example.

Magic in Egyptian medicine.

Egyptian medicine was full of magic and ritual and its therapeusis consisted mainly of “collections of incantations and weird random mixtures of roots and refuse.”[34] Already we find the recipe and the occult virtue conceptions, the elaborate polypharmacy and the accompanying hocus-pocus which we shall meet in Pliny and the middle ages. The Egyptian doctors used herbs from other countries and preferred compound medicines containing a dozen ingredients to simple medicines.[35] Already we find such magic[Pg 11] logic as that the hair of a black calf will keep one from growing gray.[36] Already the parts of animals are a favorite ingredient in medical compounds, especially those connected with the organs of generation, on which account they were presumably looked upon as life-giving, or those which were recommended mainly by their nastiness and were probably thought to expel the demons of disease by their disagreeable properties.

Demons and disease.

In ancient Egypt, however, disease seems not to have been identified with possession by demons to the extent that it was in ancient Assyria and Babylonia. While Breasted asserts that “disease was due to hostile spirits and against these only magic could avail,”[37] Budge contents himself with the more cautious statement that there is “good reason for thinking that some diseases were attributed to ... evil spirits ... entering ... human bodies ... but the texts do not afford much information”[38] on this point. Certainly the beliefs in evil spirits and in magic do not always have to go together, and magic might be employed against disease whether or not it was ascribed to a demon.

Magic and science.

In the case of medicine as in that of religion Breasted takes the view that the amount of magic became greater in the Middle and New Kingdoms than in the Old Kingdom. This is true so far as the amount of space occupied by it in extant records is concerned. But it would be rash to assume that this marks a decline from a more rational and scientific attitude in the Old Kingdom. Yet Breasted rather gives this impression when he writes concerning the Old Kingdom that many of its recipes were useful and rational, that “medicine was already in the possession of much empirical wisdom, displaying close and accurate observation,” and that what “precluded any progress toward real science was the belief in magic, which later began to dominate all the[Pg 12] practice of the physician.”[39] Berthelot probably places the emphasis more correctly when he states that the later medical papyri “include traditional recipes, founded on an empiricism which is not always correct, mystic remedies, based upon the most bizarre analogies, and magic practices that date back to the remotest antiquity.”[40] The recent efforts of Sethe and Wilcken, of Elliot Smith, Müller, and Hooten to show that the ancient Egyptians possessed a considerable amount of medical knowledge and of surgical and dental skill, have been held by Todd to rest on slight and dubious evidence. Indeed, some of this evidence seems rather to suggest the ritualistic practices still employed by uncivilized African tribes. Certainly the evidence for any real scientific development in ancient Egypt has been very meager compared with the abundant indications of the prevalence of magic.[41]

Magic and industry.

Early Egypt was the home of many arts and industries, but not in so advanced a stage as has sometimes been suggested. Blown glass, for example, was unknown until late Greek and Roman times, and the supposed glass-blowers depicted on the early monuments are really smiths engaged in stirring their fires by blowing through reeds tipped with clay.[42] On the other hand, Professor Breasted informs me that there is no basis for Berthelot’s statement that “every sort of chemical process as well as medical treatment was executed with an accompaniment of religious formulae, of prayers and incantations, regarded as essential to the success of operations as well as the cure of maladies.”[43]


Alchemy perhaps originated on the one hand from the practices of Egyptian goldsmiths and workers in metals, who experimented with alloys,[44] and on the other hand from[Pg 13] the theories of the Greek philosophers concerning world-grounds, first matter, and the elements.[45] The words, alchemy and chemistry, are derived ultimately from the name of Egypt itself, Kamt or Qemt, meaning literally black, and applied to the Nile mud. The word was also applied to the black powder produced by quicksilver in Egyptian metallurgical processes. This powder, Budge says, was supposed to be the ground of all metals and to possess marvelous virtue, “and was mystically identified with the body which Osiris possessed in the underworld, and both were thought to be sources of life and power.”[46] The analogy to the sacrament of the mass and the marvelous powers ascribed to the host by medieval preachers like Stephen of Bourbon scarcely needs remark. The later writers on alchemy in Greek appear to have borrowed signs and phraseology from the Egyptian priests, and are fond of speaking of their art as the monopoly of Egyptian kings and priests who carved its secrets on ancient steles and obelisks. In a treatise dating from the twelfth dynasty a scribe recommends to his son a work entitled Chemi, but there is no proof that it was concerned with chemistry or alchemy.[47] The papyri containing treatises of alchemy are of the third century of the Christian era.

Divination and astrology.

Evidences of divination in general and of astrology in particular do not appear as early in Egyptian records as examples of other varieties of magic. Yet the early date at which Egypt had a calendar suggests astronomical interest, and even those who deny that seven planets were distinguished in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley until the last millennium before Christ, admit that they were known in Egypt as far back as the Old Kingdom, although they deny the existence of a science of astronomy or an art of astrology then.[48] A dream of Thotmes IV is preserved from 1450 B.C. or thereabouts, and the incantations employed by magicians[Pg 14] in order to procure divining dreams for their customers attest the close connection of divination and magic.[49] Belief in lucky and unlucky days is shown in a papyrus calendar of about 1300 B.C.,[50] and we shall see later that “Egyptian Days” continued to be a favorite superstition of the middle ages. Tables of the risings of stars which may have an astrological significance have been found in graves, and there were gods for every month, every day of the month, and every hour of the day.[51] Such numbers as seven and twelve are frequently emphasized in the tombs and elsewhere, and if the vaulted ceiling in the tenth chamber of the tomb of Sethos is really of his time, we seem to find the signs of the zodiac under the nineteenth dynasty. If Boll is correct in suggesting that the zodiac originated in the transfer of animal gods to the sky,[52] no fitter place than Egypt could be found for the transfer. But there have not yet been discovered in Egypt lists of omens and appearances of constellations on days of disaster such as are found in the literature of the Tigris-Euphrates valley and in the Roman historians. Budge speaks of the seven Hathor goddesses who predict the death that the infant must some time die, and affirms that “the Egyptians believed that a man’s fate ... was decided before he was born, and that he had no power to alter it.”[53] But I cannot agree that “we have good reason for assigning the birthplace of the horoscope to Egypt,”[54] since the evidence seems to be limited to the almost medieval Pseudo-Callisthenes and a Greek horoscope in the British Museum to which is attached the letter of an astrologer urging his pupil to study the ancient Egyptians carefully. The later Greek and Latin tradition that astrology was the invention of the divine men of Egypt and Babylon probably has a basis of fact, but more contemporary evidence is needed if Egypt is to contest the claim of Babylon to precedence in that art.

[Pg 15]

The sources for Assyrian and Babylonian magic.

In the written remains of Babylonian and Assyrian civilization[55] the magic cuneiform tablets play a large part and give us the impression that fear of demons was a leading feature of Assyrian and Babylonian religion and that daily thought and life were constantly affected by magic. The bulk of the religious and magical texts are preserved in the library of Assurbanipal, king of Assyria from 668 to 626 B.C. But he collected his library from the ancient temple cities, the scribes tell us that they are copying very ancient texts, and the Sumerian language is still largely employed.[56] Eridu, one of the main centers of early Sumerian culture, “was an immemorial home of ancient wisdom, that is to say, magic.”[57] It is, however, difficult in the library of Assurbanipal to distinguish what is Babylonian from what is Assyrian or what is Sumerian from what is Semitic. Thus we are told that “with the exception of some very ancient texts, the Sumerian literature, consisting largely of religious material such as hymns and incantations, shows a number of Semitic loanwords and grammatical Semitisms, and in many cases, although not always, is quite patently a translation of Semitic ideas by Semitic priests into the formal religious Sumerian language.”[58]

Was astrology Sumerian or Chaldean?

The chief point in dispute, over which great controversy has taken place recently among German scholars, is as to the antiquity of both astronomical knowledge and astrological doctrine, including astral theology, among the dwellers in the Tigris-Euphrates region. Briefly, such writers as Winckler, Stücken, and Jeremias held that the religion of the early Babylonians was largely based on astrology and that all their thought was permeated by it, and that they had probably by an early date made astronomical observations and acquired astronomical knowledge which was lost[Pg 16] in the decline of their culture. Opposing this view, such scholars as Kugler, Bezold, Boll, and Schiaparelli have shown the lack of certain evidence for either any considerable astronomical knowledge or astrological theory in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley until the late appearance of the Chaldeans. It is even denied that the seven planets were distinguished in the early period, much less the signs of the zodiac or the planetary week,[59] which last, together with any real advance in astronomy, is reserved for the Hellenistic period.

The number seven in early Babylonia.

Yet the prominence of the number seven in myth, religion, and magic is indisputable in the third millennium before our era. For instance, in the old Babylonian epic of creation there are seven winds, seven spirits of storms, seven evil diseases, seven divisions of the underworld closed by seven doors, seven zones of the upper world and sky, and so on. We are told, however, that the staged towers of Babylonia, which are said to have symbolized for millenniums the sacred Hebdomad, did not always have seven stages.[60] But the number seven was undoubtedly of frequent occurrence, of a sacred and mystic character, and virtue and perfection were ascribed to it. And no one has succeeded in giving any satisfactory explanation for this other than the rule of the seven planets over our world. This also applies to the sanctity of the number seven in the Old Testament[61] and the emphasis upon it in Hesiod, the Odyssey, and other early Greek sources.[62]

[Pg 17]

Incantation texts older than the astrological.

However that may be, the tendency prevailing at present is to regard astrology as a relatively late development introduced by the Semitic Chaldeans. Lenormant held that writing and magic were a Turanian or Sumerian (Accadian) contribution to Babylonian civilization, but that astronomy and astrology were Semitic innovations. Jastrow thinks that there was slight difference between the religion of Assyria and that of Babylonia, and that astral theology played a great part in both; but he grants that the older incantation texts are less influenced by this astral theology. L. W. King says, “Magic and divination bulk largely in the texts recovered, and in their case there is nothing to suggest an underlying astrological element.”[63]

Other divination than astrology.

Whatever its date and origin, the magic literature may be classified in three main groups. There are the astrological texts in which the stars are looked upon as gods and predictions are made especially for the king.[64] Then there are the tablets connected with other methods of foretelling the future, especially liver divination, although interpretation of dreams, augury, and divination by mixing oil and water were also practiced.[65] Fossey has further noted the close connection of operative magic with divination among the Assyrians, and calls divination “the indispensable auxiliary of magic.” Many feats of magic imply a precedent knowledge of the future or begin by consultation of a diviner, or a favorable day and hour should be chosen for the magic rite.[66]

Incantations against sorcery and demons.

Third, there are the collections of incantations, not however those employed by the sorcerers, which were pre[Pg 18]sumably illicit and hence not publicly preserved—in an incantation which we shall soon quote sorcery is called evil and is said to employ “impure things”—but rather defensive measures against them and exorcisms of evil demons.[67] But doubtless this counter magic reflects the original procedure to a great extent. Inasmuch as diseases generally were regarded as due to demons, who had to be exorcized by incantations, medicine was simply a branch of magic. Evil spirits were also held responsible for disturbances in nature, and frequent incantations were thought necessary to keep them from upsetting the natural order entirely.[68] The various incantations are arranged in series of tablets: the Maklu or burning, Ti’i or headaches, Asakki marsûti or fever, Labartu or hag-demon, and Nis kati or raising of the hand. Besides these tablets there are numerous ceremonial and medical texts which contain magical practice.[69] Also hymns of praise and religious epics which at first sight one would not classify as incantations seem to have had their magical uses, and Farnell suggests that “a magic origin for the practice of theological exegesis may be obscurely traced.”[70] Good spirits are represented as employing magic and exorcisms against the demons.[71] As a last resort when good spirits as well as human magic had failed to check the demons, the aid might be requisitioned of the god Ea, regarded as the repository of all science and who “alone was possessed of the magic secrets by means of which they could be conquered and repulsed.”[72]

A specimen incantation.

The incantations themselves show that other factors than the power of words entered into the magic, as may be illustrated by quoting one of them.

“Arise ye great gods, hear my complaint,
Grant me justice, take cognizance of my condition.
I have made an image of my sorcerer and sorceress;
[Pg 19]
I have humbled myself before you and bring to you my cause,
Because of the evil they have done,
Of the impure things which they have handled.
May she die! Let me live!
May her charm, her witchcraft, her sorcery be broken.
May the plucked sprig of the binu tree purify me;
May it release me; may the evil odor of my mouth be scattered to the winds.
May the mashtakal herb which fills the earth cleanse me.
Before you let me shine like the kankal herb,
Let me be brilliant and pure as the lardu herb.
The charm of the sorceress is evil;
May her words return to her mouth, her tongue be cut off.
Because of her witchcraft may the gods of night smite her,
The three watches of the night break her evil charm.
May her mouth be wax; her tongue, honey.
May the word causing my misfortune that she has spoken dissolve like wax.
May the charm she had wound up melt like honey,
So that her magic knot be cut in twain, her work destroyed.”[73]
Materials and devices employed in the magic.

It is evident from this incantation that use was made of magic images and knots, and of the properties of trees and herbs. Magic images were made of clay, wax, tallow, and other substances and were employed in various ways. Thus directions are given for making a tallow image of an enemy of the king and binding its face with a cord in order to deprive the person whom it represents of speech and willpower.[74] Images were also constructed in order that disease demons might be magically transferred into them,[75] and sometimes the images are slain and buried.[76] In the above incantation the magic knot was employed only by the sorceress, but Fossey states that knots were also used as[Pg 20] counter-charms against the demons.[77] In the above incantation the names of herbs were left untranslated and it is not possible to say much concerning the pharmacy of the Assyrians and Babylonians because of our lack of a lexicon for their botanical and mineralogical terminology.[78] However, from what scholars have been able to translate it appears that common rather than rare and outlandish substances were the ones most employed. Wine and oil, salt and dates, and onions and saliva are the sort of things used. There is also evidence of the employment of a magic wand.[79] Gems and animal substances were used as well as herbs; all sorts of philters were concocted; and varied rites and ceremonies were employed such as ablutions and fumigations. In the account of the ark of the Babylonian Noah we are told of the magic significance of its various parts; thus the mast and cabin ceiling were made of cedar, a wood that counteracts sorceries.[80]

Greek culture not free from magic.

One remarkable corollary of the so-called Italian Renaissance or Humanistic movement at the close of the middle ages with its too exclusive glorification of ancient Greece and Rome has been the strange notion that the ancient Hellenes were unusually free from magic compared with other periods and peoples. It would have been too much to claim any such immunity for the primitive Romans, whose entire religion was originally little else than magic and whose daily life, public and private, was hedged in by superstitious observances and fears. But they, too, were supposed to have risen later under the influence of Hellenic culture to a more enlightened stage,[81] only to relapse again into magic in the declining empire and middle ages under oriental influence. Incidentally let me add that this notion that in the past orientals were more superstitious and fond of[Pg 21] marvels than westerners in the same stage of civilization and that the orient must needs be the source of every superstitious cult and romantic tale is a glib assumption which I do not intend to make and which our subsequent investigation will scarcely substantiate. But to return to the supposed immunity of the Hellenes from magic; so far has this hypothesis been carried that textual critics have repeatedly rejected passages as later interpolations or even called entire treatises spurious for no other reason than that they seemed to them too superstitious for a reputable classical author. Even so specialized and recent a student of ancient astrology, superstition, and religion as Cumont still clings to this dubious generalization and affirms that “the limpid Hellenic genius always turned away from the misty speculations of magic.”[82] But, as I suggested some sixteen years since, “the fantasticalness of medieval science was due to ‘the clear light of Hellas’ as well as to the gloom of the ‘dark ages.’”[83]

Magic in myth, literature, and history.

It is not difficult to call to mind evidence of the presence of magic in Hellenic religion, literature, and history. One has only to think of the many marvelous metamorphoses in Greek mythology and of its countless other absurdities; of the witches, Circe and Medea, and the necromancy of Odysseus; or the priest-magician of Apollo in the Iliad who could stop the plague, if he wished; of the lucky and unlucky days and other agricultural magic in Hesiod.[84] Then there were the Spartans, whose so-called constitution and method of education, much admired by the Greek philosophers, were largely a retention of the life of the primitive tribe with its ritual and taboos. Or we remember Herodotus and his childish delight in ambiguous oracles or his tale of seceders from Gela brought back by Telines single-handed because he “was possessed of certain mysterious visible symbols of the powers beneath the earth which were deemed to be of[Pg 22] wonder-working power.”[85] We recall Xenophon’s punctilious records of sacrifices, divinations, sneezes, and dreams; Nicias, as afraid of eclipses as if he had been a Spartan; and the matter-of-fact mentions of charms, philters, and incantations in even such enlightened writers as Euripides and Plato. Among the titles of ancient Greek comedies magic is represented by the Goetes of Aristophanes, the Mandragorizomene of Alexis, the Pharmacomantis of Anaxandrides, the Circe of Anaxilas, and the Thettale of Menander.[86] When we candidly estimate the significance of such evidence as this, we realize that the Hellenes were not much less inclined to magic than other peoples and periods, and that we need not wait for Theocritus and the Greek romances or for the magical papyri for proof of the existence of magic in ancient Greek civilization.[87]

Simultaneous increase of learning and occult science.

If astrology and some other occult sciences do not appear in a developed form until the Hellenistic period, it is not because the earlier period was more enlightened, but because it was less learned. And the magic which Osthanes is said to have introduced to the Greek world about the time of the Persian wars was not so much an innovation as an improvement upon their coarse and ancient rites of Goetia.[88]

Magic origin urged for Greek religion and drama.

This magic element which existed from the start in Greek culture is now being traced out by students of anthropology and early religion as well as of the classics. Miss Jane E. Harrison, in Themis, a study of the social origins of Greek religion, suggests a magical explanation for many a myth and festival, and even for the Olympic games and Greek drama.[89] The last point has been developed in more[Pg 23] detail by F. M. Cornford’s Origin of Attic Comedy, where much magic is detected masquerading in the comedies of Aristophanes.[90] And Mr. A. B. Cook sees the magician in Zeus, who transforms himself to pursue his amours, and contends that “the real prototype of the heavenly weather-king was the earthly” magician or rain-maker, that the pre-Homeric “fixed epithets” of Zeus retained in the Homeric poems “are simply redolent of the magician,” and that the cult of Zeus Lykaios was connected with the belief in werwolves.[91] In still more recent publications Dr. Rendel Harris[92] has connected Greek gods in their origins with the woodpecker and mistletoe, associated the cult of Apollo with the medicinal virtues of mice and snakes, and in other ways emphasized the importance in early Greek religion and culture of the magic properties of animals and herbs.

These writers have probably pressed their point too far, but at least their work serves as a reaction against the old attitude of intellectual idolatry of the classics. Their views may be offset by those of Mr. Farnell, who states that “while the knowledge of early Babylonian magic is beginning to be considerable, we cannot say that we know anything definite concerning the practices in this department of the Hellenic and adjacent peoples in the early period with which we are dealing.” And again, “But while Babylonian magic proclaims itself loudly in the great religious literature and highest temple ritual, Greek magic is barely mentioned in the older literature of Greece, plays no part at all in the hymns, and can only with difficulty be discovered as latent in the higher ritual. Again, Babylonian[Pg 24] magic is essentially demoniac; but we have no evidence that the pre-Homeric Greek was demon-ridden, or that demonology and exorcism were leading factors in his consciousness and practice.” Even Mr. Farnell admits, however, that “the earliest Hellene, as the later, was fully sensitive to the magico-divine efficacy of names.”[93] Now to believe in the power of names before one believes in the existence of demons is the best possible evidence of the antiquity of magic in a society, since it indicates that the speaker has confidence in the operative power of his own words without any spiritual or divine assistance.

Magic in Greek philosophy.

Moreover, in one sense the advocates of Greek magic have not gone far enough. They hold that magic lies back of the comedies of Aristophanes; what they might contend is that it was also contemporary with them.[94] They hold that classical Greek religion had its origins in magic; what they might argue is that Greek philosophy never freed itself from magic. “That Empedocles believed himself capable of magical powers is,” says Zeller, “proved by his own writings.” He himself “declares that he possesses the power to heal old age and sickness, to raise and calm the winds, to summon rain and drought, and to recall the dead to life.”[95] If the pre-Homeric fixed epithets of Zeus are redolent of magic, Plato’s Timaeus is equally redolent of occult science and astrology; and if we see the weather-making magician in the Olympian Zeus of Phidias, we cannot explain away the vagaries of the Timaeus as flights of poetic imagination or try to make out Aristotle a modern scientist by mutilating the text of the History of Animals.

[Pg 25]

Plato’s attitude toward magic and astrology.

Toward magic so-called Plato’s attitude in his Laws is cautious. He maintains that medical men and prophets and diviners can alone understand the nature of poisons (or spells) which work naturally, and of such things as incantations, magic knots, and wax images; and that since other men have no certain knowledge of such matters, they ought not to fear but to despise them. He admits nevertheless that there is no use in trying to convince most men of this and that it is necessary to legislate against sorcery.[96] Yet his own view of nature seems impregnated, if not actually with doctrines borrowed from the Magi of the east, at least with notions cognate to those of magic rather than of modern science and with doctrines favorable to astrology. He humanized material objects and confused material and spiritual characteristics. He also, like authors of whom we shall treat later, attempted to give a natural or rational explanation for magic, accounting, for example, for liver divination on the ground that the liver was a sort of mirror on which the thoughts of the mind fell and in which the images of the soul were reflected; but that they ceased after death.[97] He spoke of harmonious love between the elements as the source of health and plenty for vegetation, beasts, and men, and their “wanton love” as the cause of pestilence and disease. To understand both varieties of love “in relation to the revolutions of the heavenly bodies and the seasons of the year is termed astronomy,”[98] or, as we should say, astrology, whose fundamental law is the control of inferior creation by the motion of the stars. Plato spoke of the stars as “divine and eternal animals, ever abiding,”[99] an expression which we shall hear reiterated in the middle ages. “The lower gods,” whom he largely identified with the heavenly bodies, form men, who, if they live good lives, return after death each to a happy existence in his proper star.[100] Such a doctrine is not identical with that of nativities[Pg 26] and the horoscope, but like it exalts the importance of the stars and suggests their control of human life. And when at the close of his Republic Plato speaks of the harmony or music of the spheres of the seven planets and the eighth sphere of the fixed stars, and of “the spindle of Necessity on which all the revolutions turn,” he suggests that when once the human soul has entered upon this life, its destiny is henceforth subject to the courses of the stars. When in the Timaeus he says, “There is no difficulty in seeing that the perfect number of time fulfills the perfect year when all the eight revolutions ... are accomplished together and attain their completion at the same time,”[101] he seems to suggest the astrological doctrine of the magnus annus, that history begins to repeat itself in every detail when the heavenly bodies have all regained their original positions.

Aristotle on stars and spirits.

For Aristotle, too, the stars were “beings of superhuman intelligence, incorporate deities. They appeared to him as the purer forms, those more like the deity, and from them a purposive rational influence upon the lower life of the earth seemed to proceed,—a thought which became the root of medieval astrology.”[102] Moreover, “his theory of the subordinate gods of the spheres of the planets ... provided for a later demonology.”[103]

Folk-lore in the History of Animals.

Aside from bits of physiognomy and of Pythagorean superstition, or mysticism, Aristotle’s History of Animals contains much on the influence of the stars on animal life, the medicines employed by animals, and their friendships and enmities, and other folk-lore and pseudo-science.[104] But[Pg 27] the oldest extant manuscript of that work dates only from the twelfth or thirteenth century and lacks the tenth book. Editors of the text have also rejected books seven and nine, the latter part of book eight, and have questioned various other passages. However, these expurgations save the face of Aristotle rather than of Hellenic science or philosophy generally, as the spurious seventh book is held to be drawn largely from Hippocratic writings and the ninth from Theophrastus.[105]

Differing modes of transmission of ancient oriental and Greek literature.

There is another point to be kept in mind in any comparison of Egypt and Babylon or Assyria with Greece in the matter of magic. Our evidence proving the great part played by magic in the ancient oriental civilizations comes directly from them to us without intervening tampering or alteration except in the case of the early periods. But classical literature and philosophy come to us as edited by Alexandrian librarians[106] and philologers, as censored and selected by Christian and Byzantine readers, as copied or translated by medieval monks and Italian humanists. And the question is not merely, what have they added? but also, what have they altered? what have they rejected? Instead of questioning superstitious passages in extant works on the ground that they are later interpolations, it would very likely be more to the point to insert a goodly number on the ground that they have been omitted as pagan or idolatrous superstitions.

More magical character of directly transmitted Greek remains.

Suppose we turn to those writings which have been unearthed just as they were in ancient Greek; to the papyri, the lead tablets, the so-called Gnostic gems. How does the proportion of magic in these compare with that in the indirectly transmitted literary remains? If it is objected that the magic papyri[107] are mainly of late date and that[Pg 28] they are found in Egypt, it may be replied that they are as old as or older than any other manuscripts we have of classical literature and that its chief storehouse, too, was in Egypt at Alexandria. As for the magical curses written on lead tablets,[108] they date from the fourth century before our era to the sixth after, and fourteen come from Athens and sixteen from Cnidus as against one from Alexandria and eleven from Carthage. And although some display extreme illiteracy, others are written by persons of rank and education. And what a wealth of astrological manuscripts in the Greek language has been unearthed in European libraries by the editors of the Catalogus Codicum Graecorum Astrologorum![109] And occasionally archaeologists report the discovery of magical apparatus[110] or of representations of magic in works of art.

Progress of science among the Greeks.

In thus contending that Hellenic culture was not free from magic and that even the philosophy and science of the ancient Greeks show traces of superstition, I would not, however, obscure the fact that of extant literary remains the Greek are the first to present us with any very considerable body either of systematic rational speculation or of classified collection of observed facts concerning nature. Despite the rapid progress in recent years in knowledge of prehistoric man and Egyptian and Babylonian civilization, the Hellenic[Pg 29] title to the primacy in philosophy and science has hardly been called in question, and no earlier works have been discovered that can compare in medicine with those ascribed to Hippocrates, in biology with those of Aristotle and Theophrastus, or in mathematics and physics with those of Euclid and Archimedes. Undoubtedly such men and writings had their predecessors, probably they owed something to ancient oriental civilization, but, taking them as we have them, they seem to be marked by great original power. Whatever may lie concealed beneath the surface of the past, or whatever signs or hints of scientific investigation and knowledge we may think we can detect and read between the lines, as it were, in other phases of older civilizations, in these works solid beginnings of experimental and mathematical science stand unmistakably forth.

Archimedes and Aristotle.

“An extraordinarily large proportion of the subject matter of the writings of Archimedes,” says Heath, “represents entirely new discoveries of his own. Though his range of subjects was almost encyclopædic, embracing geometry (plane and solid), arithmetic, mechanics, hydrostatics and astronomy, he was no compiler, no writer of text-books.... His objective is always some new thing, some definite addition to the sum of knowledge, and his complete originality cannot fail to strike anyone who reads his works intelligently, without any corroborative evidence such as is found in the introductory letters prefixed to most of them.... In some of his subjects Archimedes had no forerunners, e. g., in hydrostatics, where he invented the whole science, and (so far as mathematical demonstration was concerned) in his mechanical investigations.”[111] Aristotle’s History of Animals is still highly esteemed by historians of biology[112] and often evidences “a large amount of personal[Pg 30] observations,”[113] “great accuracy,” and “minute inquiry,” as in his account of the vascular system[114] or observations on the embryology of the chick.[115] “Most wonderful of all, perhaps, are those portions of his book in which he speaks of fishes, their diversities, their structure, their wanderings, and their food. Here we may read of fishes that have only recently been rediscovered, of structures only lately reinvestigated, of habits only of late made known.”[116] But of the achievements of Hellenic philosophy and Hellenistic science the reader may be safely assumed already to have some notion.

Exaggerated view of the scientific achievement of the Hellenistic age.

But in closing this brief preliminary sketch of the period before our investigation proper begins, I would take exception to the tendency, prevalent especially among German scholars, to center in and confine to Aristotle and the Hellenistic age almost all progress in natural science made before modern times. The contributions of the Egyptians and Babylonians are reduced to a minimum on the one hand, while on the other the scientific writings of the Roman[Pg 31] Empire, which are extant in far greater abundance than those of the Hellenistic period, are regarded as inferior imitations of great authors whose works are not extant; Posidonius, for example, to whom it has been the fashion of the writers of German dissertations to attribute this, that, and every theory in later writers. But it is contrary to the law of gradual and painful acquisition of scientific knowledge and improvement of scientific method that one period of a few centuries should thus have discovered everything. We have disputed the similar notion of a golden age of early Egyptian science from which the Middle and New Kingdoms declined, and have not held that either the Egyptians or Babylonians had made great advances in science before the Greeks. But that is not saying that they had not made some advance. As Professor Karpinski has recently written:

“To deny to Babylon, to Egypt, and to India, their part in the development of science and scientific thinking is to defy the testimony of the ancients, supported by the discoveries of the modern authorities. The efforts which have been made to ascribe to Greek influence the science of Egypt, of later Babylon, of India, and that of the Arabs do not add to the glory that was Greece. How could the Babylonians of the golden age of Greece or the Hindus, a little later, have taken over the developments of Greek astronomy? This would only have been possible if they had arrived at a state of development in astronomy which would have enabled them properly to estimate and appreciate the work which was to be absorbed.... The admission that the Greek astronomy immediately affected the astronomical theories of India carries with it the implication that this science had attained somewhat the same level in India as in Greece. Without serious questioning we may assume that a fundamental part of the science of Babylon and Egypt and India, developed during the times which we think of as Greek, was indigenous science.”[117]

[Pg 32]

Nor am I ready to admit that the great scientists of the early Roman Empire merely copied from, or were distinctly inferior to, their Hellenistic predecessors. Aristarchus may have held the heliocentric theory[118] but Ptolemy must have been an abler scientist and have supported his incorrect hypothesis with more accurate measurements and calculations or the ancients would have adopted the sounder view. And if Herophilus had really demonstrated the circulation of the blood, so keen an intelligence as Galen’s would not have cast his discovery aside. And if Ptolemy copied Hipparchus, are we to imagine that Hipparchus copied from no one? But of the incessant tradition from authority to authority and yet of the gradual accumulation of new matter from personal observation and experience our ensuing survey of thirteen centuries of thought and writing will afford more detailed illustration.

[Pg 33]


The following books deal expressly with the magic of Assyria and Babylonia:

Fossey, C. La magie assyrienne; étude suivie de textes magiques, Paris, 1902.

King, L. W. Babylonian Magic and Sorcery, being “The Prayers of the Lifting of the Hand,” London, 1896.

Laurent, A. La magie et la divination chez les Chaldéo-Assyriens, Paris, 1894.

Lenormant, F. Chaldean Magic and Sorcery, English translation, London, 1878.

Schwab, M., in Proc. Bibl. Archæology (1890), pp. 292-342, on magic bowls from Assyria and Babylonia.

Tallquist, K. L. Die Assyrische Beschwörungsserie Maqlû, Leipzig, 1895.

Thompson, R. C. The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon in the British Museum, London, 1900.
Texts and translations—all but three are astrological.
The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia, London, 1904.
Semitic Magic, London, 1908.

Weber, O. Dämonenbeschwörung bei den Babyloniern und Assyrern, 1906. Eine Skizze (37 pp.), in Der Alte Orient.

Zimmern. Die Beschwörungstafeln Surpu.

Much concerning magic will also be found in works on Babylonian and Assyrian religion.

Craig, J. A. Assyrian and Babylonian Religious Texts, Leipzig, 1895-7.

Curtiss, S. I. Primitive Semitic Religion Today, 1902.

Dhorme, P. Choix des textes religieux Assyriens Babyloniens, 1907.
La religion Assyro-Babylonienne, Paris, 1910.

Gray, C. D. The Samas Religious Texts.

[Pg 34]

Jastrow, Morris. The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Boston, 1898. Revised and enlarged as Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, Giessen, 1904.

Jeremias. Babylon. Assyr. Vorstellungen von dem Leben nach Tode, Leipzig, 1887.
Hölle und Paradies, and other works.

Knudtzon, J. A. Assyrische Gebete an den Sonnengott, Leipzig, 1893.

Lagrange, M. J. Études sur les religions sémitiques, Paris, 1905.

Langdon, S. Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms, Paris, 1909.

Reisner, G. A. Sumerisch-Babylonische Hymnen, Berlin, 1896.

Robertson Smith, W. Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, London, 1907.

Roscher, Lexicon, for various articles.

Zimmern. Babylonische Hymnen und Gebete in Auswahl, 32 pp., 1905 (Der Alte Orient).
Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Babyl. Religion, Leipzig, 1901.

On the astronomy and astrology of the Babylonians one may consult:

Bezold, C. Astronomie, Himmelschau und Astrallehre bei den Babyloniern. (Sitzb. Akad. Heidelberg, 1911, Abh. 2).

Boissier, A. Documents assyriens relatifs aux présages, Paris, 1894-1897.
Choix de textes relatifs à la divination assyro-babylonienne, Geneva, 1905-1906.

Craig, J. A. Astrological-Astronomical Texts, Leipzig, 1892.

Cumont, F. Babylon und die griechische Astrologie. (Neue Jahrb. für das klass. Altertum, XXVII, 1911).

Epping, J., and Strassmeier, J. N. Astronomisches aus Babylon, 1889.

Ginzel, F. K. Die astronomischen Kentnisse der Babylonier, 1901.

Hehn, J. Siebenzahl und Sabbat bei den Babyloniern und im Alten Testament, 1907.

Jensen, P. Kosmologie der Babylonier, 1890.

Jeremias. Das Alter der babylonischen Astronomie, 1908.
Handbuch der altorientalischen Geisteskultur, 1913.

Kugler, F. X. Die Babylonische Mondrechnung, 1900.
Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel, Freiburg, 1907-1913. To be completed in four vols.
Im Bannkreis Babels, 1910.

Oppert, J. Die astronomischen Angaben der assyrischen Keilin[Pg 35]schriften, in Sitzb. d. Wien. Akad. Math.-Nat. Classe, 1885, pp. 894-906.
Un texte Babylonien astronomique et sa traduction grecque par Cl. Ptolémeé, in Zeitsch. f. Assyriol. VI (1891), pp. 103-23.

Sayce, A. H. The astronomy and astrology of the Babylonians, with translations of the tablets relating to the subject, in Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, III (1874), 145-339; the first and until recently the best guide to the subject.

Schiaparelli, G. V. I Primordi ed i Progressi dell’ Astronomia presso i Babilonesi, Bologna, 1908.
Astronomy in the Old Testament, 1905.

Stücken, Astralmythen, 1896-1907.

Virolleaud, Ch. L’Astrologie chaldéenne, Paris, 1905-; to be completed in eight parts, texts and translations.

Winckler, Himmels-und Weltenbild der Babylonier als Grundlage der Weltanschauung und Mythologie aller Völker, in Der alte Orient, III, 2-3.

[Pg 37]


Chapter 2. Pliny’s Natural History.
I. Its place in the history of science.
II. Its experimental tendency.
III. Pliny’s account of magic.
IV. The science of the Magi.
V. Pliny’s magical science.
Chapter 3. Seneca and Ptolemy: Natural Divination and Astrology.
Chapter 4. Galen.
I. The man and his times.
II. His medicine and experimental science.
III. His attitude toward magic.
Chapter 5. Ancient Applied Science and Magic.
Chapter 6. Plutarch’s Essays.
Chapter 7. Apuleius of Madaura.
Chapter 8. Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana.
Chapter 9. Literary and Philosophical Attacks upon Superstition.
Chapter 10. The Spurious Mystic Writings of Hermes, Orpheus, and Zoroaster.
Chapter 11. Neo-Platonism and its Relations to Astrology and Theurgy.
Chapter 12. Aelian, Solinus, and Horapollo.

[Pg 39]



A trio of great names.

A trio of great names, Pliny, Galen, and Ptolemy, stand out above all others in the history of science under the Roman Empire. In the use or criticism which they make of earlier writers and investigators they are also our chief sources for the science of the preceding Hellenistic period. By their voluminousness, their generous scope in ground covered, and their broad, liberal, personal outlooks, they have painted, in colors for the most part imperishable, extensive canvasses of the scientific spirit and acquisitions of their own time. Pliny pursued politics and literature as well as natural science; Ptolemy was at once mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and geographer; Galen knew philosophy as well as medicine. The two latter men, moreover, made original contributions of their own of the very first order to scientific knowledge and method. It is characteristic of the homogeneous and widespread culture of the Roman Empire that these three representatives of different, although overlapping, fields of science were natives of the three continents that enclose the Mediterranean Sea. Pliny was born at Como where Italy verges on transalpine lands; Ptolemy, born somewhere in Egypt, did his work at Alexandria; Galen came from Pergamum in Asia Minor. Finally, these men were, after Aristotle, the three ancient scientists who directly or indirectly most powerfully influenced the middle ages. Thus they illuminate past, present, and future.

Plan of this section.

We shall therefore open the present section of our investigation by considering in turn chronologically, Pliny, Ptolemy, and Galen, coupling, however, with our consideration of Ptolemy the work of Seneca on Natural Questions[Pg 40] which shows the same combination of natural science and natural divination. Next we shall consider some representatives of ancient applied science and its relations to magic, and the more miscellaneous writings of Plutarch, Apuleius, and Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana. From the hospitable attitude toward magic and occult science displayed by these last writers we shall then turn back again to consider some examples of literary and philosophical attacks upon superstition, before proceeding lastly to spurious mystic writings of the Roman Empire, Neo-Platonism and its relations to astrology and theurgy, and the works of Aelian, Solinus, and Horapollo.

[Pg 41]


I. Its Place in the History of Science

Its importance in our investigation—As a collection of miscellaneous information—As a repository of ancient natural science—As a source for magic—Pliny’s career—His writings—His own description of the Natural History—His devotion to science—Conflict of science and religion—Pliny not a trained naturalist—His use of authorities—His lack of arrangement and classification—His scepticism and credulity—A guide to ancient science—His medieval influence—Early printed editions.

II. Its Experimental Tendency

Importance of observation and experience—Use of the word experimentum—Experiments due to scientific curiosity—Medical experimentation—Chance experience and divine revelation—Marvels proved by experience.

III. Pliny’s Account of Magic

Oriental origin of magic—Its spread to the Greeks—Its spread outside the Graeco-Roman world—Failure to understand its true origin—Magic and divination—Magic and religion—Magic and medicine—Magic and philosophy—Falseness of magic—Crimes of magic—Pliny’s censure of magic is mainly intellectual—Vagueness of Pliny’s scepticism—Magic and science indistinguishable.

IV. The Science of the Magi

Magicians as investigators of nature—The Magi on herbs—Marvelous virtues of herbs—Animals and parts of animals—Further instances—Magic rites with animals and parts of animals—Marvels wrought with parts of animals—The Magi on stones—Other magical recipes—Summary of the statements of the Magi.

V. Pliny’s Magical Science

From the Magi to Pliny’s magic—Habits of animals—Remedies discovered by animals—Jealousy of animals—Occult virtues of animals—The virtues of herbs—Plucking herbs—Agricultural magic—Virtue of stones—Other minerals and metals—Virtues of human parts—Virtues[Pg 42] of human saliva—The human operator—Absence of medical compounds—Sympathetic magic—Antipathies between animals—Love and hatred between inanimate objects—Sympathy between animate and inanimate objects—Like cures like—The principle of association—Magic transfer of disease—Amulets—Position or direction—The time element—Observance of number—Relation between operator and patient—Incantations—Attitude towards love-charms and birth control—Pliny and astrology—Celestial portents—The stars and the world of nature—Astrological medicine—Conclusion: magic unity of Pliny’s superstitions.

Salve, parens rerum omnium Natura, teque nobis Quiritium solis celebratam esse numeris omnibus tuis fave!

Closing words of the Natural History.[119]

I. Its Place in the History of Science

Important in our investigation.

We should have to search long before finding a better starting-point for the consideration of the union of magic with the science of the Roman Empire, and of the way in which that union influenced the middle ages, than Pliny’s Natural History.[120] The foregoing sentence, with which years ago I opened a chapter on the Natural History of Pliny the Elder in my briefer preliminary study of magic in the intellectual history of the Roman Empire, seems as true as ever; and although I there considered his confusion of magic and science at some length, I do not see how I can make the present work well-rounded and complete without including in it a yet more detailed analysis of the contents of Pliny’s book.

As a collection of miscellaneous information.

Pliny’s Natural History, which appeared about 77 A.D. and is dedicated to the Emperor Titus, is perhaps the most[Pg 43] important single source extant for the history of ancient civilization. Its thirty-seven books, written in a very compact style, constitute a vast collection of the most miscellaneous information. Whether one is investigating ancient painting, sculpture, and other fine arts; or the geography of the Roman Empire; or Roman triumphs, gladiatorial contests, and theatrical exhibitions; or the industrial processes of antiquity; or Mediterranean trade; or Italian agriculture; or mining in ancient Spain; or the history of Roman coinage; or the fluctuation of prices in antiquity; or the Roman attitude towards usury; or the pagan attitude towards immortality; or the nature of ancient beverages; or the religious usages of the ancient Romans; or any of a number of other topics; one will find something concerning all of them in Pliny. He is apt both to depict such conditions in his own time and to trace them back to their origins. Furthermore he repeats many detailed incidents of interest to the political or narrative historian of Rome as well as to the student of the economic, social, artistic, and religious life of antiquity. Probably there is no place where an isolated point is more likely to be run down by the investigator, and it is regrettable that exhaustive analytical indices of the work are not available. We may add that, although the work is supposedly a collection of facts, Pliny contrives to introduce many moral reflections and sharp comments on the luxury, vice, and unintellectual character of his times, suggesting Juvenal’s picture of degenerate Roman society and his own lofty moral standards.

As a repository of ancient natural science.

Indeed, Pliny’s title, Naturalis Historia, or at least the common English translation of it, “Natural History,” has been criticized as too limited in scope, and the work has been described as “rather a vast encyclopedia of ancient knowledge and belief upon almost every known subject.”[121] Pliny himself mentions in his preface the Greek word “encyclopedia” as indicative of his scope. Nevertheless, his work is primarily an account of nature rather than of civili[Pg 44]zation, and much of its information concerning such matters as the arts and business is incidental. Most of its books bear such titles as Aquatic Animals, Exotic Trees, Medicines from Forest Trees, The Natures of Metals. After an introductory book containing the preface and a table of contents and lists of authorities for each of the subsequent books, the second book treats of the universe, heavenly bodies, meteorology, and the chief changes, such as earthquakes and tides, in the land and water forming the earth’s surface. After four books devoted to geography, the seventh deals with man and human inventions. Four more follow on terrestrial and aquatic animals, birds, and insects. Sixteen more are concerned with plants, trees, vines, and other vegetation, and the medicinal simples derived from them. Five books discuss the medicinal simples derived from animals, including the human body; and the last five books treat of metals and minerals and the arts in which they are employed. It is thus evident that in the main Pliny is concerned with natural science, and that, if his work is a mine of miscellaneous historical information, it should even more prove a rich treasure-house—“quoniam, ut ait Domitius Piso, thesauros oportet esse non libros[122]—for an investigation concerned as intimately as is ours with the history of science.

As a source for magic.

The Natural History is a great storehouse of misinformation as well as of information, for Pliny’s credulity and lack of discrimination harvested the tares of legend and magic along with the wheat of historical fact and ancient science in his voluminous granary. This may put other historical investigators upon their guard in accepting its statements, but only increases its value for our purpose. Perhaps it is even more valuable as a collection of ancient errors than it is as a repository of ancient science. It touches upon many of the varieties, and illustrates most of the characteristics, of magic. Moreover, Pliny often mentions the Magi or magicians and discusses “magic” expressly at some[Pg 45] length in the opening chapters of his thirtieth book—one of the most important passages on the theme in any ancient writer.

Pliny’s career.

Pliny the Elder, as we learn from his own statements in the Natural History and from one or two letters concerning him written by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, whom he adopted, went through the usual military, forensic, and official career of the Roman of good family, and spent his life largely in the service of the emperors. He visited various Mediterranean lands, such as Spain, Africa, Greece, and Egypt, and fought in Germany. He was in charge of the Roman fleet on the west coast of Italy when he met his death at the age of fifty-six by suffocation as he was trying to rescue others from the fumes and vapors from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

His writings.

Of Pliny’s writings the Natural History is alone extant, but other titles have been preserved which serve to show his great literary industry and the extent of his interests. He wrote on the use of the javelin by cavalry, a life of his friend Pomponius, an account in twenty books of all the wars waged by the Romans in Germany, a rather long work on oratory called The Student, a grammatical or philological work in eight books entitled De dubio sermone, and a continuation of the History of Aufidius Bassus in thirty-one books. Yet in the dedication of the Natural History to the emperor Titus he states that his days were taken up with official business and only his nights were free for literary labor. This statement is supported by a letter of his nephew telling how he used to study by candle-light both late at night and before daybreak. Pliny the Younger narrates several incidents to illustrate how jealous and economical of every spare moment his uncle was. He would dictate or have books read to him while lying down or in the bath, and on journeys a secretary was always by his side with books and tablets. If the weather was very cold, the amanuensis wore gloves so that his hands might not become too numb to write. Pliny always took notes on what he read, and at[Pg 46] his death left his nephew one hundred and sixty notebooks written in a small hand on both sides.

His own description of the Natural History.

Such were the conditions under which, and the methods by which, Pliny compiled his encyclopedia on nature. No single writer either Greek or Latin, he tells us, had ever before attempted so extensive a task. He adds that he treats of some twenty thousand topics gleaned from the perusal of about two thousand volumes by one hundred authors.[123] Judging from his bibliographies and citations, however, he would seem to have utilized more than one hundred authors. But possibly he had not read all the writers mentioned in his bibliographies. He affirms that previous students have had access to but few of the volumes which he has used, and that he adds many things unknown to his ancient authorities and recently discovered. Occasionally he shows an acquaintance with beliefs and practices of the Gauls and Druids. Thus his work assumes to be something more than a compilation from other books. He says, however, that no doubt he has omitted much, since he is only human and has had many other demands upon his time. He admits that his subject is dry (sterilis materia) and does not lend itself to literary exhibitions, nor include matters stimulating to write about and pleasant to read about, like speeches and marvelous occurrences and varied incidents. Nor does it permit purity and elegance of diction, since one must at times employ the terminology of rustics, foreigners, and even barbarians. Furthermore, “it is an arduous task to give novelty to what is ancient, authority to what is new, interest to what is obsolete, light to what is obscure, charm to what is loathsome”—as many of his medicinal simples undoubtedly are—“credit to what is dubious.”

His devotion to science.

It is a great comfort to Pliny, however, in his immense task, when many laugh at him as wasting his time over worthless trifles, to reflect that he is being spurned along with Nature.[124] In another passage[125] he contrasts the blood[Pg 47] and slaughter of military history with the benefits bestowed upon mankind by astronomers. In a third passage[126] he looks back regretfully at the widespread interest in science among the Greeks, although those were times of political disunion and strife and although communication between different lands was interrupted by piracy as well as war, whereas now, with the whole empire at peace, not only is no new scientific inquiry undertaken, but men do not even thoroughly study the works of the ancients, and are intent on the acquisition of lucre rather than learning. These and other passages which might be cited attest Pliny’s devotion to science.

Conflict of science and religion.

In Pliny we also detect signs of the conflict between science and religion. In a single chapter on God he says pretty much all that the church fathers later repeated at much greater length against paganism and polytheism. But his discussion would hardly satisfy a Christian. He asserts that “it is God for man to aid his fellow man,[127] and this is the path to eternal glory,” but he turns this noble sentiment to justify deification of the emperors who have done so much for mankind. He questions whether God is concerned with human affairs; slyly suggests that if so, God must be too busy to punish all crimes promptly; and points out that there are some things which God cannot do. He cannot commit suicide as men can, nor alter past events, nor make twice ten anything else than twenty. Pliny then concludes: “By which is revealed in no uncertain wise the power of Nature, and that is what we call God.” In many other passages he exclaims at Nature’s benignity or providence. He believed that the soul had no separate existence from the body,[128] and that after death there was no more sense left in body or soul than was there before birth. The hope of personal immortality he scorned as “puerile ravings” produced by the fear of death, and he believed still less in the possibility of any resurrection of the body. In short, natural law, me[Pg 48]chanical force, and facts capable of scientific investigation would seem to be all that he will admit and to suffice to satisfy his strong intellect. Yet we shall later find him having the greatest difficulty in distinguishing between science and magic, and giving credence to many details in science which seem to us quite as superstitious as the pagan beliefs concerning the gods which he rejected. But if any reader is inclined to belittle Pliny for this, let him first stop and think how Pliny would ridicule some modern scientists for their religious beliefs, or for their spiritualism or psychic research.

Pliny not a trained naturalist.

It is desirable, however, to form some estimate of Pliny’s fitness for his task in order to judge how accurate a picture of ancient science his work is. He does not seem to have had much detailed training or experience in the natural sciences himself. He writes not as a naturalist who has observed widely and profoundly the phenomena and operations of nature, but as an omnivorous reader and voluminous note-taker who owes his knowledge largely to books or hearsay, although occasionally he says “I know” instead of “they say,” or gives the results of his own observation and experience. In the main he is not a scientist himself but only a historian of science or nature; after all, his title, Natural History, is a very fitting one. The question, of course, arises whether he has sufficient scientific training to evaluate properly the work of the past. Has he read the best authors, has he noted their best passages, has he understood their meaning? Does he repeat inferior theories and omit the correcter views of certain Alexandrian scientists? These questions are hard to answer. On his behalf it may be said that he deals little with abstruse scientific theory and mainly with simple substances and geographical places, matters in which it seems difficult for him to go far astray. Scientific specialists were not numerous in those days, anyway, and science had not yet so far advanced and ramified that one man might not hope to cover the entire field and do it substantial justice. Pliny the Younger was perhaps[Pg 49] a partial judge, but he described the Natural History as “a work remarkable for its comprehensiveness and erudition, and not less varied than Nature herself.”[129]

His use of authorities.

One thing in Pliny’s favor as a compiler, besides his personal industry, unflagging interest, and apparently abundant supply of clerical assistance, is his full and honest statement of his authorities, although he adds that he has caught many authors transcribing others verbatim without acknowledgment. He has, however, great admiration for many of his authorities, exclaiming more than once at the care and diligence of the men of the past who have left nothing untried or unexperienced, from trackless mountain tops to the roots of herbs.[130] Sometimes, nevertheless, he disputes their assertions. For instance, Hippocrates said that the appearance of jaundice on the seventh day in fever is a fatal sign, “but we know some who have lived even after this.”[131] Pliny also scolds Sophocles for his falsehoods concerning amber.[132] It may seem surprising that he should expect strict scientific truth from a dramatic poet, but Pliny, like many medieval writers, seems to regard poets as good scientific authorities. In another passage he accepts Sophocles’ statement that a certain plant is poisonous, rather than the contrary view of other writers, saying “the authority of so prominent a man moves me against their opinions.”[133] He also cites Menander concerning fish and, like almost all the ancients, regards Homer as an authority on all matters.[134] Pliny sometimes cites the works of King Juba of Numidia, than whom there hardly seems to have been a greater liar in antiquity.[135] He stated among other things in a work which he wrote for Gaius Caesar, the son of Augustus, that a whale six hundred feet long and three hundred and sixty feet broad had[Pg 50] entered a river in Arabia.[136] But where should Pliny turn for sober truth? The Stoic Chrysippus prated of amulets;[137] treatises ascribed to the great philosophers Democritus and Pythagoras[138] were full of magic; and in the works of Cicero he read of a man who could see for a distance of one hundred and thirty-five miles, and in Varro that this man, standing on a Sicilian promontory, could count the number of ships sailing out of the harbor of Carthage.[139]

His lack of arrangement and classification.

The Natural History has been criticized as poorly arranged and lacking in scientific classification, but this is a criticism which can be made of many works of the classical period. Their presentation is apt to be rambling and discursive rather than logical and systematic. Even Aristotle’s History of Animals is described by Lewes[140] as unclassified in its arrangement and careless in its selection of material. I have often thought that the scholastic centuries did mankind at least one service, that of teaching lecturers and writers how to arrange their material. Pliny seems rather in advance of his times in supplying full tables of contents for the busy emperor’s convenience. Valerius Soranus seems to have been the only previous Roman writer to do this. One indication of haste in composition and failure to sift and compare his material is the fact that Pliny sometimes makes or includes contradictory statements, probably taken from different authorities. On the other hand, he not infrequently alludes to previous passages in his own work, thus showing that he has his material fairly well in hand.

His scepticism and credulity.

Pliny once said that there was no book so bad but what some good might be got from it,[141] and to the modern reader he seems almost incredibly credulous and indiscriminate in[Pg 51] his selection of material, and to lack any standard of judgment between the true and the false. Yet he often assumes an air of scepticism and censures others sharply for their credulity or exaggeration. “’Tis strange,” he remarks à propos of some tales of men transformed into wolves for nine or ten years, “how far Greek credulity has gone. No lie is so impudent that it lacks a voucher.”[142] Once he expresses his determination to include only those points on which his authorities are in agreement.[143]

A guide to ancient science.

On the whole, while to us to-day the Natural History seems a disorderly and indiscriminate conglomeration of fact and fiction, its defects are probably to a great extent those of its age and of the writers from whom it has borrowed. If it does not reflect the highest achievements and clearest thinking of the best scientists of antiquity—and be it said that there are a number of the Hellenistic age of whom we should know less than we do but for Pliny—it probably is a fairly faithful epitome of science and error concerning nature in his own time and the centuries preceding. At any rate it is the best portrayal that has reached us. From it we can get our background of the confusion of magic and science in the Hellenistic age, and then reveal against this setting the development of them both in the course of the Roman Empire and middle ages. Pliny gives so many items upon each point, and is so much fuller than the average ancient or medieval book of science, that he serves as a reference book, being the likeliest place to look to find duplicated some statement concerning nature by a later writer. This of course shows that such a statement did not originate with the later writer, but is not a sure sign that he copied from Pliny; they may both have used the same authorities, as seems the case with Greek authors later in the empire who probably did not know of Pliny’s work.

His medieval influence.

In the middle ages, however, Pliny had an undoubted direct influence.[144] Manuscripts of the Natural History are[Pg 52] numerous, although in a scarcely legible condition owing to corrections and emendations which enhance the obscurity of the text and perhaps do Pliny grave injustice in other respects.[145] Also many manuscripts contain only a few books or fragments of the text, so that it is possible that many medieval scholars knew their Pliny only in part.[146] This, however, can scarcely be argued from their failure to include more from him in their own works; for that might be due to their knowing the Natural History so well that they took its contents for granted and tried to include other material in their own works. In a later chapter we shall treat of The Medicine of Pliny, a treatise derived from the Natural History. Pliny’s phrase rerum natura figures as the title of several medieval encyclopedias of somewhat similar scope. And his own name was too well known in the middle ages to escape having a work on the philosopher’s stone ascribed to him.[147]

[Pg 53]

Early printed edition.

That the Natural History was well known as a whole at least by the close of the middle ages is shown by the numerous editions, some of them magnificently printed, which were turned off from the Italian presses immediately after the invention of printing. In the Magliabechian Library of Florence alone are editions printed at Venice in 1469 and 1472, at Rome in 1473 and Parma in 1481, again at Venice in 1487, 1491, and 1499, not to mention Italian translations which appeared at Venice in 1476 and 1489.[148] These editions were accompanied by some published criticism of Pliny’s statements, since in 1492 appeared at Ferrara a treatise On the Errors of Pliny and Others in Medicine by Nicholas Leonicenus of Vicenza with a dedication to Politian.[149] But two years later Pliny found a defender in Pandulph Collenucius.[150]

But Pliny’s future influence will come out repeatedly in later chapters. We shall now inquire, first, what signs of experimental science he shows, either derived from the past or added by himself. Second, what he defines as magic and what he has to say about it. Third, how much of what he supposes to be natural science must we regard as essentially magic?

II. Its Experimental Tendency

Importance of observation and experience.

It is probably only a coincidence that two medieval manuscripts close the Natural History in the midst of the seventy-sixth chapter of the last book with the words, “Experimenta pluribus modis constant.... Primum pondere.[151] But although from the very nature of his work Pliny makes extensive use of authorities, he not infrequently manifests a realization, as one dealing with the facts of nature should, of the importance of observation and experience as means of[Pg 54] reaching the truth. The claims of many Romans of high rank to have carried their arms as far as Mount Atlas, which Pliny declares has been repeatedly shown by experience to be most fallacious, leads him to the further reflection that nowhere is a lapse of one’s credulity easier than where a dignified author supports a false statement.[152] In other passages he calls experience the best teacher in all things,[153] and contrasts unfavorably garrulity of words and sitting in schools with going to solitudes and seeking herbs at their appropriate seasons. That upon our globe the land is entirely surrounded by water does not require, he says, investigation by arguments, but is now known by experience.[154] And if the salamander really extinguished fire, it would have been tried at Rome long ago.[155] On the other hand, we find some assertions in the Natural History which Pliny might easily have tested himself and found false, such as his statement that an egg-shell cannot be broken by force or any weight unless it is tipped a little to one side.[156] Sometimes he gives his personal experience,[157] but also mentions experience in many other connections.

Use of the word experimentum.

The word employed most of the time by Pliny to denote experience is experimentum.[158] In many passages the word does not indicate anything like a purposive, prearranged, scientific experiment in our sense of that word, but simply the ordinary experience of daily life.[159] We are also told what experti,[160] or men of experience, advise. In a number of passages, however, experimentum is used in a sense some[Pg 55]what more closely approaching our “experiment.” These are cases where something is being tested. For instance, a method of determining whether an egg is fresh or rotten by putting it in water and watching if it floats or sinks is called an experimentum.[161] That horses would whinny at no other painting of a horse than that by Apelles is spoken of as illius experimentum artis, a test of, or testimony to, his art.[162] The expression religionis experimento is applied to a religious test or ordeal by which the virginity of Claudia was vindicated.[163] The word is also used of ways of telling if unguents are good[164] and if wine is beginning to turn;[165] and of various tests of the genuineness of drugs, gems, earths, and metals.[166] It is also twice used of letting down a lighted lamp into a huge wine cask or into wells to discover if there is danger at the bottom from noxious vapors.[167] If the lamp was extinguished, it was a sign of peril to human life. Pliny further suggests purposive experimentation in speaking of experimenta to discover water under ground[168] and in grafting trees.[169]

Experiments due to scientific curiosity.

Most of the tests and experiences thus far mentioned have been practical operations connected with husbandry and industry. But Pliny recounts one or two others which seem to have been dictated solely by scientific curiosity. He classifies the following as experimenta:[170] the sinking of a well to prove by its complete illumination that the sun casts no shadow at noon of the summer solstice; the marking of a dolphin’s tail in order to throw some light upon its length of life, should it ever be captured again, as it was three hundred years later—perhaps the experiment of longest duration on record;[171] and the casting of a man into a pit of[Pg 56] serpents at Rome to determine if he was really immune from their stings.[172]

Medical experimentation.

Experimentum is employed by Pliny in a medical sense which becomes very common in the middle ages. He calls some remedies for toothache and inflamed eyes certa experimenta—sure experiences.[173] Later experimentum came to be applied to almost any recipe or remedy. Pliny, indeed, speaks of the doctors as learning at our risk and getting experience through our deaths.[174] In another passage he states more favorably that “there is no end to experimenting with everything so that even poisons are forced to cure us.”[175] He also briefly mentions the medical sect of Empirics, of whom we shall hear more from Galen. He says that they so name themselves from experiences[176] and originated at Agrigentum in Sicily under Acron and Empedocles.

Chance experience and divine revelation.

Pliny is puzzled how some things which he finds stated in “authors famous for wisdom” were ever learned by experience, for example, that the star-fish has such fiery fervor that it burns everything in the sea which it touches, and digests its food instantly.[177] That adamant can be broken only by goat’s blood he thinks must have been divinely revealed, for it would hardly have been discovered by chance, and he cannot imagine that anyone would ever have thought of testing a substance of immense value in a fluid of one of the foulest of animals.[178] In several other passages he suggests chance, accident, dreams,[179] or divine revelation as the ways in which the medicinal virtues of certain simples were discovered. Recently, for example, it was discovered that the root of the wild rose is a remedy for hydrophobia by the mother of a soldier in the praetorian guard, who was warned[Pg 57] in a dream to send her son this root, which cured him and many others who have tried it since.[180] And a soldier in Pompey’s time accidentally discovered a cure for elephantiasis when he hid his face for shame in some wild mint leaves.[181] Another herb was accidentally found to be a cure for disorders of the spleen when the entrails of a sacrificial victim happened to be thrown on it and it entirely consumed the milt.[182] The healing properties of vinegar for the sting of the asp were discovered by chance in this wise. A man who was stung by an asp while carrying a leather bottle of vinegar noticed that he felt the sting only when he set the bottle down.[183] He therefore decided to try the effects of a drink of the liquid and was thereby fully cured.[184] Other remedies are learned through the experience of rustics and illiterate persons, and yet others may be discovered by observing animals who cure their ills by them.[185] Pliny’s opinion is that the animals have hit upon them by chance.

Marvels proved by experience.

Pliny represents a number of marvelous and to us incredible things as proved by experience. Divination from thunder, for instance, is supported by innumerable experiences, public and private. In two passages out of the three mentioning experti which I cited above, those experienced persons recommended a decidedly magical sort of procedure.[186] In another passage “the experience of many” supports “a strange observance” in plucking a bud.[187] A fourth bit of magical procedure is called “marvelous but easily tested.”[188] Thus the transition is an easy one from signs of experimental science in the Natural History to our next topic, Pliny’s account of magic.

[Pg 58]

III. Pliny’s Account of Magic.

Oriental origin of magic.

Pliny supplies some account of the origin and spread of magic[189] but a rather confused and possibly unreliable one, as he mentions two Zoroasters separated by an interval of five or six thousand years, and two Osthaneses, one of whom accompanied Xerxes, and the other Alexander, in their respective expeditions. He says, indeed, that it is not clear whether one or two Zoroasters existed. In any case magic has flourished greatly the world over for many centuries, and was founded in Persia by Zoroaster. Some other magicians of Media, Babylonia, and Assyria are mere names to Pliny; later he mentions others like Apollobeches and Dardanus. Although he thus derives magic from the orient, he appears to make no distinction, as we shall find other writers doing, between the Magi of Persia and ordinary magicians, nor does he employ the word magic in two senses. He makes it evident, however, that there have been other men who have regarded magic more favorably than he does.

Its spread to the Greeks.

Pliny next traces the spread of magic among the Greeks. He marvels at the lack of it in the Iliad and the abundance of it in the Odyssey. He is uncertain whether to class Orpheus as a magician, and mentions Thessaly as famous for its witches at least as early as the time of Menander who named one of his comedies after them. But he regards the Osthanes who accompanied Xerxes as the prime introducer of magic to the Greek-speaking world, which straightway went mad over it. In order to learn more of it, the philosophers Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato went into distant exile and on their return disseminated their lore. Pliny regards the works of Democritus as the greatest single factor in that dissemination of the doctrines of magic which occurred at about the same time that medicine was being developed by the works of Hippocrates. Some[Pg 59] regarded the books on magic ascribed to Democritus as spurious, but Pliny insists that they are genuine.[190]

Its spread outside the Graeco-Roman world.

Outside of the Greek-speaking world, whence of course magic spread to Rome, Pliny mentions Jewish magic, represented by such names as Moses, Jannes, and Lotapes. But he holds that magic did not originate among the Hebrews until long after Zoroaster. He also speaks of the magic of Cyprus; of the Druids, who were the magicians, diviners, and medicine men of Gaul until the emperor Tiberius suppressed them; and of distant Britain.[191] Thus discordant nations and even those ignorant of one another’s existence agree the world over in their devotion to magic. From what Pliny tells us elsewhere of the Scythians we can see that the nomads of the Russian steppes and Turkestan were devoted to magic too.

Failure to understand its true origin.

It has been shown that Pliny regarded magic as a mass of doctrines formulated by a single founder and not as a gradual social evolution, just as the Greeks and Romans ascribed their laws and customs to some single legislator. He admits in a way, however, the great antiquity claimed by magic for itself, although he questions how the bulky dicta of Zoroaster and Dardanus could have been handed down by memory during so long a period. This remark again shows how little he thinks of magic as a set of social customs and attitudes perpetuated through constant and universal practice from generation to generation. Yet what he says of its widespread prevalence among unconnected peoples goes to prove this.

Magic and divination.

Pliny has a clearer comprehension of the extensive scope of magic and of its essential characteristics, at least as it was in his day. “No one should wonder,” he says, “that its authority has been very great, since alone of the arts it has[Pg 60] embraced and united with itself the three other subjects which make the greatest appeal to the human mind,” namely, medicine, religion, and the arts of divination, especially astrology. That his phrase artes mathematicas has reference to astrology is shown by his immediately continuing, “since there is no one who is not eager to learn the future about himself and who does not think that this is most truly revealed by the sky.” But magic further “promises to reveal the future by water and spheres and air and stars and lamps and basins and the blades of axes and by many other methods, besides conferences with shades from the infernal regions.” There can therefore be no doubt that Pliny regards the various arts of divination as parts of magic.

Magic and religion.

While we have heard Pliny assert in general the close connection between magic and religion, the character of the Natural History, which deals with natural rather than religious matters, does not lead him to enter into much further detail upon this point. His occasional mention of religious usages in his own day, however, supports our information from other sources that the original Roman religion was very largely composed of magic forces, rules, and ceremonial.

Magic and medicine.

Nearly half the books of the Natural History deal in whole or in part with remedies for diseases, and it is therefore of the relations between magic and natural science, and more particularly between magic and medicine, that Pliny gives us the most detailed information. Indeed, he asserts that “no one doubts” that magic “originally sprang from medicine and crept in under the show of promoting health as a loftier and more sacred medicine.” Magic and medicine have developed together, and the latter is now in imminent danger of being overwhelmed by the follies of magic, which have made men doubt whether plants possess any medicinal properties.

Magic and philosophy.

In the opinion of many, however, magic is sound and beneficial learning. In antiquity, and for that matter at almost all times, the height of literary fame and glory has[Pg 61] been sought from that science.[192] Eudoxus would have it the most noted and useful of all schools of philosophy. Empedocles and Plato studied it; Pythagoras and Democritus perpetuated it in their writings.

Falseness of magic.

But Pliny himself feels that the assertions of the books of magic are fantastic, exaggerated, and untrue. He repeatedly brands the magi or magicians as fools or impostors, and their statements as absurd and impudent tissues of lies.[193] Vanitas, or “nonsense,” is his stock-word for their beliefs.[194] Some of their writings must, in his opinion, have been dictated by a feeling of contempt and derision for humanity.[195] Nero proved the falseness of the art, for although he studied magic eagerly and with his unlimited wealth and power had every opportunity to become a skilful practitioner, he was unable to work any marvels and abandoned the attempt.[196] Pliny therefore comes to the conclusion that magic is “invalid and empty, yet has some shadows of truth, which however are due more to poisons than to magic.”[197]

Crimes of magic.

The last remark brings us to charges of evil practices made against the magicians. Besides poisons, they specialize in love-potions and drugs to produce abortions;[198] and some of their operations are inhuman or obscene and abominable. They attempt baleful sorcery or the transfer of disease from one person to another.[199] Osthanes and even Democritus propound such remedies as drinking human blood or utilizing in magic compounds and ceremonies parts of the corpses of men who have been violently slain.[200] Pliny thinks that humanity owes a great debt to the Roman government[Pg 62] for abolishing those monstrous rites of human sacrifice, “in which to slay a man was thought most pious; nay more, to eat men was thought most wholesome.”[201]

Pliny’s censure of magic is mainly intellectual.

Pliny nevertheless lays less stress upon the moral argument against magic as criminal or indecent than he does upon the intellectual objection to it as untrue and unscientific. Indeed, so far as decency is concerned, his own medicine will be seen to be far from prudish, while he elsewhere gives instances of magicians guarding against defilement.[202] Moreover, among the methods employed and the results sought by magic which he frequently mentions there are comparatively few that are morally objectionable, although they seem without exception false. But many of their recipes aim at the cure of disease and other worthy, or at least admissible, objects. Possibly Pliny has somewhat censored their lore and tried to exclude all criminal secrets, but his censure seems more intellectual than moral. For instance, he fills a long chapter with extracts from a treatise on the virtues of the chameleon and its parts by Democritus, whom he regards as a leading purveyor of magic lore.[203] In opening the chapter Pliny hails “with great pleasure” the opportunity to expose “the lies of Greek vanity,” but at its close he expresses a wish that Democritus himself had been touched with the branch of a palm which he said prevents immoderate loquacity. Pliny then adds more charitably, “It is evident that this man, who in other respects was a wise and most useful member of society, has erred from too great zeal in serving humanity.”

Vagueness of Pliny’s scepticism.

Pliny himself fails to maintain a consistently sceptical attitude towards magic. His exact attitude is often hard to determine. Often it is difficult to say whether he is speaking in sober earnest or in a tone of light and easy pleasantry and sarcasm, as in the passage just cited concerning Democritus. Another puzzling point is his frequent excuse that he will list certain assertions of the magicians in order to[Pg 63] expose or confute them. But really he usually simply sets them forth, apparently expecting that their inherent and patent absurdity will prove a sufficient refutation of them. On the rare occasions when he undertakes to indicate in what the absurdity consists his reasoning is scarcely scientific or convincing. Thus he affirms that “it is a peculiar proof of the vanity of the magicians that of all animals they most admire moles who are condemned by nature in so many ways, to perpetual blindness and to dig in the darkness as if they were buried.”[204] And he assails the belief of the magi[205] that an owl’s egg is good for diseases of the scalp by asking, “Who, I beg, could ever have seen an owl’s egg, since it is a prodigy to see the bird itself?” Moreover, he sometimes cites assertions of the magicians without any censure, apology, or expression of disbelief; and there are many other passages where it is practically impossible to tell whether he is citing the magicians or not. Sometimes he will apparently continue to refer to them by a pronoun in chapters where they have not been mentioned by name at all.[206] In other places he will imperceptibly cease to quote the magi and after an interval perhaps as imperceptibly resume citation of their doctrines.[207] It is also difficult to determine just when writers like Democritus and Pythagoras are to be regarded as representatives of magic and when their statements are accepted by Pliny as those of sound philosophers.

Magic and science indistinguishable.

Perhaps, despite Pliny’s occasional brave efforts to withstand and even ridicule the assertions of the magicians, he could not free himself from a secret liking for them and more than half believed them. At any rate he believed very similar things. Even more likely is it that previous works on nature were so full of such material and the readers of his own day so interested in it, that he could not but include[Pg 64] much of it. Once he explains[208] that certain statements are scarcely to be taken seriously, yet should not be omitted, because they have been transmitted from the past. Again he begs the reader’s indulgence for similar “vanities of the Greeks,” “because this too has its value that we should know whatever marvels they have transmitted.”[209] The truth of the matter probably is that Pliny rejected some assertions of the magicians but found others acceptable; that he gets his occasional attitude of scepticism and ridicule of their doctrines from one set of authorities, and his moments of unquestioning acceptance of their statements from other authors on whom he relies. Very likely in the books which he used it often was no clearer than it is in the Natural History whether a statement was to be ascribed to the magi or not. Very possibly Pliny was as confused in his own mind concerning the entire business as he seems to be to us. He could no more keep magic out of his Natural History than poor Mr. Dick could keep Charles the First’s head out of his book. One fact at any rate stands out clearly, the prominence of magic in his encyclopedia and in the learning of his age.

IV. The Science of the Magi

Magicians as investigators of nature.

Let us now further examine Pliny’s picture of magic, not as he expressly defines or censures it, but as he reflects its own assertions and purposes in his fairly numerous citations from its literature and perhaps its practice. Here I shall rather strictly limit my survey to those statements which Pliny definitely ascribes by name to the magi or magic art. The most striking fact is that the magicians are cited again and again concerning the supposed properties, virtues, and effects of things in nature—herbs, animals, and stones. These virtues are, it is true, often employed in an effort to produce wonderful results, and often too they are combined with some fantastic rite or superstitious ceremonial performed by a human agent. But in many cases either no[Pg 65] rite at all is suggested or merely some simple medicinal application; and in a few cases there is no mention of any particular operation or result, the magicians are cited simply as authorities concerning the great but unspecified virtues of natural objects. Indeed, they stand out in Pliny’s pages not as mere sorcerers or enchanters or wonder-workers, but as those who have gone the farthest and in most detail—too far and too curiously in Pliny’s opinion—into the study of medicine and of nature. Sometimes their statements, cited without censure, supplement others concerning the species under discussion;[210] sometimes they are his sole source of information on the subject in hand.[211]

The magi on herbs.

Pliny connects the origin of botany rather closely with magic, mentioning Medea and Circe as early investigators of plants and Orpheus among the first writers on the subject.[212] Moreover, Pythagoras and Democritus borrowed from the magi of the orient in their works on the properties of plants.[213] There would be little profit in repeating the names of the herbs concerning which Pliny gives opinions of the magicians, inasmuch as few of them can be associated with any plants known to-day.[214] Suffice it to say that Pliny makes no objection to the herbs which they employed. Nor does he criticize their methods of employing them, although some seem superstitious enough to the modern reader. A chaplet is worn of one herb,[215] others are plucked with the left hand and with a statement of what they are to be used for, and in one case without looking backward.[216] The anemone is to be plucked when it first appears that year with a statement of its intended use, and then is to be wrapped in a red cloth and kept in the shade, and, whenever anyone falls sick of tertian or quartan fever, is to be bound on the patient’s body.[217] The heliotrope is not to be plucked at all but[Pg 66] tied in three or four knots with a prayer that the patient may recover to untie the knots.[218]

Marvelous virtues of herbs.

Pliny does not even object to the marvelous results which the magi think can be gained by use of herbs until towards the close of his twenty-fourth book, although already in his twentieth and twenty-first books such powers have been claimed for herbs as to make one well-favored and enable one to attain one’s desires,[219] or to give one grace and glory.[220] At the end of his twenty-fourth book[221] he states that Pythagoras and Democritus, following the magi, ascribe to herbs unusually marvelous virtues such as to freeze water, invoke spirits, force the guilty to confess by frightening them with apparitions, and impart the gift of divination. Early in his twenty-fifth book[222] Pliny suggests that some incredible effects have been attributed to herbs by the magi and their disciples, and in a later chapter[223] he describes the magi as so mad about vervain that they think that if they are anointed with it, they can gain their wishes, drive away fevers and other diseases, and make friendships. The herb should be plucked about the rising of the dog-star when there is neither sun nor moon. Honey and honeycomb should be offered to appease the earth; then the plant should be dug around with iron with the left hand and raised aloft. By the time he reaches his twenty-sixth book Pliny’s courage has risen, so to speak, enough to cause him at last to enter upon quite a tirade against “magical vanities which have been carried so far that they might destroy faith in herbs entirely.”[224] As examples he mentions herbs supposed to dry up rivers and swamps, open barred doors at their touch, turn hostile armies to flight, and supply all the needs of the ambassadors of the Persian kings. He wonders why such herbs have never been employed in Roman warfare or Italian drainage. Pliny’s only objection to magic herbs therefore seems to be the excessive powers which are claimed for some of them.[Pg 67] He adds that it would be strange that the credulity which arose from such wholesome beginnings had reached such a pitch, if human ingenuity observed moderation in anything and if the much more recent system of medicine which Asclepiades founded could not be shown to have been carried even beyond the magicians. Here again we see Pliny failing to recognize magic as a primitive social product and regarding it as a degeneration from ancient science rather than science as a comparatively modern development from it. But he may well be right in thinking that many particular far-fetched recipes and rites were the late, artificial product of over-scholarly magicians. Thus he brands as false and magical the assertion of a recent grammarian, Apion, that the herb cynocephalia is divine and a safeguard against poison, but kills the man who uproots it entirely.[225]

Animals and parts of animals.

In a few cases Pliny objects to the animals or parts of animals employed by the magi, as in the passage already cited where he complains that they admire moles more than any other animals.[226] But his assertion is inconsistent, since he has already affirmed that they hold the hyena in most admiration of all animals on the ground that it works magic upon men.[227] Their promise of readier favor with peoples and kings to those who anoint themselves with lion’s fat, especially that between the eyebrows, he criticizes by declaring that no fat can be found there.[228] He also twits the magi for magnifying the importance of so nasty a creature as the tick.[229] They are attracted to it by the fact that it has no outlet to its body and can live only seven days even if it fasts. Whether there is any astrological significance in the number seven here Pliny does not say. He does inform us, however, that the cricket is employed in magic because it moves backward.[230] A very bizarre object employed by the Druids and other magicians is a sort of egg produced by the hissing or foam of snakes.[231] The blood of the basilisk may also be[Pg 68] classed as a rarity. Apparently animals in some way unusual are preferred in magic, like a black sheep,[232] but the logic in the reasons given by Pliny for their selection is not clear in every instance. In some other cases not criticized by Pliny[233] we have plainly enough sympathetic magic or the principle of like cures like, as when the milt of a calf or sheep is used to cure diseases of the human spleen.

Further instances.

The magicians, however, do not scorn to use familiar and easily obtainable animals like the goat and dog and cat. The liver and dung of a cat, a puppy’s brains, the blood and genitals of a dog, and the gall of a black male dog are among the animal substances employed.[234] Such substances as those just named are equally in demand from other animals.[235] Minute parts of animals are frequently employed by the magicians, such as the toe of an owl, the liver of a mouse given in a fig, the tooth of a live mole, the stones from young swallows’ gizzards, the eyes of river crabs.[236] Sometimes the part employed is reduced to ashes, perhaps a relic of sacrificial custom. Thus for toothache the magi inject into the ear nearer the tooth the ashes of the head of a mad dog and oil of Cyprus, while they prescribe for affections of the sinews the ashes of an owl’s head in honied wine with lily root.[237] Other living creatures which Pliny mentions as used by the magi are the salamander, earthworm, bat, scarab with reflex horns, lizard, tortoise, bed-bug, frog, and sea-urchin.[238] The dragon’s tail wrapped in a gazelle’s skin and bound on with deer-sinews cures epilepsy,[239] and a mixture of the dragon’s tongue, eyes, gall, and intestines, boiled in oil, cooled in the night air, and rubbed on morning and evening, frees one from nocturnal apparitions.[240]

Magic rites with animals and parts of animals.

Sometimes the parts of animals are bound on outside the patient’s body, sometimes the injured portion of his body[Pg 69] is merely touched with them. Once the whole house is to be fumigated with the substance in question;[241] once the walls are to be sprinkled with it; once it is to be buried under the threshold. Some instances follow of more elaborate magic ritual connected with the use of animals or parts of animals. The hyena is more easily captured by a hunter who ties seven knots in his girdle and horsewhip, and it should be captured when the moon is in the sign of Gemini and without the loss of a single hair.[242] Another bit of astrology dispensed by the magi is that the cat, whose salted liver is taken with wine for quartan fever, should have been killed under a waning moon.[243] To cure incontinence of urine one not only drinks ashes of a boar’s genitals in sweet wine, but afterwards urinates in a dog kennel and repeats the formula, “That I may not urinate like a dog in its kennel.”[244] The magicians insist that the sex of the patient be observed in administering burnt cow-dung or bull-dung in honied wine for cases of dropsy.[245] For infantile ailments the brains of a she-goat should be passed through a gold ring and dropped in the baby’s mouth before it is given its milk.[246] After the fresh milt of a sheep has been applied to the patient with the words, “This I do for the cure of the spleen,” it should be plastered into the bedroom wall and sealed with a ring, while the charm should be repeated twenty-seven times.[247] In treating sciatica[248] an earthworm should be placed in a broken wooden dish mended with an iron band, the dish should be filled with water, the worm should be buried again where it was dug up, and the water should be drunk by the patient. The eyes of river crabs are to be attached to the patient’s person before sunrise and the blinded crabs put back into the water.[249] After it has been carried around the house thrice a bat may be nailed head down outside a window as an amulet.[250] For epilepsy goat’s flesh should be[Pg 70] given which has been roasted on a funeral pyre, and the animal’s gall should not be allowed to touch the ground.[251]

Marvels wrought with parts of animals.

Pliny occasionally speaks in a vague general way of his citations from the magi concerning the virtues of parts of animals as lies or nonsense or “portentous,” but he does not specifically criticize their procedure any more than he did their methods of employing herbs, and he does not criticize their promised results as much as he did before. Indeed, as we have already indicated, the object in a majority of cases is purely medicinal. The purpose of others is pastoral or agricultural, such as preventing goats from straying or causing swine to follow you.[252] The blood of the basilisk, however, is said to procure answers to petitions made to the powerful and prayers addressed to the gods, and to act as a safeguard against poison or sorcery (veneficiorum amuleta).[253] Invincibility is promised the wearer of the head and tail of a dragon, hairs from a lion’s forehead, a lion’s marrow, the foam of a winning horse, a dog’s claw bound in deer-skin, and the muscles alternately of a deer and a gazelle.[254] A woman will tell secrets in her sleep if the heart of an owl is applied to her right breast, and power of divination is gained by eating the still palpitating heart of a mole.[255]

The magi on stones.

In the case of stones the names are again, as in the case of herbs, of little significance for us.[256] The accompanying ritual is slight. There are one or two suspensions from the neck or elsewhere by such means as a lion’s mane—the hair of the hyena will not do at all—nor the hair of the cynocephalus and swallows’ feathers.[257] There is some use of incantations with the stones, a setting of iron for one stone, burial of another beneath a tree that it may not dull the axe, and placing another on the tongue after rinsing the mouth with honey at certain days and hours of the moon in order to acquire the gift of divination.[258] Indeed, the results promised[Pg 71] are all marvelous. The stones benefit public speakers, admit to the presence of royalty, counteract fascination and sorcery, avert hail, thunderbolts, storms, locusts, and scorpions; chill boiling water, produce family discord, render athletes invincible, quench anger and violence, make one invisible, evoke images of the gods and shades from the infernal regions.

Other magical recipes.

We have yet to mention a group of magical recipes and remedies which Pliny for some reason collects in one chapter[259] but which hardly fall under any one head. A whetstone on which iron tools are sharpened, if placed without his knowledge under the pillow of a man who has been poisoned, will cause him to reveal all the circumstances of the crime. If you turn a man who has been struck by lightning over on his injured side, he will speak at once. To cure tumors in the groin, tie seven or nine knots in the remnant of a weaver’s web, naming some widow as each knot is tied. The pain is assuaged by binding to the body the nail that has been trod on. To get rid of warts, on the twentieth day of the moon lie flat in a path gazing at the moon, stretch the hands above the head and rub the warts with anything that comes to hand. A corn may be extracted successfully at the moment a star shoots. Headache may be relieved by a liniment made by pouring vinegar on door hinges or by binding a hangman’s noose about the patient’s temples. To dislodge a fish-bone stuck in the throat, plunge the feet into cold water; to dislodge some other sort of bone, place bones on the head; to dislodge a morsel of bread, stuff bits of bread into both ears. We may add from a neighboring chapter a very magical remedy for fevers, although Pliny calls it “the most modest of their promises.”[260] Toe and finger nail parings mixed with wax are to be attached ere sunrise to another person’s door in order to transfer the disease from the patient to him. Or they may be placed near an ant-hill, in which case the first ant who tries to drag one in[Pg 72]side the hill should be captured and suspended from the patient’s neck.

Summary of the statements of the magi.

Such is the picture we derive from numerous passages in the Natural History of the magic art, its materials and rites, the effects it seeks to produce, and its general attitude towards nature. Besides the natural materials employed and the marvelous results sought, we have noted the frequent use of ligatures, suspensions, and amulets, the observance of astrological conditions, of certain times and numbers, rules for plucking herbs and tying knots, stress on the use of the right or left hand—in other words, on position or direction, some employment of incantations, some sacrifice and fumigation, some specimens of sympathetic magic, of the theory that “like cures like,” and of other types of magic logic.

V. Pliny’s Magical Science

From the magi to Pliny’s magic.

We may now turn to the still more numerous passages of the Natural History where the magi are not cited and compare the virtues there ascribed to the things of nature and the methods employed in medicine and agriculture with those of the magicians. We shall find many striking resemblances and shall soon come to a realization that there is more magic in the Natural History which is not attributed to the magi than there is that is. Pliny did not need to warn us that medicine had been corrupted by magic; his own medicine proves it. It is this fact, that virtually his entire work is crammed with marvelous properties and fantastic ceremonial, which makes it so difficult in some places to tell when he begins to draw material from the magi and when he leaves off. By a detailed analysis of this remaining material we shall now attempt to classify the substances of which Pliny makes use and the virtues which he ascribes to them, the rites and methods of procedure by which they are employed, and certain superstitious doctrines and notions which are involved. We shall thus find that almost precisely the same factors are present in his science as in the lore of the magicians.

[Pg 73]

Habits of animals.

Of substances we may begin with animals,[261] and, before we note the human use of their virtues with its strong suggestion of magic, may remark another unscientific and superstitious feature which was very common both in ancient and medieval times. This is the tendency to humanize animals, ascribing to them conscious motives, habits, and ruses, or even moral standards and religious veneration. We shall have occasion to note the same thing in other authors and so will give but a few specimens from the many in the Natural History. Such qualities are attributed by Pliny especially to elephants, whom he ranks next to man in intelligence, and whom he represents as worshiping the stars, learning difficult tricks, and as having a sense of justice, feel[Pg 74]ing of mercy, and so on.[262] Similarly the lion has noble courage and a sense of gratitude, while the lioness is wily in the devices by which she conceals her amours with the pard.[263] A number of the devices of fishes to escape hooks and nets are repeated by Pliny from Ovid’s Halieuticon, extant only in fragments.[264] The crocodile opens its jaws to have its teeth picked by a friendly bird; but sometimes while this operation is being performed the ichneumon “darts down its throat like a javelin and eats away its intestines.”[265] Pliny also marvels at the cleverness displayed by the dragon and the elephant in their combats with one another,[266] which, however, almost invariably terminate fatally to both combatants, the elephant falling exhausted in the dragon’s coils and crushing the serpent by its weight. Others say that in the hot summer the dragons thirst for the blood of the elephant which is very cold; in their combat the elephant falls drained of its blood and crushes the dragon who is intoxicated by the same.

Remedies discovered by animals.

The dragon’s apparent knowledge that the elephant is cold-blooded leads us to a kindred topic, the remedies used by animals and often discovered by men only by seeing animals use them. This notion continued in the middle ages, as we shall see, and of course it did not originate with Pliny. As he says himself, “The ancients have recorded the remedies of wild beasts and shown how they are healed even when poisoned.”[267] Against aconite the scorpion eats white hellebore as an antidote, while the panther employs human excrement.[268] Animals prepare themselves for combats with poisonous snakes by eating certain herbs; the weasel eats rue, the tortoise and deer use two other plants, while field mice who have been stung by snakes eat condrion.[269] The hawk tears open the hawkweed and sprinkles its eyes with the juice.[270] The serpent tastes fennel when it sheds its old[Pg 75] skin.[271] Sick bears cure themselves by a diet of ants.[272] Swallows restore the sight of their young with chelidonia or swallow-wort,[273] and the historian Xanthus says that the dragon restores its dead offspring to life with an herb called balis.[274] The hippopotamus was the original discoverer of bleeding,[275] opening a vein in his leg by wounding himself on sharp reeds along the shore, and afterwards checking the flow of blood by plastering the place with mud.[276] Pliny, however, states in one passage that animals hit upon all these remedies by chance and even have to rediscover them by accident in each new case, “since,” he continues in conformity with recent animal psychologists, “reason and practice cannot be transmitted between wild beasts.”[277]

Jealousy of animals.

Yet in another passage Pliny deplores the spitefulness of the dog which, while men are looking, will not pluck the herb by which it cures itself of snake-bite.[278] Probably Pliny is using different authorities in the two passages. Theophrastus, the pupil of Aristotle, had written a work on Jealous Animals. More excusable than the spitefulness of the dog is the attitude of the dragon, from whose brain the gem draconitis must be taken while the dragon is alive and preferably asleep. For if the dragon feels that it is mortally wounded, it takes revenge by spoiling the gem.[279] Elephants know that men hunt them only for their tusks, and so bury these when they fall off.[280]

Occult virtues of animals.

Animals have marvelous virtues of their own other than the medicinal uses to which men have put them. For instance, the mere glance of the basilisk is fatal, and its breath burns up vegetation and breaks rocks.[281] But the medicinal effects which Pliny ascribes to animals and parts of animals[Pg 76] are well nigh infinite. Many animal substances will have to be introduced in other connections so that we need mention now but a very few: the heads and blood of flies, honey in which bees have died, cinere genitalis asini, chicks in the egg, and thrice seven centipedes diluted with Attic honey,[282]—this last a prescription for asthma and to be taken through a reed because it blackens every dish by its contact. Another passage advises eating a rat or shrew-mouse in order to bear a baby with black eyes.[283] These items are enough to convince us that the animals and parts of animals employed by the magicians were not one whit more bizarre and nauseating than the others found in the Natural History, nor were the cures which they were expected to work any more improbable. In order to illustrate, however, the delicate distinctions which were imagined to exist not only between the virtues of different parts of the same animal, but also between slightly varied uses of the same part, we may note that scales scraped from the topmost part of a tortoise’s shell and administered in drink check sexual desire, considering which, it is, as Pliny remarks, the more marvelous that a powder made of the entire shell is reported to arouse lust.[284] But love turns readily to hatred in magic as well as in romance, and it is nothing very unusual, as we shall find in other authors, for the same thing on slight provocation to work in exactly opposite ways.

The virtues of herbs.

Pig grease, Pliny somewhere informs us, possesses especially strong virtue, “because that animal feeds on the roots of herbs.”[285] From the virtues of animals, therefore, let us turn to those of herbs.[286] Pliny met on every hand assertion of their wonderful powers. The empire-builders of Rome employed the sacred herbs sagmina and verbenae in their embassies and legations. The Gauls, too, use the verbena in[Pg 77] lot-casting and prophetic responses.[287] Pliny also states more sceptically that there is another root which diviners take in drink in order to feign inspiration.[288] The Scythians know of a plant which prevents hunger and thirst if held in the mouth, and of another which has the same effect upon their horses, so that they can go for twelve days without meat or drink,[289]—an exaggerated estimate of the hardihood of the mounted Asiatic nomads and their steeds. Musaeus and Hesiod say that one anointed with polion will attain fame and dignities.[290]

Pliny perhaps did not intend to subscribe fully to such statements, although he cannot be said to call many of them into question. He did complain that some writers had asserted incredible powers of herbs, such as to restore dragons or men to life or withdraw wedges from trees,[291] yet he seems on the whole in sympathy with the opinion of the majority that there is practically nothing which the force of herbs cannot accomplish. Herophilus, illustrious in medicine, had said that certain herbs were beneficial if merely trod upon, and Pliny himself says the same of more than one plant. He tells us further that binding the wild fig tree about their necks makes the fiercest bulls stand immobile;[292] that another plant subjects fractious beasts of burden to the yoke;[293] while cows who eat buprestis burst asunder.[294] Another herb contacto genitali kills any female animal.[295] Betony is considered an amulet for houses,[296] and fishermen in Pliny’s neighborhood mix a plant with chalk and scatter it on the waves.[297] “The fish dart towards it with marvelous desire and straightway float lifeless on the surface.” Dogs will not bark at persons carrying peristereos.[298] The “impious plant” prevents any human being who tastes it from having quinsy, while swine are sure to have that disease if they do not eat it.[Pg 78] Some place it in birds’ nests to prevent the voracious nestlings from strangling. Bitter almonds provide another amusing combination of effects. Eating five of them permits one to drink without experiencing intoxication, but if foxes eat them they will die unless they find water near by to drink.[299] There are some herbs which have a medicinal effect, if one merely looks at them.[300] In two cases the masculine or feminine variety of a herb is used to secure the birth of a child of the desired sex.[301]

Plucking herbs.

That the plucking of herbs and digging up of roots was a process very apt to be attended by magical procedure we find abundant evidence in the Natural History. Often plants should be plucked before sunrise.[302] Twice Pliny tells us that the peony should be uprooted by night lest the woodpecker of Mars try to pick the digger’s eyes out.[303] The state of the moon is another point to be observed,[304] and once an herb is to be gathered before thunder is heard.[305] A common instruction is to pick the plant with the left hand,[306] and once with the thumb and fourth finger of the left hand.[307] Once the right hand should be stretched covertly after the fashion of a pickpocket through the left sleeve in order to pluck the plant.[308] Sometimes one faces east in plucking herbs; sometimes, west; again one is careful not to face the wind.[309] Sometimes the gatherer must not glance behind him. Sometimes he must fast before he takes the plant from the ground;[310] again he must observe a state of chastity.[311] Sometimes he should be barefoot and clothed in white; again he should remove every stitch of clothing and even his rings.[312] Sometimes the use of iron implements is forbidden; again gold or some other material is prescribed;[313] once the herb is to be dug with a nail.[314] Sometimes circles are traced[Pg 79] about the plant with the point of a sword.[315] Often the plant must not touch the ground again after it is picked,[316] presumably from a fear that its virtue would run off like an electric current. Pliny alludes at least three times[317] to the practice of herbalists of retaining portions of the herbs they sell, and then, if they are not paid in full, replanting the herb in the same spot with the idea that thereby the disease will return to plague the delinquent patient. Frequently one is directed to state why one plucks the herb or for whom it is intended.[318] In one case the digger says, “This is the herb Argemon which Minerva discovered was a remedy for swine who taste it.”[319] In another case one should salute the plant and extract its juice before saying a word; thus its virtue will be much greater.[320] In other cases, as an offering to appease the earth, the soil about the plant is soaked with hydromel three months before plucking it, or the hole left by pulling it up is filled with different kinds of grain.[321] Sometimes one sacrifices beforehand with bread and wine or prays to the gods for permission to gather the herb.[322] The customs of the Druids in gathering herbs are mentioned more than once.[323] In gathering the sacred mistletoe on the sixth day of the moon they hold sacrifices and a banquet beneath the tree.[324] Two white bulls are the victims; a priest clad in white cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle and receives it in a white cloak.[325]

Agricultural magic.

To Pliny’s discussion of herbs we may append some specimens of the employment of magic procedure in agriculture and of the superstitions of the peasantry in which his pages abound. To guard against diseases of grain the seeds before planting should be steeped in wine, the juice of a certain herb, the gall of a cow, or human urine, or[Pg 80] should be touched with the shoulders of a mole[326]—the animal whose use by the magi we heard Pliny ridicule. One should sow at the moon’s conjunction. Before the field is hoed, a frog should be carried around it and then buried in the center in an earthen vessel. But it should be disinterred before harvest lest the millet be bitter. Birds may be kept away from the grain by planting in the four corners of the field an herb whose name is unfortunately unknown to Pliny.[327] Mice are kept out by the ashes of a weasel, mildew by laurel branches, caterpillars by placing the skull of a female beast of burden upon a stick in the garden.[328] To ward off fogs and storms from orchards and vineyards a frog may be buried as directed above, or live crabs may be burnt in the trees, or a painted grape may be consecrated.[329] Suspending a frog in the granary preserves the corn stored there.[330] To keep wolves away catch one, break its legs, attach it to the ploughshare, and thus scatter its blood about the boundaries of the field; then bury the carcass at the starting-point.[331] Or consecrate at the altar of the Lar the ploughshare with which the first furrow was traced. Foxes will not touch poultry who have eaten the dried liver of a fox or who wear a bit of its skin about their necks. Fern will not spring up again if it is mowed with the edge of a reed or uprooted by a ploughshare upon which a reed has been placed.[332] Of the use of incantations in agriculture we shall treat later.

Virtues of stones.

Pliny appears to have much less faith in the possession of marvelous virtues by gems than by herbs and parts of animals. He not only characterizes the powers attributed to gems by the magi and Democritus and Pythagoras as “terrible lies” and “unspeakable nonsense”;[333] but refrains from mentioning many such himself or inserts a cautious “if we believe it” or “if they tell the truth.”[334] Of the gem[Pg 81] supposed to be produced from the urine of the lynx he says, “I think that this is quite false and no gem of that name has been seen in our time. What is stated concerning its medicinal virtue is also false.”[335] To other stones, however, he ascribes various medicinal virtues, either when taken pulverized in drink or when worn as amulets.[336] A few other occult properties are stated without reservation, as that amiantus resists all sorceries,[337] that adamant expels idle fears from the mind, that sideritis produces discord and litigation, and that eumeces, placed beneath one’s pillow at night, causes oracular visions.[338] Magnets are said to differ in sex, and the belief of Theophrastus and Mucianus is repeated that certain stones bear offspring.[339]

Other minerals and metals.

Of the metals iron sometimes figures in Pliny’s magical procedure, as when he either prescribes or taboos the use of it in cutting herbs or killing animals. In Arcadia the yew-tree is a fatal poison to persons sleeping beneath it, but driving a copper nail into the tree makes it harmless.[340] Pliny says that gold is medicinal in many ways and in particular is applied to wounded persons and to infants as a safeguard against witchcraft.[341] Earth itself is often used to work marvels, but usually some particular portion, such as that between cart ruts or that thrown up by ants, beetles, and moles, or in the right footprint where one first heard a cuckoo sing.[342] However, the rule that an object should not touch the ground is enforced in many other connections[343] than the plucking of herbs, and Pliny twice states that the earth will not permit a serpent who has stung a human being to re-enter its hole.[344] In his discussion of metals Pliny does not allude to transmutation or alchemy, unless it be in his accounts of various fraudulent practices of workers in metal and how Caligula extracted gold from orpiment. But the following directions for preparing antimony show how[Pg 82] closely akin to magic the procedure in ancient metallurgy might be. The antimony should be coated with cow-flap and burnt in furnaces, then quenched in woman’s milk and pounded in mortars with an admixture of rain-water.[345]

Virtues of human parts.

Various parts and products of the human body are credited with remarkable virtues as the mention just made of woman’s milk suggests. Other passages recommend more especially the milk of a woman just delivered of a male child, but most of all that of the mother of twins.[346] Sed nihil facile reperiatur mulierum profluvio magis monstrificum, as Pliny proceeds to illustrate by numerous examples.[347] Great virtues are also attributed to the urine, particularly of a chaste boy.[348] A few other instances of remedies drawn from the human body are ear-wax or a powdered tooth against stings of scorpions and bites of snakes,[349] a man’s hair for the bite of a dog, the first hairs from a boy’s head for gout.[350] Diseases of women are prevented by wearing constantly in a bracelet the first tooth a boy loses, provided it has not touched the ground. Simply tying two fingers or toes together is recommended for tumors in the groin, catarrh, and sore eyes.[351] Or the eyes may be touched thrice with water in which the feet have been washed. Scrofula and throat diseases may be cured by the touch of the hand of one who has died an early death, although some authorities do not insist upon the circumstance of early death but direct that the corpse be of the same sex as the patient and that the diseased spot be touched with the back of the left dead hand.

Virtues of human saliva.

Of all fluids and excretions of the human body the saliva is perhaps used most often in ancient and medieval medicine, as the custom of spitting once or thrice in administering other remedies or performing ceremonies goes to prove. The spittle of a fasting person is the more efficacious. In a chapter devoted particularly to the properties of human[Pg 83] saliva Pliny lists many diseases and woes which it alleviates.[352] In this connection he makes the following absurd assertion which he nevertheless declares is easily tested by experiment. “If a person repents of a blow given from a distance or hand-to-hand, let him spit into the palm of the hand with which he struck, and the person who has been struck will feel no resentment. This is often proved by beasts of burden who are induced to mend their pace by this method after the use of the whip has failed.” Pliny adds, however, that some persons try to increase the force of their blows by thus spitting on the hands beforehand. He also mentions as counter-charms against sorcery the practices of spitting into one’s urine or right shoe, or when crossing a dangerous spot.

The human operator.

The importance of the human operator as a factor in the performance of marvels, be they medical or magical, is attested by the frequent injunctions of chastity, virginity, nudity, or a state of fasting upon persons concerned in Pliny’s procedure. Sometimes they are not to glance behind them, sometimes they are to speak to no one during the operation. Pliny also mentions men who have a special capacity for wonder-working, such as Pyrrhus, the touch of whose toe had healing power,[353] those whose eyes exert strong fascination, whole tribes of serpent-charmers and venom-curers, and others whose mere presence addles the eggs beneath a setting hen.[354] The power of words spoken by men will be considered separately under the head of incantations.

Absence of medical compounds.

While Pliny attributes the most extreme medicinal virtues to simples, he excludes from his Natural History the strange and elaborate compounds which were nevertheless so popular in the pharmacy of his age. Of one simple, laser, he says that it would be an immense task to attempt to list all the uses that it is supposed to have in compounds.[355] His position is that the simple remedies alone are the direct work of nature, while the mixtures, tablets, pills, plasters,[Pg 84] washes are artificial inventions of the apothecaries. Once when he describes a compound called “Hermesias” which aids in the generation of good and beautiful children, it seems to be borrowed by Democritus from the magi.[356] Furthermore, Pliny thinks that health can be sufficiently preserved or restored by nature’s simple remedies. Compounds are the invention of human conjecture, avarice, and impudence. Such conjecture is often false, not sufficiently taking into account the natural sympathies and antipathies of the numerous ingredients. Often compounds are inexplicable. Pliny also deplores resort to imported drugs from India, Arabia, and the Red Sea, when there are homely remedies at hand for the poorest man.[357]

Sympathetic magic.

We have just heard Pliny refer to the sympathies and antipathies of natural simples, and he often explains the marvelous effects of natural objects upon one another by this relation of love and hatred, friendship or repugnance, discord or concord which exists between them, which the Greeks call sympathy or antipathy, and which Heracleitus was perhaps the first philosopher to insist upon.[358] Some modern students of magic have tried to account for all magic on this theory, and Pliny states that medicine and medicines originated from it.[359]

Antipathies between animals.

This relationship exists between animals,—deer and snakes, for example. So great a force is it that stags track snakes to their holes and extract them thence despite all resistance by the power of their breath. This antipathy continues after death, for the sovereign remedy for snake-bite is the rennet of a fawn killed in its mother’s womb, while serpents flee from a man who wears the tooth of a deer. But antipathy may change to sympathy, for Pliny adds that in some cases certain parts of deer treated in certain ways attract serpents.[360] This force of antipathy is in[Pg 85]deed capable of taking the strangest turn. Bed-bugs, foul and disgusting as they are, heal the bite of snakes, especially asps, and sows can eat the poisonous salamander.[361] The antipathy between goats and snakes would seem almost as potent as that between deer and snakes,[362] since we are told that snake-bitten persons recover more quickly, if they frequent the stalls where goats are kept or wear as an amulet the paunch of a she-goat.

Love and hatred between inanimate objects.

There is also “the hatred and friendship of deaf and insensible things.”[363] Instances are the magnet’s attraction for iron and the fact that adamant can be broken only by the blood of a he-goat, two stock examples of occult influence and natural marvels which continued classic in the medieval period.[364] Pliny indeed regards this last as the clearest illustration possible of the potency of sympathy and antipathy, since a substance which defies iron and fire, nature’s two most violent agents, yields to the blood of a foul animal.[365]

Sympathy between animate and inanimate objects.

There is furthermore sympathy and antipathy between animate and inanimate objects. So marvelous is the antipathy of the tamarisk tree for the spleen alone of internal organs, that pigs who drink from troughs of this wood are found when slaughtered to be without spleen, and hence splenetic patients are fed from vessels of tamarisk.[366] The spleenless pig, it may be interpolated, is another commonplace of ancient and medieval science. Smearing the hives with cow dung kills other insects but stimulates the bees who have an affinity for it (cognatum hoc iis),[367] probably, although Pliny does not say so, on the theory that they are[Pg 86] spontaneously generated from it. That the wild cabbage is hostile to dogs is evidenced by the statement of Epicharmus that it cures the bite of a mad dog but kills a dog if he eats it when given to him with meat.[368] Snakes hate the ash-tree so, that if they are hemmed in by its foliage on one side and fire on the other, they flee by preference into the flames.[369] Betony, too, is so antipathetic to snakes that they lash themselves to death when a circle of it is drawn about them.[370] Scorpions cannot survive in the air of Sicily.[371] Perhaps antipathy is also the explanation of Pliny’s absurd statement that loads of apples and pears, even if there are only a few of them, are very heavy for beasts of burden.[372] Here, however, the condition may be remedied and perhaps a relationship of sympathy established by showing the beasts how few fruit there really are or by giving them some to eat. That sympathy may even attach to places or religious circumstances Pliny infers from the belief that the priestess of the earth at Aegira, when about to descend into the cave and predict, drinks without injury bull’s blood which is supposed to be a fatal poison.[373]

Like cures like.

That like cures like, or more precisely and paradoxically that the cause of the disease will cure its own result, is another notion which Pliny’s medicine shares with magic. This is seen in the use of parts of the mad dog to cure its bite,[374] or in rubbing thighs chafed by horse-back riding with the foam from a horse’s mouth.[375] The bite of the shrew-mouse, too, is best healed by imposition of the very animal which bit you, but another shrew-mouse will do and they are kept ready in oil and mud for this purpose.[376] The sting of the phalangium may be cured by merely looking at another insect of that species, whether it be dead or alive.

From cases in which the cure for the disease is identical with its cause it is but a short step to remedies similar to[Pg 87] or in some way associated with the ailment. It seems obvious to Pliny that stone in the bladder can be broken by the herb on which grow what look exactly like pearls. “In the case of no other herb is it so evident for what medicine it is intended; its species is such that it can be recognized at once by sight without book knowledge.”[377] Similarly ophites, a marble with serpentine streaks, is used as an amulet against snake-bite.[378] Mithridates discovered that the blood of Pontic ducks should be mixed in antidotes because they live on poison.[379] Heliotrope seed looks like a scorpion’s tail; if scorpions are touched with a sprig of heliotrope they die, and they will not enter ground which has been circumscribed by it.[380] To accelerate a woman’s delivery her lover should take off his belt and gird her with it, then untie it, saying that he has bound her and will unloose her, and then he should go away.[381] An epileptic may be cured by driving an iron nail into the spot where his head rested when he fell in the fit.[382]

The principle of association.

Other instances of association are when the remedy employed is some part of an animal who is free from the disease in question or marked by an opposite state of health. Goats and gazelles never have ophthalmia, hence various portions of their bodies are prescribed for eye diseases.[383] Eagles can gaze at the sun, therefore their gall is efficacious in eye-salves.[384] The bird called ossifrage has a single intestine which digests anything; the end of this intestine serves as an amulet against colic, and indigestion may be cured by merely holding the crop of the bird in one hand.[385] But do not hold it too long or your flesh will waste away. The virus of mares is an ingredient in a candle which makes heads of horses seem to appear when it burns;[386] while ink of the sepia is used in a candle which causes Ethiopians to be seen when it is lighted.[387] These magic candles are borrowed[Pg 88] by Pliny from the works of Anaxilaus, and we shall find them a feature of medieval collections of experiments. Earth from a cart-wheel rut is thought a remedy against the bite of the shrew-mouse because that creature is too torpid to cross such a rut;[388] and Pliny believes that none of the virtues attributed to moles by the magicians is more probable than that they are an antidote to the bite of the shrew-mouse, which shuns even ruts, whereas moles burrow freely through the soil.[389] Pliny finds incredible the assertion made by some that a ship will move more slowly if it has the right foot of a tortoise aboard,[390] but the logic of the magic seems evident enough.

Magic transfer of disease.

In Pliny’s medicine there are a number of examples of what may be called magic transfer, in which the aim of the procedure is not to cure the disease outright but to rid the patient of it by transferring it from him to some other animal or object. Intestinal disease may be transferred to puppies who have not yet opened their eyes by pressing them to the body and giving them milk from the patient’s mouth. They will die of the disease, when its cause and exact nature may be determined by dissecting them. But finally they must be buried.[391] Griping pains in the bowels will also pass to a duck that is held against the abdomen. One may be rid of a cough by spitting in a frog’s mouth or cure catarrh by kissing a mule,[392] although in these cases we are left uninformed whether the disease passes to the animal. But if a person who has been stung by a scorpion whispers the news in the ear of an ass, the ill will be transferred to the ass.[393] A boil may be removed by rubbing nine grains of barley around it, each grain thrice with the left hand, and then throwing them all into the fire.[394] Warts are banished by touching each with a grain of the chickpea and then tying the grains up in a linen cloth and throwing them behind one.[395] If a root of asphodel is applied to sores and then hung[Pg 89] up in smoke, the sores will dry up along with the root.[396] To cure scrofulous sores some bind on as many earthworms as there are sores and let them dry up together.[397] A tooth will cease aching if the herb erigeron is dug up with iron and the patient thrice alternately touches the tooth with the root and spits, and if he then replaces the herb in the same spot and it lives.[398] If this last is a case of magic transfer, perhaps we may trace the same notion in some of the numerous instances in which Pliny directs that an animal shall be released alive after some part of it has been removed or some other medicinal use made of it.


A common characteristic of magic force and occult virtue is that it will often act at a distance or without any physical contact or direct application. This is manifested in the practice of carrying or wearing amulets, or, what is the same thing, of ligatures and suspensions, in which objects are hung from the neck or bound to some part of the body in order to ward off danger from without or cure internal disease. Instances of such practices in the Natural History are well nigh innumerable. Roots are suspended from the neck by a thread;[399] the tongue of a fox is worn in a bracelet;[400] for quinsy the throat is wound thrice with a thong of dog-skin and catarrh is relieved by winding the same about the fingers.[401] A tooth stops aching when worms are taken from a certain prickly plant, put with some bread in a pill-box, and bound to the arm on the same side of the body as the aching tooth.[402] Two bed-bugs bound to the left arm in wool stolen from shepherds are a charm against nocturnal fevers; against diurnal fevers, if wrapped in russet cloth instead.[403] The heart of a vulture is an amulet against snakes, wild beasts, robbers, and royal wrath.[404] The traveler who carries the herb artemisia feels no fatigue.[405] Injurious drugs cannot cross one’s threshold and do injury in[Pg 90] one’s household, if a sea-star is smeared with the blood of a fox and attached to the lintel or door-post with a copper nail.[406] Not only is a wreath of herbs worn for headache,[407] but a sprig of poplar held in the hand prevents chafing between the thighs.[408] Often objects are placed under one’s pillow, especially for insomnia,[409] but any psychological effect is precluded in the case where this is to be done without the patient’s knowledge.[410] All sorts of specifications are given as to the color and kind of string, cloth, skin, box, nail, ring, bracelet, and the like in which should be placed, or with which should be bound on, the various gems, herbs, and parts of animals which serve as amulets. But when we are told that a remedy for headache which always helps many consists of a little bone from a snail found between two cart ruts, passed through gold, silver, and ivory, and attached to the body with dog-skin; or that one may bind on the head with a linen cloth the head of a snail decapitated with a reed when feeding in the morning especially at full moon;[411] we feel that we have passed beyond mere amulets, ligatures, and suspensions to more elaborate minutiae of magic procedure.

Position or direction.

Position or direction is often an important matter in Pliny’s, as in magic, ceremonial. It perhaps comes out most frequently in his specification of right or left. An aching tooth should be scarified with the left eye-tooth of a dog; a spider which is placed with oil in the ear should be caught with the left hand;[412] epilepsy may be cured if a virgin touches the sufferer with her right thumb;[413] for ophthalmia of the right eye suspend the right eye of a frog from the patient’s neck, and the left eye for the left eye;[414] for lumbago tear off an eagle’s feet away from the joint, and use the right foot for the right side and the left for pain in the left side.[415] But we have met other examples already, and[Pg 91] also cases of the use of the upper or lower part of this or that according to the corresponding location of an aching tooth in the upper or lower jaw.[416] Tracing circles with and about objects, facing towards this or that point of the compass, the prohibition against glancing behind one, and the stress laid upon finding things or killing animals between the ruts of cart wheels, are other examples of taking into consideration position and direction which we have already met with incidentally to the treatment of other topics. The prescription of a plant which has grown on the head of a statue and of another which has taken root in a sieve thrown into a hedge[417] also seem to take mere position largely into account, more so than the accompanying recommendation of an herb growing on the banks of a stream and of another growing upon a dunghill.[418]

The time element.

The element of time is also important. Operations should be performed before sunrise, early in the morning, at night, and so on. The moon is especially regarded in such directions.[419] When we are informed that sufferers from quartan fever should be rubbed all over with the fat of a tortoise, we are also told that the tortoise will be fattest on the fifteenth day of the moon and that the patient should be anointed on the sixteenth.[420] But this waxing and waning of the tortoise with the moon is primarily a matter of astrology and planetary influence, under which heading we shall also later speak of Pliny’s observance of the rising of the dog-star.

Observance of number.

Observance of number is another feature in Pliny’s ceremonial, of which we have already met instances. He also alludes to the writings of Pythagoras on the subject and ascribes to Democritus a work on the number four. Pliny’s recipes frequently recommend that the operation be thrice repeated. In the case of curing scrofula by the ashes of vipers he prescribes three fingers thereof taken in drink for[Pg 92] thrice seven days.[421] In another application of a Gallic herb with old axle-grease which has not touched iron, not only must the patient spit thrice to the right, but the remedy is more efficacious if three men representing three different nations anoint the right side with it.[422] The virtue of the number one is not, however, entirely slighted. Importance is attached to the death of a stag from a single wound.[423] Sometimes three and one are joined in the same operation, as when child-birth is aided by hurling through the house a stone or weapon by which three animals, a man, a boar, and a bear, have been killed with single blows. One of the discoveries of Pythagoras which seldom fails is that an odd number of vowels in a child’s given name portends lameness, blindness, and like incapacitation on the right side of its body, and an even number, injuries on the left side.[424] In a crown of smilax for headache there should be an odd number of leaves,[425] and in a diet of snails prescribed for stomach trouble an odd number are to be eaten.[426] For a head-wash ten green lizards are boiled in ten sextarii of oil,[427] and for an application to prevent eyelashes from growing again when they have been pulled out fifteen frogs are impaled on fifteen bulrushes.[428] The person who has tied on a certain amulet is thereafter excluded from the patient’s sight for five days.[429] And so on.

Relation between operator and patient.

This last item suggests a further intangible factor in Pliny’s procedure, the doing of things to or for the patient without his knowledge. But this and any other incorporeal relationships existing between operator and patient should perhaps be classed under the head of sympathy and antipathy.


Closely akin to the power of numbers is that of words. Pliny once says of an incantation employed to avert hail-storms that he would not dare in seriousness to insert its[Pg 93] words, although Cato in his work on agriculture prescribed a similar formula of meaningless words for the cure of fractured limbs.[430] But Pliny does not object to the repetition of incantations or prayers if the words spoken have some meaning. He informs us that ocimum is sown with curses and maledictions and that when cummin seed is rammed down into the soil, the sowers pray it not to come up.[431] In another case the sower is to be naked and to pray for himself and his neighbors.[432] In a third case in which a poultice is to be applied to an inflammatory tumor, Pliny says that persons of experience regard it as very important that the poultice be put on by a naked virgin and that both she and the patient be fasting. Touching the sufferer with the back of her hand she is to say, “Apollo forbids a disease to increase which a naked virgin restrains.” Then, withdrawing her hand, she is to repeat the same words thrice and to join with the patient in spitting on the ground each time.[433] Indeed, in another passage Pliny states that it is the universal custom in medicine to spit three times with incantations.[434] Perhaps the power of the words is thought to be increased or renewed by clearing the throat. Words were also occasionally spoken in plucking herbs. Ring-worm or tetter is treated by spitting upon and rubbing together two stones covered with a dry white moss, and by repeating a Greek incantation which may be translated, “Flee, Cantharides, a wild wolf seeks your blood.”[435] Abscesses and inflammations are treated with the herb reseda and a Latin translation which seems irrelevant, if not quite senseless, and which may be translated, “Reseda, make disease recede. Don’t you know, don’t you know what chick has dug up these roots? May they have neither head nor feet.”[436] In the book following this passage Pliny raises the general question of the power of words to heal diseases.[437] He gives many instances of belief in incantations from contemporary popu[Pg 94]lar superstition, from Roman religion, and from the annals of history. He does not doubt that Romans in the past have believed in the power of words, and thinks that if we accept set forms of prayer and religious formulae, we must also admit the force of incantations. But he adds that the wisest individuals believe in neither.

Attitude to love-charms and birth-control.

Pliny’s recipes and operations are mainly connected with either medicine or agriculture, but he also introduces as we have seen magical procedure employed in child-birth, safeguards against poisons and reptiles, and counter-charms against sorcery. He more than once avers that love-charms (amatoria) lie outside his province,[438] in one passage alleging as a reason that the illustrious general Lucullus was killed by one,[439] but he includes a great many of them nevertheless.[440] Some herbs are so employed because of a resemblance in shape to the sexual organs,[441] another instance of association by similarity. Pliny declared against abortive drugs as well as love-charms,[442] but cited from the Commentaries of Caecilius one recipe for birth-control for the benefit of over-fecund women, consisting of a ligature of two little worms found in the body of a certain species of spider and bound on in deer-skin before sunrise. After a year the virtue of this charm expires.[443]

Pliny and astrology.

Pliny devotes but a small fraction of his work to the stars and heavens as against terrestrial phenomena, and therefore has less occasion to speak of astrology than of magic. However, had he been a great believer in astrology he doubtless would have devoted more space to the stars and their influence on terrestrial phenomena. He recognizes none the less, as we have seen, that magic and astrology are in[Pg 95]timately related and that “there is no one who is not eager to learn his own future and who does not think that this is shown most truly by the heavens.”[444] Parenthetically it may be remarked that the general literature of the time only confirms this assertion of the widespread prevalence of astrology; allusions of poets imply a technical knowledge of the art on their readers’ part; the very emperors who occasionally banished astrologers from Rome themselves consulted other adepts. In another passage Pliny speaks of men who “assign events each to its star according to the rules of nativities and believe that God decreed the future once for all and has never interfered with the course of events since.”[445] This way of thinking has caught learned and vulgar alike in its current and has led to such further methods of divination as those by lightning, oracles, haruspices, and even such petty auguries as from sneezes and shifting of the feet. Furthermore in Pliny’s list of men prominent in the various arts and sciences we find Berosus of whom a statue was erected by the Athenians in honor of his skill in astrological prognostication.[446] In another place where he speaks for a moment of “the science of the stars” Pliny disputes the theories of Berosus, Nechepso, and Petosiris that length of human life is ordered by the stars, and also makes the trite objection to the doctrine of nativities that masters and slaves, kings and beggars are born at the same moment.[447] He also is rather inclined to ridicule the enormous figures of 720,000 or 490,000 years set by Epigenes and Berosus and Critodemus for the duration of astronomical observations recorded by the Babylonians.[448] From such passages we get the impression that astrology is widely accepted as a science but that the art of nativities at least is not regarded by Pliny[Pg 96] with favor. But it would not be safe to say that he denies the control of the stars over human destiny. Indeed, in one chapter he declares that the astronomer Hipparchus can never be praised enough because more than any other man he proved the relationship of man with the stars and that our souls are part of the sky.[449] When Pliny disputes the vulgar notion that each man has a star varying in brightness according to his fortune, rising when he is born, and fading or falling when he dies, he is not attacking even the doctrine of nativities; he is denying that the stars are controlled by man’s fate rather than that man’s life is ordered by the stars.[450]

Celestial portents.

If Pliny thus leaves us uncertain as to the relation of man to the stars, we also receive conflicting impressions from his discussion of various celestial phenomena regarded as portentous. In one passage he speaks of the debt of gratitude owed by mankind to those great astronomical geniuses who have freed men from their former superstitious fear of eclipses.[451] But he explains thunderbolts as celestial fire vomited forth from the planet Venus and “bearing omens of the future.”[452] He also gives instances from Roman history of comets which signaled disaster, and he expounds the theory of their signifying the future.[453] What they portend may be determined from the direction in which they move and the heavenly body whose power they receive, and more particularly from the shapes they assume and their position in relation to the signs of the zodiac. Indeed, Pliny even gives examples of ominous eclipses of the sun, although it is true that they were also of unusual length.[454] He also tells us that many of the common people still believed that women could produce eclipses “by sorceries and herbs.”[455]

[Pg 97]

The stars and the world of nature.

Aside from the question of the control of human destiny by the constellations at birth, Pliny’s general theories of the universe and of the influence of the stars upon terrestrial nature are roughly similar to those of astrology. For him the universe itself is God, “holy, eternal, vast, all in all, nay, in truth itself all;”[456] and the sun is the mind and soul of the whole world and the chief governor of nature.[457] The planets affect one another. A cold star renders another approaching it pale; a hot star causes its neighbor to redden; a windy planet gives those near it a lowering appearance.[458] At certain points in their orbits the planets are deflected from their regular course by the rays of the sun,—an unwitting concession to heliocentric theory.[459] Pliny ascribes the usual astrological qualities to the planets.[460] Saturn is cold and rigid; Mars, a flaming fire; Jupiter, located between them, is temperate and salubrious. Besides their effects upon one another, the planets especially influence the earth.[461] Venus, for instance, rules the process of generation in all terrestrial beings.[462] Following the Georgics of Vergil somewhat, Pliny asserts that the stars give indubitable signs of the weather and expounds the utility of the constellations to farmers.[463] He tells how Democritus by his knowledge of astronomy was able to corner the olive crop and put to shame business men who had been decrying philosophy;[464] and how on another occasion he gave his brother timely warning of an impending storm.[465] But Pliny does not accept all the theories of the astrologers as to control of the stars over terrestrial nature. He repeats, but without definitely accepting it, the ascription by the Babylonians of earthquakes to three of the planets in particular,[466] and the notion that the gem sandastros or garamantica, em[Pg 98]ployed by Chaldeans in their ceremonies, is intimately connected with the stars.[467] He is openly incredulous about the gem glossopetra, shaped like a human tongue and supposed to fall from the sky during an eclipse of the moon and to be invaluable in selenomancy.[468]

Astrological medicine.

Pliny tells how the physician Crinas of Marseilles made a fortune by regulating diet and observing hours according to the motion of the stars.[469] But he does not show much faith in astrological medicine himself, rejecting entirely the elaborate classification of diseases and remedies which the astrologers had by his time already worked out for the revolutions of the sun and moon in the twelve signs of the zodiac.[470] In his own recipes, however, astrological considerations are sometimes observed, as we have already seen, especially the rising of the dog-star and the phases of the moon. Pliny, indeed, states that the dog-star exerts an extensive influence upon the earth.[471] As for the moon, the blood in the human body augments and decreases with its waxing and waning as shell-fish and other things in nature do.[472] Indeed, painstaking men of research had discovered that even the entrails of the field-mouse corresponded in number to the days of the moon, that the ant stopped working during the interlunar days, and that diseases of the eyes of certain beasts of burden also increased and decreased with the moon.[473] But on the whole Pliny’s medicine and science do not seem nearly so immersed in and saturated with astrology as with other forms of magic. This gap was for the middle ages amply filled by the authority of Ptolemy, of whose belief in astrology we shall treat in the next chapter.

Conclusion: magic unity of Pliny’s superstitions.

We have tried to analyze the contents of the Natural History, bringing out certain main divisions and underlying principles of magic in Pliny’s agriculture, medicine, and natural science. This is, however, an artificial and difficult[Pg 99] task, since it is not easy to sever materials from ceremonial or the virtues of objects from the relations of sympathy or antipathy between them. Often the same passage might serve to illustrate several points. Take for example the following sentence: “Thrasyllus is authority that nothing is so hostile to serpents as crabs; swine who are stung cure themselves by this food, and when the sun is in Cancer, serpents are in pain.”[474] Here we have at once antipathy, the remedies used by animals, the reasoning, characteristic of magic, from association and similarity, and the belief in astrology. And this confusion, to illustrate which a hundred other examples might be collected from the Natural History, demonstrates how indissolubly interwoven are all the varied threads that we have been tracing. They all go naturally together, they belong to the same long period of thought, they represent the same stage in mental development, they all are parts of magic.

[Pg 100]


Seneca’s Natural Questions—Nature study as an ethical substitute for existing religion—Limited field of Seneca’s work—Marvels accepted, questioned, or denied—Belief in natural divination and astrology—Divination from thunder—Ptolemy—His two chief works—His mathematical method—Attitude towards authority and observation—The Optics—Medieval translations of AlmagestTetrabiblos or Quadripartitum—A genuine reflection of Ptolemy’s approval of astrology—Validity of Astrology—Influence of the stars not inevitable—Astrology as natural science—Properties of the planets—Remaining contents of Book One—Book Two: regions—Nativities—Future influence of the Tetrabiblos.

When the stars twinkle through the loops of time.


Seneca’s Natural Questions.

In this chapter we shall preface the main theme of Ptolemy and his sanction of astrology by a consideration of another and earlier ancient writer on natural science who was very favorable to divination of the future, namely, the famous philosopher, statesman, man of letters, and tutor of Nero, Lucius Annaeus Seneca. In point of time his Natural Questions, or Problems of Nature, is a work slightly antedating even the Natural History of Pliny, but it is hardly of such importance in the history of science as the more voluminous works of the three great representatives of ancient science, Pliny, Galen, and Ptolemy. Nevertheless Seneca was well known and much cited in the middle ages as an ethical or moral philosopher, and the title, Natural Questions, was to be employed by one of the first medieval pioneers of natural science, Adelard of Bath. Seneca in any case is a name of which ancient science need not be ashamed. He tells us that in his youth he had already[Pg 101] written a treatise on earthquakes;[475] and in the present treatise his aim is to inquire into the natural causes of phenomena; he wants to know why things are so. He is aware that his own age has only entered the vestibule of the knowledge of natural phenomena and forces, that it has but just begun to know five of the many stars, that “there will come a time when our descendants will wonder that we were ignorant of matters so evident.”[476]

Study of nature as an ethical substitute for existing religion.

In one passage Seneca perhaps expresses his consciousness of the very imperfect scientific knowledge of his own age a little too mystically. “There are sacred things which are not revealed all at once. Eleusis reserves sights for those who revisit her. Nature does not disclose her mysteries in a moment. We think ourselves initiated; we stand but at her portal. Those secrets open not promiscuously nor to every comer. They are remote of access, enshrined in the inner sanctuary.”[477] Indeed, he shows a tendency to regard scientific research as a sort of religious exercise or perhaps as a substitute for existing religion and a basis for moral philosophy. He relates physics to ethics. His enthusiasm in the study of natural forces appears largely due to the fact that he believes them to be of a sublime and divine character and above the petty affairs of men. He also as constantly and more fulsomely than Pliny inveighs against the luxury, vice, and immorality of his own day, and moralizes as to the beneficent influence which natural law and phenomena should exert upon human conduct. It is interesting to note that this habit of drawing moral lessons from the facts of nature was not peculiar to medieval or Christian writers.

Limited field of Seneca’s work.

With such subjects as zoology, botany, and mineralogy Seneca’s work has little to do; it does not, like Pliny’s[Pg 102] Natural History, include medicine and the industrial arts; neither does he, like Pliny, cite the lore of the magi. The phenomena of which he treats are mainly meteorological manifestations, such as winds, rain, hail, snow, comets, rainbows, and what he regards as allied subjects, earthquakes, springs, and rivers. Perhaps he would not have regarded the study of vegetables, animals, and minerals as so lofty and sublime a pursuit. At any rate, in consequence of the restricted field which Seneca covers we find very little of the marvelous medicinal and magical properties of plants, animals, and other objects, or the superstitious procedure which fill the pages of Pliny.

Marvels accepted, questioned, or denied.

Seneca nevertheless has occasion to repeat some tall stories, such as that the river Alpheus of Greece reappears as the Arethusa in Sicily and there every four years casts up filth from its depths on the very days when victims are slaughtered at the Olympic games.[478] He also affirms that living beings are generated in fire; he believes in such effects of lightning as removing the venom from snakes which it strikes; and he recounts the old stories of floating islands and of waters with the virtue of turning white sheep black.[479] On the other hand, he qualifies by the phrases, “it is believed” and “they say,” the assertions that certain waters produce foul skin-diseases and that dew in particular, if collected in any quantity, has this evil property; and he doubts whether bathing in the Nile would enable a woman to bear more children.[480] He ridicules the custom of the city which had public watchmen appointed to warn the inhabitants of the approach of hail-storms, so that they might avert the danger by timely sacrifice or simply by pricking their own fingers so that they bled a trifle. He adds that some suggest that blood may possess some occult property of repelling storm-clouds, but he does not see how there can be such force in a drop or two and thinks it simpler to[Pg 103] regard the whole thing as false. In the same chapter he states that uncivilized antiquity used to believe that rain could be brought on or driven off by incantations, but that now-a-days no one needs a philosopher to teach him that this is impossible.[481]

Belief in natural divination and astrology.

But while he thus rejects incantations and is practically silent on the subject of natural magic, Seneca accepts natural divination in well-nigh all its branches: sacrificial, augury, astrology, and divination from thunder. He believes that whatever is caused is a sign of some future event.[482] Only Seneca holds that every flight of a bird is not caused by a direct act of God, nor the vitals of the victim altered under the axe by divine interference, but that all has been prearranged in a fatal and causal series.[483] He believes that all unusual celestial phenomena are to be looked upon as prodigies and portents. A meteor “as big as the moon appeared when Paulus was engaged in the war against Perseus”; similar portents marked the death of Augustus and execution of Sejanus, and gave warning of the death of Germanicus.[484] But no less truly do the planets in their unvarying courses signify the future. The stars are of divine nature, and we ought to approach the discussion of them with as reverent an air as when with lowered countenance we enter the temples for worship.[485] Not only do the stars influence the upper atmosphere as earth’s exhalations affect the lower, but they announce what is to occur.[486] Seneca employs the statement of Aristotle that comets signify the coming of storms and winds and foul weather to prove that they are stars; and declares that a comet is a portent of bad weather during the ensuing year in the same way that the Chaldeans or astrologers say that a man’s natal star determines the whole course of his life.[487] In fact, Seneca’s chief, if not sole, objection to the Chaldeans or astrologers would seem to be that in their predictions they take only five[Pg 104] stars[488] into account. “What? Think you so many thousand stars shine on in vain? What else, indeed, is it which causes those skilled in nativities to err than that they assign us to a few stars, although all those that are above us have a share in the control of our fate? Perhaps those which are nearer direct their influence upon us more closely; perhaps those of more rapid motion look down on us and other animals from more varied aspects. But even those stars that are motionless, or because of their speed keep equal pace with the rest of the universe and seem not to move, are not without rule and dominion over us.”[489] Seneca accepts the theory of Berosus that whenever all the stars are in conjunction in the sign of Cancer there will be a universal conflagration, and a second deluge when they all unite in Capricorn.[490]

Divination from thunder.

It is on thunderbolts as portents of the future that Seneca dwells longest, however.[491] “They give,” he declares, “not signs of this or that event merely, but often announce a whole series of events destined to occur, and that by manifest decrees and ones far clearer than if they were set down in writing.”[492] He will not accept, however, the theory that lightning has such great power that its intervention nullifies any previous and contradictory portents. He insists that divination by other methods is of equal truth, though possibly of minor importance and significance. Next he attempts to explain how the dangers of which we are warned by divination may be averted by prayer, expiation, or sacrifice, and yet the chain of events wrought by destiny not be broken. He maintains that just as we employ the services of doctors to preserve our health, despite any belief we may have in fate, so it is useful to consult a haruspex. Then he goes on to speak of various classifications of thunderbolts according to the nature of the warnings or encouragements which they bring.


We pass on from Seneca to a later and greater exponent of natural science and divination, Ptolemy, in the follow[Pg 105]ing century. He was perhaps born at Ptolemaïs in Egypt but lived at Alexandria. The exact years of his birth and death are unknown, and very little is recorded of his life or personality. The time when he flourished is sufficiently indicated, however, by the fact that his first recorded astronomical observation was in 127 and his last in 151 A. D. Thus most of his work was probably done during the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, but he appears to have lived on into the reign of Marcus Aurelius. His strictly scientific style scorns rhetorical devices and literary felicities, and while it is clear and correct, is dry and impersonal.[493]

His two chief works.

Ptolemy’s two chief works, the Geography in eight books, and ἡ μαθηματικὴ σύνταξις, or Almagest (al-μεγίστη) as the Arabs called it, in thirteen books, have been so often described in histories of mathematics, astronomy, geography, and discovery that such outline of their contents need not be repeated here. The erroneous Ptolemaic theories of a geocentric universe and of an earth’s surface on which dry land preponderated are equally well known. What is more to the point at present is to note that one of these theories was so well fitted to actual scientific observations and the other was thought to be so similarly based, that they stood the test of theory, criticism, and practice for over a thousand years.[494] It should, however, be said that the Geography does not seem to have been translated into Latin until the[Pg 106] opening of the fifteenth century,[495] when Jacobus Angelus made a translation for Pope Alexander V, (1409-1410), which is extant in many manuscripts[496] as well as in print.[497] It therefore did not have the influence and fame in the Latin middle ages that the Almagest did or the briefer astrological writings, genuine and spurious, current under Ptolemy’s name.

His mathematical method.

We may briefly state one or two of Ptolemy’s greatest contributions to mathematical and natural science and his probable position in the history of experimental method. Perhaps of greater consequence in the history of science than any one specific thing he did was his continual reliance[Pg 107] upon mathematical method both in his astronomy and his geography. In particular may be noted his important contribution to trigonometry in his table of chords, which modern scholars have found correct to five decimal places, and his contribution to the science of cartography by his successful projection of spherical surfaces upon flat maps.

Attitude towards authority and observation.

Ptolemy based his two great works partly upon the results already attained by earlier scientists, following Hipparchus especially in astronomy and Marinus in geography. He duly acknowledged his debts to these and other writers; praised Hipparchus and recounted his discoveries; and where he corrected Marinus, did so with reason. But while Ptolemy used previous authorities, he was far from relying upon them solely. In the Geography he adds a good deal concerning the orient and northern lands from the reports of Roman merchants and soldiers. His intention was to repeat briefly what the ancients had already made clear, and to devote his works chiefly to points which had remained obscure. His ideal was to rest his conclusions upon the surest possible observation; and where such materials were meager, as in the case of the Geography, he says so at the start. He also recognized that delicate observations should be repeated at long intervals in order to minimize the possibility of error. He devised and described some scientific instruments and conducted a long series of astronomical observations. He anteceded Comte in holding that one should adopt the simplest possible hypothesis consistent with the facts to be explained.

The Optics.

Besides some minor astronomical works and a treatise on music which seems to be largely a compilation an important work on optics is ascribed to Ptolemy.[498] It is the most experimental in method of his writings, although Alexander von Humboldt’s characterization of it as the only work in ancient literature which reveals an investigator of nature[Pg 108] in the act of physical experimentation[499] must be regarded as an exaggeration in view of our knowledge of the writings of other Alexandrines such as Hero and Ctesibius. As in the case of some of Ptolemy’s other minor works, the Greek original is lost and also the Arabic text from which was presumably made the medieval Latin version which alone has come down to us. Yet there are at least sixteen manuscripts of this Latin version still in existence.[500] The translation was made in the twelfth century by Eugene of Palermo, admiral of Sicily, whose name is attached to other translations and who was also the author of a number of Greek poems.[501] Heller states that the Optics was lost at the beginning of the seventeenth century but that manuscripts of it were rediscovered by Laplace and Delambre.[502] At any rate the first of the five books is no longer extant, although Bridges thinks that Roger Bacon was acquainted with it in the thirteenth century.[503] It dealt with the relations between the eye and light. In the second book conditions of visibility are discussed and the dependence of the apparent size of bodies upon the angle of vision. The third and fourth books deal with different kinds of mirrors, plane, convex, concave, conical, and pyramidical. Most important of all is the fifth and last book, in which dioptrics and refraction are discussed for the first and only time in any extant work of antiquity,[504] provided the Optics has really come down in its present form from the time of Ptolemy. His authorship has been questioned because the subject of refraction is not mentioned in the Almagest, although even astronomical refraction is discussed in the Optics.[505] De Morgan also[Pg 109] objects that the author of the Optics is inferior to Ptolemy in knowledge of geometry.[506] Possibly a work by Ptolemy has received medieval additions, either Arabic or Latin, in the version now extant; maybe the entire fifth book is such a supplement. That works which were not Ptolemy’s might be attributed to him in the middle ages is seen from the case of Hero’s Catoptrica, the Latin translation of which from the Greek is entitled in the manuscripts Ptolemaei de speculis.[507]

Medieval translations of Almagest.

If there is, as in other parallel cases, the possibility that the medieval period passed off recent discoveries of its own under the authoritative name of Ptolemy, there also is the certainty that it made Ptolemy’s genuine works very much its own. This may be illustrated by the case of the Almagest. On the verge of the medieval period the work was commented upon by Pappus and Theon at Alexandria in the fourth, and by Proclus in the fifth century. The Latin translation by Boethius is not extant, but the book was in great repute among the Arabs, was translated at Bagdad early in the ninth century and revised later in the same century by Tabit ben Corra. During the twelfth century it was translated into Latin both from the Greek and the Arabic. The translation most familiar in the middle ages was that completed at Toledo in 1175 by the famous translator, Gerard of Cremona. There has recently been discovered, however, by Professors Haskins and Lockwood[508] a Sicilian translation made direct from the Greek text some ten or twelve years before Gerard’s translation. There are[Pg 110] two manuscripts of this Sicilian translation in the Vatican and one at Florence, showing that it had at least some Italian currency. Gerard’s reputation and his many other astronomical and astrological translations probably account for the greater prevalence of his version, or possibly the theological opposition to natural science of which the anonymous Sicilian translator speaks in his preface had some effect in preventing the spread of his version.

The Tetrabiblos or Quadripartitum.

Of Ptolemy’s genuine works the most germane to and significant for our investigation is his Tetrabiblos, Quadripartitum, or four books on the control of human life by the stars. It seems to have been translated into Latin by Plato of Tivoli in the first half of the twelfth century[509] before Almagest or Geography appeared in Latin. In the middle of the thirteenth century Egidius de Tebaldis, a Lombard of the city of Parma, further translated the commentary of Haly Heben Rodan upon the Quadripartitum.[510] In the early Latin editions[511] the text is that of the medieval translation; in the few editions giving a Greek text there is a different Latin version translated directly from this Greek text.[512]

A genuine reflection of Ptolemy’s approval of astrology.

In the Tetrabiblos the art of astrology receives sanction and exposition from perhaps the ablest mathematician and closest scientific observer of the day or at least from one who seemed so to succeeding generations. Hence from that time on astrology was able to take shelter from any criticism under the aegis of his authority. Not that it lacked[Pg 111] other exponents and defenders of great name and ability. Naturally the authenticity of the Tetrabiblos has been questioned by modern admirers of Hellenic philosophy and science who would keep the reputations of the great men of the past free from all smudge of superstition. But Franz Boll has shown that it is by Ptolemy by a close comparison of it with his other works.[513] The astrological Centiloquium or Karpos, and other treatises on divination and astrological images ascribed to Ptolemy in medieval Latin manuscripts are probably spurious, but there is no doubt of his belief in astrology. German research as usual regards its favorite Posidonius as the ultimate source of much of the Tetrabiblos, but this is not a matter of much consequence for our present investigation.

Validity of astrology.

In the Tetrabiblos Ptolemy first engages in argument as to the validity of the art of judicial astrology. If his remarks in this connection were not already trite contentions, they soon came to be regarded as truisms. The laws of astronomy are beyond dispute, says Ptolemy, but the art of prediction of human affairs from the courses of the stars may be assailed with more show of reason. Opponents of astrology object that the art is uncertain, and that it is useless since the events decreed by the force of the stars are inevitable. Ptolemy opens his argument in favor of the art by assuming as evident that a certain force is diffused from the heavens over all things on earth. If ignorant sailors are able to judge the future weather from the sky, a highly trained astronomer should be able to predict concerning its influence on man. The art itself should not be rejected because impostors frequently abuse it, and Ptolemy admits that it has not yet been brought to the point of perfection and that even the skilful investigator often makes mistakes owing to the incomplete state of human science. For one thing, Ptolemy regards the doctrine of the nature of matter held in his time as hypothetical rather than certain. Another difficulty is that old configurations of the stars can[Pg 112]not safely be used as the basis of present day predictions. Indeed, so manifold are the different possible positions of the stars and the different possible arrangements of terrestrial matter in relation to the stars that it is difficult to collect enough observations on which to base rules of general judgment. Moreover, such considerations as diversity of place, of custom, and of education must be taken into account in foretelling the future of different persons born under the same stars. But although for these reasons predictions frequently fail, yet the art is not to be condemned any more than one rejects the art of navigation because of frequent shipwrecks.

Influence of the stars not inevitable.

Nor is it true that the art is useless because the decrees of the stars are inevitable. It is often an advantage to have previous knowledge even of what cannot be avoided. Even the prediction of disaster serves to break the news gently. But not all predictions are inevitable and immutable; this is true only of the motion of the sky itself and events in which it is exclusively concerned. “But other events which do not arise solely from the sky’s motion, are easily altered by application of opposite remedies,” just as we can in part remedy the hurt of wounds and diseases or counteract the heat of summer by use of cooling things. The Egyptians have always found astrology useful in the practice of medicine.

Astrology as natural science.

Ptolemy next proceeds to set forth the natures and powers of the stars “according to the observations of the ancients and conformably to natural science.” Later, when he comes to the prediction of particulars, he still professes “to follow everywhere the law of natural causation,” and in a third passage he states that he “will omit all those things which do not have a probable natural cause, which many nevertheless scrutinize curiously and to excess: nor will I pile up divinations by lot-castings or from numbers, which are unscientific, but I will treat of those which have an investigated certainty based on the positions of the stars and the properties of places.” Connecting the positions of[Pg 113] the stars with earthly regions,—it is an art that fits in well with Ptolemy’s other occupations of astronomer and geographer! The Tetrabiblos has been called “Science’s surrender,”[514] but was it not more truly divination purified and made scientific?

Properties of the planets.

Taking up first the properties of the seven planets, Ptolemy associates with each one or more of the four elemental qualities, hot, cold, dry, and moist. Thus the sun warms and to some extent dries, for the nearer it comes to our pole the more heat and drought it produces. The moon is moist, since it is close to the earth and is affected by the vapors from the latter, while its influence renders other bodies soft and causes putrefaction. But it also warms a little owing to the rays it receives from the sun. Saturn chills and to some extent dries, for it is remote from the sun’s heat and earth’s damp vapors. Mars emits a parching heat, as its color and proximity to the sun indicate. Jupiter, situated between cold Saturn and burning Mars, is of a rather lukewarm nature but tends more to warmth and moisture than to their opposites. So does Venus, but conversely, for it warms less than Jupiter does but moistens more, its large surface catching many vapors from the neighboring earth. In Mercury, situated near sun, moon, and earth alike, neither drought nor dampness predominates, but the velocity of that planet makes it a potent cause of sudden changes. In general, the planets exert a good or evil influence as they abound in the two rich and vivifying qualities, heat and moisture, or in the detrimental ones, cold and drought. Wet stars like the moon and Venus, are feminine; Mercury is neuter; the other planets are masculine. The sex of a planet may also, however, be reckoned according to its position in relation to the sun and the horizon; and changes in the influences exerted by the planets are noted according to their position or relation to the sun. This discussion of the properties of the planets is neither convinc[Pg 114]ing nor scientific. It seems arguing in a circle to make their effects upon the earth depend to such an extent upon themselves being affected by vapors from the earth. Indeed we are rather surprised that an astronomer like Ptolemy should represent vapors from the earth as affecting the planets at all. But his discussion is at least an effort, albeit a feeble one, to express the potencies of the planets in physical terms.

Remaining contents of Book One.

Ptolemy goes on to discuss the powers of the fixed stars which seem to depend upon their positions in constellations and their relations to the planets. Then he treats of the influence of the four seasons of the year and four cardinal points, each of which he relates to one of the four qualities, hot, cold, dry, and moist. With a discussion of the signs of the zodiac and their division into Houses and relation in Trigones or Triplicitates or groups of three connected with the four qualities, of the exaltation of the planets in the signs and of other divisions of the signs and relations of the planets to them, the first book ends.

Book Two: Regions.

The second book begins by distinguishing prediction of events for whole regions or countries, such as wars, pestilences, famines, earthquakes, winds, drought, and weather, from the prediction of events in the lives of individuals. Ptolemy holds that events which affect large areas or whole peoples and cities are produced by greater and more valid causes than are the acts of individual men, and also that in order to predict aright concerning the individual it is necessary to know his region and nationality. He characterizes the inhabitants of the three great climatic zones,[515] quarters the inhabited world into Europe, Libya, and two parts for Asia in the style of the T maps, and subdivides these into different countries whose peoples are described, including such races as the Amazons. The effects of the stars vary according to time as well as place, so that the period in which any individual lives is as important to take into[Pg 115] account as his nationality. Ptolemy also discusses how the heavenly bodies influence the genus of events, a matter which depends largely upon the signs of the zodiac, and also how they determine their quality, good or bad, and species, which depends on the dominant stars and their conjunctions. Consequently he gives a list of the things which belong under the rule of each planet. The remainder of the second book is concerned chiefly with prediction of wind and weather through the year and with other meteorological phenomena such as comets.


The last two books take up the prediction of events in the lives of individuals from the stars, in other words the science of nativities or genethlialogy. The third book discusses conception and birth, how to take the horoscope—Ptolemy insists that the astrolabe is the only reliable instrument for determining the exact time; sun-dials or water-clocks will not do—and how to predict concerning parents, brothers and sisters, sex, twins, monstrous births, length of life, the physical constitution of the child born and what accidents and diseases may befall it, and finally concerning mental traits and defects. The fourth book deals less with the nature of the individual and more with the prediction of external events which befall the individual: honors, office, marriage, offspring, slaves, travel, and the sort of death that he will die. Ptolemy in opening the fourth book makes the distinction that, while in the third book he treated of matters antecedent to birth or immediately related to birth or which concern the temperament of the individual, now he will deal with those external to the body and which happen to the individual from without. But of course it is difficult to maintain such a distinction with entire consistency.

Future influence of the Tetrabiblos.

The great influence of the Tetrabiblos is shown not only in medieval Arabic commentaries and Latin translations, but more immediately in the astrological writings of the declining Roman Empire, when such astrologers as Hephaes[Pg 116]tion of Thebes,[516] Paul of Alexandria, and Julius Firmicus Maternus cite it as a leading authoritative work. Only the opponents of astrology appear to have remained ignorant of the Tetrabiblos, continuing to make criticisms of the art which do not apply to Ptolemy’s presentation of it or which had been specifically answered by him. Thus Sextus Empiricus, attacking astrology about 200 A. D., does not mention the Tetrabiblos and some of the Christian critics of astrology apparently had not read it. Whether the Neo-Platonists, Porphyry and Proclus, wrote an introduction to and commentary upon it is disputed.

[Pg 117]


I. The Man and His Times

Recent ignorance of Galen—His voluminous works—The manuscript tradition of his works—His vivid personality—Birth and parentage—Education in philosophy and medicine—First visit to Rome—Relations with the emperors; later life—His unfavorable picture of the learned world—Corruption of the medical profession—Lack of real search for truth—Poor doctors and medical students—Medical discovery in his time—The drug trade—The imperial stores—Galen’s private supply of drugs—Mediterranean commerce—Frauds of dealers in wild beasts—Galen’s ideal of anonymity—The ancient book trade—Falsification and mistakes in manuscripts—Galen as a historical source—Ancient slavery—Social life; food and wine—Allusions to Judaism and Christianity—Galen’s monotheism—Christian readers of Galen.

II. His Medicine and Experimental Science

Four elements and four qualities—His criticism of atomism—Application of the theory of four qualities in medicine—His therapeutics obsolete—Some of his medical notions—Two of his cases—His power of rapid observation and inference—His happy guesses—Tendency toward scientific measurement—Psychological tests with the pulse—Galen’s anatomy and physiology—Experiments in dissection—Did he ever dissect human bodies?—Dissection of animals—Surgical operations—Galen’s argument from design—Queries concerning the soul—No supernatural force in medicine—Galen’s experimental instinct—His attitude toward authorities—Adverse criticism of past writers—His estimate of Dioscorides—Galen’s dogmatism; logic and experience—His account of the Empirics—How the Empirics might have criticized Galen—Galen’s standard of reason and experience—Simples knowable only through experience—Experience and food science—Experience and compounds—Suggestions of experimental method—Difficulty of medical experiment—Empirical remedies—Galen’s influence upon medieval experiment—His more general medieval influence.

III. His Attitude Toward Magic

Accusations of magic against Galen—His charges of magic against others—Charms and wonder-workers—Animal substances inadmissible[Pg 118] in medicine—Nastiness of ancient medicine—Parts of animals—Some scepticism—Doctrine of occult virtue—Virtue of the flesh of vipers—Theriac—Magical compounds—Amulets—Incantations and characters—Belief in magic dies hard—On Easily Procurable Remedies—Specimens of its superstitious contents—External signs of the temperaments of internal organs—Marvelous statements repeated by Maimonides—Dreams—Absence of astrology in most of Galen’s medicine—The Prognostication of Disease by Astrology—Critical days—On the History of Philosophy—Divination and demons—Celestial bodies.

ἀλλ’ εἴ τις καταγνῷ μου τόδε, ὁμολογῶ τὸ πάθος τοὐμὸν ὃ παρ’ ὅλον ἐμαυτοῦ τὸν βίον ἔπαθον, οὐδενὶ πιστεύσας τῶν διηγουμένων τὰ τοιαῦτα, πρὶν πειραθῆναι καὶ αὐτὸς ὧν δυνατὸν ἦν εἰς πεῖραν ἐλθεῖν με.

Kühn, IV, 513.

διὸ κᾂν μετ’ ἐμέ τις ὁμοίως ἐμοὶ φιλόπονός τε καὶ ξηλωτικὸς ἀληθείας γένηται, μὴ προπετῶς ἐκ δυοῖν ἢ τριῶν χρήσεων ἀποφαινέσθω. πολλάκις γὰρ αὐτῷ φανεῖται διὰ τῆς μακρᾶς πείρας ὥσπερ ἐφάνη κᾀμοὶ ...

Kühn, XIII, 96-1.

χρὴ γὰρ τὸν μέλλοντα γνώσεσθαί τι τῶν πολλῶν ἄμεινον εὐθὺς μὲν καὶ τῇ φύσει καὶ τῇ πρώτῃ διδασκαλίᾳ πολὺ τῶν ἄλλων διενεγκεῖν ἐπειδὰν δὲ γένηται μειράκιον ἀληθείας τινὸς ἔχειν ἐρωτικὴν μανίαν ὥσπερ ἐνθουσιῶντα, καὶ μήθ’ ἡμέρας μήτε νυκτὸς διαλείπειν σπεύδοντά τε καὶ συντεταμένον ἐκμαθεῖν, ὅσα τοῖς ἐνδοξοτάτοις εἴρηται τῶν παλαιῶν· ἐπειδὰν δ’ ἐκμάθη, κρίνειν αὐτὰ καὶ βασανίζειν χρόνῳ παμπόλλῳ καὶ σκοπεῖν πόσα μὲν ὁμολογεῖ τοῖς ἐναργῶς φαινομένοις πόσα δὲ διαφέρεται καὶ οὕτως τὰ μὲν αἱρεῖσθαι τὰ δ’ ἀποστρέφεσθαι.

Κϋhν, II , 179.

“But if anyone charges me therewith, I confess my disease from which I have suffered all my life long, to trust none of those who make such statements until I have tested them for myself in so far as it has been possible for me to put them to the test.”

“So if anyone after me becomes like me fond of work and zealous for truth, let him not conclude hastily from two or three cases. For often he will be enlightened through long experience, just as I have been.” (It is remarkable that Ptolemy spoke similarly of his predecessor, Hipparchus, as a “lover of toil and truth”—φιλόπονον καὶ φιλαλήθεα, quoted by Orr (1913), 122.)

[Pg 119]

“For one who is to understand any matter better than most men do must straightway differ much from other persons in his nature and earliest education. And when he becomes a lad he must be madly in love with the truth and carried away by enthusiasm for it, and not let up by day or by night but press on and stretch every nerve to learn whatever the ancients of most repute have said. But having learned it, he must judge the same and put it to the test for a long, long time and observe what agrees with visible phenomena and what disagrees, and so accept the one and reject the other.”

I. The Man and His Times

Recent ignorance of Galen.

At the close of the nineteenth century one English student of the history of medicine said, “Galen is so inaccessible to English readers that it is difficult to learn about him at first hand.”[517] Another wrote, “There is, perhaps, no other instance of a man of equal intellectual rank who has been so persistently misunderstood and even misinterpreted.”[518] A third obstacle to the ready comprehension of Galen has been that while more critical editions of some single works have been published by Helmreich and others in recent times,[519] no complete edition of his works has appeared since that of Kühn a century ago,[520] which is now regarded as very faulty.[521] A fourth reason for neglect or[Pg 120] misunderstanding of Galen is probably that there is so much by him to be read.

His voluminous works.

Athenaeus stated that Galen wrote more treatises than any other Greek, and although many are now lost, more particularly of his logical and philosophical writings, his collected extant works in Greek text and Latin translation fill some twenty volumes averaging a thousand pages each. When we add that often there are no chapter headings or other brief clues to the contents,[522] which must be ploughed through slowly and thoroughly, since some of the most valuable bits of information come in quite incidentally or by way of unlooked-for digression; that errors in the printed text, and the technical vocabulary with numerous words not found in most classical dictionaries increase the reader’s difficulties;[523] and that little if any of the text possesses any present medical value, while much of it is dreary enough reading even for one animated by historical interest, especially if one has no technical knowledge of medicine and surgery:—when we consider all these deterrents, we are not surprised that Galen is little known. “Few physicians or even scholars in the present day,” continues the English historian of medicine quoted above, “can claim to have read through this vast collection; I certainly least of all. I can only pretend to have touched the fringe, especially of the anatomical and physiological works.”[524]

[Pg 121]

The manuscript tradition of Galen’s works.

Although the works of Galen are so voluminous, they have reached us for the most part in comparatively late manuscripts,[525] and to some extent perhaps only in their medieval form. The extant manuscripts of the Greek text are mostly of the fifteenth century and represent the enthusiasm of humanists who hoped by reviving the study of Galen in the original to get something new and better out of him than the schoolmen had. In this expectation they seem to have been for the most part disappointed; the middle ages had already absorbed Galen too thoroughly. If it be true, as Dr. Payne contends,[526] that the chief original contributions to medical science of the Renaissance period were the work of men trained in Greek scholarship, this was because, when they failed to get any new ideas from the Greek texts, they turned to the more promising path of experimental research which both Galen and the middle ages had already advocated. The bulky medieval Latin translations[527] of Galen are older than most of the extant Greek texts; there are also versions in Arabic and Syriac.[528] For the last five books of the Anatomical Exercises the only extant text is an Arabic manuscript not yet published.[529]

[Pg 122]

Galen’s vivid personality.

If so comparatively little is generally known about Galen, it is not because he had an unattractive personality. Nor is it difficult to make out the main events of his life. His works supply an unusual amount of personal information, and throughout his writings, unless he is merely transcribing past prescriptions, he talks like a living man, detailing incidents of daily life and making upon the reader a vivid and unaffected impression of reality. Daremberg asserts[530] that the exuberance of his imagination and his vanity frequently make us smile. It is true that his pharmacology and therapeutics often strike us as ridiculous, but he did not imagine them, they were the medicine of his age. It is true that he mentions cases which he has cured and those in which other physicians have been at fault, but official war despatches do the same with their own victories and the enemy’s defeats. Vae victis! In Galen’s case, at least, posterity long confirmed his own verdict. And dull or obsolete as his medicine now is, his scholarly and intellectual ideals and love of hard work at his art are still a living force, while the reader of his pages often feels himself carried back to the Roman world of the second century. Thus “the magic of literature,” to quote a fine sentence by Payne, “brings together thinkers widely separated in space and time.”[531]

Birth and parentage.

Galen—he does not seem to have been called Claudius until the time of the Renaissance—was born about 129 A.D.[532] at Pergamum in Asia Minor. His father, Nikon, was an architect and mathematician, trained in arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Much of this education he transmitted to his son, but even more valuable, in Galen’s opinion, were his precepts to follow no one sect or party but to hear and judge them all, to despise honor and glory, and to magnify truth alone. To this teaching Galen attributes his own peaceful and painless passage through life. He has never[Pg 123] grieved over losses of property but managed to get along somehow. He has not minded much when some have vituperated him, thinking instead of those who praise him. In later life Galen looked back with great affection upon his father and spoke of his own great good fortune in having as a parent that gentlest, justest, most honest and humane of men. On the other hand, the chief thing that he learned from his mother was to avoid her failings of a sharp temper and tongue, with which she made life miserable for their household slaves and scolded his father worse than Xanthippe ever did Socrates.[533]

Education in philosophy and medicine.

In one of his works Galen speaks of the passionate love and enthusiasm for truth which has possessed him since boyhood, so that he has not stopped either by day or by night from quest of it.[534] He realized that to become a true scholar required both high natural qualifications and a superior type of education from the start. After his fourteenth year he heard the lectures of various philosophers, Platonist and Peripatetic, Stoic and Epicurean; but when about seventeen, warned by a dream of his father,[535] he turned to the study of medicine. This incident of the dream shows that neither Galen nor his father, despite their education and intellectual standards, were free from the current belief in occult influences, of which we shall find many more instances in Galen’s works. Galen first studied medicine for four years under Satyrus in his native city of Pergamum, then under Pelops at Smyrna, later under Numisianus at Corinth and Alexandria.[536] This was about the time that the great mathematician and astronomer, Ptolemy, was completing his observations[537] in the neighborhood of Alexandria, but Galen does not mention him, despite his own belief that a first-rate physician should also know such subjects as[Pg 124] geometry and astronomy, music and rhetoric.[538] Galen’s interest in philosophy continued, however, and he wrote many logical and philosophical treatises, most of which are lost.[539] His father died when he was twenty, and it was after this that he went to other cities to study.

First visit to Rome.

Galen returned to Pergamum to practice and was, when but twenty-nine, made the doctor for the gladiators by five successive pontiffs.[540] During his thirties came his first residence at Rome.[541] The article on Galen in Pauly-Wissowa states that he was driven away from Rome by the plague, and in De libris propriis he does say that, “when the great plague broke out there, I hurriedly departed from the city for my native land.”[542] But in De prognosticatione ad Epigenem his explanation is that he became disgusted with the malice of the envious physicians of the capital, and determined to return home as soon as the sedition there was over.[543] Meanwhile he stayed on and gained great fame by his cures but their jealousy and opposition multiplied, so that presently, when he learned that the sedition was over, he went back to Pergamum.

Relations with the emperors: later life.

His fame, however, had come to the imperial ears and he was soon summoned to Aquileia to meet the emperors on their way north against the invading Germans. An outbreak of the plague there prevented their proceeding with the campaign immediately,[544] and Galen states that the emperors fled for Rome with a few troops, leaving the rest to suffer from the plague and cold winter. On the way Lucius Verus died, and when Marcus Aurelius finally returned to the front, he allowed Galen to go back to Rome as court[Pg 125] physician to Commodus.[545] The prevalence of the plague at this time is illustrated by a third encounter which Galen had with it in Asia, when he claims to have saved himself and others by thorough venesection.[546] The war lasted much longer than had been anticipated and meanwhile Galen was occupied chiefly in literary labors, completing a number of works. In 192 some of his writings and other treasures were lost in a fire which destroyed the Temple of Peace on the Sacred Way. Of some of the works which thus perished he had no other copy himself. In one of his works on compound medicines he explains that some persons may possess the first two books which had already been published, but that these had perished with others in a shop on the Sacra Via when the whole shrine of peace and the great libraries on the Palatine hill were consumed, and that his friends, none of whom possessed copies, had besought him to begin the work all over again.[547] Galen was still alive and writing during the early years of the dynasty of the Severi, and probably died about 200.

His unfavorable picture of the learned world.

Although the envy of other physicians at Rome and their accusing him of resort to magic arts and divination in his marvelous prognostications and cures were perhaps neither the sole nor the true reason for Galen’s temporary withdrawal from the capital, there probably is a great deal of truth in the picture he paints of the medical profession and learned world of his day. There are too many other ancient witnesses, from the encyclopedist Pliny and the satirist Juvenal to the fourth century lawyer and astrologer, Firmicus, who substantiate his charges to permit us to explain them away as the product of personal bitterness or[Pg 126] pessimism. We feel that these men lived in an intellectual society where faction and villainy, superstition and petty-mindedness and personal enmity, were more manifest than in the quieter and, let us hope, more tolerant learned world of our time. Selfishness and pretense, personal likes and dislikes, undoubtedly still play their part, but there is not passionate animosity and open war to the knife on every hand. The status belli may still be characteristic of politics and the business world, but scholars seem able to live in substantial peace. Perhaps it is because there is less prospect of worldly gain for members of the learned professions than in Galen’s day. Perhaps it is due to the growth of the impartial scientific spirit, of unwritten codes of courtesy and ethics within the leading learned professions, and of state laws concerning such matters as patents, copyright, professional degrees, pure food, and pure drugs. Perhaps, in the unsatisfactory relations between those who should have been the best educated and most enlightened men of that time we may see an important symptom of the intellectual and ethical decline of the ancient world.

Corruption of the medical profession.

Galen states that many tire of the long struggle with crafty and wicked men which they have tried to carry on, relying upon their erudition and honest toil alone, and withdraw disgusted from the madding crowd to save themselves in dignified retirement. He especially marvels at the evil-mindedness of physicians of reputation at Rome. Though they live in the city, they are a band of robbers as truly as the brigands of the mountains. He is inclined to account for the roguery of Roman physicians compared to those of a smaller city by the facts that elsewhere men are not so tempted by the magnitude of possible gain and that in a smaller town everyone is known by everyone else and questionable practices cannot escape general notice. The rich men of Rome fall easy prey to these unscrupulous practitioners who are ready to flatter them and play up to their weaknesses. These rich men can see the use of arithmetic and geometry, which enable them to keep their books[Pg 127] straight and to build houses for their domestic comfort, and of divination and astrology, from which they seek to learn whose heirs they will be, but they have no appreciation of pure philosophy apart from rhetorical sophistry.[548]

Lack of real search for truth.

Galen more than once complains that there are no real seekers after truth in his time, but that all are intent upon money, political power, or pleasure. You know very well, he says to one of his friends in the De methodo medendi, that not five men of all those whom we have met prefer to be rather than to seem wise.[549] Many make a great outward display and pretense in medicine and other arts who have no real knowledge.[550] Galen several times expresses his scorn for those who spend their mornings in going about saluting their friends, and their evenings in drinking bouts or in dining with the rich and powerful. Yet even his friends have reproached him for studying too much and not going out more. But while they have wasted their hours thus, he has spent his, first in learning all that the ancients have discovered that is of value, then in testing and practicing the same.[551] Moreover, now-a-days many are trying to teach others what they have never accomplished themselves.[552] Thessalus not only toadied to the rich but secured many pupils by offering to teach them medicine in six months.[553] Hence it is that tailors and dyers and smiths are abandoning their arts to become physicians. Thessalus himself, Galen ungenerously taunts, was educated by a father who plucked wool badly in the women’s apartments.[554] Indeed, Galen himself, by the violence of his invective and the occasional passionateness of his animosity in his controversies with other individuals or schools of medicine, illustrates that state of war in the intellectual world of his age to which we have adverted.

[Pg 128]

Poor doctors and medical students.

We suggested the possibility that learning compared to other occupations was more remunerative in Galen’s day than in our own, but there were poor physicians and medical students then, as well as those greedy for gain or who associated with the rich. Many doctors could not afford to use the rarer or stronger simples and limited themselves to easily procured, inexpensive, and homely medicaments.[555] Many of his fellow-students regarded as a counsel of perfection unattainable by them Galen’s plan of hearing all the different medical sects and comparing their merits and testing their validity.[556] They said tearfully that this course was all very well for him with his acute genius and his wealthy father behind him, but that they lacked the money to pursue an advanced education, perhaps had already lost valuable time under unsatisfactory teachers, or felt that they did not possess the discrimination to select for themselves what was profitable from several conflicting schools.

Medical discovery in Galen’s time.

Galen was, it has already been made apparent, an intellectual aristocrat, and possessed little patience with those stupid men who never learn anything for themselves, though they see a myriad cures worked before their eyes. But that, apart from his own work, the medical profession was not entirely stagnant in his time, he admits when he asserts that many things are known to-day which had not been discovered before, and when he mentions some curative methods recently invented at Rome.[557]

The drug trade.

Galen supplies considerable information concerning the drug trade in Rome itself and throughout the empire. He often complains of adulteration and fraud. The physician must know the medicinal simples and their properties himself and be able to detect adulterated medicines, or the merchants, perfumers, and herbarii will deceive him.[558] Galen refuses to reveal the methods employed in adulterating opobalsam, which he had investigated personally, lest the[Pg 129] evil practice spread further.[559] At Rome at least there were dealers in unguents who corresponded roughly to our druggists. Galen says there is not an unguent-dealer in Rome who is unacquainted with herbs from Crete, but he asserts that there are equally good medicinal plants growing in the very suburbs of Rome of which they are totally ignorant, and he taxes even those who prepare drugs for the emperors with the same oversight. He tells how the herbs from Crete come wrapped in cartons with the name of the herb written on the outside and sometimes the further statement that it is campestris.[560] These Roman drug stores seem not to have kept open at night, for Galen in describing a case speaks of the impossibility of procuring the medicines needed at once because “the lamps were already lighted.”[561]

The imperial stores.

The emperors kept a special store of drugs of their own and had botanists in Sicily, Crete, and Africa who supplied not only them with medicinal herbs, but also the city of Rome as well, Galen says. However, the emperors appear to have reserved a large supply of the finest and rarest simples for their own use. Galen mentions a large amount of Hymettus honey in the imperial stores—ἐν ταῖς αὐτοκρατορικαῖς ἀποθήκαις,[562] whence our word “apothecary.”[563] He proves that cinnamon[564] loses its potency with time by his own ex[Pg 130]perience as imperial physician. An assignment of the spice sent to Marcus Aurelius from the land of the barbarians (ἐκ τῆς βαρβάρου) was superior to what had stood stored in wooden jars from the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius. Commodus exhausted all the recent supply, and when Galen was forced to turn to what had been on hand in preparing an antidote for Severus, he found it much weaker than before, although not thirty years had elapsed. That cinnamon was a commodity little known to the populace is indicated by Galen’s mentioning his loss in the fire of 192 of a few precious bits of bark he had stored away in a chest with other treasures.[565] He praises the Severi, however, for permitting others to use theriac, a noted medicine and antidote of which we shall have more to say presently. Thus, he says, not only have they as emperors received power from the gods, but in sharing their goods freely they are like the gods, who rejoice the more, the more people they save.[566]

Galen’s private supply of drugs: terra sigillata.

Galen himself, and apparently other physicians, were not content to rely for medicines either upon the unguent-sellers or the bounty of the imperial stores. Galen stored away oil and fat and left them to age until he had enough to last for a hundred years, including some from his father’s lifetime. He used some forty years old in one prescription.[567] He also traveled to many parts of the Roman Empire and procured rare drugs in the places where they were produced. Very interesting is his account of going out of his way in journeying back and forth between Rome and Pergamum in order to stop at Lemnos and procure a supply of the famous terra sigillata, a reddish clay stamped into pellets with the sacred seal of Diana.[568] On the way to Rome, instead of journeying on foot through Thrace and Macedonia, he took ship from the Troad to Thessalonica; but the vessel stopped[Pg 131] in Lemnos at Myrine on the wrong side of the island, which Galen had not realized possessed more than one port, and the captain would not delay the voyage long enough to enable him to cross the island to the spot where the terra sigillata was to be found. Upon his return from Rome through Macedonia, however, he took pains to visit the right port, and for the benefit of future travelers gives careful instructions concerning the route to follow and the distances between stated points. He describes the solemn procedure by which the priestess from the neighboring city gathered the red earth from the hill where it was found, sacrificing no animals, but wheat and barley to the earth. He brought away with him some twenty thousand of the little discs or seals which were supposed to cure even lethal poisons and the bite of mad dogs. The inhabitants laughed, however, at the assertion which Galen had read in Dioscorides that the seals were made by mixing the blood of a goat with the earth. Berthelot, the historian of chemistry, believed that this earth was “an oxide of iron more or less hydrated and impure.”[569] In another passage Galen advises his readers,[Pg 132] if they are ever in Pamphylia, to lay in a good supply of the drug carpesium.[570] In the ninth book of his work on medicinal simples he tells of three strata of sory, chalcite, and misy, which he had seen in a mine in Cyprus thirty years before and from which he had brought away a supply, and of the surprising chemical change which the misy underwent in the course of these years.[571]

Mediterranean commerce.

Galen speaks of receiving other drugs from Great Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Cappadocia, Pontus, Macedonia, Gaul, Spain, and Mauretania, from the Celts, and even from India.[572] He names other places in Greece and Asia Minor than Mount Hymettus where good honey may be had, and states that much so-called Attic honey is really from the Cyclades, although it is brought to Athens and there sold or reshipped. Similarly, genuine Falernian wine is produced only in a small part of Italy, but other wines like it are prepared by those who are skilled in such knavery. As the best iris is that of Illyricum and the best asphalt is from Judea, so the best petroselinon is that of Macedonia, and merchants export it to almost the entire world just as they do Attic honey and Falernian wine. But the petroselinon crop of Epirus is sent to Thessalonica and there passed off for Macedonian. The best turpentine is that of Chios but a good variety may be obtained from Libya or Pontus. The manufacture of drugs has spread recently as well as the commerce in them. The[Pg 133] best form of unguent was formerly made only in Laodicea, but now it is similarly compounded in many other cities of Asia Minor.[573]

Frauds of dealers in wild beasts.

We are reminded that parts of animals as well as herbs and minerals were important constituents in ancient pharmacy by Galen’s invective against the frauds of hunters and dealers in wild beasts as well as of unguent-sellers. They do not hunt them at the proper season for securing their medicinal virtues, but when they are no longer in their prime or just after their long period of hibernation, when they are emaciated. Then they fatten them upon improper food, feed them barley cakes to stuff up and dull their teeth, or force them to bite frequently so that virus will run out of their mouths.[574]

Galen’s ideal of anonymity.

Besides the ancient drug trade, Galen gives us some interesting glimpses of the publishing trade, if we may so term it, of his time. Writing in old age in the De methodo medendi,[575] he says that he has never attached his name to one of his works, never written for the popular ear or for fame, but fired by zeal for science and truth, or at the urgent request of friends, or as a useful exercise for himself, or, as now, in order to forget his old age. Popular fame is only an impediment to those who desire to live tranquilly and enjoy the fruits of philosophy. He asks Eugenianus, whom he addresses in this passage, not to praise him immoderately before men, as he has been wont to do, and not to inscribe his name in his works. His friends nevertheless prevailed upon him to write two treatises listing his works,[576] and he also is free enough in many of his books in mentioning others which are essential to read before perusing the present volume.[577] Perhaps he felt differently at different times on the question of fame and anonymity. He also objected[Pg 134] to those who read his works, not to learn anything from them, but only in order to calumniate them.[578]

The ancient book trade.

It was in a shop on the Sacra Via that most of the copies of some of Galen’s works were stored when they, together with the great libraries upon the Palatine, were consumed in the fire of 192. But in another passage Galen states that the street of the Sandal-makers is where most of the bookstores in Rome are located.[579] There he saw some men disputing whether a certain treatise was his. It was duly inscribed Galenus medicus and one man, because the title was unfamiliar to him, bought it as a new work by Galen. But another man who was something of a philologer asked to see the introduction, and, after reading a few lines, declared that the book was not one of Galen’s works. When Galen was still young, he wrote three commentaries on the throat and lungs for a fellow student who wished to have something to pass off as his own work upon his return home. This friend died, however, and the books got into circulation.[580] Galen also complains that notes of his lectures which he has not intended for publication have got abroad,[581] that his servants have stolen and published some of his manuscripts, and that others have been altered, corrupted, and mutilated by those into whose possession they have come, or have been passed off by them in other lands as their own productions.[582] On the other hand, some of his pupils keep his teachings to themselves and are unwilling to give others the benefit of them, so that if they should die suddenly, his doctrines would be lost.[583] But his own ideal has always been to share his knowledge freely with those who sought it, and if possible with all mankind. At least one of Galen’s works was taken down from his dictation by short-hand writers, when, after his convincing demonstration by dissection concerning respiration and the voice, Boëthus asked him for commentaries on the subject and[Pg 135] sent for stenographers.[584] Although Galen in his travels often purchased and carried home with him large quantities of drugs, when he made his first trip to Rome he left all his books in Asia.[585]

Falsification and mistakes in manuscripts.

Galen dates the falsification of title pages and contents of books back to the time when kings Ptolemy of Egypt and Attalus of Pergamum were bidding against each other for volumes for their respective libraries.[586] Works were often interpolated then in order to make them larger and so bring a better price. Galen speaks more than once of the deplorable ease with which numbers, signs, and other abbreviations are altered in manuscripts.[587] A single stroke of the pen or slight erasure will completely change the meaning of a medical prescription. He thinks that such alterations are sometimes malicious and not mere mistakes. So common were they that Menecrates composed a medical work written out entirely in complete words and entitled Autocrator Hologrammatos because it was also dedicated to the emperor. Another writer, Damocrates, from whom Galen often quotes long passages, composed his book of medicaments in metrical form so that there might be no mistake made even in complete words.

Galen as a historical source.

Galen’s works contain occasional historical information concerning many other matters than books and drugs. Clinton in his Fasti Romani made much use of Galen for the chronology of the period in which he lived. His allusions to several of the emperors with whom he had personal relations are valuable bits of source-material. Trajan was, of course, before his time, but he testifies to the great improvement of the roads in Italy which that emperor had effected.[588] Galen sheds a little light on the vexed question[Pg 136] of the population of the empire, if Pergamum is the place he refers to in his estimate of forty thousand citizens or one hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants, including women and slaves but perhaps not children.[589]

Ancient slavery.

Galen illustrates for us the evils of ancient slavery in an incident which he relates to show the inadvisability of giving way to one’s passions, especially anger.[590] Returning from Rome, Galen fell in with a traveler from Gortyna in Crete. When they reached Corinth, the Cretan sent his baggage and slaves from Cenchrea[591] to Athens by boat, but himself with a hired vehicle and two slaves went by land with Galen through Megara, Eleusis, and Thriasa. On the way the Cretan became so angry at the two slaves that he hit them with his sheathed sword so hard that the sheath broke and they were badly wounded. Fearing that they would die, he then made off to escape the consequences of his act, leaving Galen to look after the wounded. But later he rejoined Galen in penitent mood and insisted that Galen administer a beating to him for his cruelty. Galen adds that he himself, like his father, had never struck a slave with his own hand and had reproved friends who had broken their slaves’ teeth with blows of their fists. Others go farther and kick their slaves or gouge their eyes out. The emperor Hadrian in a moment of anger is said to have blinded a slave with a stylus which he had in his hand. He, too, was sorry afterwards and offered the slave money, but the latter refused it, telling the emperor that nothing could compensate him for the loss of an eye. In another passage Galen discusses how many slaves and “clothes” one really needs.[592]

[Pg 137]

Social life: food and wine.

Galen also depicts the easy-going, sociable, and pleasure-loving society of his time. Not only physicians but men generally begin the day with salutations and calls, then separate again, some to the market-place and law courts, others to watch the dancers or charioteers.[593] Others play at dice or pursue love affairs, or pass the hours at the baths or in eating and drinking or some other bodily pleasure. In the evening they all come together again at symposia which bear no resemblance to the intellectual feasts of Socrates and Plato but are mere drinking bouts. Galen had no objection, however, to the use of wine in moderation and mentions the varieties from different parts of the Mediterranean world which were especially noted for their medicinal properties.[594] He believed that drinking wine discreetly relieved the mind from all worry and melancholy and refreshed it. “For we use it every day.”[595] He affirmed that taken in moderation wine aided digestion and the blood.[596] He classed wine with such boons to humanity as medicines, “a sober and decent mode of life,” and “the study of literature and liberal disciplines.”[597] Galen’s treatise in three books on food values (De alimentorum facultatibus) supplies information concerning the ancient table and dietary science.

Allusions to Judaism and Christianity.

Galen’s allusions to Judaism and Christianity are of considerable interest. He scarcely seems to have distinguished between them. In two passages in his treatise on differences in the pulse he makes incidental allusion to the followers of Moses and Christ, in both cases speaking of them rather lightly, not to say contemptuously. In criticizing Archigenes for using vague and unintelligible language and not giving a sufficient explanation of the point in question, Galen says that it is “as if one had come to a school of[Pg 138] Moses and Christ and had heard undemonstrated laws.”[598] And in criticizing opposing sects for their obstinacy he remarks that it would be easier to win over the followers of Moses and Christ.[599] Later we shall speak more fully of a third passage in De usu partium[600] where Galen criticizes the Mosaic view of the relation of God to nature, representing it as the opposite extreme to the Epicurean doctrine of a purely mechanistic and materialistic universe. This suggests that Galen had read some of the Old Testament, but he might have learned from other sources of the Dead Sea and of salts of Sodom, of which he speaks in yet another context.[601] According to a thirteenth century Arabian biographer of Galen, he spoke more favorably of Christians in a lost commentary upon Plato’s Republic, admiring their morals and admitting their miracles.[602] This last, as we shall see, is unlikely, since Galen believed in a supreme Being who worked only through natural law. “A confection of Ioachos, the martyr or metropolitan,” and “A remedy for headache of the monk Barlama” occur in the third book of the De remediis parabilibus ascribed to Galen, but this third book is greatly interpolated or entirely spurious, citing Galen himself as well as Alexander of Tralles, the sixth century writer, and mentioning the Saracens. Wellmann regards it as composed between the seventh and eleventh centuries of our era.[603]

Galen’s monotheism.

Like most thoughtful men of his time, Galen tended to believe in one supreme deity, but he appears to have derived[Pg 139] this conception from Greek rather than Hebraic sources. It was to philosophy and the Greek mysteries that he turned for revelation of the deity, as we shall see. Hopeless criminals were for him those whom neither the Muses nor Socrates could reform.[604] It is Plato, not Christ, whom in another treatise he cites as describing the first and greatest God as ungenerated and good. “And we all naturally love Him, being such as He is from eternity.”[605]

Galen’s Christian readers.

But while Galen’s monotheism cannot be regarded as of Christian or Jewish origin, it is possible that his argument from design and supporting theology by anatomy made him more acceptable to both Mohammedan and Christian readers. At any rate he had Christian readers at Rome at the opening of the third century, when a hostile controversialist complains that some of them even worship Galen.[606] These early Christian enthusiasts for natural science, who also devoted much time to Aristotle and Euclid, were finally excommunicated; but Aristotle, Euclid, and Galen were to return in triumph in medieval learning.

II. His Medicine and Experimental Science

Four elements and four qualities.

Galen held as his fundamental theory of nature the view which was to prevail through the middle ages, that all natural objects upon this globe are composed of four elements, earth, air, fire, and water,[607] and the cognate view, which he says Hippocrates first introduced and Aristotle later demonstrated, that all natural objects are characterized by four qualities, hot, cold, dry, and moist. From the combinations of these four are produced various secondary qualities.[608] Neither hypothesis was as yet universally accepted, however, and Galen felt it incumbent upon him to argue against those[Pg 140] who contended that the human body and world of nature were made from but one element.[609] There were others who ridiculed the four quality hypothesis, saying that hot and cold were words for bath-keepers, not for physicians to deal with.[610] Galen explains that philosophers do not regard any particular variety of earth or any other mineral substance as representing the pure element earth, which in the philosophical sense is an extremely cold and dry substance to which adamant and rocks make perhaps the closest approach. But the earths that we see are all compound bodies.[611]

Criticism of atomism.

Galen rejected the atomism of Democritus and Epicurus, in which the atoms were indivisible particles differing in shape and size, but not differing in quality as chemical atoms are supposed to do. He credits Democritus with the view that such qualities as color and taste are sensed by us from the concourse of atoms, but do not reside in the atoms themselves.[612] Galen also makes the criticism that the mere regrouping of “impassive and immutable” atoms is not enough to account for the new properties of the compound, which are often very different from those of the constituents, as when “we alter the qualities of medicines in artificial mixtures.”[613] Thus he virtually says that the purely physical atomism of Democritus will not account for what to-day we call chemical change. He also, as we shall see, rejected Epicurus’ theory of a world of nature ruled by blind chance.

Application of the theory of four qualities in medicine.

Galen of course thought that a dry medicine was good for a moist disease, and that in a compound medicine, by mixing a very cold with a slightly cold drug in varying proportions a medicine of any desired degree of coldness might be obtained.[614] In general he regarded solids like stones and metals as dry and cold, while he thought that hot and moist objects tended to evaporate rapidly into air.[615] So he declared that dryness of solid bodies was incurable, while he believed that children’s bodies were more easily dissolved[Pg 141] than adults’ because moister and warmer.[616] The Stoics and many physicians believed that heat prolonged life, but Asclepiades pointed out that the Ethiopians are old at thirty because the hot sun dries up their bodies so, while the inhabitants of Britain sometimes live to be one hundred and twenty years old. This last, however, was regarded as probably due to the fact that their thicker skins conserved their innate heat longer.[617]

Galen’s therapeutics obsolete.

As an offset to the evidence which will be presented later of the traces of occult virtues, magic, and astrology in Galen’s therapeutics I should like to be able to indicate the good points in it. But his entire system, like the four quality theory upon which it is largely based, seems now obsolete, and what evidenced his superiority to other physicians in his own day would probably strike the modern reader only as a token of his distinct inferiority to present practice. Eighty odd years of modern medical progress since have added further emphasis to Daremberg’s declaration that we have had to throw overboard “much of his physiology, nearly all of his pathology and general therapeutics.”[618]

Some of his medical notions.

Nevertheless, we may note a few specimens which perhaps represent his ordinary theory and practice as distinguished from passages in which the influence of magic enters. He holds that bleeding and cold drink are the two chief remedies for fever.[619] He notes that children occasionally resemble their grandparents rather than their parents.[620] He disputes the assertion of Epicurus—one by which some of his followers failed to be guided—that there is no benefit to health in Aphrodite, and contends that at certain intervals and in certain individuals and circumstances sexual intercourse is beneficial.[621] His discussion of anodynes and stupor or sleep-producing medicines shows that the ancients had anaesthetics of a sort.[622] He recognized the importance[Pg 142] of breathing plenty of fresh, invigorating, and unpolluted air, free from any intermixture of impurity from mines, pits, or ovens, or of putridity from decaying vegetable or animal matter, or of noxious vapors from stagnant water, swamps, and rivers.[623] As was usual in ancient and medieval times, he attributes plagues to the corruption of the air, which poisons men breathing it, and tells how Hippocrates tried to allay a plague at Athens by purifying the air by fumigation with fires, odors, and unguents.[624]

Two of Galen’s cases.

Two specimens may be given of Galen’s accounts of his own cases. In the first, some cheese, which he had told his servants to take away as too sharp, when mixed with boiled salt pork and applied to the joints, proved very helpful to a gouty patient and to several others whom he induced to try it.[625] In the second case Galen administered the following heroic treatment to a woman at Rome who was afflicted with catarrh to the point of throwing up blood.[626] He did not deem it wise to bleed her, since for four days past she had gone almost without food. Instead he ordered a sharp clyster, rubbed and bound her hands and feet with a hot drug, shaved her head and put on it a medicament made of doves’ dung. After three hours she was bathed, care being taken that nothing oily touched her head, which was then covered up. At first he fed her only gruel, afterwards some bitter autumn fruit, and as she was about to go to sleep he administered a medicament made from vipers four months before. On the second day came more rubbing and binding except the head, and at evening a somewhat smaller dose of the viper remedy. Again she slept well and in the morning he gave her a large dose of cooked honey. Again her body was well rubbed and she was given barley water and a little bread to eat. On the fourth day an older and therefore stronger variety of viper-remedy was administered and her head was covered with the same medicament as before. Its properties, Galen explains, are vehemently drying and heat[Pg 143]ing. Again she was given a bath and a little food. On the fifth day Galen ventured to purge her lungs, but he returned at intervals to the imposition upon her head. Meanwhile he continued the process of rubbing, bathing, and dieting, until finally the patient was well again,—a truly remarkable cure!

His power of rapid observation and inference.

These two cases, however, do not give us a just comprehension of Galen’s abilities at their best. In his medical practice he could be as quick and comprehensive an observer and as shrewd in drawing inferences from what he observed as the famous Sherlock Holmes, so that some of his slower-witted contemporaries accused him of possessing the gift of divination. His immediate diagnosis of the case of the Sicilian physician by noting as he entered the house the excrements in a vessel which a servant was carrying out to the dungheap, and as he entered the sick-room a medicine set on the window-sill which the patient-physician had been preparing for himself, amazed the patient and the philosopher Glaucon[627] more than, let us hope in this case in view of his profession, they would have amazed the estimable Dr. Watson.

His happy guesses.

Puschmann has pointed out that Galen employs certain expressions which seem happy guesses at later discoveries. He writes: “Galen was supported in his researches by an extremely happy imaginative faculty which put the proper word in his mouth even in cases where he could not possibly arrive at a full understanding of the matter,—where he could only conjecture the truth. When, for instance, he declares that sound is carried ‘like a wave’ (Kühn, III, 644), or expresses the conjecture that the constituent of the atmosphere which is important for breathing also acts by burning (IV, 687), he expresses thoughts which startle us, for it was only possible nearly two thousand years later to understand their full significance.”[628]

[Pg 144]

Tendency towards scientific measurement.

Galen was keenly alive to the need of exactness in weights and measurements. He often criticizes past writers for not stating precisely what ailment the medicament recommended is good for, and in what proportions the ingredients are to be mixed. He also frequently complains because they do not specify whether they are using the Greek or Roman system of weights, or the Attic, Alexandrine, or Ephesian variety of a certain measure.[629] Moreover, he saw the desirability of more accurate means of measuring the passage of time.[630] When he states that even some illustrious physicians of his acquaintance mistake the speed of the pulse and are unable to tell whether it is slow, fast, or normal, we begin to realize something of the difficulties under which medical practice and any sort of experimentation labored before watches were invented, and how much depended upon the accuracy of human machinery and judgment. Yet Galen estimates that the chief progress made in medical prognostication since Hippocrates is the gradual development of the art of inferring from the pulse.[631] Galen tried to improve the time-pieces in use in his age. He states that in any city the inhabitants want to know the time of day accurately, not merely conjecturally; and he gives directions how to divide the day into twelve hours by a combination of a sun-dial and a clepsydra, and how on the water clock to mark the duration of the longest, shortest, and equinoctial days of the year.[632]

Psychological tests with the pulse.

Delicate and difficult as was the task of measuring the pulse in Galen’s time, he was clever enough to anticipate by seventeen centuries some of the tests which modern psychologists have urged should be applied in criminal trials. He detected the fact that a female patient was not ill but in love by the quickening of her pulse when someone came in from the theater and announced that he had just seen Py[Pg 145]lades dance. When she came again the next day, Galen had purposely arranged that someone should enter and say that he had seen Morphus dancing. This and a similar test on the third day produced no perceptible quickening in the woman’s pulse. But it bounded again when on the fourth day Pylades’ name was again spoken. After recounting another analogous incident where he had been able to read the patient’s mind, Galen asks why former physicians have never availed themselves of these methods. He thinks that they must have had no conception of how the bodily health in general and the pulse in particular can be affected by the “psyche’s” suffering.[633] We might then call Galen the first experimental psychologist as well as the first to elaborate the physiology of the nervous system.

Galen’s anatomy and physiology.

It would scarcely be fair to discuss Galen’s science at all without saying something of his remarkable work in anatomy and physiology. Daremberg went so far as to hold that all there is good or bad in his writings comes from good or bad physiology, and regarded his discussion of the bones and muscles as especially good.[634] He is generally considered the greatest anatomist of antiquity, but it is barely possible that he may have owed more to predecessors and contemporaries and less to personal research than is apparent from his own writings, which are the most complete anatomical treatises that have reached us from antiquity. Herophilus, for example, who was born at Chalcedon in the closing fourth century B. C. and flourished at Alexandria under the first Ptolemy, discovered the nerves and distinguished them from the sinews, and thought the brain the center of the nervous system, so that it is perhaps questionable whether Payne is justified in calling Galen “the founder of the physiology of the nervous system,” and in declaring that[Pg 146] “in physiological diagnosis he stands alone among the ancients.”[635] However, if Galen owed something to Herophilus, we owe much of our knowledge of the earlier physiologist to Galen.[636]

Experiments in dissection.

Aristotle had held that the heart was the seat of the sensitive soul[637] and the source of nervous action, “while the brain was of secondary importance, being the coldest part of the body, devoid of blood, and having for its chief or only function to cool the heart.” Galen attacked this theory by showing experimentally that “all the nerves originated in the brain, either directly or by means of the spinal cord, which he thought to be a conducting organ merely, not a center.” “A thousand times,” he says, “I have demonstrated by dissection that the cords in the heart called nerves by Aristotle are not nerves and have no connection with nerves.” He found that sensation and movement were stopped and even the voice and breathing were affected by injuries to the brain, and that an injury to one side of the brain affected the opposite side of the body. His public demonstration by dissection, performed in the presence of various philosophers and medical men, of the connection between the brain and voice and respiration and the commentaries which he immediately afterwards dictated on this point were so convincing, he tells us fifteen years later, that no one has ventured openly to dispute them.[638] His “experimental investigation of the spinal cord by sections at different levels and by half sections was still more remarkable.”[639] Galen opposed these experimental proofs to such unscientific arguments on the part of the Stoic philosopher, Chrysippus, and others, as that the heart must be the chief organ because it is in the center of the body, or because one lays[Pg 147] one’s hand on one’s heart to indicate oneself, or because the lips are moved in a certain way in saying “I” (ἐγώ).[640] Another noteworthy experiment by Galen was that in which, by binding up a section of the femoral artery he proved that the arteries contain blood and not air or spiritus as had been generally supposed.[641] He failed, however, to perform any experiments with the pulmonary veins, and so the notion persisted that these conveyed “spirit” and not blood from the lungs to the heart.[642]

Did Galen ever dissect human bodies?

It has usually been stated that Galen never dissected the human body and that his inferences by analogy from his dissection of animals involved him in serious error concerning human anatomy and physiology. Certainly he speaks as if opportunities to secure human cadavers or even skeletons were rare.[643] He mentions, however, the possibility of obtaining the bodies of criminals condemned to death or cast to beasts in the arena, or the corpses of robbers which lie unburied in the mountains, or the bodies of infants exposed by their parents.[644] It is not sufficient, he states in another passage,[645] to read books about human bones; one should have them before one’s eyes. Alexandria is the best place for the student to go to see actual exhibitions of this sort made by the teachers.[646] But even if one cannot go there, one may be able to procure human bones for oneself, as Galen did from a skeleton which had[Pg 148] been washed out of a grave by a flooded stream and from the corpse of a robber slain in the mountains. If one cannot get to see a human skeleton by these means or some other, he should dissect monkeys and apes.

Dissection of animals.

Indeed Galen advises the student to dissect apes in any case, in order to prepare himself for intelligent dissection of the human body, should he ever have the opportunity. From lack of such previous experience the doctors with the army of Marcus Aurelius, who dissected the body of a dead German, learned nothing except the position of the entrails. Galen at any rate dissected a great many animals. Tiny animals and insects he let alone, for the microscope was not yet discovered, but besides apes and quadrupeds he cut up many reptiles, mice, weasels, birds, and fish.[647] He also gives an amusing account of the medical men at Rome gathering to observe the dissection of an elephant in order to discover whether the heart had one or two vertices and two or three ventricles. Galen assured them beforehand that it would be found similar to the heart of any other breathing animal. This particular dissection was not, however, performed exclusively in the interests of science, since it was scarcely accomplished when the heart was carried off, not to a scientific museum, but by the imperial cooks to their master’s table.[648] Galen sometimes dissected animals the moment he killed them. Thus he observed that the lungs always sensibly shrank from the diaphragm in a dying animal, whether he killed it by suffocation in water, or strangling with a noose, or severing the spinal medulla near the first vertebrae, or cutting the large arteries or veins.[649]

Surgical operations.

Surgical operations and medical practice were a third way of learning the human anatomy, and Galen complains of the carelessness of those physicians and surgeons who do not take pains to observe it before performing an operation or cure. He himself had had one case where the[Pg 149] human heart was laid bare and yet the patient recovered.[650] As a young practitioner before he came to Rome Galen worked out so successful a method of treating wounds of the sinews that the care of the health of the gladiators in his native city of Pergamum was entrusted to him by several successive pontifices[651] and he hardly lost a life. In the same passage he again speaks contemptuously of the doctors in the war with the Germans who were allowed to cut open the bodies of the barbarians but learned no more thereby than a cook would. When Galen came from Pergamum to Rome he found the professions of physicians and surgeons distinct and left cases to the latter which he before had attended to himself.[652] We may note finally that he invented a new form of surgical knife.[653]

Galen’s argument from design.

In Galen’s opinion the study of anatomy was important for the philosopher as well as for the physician. An understanding of the use of the parts of the body is helpful to the doctor, he says, but much more so to “the philosopher of medicine who strives to obtain knowledge of all nature.”[654] In the De usu partium[655] he came to the conclusion that in the structure of any animal we have the mark of a wise workman or demiurge, and of a celestial mind; and that “the investigation of the use of the parts of the body lays the foundation of a truly scientific theology which is much greater and more precious than all medicine,” and which reveals the divinity more clearly than even the Eleusinian mysteries or Samothracian orgies. Thus Galen adopts the argument from design for the existence of God. The modern doctrine of evolution is of course subversive of his premise that the parts of the body are so well constructed for and marvelously adapted to their functions that nothing better is possible, and consequently of his conclusion that this necessitates a divine maker and planner.

[Pg 150]

In the treatise De foetuum formatione Galen displays a similar inclination but more tentatively and timidly. He thinks that the human body attests the wisdom and power of its maker,[656] whom he wishes the philosophers would reveal to him more clearly and tell him “whether he is some wise and powerful god.”[657] The process of the formation of the child in the womb, the complex human muscular system, the human tongue alone, seem to him so wonderful that he will not subscribe to the Epicurean denial of any all-ruling providence.[658] He thinks that nature alone cannot show such wisdom. He has, however, sought vainly from philosopher after philosopher for a satisfactory demonstration of the existence of God, and is by no means certain himself.[659]

Queries concerning the soul.

Galen is also at a loss concerning the existence and substance of the soul. He points out that puppies try to bite before their teeth come and that calves try to hook before their horns grow, as if the soul knew the use of these parts beforehand. It might be argued that the soul itself causes the parts to grow,[660] but Galen questions this, nor is he ready to accept the Platonic world-soul theory of a divine force permeating all nature.[661] It offends his instinctive piety and sense of fitness to think of the world-soul in such things as reptiles, vermin, and putrefying corpses. On the other hand, he disagrees with those who deny any innate knowledge or standards to the soul and attribute everything to sense perception and certain imaginations and memories based thereon. Some even deny the existence of the reasoning faculty, he says, and affirm that we are led by the affections of the senses like cattle. For these men courage, prudence, temperance, continence are mere names.[662]

No supernatural force in medicine.

In commenting upon the works of Hippocrates, Galen insists that in speaking of “something divine” in diseases[Pg 151] Hippocrates could not have meant supernatural influence, which he never admits into medicine in other passages. Galen tries to explain away the expression as having reference to the effect of the surrounding air.[663] Thus while Galen might look upon nature or certain things in nature as a divine work, he would not admit any supernatural force in science or medicine, or anything bordering upon special providence. In the De usu partium Galen states that he agrees with Moses that “the beginning of genesis in all things generated” was “from the demiurge,” but that he does not agree with him that anything is possible with God and that God can suddenly turn a stone into a man or make a horse or cow from ashes. “In this matter our opinion and that of Plato and of others among the Greeks who have written correctly concerning natural science differs from the view of Moses.” In Galen’s view God attempts nothing contrary to nature but of all possible natural courses invariably chooses the best. Thus Galen expresses his admiration at nature’s providence in keeping the eyebrows and eyelashes of the same length and not letting them grow long like the beard or hair, but this is because a harder cartilaginous flesh is provided for them to grow in, and the mere will of God would not keep hairs from growing in soft flesh. If God had not provided the cartilaginous substance for the eyelashes, “he would have been more careless, not merely than Moses but than a worthless general who builds a wall in a swamp.”[664] As between the views on God of Moses and Epicurus, Galen prefers to steer a middle course.

Galen’s experimental instinct.

Already in describing Galen’s dissections and tests with the pulse we have seen evidence of the accurate observation and experimental instincts which accompanied his zest for hard work and zeal for truth. In one of his treatises he[Pg 152] confesses that it was a passion of his always to test everything for himself. “And if anyone accuses me of this, I will confess my disease, from which I have suffered all my life long, that I have trusted no one of those who narrate such things until I have tested it myself, if it was possible for me to have experience of it.”[665] Galen also recognized that general theories were not sufficient for exact knowledge and that specific examples seen with one’s own eyes were indispensable.[666] He maintains that, if all teachers and writers would realize and observe this, they would make comparatively few false statements. He saw the danger of making absolute assertions and the need of noting the particular circumstances of each individual case.[667] Galen more than once declared that things, not names, were important and refused to waste time in disputing about terminology and definitions which might be spent in “pursuing the knowledge of things themselves.”[668] Thus we see in Galen a pragmatic scientist intent upon concrete facts and exact knowledge; but at the same time it must be recognized that he accepted some universal theorems and general views.

Attitude towards authorities.

Galen did not believe in merely repeating in new books the statements of previous authorities. Ever since boyhood, he writes in his Anatomical Administrations, it has seemed to him that one should record in writing only one’s new discoveries and not repeat what has been said already.[669] Nevertheless in some of his writings he collects the prescriptions of past physicians at great length, and a previous treatise by Archigenes is practically embodied in one of Galen’s works on compound medicines. On another occasion, however, after stating that Crito had combined previous treatises upon cosmetics, including the work of Cleopatra, into four books of his own which constitute a well-nigh exhaustive treatment of the subject, Galen says that[Pg 153] he sees no profit in copying Crito’s work again and merely reproduces its table of contents.[670] On the other hand, as this passage shows, Galen thought that the ancients had stated many things admirably and he had little patience with contemporaries who would learn nothing from them but were always ambitiously weaving new and complicated dogmas, or misinterpreting and perverting the teachings of the ancients.[671] His method was rather first to “make haste and stretch every nerve to learn what the most celebrated of the ancients have said;”[672] then, having mastered this teaching, to judge it and put it to the test for a long time and determine by observation how much of it agrees and how much disagrees with actual phenomena, and then embrace the former portion and reject the latter.

Adverse criticism of past writers.

This critical employment of past authorities is frequently illustrated in Galen’s works. He mentions a great many names of past physicians and writers, thereby shedding some light upon the history of Greek medicine; but at times he criticizes his predecessors, not sparing even Empedocles and Aristotle. Although he cites Aristotle a great deal, he declares that it is not surprising that Aristotle made many errors in the anatomy of animals, since he thought that the heart in large animals had a third ventricle.[673] As we have already seen in discussing the topic of weights and measurements, Galen especially objects to the vagueness and inaccuracy of many past medical writers,[674] or praises individuals like Heras who give specific information.[675] He also shows a preference for writers who give first-hand information, commending Heraclides of Tarentum as a trustworthy man, if there ever was one, who set down only those things proved by his own experience.[676] Galen declares that one could spend a lifetime in reading the books that have already been written upon medicinal simples. He urges his readers, however, to abstain from Andreas and[Pg 154] other liars of that stamp, and above all to eschew Pamphilus who never saw even in a dream the herbs which he describes.

Galen’s estimate of Dioscorides.

Of all previous writers upon materia medica Galen preferred Dioscorides. He writes, “But Anazarbensis Dioscorides in five books discussed all useful material not only of herbs but of trees and fruits and juices and liquors, treating besides both all metals and the parts of animals.”[677] Yet he does not hesitate to criticize certain statements of Dioscorides, such as the story of mixing goat’s blood with the terra sigillata of Lemnos. Dioscorides had also attributed marvelous virtues to the stone Gagates which he said came from a river of that name in Lycia; Galen’s comment is that he has skirted the entire coast of Lycia in a small boat and found no such stream.[678] He also wonders that Dioscorides described butter as made of the milk of sheep and goats, and correctly states that “this drug” is made from cows’ milk.[679] Galen does not mention its use as a food in his work on medicinal simples, and in his treatise upon food values he alludes to butter rather incidentally in the chapter on milk, stating that it is a fatty substance and easily recognized by tasting it, that it has many of the properties of oil, and in cold countries is sometimes used in baths in place of oil.[680] Galen further criticizes Dioscorides for his unfamiliarity with the Greek language and consequent failure to grasp the significance of many Greek names.

Galen’s dogmatism: logic and experience.

Daremberg said of Galen that he represented at the same time the most exaggerated dogmatism and the most advanced experimental school. There is some justification for the paradox, though the latter part seems to me the truer. But Galen was proud of his training in philosophy and logic and mathematics; he stood fast by many Hippocratic dogmas such as the four qualities theory, he thought[681] that in medicine as in geometry there were a certain num[Pg 155]ber of self-evident maxims upon which reason, conforming to the rules of logic, might build up a scientific structure. In the De methodo medendi[682] he makes a distinction between the discovery of drugs and medicines, simple or compound, by experience and the methodical treatment of disease which he now sets forth and which should proceed logically and independently of mere empiricism, and he wishes that other medical writers would make it clear when they are relying merely on experience and when exclusively upon reason.[683] At the same time he expresses his dislike for mere dogmatizers who shout their ipse dixits like tyrants without the support either of reason or experience.[684] He also grants that the ordinary man, taught by nature alone, often instinctively pursues a better course of action for his health than “the sophists” are able to advise.[685] Indeed, he is of the opinion that some doctors would do well to stick to experience alone and not try to mix in reasoning, since they are not trained in logic, and when they endeavor to divide or analyze a theme, perform like unskilled carvers who fail to find the joints and mutilate the roast.[686] Later on in the same work[687] he again affirms that persons who will not read and profit by the books of medical authorities and whose own reasoning is defective, should limit themselves to experience.

Galen’s account of the Empirics.

Normally, however, Galen upholds both reason and experience as criteria of truth against the opposing schools of Dogmatics and Empirics. The former attacked experience as uncertain and impossible to regulate, slow and unmethodical. The latter replied that experience was consistent, adaptable to art, and proof enough.[688] Galen’s chief objection to the Empirics is that they reject reason as a criterion of truth and wish the medical art to be irrational.[689] “The Empirics say that all things are discovered by experi[Pg 156]ence, but we say that some are found by experience and some by reason.”[690] Galen also objects to Herodotus’s explanation of the medical art as originating in the conversation of patients exposed at crossroads who told one another of their complaints and recoveries and thus evolved a fund of common experience.[691] Galen criticizes such experience as irrational and not yet put into scientific form (οὔπω λογική). Of the Empirics he tells us further that they regard phenomena only and ignore causes and put no trust in reasoning. They hold that there is no system or necessary order in medical discovery or doctrine, and that some remedies have been discovered by dreams, others by chance. They also accepted written accounts of past experiences and thus to a certain extent trusted in tradition. Galen argues that they should test these statements of past authorities by reason.[692] His further contention that, if they test them by experience, they might as well reject all writings and trust only to present experience from the start, is a sophistical quibble unworthy of him. He adds, however, that the Empirics themselves say that past tradition or “history” (ἱστορία) should not be judged by experience, but it is unlikely that he represents their view correctly in this particular. In another passage[693] he says that they distinguish three kinds of experience, chance or accidental, offhand or impromptu, and imitative or the repetition of the same thing. In a third passage[694] he repeats that they held that observation of one or two instances was not enough, but that oft-repeated observation was needed with all conditions the same each time. In yet another place[695] he says that the Empirics observe coincidences in things joined by experience. He himself defines experience as the comprehending and remembering of something seen often and in the same condition,[696] and makes the good point that one cannot observe satisfactorily without use of reason.[697] He also admits[Pg 157] in one place that some Empirics are ready to employ reason as well as experience.[698]

How the Empirics might have criticized Galen.

Having noted Galen’s criticism of the Empirics, we may imagine what their attitude would be towards his medicine. They would probably reject all his theories—which we, too, have finally discarded—of four elements and four qualities and the like, and would accept only his specific recommendations for the cure of disease based upon his medical experience; except that they would also be credulous concerning anything which he assured them was based upon his own or another’s experience, whether it truly was or not. They would, however, have probably questioned much of his anatomical inference from the dissection of the lower animals, since he tells us that they “have written whole books against anatomy.”[699] Considering the state of knowledge in their time, their refusal to attempt any large generalizations or to hazard any scientific hypotheses or to build any risky medical system was in a way commendable, but their credulity as to particulars was a weakness.

Galen’s standard of reason and experience.

On the whole Galen’s attitude towards experience seems an improvement upon theirs. He was apparently more critical towards the “experiences” of past writers than the average Empiric, and in his combination of reason and experience he came a little nearer to modern experimental method. Reason alone, he says, discovers some things, experience alone discovers some, but to find others requires use of both experience and reason.[700] In his treatise upon critical days he keeps reiterating that their existence is proved both by reason and experience. These two instruments in judging things given us by nature supplement each other.[701] “Logical methods have force in finding what is sought, but in believing what has been well found there are two criteria for all men, reason and experience.”[702] “What can you do with men who cannot be persuaded either by reason or by[Pg 158] practice?”[703] Galen also speaks of discovering a truth by logic and being thereby encouraged to try it in practice and of then verifying it by experience.[704] This, however, is not quite the same thing as saying that the scientist should aim to discover new truth by purposive experiments, or that from a number of experiences reason may infer some general law of nature.

Simples knowable only from experience.

It is perhaps in his work on medicinal simples that Galen lays most stress upon the importance of experience. Indeed he sees no other way to learn the properties of natural objects than through the experience of the senses.[705] “For by the gods,” he exclaims, “how is it that we know that fire is hot? Are we taught it by some syllogism or persuaded of it by some demonstration? And how do we learn that ice is cold except from the senses?”[706] And Galen sees no advantage in spending further time in arguments and hair-splitting where one can learn the truth at once from the senses. This thought he keeps repeating through the treatise, saying, for example, “The surest judge of all will be experience alone, and those who abandon it and reason on any other basis not only are deceived but destroy the value of the treatise.”[707] Moreover, he restricts his account of medicinal simples to those with which he is personally acquainted. In the three books treating of plants he does not mention all those found in all parts of the world, but only as many as it has been his privilege to know by experience.[708] He proposes to follow the same rule in the ensuing discussion of animals and to say nothing of virtues which he has not tested or of substances mentioned in the writings of past physicians but unknown to him. He dares not trust their statements when he reflects how some have lied in such matters. In the middle ages Albertus Magnus talks in much the same strain in his works on animals, plants, and minerals, and perhaps he was stimulated to such ideals, consciously or un[Pg 159]consciously, directly by reading Galen or indirectly through Arabic works, by Galen’s earlier expression of them. Galen mentions some virtues ascribed to substances which he has tested by experience and found false, such as the medicinal properties attributed to the belly of a seagull[709] and some of those claimed for the marine animal called torpedo.[710] Anointing the place with frog’s blood or dog’s milk will not prevent eyebrows that have been plucked out from growing again, nor will bat’s blood and viper’s fat remove hair from the arm-pits.[711] Also the brain of a hare is only fairly good for boys’ teeth.[712]

Experience and food science.

In beginning his work on food values[713] Galen states that many have discussed the properties of aliments, some on the basis of reason alone, some on the basis of experience alone, but that their statements do not agree. On the whole, since reasoning is not easy for everyone, requiring natural sagacity and training from childhood, he thinks it better to start from experience, especially since not a few physicians are of the opinion that only thus can the properties of foods be learned.

Experience and compounds.

The Empirics contended that most compound medicines had been hit upon by chance, and Galen grants that the Dogmatics usually are unable to give reasons for the ingredients of their doses and find difficulty in reproducing a lost prescription.[714] But he holds that reasons can be given for the constituents of the compound and that the logical discovery of such remedies differs from the empirical.[715] His own method was to learn the nature of each disease and the varied properties of simples, and then prepare a compound suited to the disease and to the patient.[716] On the other hand, we see how much depends upon experience from his confession that sometimes he has hastily prepared a compound from a few simples, sometimes from more, sometimes from a great variety. If the compound worked well, he would[Pg 160] continue to use it, sometimes making it stronger and sometimes weaker.[717] For as you cannot put together compounds without rational method, so you cannot tell their strength certainly and accurately without experience.[718] He admits that no one can tell the exact quantity of each ingredient to employ without the aid of experience,[719] and says, “The proper proportions in the mixture we shall find conjecturally before experience, scientifically after experience.”[720] In these treatises upon compound medicines, unlike that on medicinal simples, Galen gives the prescriptions of former physicians as well as some tested by his own experience.[721] Sometimes, however, he expresses a preference for the medicines of those writers who were “most experienced”; and once says that he will give some compounds of the more recent writers, who in their turn had selected the best from older writers of long experience and added later discoveries.[722] We suspect, however, that some of these prescriptions had not been tested for centuries.

Suggestions of experimental method.

Galen gives a few directions how to regulate medical observation and experience, although they cannot be said to carry us very far on the road to modern laboratory research. He saw the value of “long experience,” a phrase which he often employs.[723] He states that one experience is enough to learn how to prepare a drug, but to learn to know the best medicines in each kind and in different places many experiences are required.[724] Medicinal simples should be frequently inspected, “since the knowledge of things perceived by the senses is strengthened by careful examination.”[725] Galen advises the student of medicine to study herbs, trees, and fruit as they grow, to find out when it is best to pluck them, how to preserve them, and so on. But elsewhere he states that it is possible to estimate the general virtue of the simple[Pg 161] from one or two experiences.[726] However, he suggests that their effect be noted in the three cases of a perfectly healthy person, a slightly ailing patient, and a really sick man.[727] In the last case one should further note their varying effects as the disease is marked by any excess of heat, cold, dryness, or moisture. Care should be taken that the simples themselves are pure and free from any admixture of a foreign substance.[728] “It is also essential to test the relation to the nature of the patient of all those things of which great use is made in the medical art.”[729] One condition to be observed in experimental investigation of critical days is to count no cases where any slip has been made by physician or patient or bystanders or where any other foreign factor has done harm.[730] Galen was acquainted with physical experiments in siphoning, for he says that, if one withdraws the air from a vessel containing sand and water, the sand will follow before the water, which is the heavier (sic?).[731]

Difficulty of medical experiment.

Galen also points out some of the difficulties of medical experimentation. One is the extreme unlikelihood of ever being able to observe in even two cases the same combination of symptoms and circumstances.[732] The other is the danger to the life of the patient from rash experimenting.[733] Thus Galen more than once tells us of abstaining from testing some remedy because he had others of whose effects he was surer.

Empirical remedies.

In the treatise on easily procurable remedies ascribed to Galen,[734] in which we have already seen evidence of later interpolation or authorship, some recipes are concluded by[Pg 162] such expressions as, “This has been experienced; it works unceasingly,”[735] or “Another remedy tested by us in many cases.”[736] This became a custom in many subsequent medical works, including those of the middle ages. One recipe is introduced by the caution, “But don’t cure anybody unless you have been paid first, for this has been tested in many cases.”[737] But we are left in some doubt whether we should infer that remedies tested by experience are so superior that they call for cash payment rather than credit, or so uncertain that it is advisable that the physician secure his fee before the outcome is known. In the middle ages the word experimentum was used a great deal as a synonym for any medical treatment, recipe, or prescription. Galen approaches this usage, which we have already noticed in Pliny’s Natural History, when he describes “a very important experiment” in bleeding performed by certain doctors at Rome.[738]

Galen’s influence upon medieval experiment.

Indeed Galen appears to have exerted a great influence in the middle ages by his passages concerning experience in particular as well as by his medicine in general. Medieval writers cite him as an authority for the recognition of experience and reason as criteria of truth.[739] Gilbert of England cites “experiences from the book of experiments experienced by Galen,”[740] and we shall find more than one such apocryphal work ascribed to Galen in the middle ages. John of St. Amand seems to have developed seven rules[741] which he gives for discovering experimentally the properties of medicinal simples from what we have heard Galen say on the subject, and in another work, the Concordances, John collects a number of passages about experience from[Pg 163] the works of Galen.[742] Peter of Spain, who died as Pope John XXI in 1277, cites Galen in his discussion of “the way of experience” and “the way of reason” in his Commentaries on Isaac on Diets.[743] We have already suggested Galen’s possible influence upon Albertus Magnus, and we might add Roger Bacon who wrote some treatises on medicine. But it is hardly possible to tell whether such ideas were in the air, or were due to Galen individually either in their origin or their transmission. But he made a rather close approach to the medieval attitude in his equal regard for logic and for experimentation.

His more general medieval influence.

The more general influence of Galen upon all sides of the medicine of the following fifteen centuries has often been stated in sweeping terms, but is difficult to exaggerate. His general theories, his particular cures, his occasional marvelous stories, were often repeated or paraphrased. Oribasius has been called “the ape of Galen,” and we shall see that the epithet might with equal reason be applied to Aëtius of Amida. Indeed, as in the case of Pliny, we shall find plenty of instances of Galen’s influence in our later chapters. Perhaps as good a single instance of medieval study of Galen as could be given is from the Concordances of John of St. Amand already mentioned, which bear the alternative title, “Recalled to Mind” (Revocativum memoriae), since they were written to “relieve from toil and worry scholars who often spend sleepless nights in searching for points in the books of Galen.”[744] Or we may note how the associates of the twelfth century translator from the Arabic, Gerard of Cremona, added a list of his works at the close of his translation of Galen’s Tegni, “imitating Galen in the commemoration of his books at the end of the same treatise,” as they themselves state.[745]

Not that medieval men did not make additions of their[Pg 164] own to Galen. For instance, the noted Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, in adding his collection of medical Aphorisms to the many previous compilations of this sort by Hippocrates, Rasis (Muhammad ibn Zakariya), Mesuë (Yuhanna ibn Masawaih), and others, states that he has drawn them mainly from the works of Galen, but that he supplements these with some in his own name and some by other “moderns.”[746] Not that Galen was not sometimes criticized or questioned. A later Greek writer, Symeon Seth, ventured to devote a special treatise to a refutation of some of Galen’s physiological views. In it, addressing himself to those “persons who regard you, O Galen, as a god,” he endeavored to make them realize that no human being is infallible.[747] Among the medical treatises of Gentile da Foligno, who was papal physician and performed a public dissection at Padua in 1341,[748] is found a brief argument against Galen’s fifth aphorism.[749] But such criticism or opposition[Pg 165] only shows how generally Galen was accepted as an authority.

III. His Attitude Towards Magic

From Galen’s habits of critical estimation rather than blind acceptation of authority, of scientific observation, careful measurement, and personal experiment, from his brilliant demonstrations by dissection, and his medical prognostication and therapeutics, sane and shrewd for his time,—from these we have now to turn to the other side of the picture, and examine what information his works afford us concerning the magic and astrology in ancient medicine, concerning the belief in occult virtues, suspensions, characters, incantations, and the like. We may first consider what he has to say concerning magic and divination as he understands those words, and then take up his attitude to those other matters which we look upon as almost equally deserving classification under those heads.

Accusations of magic against Galen.

Apollonius of Tyana and Apuleius of Madaura were not the only celebrated men of learning in the early Roman Empire to be accused of magic; we have already alluded to the charges of magic made against Galen by the envious physicians of Rome during his first residence in that city. It is hard to escape the conviction that at that time learned men were very liable to be suspected or accused of magic. Indeed, Galen makes the general assertion that when a physician prognosticates aright concerning the future course of a malady, this seems so marvelous to most men that they would receive him with great affection, if they did not often regard him as a wizard.[750] Soon after saying this, Galen begins the story of the prognostications he made and the cure he wrought, when all the other doctors took an opposite view of the case.[751] One of them then jealously suggested that Galen’s diagnosis was due to divination.[752] When asked by what kind of divination, he gave different answers[Pg 166] at different times and to different persons, sometimes saying by dreams, sometimes by sacrificing, again by symbols, or by astrology. Afterwards such charges against Galen kept multiplying.[753] As a result, Galen says that since then he has not gone about advertising his prognostications like a herald, lest the physicians and philosophers hate him the more and slander him as a wizard and diviner, but that he now reveals his discoveries only to his friends.[754] In another treatise he represents Hippocrates as saying that a proficient doctor should be able to prognosticate the course of diseases, but adds that contemporary physicians call such a doctor a sorcerer and wonder-worker (γόητά τε καὶ παραδοξολόγον).[755] Again in his work on medicinal simples[756] he states that he abstained from testing the supposed virtue of crocodile’s blood in sharpening the vision, and the blood of house mice in removing warts, partly because he had other reliable eye-medicines and cures for warts—such as myrmecia, a gem with wart-like lumps, partly because by employing such substances he feared to incur the reputation of a sorcerer, since jealous physicians were already slandering his medical prognostications as divination. This last passage affords a good illustration of the close connection with magic of certain natural substances supposed to possess marvelous virtues, while Galen’s wart stone also seems magical to the modern reader.

His charges of magic against others.

Galen himself sometimes calls other physicians magicians. Certain men with whom he does not agree are called by him “liars or wizards or I don’t know what to say,”[757] and another man who used mouse dung to excess he calls superstitious and a sorcerer.[758] In the same work on simples[759] he says that he will list herbs in alphabetical order as Pamphilus did, but that he will not like him descend to old wives’ tales, Egyptian sorceries and incantations, amulets and other magical devices, which not only do not belong in the medical art[Pg 167] but are utterly false. Pamphilus never saw most of the herbs he mentioned, much less tested their virtues, but copied anything he found, piling up names, incantations, and wizardry. Galen accuses Xenocrates Aphrodisiensis also of not having eschewed sorcery, and he notes that medical writers have either said nothing about sweat or what is superstitious and bordering upon magic.[760]

Charms and wonder-workers.

Philters, love-charms, dream-draughts, and imprecations Galen regards as impossible or injurious, and intends to have nothing to do with them. He thinks it ridiculous to believe that by such spells one can bewitch one’s adversaries so that they cannot plead in court, or conceive or bear children. He considers it worse to advertise and perpetuate such false or criminal notions in writings than to practice such a crime but once.[761] In one passage,[762] however, to illustrate his theory that the gods prepare the sperms of plants and animals, and set them going as it were, and afterwards leave them to themselves, Galen compares them to the wonder-workers—who were perhaps not magicians but men similar to our sidewalk fakirs who exhibit mechanical toys—who start things moving and then go away themselves while what they have prepared moves on artificially for a time.

Animal substance inadmissible in medicine.

Galen’s own works are not entirely free from the magical devices of which he accuses others. We may begin with animal substances, since he himself has testified that the use of sweat, crocodile’s blood, and mouse’s dung is suggestive of magic. Moreover, he attributes more bizarre virtues to the parts of animals than to herbs or stones. In a passage somewhat similar to that in which Pliny[763] expressed his horror at the use of human blood, entrails, and skulls as medicines, Galen declares that he will not mention the abominable and detestable, as Xenocrates and some others have done. The Roman law has long forbidden eating human flesh, while Galen regards even the mention of certain secretions and excrements of the human body as[Pg 168] offensive to modest ears.[764] Nevertheless, before long he offends against his own standard and describes how he administered to patients the very substance which he had before characterized as most unmentionable.[765] It may also be noted that he repeats unquestioningly such a tale as that the cubs of the bear are born unformed and licked into shape by their mother.[766]

Nastiness of ancient medicine.

Further milder illustrations of the fact that such nasty substances were then not merely recommended in books but freely employed in actual medical practice, are seen in the frequent use by one of Galen’s teachers of the dung of dogs who for two days before had eaten nothing but bones,[767] in Galen’s own wonderfully successful treatment of a tumor on a rustic’s knee with goat dung—which is, however, too sharp for the skins of children or city ladies,[768] and in his discovery by repeated experience that the dung of doves who take little exercise is less potent than that of those who take much,[769] Galen also says that he has known of doctors who have cured many persons by giving them burnt human bones in drink without their knowledge.[770]

Parts of animals.

Galen’s medicinal simples include the bile of bulls, hyenas, cocks, partridges, and other animals.[771] A digestive oil can be manufactured by cooking foxes and hyenas, some alive and some dead, whole in oil.[772] Galen discusses with perfect seriousness the relative strength of various animal fats, those of the goose, hen, hyena, goat, pig, and so forth.[773] He decides that lion’s fat is by far the most potent, with that of the pard next. Among his simples are also found the slough of a snake, a sheepskin, the lichens of horses, a spider’s web,[774] and burnt young swallows, for whose introduction into medicine he gives Asclepiades credit.[775] Of[Pg 169] Archigenes’ prescriptions for toothache he repeats that which recommended holding for some time in the mouth a frog boiled in water and vinegar, or a dog’s tooth, burnt, pulverized, and boiled in vinegar.[776] Cavities may be filled with toasted earthworms or spiders’ eggs diluted with unguent of nard. Teething infants are benefited, if their gums are moistened with dog’s milk or anointed with hare’s brains.[777] For colic he recommends dried cicadas with three, five, or seven grains of pepper.[778]

Some scepticism.

Galen is less confident as to the efficacy for earache of the multipedes which roll themselves up into a ball, and which, cooked in oil, are employed especially by rural doctors.[779] He is still more sceptical whether the liver of a mad dog will cure its bite.[780] Many say so, and he knows of some who have tried it and survived, but they took other remedies too.[781] Galen has heard that some who trusted to it alone died. In one treatise[782] Galen discusses the strange virtues of the basilisk in much the usual way, but in his work on simples[783] he remarks drily that it is obviously impossible to employ it in pharmacy, since, if the tales about it be true, men cannot see it and live or even approach it without danger. He therefore will not include it or elephants or Nile horses (hippopotamuses?) or any other animals of which he has had no personal experience.

Doctrine of occult virtue.

Galen tries to find some satisfactory explanation of the strange properties which he believes exist in so many things. The attractive power of the magnet and of drugs suggests to him that nature in us is divine, as Homer says, and leads like to like and thus shows its divine virtues.[784] Galen rejects Epicurus’s explanation of the magnet’s attractive power.[785] It was that the atoms flowing off from both the magnet and iron fit one another so closely that the two sub[Pg 170]stances are drawn together. Galen objects that this does not explain how a whole series of rings can be suspended in a row from a magnet. Galen’s teacher Pelops, who claimed to be able to tell the cause of everything, explained why ashes of river crabs are used for the bite of a mad dog as follows.[786] The crab is efficacious against hydrophobia because it is an aquatic animal. River crabs are better for this purpose than salt water crabs because salt dries up moisture. He also thought the ashes of crabs very potent in absorbing the venom. But this type of reasoning is unsatisfactory to Galen, who finds the best explanation of all such action in the peculiar property, or occult virtue, of the substance as a whole. Upon this subject[787] he proposes to write a separate treatise, and in the fragment De substantia facultatum naturalium (περὶ οὐσίας τῶν φυσικῶν δυνάμεων) he again discusses the matter.[788]

Virtue of the flesh of vipers.

Among parts of animals Galen regarded the flesh of vipers as especially medicinal, particularly as an antidote to poisons. Of the following cures wrought by vipers’ flesh which Galen narrates[789] two were repeated without giving him credit by Aëtius of Amida in the sixth, and Bartholomew of England in the thirteenth century, and doubtless by other writers. When Galen was a youth in Asia, some reapers found a dead viper in their jug of wine and so were afraid to drink any of it. Instead they gave it to a man near by who suffered from the terrible skin disease elephantiasis and whom they thought it would be a mercy to put quietly out of his misery. He drank the wine but instead of dying recovered from his disease. A similarly unexpected cure was effected when a slave wife in Mysia tried to kill her hus[Pg 171]band by offering him a like drink. A third case was that of a patient whom Galen told of these two previous cures. After resorting to augury to learn if he too should try it and receiving a favorable response, the patient drank wine infected by venom with the result that his elephantiasis changed into leprosy, which Galen cured a little later with the usual drugs. A fourth man, while hunting vipers, was stung by one. Galen bled him, extracted black bile with a drug, and then made him eat the vipers which he had caught and which were prepared in oil like eels. A fifth man, warned by a dream, came from Thrace to Pergamum. Another dream instructed him both to drink, and to anoint himself with, a concoction of vipers. This changed his disease into leprosy which in its turn was cured by drugs which the god prescribed.


The flesh of vipers was an important ingredient in the famous antidote and remedy called theriac, concerning which Galen wrote two special treatises[790] besides discussing it in his works on simples and antidotes. Mithridates, like King Attalus in Galen’s native land, had tested the effects of various drugs upon condemned criminals, and had thus discovered antidotes against spiders, scorpions, sea-hares, aconite, and other poisons. He then combined the results of his research into one grand compound which should be an antidote against any and every poison. But he did not include the flesh of the viper, which was added with some other changes by Andromachus, chief physician to Nero.[791] The divine Marcus Aurelius used to take a dose of theriac daily and it had since come into general use.[792] Galen gives a long list of ills which it will cure, including the plague and hydrophobia,[793] and adds that it is beneficial in keeping a man in good health.[794] He advises its use when traveling or in wintry weather, and tells Piso that it will prolong his life.[795] He explains more than once[796] how to prepare the[Pg 172] viper’s flesh, why the head and tail must be cut off, how it is cleaned and boiled until the flesh falls from the backbone, how it is mixed with pounded bread into pills, how the flesh of the viper is best in early summer. Galen also accepts the legend,[797] quoting six lines of verse from Nicander to that effect, that the viper conceives in the mouth and then bites off the male’s head, and that the young viper avenges its father’s death by gnawing its way out of its mother’s vitals. The Marsi at Rome denied the existence of the dipsas or snake whose bite causes one to die of thirst, but Galen is not quite sure whether to agree with them.

Magical compounds.

Already we have had occasion to refer to Galen’s two works on compound medicines which occupy the better part of two bulky volumes in Kühn’s edition and contain a vast number of prescriptions. It is not uncommon for one of these to contain as many as twenty-five ingredients. It seems unlikely that such elaborate concoctions would have been discovered by chance, as the Empirics held, but the modern reader is ready to agree that it was chance, if anyone was ever cured of anything by one of them. Yet Galen, as we have seen, believes that reasons can be given for the ingredients and would not for a moment admit that they are no better than the messes of witches’ cauldrons. He argues that, if all diseases could be cured by simples, no one would use compounds, but that they are essential for some diseases, especially such as require the simultaneous application of contrary virtues.[798] Also where a simple is too strong or weak, it can be toned up or down to just the right strength in a compound. Plasters and poultices seem always to be compounds. Of panaceas Galen is somewhat more chary, except in the case of theriac; he opines that a medicine which is good for a number of ills cannot be very good for any one of them.[799]


Procedure as well as substances suggestive of magic is found to some extent in Galen’s works. He instructs, for[Pg 173] example, to pluck an herb with the left hand before sunrise.[800] He also recommends the suspension of a peony to cure epilepsy.[801] He saw a boy who wore this root remain free from that disease for eight months, when the root happened to drop off and the boy soon fell in a fit. When another peony root was hung about his neck, he remained in good health until Galen for the sake of experiment removed it a second time, whereupon another epileptic fit ensued as before. In this case Galen suggests that perhaps some particles from the root were drawn in by the patient’s breathing or altered the surrounding air. In another passage he holds that there is no medical reason to account for the virtues of amulets, but that those who have tested them by experience say that they act by some marvelous antipathy unknown to man.[802] A ligature recommended by Galen is to bind about the neck of the patient a viper which has been suffocated by tying several strings, preferably of marine purple, about its neck.[803] Galen marvels that stercus lupinum, even when simply suspended from the neck, “sometimes evidently is beneficial.”[804] It should not have touched the ground but should have been taken from trees or bushes. It also works better, as Galen has found in his own practice, if suspended by the wool of a sheep who has been torn by a wolf.

Incantations and characters.

While Galen thus employs ligatures and suspensions and sanctions magic logic, he draws the line at use of images, characters, and incantations. In the passage just cited he goes on to say that he has found other suspended substances efficacious, but not the barbarous names such as wizards use. Some say that the gem jasper comforts the stomach if bound about the abdomen,[805] and some wear it in a ring engraved with a dragon and rays,[806] as King Nechepso directs in his fourteenth book. Galen has employed it suspended about the neck without any engraving upon it and[Pg 174] found it equally beneficial. In illustrating the virtue of human saliva, especially that of a fasting man, Galen tells of a man who promised him to kill a scorpion by means of an incantation which he repeated thrice. But at each repetition he spat on the scorpion and Galen afterwards killed one by the same procedure without any incantation, and more quickly with the spittle of a fasting than of a full man.[807]

Belief in magic dies hard.

The preceding paragraph gives a good illustration of the slow progress of human thought away from magic and towards science. Men are discovering that marvels can be worked as well without characters and incantations. Similar passages may be found in Arabic and Latin medieval writers. But while Galen questions images and incantations, he still clings to the notions of marvelous virtue in a fasting man’s spittle or in a gem suspended about the neck. And these and other passages in which he clung to old superstitions were unfortunately equally influential upon succeeding writers, who sometimes, we fear, took them as an excuse for further indulgence in magic. Indeed, we shall find Alexander of Tralles in the sixth century arguing that Galen finally became a believer in the efficacy of incantations. Thus the old notions and practices die hard.

On easily procurable remedies.

In the treatise on easily procurable remedies, where popular and rustic remedies enter rather more largely than in Galen’s other writings, superstitious recipes are also met with more frequently, and, if that be possible, the doses become even more calculated to make one’s gorge rise, it being felt that the unfastidious tastes and crude constitutions of peasants and the poorer classes can stand more than daintier city patients. Another reason for separate consideration of the contents of this treatise is the possibility, already mentioned, that it is interpolated and misarranged, and the fact that it is in part of much later date than Galen.

[Pg 175]

Specimens of its superstitious contents.

We must limit ourselves to a hasty survey of a few specimens of its prescriptions. Following Archigenes, ligatures and crowns are employed for headaches.[808] In contrast to Galen’s previous scepticism concerning depilatories for eyebrows we now find a number mentioned, including the blood of a bed-bug.[809] To cure lumbago,[810] if the pain is in the right foot, reduce to powder with your right hand the wings of a swallow. Then make an incision in the swallow’s leg and draw off all its blood. Skin it and roast it and eat it entire. Then anoint yourself all over with the oil for three days and you will marvel at the result. “This has been often proved by experience.” To prevent hair from falling out take many bees and burn them and mix with oil and use as an ointment.[811] For a sty in the eye catch flies, cut off their heads, and rub the sty with the rest of their bodies.[812] A cooked black chameleon performs the double duty of curing toothache and killing mice.[813] To extract a tooth in the upper jaw surround it with the worms found in the tops of cabbages; for a lower tooth use the worms on the lower parts of the leaves.[814] Pain in the intestines will vanish, if the patient drinks water in which his feet have been washed.[815] A net transferred from a woman’s hair to the patient’s head acts as a laxative, especially if the net is first heated.[816] Various superstitious devices are suggested to insure the birth of a child of the sex desired.[817] Bituminous trefoil,[818] boiled and applied hot, cures snake or spider bite, but let no one use it who is not so afflicted or it will make him feel as if he was.[819] For cataract is recommended a mixture of equal parts of mouse’s blood, cock’s gall, and woman’s milk,[Pg 176] dried.[820] For pain on one side of the head or face smear with fifteen earthworms and fifteen grains of pepper powdered in vinegar.[821] To stop a cough wear the tongue of an eagle as an amulet.[822] Wearing a root of rhododendron makes one fearless of dogs and would cure a mad dog itself, if it could be tied on the animal.[823] A “confection” covering three pages is said to prolong life, to have been used by the emperors, and to have enabled Pythagoras, its inventor, who began to make use of it at the age of fifty, to live to be one hundred and seventeen without disease. “And he was a philosopher and unable to lie about it.”[824]

External signs of the temperaments of internal organs.

It remains to note what there is in Galen’s works in the way of divination and astrology. We are not entirely surprised that contemporary doctors confused his medical prognostic with divination, when we read what he has to say concerning the outward signs of hot or cold internal organs. In the treatise, entitled The Healing Art (τέχνη ἰατρική),[825] which Mewaldt says was the most studied of Galen’s works and spread in a vast number of medieval Latin manuscript translations,[826] he devotes a number of chapters to such subjects as signs of a hot and dry heart, signs of a hot liver, and signs of a cold lung. Among the signs of a cold brain are excessive excrements from the head, stiff straight red hair, a late birth, mal-nutrition, susceptibility to injury from cold causes and to catarrh, and somnolence.[827]

Marvelous statements repeated by Maimonides.

In his commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates Galen adds other signs by which it may be foretold whether the child will be a boy or girl to those signs already mentioned by Hippocrates.[828] Some of these seem superstitious enough to us. And it was a case of the evil that men do living after them, for Moses Maimonides, the noted Jewish physician of Cordova in the twelfth century, in his collection[Pg 177] of Aphorisms, drawn chiefly from the works of Galen, repeats the following method of prognostication: Puerum cum primo spermatizat perscrutare, quem si invenis habere testiculum dextrum maiorem sinistro, you will know that his first child will be a male, otherwise female. The same may be determined in the case of a girl by a comparison of the size of her breasts. Maimonides also repeats, from Galen’s work to Caesar on theriac,[829] the story of the ugly man who secured a beautiful son by having a beautiful boy painted on the wall and making his wife keep her eyes fixed upon it. Maimonides also repeats from Galen[830] the story of the bear’s licking its unformed cubs into shape.[831]


In another treatise on Diagnosis from Dreams Galen makes a closer approach to the arts of divination.[832] He states that dreams are affected by our daily life and thought, and describes a few corresponding to bodily states or caused by them. He thinks that if you dream you see fire, you are troubled by yellow bile, and if you dream of vapor or darkness, by black bile. In diagnosing dreams one should note when they occurred and what had been eaten. But Galen also believes that to some extent the future can be predicted from dreams, as has been testified, he says, by experience.[833] We have already mentioned the effect of his father’s dream upon Galen’s career. In the Hippocratic commentaries[834] he says that some scorn dreams and omens and signs, but that he has often learned from dreams how to prognosticate or cure diseases. Once a dream instructed him to let blood between the index and great fingers of the right hand until the flow of blood stopped of its own accord. “It is necessary,” he concludes, “to observe dreams accurately both as to what is seen and what is done in sleep in order that you[Pg 178] may prognosticate and heal satisfactorily.” Perhaps he had a dim idea along Freudian lines.

Lack of astrology in most of Galen’s medicine.

In the ordinary run of Galen’s pharmacy and therapeutics there is very little mention or observance of astrological conditions, although Hippocrates is cited as having said that a study of geometry and astronomy—which may well mean astrology—is essential in medicine.[835] In the De methodo medendi he often urges the importance of the time of year, the region, and the state of the sky.[836] But this expression seems to refer to the weather rather than to the position of the constellations. The dog-star is also occasionally mentioned,[837] and one passage[838] tells how “Aeschrion the Empiric, ... an old man most experienced in drugs and our fellow citizen and teacher,” burned live river crabs on a plate of red bronze after the rise of the dog-star when the sun entered Leo and on the eighteenth day of the moon. We are also informed that many Romans are in the habit of taking theriac on the first or fourth day of the moon.[839] But Galen ridicules Pamphilus for his thirty-six sacred herbs of the horoscope—or decans, taken from an Egyptian Hermes book.[840] On the other hand, one of his objections to the atomists is that “they despise augury, dreams, portents, and all astrology,” as well as that they deny a divine artificer of the world and an innate moral law to the soul.[841] Thus atheism and disbelief in astrology are put on much the same plane.

The Prognostication of Disease by Astrology.

Whereas there is so little to suggest a belief in astrology in most of Galen’s works, we find among them two devoted especially to astrological medicine, namely, a treatise on critical days in which the influence of the moon upon disease is assumed, and the Prognostication of Disease by Astrology. In the latter he states that the Stoics favored astrology, that Diodes Carystius represented the ancients[Pg 179] as employing the course of the moon in prognostications, and that, if Hippocrates said that physicians should know physiognomy, they ought much more to learn astrology, of which physiognomy is but a part.[842] There follows a statement of the influence of the moon in each sign of the zodiac and in its relations to the other planets.[843] On this basis is foretold what diseases a man will have, what medical treatment to apply, whether the patient will die or not, and if so in how many days. This treatise is the same as that ascribed in many medieval manuscripts to Hippocrates and translated into Latin by both William of Moerbeke and Peter of Abano.

Critical days.

The treatise on critical days discusses them not by reason or dogma, lest sophists befog the plain facts, but solely, we are told, upon the basis of clear experience.[844] Having premised that “we receive the force of all the stars above,”[845] the author presents indications of the especially great influence of sun and moon. The latter he regards not as superior to the other planets in power, but as especially governing the earth because of its nearness.[846] He then discusses the moon’s phases, holding that it causes great changes in the air, rules conceptions and birth, and “all beginnings of actions.”[847] Its relations to the other planets and to the signs of the zodiac are also considered and much astrological technical detail is introduced.[848] But the Pythagorean theory that the numbers of the critical days are themselves the cause of their significance in medicine is ridiculed, as is the doctrine that odd numbers are masculine and even numbers feminine.[849] Later the author also ridicules those who talk of seven Pleiades and seven stars in either Bear and the seven gates of Thebes or seven mouths of the Nile.[850] Thus he will not accept the doctrine of perfect or magic numbers along with his astrological theory. Much of this rather[Pg 180] long treatise is devoted to a discussion of the duration of a moon, and it is shown that one of the moon’s quarters is not exactly seven days in length and that the fractions affect the incidence of the critical days.

On the history of philosophy.

A treatise on the history of philosophy, which is marked “spurious” in Kühn’s edition, I have also discovered among the essays of Plutarch where, too, it is classed as spurious.[851] In some ways it is suggestive of the middle ages. After an account of the history of Greek philosophy somewhat in the style of the brief reviews of the same to be found in the church fathers, it adds a sketch of the universe and natural phenomena not dissimilar to some medieval treatises of like scope. There are chapters on the universe, God, the sky, the stars, the sun, the moon, the magnus annus, the earth, the sea, the Nile, the senses, vision and mirrors, hearing, smell and taste, the voice, the soul, breathing, the processes of generation, and so on.

Divination and demons.

In discussing divination[852] the treatise states that Plato and the Stoics attributed it to God and to divinity of the spirit in ecstasy, or to interpretation of dreams or astrology or augury. Xenophanes and Epicurus denied it entirely. Pythagoras admitted only divination by haruspices or by sacrifice. Aristotle and Dicaearchus admit only divination by enthusiasm and by dreams. For although they deny that the human soul is immortal, they think that there is something divine about it. Herophilus said that dreams sent by God must come true. Other dreams are natural, when the mind forms images of things useful to it or about to happen to it. Still others are fortuitous or mere reflections of our desires. The treatise also takes up the subject of heroes and demons.[853] Epicurus denied the existence of[Pg 181] either, but Thales, Plato, Pythagoras, and the Stoics agree that demons are natural substances, while heroes are souls separate from bodies, and are good or bad according to the lives of the men who lived in those bodies.

Celestial bodies.

The treatise also gives the opinions of various Greek philosophers on the question whether the universe or its component spheres are either animals or animated. Fate is defined on the authority of Heracleitus as “the heavenly body, the seed of the genesis of all things.”[854] The question is asked why babies born after seven months live, while those born after eight months die.[855] On the other hand, a very brief discussion of how the stars prognosticate does not go into particulars beyond their indication of seasons and weather, and even this Anaximenes ascribed to the effect of the sun alone.[856] Philolaus the Pythagorean is quoted concerning some lunar water about the stars[857] which reminds one of the waters above the firmament in the first chapter of Genesis.

[Pg 182]


The sources—Vitruvius depicts architecture as free from magic—But himself believes in occult virtues and perfect numbers—Also in astrology—Divergence between theory and practice, learning and art—Evils in contemporary learning—Authorities and inventions—Machines and Ctesibius—Hero of Alexandria—Medieval working over of the texts—Hero’s thaumaturgy—Instances of experimental proof—Magic jugs and drinking animals—Various automatons and devices—Magic mirrors—Astrology and occult virtue—Date of extant Greek alchemy—Legend that Diocletian burned the books of the alchemists—Alchemists’ own accounts of the history of their art—Close association of Greek alchemy with magic—Mystery and allegory—Experiment: relation to science and philosophy.

doctum ex omnibus solum neque in alienis locis peregrinum ... sed in omni civitate esse civem.

Vitruvius, VI, Introd. 2.

The sources.

This chapter will examine what may be called ancient applied science and its relations to magic, taking observations at three different points, the ten books of Vitruvius on architecture, the collection of writings which pass under the name of Hero of Alexandria, and the compositions of the Greek alchemists. The remains of Greek and Roman literature in the field of applied science are scanty, not because they were not treasured, and even added to, by the periods following, but apparently because there had thus far been so little development in the way of machinery or of power other than manual and animal. So we must make the best of what we have. The writings to be considered are none of them earlier than the period of the Roman Empire but[Pg 183] like other writings of that time they more or less reflect the scientific achievements or the occult lore of the preceding Hellenistic period.

Vitruvius depicts architecture as free from magic.

Vitruvius lived just at the beginning of the Empire under Julius and Augustus Caesar. He is not much of a writer, but architecture as set forth in his book appears sane, straightforward, and solid. The architect is represented as going about his business with scarcely any admixture of magical procedure or striving after marvelous results. The combined guidance of practical utility and of high standards of art—Vitruvius stresses reality and propriety now and again, and has little patience with mere show—perhaps accounts for this high degree of freedom from superstition. Perhaps permanent building is an honest, downright, open, constructive art where error is at once apparent and superstition finds little hold. If so, one wonders how there came to be so much mystery enveloping Free-Masonry. At any rate, not only in his building directions, but even in his instructions for the preparation of lime, stucco, and bricks, or his discussion of colors, natural and artificial, Vitruvius seldom or never embodies anything that can be called magical.[858]

Occult virtue and number.

This is the more noteworthy because passages in the very same work show him to have accepted some of the theories which we have associated with magic. Thus he appears to believe in occult virtues and marvelous properties of things in nature, since he affirms that, while Africa in general abounds in serpents, no snake can live within the boundaries of the African city of Ismuc, and that this is a property of the soil of that locality which it retains when exported.[859] Vitruvius also mentions some marvelous waters. One[Pg 184] breaks every metallic receptacle and can be retained only in a mule’s hoof. Some springs intoxicate; others take away the taste for wine. Others produce fine singing voices.[860] Vitruvius furthermore speaks of six and ten as perfect numbers and contends that the human body is symmetrical in the sense that the distances between the different parts are exact fractions of the whole.[861] He also tells how the Pythagoreans composed books on the analogy of the cube, allowing in any one treatise no more than three books of 216 lines each.[862]


Vitruvius also more than once implies his confidence in the art of astrology. In mapping out the ground-plan of his theater he advises inscribing four equilateral triangles within the circumference of a circle, “as the astrologers do in a figure of the twelve signs of the zodiac, when they are making computations from the musical harmony of the stars.”[863] I cannot make out that there is any astrological significance or magical virtue in this so far as the arrangement of the theater is concerned, but it shows that Vitruvius and his readers are familiar with the technique of astrology and the trigona of the signs. In another passage, comparing the physical characteristics and temperaments of northern and southern races, which astrologers generally interpreted as evidence of the influence of the constellations upon mankind, Vitruvius patriotically contends that the inhabitants of Italy, and especially the Romans, represent a happy medium between north and south, combining the greater courage of the northerners with the keener intellects of the southerners, just as the planet Jupiter is a golden mean between the extreme influences of Mars and Saturn. So the Romans are fitted for world rule, overcoming barbarian valor by their superior intelligence and the devices of the southerners by their valor.[864] In a third passage Vitruvius says more expressly of the art of astrology: “As for the branch of[Pg 185] astronomy which concerns the influences of the twelve signs, the five stars, the sun, and the moon upon human life, we must leave all this to the calculations of the Chaldeans, to whom belongs the art of casting nativities, which enables them to declare the past and the future by means of calculations based on the stars. These discoveries have been transmitted by men of genius and great acuteness who sprang directly from the nations of the Chaldeans; first of all, by Berosus, who settled in the island state of Cos, and there opened a school. Afterwards Antipater pursued the subject; then there was Archinapolus, who also left rules for casting nativities, based not on the moment of birth but on that of conception.” After listing a number of natural philosophers and other astronomers and astrologers, Vitruvius concludes: “Their learning deserves the admiration of mankind; for they were so solicitous as even to be able to predict, long beforehand, with divining mind, the signs of the weather which was to follow in the future.”[865]

Divergence between theory and practice, learning and art.

Such a passage demonstrates plainly enough Vitruvius’ full confidence in the art of casting nativities and of weather prediction, but it has no integral connection with his practical architecture or even any necessary connection with the construction of a sun-dial, which is what he is actually driving at. But Vitruvius believed that an architect should not be a mere craftsman but broadly educated in history, medicine, and philosophy, geometry, music, and astronomy, in order to understand the origin and significance of details inherited from the art of the past, to assure a healthy building, proper acoustics, and the like. It is in an attempt to air his learning and in the theoretical portions of his work that he is prone to occult science. But the practical processes of architecture and military engineering are free from it.

Evils in contemporary learning.

The attitude of Vitruvius towards other architects of his own age, to past authorities, and to personal experimentation is of interest to note, and roughly parallels the attitude of Galen in the field of medicine. Like Galen he com[Pg 186]plains that the artist must plunge into the social life of the day in order to gain professional success and recognition.[866] “And since I observe that the unlearned rather than the learned are held in high favor, deeming it beneath me to struggle for honors with the unlearned, I will rather demonstrate the virtue of our science by this publication.”[867] He also objects to the self-assertion and advertising of themselves in which many architects of his time indulge.[868] He recognizes, however, that the state of affairs was much the same in time past, since he tells a story how the Macedonian architect, Dinocrates, forced himself upon the attention of Alexander the Great solely by his handsome and stately appearance,[869] and since he asserts that the most famous artists of the past owe their celebrity to their good fortune in working for great states or men, while other artists of equal merit are seldom heard of.[870] He also speaks of those who plagiarize the writings of others, especially of the men of the past.[871] But all this does not lead him to despair of art and learning; rather it confirms him in the conviction that they alone are really worth while, and he quotes several philosophers to that effect, including the saying of Theophrastus that “the learned man alone of all others is no stranger even in foreign lands ... but is a citizen in every city.”[872]

Authorities and inventions.

In contradistinction to the plagiarists Vitruvius expresses his deep gratitude to the men of the past who have written books, and gives lists of his authorities,[873] and declares that “the opinions of learned authors ... gain strength as time[Pg 187] goes on.”[874] “Relying upon such authorities, we venture to produce new systems of instruction.”[875] Or, as he says in discussing the properties of waters, “Some of these things I have seen for myself, others I have found written in Greek books.”[876] But in describing sun-dials he frankly remarks, “I will state by whom the different classes and designs of dials have been invented. For I cannot invent new kinds myself at this late day, nor do I think that I ought to display the inventions of others as my own.”[877] He also gives an account of a number of notable miscellaneous discoveries and experiments by past mathematicians and physicists.[878] Also he sometimes repeats the instruction which he had received from his teachers. Like Pliny a little later he thinks that in some respects artistic standards have been lowered in his own time, notably in fresco-painting.[879] But also, like Galen, he once admits that there are still good men in his own profession besides himself, affirming that “our architects in the old days, and a good many even in our own times, have been as great as those of the Greeks.”[880] He describes a basilica which he himself had built at Fano.[881]

Machines and Ctesibius.

Vitruvius’s last book is devoted to machines and military engines. Here he makes a feeble effort to introduce the factor of astrological influence, asserting that “all machinery is derived from nature, and is founded on the teaching and instruction of the revolution of the firmament.”[882] Among the devices described is the pump of Ctesibius of Alexandria, the son of a barber.[883] He had already been mentioned in the preceding book[884] for the improvements which he introduced in water-clocks, especially regulating their flow according to the changing length of the hours of the day in summer and winter. Vitruvius also asserts that he constructed the first water organs, that he “discovered[Pg 188] the natural pressure of the air and pneumatic principles, ... devised methods of raising water, automatic contrivances, and amusing things of many kinds, ... blackbirds singing by means of waterworks, and angobatae, and figures that drink and move, and other things that have been found to be pleasing to the eye and the ear.”[885] Vitruvius states that of these he has selected those that seemed most useful and necessary and that the reader may turn to Ctesibius’s own works for those which are merely amusing. Pliny more briefly mentions the invention of pneumatics and water organs by Ctesibius.[886]

Hero of Alexandria.

This characterization by Vitruvius of the writings of Ctesibius also applies with astonishing fitness to some of the works current under the name of Hero of Alexandria,[887] who is indeed in a Vienna manuscript of the Belopoiika spoken of as the disciple or follower of Ctesibius.[888] Hero, however, is not mentioned either by Vitruvius or Pliny, and it is now generally agreed as a result of recent studies that he belongs to the second century of our era.[889] His writings are objective and impersonal and tell us much less about himself than Vitruvius’s introductions to the ten books of De architectura.[Pg 189] The similarity in content of his writings to those of the much earlier Ctesibius as well as the character of his terminology suggest that he stands at the end of a long development. He speaks of his own discoveries, but perhaps in the main simply continues and works over the previous principles and mechanisms of men like Ctesibius. As things stand, however, his works constitute our most important, and often our only, source for the history of exact science and of technology in antiquity.[890]

Medieval working over of the texts.

Not only does Hero seem to have been in large measure a compiler and continuer of previous science, his works also have evidently been worked over and added to in subsequent periods and bear marks of the Byzantine, Arabian, and medieval Latin periods as well as of the Hellenistic and Roman. Indeed Heiberg regards the Geometry and De stereometricis and De mensuris as later Byzantine collections which have perhaps made some use of the works of Hero, while the De geodaesia is an epitome of, or extract from, a pseudo-Heronic collection. The Catoptrica is known only from the Latin translation of 1269, probably by William of Moerbeke, and long known as Ptolemy on Mirrors. It appears, however, to be directly translated from the Greek and not from the Arabic. The Mechanics, on the other hand, is known only from the Arabic translation by Costa ben Luca. Of the Pneumatics we have Greek, Arabic, and Latin versions. It was apparently known to the author of the thirteenth century Summa philosophiae ascribed to Robert Grosseteste, since he speaks of the investigations of vacuums made by “Hero, that eminent philosopher, with the aid of water-clocks, siphons, and other instruments.”[891] Scholars are of the opinion that the Arabic adaptation, which is of popular character and limited to the entertaining side, comes closer to the original Greek version of Hero’s time than does the Latin version which devotes more attention to experimental physics. The Automatic Theater, for which there is the same[Pg 190] chief manuscript as for the Pneumatics, also seems to have been worked over and added to a great deal.

Hero’s thaumaturgy.

From Vitruvius’s allusions to the works of Ctesibius and from a survey of those works current under Hero’s name which are chiefly concerned with mechanical contrivances and devices, the modern reader gets the impression that, aside from military engines and lifting appliances, the science of antiquity was applied largely to purposes of entertainment rather than practical usefulness. However, in Hero’s case at least there is something more than this. His apparatus and experiments are not intended so much to divert as to deceive the spectator, and not so much to amuse as to astound him. The mechanism is usually concealed; the cause acts indirectly, intermediately, or from a distance to produce an apparently marvelous result. It is a case of thaumaturgy, as Hero himself says,[892] of apparent magic. In fine, the experimental and applied scientist is largely interested in vying with the feats of the magicians or supplying the temples and altars of religion with pseudo-miracles.

Instances of experimental proof.

The introduction or proemium to the Pneumatics is rather more truly scientific and has been called an unusual instance in antiquity of the use as proof of purposive observation of nature and experiment. Thus the existence of air is demonstrated by the experiment of pressing an inverted vessel, kept carefully upright, into water, which will not enter the vessel because of the resistance offered by the air already within the vessel. Or the elasticity of air and the existence of empty spaces between its particles is shown by the experiment of blowing more air into a globe through a siphon, and then holding one’s finger over the orifice. As soon as the finger is removed the surplus air rushes out with a loud report. Along with such admirable experimental proof, however, the introduction contains some astonishingly erroneous assertions, such as that “slime and mud are transformations of water into earth,” and that air released from[Pg 191] a vessel under water “is transformed so as to become water.” Hero believes that heat and light rays are particles of matter which penetrate the interstices between the particles composing air and water.

Magic jugs and drinking animals.

The Pneumatics consist of some seventy-eight theorems or experiments or tricks, call them what you will, which in different manuscripts and editions are variously grouped in a single book or two books. The same idea or method, however, is often repeated in the different chapters. Thus we encounter over half a dozen times the magic water-jar or drinking horn from which either wine or water or a mixture of both can be poured, or a choice of other liquids. And in all these cases the explanation of the trick is the same. When the air-hole in the top of the vessel is closed so that no air can enter, the liquid will not flow out through the narrow orifice in the bottom. Changes are rung on this principle by means of inner compartments and connecting tubes. Different kinds of siphons, the bent, the enclosed, and the uniform discharge, are described in the opening chapters and are utilized in working the ensuing wonders, such as statues of animals which drink water offered to them, inexhaustible goblets or those that will not overflow, and harmonious jars. By this last expression is meant pairs of vessels, secretly connected by tubes and so arranged that nothing will flow from one until the other is filled, when wine will pour from one jar and water from the other. Or when water is poured into one jar, wine or mixed wine and water flows from the other. Or, when water is drawn off from one jar, wine flows from the other. Other vessels are made to commence or cease to pour out wine or water, when a little water is poured in. Others will receive no more water once you have ceased pouring it in, no matter how little may have been poured in, or, when you cease for a moment to pour water in and then begin again, will not resume their outpour until half full. In another case the water will not flow out of a hole in the bottom of the vessel at all until the vessel is entirely filled. Others are made[Pg 192] to flow by dropping a coin in a slot or working a lever, or turning a wheel. In the last case the vessel of water is concealed behind the entrance column of a temple. In one magic drinking horn the flow of water from the bottom is checked by putting a cover over the open top. When another pitcher is tipped up, the same amount of liquid will always flow out.

Various automatons and devices.

In half a dozen chapters mechanical birds are made to sing by driving air through a pipe by the pressure of flowing water. In other chapters a dragon is made to hiss and a thyrsus to whistle by similar methods. By the force of compressed air water is made to spurt forth and automatons to sound trumpets. The heat of the sun’s rays is used to warm air which expands and causes water to trickle out. In a number of cases as long as a fire burns on an altar the expansion of enclosed air caused thereby opens temple doors by the aid of pulleys, or causes statues to pour libations, dancing figures to revolve, and a serpent to hiss. The force of steam is used to support a ball in mid-air, revolve a sphere, and make a bird sing or a statue blow a horn. Inexhaustible lamps are described as well as inexhaustible goblets, and a self-trimmed lamp in which a float resting on the oil turns a cog-wheel which pushes up the wick as it and the oil are consumed. Floats and cog-wheels are also used in some of the tricks already mentioned. In another the flow of a liquid from a vessel is regulated by a float and a lever. Cog-wheels are also employed in constructing the neck of an automaton so that it can be cut completely through with a knife and yet the head not be severed from the body. A cupping glass, a syringe, a fire engine pump with valves and pistons, a hydraulic organ and one worked by wind pretty much exhaust the contents of the Pneumatics. In its introduction Hero alludes to his treatise in four books on water-clocks, but this is not extant. Hero’s water-organ is regarded as more primitive than that described by Vitruvius.[893]

Magic mirrors.

If magic jugs and marvelous automatons make up most of the contents of the Pneumatics and Automatic Theater,[Pg 193] comic and magic mirrors play a prominent part in the Catoptrics. The spectator sees himself upside down, with three eyes, two noses, or an otherwise distorted countenance. By means of two rectangular mirrors which open and close on a common axis Pallas is made to spring from the head of Zeus. Instructions are given how to place mirrors so that the person approaching will see no reflection of himself but only whatever apparition you select for him to see. Thus a divinity can be made suddenly to appear in a temple. Clocks are also described where figures appear to announce the hours.

Astrology and occult virtue.

Hero displays a slight tendency in the direction of astrology, discussing the music of the spheres in the first chapters of the Catoptrics, and in the Pneumatics describing an absurdly simple representation of the cosmos by means of a small sphere placed in a circular hole in the partition between two halves of a transparent sphere of glass. One hemisphere is to be filled with water, probably in order to support the ball in the center.[894] The marvelous virtues of animals other than automatons are rather out of his line, but he alludes to the virtue of the marine torpedo which can penetrate bronze, iron, and other bodies.

Date of extant Greek alchemy.

Although we have seen some indications of its earlier existence in Egypt, alchemy seems to have made its appearance in the ancient Greek-speaking and Latin world only at a late date. There seems to be no allusion to the subject in classical literature before the Christian era, the first mention being Pliny’s statement that Caligula made gold from orpiment.[895] The papyri containing alchemistic texts are of[Pg 194] the third century, and the manuscripts containing Greek works of alchemy, of which the oldest is one of the eleventh century in the Library of St. Mark’s, seem to consist of works or remnants of works written in the third century and later, many being Byzantine compilations, excerpts, or additions. Also Syncellus, the polygraph of the eighth century, gives some extracts from the alchemists.

Legend that Diocletian burned the books of the alchemists.

Syncellus and other late writers[896] are our only extant sources for the statement that Diocletian burned the books of the alchemists in Egypt, so that they might not finance future revolts against him. If the report be true, one would fancy that the imperial edict would be more effective as a testimonial to the truth of transmutation in encouraging the art than it would be in discouraging it by destroying a certain amount of its literature. Thus the edict would resemble the occasional laws of earlier emperors banishing the astrologers—except their own—from Rome or Italy because they had been too free in predicting the death of the emperor, which only serve to show what a hold astrology had both on emperors and people. But the report concerning Diocletian sounds improbable on the face of it and must be doubted for want of contemporary evidence. Certainly we are not justified in explaining the air of secrecy so often assumed by writers on alchemy as due to the fear of persecution which this action of Diocletian[897] or the fear of being accused of magic aroused in them. Persons who wish to keep matters secret do not rush into publication, and the air of secrecy of the alchemists is too often evidently assumed for purposes of[Pg 195] show and to impress the reader with the idea that they really have something to hide. Sometimes the alchemists themselves realize that this adoption of an air of secrecy has been overdone. Thus Olympiodorus wrote in the early fifth century, “The ancients were accustomed to hide the truth, to veil or obscure by allegories what is clear and evident to everybody.”[898] Nor can we accept the story of Diocletian’s burning the books of alchemy as the reason why none have reached us which can be certainly dated as earlier than the third century.

Alchemists’ own accounts of the history of their art.

The alchemists themselves, of course, claimed for their art the highest antiquity. Zosimus of Panopolis, who seems to have written in the third century, says that the fallen angels instructed men in alchemy as well as in the other arts, and that it was the divine and sacred art of the priests and kings of Egypt, who kept it secret. We also have an address of Isis to her son Horus repeating the revelation made by Amnael, the first of the angels and prophets. To Moses are ascribed treatises on domestic chemistry and doubling the weight of gold.[899] The manuscripts of the Byzantine period discuss what “the ancients” meant by this or that, or purport to repeat what someone else said of some other person. Zosimus seems fond of citing himself in the texts reproduced by Berthelot, so that it may be questioned how much of his original works has been preserved. Hermes is often cited by the alchemists, although no work of alchemy ascribed to him has reached us from this early period. To Agathodaemon is ascribed a commentary on the oracle of Orpheus addressed to Osiris, dealing with the whitening and[Pg 196] yellowing of metals and other alchemical recipes. Other favorite authorities are Ostanes, whom we have elsewhere heard represented as the introducer of magic into the Greek world, and the philosopher Democritus, whom the alchemists represent as the pupil of Ostanes and whom we have already heard Pliny charge with devotion to magic. Seneca says in one of his letters that Democritus discovered a process to soften ivory, that he prepared artificial emerald, and colored vitrified substances. Diogenes Laertius ascribes to him a work on the juices of plants, on stones, minerals, metals, colors, and coloring glass. This was possibly the same as the four books on coloring gold, silver, stones, and purple ascribed to Democritus by Synesius in the fifth, and Syncellus in the eighth, century. More recent presumably than Ostanes and Democritus are the female alchemists, Cleopatra and Mary the Jewess, although one text represents Ostanes and his companions as conversing with Cleopatra. A few of the spurious works ascribed to these authors may have come into existence as early as the Hellenistic period, but those which have reached us, at least in their present form, seem to bear the marks of the Christian era and later centuries of the Roman Empire, if not of the early medieval and Byzantine periods. And those authors whose names seem genuine: Zosimus, Synesius, Olympiodorus, Stephanus, are of the third, fourth and fifth centuries, at the earliest.

Close association of Greek alchemy with magic.

The associations of the names above cited and the fact that pseudo-literature forms so large a part of the early literature of alchemy suggest its close connection at that time with magic. Whereas Vitruvius, although not personally inhospitable to occult theory, showed us the art of architecture free from magic, and Hero told how to perform apparent magic by means of mechanical devices and deceits, the Greek alchemists display entire faith in magic procedure with which their art is indissolubly intermingled. Indeed the papyri in which works of alchemy occur are primarily magic papyri, so that alchemy may be said to spring from the brow of magic. The same is only somewhat less true of the manuscripts. In[Pg 197] the earliest one of the eleventh century the alchemy is in the company of a treatise on the interpretation of dreams, a sphere of divination of life or death, and magic alphabets. The treatises of alchemy themselves are equally impregnated with magic detail. Cleopatra’s art of making gold employs concentric circles, a serpent, an eight-rayed star, and other magic figures. Physica et mystica, ascribed to Democritus, after a purely technical fragment on purple dye, invokes his master Ostanes from Hades, and then plunges into alchemical recipes. There are also frequent bits of astrology and suggestions of Gnostic influence. Often the encircling serpent Ouroboros, who bites or swallows his tail, is referred to.[900] Sometimes the alchemist puts a little gold into his mixture to act as a sort of nest egg, or mother of gold, and encourage the remaining substance to become gold too.[901] Or we read in a work ascribed to Ostanes of “a divine water” which “revives the dead and kills the living, enlightens obscurity and obscures what is clear, calms the sea and quenches fire. A few drops of it give lead the appearance of gold with the aid of God, the invisible and all-powerful....”[902]

Mystery and allegory.

These early alchemists are also greatly given to mystery and allegory. “Touch not the philosopher’s stone with your hands,” warns Mary the Jewess, “you are not of our race, you are not of the race of Abraham.”[903] In a tract concerning the serpent Ouroboros we read, “A serpent is stretched out guarding the temple. Let his conqueror begin by sacrifice, then skin him, and after having removed his flesh to the very bones, make a stepping-stone of it to enter the temple. Mount upon it and you will find the object sought. For the priest, at first a man of copper, has changed his color and nature and become a man of silver; a few days later, if you wish, you will find him changed into a man of gold.”[904] Or in the preparation of the aforesaid divine[Pg 198] water Ostanes tells us to take the eggs of the serpent of oak who dwells in the month of August in the mountains of Olympus, Libya, and the Taurus.[905] Synesius tells that Democritus was initiated in Egypt at the temple of Memphis by Ostanes, and Zosimus cites the instruction of Ostanes, “Go towards the stream of the Nile; you’ll find there a stone; cut it in two, put in your hand, and take out its heart, for its soul is in its heart.”[906] Zosimus himself often resorts to symbolic jargon to obscure his meaning, as in the description of the vision of a priest who was torn to pieces and who mutilated himself.[907] He, too, personifies the metals and talks of a man of gold, a tin man, and so on.[908] A brief example of his style will have to suffice, as these allegories of the alchemists are insufferably tedious reading. “Finally I had the longing to mount the seven steps and see the seven chastisements, and one day, as it chanced, I hit upon the path up. After several attempts I traversed the path, but on my return I lost my way and, profoundly discouraged, seeing no way out, I fell asleep. In my dream I saw a little man, a barber, clothed in purple robe and royal raiment, standing outside the place of punishment, and he said to me....”[909] When Zosimus was not dreaming dreams and seeing visions, he was usually citing ancient authorities.

Experimentation in alchemy: relation to science and philosophy.

At the same time even these early alchemists cannot be denied a certain scientific character, or at least a connection with natural science. Behind alchemy existed a constant experimental progress. “Alchemy,” said Berthelot, “rested upon a certain mass of practical facts that were known in antiquity and that had to do with the preparation of metals, their alloys, and that of artificial precious stones; it had there an experimental side which did not cease to progress during the entire medieval period until positive modern chemistry emerged from it.”[910] The various treatises of the Greek alchemists describe apparatus and experiments which are real[Pg 199] but with which they associated results which were impossible and visionary. Their theories of matter seem indebted to the earlier Greek philosophers, while in the description of nature Berthelot noted a “direct and intimate” relation between them and the works of Dioscorides, Vitruvius, and Pliny.[911]

[Pg 200]


Themes of ensuing chapters—Life of Plutarch—Superstition in Plutarch’s Lives—His Morals or Essays—Question of their authenticity—Magic in Plutarch—Essay on Superstition—Plutarch hospitable toward some superstitions—The oracles of Delphi and of Trophonius—Divination justified—Demons as mediators between gods and men—Demons in the moon: migration of the soul—Demons mortal: some evil—Men and demons—Relation of Plutarch’s to other conceptions of demons—The astrologer Tarrutius—De fato—Other bits of astrology—Cosmic mysticism—Number mysticism—Occult virtues in nature—Asbestos—On Rivers and Mountains—Magic herbs—Stones found in plants and fish—Virtues of other stones—Fascination—Animal sagacity and remedies—Theories and queries about nature—The Antipodes.

Themes of ensuing chapters.

Having noted the presence of magic in works so especially devoted to natural science as those of Pliny, Galen, and Ptolemy, we have now to illustrate the prominence both of natural science and of magic in the life and thought of the Roman Empire by a consideration of some writers of a more miscellaneous character, who should reflect for us something of the interests of the average cultured reader of that time. Of this type are Plutarch, Apuleius and Philostratus, whom we shall consider in the coming chapters in the order named, which also roughly corresponds to their chronological sequence.

Life of Plutarch.

Plutarch flourished during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian at the turn of the first and second centuries, but The Letter on the Education of a Prince to Trajan[912] probably is not by him, and the legend that Hadrian was his pupil is a medieval invention. He was born in Boeotia about 46-48 A. D. and was educated in rhetoric and philosophy, science and mathematics, at Athens, where he was a student[Pg 201] when Nero visited Greece in 66 A. D. He also made several visits to Rome and resided there for some time. He held various public positions in the province of Achaea and in his small native town of Chaeronea, and had official connections with the Delphic oracle and amphictyony. Artemidorus in the Oneirocriticon states that Plutarch’s death was foreshadowed in a dream.[913]

Superstition in Plutarch’s Lives.

With Plutarch’s celebrated Lives of Illustrious Men, as with narrative histories in general, we shall not be much concerned, although they of course abound in omens and portents, in bits of pseudo-science which details in his narrative bring to the mind of the biographer, and in cases of divination and magic. Thus theories are advanced to explain why birds dropped dead from mid-air at the shout set up by the Greeks at the Isthmian games when Flamininus proclaimed their freedom. Or we are told how Sulla received from the Chaldeans predictions of his future greatness, how in the dedication to his Memoirs he admonished Lucullus to trust in dreams, and how Lucullus’s mind was deranged by a love philter administered by his freedman in the hope of increasing his master’s affection towards him.[914] Such allusions and incidents abound also of course in Dio Cassius, Tacitus, and other Roman historians.

His Morals or Essays.

But we shall be concerned rather with Plutarch’s other writings, which are usually grouped together under the title of Morals, or, more appropriately, Miscellanies and Essays. Not only is there great variety in their titles, but in any given essay the attention is usually not strictly held to one theme or problem but the discussion diverges to other points. Some are by their very titles and form rambling dialogues, symposiacs, and table-talk, where the conversation lightly flits from one topic to other entirely different ones, never dwelling for long upon any one point and never re[Pg 202]turning to its starting-point. This dinner-table and drinking-bout type of cultured and semi-learned discourse has other extant ancient examples such as the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius and the Deipnosophists of Athenaeus, but Plutarch will have to serve as our main illustration of it. His Essays reflect in motley guise and disordered array the fruits of extensive reading and a retentive memory in ancient philosophy, science, history, and literature.

Question of their authenticity.

The authenticity of some of the essays attributed to him has been questioned, and very likely with propriety, but for our purpose it is not important that they should all be by the same author so long as they represent approximately the same period and type of literature. The spurious treatise, De placitis philosophorum, we have already considered in the chapter on Galen, to whom it has also been ascribed. The essay On Rivers and Mountains we shall treat by itself in the present chapter. The De fato has also been called spurious.[915] Superstitious content is not a sufficient reason for denying that a treatise is by Plutarch,[916] since he is superstitious in writings of undoubted genuineness and since we have found the leading scientists of the time unable to exclude superstition from their works entirely. Moreover, many of the essays are in the form of conversations expressing the divergent views of different speakers, and it is not always possible to tell which shade of opinion Plutarch himself favors. Suffice it that the views expressed are those of men of education.

Magic in Plutarch.

Plutarch does not specifically discuss magic under that name at any length in any of his essays, but does treat of[Pg 203] such subjects as superstition in general, dreams, oracles, demons, number, fate, the craftiness of animals, and other “natural questions.” Certain vulgar forms of magic, at least, were regarded by him with disapproval or incredulity.[917] He rejects as a fiction the statement that the women of Thessaly can draw down the moon by their spells, but thinks that the notion perhaps originated in the fact or story that Aglaonice, daughter of Hegetor, was so skilful in astrology or astronomy as to be able to foresee the occurrence of lunar eclipses, and that she deluded the people into believing that at such times she brought down the moon from heaven by charms and enchantments.[918] Thus we have one more instance of the union of magic and science, this time of pseudo-magic with real science as at other times of magic with pseudo-science.

Essay on superstition.

The essay entitled περὶ δεισιδαιμονίας deals with superstition in the usual Greek sense of dread or excessive fear of demons and gods. We are accustomed to think of Hellenic paganism as a cheerful faith, full of naturalism, in which the gods were humanized and made familiar. Plutarch apparently regards normal religion as of this sort, and attacks the superstitious dread of the supernatural. He contends that such fear is worse, if anything, than atheism, for it makes men more unhappy and is an equal offense against the divinity, since it is at least as bad to believe ill of the gods as not to believe in them at all. Nothing indeed encourages the growth of atheism so much as the absurd practices and beliefs of such superstitious persons, “their words and[Pg 204] motions, their sorceries and magics, their runnings to and fro and beatings of drums, their impure rites and their purifications, their filthiness and chastity, their barbarian and illegal chastisements and abuse.”[919] Plutarch seems to be in part animated by the common prejudice against all other religions than one’s own, and speaks twice with distaste of Jewish Sabbaths. He also, however, as the passage just quoted shows, is opposed to the more extreme and debasing forms of magic, and declares that the superstitious man becomes a mere peg or post upon which all the old-wives hang any amulets and ligatures upon which they may chance.[920] He further condemns such historic instances of superstition as Nicias’s suspension of military operations during a lunar eclipse on the Sicilian expedition.[921] There was nothing terrible, says Plutarch, with his usual felicity of antithesis, in the periodic recurrence of the earth’s shadow upon the moon; but it was a terrible calamity that the shadow of superstition should thus darken the mind of a general at the very moment when a great crisis required the fullest use of his reason.

In the essay upon the demon of Socrates one of the speakers, attacking faith in dreams and apparitions, commends Socrates as one who did not reject the worship of the gods but who did purify philosophy, which he had received from Pythagoras and Empedocles full of phantasms and myths and the dread of demons, and reeling like a Bacchanal, and reduced it to facts and reason and truth.[922] Another of the company, however, objects that the demon of Socrates outdid the divination of Pythagoras.[923] These conflicting opinions may be applied in some measure to Plutarch himself. His censure of dread of demons and excessive superstition is not to be taken as a sign of scepticism on his part in oracles, dreams, or the demons themselves. To these matters we next turn.

[Pg 205]

The oracles of Delphi and of Trophonius.

Plutarch’s faith and interest in oracles in general and in the Delphian oracle of Apollo in particular are attested by three of his essays, the De defectu oraculorum, De Pythiae oraculis and De Ei apud Delphos. At the same time these essays attest the decline of the oracles from their earlier popularity and greatness. The oracular cave of Trophonius, of which we shall hear again in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, also comes into Plutarch’s works, and the prophetic and apocalyptic vision is described of a youth who spent two nights and a day there in an endeavor to learn the nature of the demon of Socrates.[924]

Divination justified.

Plutarch further had faith in divination in general, whether by dreams, sneezes or other omens: but he attempted to give a dignified philosophical and theological explanation of it. Few men receive direct divine revelation, in his opinion, but to many signs are given on which divination may be based.[925] He held that the human soul had a natural faculty of divination which might be exercised at favorable times and when the bodily state was not unfavorable.[926] A speaker in one of his dialogues justifies divination even from sneezes and like trivial occurrences upon the ground that as the faint beat of the pulse has meaning for the physician and a small cloud in the sky is for a skilful pilot a sign of impending storm, so the least thing may be a clue to the truly prophetic soul.[927] The extent of Plutarch’s faith in dreams may be inferred from his discussion of the problem, Why are dreams in autumn the least reliable?[928] First there is Aristotle’s suggestion that eating autumn fruit so disturbs the digestion that the soul is left little opportunity to exercise its prophetic faculty undistracted. If we accept the doctrine of Democritus that dreams are caused by images from other bodies and even minds or souls, which enter the body of the sleeper through the open pores and affect the mind, revealing to it the present passions and future de[Pg 206]signs of others,—if we accept this theory, it may be that the falling leaves in autumn disturb the air and ruffle these extremely thin and film-like emanations. A third explanation offered is that in the declining months of the year all our faculties, including that of natural divination, are in a state of decline. In the case of oracles like that at Delphi it is suggested that the Pythia’s natural faculty of divination is stimulated by “the prophetical exhalations from the earth” which induce a bodily state favorable to divination.[929] The god or demon, however, is the underlying and directing cause of the oracle.[930]

Demons as mediators between gods and men.

To the demons and their relations to the gods and to men we therefore next come. Plutarch’s view is that they are essential mediators between the gods and men. Just as one who should remove the air from between the earth and moon would destroy the continuity of the universe, so those who deny that there is a race of demons break off all intercourse between gods and men.[931] On the other hand, the theory of demons solves many doubts and difficulties.[932] When and where this doctrine originated is uncertain, whether among the magi about Zoroaster, or in Thrace with Orpheus, or in Egypt or Phrygia. Plutarch likens the gods to an equilateral, the demons to an isosceles, and human beings to a scalene triangle; and again compares the gods to sun and stars, the demons to the moon, and men to comets and meteors.[933] In the youth’s vision in the cave of Trophonius the moon appeared to belong to earthly demons, while those stars which have a regular motion were the demons of sages, and the wandering and falling stars the demons of men who have yielded to irrational passions.[934]

Demons in the moon: migration of the soul.

These suggestions that the moon and the air between earth and moon are the abode of the demons and this reminiscence of the Platonic doctrine of the soul and its migrations receive further confirmation in a discussion whether[Pg 207] the moon is inhabited in the essay, On the Face in the Moon. A story is there told[935] of a man who visited islands five days’ sail west of Britain, where Saturn is imprisoned and where there are demons serving him. This man who acquired great skill in astrology during his stay there stated upon his return to Europe that every soul after leaving the human body wanders for a time between earth and moon, but finally reaches the latter planet, where the Elysian fields are located, and there becomes a demon.[936] The demons do not always remain in the moon, however, but may come to earth to care for oracles or be imprisoned in a human body again for some crime.[937] The man who repeats the stranger’s story leaves it to his hearers, however, to believe it or not. But the struggle upward of human souls to the estate of demons is again described in the essay on the demon of Socrates,[938] where it is explained that those souls which have succeeded in freeing themselves from all union with the flesh become guardian demons and help those of their fellows whom they can reach, just as men on shore wade out as far as they can into the waves to rescue those sea-tossed, ship-wrecked mariners who have succeeded in struggling almost to land. The soul is plunged into the body, the uncorrupted mind or demon remains without.[939]

Demons mortal: some evil.

The demons differ from the gods in that they are mortal, though much longer-lived than men. Hesiod said that crows live nine times as long as men, stags four times as long as crows, ravens three times as long as stags, a phoenix nine times as long as a raven, and the nymphs ten times as long as the phoenix.[940] There are storms in the isles off Britain whenever one of the demons residing there dies.[941] Some demons are good spirits and others are evil; some are more passive and irrational than others; some delight in gloomy festivals, foul words, and even human sacrifice.[942]

[Pg 208]

Men and demons.

Once a year in the neighborhood of the Red Sea a man is seen who spends the remainder of his time among “nymphs, nomads and demons.”[943] At his annual appearance many princes and great men come to consult him concerning the future. He also has the gift of tongues to the extent of understanding several languages perfectly. His speech is like sweetest music, his breath sweet and fragrant, his person the most graceful that his interlocutor had ever seen. He also was never afflicted with any disease, for once a month he ate the bitter fruit of a medicinal herb. As to the exact nature of Socrates’ demon there is some diversity of opinion. One man suggests that it was merely the sneezing of himself or others, sneezes on the left hand warning him to desist from his intended course of action, while a sneeze in any other quarter was interpreted by him as a favorable sign.[944] The weight of opinion, however, inclines towards the view that his demon did not appear to him as an apparition or phantasm, or even communicate with him as an audible voice, but by immediate impression upon his mind.[945]

Relation of Plutarch’s to other conceptions of demons.

Plutarch’s account of demons is the first of a number which we shall have occasion to note. As the discussion of them by Apuleius in the next chapter and the rather crude representation of them given in Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana will show, there was as yet among non-Christian writers no unanimity of opinion concerning demons. On the other hand there are several conceptions in Plutarch’s essays which were to be continued later by Christians and Neo-Platonists: namely, the conception of a mediate class of beings between God and men, the hypothesis of a world of spirits in close touch with human life, the association of divination and oracles with demons, and the location of spirits in the sphere of the moon or the air between earth and moon,—although Plutarch sometimes connected demons with the stars above the moon. This occasional association of stars with spirits and of sinning souls with falling stars[Pg 209] bears some resemblance to the depiction of certain stars as sinners in the Hebraic Book of Enoch, which was written before Plutarch’s time and which we shall consider in our next book as an influence upon the development of early Christian thought.

The astrologer Tarrutius.

As for the stars apart from demons, Plutarch discusses the art of astrology as little as he does “magic” by that name. Mentions of individuals as skilled in “astrology” may simply mean that they were trained astronomers. When a veritable astrologer in our sense of the word is mentioned in one of Plutarch’s Lives,[946] he is described as a μαθηματικός—a word often used for a caster of horoscopes and predicter of the future. Here, however, it carries no reproach of charlatanism, since in the same phrase he is called a philosopher. This Tarrutius was a friend of Varro, who asked him to work out the horoscope of Romulus backward from what was known of the later life and character of the founder of Rome. “For it was possible for the same science which predicted man’s life from the time of his birth to infer the time of his birth from the events of his life.” Tarrutius set to work and from the data at his disposal figured out that Romulus was conceived in the first year of the second Olympiad, on the twenty-third day of the Egyptian month Khoeak at the third hour when there was a total eclipse of the sun; and that he was born on the twenty-first day of the month Thoth about sunrise. He further estimated that Rome was founded by him on the ninth day of the month Pharmuthi between the second and third hour. For, adds Plutarch, they think that the fortunes of cities are also controlled by the hour of their genesis. Plutarch, however, seems to look upon such doctrines as rather strange and fabulous.[947] Varro, on the other hand, may have regarded it as the most scientific method possible of settling disputed questions of historical chronology

[Pg 210]

The De fato.

A favorable attitude towards astrology is found mainly in those essays by Plutarch which are suspected of being spurious, the De fato and De placitis philosophorum. Of the latter we have already treated under Galen. In the former fate is described as “the soul of the universe,” and the three main divisions of the universe, namely, the immovable heaven, the moving spheres and heavenly bodies, and the region about the earth, are associated with the three Fates, Clotho, Atropos, and Lachesis.[948] It is similarly stated in the essay on the demon of Socrates[949] that of the four principles of all things, life, motion, genesis or generation, and corruption, the first two are joined by the One indivisibly, the second and third Mind unites through the sun; the third and fourth Nature joins through the moon. And over each of these three bonds presides one of the three Fates, Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis. In other words, the one God or first cause, invisible and unmoved, in whom is life, sets in motion the heavenly spheres and bodies, through whose instrumentality generation and corruption upon earth are produced and regulated,—which is substantially the Aristotelian view of the universe. Returning to the De fato we may note that it repeats the Stoic theory of the magnus annus when the heavenly bodies resume their rounds and all history repeats itself.[950] Despite this apparent admission that human life is subject to the movements of the stars, the author of the De fato seems to think that accident, fortune or chance, the contingent, and “what is in us” or free-will, can all co-exist with fate, which he practically identifies with the motion of the heavenly bodies.[951] Fate is also comprehended by divine Providence but this fact does not militate against astrology, since Providence itself divides into that of the first God, that of the secondary gods or stars “who move through the heavens regulating mortal affairs, and that of the demons who act as guardians of men.”[952]

[Pg 211]

Other bits of astrology.

One or two bits of astrology may be noted in Plutarch’s other essays. The man who learned “astrology” among demons in the isle beyond Britain affirmed that in human generation earth supplies the body, the moon furnishes the soul, and the sun provides the intellect.[953] In the Symposiacs[954] the opinion of the mythographers is repeated that monstrous animals were produced during the war with the giants because the moon turned from its course then and rose in unaccustomed quarters. Plutarch was, by the way, inclined to distinguish the moon from other heavenly bodies as passive and imperfect, a sort of celestial earth or terrestrial star. Such a separation of the moon from the other stars and planets would have, however, no necessary contrariety with astrological theory, which usually ascribed a peculiar place to the moon and represented it as the medium through which the more distant planets exerted their effects upon the earth.

Cosmic mysticism.

Sometimes Plutarch’s cosmology carries Platonism to the verge of Gnosticism, a subject of which we shall treat in a later chapter. The diviner who had communed with demons, nomads, and nymphs in the desert asserted that there was not one world, but one hundred and eighty-three worlds arranged in the form of a triangle with sixty to each side and one at each angle. Within this triangle of worlds lay the plain of truth where were the ideas and models of all things that had been or were to be, and about these was eternity from which time flowed off like a river to the one hundred and eighty-three worlds. The vision delectable of those ideas is granted to men only once in a myriad of years, if they live well, and is the goal toward which all philosophy strives. The stranger, we are informed, told this tale artlessly, like one in the mysteries, and produced no demonstration or proof of what he said. We have already heard Plutarch liken gods, demons, and men to different kinds of triangles; he also repeats Plato’s association of the[Pg 212] five regular solids with the elements, earth, air, fire, water, and ether.[955] He states that the nature of fire is quite apparent in the pyramid from “the slenderness of its decreasing sides and the sharpness of its angles,”[956] and that fire is engendered from air when the octahedron is dissolved into pyramids, and air produced from fire when the pyramids are compressed into an octahedron.[957]

Number mysticism.

These geometrical fancies are naturally accompanied by considerable number mysticism. In this particular passage the merits of the number five are enlarged upon and a long list is given of things that are five in number.[958] Five is again extolled in the essay on The Ei at Delphi,[959] but there one of the company remarks with much reason that it is possible to praise any number in many ways, but that he prefers to five “the sacred seven of Apollo.”[960] Platonic geometrical reveries and Pythagorean number mysticism are indulged in even more extensively in the essay On the Procreation of the Soul in Timaeus. The number and proportion existing in planets, stars and spheres are touched on,[961] and it is stated that the divine demiurge produced the marvelous virtues of drugs and organs by employing harmonies and numbers.[962] Thus in the potency of number and numerical relations is suggested a possible explanation of astrology and magic force in nature.

Occult virtues in nature.

Plutarch, indeed, shows the same faith in the existence of occult virtues in natural objects and in what may be called natural magic as most of his contemporaries. At his symposium when one man avers that he saw the tiny fish echeneïs stop the ship upon which he was sailing until the lookout man picked it off,[963] some laugh at his credulity but[Pg 213] others narrate other cases of strange antipathies in nature. Mad elephants are quieted by the sight of a ram; vipers will not move if touched with a leaf from a beech tree; wild bulls become tame when tied to a fig tree;[964] if light objects are oiled, amber fails to attract them as usual; and iron rubbed with garlic does not respond to the magnet. “These things are proved by experience but it is difficult if not quite impossible to learn their cause.” At the Symposium[965] the question also is raised why salt is called divine, and it is suggested that it may be because it preserves bodies from decay after the soul has left them, or because mice conceive without sexual intercourse by merely licking salt. In The Delay of the Deity Plutarch again treats of occult virtues.[966] They pass from body to body with incredible swiftness or to an incredible distance. He wonders why it is that if a goat takes a piece of sea-holly in her mouth, the entire herd will stand still until the goatherd removes it. We see once more how closely such notions are associated with magical practices, when in the same paragraph he mentions the custom of making the children of those who have died of consumption or dropsy sit soaking their feet in water until the corpse has been buried so that they may not catch their parent’s disease.


On the other hand, how difficult it must have been with the limited scientific knowledge of that time to distinguish true from false marvelous properties may be inferred from Plutarch’s description[967] of a certain soft and pliable stone that used to be produced at Carystus and from which handkerchiefs and hair-nets were made which could not be burnt and were cleaned by exposure to fire,—a description, it would seem, of our asbestos, although Plutarch does not give the stone any name. Strabo also ascribes similar properties to a stone from Carystus without naming it.[968] Dioscorides and[Pg 214] other Greek authors, we are told,[969] apply the word “asbestos” to quick-lime, but Pliny in the Natural History[970] describes what he says the Greeks call ἀσβέστινον much as Plutarch does. He adds that it is employed in making shrouds for royal funerals to separate the ashes of the corpse from those of the pyre.[971] But he seems to regard it as a plant, not a stone, listing it as a variety of linen in one of his books on vegetation. He also states incorrectly that it is found but rarely and in desert and arid regions of India where there is no rain and a hot sun and amid terrible serpents[972]. Probably Pliny or his source argued that anything which resisted the action of fire must have been inured by growth under fiery suns and among serpents. Furthermore it obviously should possess other marvelous properties, so we are not surprised to find Anaxilaus cited to the effect that if this “linen” is tied around a tree trunk, the blows with which the tree is felled cannot be heard. It was thus that imaginations inured to magic enlarged upon unusual natural properties.

[Pg 215]

On rivers and mountains.

A treatise upon rivers and mountains in which the marvelous virtues of herbs and stones figure very prominently has sometimes been included among the works of Plutarch, but also has been omitted entirely from some editions.[973] Some have ascribed it to Parthenius of the time of Nero. It is made up of some thirty-five chapters in each of which a river and a mountain are mentioned. Usually some myth or tragic history is recounted, from which the river took its name or with which it was otherwise intimately connected. A similar procedure is followed in the case of the mountain. The writer, whoever he may be, makes a show of extensive reading, citing over forty authorities, most of whom are Greek and not mentioned in the full bibliographies of Pliny’s Natural History. The titles cited have to do largely with stones, rivers, and different countries. It has been questioned, however, whether these citations are not bogus.[974]

Magic herbs.

The properties attributed to herbs and stones in this treatise are to a large extent magical. A white reed found in the river Phasis while one is sacrificing at dawn to Hecate, if strewn in a wife’s bedroom, drives mad any adulterer who enters and makes him confess his sin.[975] Another herb mentioned in the same chapter was used by Medea to protect Jason from her father. In a later chapter[976] we are told how Hera called upon Selene to aid her in securing her revenge upon Heracles, and how the moon goddess filled a large chest with froth and foam by her magic spells until presently a huge lion leaped out of the chest. Returning from such sorceresses as Hecate, Medea, and Selene to herbs alone, in other rivers are plants which test the purity of gold, aid dim sight or blind one, wither at the mention of the word “step-mother” or burst into flames whenever a step-mother has evil designs against her step-son, free their bearers from fear of apparitions, operate as charms in love-making and[Pg 216] childbirth, cure madmen of their frenzy, check quartan agues if applied to the breasts, protect virginity or wither at a virgin’s touch, turn wine into water except that it retains its bouquet, or preserve persons anointed with their juice from sickness to their dying day.

Stones found in plants and fish.

An easy transition from the theme of magic herbs to that of stones is afforded by a sort of poppy which grows in a river of Mysia and bears black, harp-shaped stones which the natives gather and scatter over their ploughed fields.[977] If these stones then lie still where they have fallen, it is taken as a sign of a barren year; but if they fly away like locusts, this prognosticates a plentiful harvest. Other marvelous stones are found in the head of a fish in the river Arar, a tributary of the Rhone. The fish is itself quite wonderful since it is white while the moon waxes and black when it wanes.[978] Presumably for this reason the stone cures quartan agues, if applied to the left side of the body while the moon is waning. There is another stone which must be sought after under a waxing moon with pipers playing continually.[979]

Virtues of other stones.

Other stones guard treasuries by sounding a trumpet-like alarm at the approach of thieves; or change color four times a day and are ordinarily visible only to young girls. But if a virgin of marriageable age chances to see this stone, she is safe from attempts upon her chastity henceforth.[980] Some stones drive men mad and are connected with the Mother of the Gods or are found only during the celebration of the mysteries.[981] Others stop dogs from barking, expel demons, grow black in the hands of false witnesses, protect from wild beasts, and have varied medicinal powers or other effects similar to those already mentioned in the case of herbs.[982] In a river where the Spartans were defeated is a stone which leaps towards the bank, if it hears a trumpet,[Pg 217] but sinks at the mention of the Athenians.[983] Certainly a marvelous stone, capable of both hearing and motion!


Leaving the treatise on rivers and mountains, for the occult virtue of human beings we may turn to a discussion of fascination in the Symposiacs.[984] Some of the company ridiculed the idea, but their host asserted that a myriad of events went to prove it and that if you reject a thing simply because you cannot give a reason for it, you “take away the marvelous from all things.” He pointed out that some men hurt little and tender children by looking at them, and argued that, as the plumes of other birds are ruined when mixed with those of the eagle, so men may injure by their touch or mere glance. Plutarch, who was of the company, suggested effluvia or emanations from the body as a possible explanation, pointing out that love begins with glances, that no disease is more contagious than sore eyes, and that gazing upon the curlew cures jaundice. The bird appears to attract the disease to itself, and averts its head and closes its eyes, not, as some think, because it is jealous of the remedy sought from it, but because it feels wounded as if from a blow. Others of the company contended that the passions and affections of the soul may have a powerful effect through the eyes and glance upon other persons, and argued that the sufferings of the soul strengthen the powers of the body, and that the same counter-charms are efficacious against envy as against fascination. The emanations which Democritus believed that envious and malicious persons sent forth are also mentioned; fathers have fascinated their own children, and it is even possible that one might injure oneself by reflection of one’s gaze. It is suggested that young children may sometimes be fascinated in this manner rather than by the glance of others.

Animal sagacity and remedies.

Plutarch devotes two essays to the familiar theme of the craftiness and sagacity of animals and the remedies used by them. In one essay[985] a companion of Odysseus refuses to[Pg 218] allow Circe to turn him back from a pig to human form. He boasts among other things that beasts know how to cure themselves. Without ever having been taught swine when sick run to rivers to search for craw-fish; tortoises physic themselves with origanum after eating vipers; and Cretan goats devour dittany to extract arrows and darts which have been shot into their bodies. In the other essay[986] on the cleverness of animals we find many familiar stories repeated, including some of the inevitable excerpts from Juba on elephants. We meet again the dolphins with their love for mankind,[987] the bird who picks the crocodile’s teeth and warns him of the ichneumon,[988] the fish who rescue one another by biting the line or dragging one another by the tail out of nets,[989] the trained elephant who was slow to learn and was beaten for it and was afterwards seen practicing his exercises by himself in the moonlight,[990] the sentinel cranes who stand on one foot and hold a stone in the other to awaken them if they let it drop.[991] More novel perhaps is the story how herons open oysters by first swallowing them, shells and all, until they are relaxed by the internal heat of the bird, which then vomits them up and eats them out of the shells. Or the account of the tunny fish who needs no astrological canons and is familiar with arithmetic, “Yes, by Zeus, and with optics, too.”[992]

Theories and queries about nature.

Plutarch’s essays bring out yet other interests and defects of the science of the time. One on The Principle of Cold is a good illustration of the failings of the ancient hypothesis of four elements and four qualities and of the silly, limited arguing which usually and almost of necessity accompanied it. He denies that cold is mere privation of heat, since it seems to act positively upon fluids and solids and exists in different degrees. After considering various assertions such as that air becomes cold when it becomes[Pg 219] dark; that air whitens things and water blackens them; that cold objects are always heavy; he finally associates the element earth especially with the quality cold. In another essay[993] he states that there are no females of a certain type of beetle which was engraved as a charm upon the rings warriors wore to battle, but that the males begat offspring by rolling up balls of earth. He declares that “diseases do not have distinct germs” in a discussion in the Symposiacs whether there can be new diseases.[994] Other natural questions discussed in the treatise of that name and the Symposiacs are: Why a man who often passes near dewy trees contracts leprosy in those limbs which touch the wood? Why the Dorians pray for bad hay-making? Why bears’ paws are the sweetest and most palatable food? Why the tracks of wild beasts smell worse at the full of the moon? Why bees are more apt to sting fornicators than other persons?[995] Why the flesh of sheep bitten by wolves is sweeter than that of other sheep? Why mushrooms are thought to be produced by thunder? Why flesh decays sooner in moonlight than sunlight? Whether Jews abstain from pork because they worship the pig or because they have an antipathy towards it?[996]

The Antipodes.

Plutarch sometimes shows evidence of considerable astronomical knowledge. For instance, he knows that the mathematicians figure that the distance from sun to earth is immense, and that Aristarchus demonstrated the sun to be eighteen or twenty times as far off as the moon, which is distant fifty-six times the earth’s radius at the lowest estimate.[997] Yet in the same essay[998] Plutarch has scoffed at the idea of a spherical earth and of antipodes, and at the assertion that bars weighing a thousand talents would stop falling at the earth’s center, if a hole were opened up through the earth, or that two men with their feet in opposite directions[Pg 220] at the center of the earth might nevertheless both be right side up, or that one man whose middle was at the center might be half right side up and half upside down. He admits, however, that the philosophers think so. Thus we see that Christian fathers like Lactantius were not the first to ridicule the notion of the Antipodes; apparently as well educated and omnivorous a pagan reader as Plutarch could do the same.

[Pg 221]


I. Life and Works

Magic and the man—Stylistic reasons for regarding the Metamorphoses as his first work—Biographical reasons—No mention of the Metamorphoses in the Apology.

II. Magic in the Metamorphoses

Powers claimed for magic—Its actual performances—Its limitations—The crimes of witches—Male magicians—Magic as an art and discipline—Materials employed—Incantations and rites—Quacks and charlatans—Various superstitions—Bits of science and religion—Magic in other Greek romances.

III. Magic in the Apology

Form of the Apologia—Philosophy and magic—Magic defined—Good and bad magic—Magic and religion—Magic and science—Medical and scientific knowledge of Apuleius—He repeats familiar errors—Apparent ignorance of magic and occult virtue—Despite an assumption of knowledge—Attitude toward astronomy—His theory of demons—Apuleius in the middle ages.

I. His Life and Works

Magic and the man as reflected in his works.

One of the fullest and most vivid pictures of magic in the ancient Mediterranean world which has reached us is provided by the writings of Apuleius. He lived in the second century of our era and was not merely a rhetorician of great note in his day and the writer of a romance which has ever since fascinated men, but also a Platonic philosopher, an initiate into many religious cults and mysteries, and a student of natural science and medicine. To him has been ascribed the Latin version of Asclepius, a supposititious dialogue of Hermes Trismegistus. No author perhaps ever more readily and complacently talked of himself than[Pg 222] Apuleius, yet it is no easy task to make out the precise facts of his life, partly because in his romance, The Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass, he has hopelessly confused himself with the hero Lucius and introduced an autobiographical element of uncertain extent into what is in the main a work of fiction; partly because his Apology, or defense when tried on the charge of magic at Oea in Africa, is more in the nature of special pleading intended to refute and confound his accusers than of a frank confession or accurate history of his career. However, he appears to have been born at Madaura in North Africa, to have studied first at Carthage and then at Athens, to have visited Rome and wandered rather widely about the Mediterranean world, but to have spent more time altogether at Carthage than at any other one place.

Stylistic reasons for regarding the Metamorphoses as his first work.

Besides the Metamorphoses and Apologia, with which we shall be chiefly concerned, four other works are extant which are regarded as genuine, The God of Socrates, The Dogma of Plato, Florida, and On the Universe. The order in which these works were written is uncertain, but it seems almost sure that the Metamorphoses was the first. In it Apuleius not only more or less identifies himself with the hero Lucius, who is represented as quite a young man, he also apologizes for his Latin and speaks of the difficulty with which he had acquired that language at Rome. But in the Florida[999] we find him repeating a hymn and a dialogue in both Latin and Greek, or, after delivering half an address in Greek, finishing it in Latin, or boasting that he writes poems, satires, riddles, histories, scientific treatises, orations, and philosophical dialogues with equal facility in either language.[1000] Instead now of craving pardon if he offends by his rude, exotic, and forensic speech, he feels that his reputation for literary refinement and elegance has become such that his audience will not pardon him a solitary solecism or a single syllable pronounced with a barbarous accent.[1001] It[Pg 223] therefore looks as if the Metamorphoses was his first published effort in Latin and as if his peculiar style had proved so popular that he did not find it necessary to apologize for it again. In the Apology he seems supremely confident of his rhetorical powers in the Latin language, and even the accusers describe him as a philosopher of great eloquence both in Greek and Latin.[1002] Three years before in the same town his first public discourse had been greeted with shouts of “Insigniter,” and many in the audience at the time of his trial can still repeat a passage from it on the greatness of Aesculapius.[1003] In the Apology, too, he displays a more extensive learning than in the Metamorphoses and has written already poems and scientific treatises as well as orations. Indeed, practically all the doctrines set forth in his other philosophical works may be found in brief in the Apology.

Biographical reasons.

Moreover, while in the Metamorphoses Apuleius ends the narrative with what seems to be his own comparatively recent initiation into the mysteries of Isis in Greece and of Osiris at Rome, in the Apology[1004] he speaks of having been initiated in the past into all sorts of sacred rites, although he does not mention Rome or Isis and Osiris specifically. It is implied, however, that he has been at Rome in more than one passage of the Apology. Pontianus, his future step-son, with whom Apuleius had become acquainted at Athens “not so many years ago,” was “an adult at Rome” before Apuleius came to Oea. After they had met again at Oea and had both married there, Apuleius gave Pontianus a letter of introduction to the proconsul Lollianus Avitus at Carthage, of whom he says, “I have known intimately many cultured men of Roman name in the course of my life, but have never admired anyone as much as him.” Perhaps Apuleius may have met Lollianus at Carthage, but in the Florida,[1005] in a panegyric on Scipio Orfitus, proconsul of Africa in 163-164 A. D., he alludes to the time “when I moved among your friends in Rome.” All this fits in nicely[Pg 224] with the statements in the closing chapters of the Metamorphoses concerning his rising fame as an orator in the courts of law and “the laborious doctrine of my studies” at Rome. We may therefore reconstruct the course of events as follows. After meeting Pontianus at Athens and concluding his studies in Greece, Apuleius came to Rome, where he remained for some time, perfecting his Latin style, engaging in forensic oratory, and publishing the Metamorphoses. Pontianus, who was younger than Apuleius, either accompanied or followed his friend to Rome, in which city he was still residing after Apuleius had returned to Africa. But Pontianus, too, had left Rome and come back to his African city of Oea to settle the question of his mother’s proposed second marriage, before Apuleius, who had probably revisited Carthage in the meantime and was now traveling east again with the intention of visiting Alexandria, arrived at Oea and was induced to wed the widow, who was considerably older than he. On the delicate question of this lady’s exact age depends our dating of the birth of Apuleius and the chronology of his entire career. At the trial of Apuleius for magic Aemilianus, the accuser, declared that she was sixty when she married Apuleius, and he had previously proposed to marry her to his brother, Clarus, whom Apuleius calls “a decrepit old man.”[1006] On the other hand, Apuleius asserts that the records, which he produces in court, of her being accepted in infancy by her father as his child show that she is “not much over forty,”[1007]—a tactful ambiguity which, inasmuch as we no longer have the records, it would probably be idle to attempt to fathom.

No mention of the Metamorphoses in the Apology.

The chief, if not the only, objection to dating the Metamorphoses before the Apology is that nothing is said of it in the latter.[1008] But obviously Apuleius, when on trial for magic, would not mention the Metamorphoses unless his[Pg 225] accusers forced him to do so. They may not have yet heard of it or it may at first have been published anonymously, although the probability is that Apuleius would not have spent three years at Oea without bringing it to his admirers’ attention. Or they may know of it, but the judge may not have admitted it as evidence on the ground that they must prove that Apuleius has practiced magic. The Metamorphoses does not recount any personal participation of Apuleius himself in magic arts, unless one identifies him throughout with the hero Lucius; it purports to be a Latin rendition of Milesian tales[1009] and does not seem to have been taken very seriously until the church fathers began to cite it. Or the accusers may have dwelt upon it and Apuleius simply have failed to take notice of their charge. All these suppositions may not seem very plausible, but on the other hand we may ask, how would Apuleius dare to write a work like the Metamorphoses after he had been accused and tried of magic? One would expect him then to drop the subject rather than to display an increasing interest in it. But let us turn to his treatment of that theme in both those works, and first consider the Metamorphoses.

II. Magic in the Metamorphoses

Powers claimed for magic.

Vast power over nature and spirits is attributed to magic and its practitioners in the opening chapters of the Metamorphoses. “By magic’s mutterings swift streams are reversed, the sea is calmed, the sun stopped, foam drawn from the moon, the stars torn from the sky, and day turned into night.”[1010] While such assertions are received with some scepticism by one listener, they are largely borne out by the subsequent experiences of the characters in the story and by the feats which witches are made to perform. These are sometimes humorously and extravagantly presented, but as crime and ferocious cruelty are treated in the same spirit,[Pg 226] this light vein cannot be regarded as an admission of magic’s unreality. On the contrary, the magic of Thessaly is celebrated with one accord the world over.[1011] Meroë the witch can “displace the sky, elevate the earth, freeze fountains, melt mountains, raise ghosts, bring down the gods, extinguish the stars, and illuminate the bottomless pit.”[1012] Submerging the light of starry heaven to the lowest depths of hell is a power also attributed to the witch Pamphile.[1013] “By her marvelous secrets she makes ghosts and elements obey and serve her, disturbs the stars and coerces the divinities.”[1014]

Its actual performances.

In none of the episodes recorded in The Golden Ass, however, do the witches find it necessary or advisable to go to quite so great lengths as these, although Pamphile once threatens the sun with eternal darkness because he is so slow in yielding to night when she may ply her sorcery and amours.[1015] The witches content themselves with such accomplishments as carrying on love affairs with inhabitants of distant India, Ethopia, and even the Antipodes,—“trifles of the art these and mere bagatelles”;[1016] with transforming their enemies into animal forms or imprisoning them helpless in their homes, or transporting them house and all to a spot a hundred miles off;[1017] and, on the other hand, with breaking down bolted doors to murder their victims,[1018] or assuming themselves the shape of weasels, birds, dogs, mice, and even insects in order to work their mischief unobserved;[1019] they then cast their victims into a deep sleep and cut their throats or hang them or mutilate them.[1020] They often know what is being said about them when apparently absent, and they sometimes indulge in divination of the future.[1021] But to whatever fields of activity they may extend or confine them[Pg 227]selves, their violent power is irresistible, and we are given to understand that it is useless to try to fight against it or to escape it. Its secret and occult character is also emphasized, and the adjective caeca or noun latebrae are more than once employed to describe it.[1022]

Its limitations.

Yet there are also suggested certain limitations to the power of magic. The witches seem to break down the bolted doors, but these resume their former place when the hags have departed, and are to all appearances as intact as before. The man, too, whose throat they have cut, whose blood they have drained off, and whose heart they have removed, awakes apparently alive the next morning and resumes his journey. All the events of the preceding night seem to have been merely an unpleasant dream. The witches had stuffed a sponge into the wound of his throat[1023] with the adjuration, “Oh you sponge, born in the sea, beware of crossing running water.” In the morning his traveling companion can see no sign of wound or sponge on his friend’s throat. But when he stoops to drink from a brook, out falls the sponge and he drops dead. The inference, although Apuleius draws none, is obvious; witches can make a corpse seem alive for a while but not for long, and magic ceases to work when you cross running water. We also get the impression that there is something deceptive and illusive about the magic of the witches, and that only the lusts and crimes are real which their magic enables them or their employers to commit and gratify. They may seem to draw down the sun, but it is found shining next day as usual. When Lucius is transformed into an ass, he retains his human appetite and tenderness of skin,[1024]—a deplorable state of mind and body which must be attributed to the imper[Pg 228]fections of the magic art as well as to the humorous cruelty of the author.

The crimes of witches.

In The Golden Ass the practitioners of magic are usually witches and old and repulsive. We have to deal with wonders worked by old-wives and not by Magi of Persia or Babylon. As we have seen and shall see yet further, their deeds are regarded as illicit and criminal. They are “most wicked women” (nequissimae mulieres),[1025] intent upon lust and crime. They practice devotiones, injurious imprecations and ceremonies.[1026]

Male magicians.

Male practitioners of magic are represented in a less unfavorable light. An Egyptian, who in return for a large sum of money engages to invoke the spirit of a dead man and restore the corpse momentarily to life, is called a prophet and a priest, though he seems a manifest necromancer and is himself adjured to lend his aid and to “have pity by the stars of heaven, by the infernal deities, by the elements of nature, and by the silence of night,”[1027]—expressions which are certainly suggestive of the magic powers elsewhere ascribed to witches. The hero of the story, Lucius, is animated in his dabblings in the magic art by idle curiosity combined with thirst for learning, but not by any criminal motive.[1028] Yet after he has been transformed into an ass by magic, he fears to resume his human form suddenly in public, lest he be put to death on suspicion of practicing the magic art.[1029]

Magic as an art and discipline.

Magic is depicted not merely as irresistible or occult or criminal or fallacious; it is also regularly called an art and a discipline. Even the practices of the witches are so dignified. Pamphile has nothing less than a laboratory on the roof of her house,—a wooden shelter, concealed from view but open to the winds of heaven and to the four points of the compass,—where she may ply her secret arts and where she spreads out her “customary apparatus.”[1030] This consists[Pg 229] of all sorts of aromatic herbs, of metal plates inscribed with cryptic characters, a chest filled with little boxes containing various ointments,[1031] and portions of human corpses obtained from sepulchers, shipwrecks (or birds of prey, according as the reading is navium or avium), public executions, and the victims of wild beasts.[1032] It will be recalled that Galen represented medical students as most likely to secure human skeletons or bodies to dissect from somewhat similar sources; and possibly they might incur suspicion of magic thereby.

Materials employed.

All this makes it clear that to work magic one must have materials. The witches seem especially avid for parts of the human body. Pamphile sends her maid, Fotis, to the barber’s shop to try to steal some cuttings of the hair of a youth of whom she is enamoured;[1033] and another story is told of witches who by mistake cut off and replaced with wax the nose and ears of a man guarding the corpse instead of those of the dead body.[1034] Other witches who murdered a man carefully collected his blood in a bladder and took it away with them.[1035] But parts of other animals are also employed in their magic, and stones as well as varied herbs and twigs.[1036] In trying to entice the beloved Boeotian youth Pamphile used still quivering entrails and poured libations of spring water, milk, and honey, as well as placing the hairs—which she supposed were his—with many kinds of incense upon live coals.[1037] To turn herself into an owl she anointed herself from top to toe with ointment from one of her little boxes, and also made much use of a lamp.[1038] To regain her human form she has only to drink, and bathe in, spring water mixed with anise and laurel leaf,—“See how great a result is attained by such small and insignificant herbs!”[1039]—while Lucius is told that eating roses will re[Pg 230]store him from asinine to human form.[1040] The Egyptian prophet makes use of herbs in his necromancy, placing one on the face and another on the breast of the corpse; and he himself wears linen robes and sandals of palm leaves.[1041]

Incantations and rites.

Besides materials, incantations are much employed,[1042] while the Egyptian prophet turns towards the east and “silently imprecates” the rising sun. As this last suggests, careful observance of rite and ceremony also play their part, and Pamphile’s painstaking procedure is described in precise detail. Divine aid is once mentioned[1043] and is perhaps another essential for success. More than one witch is called divina,[1044] and magic is termed a divine discipline.[1045] But we have also heard the witches spoken of as coercing the gods rather than depending upon them for assistance. Their magic seems to be performed mainly by using things and words in the right ways.

Quacks and charlatans.

Besides the witches (magae or sagae) and what Apuleius calls magic by name, a number of other charlatans and superstitions of a kindred nature are mentioned in The Golden Ass. Such a one is the Egyptian “prophet” already described. Such was the Chaldean who for a time astounded Corinth by his wonderful predictions, but had been unable to foresee his own shipwreck.[1046] On learning this last fact, a business man who was about to pay him one hundred denarii for a prognostication snatched up his money again and made off. Such were the painted disreputable crew of the Syrian goddess who went about answering all inquiries concerning the future with the same ambiguous couplet.[1047] Such were the jugglers whom Lucius saw at Athens swallowing swords or balancing a spear in the[Pg 231] throat while a boy climbed to the top of it.[1048] Such were the physicians who turned poisoners.[1049]

Various superstitions.

Other passages allude to astrology[1050] besides that already cited concerning the Chaldean. Divination from dreams is also discussed. In the fourth book the old female servant tells the captive maiden not to be terrified “by the idle figments of dreams” and explains that they often go by contraries; but in the last book the hero is several times guided or forewarned by dreams. Omens are believed in. Starting left foot first loses a man a business opportunity,[1051] and another is kicked out of a house for his ill-omened words.[1052] The violent deaths of all three sons of the owner of another house are presaged by the following remarkable conglomeration of untoward portents: a hen lays a chick instead of an egg; blood spurts up from under the table; a servant rushes in to announce that the wine is boiling in all the jars in the cellar; a weasel is seen dragging a dead snake out-of-doors; a green frog leaps from the sheep-dog’s mouth and then a ram tears open the dog’s throat at one bite.[1053]

Some bits of science and religion.

Of scientific discussion or information there is little in the Metamorphoses. When Pamphile foretells the weather for the next day by inspection of her lamp, Lucius suggests that this artificial flame may retain some properties from its heavenly original.[1054] The herb mandragora is described as inducing a sleep similar to death, but as not fatal; and the beaver is said to emasculate itself in order to escape its hunters.[1055] We should feel lost without mention of a dragon in a book of this sort, and one is introduced who is large enough to devour a man.[1056] It is interesting to note for purposes of comparison,—inasmuch as we shall presently take up the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a Neo-Pythagorean, and later shall learn from the Recognitions of Clement that the apostle Peter was accustomed to bathe at dawn in the[Pg 232] sea,—that Lucius, while still in the form of an ass, in his zeal for purification plunged into the sea and submerged his head beneath the wave seven times, because the divine Pythagoras had proclaimed that number as especially appropriate to religious rites.[1057] “It has been said that The Golden Ass is the first book in European literature showing piety in the modern sense, and the most disreputable adventures of Lucius lead, it is true, in the end to a religious climax.” But, adds Professor Duncan B. Macdonald, “Few books, in spite of fantastic gleams of color and light, move under such leaden-weighted skies as The Golden Ass. There is no real God in that world; all things are in the hands of enchanters; man is without hope for here and hereafter; full of yearnings he struggles and takes refuge in strange cults.”[1058]

Magic in other Greek romances.

While magic plays a larger part in The Golden Ass than in any other extant Greek romance, it is not unusual in the others to find the hero and heroine exposed to perils from magicians, or themselves falsely charged with magic, as in the Aethiopica of Heliodorus, where Charicles is “condemned to be burned on a charge of poisoning.”[1059] In the Christian romances, too, as the Recognitions will show us later, there are plenty of allusions to magic and demons. Meanwhile we are reminded that in the Roman Empire accusations of magic were made not merely in story books but in real life by the trial for magic of the author of the Metamorphoses himself, and we next turn to the Apology which he delivered upon that occasion.

III. Magic in the Apology

Form of the Apologia.

The Apologia has every appearance of being preserved just as it was delivered and perhaps as it was taken down by short-hand writers; it does not seem to have undergone the subsequent revision to which Cicero subjected some of his orations. It must have been hastily composed, since[Pg 233] Apuleius states that it has been only five or six days since the charges were suddenly brought against him, while he was occupied in defending another lawsuit brought against his wife.[1060] There also are numerous apparently extempore passages in the oration, notably those where Apuleius alludes to the effect which his statements produce, now upon his accusers, now upon the proconsul sitting in judgment. From the Florida we know that Apuleius was accustomed to improvise.[1061] Moreover, in the Apology certain statements are made by Apuleius which might be turned against him with damaging effect and which he probably would have omitted, had he had the leisure to go over his speech carefully before the trial. For instance, in denying the charge that he had caused to be made for himself secretly out of the finest wood a horrible magic figure in the form of a ghost or skeleton, he declares that it is only a little image of Mercury made openly by a well-known artisan of the town.[1062] But he has earlier stated that “Mercury, carrier of incantations,” is one of the deities invoked in magic rites;[1063] and in another passage[1064] has recounted how the outcome of the Mithridatic war was investigated at Tralles by magic, and how a boy, gazing at an image of Mercury in water, had predicted the future in one hundred and sixty verses. But this is not all. In a third passage[1065] he actually quotes Pythagoras to the effect that Mercury ought not to be carved out of every kind of wood.

[Pg 234]

Philosophy and magic.

If in the Metamorphoses the practice of magic is imputed chiefly to old-wives, in the Apology a main concern of Apuleius is to defend philosophers in general[1066] and himself in particular from “the calumny of magic.”[1067] Epimenides, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Ostanes, Empedocles, Socrates, and Plato have been so suspected, and it consoles Apuleius in his own trial to reflect that he is but sharing the undeserved fate of “so many and such great men.”[1068] In this connection he states that those philosophers who have taken an especial interest in theology, “who investigate the providence of the universe too curiously and celebrate the gods too enthusiastically,” are the ones to be suspected of magic; while those who devote themselves to natural science pure and simple are more liable to be called irreligious atheists.

Magic defined.

But what is it to be a magician, Apuleius asks the accusers,[1069] and therewith we face again the question of the definition of magic, and Apuleius gradually answers his own query in the course of the oration. Magic, in the ordinary use of the word, is described in much the same way as in the Metamorphoses. It has been proscribed by Roman law since the Twelve Tables; it is hideous and horrible; it is secret and solitary; it murmurs its incantations in the darkness of the night.[1070] It is an art of ill repute, of illicit evil deeds, of crimes and enormities.[1071] Instead of simply calling it magia, Apuleius often applies to it the double expression, magica maleficia.[1072] Perhaps he does this intentionally. In one passage he states that he will refute certain charges which the accusers have brought against him, first, by showing that the things he has been charged with have nothing to do with magic; and second, by proving that, even if he were a magician, there was no cause or occasion for his having committed any maleficium in this connection.[1073][Pg 235] That is to say, maleficium, literally “an evil deed,” means an injury done another by means of magic art. The proconsul sitting in judgment takes a similar view and has asked the accusers, Apuleius tells us,[1074] when they asserted that a woman had fallen into an epileptic fit in his presence and that this was due to his having bewitched her, whether the woman died or what good her having a fit did Apuleius. This is significant as hinting that Roman law did not condemn a man for magic unless he were proved to have committed some crime or made some unjust gain thereby.

Good and bad magic.

Does Apuleius for his part mean to suggest a distinction between magia and magica maleficia, and to hint, as he did not do in the Metamorphoses, that there is a good as well as a bad magic? He cannot be said to maintain any such distinction consistently; often in the Apology magia alone as well as maleficium is used in a bad sense. But he does suggest such a thought and once voices it quite explicitly.[1075] “If,” he says, “as I have read in many authors, magus in the Persian language corresponds to the word sacerdos in ours, what crime, pray, is it to be a priest and duly know and understand and cherish the rules of ceremonial, the sacred customs, the laws of religion?” Plato describes magic as part of the education of the young Persian prince by the four wisest and best men of the realm, one of whom instructs him in the magic of Zoroaster which is the worship of the gods. “Do you hear, you who rashly charge me with magic, that this art is acceptable to the immortal gods, consists in celebrating and reverencing them, is pious and prophetic, and long since was held by Zoroaster and Oromazes, its authors, to be noble and divine?”[1076] In common speech, however, Apuleius recognizes that a magician is one “who by his power of addressing the immortal gods is able to accomplish whatever he will by an almost incredible force of incantations.” But anyone who believes that another man possesses such a power as this should be afraid to accuse him,[Pg 236] says Apuleius, who thinks by this ingenious dilemma to prove the insincerity of his accusers. Nevertheless he presently mentions that Mercury, Venus, Luna, and Trivia are the deities usually summoned in the ceremonies of the magicians.[1077]

Magic and religion.

It will be noted that Apuleius connects magic with the gods and religion more in the Apology than in the Metamorphoses. There his emphasis was on the natural materials employed by the witches and their almost scientific laboratories. But in the Apology both Persian Magi and common magicians are associated with the worship or invocation of the gods, and it is theologians rather than natural philosophers who incur suspicion of magic.

Magic and science.

But it may be that the reason why Apuleius abstains in the Apology from suggesting any connection or confusion between magic and natural science is that the accusers have already laid far too much stress upon this point for his liking. He has been charged with the composition of a tooth-powder,[1078] with use of a mirror,[1079] with the purchase of a sea-hare, a poisonous mollusc, and two other fish appropriate from their obscene shapes and names for use as love-charms.[1080] He is said to have had a horrible wooden image or seal constructed secretly for use in his magic,[1081] to keep other instruments of his art mysteriously wrapped in a handkerchief in the house,[1082] and to have left in the vestibule of another house where he lodged “many feathers of birds” and much soot on the walls.[1083] All these charges make it evident that natural and artificial objects are, as in the Metamorphoses, considered essential or at least usual in performing magic. Moreover, so ready have the accusers shown themselves to interpret the interest of Apuleius in natural science as an evidence of the practice of magic by him, that he sarcastically remarks[1084] that he is glad that they were unaware that he had read Theophrastus On beasts that bite and sting and Ni[Pg 237]cander On the bites of wild beasts (usually called Theriaca),[1085] or they would have accused him of being a poisoner as well as a magician.

Medical and scientific knowledge of Apuleius.

Apuleius shows that he really is a student, if not an authority, in medicine and natural science. The gift of the tooth-powder and the falling of the woman in a fit were incidents of his occasional practice of medicine, and he also sees no harm in his seeking certain remedies from fish.[1086] He repeats Plato’s theory of disease from the Timaeus and cites Theophrastus’s admirable work On Epileptics.[1087] Mention of the mirror starts him off upon an optical disquisition in which he remarks upon theories of vision and reflection, upon liquid and solid, flat and convex and concave mirrors, and cites the Catoptrica of Archimedes.[1088] He also regards himself as an experimental zoologist and has conducted all his researches publicly.[1089] He procures fish in order to study them scientifically as Aristotle, Theophrastus, Eudemus, Lycon, and other pupils of Plato did.[1090] He has read innumerable books of this sort and sees no harm in testing by experience what has been written. Indeed he is himself writing in both Greek and Latin a work on Natural Questions in which he hopes to add what has been omitted in earlier books and to remedy some of their defects and to arrange all in a handier and more systematic fashion. He has passages from the section on fishes in this work read aloud in court.

He repeats familiar errors.

Throughout the Apology Apuleius occasionally airs his scientific attainments by specific statements and illustrations from the zoological and other scientific fields. Indeed the[Pg 238] presence of such allusions is as noticeable in the Apology as was their absence from the Metamorphoses. But they go to show that his knowledge was greater than his discretion, since for the most part they repeat familiar errors of contemporary science. We are told—the story is also in Aristotle, Pliny, and Aelian—how the crocodile opens its jaws to have its teeth picked by a friendly bird,[1091] that the viper gnaws its way out of its mother’s womb,[1092] that fish are spontaneously generated from slime,[1093] and that burning the stone gagates will cause an epileptic to have a fit.[1094] On the other hand, the skin shed by a spotted lizard is a remedy for epilepsy, but you must snatch it up speedily or the lizard will turn and devour it, either from natural appetite or just because he knows that you want it.[1095] This tale, so characteristic of the virtues attributed to parts of animals and the human motives ascribed to the animals themselves, is taken by Apuleius from a treatise by Theophrastus entitled Jealous Animals.

Apparent ignorance of magic and occult virtue.

In defending what he terms his scientific investigations from the aspersion of magic Apuleius is at times either a trifle disingenuous and inclined to trade upon the ignorance of his judge and accusers, or else not as well informed himself as he might be in matters of natural science and of occult science. He contends that fish are not employed in magic arts, asks mockingly if fish alone possess some property hidden from other men and known to magicians, and affirms that if the accuser knows of any such he must be a magician rather than Apuleius.[1096] He insists that he did not make use of a sea-hare and describes the “fish” in question in detail,[1097] but this description, as is pointed out in Butler and Owen’s edition of the Apology,[1098] tends to convince us that it really was a sea-hare. In the case of the two fish with obscene names, he ridicules the arguing from similarity of names to similarity of powers in the things so designated, as[Pg 239] if that were not what magicians and astrologers and believers in sympathy and antipathy were always doing. You might as well say, he declares, that a pebble is good for the stone and a crab for an ulcer,[1099] as if precisely these remedies for those diseases were not found in the Pseudo-Dioscorides and in Pliny’s Natural History.[1100]

Despite an assumption of knowledge.

It is hardly probable that in the passages just cited Apuleius was pretending to be ignorant of matters with which he was really acquainted, since as a rule he is eager to show off his knowledge even of magic itself. Thus the accusers affirmed that he had bewitched a boy by incantations in a secret place with an altar and a lamp; Apuleius criticizes their story by saying that they should have added that he employed the boy for purposes of divination, citing tales which he has read to this effect in Varro and many other authors.[1101] And he himself is ready to believe that the human soul, especially in one who is still young and innocent, may, if soothed and distracted by incantations and odors, forget the present, return to its divine and immortal nature, and predict the future. When he reads some technical Greek names from his treatise on fishes, he suspects that the accuser will protest that he is uttering magic names in some Egyptian or Babylonian rite.[1102] And as a matter of fact, when later he mentioned the names of a number of celebrated magicians,[1103] the accusers appear to have raised such a tumult that Apuleius deemed it prudent to assure the judge that he had simply read them in reputable books in public libraries, and that to know such names was one thing, to practice the magic art quite another matter.

Attitude toward astrology.

Apuleius affirms that one of his accusers had consulted he knows not what Chaldeans how he might profitably marry off his daughter, and that they had prophesied truthfully that her first husband would die within a few months. “As for what she would inherit from him, they fixed that up, as[Pg 240] they usually do, to suit the person consulting them.”[1104] But in this respect their prediction turned out to be quite incorrect. We are left in some doubt, however, whether their failure in the second case is not regarded as due merely to their knavery, and their first successful prediction to the rule of the stars. Elsewhere, however, Apuleius does state that belief in fate and in magic are incompatible, since there is no place left for the force of spells and incantations, if everything is ruled by fate.[1105] But in other extant works[1106] he speaks of the heavenly bodies as visible gods, and Laurentius Lydus attributes astrological treatises to him.[1107]

His theory of demons.

In one passage of the Apology Apuleius affirms his belief with Plato in the existence of certain intermediate beings or powers between gods and men, who govern all divinations and the miracles of the magicians.[1108] In the treatise on the god or demon of Socrates[1109] he repeats this thought and tells us more of these mediators or demons. Their native element is the air, which Apuleius thought extended as far as the moon,[1110] just as Aristotle[1111] tells of animals who live in fire and are extinguished with it, and just as the fifth element, that “divine and inviolable” ether, contains the divine bodies of the stars. With the superior gods the demons have immortality in common, but like mortals they are subject to passions and to feeling and capable of reason.[1112] But their bodies are very light and like clouds, a point peculiar to themselves.[1113] Since both Plutarch and Apuleius wrote essays on the demon of Socrates and both derived, or thought that they derived, their theories concerning demons from Plato, it is interesting to note some divergences between their accounts. Apuleius confines them to the atmosphere beneath the moon more exclusively than Plutarch does; unlike Plutarch he represents them as immortal, not merely long-lived; and he has more to say about the sub[Pg 241]stance of their bodies and less concerning their relations with disembodied souls.

Apuleius in the middle ages.

Apuleius would have been a well-known name in the middle ages, if only indirectly through the use made by Augustine in The City of God[1114] of the Metamorphoses in describing magic and of the De deo Socratis in discussing demons.[1115] He also speaks of Apuleius in three of his letters,[1116] declaring that for all his magic arts he could win neither a throne nor judicial power. Augustine was not quite sure whether Apuleius had actually been transformed into an ass or not. A century earlier Lactantius[1117] spoke of the many marvels remembered of Apuleius. That manuscripts of the Metamorphoses, Apology and Florida were not numerous until after the twelfth and thirteenth centuries may be inferred from the fact that all the extant manuscripts seem to be derived from a single one of the later eleventh century, written in a Lombard hand and perhaps from Monte Cassino.[1118] The article on Apuleius in Pauly and Wissowa states that the best manuscripts of his other works are an eleventh century codex at Brussels and a twelfth century manuscript at Munich,[1119] but does not mention a twelfth century manuscript of the De deo Socratis in the British Museum.[1120] Another indication that in the twelfth century there were manuscripts of Apuleius in England or at Chartres and Paris is that John of Salisbury borrows from the De dogmate Platonis in his De nugis curialium.[1121] In the earlier middle ages there was ascribed to Apuleius a work on herbs of which we shall treat later.

[Pg 242]


Compared with Apuleius—Philostratus’s sources—Time and space covered—Philostratus’s audience—Object of the Life—Apollonius charged with magic—A confusion of terms—The Magi and magic—Apollonius and the Magi—Philostratus on wizards—Apollonius and wizards—Quacks and old-wives—The Brahmans—Marvels of the Brahmans—Magical methods of the Brahmans—Medicine of the Brahmans—Some signs of astrology—Interest in natural science—Natural law or special providence?—Cases of scepticism—Anecdotes of animals—Dragons of India—Occult virtues of gems—Absence of number mysticism—Mantike or the art of divination—Divining power of Apollonius—Dreams—Interpretation of omens—Animals and divination—Divination by fire—Other so-called predictions—Apollonius and the demons—Not all demons are evil—Philostratus’s faith in demons—The ghost of Achilles—Healing the sick and raising the dead—Other marvels—Golden wrynecks and the iunx—Why named iunx?—Apollonius in the middle ages.

Compared with Apuleius.

Some fifty years after the birth of Apuleius occurred that of Philostratus, whose career and interests were somewhat similar, although he came from the Aegean island of Lemnos instead of the neighborhood of Carthage and wrote in Greek rather than Latin. But like Apuleius he was a student of rhetoric and went first to Athens and then to Rome. The resemblance is perhaps closer between Apuleius and Apollonius of Tyana, whose life Philostratus wrote and of whom we know more than of his biographer. Like Apuleius Apollonius had to defend himself in court against the accusation of magic, and Philostratus gives us what purports to be his apology on that occasion. Two centuries afterwards Augustine in one of his letters[1122] names Apollonius and Apuleius as examples of men who were addicted to the magic art and who, the pagans said, performed greater[Pg 243] miracles than Christ did. A century before Augustine Lactantius states[1123] that a certain philosopher who had “vomited forth” three books “against the Christian religion and name” had compared the miracles of Apollonius favorably with those of Christ; Lactantius marvels that he did not mention Apuleius as well. Like Apuleius, Apollonius was a man of broad learning who traveled widely and sought initiation into mysteries and cults. Apuleius was a Platonist; Apollonius, a Pythagorean. We may also note a resemblance between the Metamorphoses and the Life of Apollonius. Both seem to elaborate earlier writings and both have much to say of transformations, wizards, demons, and the occult. The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, however, must be taken more seriously than the Metamorphoses. If the African’s work is a rhetorical romance embodying a certain autobiographical element, a Milesian tale to which personal religious experiences are annexed, then the work by Philostratus is a rhetorical biography with a tinge of romance and a good deal of sermonizing.

Philostratus’s sources.

Philostratus[1124] composed the Life of Apollonius about 217 A. D. at the request of the learned wife of the emperor Septimius Severus, to whose literary circle he belonged. The empress had come into possession of some hitherto unknown memoirs of Apollonius by a certain Damis of Nineveh, who had been his disciple and had accompanied him upon many of his travels. Some member of Damis’s family had brought these documents to the empress’s attention. Some scholars incline to the view that she was deceived by an impostor, but it hardly seems that there would be sufficient profit in the venture to induce anyone to take the pains to forge such memoirs. Also I can see no reason why a contemporary of Apollonius should not have said and believed everything which Philostratus represents Damis as saying; on the contrary it seems to me just what would be[Pg 244] said by a naïf, gullible, and devoted disciple, who was inclined to exaggerate the abilities and achievements of his master and to take literally everything that Apollonius uttered ironically or figuratively. Other accounts of Apollonius were already in existence by a Maximus of Aegae, where Apollonius had spent part of his life, and by Moeragenes, but the memoirs of Damis seem to have offered much new material. Philostratus accordingly wrote a new life based largely upon Damis, but also making use of the will and epistles of Apollonius, many of which the emperor Hadrian had earlier collected, and of the traditions still current in the cities and temples which Apollonius had frequented and which Philostratus now took the trouble to visit. It has sometimes been suggested, chiefly by Christian writers intent upon discrediting the career of Apollonius, that Philostratus invented Damis and his memoirs. But Philostratus seems straightforward in describing the pains he has been to in preparing the Life, and certainly is more explicit and systematic in stating his sources than other ancient biographers like Plutarch and Suetonius are. He appears to follow his sources rather closely and not to invent new incidents, although he may, like Thucydides and other ancient historians, have taken liberties with the speeches and arguments put into his characters’ mouths. And through the work, despite his belief in demons and marvels, he now and then gives evidence of a moderate and sceptical mind, at least for his times.

Time and space covered.

Apollonius lived in the first century of our era and died during the reign of Nerva well advanced in years. It is therefore of a period over a century before his own that Philostratus writes. He is said to commit a number of errors in history and geography,[1125] but we must remember that mistakes in geography were a failing of the best ancient his[Pg 245]torians such as Polybius, and the general picture drawn of the emperors and politics of Apollonius’s time is not far wrong. It is true that Philostratus also makes use of tradition which has gradually formed since the death of Apollonius, and introduces explanations or comments of his own on various matters. It is, however, not the facts either of Apollonius’s career or of his times that concern us but the beliefs and superstitions which we find in Philostratus’s Life of him. Whether these are of the first, second, or early third century is scarcely necessary or possible for us to distinguish. If Damis records them, Philostratus accepts them, and the probability is that they apply not only to all three centuries but to a long period before and after. The territory covered in the Life is almost as extensive; it ranges all over the Roman Empire, alludes occasionally to the Celts and Scythians, and opens up Ethiopia and India[1126] to our gaze. Apollonius was a great traveler and there are many interesting and informing passages concerning ships, sailing, pilots, merchants and sea-trade.[1127]

Philostratus’s audience.

If we ask further, for what class of readers was the Life intended, the answer is, for the intellectual and learned. Apollonius himself was distinctly a Hellene. Philostratus represents him as often quoting Homer and other bygone Greek authors, or mentioning names from early Greek history such as Lycurgus and Aristides. One of his aims was to restore the degenerate Greek cities of his own day to their ancient morality. Furthermore, Apollonius never cared for many disciples, and neither required them to observe all the rules of life which he himself followed, nor admitted them to all his interviews with other sages and his initiations into sacred mysteries. This aloofness of the sage is somewhat reflected in his biographer. The Life is an attempt not to[Pg 246] popularize the teachings of Apollonius but to justify him before the learned world.

Object of the Life.

The charge had been frequently made that Apollonius came illegitimately by his wisdom and acquired it violently by magic. Philostratus would restore him to the ranks of true philosophers who gained wisdom by worthy and licit methods. He declares that he was not a wizard, as many suppose, but a notable Pythagorean, a man of broad culture, an intellectual and moral teacher, a religious ascetic and reformer, probably even a prophet of divine and superhuman nature. It is not now so generally held by Christian writers as it used to be that Philostratus wrote the Life with the Gospel story of Christ in mind, and that his purpose was to imitate or to parody or to oppose a rival narrative to the Christian story and teaching. At no point in the Life does Philostratus betray unmistakably even a passing acquaintance with the Gospels, much less display any sign of animus against them. Moreover, the Christian historian and apologist, Eusebius, who lived in the century following Philostratus and was familiar with his Life of Apollonius, in writing a reply to a treatise in which Hierocles, a provincial governor under Diocletian, had compared Apollonius with Jesus, distinctly states that Hierocles was the first to suggest such an idea.[1128] Such similarities then as may exist between the Life and the Gospels must be taken as examples of beliefs common to that age.

Apollonius charged with magic.

Apollonius was accused of sorcery or magic during his lifetime by the rival philosopher Euphrates. The four books on Apollonius written by Moeragenes also portrayed him as a wizard;[1129] and Eusebius in his reply to Hierocles ascribed the miracles wrought by Apollonius to sorcery and the aid of evil demons.[1130] Earlier the satirist Lucian de[Pg 247]scribed Alexander the pseudo-prophet as having been in his youth an apprentice to “one of the charlatans who deal in magic and mystic incantations, ... a native of Tyana, an associate of the great Apollonius, and acquainted with all his heroics.”[1131]

A confusion of terms

In defending his hero against these charges Philostratus is guilty himself both of some ambiguous use of terms and of some loose thinking. The same ambiguous terminology, however, will be found in other discussions of magic. In a few passages Philostratus denies that Apollonius was a μάγος but much oftener exculpates him from the charge of being a γόης or γοήτης. With the latter word or words there is no difficulty. It means a wizard, sorcerer, or enchanter, and is always employed in a sinister or disreputable sense. With the term μάγος the case is different, as with the Latin magus. It may signify an evil magician, or it may refer to one of the Magi of the East, who are generally regarded as wise and good men. This delicate distinction, however, is not easy to maintain and Philostratus fails to do so, while Mr. Conybeare in his English translation[1132] makes confusion worse confounded not only by translating μάγος as “wizard” instead of “magician,” but by sometimes doing this when it really should be rendered as “one of the Magi.” It may also be noted that Philostratus locates the Magi in Babylonia as well as in Persia.

The Magi and magic

To begin with, in his second chapter Philostratus says that some consider Apollonius a magician “because he consorted with the Magi of the Babylonians, and the Brahmans of the Indians, and the Gymnosophists in Egypt.” But they are wrong in this. “For Empedocles and Pythagoras himself and Democritus, although they associated with the Magi and spake many divine utterances, yet did not stoop to the art” (of magic). Plato, too, he goes on to say, although[Pg 248] he visited Egypt and its priests and prophets, was never regarded as a magician. In this passage, then, Philostratus closely associates the Magi with the magic art, and I am not sure whether the last “Magi” should not be “magicians.” On the other hand his acquittal of Democritus and Pythagoras from the charge of magic does not agree with Pliny, who ascribed a large amount of magic to them both.

Apollonius and the Magi.

Apollonius himself evidently did not regard the Magi whom he met in Babylon and Susa as evil magicians. One of the chief aims of his scheme of oriental travel “was to acquaint himself thoroughly with their lore.” He wished to discover whether they were wise in divine things, as they were said to be[1133]. Sacrifices and religious rites were performed under their supervision[1134]. Apollonius did not permit Damis to accompany him when he visited the Magi at noon and again about midnight and conversed with them[1135]. But Apollonius himself said that he learned some things from them and taught them some things; he told Damis that they were “wise men, but not in all respects”; on leaving their country he asked the king to give the presents which the monarch had intended for Apollonius himself to the Magi, whom he described then as “men who both are wise and wholly devoted to you.”[1136]

Philostratus on wizards.

Quite different is the attitude towards witchcraft and wizards of both Apollonius and his biographer. In the opinion of Philostratus wizards are of all men most wretched[1137]. They try to violate nature and to overcome fate by such methods as inquisition of spirits, barbaric sacrifices, incantations and besmearings. Simple-minded folk attribute great powers to them; and athletes desirous of winning victories, shopkeepers intent upon success in business ventures, and lovers in especial are continually resorting to them and apparently never lose faith in them despite repeated failures, despite occasional exposure or ridicule of their methods in[Pg 249] books and writing, and despite the condemnation of witchcraft both by law and nature.[1138] Apollonius was certainly no wizard, argues Philostratus, for he never opposed the Fates but only predicted what they would bring to pass, and he acquired this foreknowledge not by sorcery but by divine revelation.[1139]

Apollonius and wizards.

Nevertheless Apollonius is frequently accused of being a wizard by others in the pages of Philostratus. At Athens he was refused initiation into the mysteries on this ground,[1140] and at Lebadea the priests wished to exclude him from the oracular cave of Trophonius for the same reason.[1141] When the dogs guarding the temple of Dictynna in Crete fawned upon him instead of barking at his approach, the guardians of the shrine arrested him as a wizard and would-be temple robber who had bewitched the dogs by something that he had given them to eat.[1142] Apollonius also had to defend himself against the accusation of witchcraft in his hearing or trial before Domitian.[1143] He then denied that one is a wizard merely because one has prescience, or that wearing linen garments proves one a sorcerer. Wizards shun the shrines and temples of the gods; they make use of trenches dug in the earth and invoke the gods of the lower world. They are greedy for gain and pseudo-philosophers. They possess no true science, depending for success in their art upon the stupidity of their dupes and devotees. They imagine what does not exist and disbelieve the truth. They work their sorcery by night and in darkness when those employing them cannot see or hear well. Apollonius himself was accused to Domitian of having sacrificed an Arcadian boy at night and consulted his entrails with Nerva in order to determine the latter’s prospects of becoming emperor.[1144] When before his trial Domitian was about to put Apollonius in fetters, the sage proposed the dilemma that if he were a wizard he could not be kept in bonds, or that if Domitian were able[Pg 250] to fetter him, he was obviously no wizard.[1145] This need not imply, however, that Apollonius believed that wizards really could free themselves, for he was at times ironical. If so, Domitian replied in kind by assuring him that he would at least keep him in fetters until he transformed himself into water or a wild beast or a tree.

Quacks and old-wives.

Closely akin to the goëtes or wizards are the old hags and quack-doctors who offer one Indian spices or boxes supposed to contain bits of stone taken from the moon, stars, or depths of earth.[1146] Likewise the divining old-wives who go about with sieves in their hands and pretend by means of their divination to heal sick animals for shepherds and cowherds.[1147] We also read that Apollonius expelled from the cities along the Hellespont various Egyptians and Chaldeans who were collecting money on the pretense of offering sacrifices to avert the earthquakes which were then occurring.[1148]

The Brahmans.

We have heard Philostratus mention the Brahmans of India in the same breath with the Magi of Persia and imply that Apollonius’s association with them contributed to his reputation as a magician.[1149] In another passage[1150] Philostratus places goëtes and Brahmans in unfortunate juxtaposition, and, immediately after condemning the wizards and defending Apollonius from the charge of sorcery, goes on to say that when he saw the automatic tripods and cup-bearers of the Indians, he did not ask how they were operated. “He applauded them, it is true, but did not think fit to imitate them.” But of course Apollonius should not even have applauded these automatons, which set food and poured wine before the guests of the Brahmans, if they were the contrivances of wizards. And in another passage,[1151] where he defends the signs and wonders wrought by the Brahmans against the aspersions cast upon them by the Gymnosophists of Ethiopia, Apollonius explains their practice of levitation[Pg 251] as an act of worship and communion with the sun god, and hence far removed from the rites performed in deep trenches and hollows of the earth to the gods of the lower world which we have heard him mention before as a practice characteristic of wizards.

Marvels of the Brahmans.

Nevertheless the feats ascribed to the Brahmans are certainly sufficiently akin to magic to excuse Philostratus for mentioning them along with the Magi and wizards and to justify us in considering them. Indeed, modern scholarship informs us that in the Vedic texts the word “bráhman” in the neuter means a “charm, rite, formulary, prayer,” and “that the caste of the Brahmans is nothing but the men who have bráhman or magic power.”[1152] In marked contrast to the taciturnity of Apollonius as to his interviews with the Magi of Babylon and Susa is the long account repeated by Philostratus from Damis of the sayings and doings of the sages of India. As for Apollonius himself, “he was always recounting to everyone what the Indians said and did.”[1153] They knew that he was approaching when he was yet afar off and sent a messenger who greeted him by name.[1154] Iarchas, their chief, also knew that Apollonius had a letter for him and that a delta was missing in it, and he told Apollonius many events of his past life. “We see, O Apollonius,” he said, “the signs of the soul, tracing them by a myriad symbols.”[1155] The Brahmans lived in a castle concealed by clouds, where they rendered themselves invisible at will. The rocks along the path up to their abode were still marked by the cloven feet, beards, faces, and backs of the Pans who had tried to scale the height under the leadership of Dionysus and Heracles, but had been hurled down headlong.[1156] Here too was a well for testing oaths, a purify[Pg 252]ing fire, and the jars in which the winds and rain were bottled up.

Magical methods of the Brahmans.

When the messenger of the Brahmans greeted Apollonius by name, the latter remarked to the astounded Damis, “We have come to men who are wise without art (ἀτεχνῶς), for they seem to have the gift of foreknowledge.”[1157] As a matter of fact, however, most of the subsequent wonders wrought by the Brahmans were not performed without the use of paraphernalia and rites very similar to those of magic. Each Brahman carries a staff—or magic wand—and wears a ring, which are both prized for their occult virtue by which the Brahmans can accomplish anything they wish.[1158] They clothe themselves in sacred garments made of “a wool that springs wild from the ground” (cotton?) and which the earth will not permit anyone else to pluck. Iarchas also showed Apollonius and Damis a marvelous stone called Pantarbe, which attracted and bound other stones to itself and which, although only the size of his finger-nail and formed in earth four fathoms deep, had such virtue that it broke the earth open.[1159] But it required great skill to secure this gem. “We only,” said the Brahman, “can obtain this pantarbe, partly by doing things and partly by saying things,” in other words by incantations and magical operations. Before performing their rite of levitation they bathed and anointed themselves with a certain drug. “Then they stood like a chorus with Iarchas as leader and with their rods uplifted struck the earth, which heaving like the sea-wave raised them up in the air two cubits high.”[1160] The metallic tripods and cup-bearers which served the king of the country when he came to visit the Brahmans appeared from nowhere laden with food and wine exactly as if by magic.[1161]

Medicine of the Brahmans.

The medical practice, if we may so call it, of the Brahmans was tinged, to say the least, with magic. A dislocated hip, indeed, they appear to have cured by massage, and a[Pg 253] blind man and a paralytic are healed by unspecified methods.[1162] But a boy is cured of inherited alcoholism by chewing owl’s eggs that have been boiled; a woman who complains that her sixteen-year-old son has for two years been vexed by a demon is sent away with a letter full of threats or incantations to employ against the spirit; and another woman’s sufferings in childbirth are prevented by directing her husband to enter her chamber with a live hare concealed in his bosom and to release the hare after he has walked around his wife once. Iarchas, indeed, attributed the origin of medicine to divination or divine revelation.[1163] His theory was that Asclepius, as the son of Apollo, learned by oracles what drugs to employ for the different diseases, in what amounts to mix the drugs, what the antidotes for poisons were, and how to use even poisons as remedies. This last especially he affirmed that no one would dare attempt without foreknowledge.

Some signs of astrology.

The Brahmans seem to have made some use of astrology in working their feats of magic. Damis at any rate said that when Apollonius bade farewell to the sages, Iarchas made him a present of seven rings named after the planets, which he wore in turn upon the appropriate days of the week.[1164] Perhaps, too, the seven swords of adamant which Iarchas had rediscovered as a child had some connection with the planets.[1165] Moeragenes ascribed four books on foretelling the future by the stars to Apollonius himself, but Philostratus was unable to find any such work by Apollonius extant in his day.[1166] And unless it be an allusion to Chaldeans which we have already noted, there is no further mention of astrology in Philostratus’s Life—a rather remarkable fact considering that he wrote for the court of Septimius Severus, the builder of the Septizonium.

Interest in natural science.

The philosopher Euphrates, who is represented by Philostratus as jealous of Apollonius, once advised the emperor Vespasian, when Apollonius was present, to embrace natural[Pg 254] philosophy—or a philosophy in accordance with natural law—but to beware of philosophers who pretended to have secret intercourse with the gods.[1167] There was justification in the latter charge against Apollonius, but it should not be assumed that his mysticism rendered him unfavorable to natural science. On the contrary he is frequently represented by Philostratus as whiling away the time along the road by discussing with Damis such natural problems as the delta of the Nile or the tides at the mouth of the Guadalquivir. He was especially interested in the habits of animals and the properties of gems. Vespasian was fond of listening to “his graphic stories of the rivers of India and the animals” of that country, as well as to “his statements of what the gods revealed concerning the empire.”[1168] Some of the questions which Apollonius put to the Brahmans concerned nature.[1169] He asked of what the world was composed, and when they said, “Of elements,” he asked if there were four. They believed, however, in a fifth element, ether, from which the gods had been generated and which they breathe as men breathe air. They also regarded the universe as a living animal. He further inquired of them whether land or sea predominated on the earth’s surface,[1170] and this same attitude of scientific inquiry and of curiosity about natural forces and objects is frequently met in the Life.

Natural law or special providence?

Apollonius believed, as we shall see, in omens and portents, and interpreted an earthquake at Antioch as a divine warning to the inhabitants.[1171] The Brahman sages, moreover, regarded prolonged drought as a punishment visited by the world soul upon human sinfulness.[1172] On the other hand, Apollonius gave a natural explanation of volcanoes and denied the myths concerning Enceladus being imprisoned under Mount Aetna and the battle of the gods and giants.[1173] And in the case of the earthquake the people had already accepted it as a portent and were praying in terror, when[Pg 255] Apollonius took the opportunity to warn them to cease from their civil factions. As a matter of fact, both Apollonius and Philostratus appear to regard portents as an extraordinary sort of natural phenomena. A knowledge of natural science helps in recognizing them and in interpreting them. When a lioness of enormous size with eight whelps in her is slain by hunters, Apollonius at once recognizes the event as portentous because as a rule lionesses have whelps only thrice and only three of them on the first occasion, two in the second litter, and finally but a single whelp, “but I believe a very big one and preternaturally fierce.”[1174] Here Apollonius is not in strict agreement with Pliny and Aristotle[1175] who say that the lioness produces five whelps at the first birth and one less every succeeding year.

Cases of scepticism

The scepticism of Apollonius concerning the Aetna myth is not an isolated instance. At Sardis he ridiculed the notion that trees could be older than earth,[1176] and he was one of the few ancients to question the swan’s song.[1177] He denied “the silly story that the young of vipers are brought into the world without mothers” as “consistent neither with nature nor experience,”[1178] and also the tale that the whelps of the lioness claw their way out into the world.[1179] In India Apollonius saw a wild ass or unicorn from whose single horn a magic drinking horn was made.[1180] A draught from this horn was supposed to protect one for that day from disease, wounds, fire, or poison, and on that account the king[Pg 256] alone was permitted to hunt the animal and to drink from the horn. When Damis asked Apollonius if he credited this story, the sage ironically replied that he would believe it if he found the king of the country to be immortal. Either, however, the scepticism of Apollonius, as was the case with so many other ancients and medieval men, was sporadic and inconsistent, or it came to be overlaid with the credulity of Damis and Philostratus, as the following example suggests. Iarchas told Damis and Apollonius flatly that the races described by Scylax of men with long heads or huge feet with which they were said to shade themselves did not exist in India or anywhere else; yet in a later book Philostratus states that the shadow-footed people are a tribe in Ethiopia.[1181]

Anecdotes of animals.

At any rate the marvels of India are more frequently credited than criticized in the Life by Philostratus, and the same holds true of the extraordinary conduct and well-nigh human intelligence attributed to animals. Especially delightful reading are six chapters on the remarkable sagacity of elephants and their love for mankind.[1182] On this point, as by Pliny, use is made of the work of Juba. We read again of sick lions eating apes, of the lioness’s love affair with the panther, of the fondness of leopards for the fragrant gum of a certain tree and of goats for the cinnamon tree; of apes who are made to collect pepper for men by appealing to their instinct towards mimicry;[1183] and of the tiger, whose loins alone are eaten by the Indians. “For they decline to eat the other parts of this animal, because they say that as soon as it is born it lifts up its front paws to the rising sun.”[1184] In the river Hyphasis is a creature like a white worm which yields when melted down a fat or oil that once set afire cannot be extinguished and which the king uses to burn walls[Pg 257] and capture cities.[1185] In India are griffins who quarry gold with their powerful beaks, and the luminous phoenix with its nest of spices and swan-like funeral song.[1186]

Dragons of India.

Especially remarkable are the snakes or dragons with which all India is filled and which often are of enormous size, thirty or even seventy cubits long.[1187] Those found in the marshes are sluggish and have no crests; but those on the hills and ridges move faster than the swiftest rivers and have both beards and crests.[1188] Those in the plain engage in combats with elephants which terminate fatally for both parties as we have already learned from Pliny.[1189] The mountain dragons have bushy beards, fiery crests, golden scales, and a ferocious glance.[1190] They burrow into the earth, making a noise like clashing brass, or go hissing down to the shore and swim far out to sea. Terrifying as they are, the Indians charm them by showing them golden characters embroidered on a cloak of scarlet and by incantations of a secret wisdom. They eat the dragon’s heart and liver in order to be able to understand the language and thoughts of animals.[1191]

Occult virtues of gems.

The dragons, however, are prized more for the precious stones in their heads, which the Indians quickly cut off as soon as they have bewitched them. The pupils of the eyes of the hill dragons are a fiery stone possessing irresistible virtue for many occult purposes,[1192] while in the heads of the mountain dragons are many brilliant stones of flashing colors which exert occult virtue if set in a ring, “and they say that Gyges had such a ring.”[1193] But there are many marvelous stones outside the heads of dragons. “Who does not know the habits of birds,” says Apollonius to Damis in one of his disquisitions upon natural phenomena,[1194] “and that eagles and storks will not build their nests without placing in them, the one the stone aetites, and the other the lychnites,[Pg 258] as aids in hatching and to drive snakes away?” On parting from the Indian king Phraotes, Apollonius as usual refused to accept money presents but picked up one of the gems that were offered him with the exclamation, “O rare stone, how opportunely and providentially have I found you!”[1195] Philostratus supposes that he detected some occult and divine power in this particular stone. The Brahmans had gems so huge that from one of them a goblet could be carved large enough to slake the thirst of four men in midsummer, but in this case nothing is said of occult virtue.[1196] The Brahman Iarchas felt sure that he was the reincarnation of the hero Ganges, son of the river Ganges, because as a mere child he knew where to dig for the seven swords of adamant which Ganges had fixed in the earth.[1197] Presumably these were magic swords and their virtue in part due to the stone adamant of which they were made. Less is said in the Life of the virtues of herbs than of gems, but the Indians made a nuptial ointment or love-charm from balm distilled from trees,[1198] and drugs and poisons are mentioned more than once, mandragora being described as a soporific drug rather than a deadly poison.[1199]

Absence of number mysticism.

Considering that Apollonius was a Pythagorean, there is surprisingly little said concerning perfect numbers and their mystic significance. Aside from the seven rings and seven swords already mentioned, about the only instance is the question asked by Apollonius whether eighteen, the number of the Brahman sages at the time of his visit, had any especial importance.[1200] He remarked that eighteen was not a square, nor a number usually held in esteem and honor like ten, twelve, and sixteen. The Brahmans agreed that there was no particular significance in eighteen, and further informed him that they maintained no fixed number of members but had varied from only one to as many as seventy according to the available supply of worthy men.

[Pg 259]

Mantike or the art of divination.

If Philostratus denies that Apollonius was a magician, he does depict him as endowed with prophetic gifts, with power over demons, and with “secret wisdom.” He rather likes to give the impression that the sage foretold things by innate prophetic gift or divine inspiration, but even μαντική or the art of divination is not condemned as γοητεία
or witchcraft was. Iarchas the Brahman says that those who delight in mantike become divine thereby and contribute to the safety of mankind.[1201] Apollonius himself, when condemning wizards as pseudo-wise, made the reservation that mantike, if true in its predictions, was not a pseudo-science, although he professed ignorance whether it could be called an art or not.[1202] He denied that he practiced it, when he was examined by Tigellinus, the favorite of Nero, who was persecuting philosophers on the ground that they were addicted to mantike.[1203] His accusers before Domitian again adduced his alleged practice of divination as evidence that he was a wizard.[1204]

Divining power of Apollonius.

If Apollonius practiced neither wizardry nor mantike, the question arises how he was able to foretell the future. In his trial before Domitian he did not attempt to deny that he had predicted the plague at Ephesus, but attributed his “sense of the coming disaster” to his abstemious diet, which kept his senses clear and enabled him to see as in an unclouded mirror “all that is happening or about to occur.”[1205] For he was credited with knowledge of distant events the moment they occurred as well as with foreknowledge of the future. Thus at Ephesus he was aware of the assassination of Domitian at Rome; and at Tarsus, although he arrived after the incident had occurred, he was able to describe and to find the mad dog by whom a boy had been bitten.[1206] Iarchas told Apollonius that health and purity were requisite for[Pg 260] divination;[1207] and Apollonius in turn, in recounting his life story to the naked sages of Egypt, represented the Pythagorean philosophy as appearing before him and promising, “And when you are pure, I will grant you the faculty of foreknowledge.”[1208]


Apollonius often was warned by dreams. When he dreamt of fish who were cast gasping upon dry land and who appealed for succour to a dolphin swimming by, he knew that he ought to visit and restore the graves and assist the descendants of the Eretrians whom Darius had taken captive to the Persian kingdom over five centuries before.[1209] Another dream he interpreted as a command to visit Crete.[1210] In defending his linen apparel before Domitian he declared, “It is a pure substance under which to sleep at night, for to those who live as I do dreams bring the truest of their revelations.”[1211] He was not the only dreamer of the time, however, and when some of his followers were afraid to accompany him to Rome in Nero’s reign, they made warning dreams their excuse for deserting him.[1212]

Interpretation of omens.

It has been seen that Apollonius not only had prophetic dreams but was skilful in interpreting them. He was equally adept in explaining the meaning of omens. The dead lion with her eight unborn whelps he took as a sign that Damis and he would remain a year and eight months in that land.[1213] When Damis objected that Homer interpreted the sparrow and her eight nestlings whom the snake devoured as nine years’ duration of the Trojan war, Apollonius retorted that the birds had been hatched but that the whelps, being yet unborn, could not signify complete years. On another occasion he interpreted the birth of a three-headed child as a sign of the year of the three emperors.[1214]

[Pg 261]

Animals and divination.

Such interpretation of dreams and omens suggests an art or arts of divination rather than foreknowledge by direct divine inspiration. So does the passage in which Apollonius informs Domitian, when accused before him of having divined the future by sacrificing a boy, that human entrails are inferior to those of animals for purposes of divination, since the beasts are less perturbed by knowledge of their approaching death.[1215] Apollonius himself would not sacrifice even animal victims, but he enlarged his powers of divination during his sojourn among the Arab tribes by learning to understand the language of animals and to listen to the birds as these predict the future.[1216] The Arabs acquire this power by eating, some say the heart, others the liver, of dragons,—a fact which gave the church historian Eusebius an opportunity to charge Apollonius with having broken his taboo of animal flesh.

Divination by fire.

Although he did not sacrifice animals and divine from their entrails, Apollonius appears to have employed practices akin to those of the art of pyromancy when he threw a handful of frankincense into the sacrificial fire with a prayer to the sun, “and watched to see how the smoke of it curled upwards, and how it grew turbid, and in how many points it shot up; and in a manner he caught the meaning of the fire, and observed how it appeared of good omen and pure.”[1217] Again he visited an Egyptian temple and sacrificed an image of a bull made of frankincense and told the priest that if he really understood the science of divination by fire (ἐμπύρου σοφίας), he would see many things revealed in the circle of the rising sun.[1218]

Other so-called predictions.

It should be added that only a very ardent admirer of Apollonius or an equally ardent seeker after prophecies would see anything prophetic in some of the apparently chance remarks of the sage which have been perverted into predictions. At Ephesus he did not actually predict the plague, which had already begun to spread judging from the[Pg 262] account of Philostratus, but rather warned the heedless population to take measures to prevent its becoming general.[1219] When visiting the isthmus of Corinth he began to say that it would be cut through, an idea which had doubtless occurred again and again to many; but then said that it would not be cut through.[1220] This sane, if somewhat vacillating, state of mind received confirmation soon afterwards when Nero attempted an Isthmian canal but left it uncompleted. Another similarly ambiguous utterance was elicited from Apollonius by an eclipse of the sun accompanied by thunder: “There shall be some great event and there shall not be.”[1221] This was believed to receive miraculous fulfillment three days later when a thunderbolt dashed the cup out of which Nero was drinking from his hands but left him unharmed. Once Apollonius saved his life by changing from a ship which sank soon afterwards to another vessel.[1222] An instance of more specific prophecy is the case of the consul Aelian, who testified that when he was but a tribune under Vespasian, Apollonius took him aside and told him his name and country and parentage, “and you foretold to me that I should hold this high office which is accounted by the multitude the highest of all.”[1223] But Aelian may have exaggerated the accuracy of Apollonius’s prediction, or the latter may have made a shrewd guess that Aelian was likely to rise to high office.

Apollonius and the demons.

The divining faculty of Apollonius enabled him to detect the presence and influence of demons, phantoms, and goblins, whose ways he understood as well as the language of the birds. At Ephesus he detected the true cause of the plague in a ragged old beggar whom he ordered the people to stone to death.[1224] At this command the blinking eyes of the aged mendicant suddenly shot forth malevolent and fiery gleams and revealed his demon character. Afterwards, when the people removed the stones, they found underneath, pounded to a pulp, an enormous hound still vomiting foam[Pg 263] as mad dogs do. Later, when accused of magic before Domitian, Apollonius requested that the emperor question him in private about the causes of this pestilence at Ephesus, which he said were too deep to be discussed publicly.[1225] And earlier in the reign of Nero, when asked by Tigellinus how he got the better of demons and phantasms, he evaded the question by a saucy retort.[1226] On one occasion, however, we are told that he got rid of a ghostly apparition by heaping abuse upon it;[1227] and a satyr, who remained invisible but created annoyance by running amuck through the camp, he disposed of by the expedient of filling a trough with wine and letting the spirit get drunk on it. When the wine had all disappeared, Apollonius led his companions to the cave of the nymphs where the satyr was now visible in a drunken sleep.[1228] He also reformed the character of a licentious youth by expelling a demon from him,[1229] and at Corinth exposed a lamia who, under the disguise of a dainty and wealthy lady, was fattening up a beautiful youth named Menippus with the intention of eventually devouring his blood.[1230] On his return by sea from India Apollonius passed a sacred island where lived a sea nymph or female demon who was as destructive to mariners as Scylla or the Sirens were of old.

Not all demons are evil

But the word “demon” is not always employed by Philostratus in the sense of an evil spirit. The annunciation of the birth of Apollonius was made to his mother by Proteus in the form of an Egyptian demon.[1231] Damis looked upon Apollonius himself as a demon and worshiped him as such, when he heard him say that he comprehended not only all human languages but also those things concerning which men maintain silence.[1232] In a letter to Euphrates[1233] Apollonius affirms that the all-wise Pythagoras should be classed among demons. But when Domitian, on first meeting Apollonius[Pg 264] said that he looked like a demon, the sage replied that the emperor was confusing demons and human beings.[1234]

Philostratus’s faith in demons.

Philostratus adds his own bit of personal testimony to the existence of demons, although it cannot be said to be very convincing. After telling the satyr story he warns his readers not to be incredulous as to the existence of satyrs or to doubt that they make love. For they should not mistrust what is supported by experience and by Philostratus’s own word. For he knew in Lemnos a youth of his own age whose mother was said to be visited by a satyr, and such he probably was, since he wore a fawn skin tied around his neck by the two front paws.[1235]

The ghost of Achilles.

Apollonius had an interview with the ghost of Achilles which strongly suggests necromancy. He sent his companions on board ship and passed the night alone at the hero’s tomb. Nor did he allude to what had happened until questioned by the curious Damis. He then averred that his method of invoking the dead had not been that of Odysseus, but that he had prayed to Achilles much as the Indians do to their heroes. A slight earthquake then occurred and Achilles appeared. At first he was five cubits tall but gradually increased to some twelve cubits in height. At cock-crow he vanished in a flash of summer lightning.[1236]

Healing the sick and raising the dead.

Apollonius, as well as the Brahmans, wrought some cures. One was of a boy who had been bitten by a mad dog and consequently “behaved exactly like a dog, for he barked and howled and went on all fours.”[1237] Apollonius first found and quieted the dog, and then made it lick the wound, a homeopathic treatment which cured the boy. It now only remained to cure the dog, too, and this the philosopher effected by praying to the river which was near by and then making the dog swim across it. “For,” concludes Philostratus, “a drink of water will cure a mad dog if he only can be induced to take it.” The modern reader will suspect that the dog was not mad to begin with and that Apollonius[Pg 265] cleverly cured the boy’s complaint by the same force that had induced it—suggestion. Apollonius once revived a maiden who was being borne to the grave by touching her and saying something to her, but Philostratus honestly admits that he is not sure whether he restored her to life or detected signs of life in the body which had escaped the notice of everyone else.[1238]

Other marvels.

When Apollonius was brought before Tigellinus, the scroll on which the charges against him had been written was found to have become quite blank when Tigellinus unrolled it.[1239] Upon that occasion and again before Domitian he intimated that his body could not be bound or slain against his will.[1240] The former contention he proved to the satisfaction of Damis, who visited him in prison, by suddenly removing his leg from the fetters and then inserting it again.[1241] Damis regarded this exhibition as a divine miracle, since Apollonius performed it without magical ceremony or incantations. He is also represented as escaping from his bonds at about midnight when imprisoned later in life in Crete.[1242] Philostratus, too, implies that he vanished miraculously from the courtroom of Domitian and that he sometimes passed from one place to another in an incredibly short time, and is somewhat doubtful whether he ever died. But we have seen that even on the testimony of Damis and Philostratus themselves many of the marvels and predictions of Apollonius were not “artless” but involved a knowledge of contemporary natural science and medicine, or of arts of divination, or the employment, in a way not unlike the procedure of magic, of forces and materials outside himself, namely, the occult virtues of things in nature or incantations, rites, and ceremonies.

Golden wrynecks and the iunx.

So much for Apollonius and his magic, but the Life contains some interesting allusions to the ἴυγξ or wryneck, which throw light upon the use of that bird in Greek magic, but which have seldom been noted and then not correctly[Pg 266] interpreted.[1243] The wryneck was so much employed in Greek magic, as references to it from Pindar to Theocritus show, that the word iunx was sometimes used as a synonym or figurative expression for spells or charms in general. Philostratus, too, employs it in this sense, representing the Gymnosophists as accusing the Brahmans of “appealing to the crowd with varied enchantments (or iunges).”[1244] But in other passages he makes it clear that the wryneck is still employed as a magic bird. Describing the royal palace at Babylon[1245] he states that the Magi have hung four golden wrynecks, which they themselves attune and which they call the tongues of the gods, from the ceiling of the judgment hall to remind the king of divine judgment and not to set himself above mankind. Golden wrynecks were also suspended in the Pythian temple at Delphi, and in this connection they are said to possess some of the virtue of the Sirens,[1246] or, as Mr. Cook translates it, “to echo the persuasive note of siren voices.” These two passages seem to point clearly to the employment of mechanical metal birds which sang and moved as if by magic. The Greek mathematician Hero in his explanation of mechanical devices employed in temples tells how to make a bird turn itself about and whistle by turning a wheel.[1247]

Why named iunx?

Now this is precisely what the wryneck does in its “wonderful way of writhing its head and neck” and emitting hissing sounds. The bird’s “unmistakable note” is “que, que,[Pg 267] que, repeated many times in succession, at first rapidly, but gradually slowing and in a continually falling key.”[1248] I would therefore suggest that as the English name for the bird is derived from its writhing its neck, so the Greek name comes from its cry, for “que” and the root ἰυγ, if repeated rapidly many times in succession, sound much alike.[1249]

Apollonius in the middle ages.

The name, Apollonius, continued to be associated with magic in the middle ages, when the Golden Flowers of Apollonius, a work on the notory art or theurgy,[1250] is found in the manuscripts. And we shall find Cecco d’Ascoli[1251] in the early fourteenth century citing a “book of magic art” by Apollonius and also a treatise on spirits, De angelica factione. In 1412 Amplonius listed in the catalogue of his manuscripts a “book of Apollonius the magician or philosopher which is called Elizinus.”[1252] Works on the causes and properties of things are also ascribed to Apollonius in medieval manuscripts,[1253] and a Balenus or Belenus to whom works on astrological images and seals are ascribed in the manuscripts[1254] is perhaps a corruption for Apollonius.[1255]

[Pg 268]


Authors to be considered—Their standpoint—De divinatione; argument of Quintus—Cicero attacks past authority—Divination distinct from natural science—Unreasonable in method—Requires violation of natural law—Cicero and astrology—His crude historical criticism—Favorinus against astrologers—Sextus Empiricus—Lucius, or The Ass: is it by Lucian?—Career of Lucian—Alexander the pseudo-prophet—Magical procedure in medicine satirized—Snake-charming—A Hyperborean magician—Some ghost stories—Pancrates, the magician—Credulity and scepticism—Menippus, or Necromancy—Astrological interpretation of Greek myth—History and defense of astrology—Lucian not always sceptical—Lucian and medicine—Inevitable intermingling of scepticism and superstition—Lucian on writing history.

Authors to be considered.

Having noted the large amount of magic that still existed both in the leading works of natural science of the early Roman empire and in the more general literature of that period, it is only fair that we should note such extremes of scepticism towards the superstitions then current as can be found during the same period. They are, however, few and far between, and we shall have to go back to the close of the Republican period for the best instance in the De divinatione of Cicero. As Pliny’s Natural History was mainly a compilation of earlier Greek science, so Cicero’s arguments against divination were not entirely original with him. As his other philosophical writings are largely indebted to the Greeks, so his attack upon divination is supposed to be under considerable obligations to Clitomachus and Panaetius,[1256] philosophers of the New Academy and the[Pg 269] Stoic school who flourished respectively at Carthage and Athens and at Rhodes and Rome in the second century before our era. We shall next briefly note the criticisms of astrologers and astrology made by Favorinus, a rhetorician from Gaul who resided at Rome under Hadrian and was a friend of Plutarch but whose argument against the astrologers has been preserved only in the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius,[1257] and by Sextus Empiricus,[1258] a sceptical philosopher who wrote about 200. Finally we shall consider Lucian’s satirical depiction of various superstitions of his time.

Their standpoint.

It will be noticed that no one of these critics of magic, if we may so designate them, is primarily a natural scientist. Cicero and Lucian and Favorinus are primarily men of letters and rhetoricians. And all four of our critics write to a greater or less extent from the professed standpoint of a general sceptical attitude in all matters of philosophy and not merely in the matter of superstition. Thus the attack of Sextus Empiricus upon astrology occurs in a work which is directed against learning in general, and in which he assails grammarians, rhetoricians, geometricians, arithmeticians, students of music, logicians, physicists, and students of ethics, as well as the casters of horoscopes. Aulus Gellius did not know whether to take the arguments of Favorinus against the astrologers seriously or not. He says that he heard Favorinus make the speech the substance of which he repeats, but that he is unable to state whether the philosopher really meant what he said or argued merely in order to exercise and to display his genius. There was reason for this perplexity of Aulus Gellius, since Favorinus was inclined to such tours de force as eulogies of Thersites or of Quartan Fever.

De divinatione: argument of Quintus.

De divinatione takes the form of a supposititious conversation, or better, informal debate, between the author and his brother Quintus. In the first book Quintus, in a rather rambling and leisurely fashion and with occasional repetition[Pg 270] of ideas, upholds divination to the best of his ability, citing many reported instances of successful recourse to it in antiquity. In the second book Tully proceeds with a somewhat patronizing air to pull entirely to pieces the arguments of his brother who assents with cheerful readiness to their demolition. On the whole the appeal to the past is the main point in the argument of Quintus. What race or state, he asks, has not believed in some form of divination? “For before the revelation of philosophy, which was discovered but recently, public opinion had no doubt of the truth of this art; and after philosophy emerged no philosopher of authority thought otherwise. I have mentioned Pythagoras, Democritus, Socrates. I have left out no one of the ancients save Xenophanes. I have added the Old Academy, the Peripatetics, the Stoics. Epicurus alone dissented.”[1259] Quintus closes his long argument in favor of the truth of divination by solemnly asserting that he does not approve of sorcerers, nor of those who prophesy for the sake of gain, nor of the practice of questioning the spirits of the dead—which nevertheless, he says, was a custom of his brother’s friend Appius.[1260]

Cicero attacks past authority.

When Tully’s turn to speak comes, he rudely disturbs his brother’s reliance upon tradition. “I think it not the part of a philosopher to employ witnesses, who are only haply true and often purposely false and deceiving. He ought to show why a thing is so by arguments and reasons, not by events, especially those I cannot credit.”[1261] “Antiquity,” Cicero declares later, “has erred in many respects.”[1262] The existence of the art of divination in every age and nation has little effect upon him. There is nothing, he asserts, so widespread as ignorance.[1263]

Divination distinct from natural science.

Both brothers distinguish divination as a separate subject from the natural or even the applied sciences. Quintus says that medical men, pilots, and farmers foresee many things, yet their arts are not divination. “Not even Phere[Pg 271]cydes, that famous Pythagorean master, who predicted an earthquake when he saw that the water had disappeared from a well which usually was well filled, should be regarded as a diviner rather than a physicist.”[1264] Tully carries the distinction a step further and asserts that the sick seek a doctor, not a soothsayer; that diviners cannot instruct us in astronomy; that no one consults them concerning philosophic problems or ethical questions; that they can give us no light on the problems of the natural universe; and that they are of no service in logic, dialectic, or political science.[1265] An admirable declaration of independence of natural science and medicine and other arts and constructive forms of thought from the methods of divination! But also one more easy to state in general terms of theory than to enforce in details of practice, as Pliny, Galen, and Ptolemy have already shown us. None the less it is indeed a noteworthy restriction of the field of divination when Cicero remarks to his brother, “For those things which can be perceived beforehand either by art or reason or experience or conjecture you regard as not the affair of diviners but of scientists.”[1266] But the question remains whether too large powers of prediction may not be claimed by “science.”

Unreasonable in method.

Cicero proceeds to attack the methods and assumptions of divination as neither reasonable nor scientific. Why, he asks, did Calchas deduce from the devoured sparrows that the Trojan war would last ten years rather than ten weeks or ten months?[1267] He points out that the art is conducted in different places according to quite different rules of procedure, even to the extent that a favorable omen in one locality is a sinister warning elsewhere.[1268] He refuses to believe in any extraordinary bonds of sympathy between things which, in so far as our daily experience and our[Pg 272] knowledge of the workings of nature can inform us, have no causal connection. What intimate connection, he asks, what bond of natural causality can there be between the liver or heart or lung of a fat bull and the divine eternal cause of all which rules the universe?[1269] “That anything certain is signified by uncertain things, is not this the last thing a scientist should admit?”[1270] He refuses to accept dreams as fit channels either of natural divination or divine revelation.[1271] The Sibylline Books, like most oracles, are vague and the evident product of labored ingenuity.[1272]

Requires violation of natural law.

Moreover, divination asserts the existence of phenomena which science denies. Such a figment, Cicero scornfully affirms, as that the heart will vanish from the carcass of a victim is not believed even by old-wives now-a-days. How can the heart vanish from the body? Surely it must be there as long as life lasts, and how can it disappear in an instant? “Believe me, you are abandoning the citadel of philosophy while you defend its outposts. For in your effort to prove soothsaying true you utterly pervert physiology.... For there will be something which either springs from nothing or suddenly vanishes into nothingness. What scientist ever said that? The soothsayers say so? Are they then, do you think, to be trusted rather than scientists?”[1273] Cicero makes other arguments against divination such as the stock contentions that it is useless to know predetermined events beforehand since they cannot be avoided, and that even if we can learn the future, we shall be happier not to do it, but his outstanding argument is that it is unscientific.

Cicero and astrology.

Cicero’s attack upon divination is mainly directed against liver divination and analogous methods of predicting the future, but he devotes a few chapters[1274] to the doctrines of the Chaldeans. They postulate a certain force in the constellations called the zodiac and hold that between[Pg 273] man and the position of the stars and planets at the moment of his birth there exists a relation of sympathy so that his personality and all the events of his life are thereby determined. Diogenes the Stoic limited this influence to the determination of one’s aptitude and vocation, but Cicero regards even this much as going too far. The immense spaces intervening between the different planets seem to him a reason for rejecting the contentions of the Chaldeans. His further criticism that they insist that all men born at the same moment are alike in character regardless of horizons and different aspects of the sky in different places is one that at least did not hold good permanently against astrology and is not true of Ptolemy. He asks if all the men who perished at Cannae were born beneath the same star and how it came about that there was only one Homer if several men are born every instant. He also adduces the stock argument from twins. He attacks the practice, which we shall find continued in the middle ages, of astrological prediction of the fate of cities. He says that if all animals are to be subjected to the stars, then inanimate things must be, too, than which nothing can be more absurd. This suggests that he hardly conceives of the fundamental hypothesis of medieval science that all inferior nature is under the influence of the celestial bodies and their motion and light. At any rate his arguments are directed against the casting of horoscopes or genethlialogy. And in the matter of the influence of the planets upon man he was not entirely antagonistic, at least in other writings than the De divinatione, for in the Dream of Scipio he speaks of Jupiter as a star wholesome and favorable to the human race, of Mars as most unfavorable. He further calls seven and eight perfect numbers and speaks of their product, fifty-six, as signifying the fatal year in Scipio’s life. Incidentally, as another instance that Cicero was not always sceptical, it may be recalled that it was in Cicero that Pliny read of a man who could see one hundred and thirty-five miles.[1275]

[Pg 274]

His crude historical criticism.

Such apparent inconsistency is perhaps a sign of somewhat indiscriminating eclecticism on Cicero’s part. We experience something of a shock, although perhaps we should not be surprised, to find him in his Republic[1276] arguing as seriously in favor of the ascension or apotheosis of Romulus as a historic fact as a professor of natural science in a denominational college might argue in favor of the historicity of the resurrection of Christ. Although in the De divinatione he impatiently brushed aside the testimony of so great a cloud of witnesses and of most philosophers in favor of divination, he now argues that the opinion that Romulus had become a god “could not have prevailed so universally unless there had been some extraordinary manifestation of power,” and that “this is the more remarkable because other men, said to have become gods, lived in less learned times when the mind was prone to invent and the inexperienced were easily led to believe,” whereas Romulus lived only six centuries ago when literature and learning had already made great progress in removing error, when “Greece was already full of poets and musicians, and little faith was placed in legends unless they concerned remote antiquity.” Yet a few chapters later Cicero notes that Numa could not have been a pupil of Pythagoras, since the latter did not come to Italy until 140 years after his death;[1277] and in a third chapter[1278] when Laelius remarks, “That king is indeed praised but Roman History is obscure, for although we know the mother of this king, we are ignorant of his father,” Scipio replies, “That is so; but in those times it was almost enough if only the names of the kings were recorded.” We can only add, “Consistency, thou art a jewel!”

Favorinus against astrologers.

Favorinus denied that the doctrine of nativities was the work of the Chaldeans and regarded it as the more recent invention of marvel-mongers, tricksters, and mountebanks. He regards the inference from the effect of the moon on tides to that of the stars on every incident of our daily life[Pg 275] as unwarranted. He further objects that if the Chaldeans did record astronomical observations these would apply only to their own region and that observations extended over a vast lapse of time would be necessary to establish any system of astrology, since it requires ages before the stars return to their previous positions. Like Cicero, Favorinus probably manifests his ignorance of the technique of astrology in complaining that astrologers do not allow for the different influence of different constellations in different parts of the earth. More cogent is his suggestion that there may be other stars equal in power to the planets which men cannot see either for their excess of splendor or because of their position. He also objects that the position of the stars is not the same at the time of conception and the time of birth, and that, if the different fate of twins may be explained by the fact that after all they are not born at precisely the same moment, the time of birth and the position of the stars must be measured with an exactness practically impossible. He also contends that it is not for human beings to predict the future and that the subjection of man not merely in matters of external fortune but in his own acts of will to the stars is not to be borne. These two arguments of the divine prerogative and of human free will became Christian favorites. He complains that the astrologers predict great events like battles but cannot predict small ones, and declares that they may congratulate themselves that he does not propose such a question to them as that of astral influence on minute animals. This and his further question why, out of all the grand works of nature, the astrologers limit their attention to petty human fortune, suggest that like Cicero he did not realize that astrology was or would become a theory of all nature and not mere genethlialogy.

Sextus Empiricus.

To the arguments against nativities that men die the same death who were not born at the same time and that men who are born at the same time are not identical in character or fortune Sextus Empiricus adds the derisive question whether a man and an ass born in the same instant[Pg 276] would suffer exactly the same destiny. Ptolemy would of course reply that while the influence of the stars is constant in both cases it is variably received by men and donkeys; and Sextus’s query does not show him very well versed in astrology. He mentions the obstacle of free will to astrological theory but does not make very much of it. The chief point which he makes is that even if the stars do rule human destiny, their effect cannot be accurately measured. He lays stress on the difficulty of exactly determining the date of birth or of conception, or the precise moment when a star passes into a new sign of the zodiac. He notes the variability and unreliability of water-clocks. He calls attention to the fact that observers at varying altitudes as well as in different localities would arrive at different conclusions. Differences in eyesight would also affect results, and it is difficult to tell just when the sun sets or any sign of the zodiac drops below the horizon owing to reflection and refraction of rays. Sextus thus leaves us somewhat in doubt whether his objections are to be taken as indicative of a spirit of captious criticism towards an art, the fundamental principles of which he tacitly recognizes as well-nigh incontestable, or whether he is simply trying to make his case doubly sure by showing astrology to be impracticable as well as unreasonable. In any case we shall find his argument that the influence of the stars cannot be measured accurately repeated by Christian writers.

Lucius or The Ass: is it by Lucian?

The main plot of the Metamorphoses of Apuleius appears, shorn of the many additional stories, the religious mysticism, and the autobiographical element which characterize his narrative, in a brief and perhaps epitomized Greek version, entitled Lucius or The Ass, among the works of Lucian of Samosata, the contemporary of Apuleius and noted satirist. The work is now commonly regarded as spurious, since the style seems different from that of Lucian and the Attic Greek less pure. The narrative, too, is bare, at least compared with the exuberant fancy of Apuleius, and seems to avoid the marvelous and romantic details in which[Pg 277] he abounds. Photius, patriarch of Constantinople in the ninth century, who regarded the work as Lucian’s, said that he wrote in it as one deriding the extravagance of superstition. Whether this be true of The Ass or not, it is true of other satires by Lucian of undisputed genuineness, in which he ridicules the impostures of the magic and pseudo-science of his day. In place of the genial humor and fantastic imagination with which his African contemporary credulously welcomed the magic and occult science of his time, the Syrian satirist probes the same with the cool mockery of his keen and sceptical wit.

Career of Lucian.

Lucian was born at Samosata near Antioch about 120 or 125 A. D. and after an unsuccessful beginning as a sculptor’s apprentice turned to literature and philosophy. He practiced in the law courts at Antioch for some time and also wrote speeches for others. For a considerable period of his life he roamed about the Mediterranean world from Paphlagonia to Gaul as a rhetorician, and like Apuleius resided both at Athens and Rome. After forty he ceased teaching rhetoric and devoted himself to literary production, living at Athens. Towards the close of his life, “when he already had one foot in Charon’s boat,”[1279] he was holding a well paid and important legal position in Egypt. His death occurred perhaps about 200 A. D. Some ascribe it to gout, probably because he wrote two satires on that disease. Suidas states that Lucian was torn to pieces by dogs as a punishment for his attacks upon Christianity, which again is probably a perversion of Lucian’s own statement in Peregrinus that he narrowly escaped being torn to pieces by the Cynics.

Alexander the pseudo-prophet.

It was at the request of that same adversary of Christianity against whom Origen composed the Reply to Celsus that Lucian wrote his account of the impostor, Alexander of Abonutichus, a pseudo-prophet of Paphlagonia. This Alexander pretended to discover the god Asclepius in the form of a small viper which he had sealed up in a goose egg.[Pg 278] He then replaced the tiny viper by a huge tame serpent which he had purchased at Pella in Macedon and which was trained to hide its head in Alexander’s armpit, while to the crowd, who were also permitted to touch the tail and body of the real snake, was shown a false serpent’s head made of linen with human features and a mouth that opened and shut and a tongue that could be made to dart in and out. Having thus convinced the people that the viper had really been a god and had miraculously increased in size, Alexander proceeded to sell oracular responses as from the god. Inquirers submitted their questions in sealed packages which were later returned to them with appropriate answers and with the seals unbroken and apparently untouched. Similarly Plutarch tells of a sceptical opponent of oracles who became converted into their ardent supporter by receiving such an answer to a sealed letter.[1280] Lucian, however, explains that Alexander sometimes used a hot needle to melt the seal and then restore it to practically its original shape, or employed other methods by which he took exact impressions of the seal, then boldly broke it, read the question, and afterwards replaced the seal by an exact replica of the original made in the mould. Lucian adds that there are plenty of other devices of this sort which he does not need to repeat to Celsus who has already made a sufficient collection of them in his “excellent treatises against the magicians.” Lucian tells later, however, how Alexander made his god seem to speak by attaching a tube made of the windpipes of cranes to the artificial head and having an assistant outside speak through this concealed tube. In our later discussion of the church father Hippolytus we shall find that he apparently made use of this exposé of magic by Lucian as well as of the arguments of Sextus Empiricus against astrology. Lucian’s personal experiences with this Alexander were quite interesting but are less germane to our investigation.

[Pg 279]

Magical procedure in medicine satirized.

We must not fail, however, to note another essay, Philopseudes or Apiston, in which the superstition and pseudo-science of antiquity are sharply satirized in what purports to be a conversation of several philosophers, including a Stoic, a Peripatetic, and a Platonist, and a representative of ancient medicine in the person of Antigonus, a doctor. Some of the magical procedure then employed in curing diseases is first satirized. Cleodemus the Peripatetic advises as a remedy for gout to take in the left hand the tooth of a field mouse which has been killed in a prescribed manner, to wrap it in the skin of a lion freshly-flayed, and thus to bind it about the ailing foot. He affirms that it will give instant relief. Dinomachus the Stoic admits that the occult virtue of the lion is very great and that its fat or right fore-paw or the bristles of its beard, if combined with the proper incantations, have wonderful efficacy. But he holds that for the cure of gout the skin of a virgin hind would be superior on the ground that the hind is speedier than the lion and so more beneficial to the feet. Cleodemus retorts that he used to think the same, but that a Libyan has convinced him that the lion can run faster than the hind or it would never catch one. The sceptical reporter of this conversation states that he vainly attempted to convince them that an internal disease could not be cured by external attachments or by incantations, methods which he regards as the veriest sorcery (goetia).


His protests, however, merely lead Ion the Platonist to recount how a Magus, a Chaldean of Babylonia, cured his father’s gardener who had been stung by an adder on the great toe and was already all swollen up and nearly dead. The magician’s method was to apply a splinter of stone from the statue of a virgin to the toe, uttering at the same time an incantation. He then led the way to the field where the gardener had been stung; pronounced seven sacred names from an ancient volume, and fumigated the place thrice with torches and sulphur. All the snakes in the field then came forth from their holes with the exception of one very aged[Pg 280] and decrepit serpent, whom the magician sent a young snake back to fetch. Having thus assembled every last serpent, he blew upon them, and they all vanished into thin air.

A Hyperborean magician.

This tale reminds the Stoic of another magician, a barbarian and Hyperborean, who could walk through fire or upon water and even fly through the air. He could also “make people fall in love, call up spirits, resuscitate corpses, bring down the moon, and show you Hecate herself as large as life.”[1281] More specific illustration of the exercise of these powers is given in an account of a love spell which he performed for a young man for a big fee. Digging a trench, he raised the ghost of the youth’s father and also summoned Hecate, Cerberus, and the Moon. The last named appeared in three successive forms of a woman, an ox, and a puppy. The sorcerer then constructed a clay image of the god of love and sent it to fetch the girl, who came and stayed until cock-crow, when all the apparitions vanished with her. In vain the sceptic argues that the girl in question would have come willingly enough without any magic. The Platonist matches the previous story with one of a Syrian from Palestine who cast out demons.

Some ghost stories.

The discussion then further degenerates into ghost stories and tales of statuettes that leave their pedestals after the household has retired for the night. One speaker says that he no longer has any fear of ghosts since an Arab gave him a magic ring made of nails from crosses and taught him an incantation to use against spooks. At this juncture a Pythagorean philosopher of great repute enters and adds his testimony in the form of an account of how he laid a ghost at Corinth by employing an Egyptian incantation.

Pancrates, the magician.

Eucrates, the host, then tells of Pancrates, whom he had met in Egypt and who “had spent twenty-three years underground learning magic from Isis,” and whom crocodiles would allow to ride on their backs. They traveled a time together without a servant, since Pancrates was able to dress up the door-bar or a broom or pestle, turn it into human[Pg 281] form, and make it wait upon them. There follows the familiar story of Eucrates’ overhearing the incantation of three syllables which Pancrates employed and of trying it out himself when the magician was absent. The pestle turned into human form all right enough and obeyed his order to bring in water, but then he discovered that he could not make it stop, and when he seized an axe and chopped it in two, the only effect was to produce two water-carriers in place of one.

Credulity and scepticism.

The conversation is turning to the subject of oracles when the sceptic can stand it no longer and retires in disgust. As he tells what he has heard to a friend, he remarks upon the childish credulity of “these admired teachers from whom our youth are to learn wisdom.” At the same time, the stories seem to have made a considerable impression even upon him, and he wishes that he had some lethal drug to make him forget all these monsters, demons, and Hecates that he seems still to see before him. His friend, too, declares that he has filled him with demons. Their dialogue then concludes with the consoling reflection that truth and sound reason are the best drugs for the cure of such empty lies.

Menippus, or Necromancy.

The Menippus or Necromancy, while an obvious imitation and parody of Odysseus’ mode of descent to the underworld to consult Teiresias, also throws some light on the magic of Lucian’s time. In order to reach the other world Menippus went to Babylon and consulted Mithrobarzanes, one of the Magi and followers of Zoroaster. He is also called one of the Chaldeans. Besides a final sacrifice similar to that of Odysseus, the procedure by which the magician procured their passage to the other world included on his part muttered incantations and invocations, for the most part unintelligible to Menippus, spitting thrice in the latter’s face, waving torches about, drawing a magic circle, and wearing a magic robe. As for Menippus, he had to bathe in the Euphrates at sunrise every morning for the full twenty-nine days of a moon, after which he was purified[Pg 282] at midnight in the Tigris and by fumigation. He had to sleep out-of-doors and observe a special diet, not look anyone in the eye on his way home, walk backwards, and so on. The ultimate result of all these preparations was that the earth was burst asunder by the final incantation and the way to the underworld laid open. When it came time to return Menippus crawled up with difficulty, like Dante going from the Inferno to Purgatory, through a narrow tunnel which opened on the shrine of Trophonius.

Astrological interpretation of Greek myth.

An essay on astrology ascribed to Lucian is usually regarded as spurious.[1282] Denial of its authenticity, however, should rest on such grounds as its literary style and the manuscript history of the work rather than upon its—to modern eyes—superstitious character. In antiquity a man might be sceptical about most superstitions and yet believe in astrology as a science. Lucian’s sceptical friend Celsus, for example, as we shall see in our chapter on Origen’s Reply to Celsus, believed that the future could be foretold from the stars. And whether the present essay is genuine or spurious, it is certainly noteworthy that for all his mockery of other superstition Lucian does not attack astrology in any of his essays. Moreover, this essay on astrology is very sceptical in one way, since it denies the literal truth of various Greek myths and gives an astrological interpretation of them, as in the case of Zeus and Kronos and the so-called adultery of Mars. This is not inconsistent with Lucian’s ridicule elsewhere of the anthropomorphic Olympian divinities. What Orpheus taught the Greeks was astrology, and the planets were signified by the seven strings of his lyre. Teiresias taught them further to distinguish which stars were masculine and which feminine in character and influence. A proper interpretation of the myth of Atreus and Thyestes also shows the Greeks at an early date acquainted with astrological doctrine. Bellerophon soared to the sky, not on a[Pg 283] horse but by the scientific power of his mind. Daedalus taught Icarus astrology and the fable of Phaëthon is to be similarly interpreted. Aeneas was not really the son of the goddess Venus, nor Minos of Jupiter, nor Aesculapius of Mars, nor Autolycus of Mercury. These are to be taken simply as the planets under whose rule they were born. The author also connects Egyptian animal worship with the signs of the zodiac.

History and defense of astrology.

The author of the essay also delves into the history of astrology, to which he assigns a high antiquity. The Ethiopians were the first to cultivate it and handed it on in a still imperfect stage to the Egyptians who developed it. The Babylonians claim to have studied it before other peoples, but our author thinks that they did so long after the Ethiopians and Egyptians. The Greeks were instructed in the art neither by the Ethiopians nor the Egyptians, but, as we have seen, by Orpheus. Our author not only states that the ancient Greeks never built towns or walls or got married without first resorting to divination, but even asserts that astrology was their sole method of divination, that the Pythia at Delphi was the type of celestial purity and that the snake under the tripod represented the dragon among the constellations. Lycurgus taught his Lacedaemonians to observe the moon, and only the uncultured Arcadians held themselves aloof from astrology. Yet at the present day some oppose the art, declaring either that the stars have naught to do with human affairs or that astrology is useless since what is fated cannot be avoided. To the latter objection our author makes the usual retort that forewarned is forearmed; as for the former denial, if a horse stirs the stones in the road as it runs, if a passing breath of wind moves straws to and fro, if a tiny flame burns the finger, will not the courses and deflexions of the brilliant celestial bodies have their influence upon earth and mankind?

Lucian not always sceptical.

The manner of the essay does not seem like Lucian’s usual style, and the astrological interpretation of religious myth was characteristic of the Stoic philosophy, whereas[Pg 284] Lucian’s philosophical affinities, if he can be said to have any, are perhaps rather with the Epicureans. But Celsus was an Epicurean and yet believed in astrology. It must not be thought, however, that Lucian in his other essays is always sceptical in regard to what we should classify as superstition. He tells us how his career was determined by a dream in the autobiographical essay of that title. In the Dialogues of the Gods magic is mentioned as a matter-of-course, Zeus complaining that he has to resort to magic in order to win women and Athene warning Paris to have Aphrodite remove her girdle, since it is drugged or enchanted and may bewitch him.

Lucian and medicine.

The writings of Lucian contain many allusions to the doctors, diseases, and medicines of his time.[1283] On the whole he confirms Galen’s picture. Numerous passages show that the medical profession was held in high esteem, and Lucian himself first went to Rome in order to consult an oculist. At the same time Lucian satirizes the quacks and medical superstition of the time, as we have already seen, and describes several statues which were believed to possess healing powers. In the burlesque tragedy on gout, Tragodopodagra, whose authenticity, however, is questioned, the disease personified is triumphant, and the moral seems to be that all the remedies which men have tried are of no avail. On the other hand, Lucian wrote seriously of the African snake whose bite causes one to die of thirst (De dipsadibus). He admits that he has never seen anyone in this condition and has not even been in Libya where these snakes are found, but a friend has assured him that he has seen the tombstone epitaph of a man who had died thus, a rather indirect mode of proof which we are surprised should satisfy the author of How to Write History. Lucian also repeats the common notion that persons bitten by a mad dog can be cured only by a hair or other portion of the same animal.[1284]

[Pg 285]

Inevitable intermingling of scepticism and superstition.

Our chapter which set out to note cases of scepticism in regard to superstition has ended by including a great deal of such superstition. The sceptics themselves seem credulous on some points, and Lucian’s satire perhaps more reveals than refutes the prevalence of superstition among even the highly educated. The same is true of other literary satirists of the Roman Empire whose jibes against the astrologers and their devotees only attest the popularity of the art and who themselves very probably meant only to ridicule its more extreme pretensions and were perhaps at bottom themselves believers in the fundamentals of the art. Our authors to some extent, as we have pointed out, provided an arsenal of arguments from which later Christian writers took weapons for their assaults upon pagan magic and astrology. But sometimes subsequent writers confused scepticism with credulity, and the influence of our authors upon them became just the opposite of what they intended. Thus Ammianus Marcellinus, the soldier-historian of the falling Roman Empire upon whom Gibbon placed so much reliance, was so attached to divination that he even quoted its arch-opponent, Cicero, in support of it. For he actually concludes his discussion of the subject in these words: “Wherefore in this as in other matters Tully says most admirably,‘Signs of future events are shown by the gods.’”[1285]

Lucian on writing history.

But in order to conclude our chapter on scepticism with a less obscurantist passage, let us return to Lucian. His essay, How to Write History, gives serious expression to those ideals of truth and impartiality which also lie behind his mockery of impostors and the over-credulous. “The historian’s one task,” in his estimation, “is to tell the thing as it happened.” He should be “fearless, incorruptible, independent, a believer in frankness, ... an impartial judge, kind to all but too kind to none.” “He has to make of his brain a mirror, unclouded, bright, and true of surface.” “Facts are not to be collected at haphazard but with careful,[Pg 286] laborious, repeated investigation.” “Prefer the disinterested account.”[1286] Such sentences and phrases as these reveal a scientific and critical spirit of high order and seem a vast improvement upon the frailty of Cicero’s historical criticism. But how far Lucian would have been able to follow his own advice is perhaps another matter.

[Pg 287]


Mystic works of revelation—The Hermetic books—Poimandres and the Hermetic Corpus—Astrological treatises ascribed to Hermes—Hermetic works of alchemy—Nechepso and Petosiris—Manetho—The Lithica of Orpheus—Argument of the poem—Magic powers of stones—Magic rites to gain powers of divination—Power of gems compared with herbs—Magic herbs and demons in Orphic rites—Books ascribed to Zoroaster—The Chaldean Oracles.

Mystic works of revelation.

There were in circulation in the Roman Empire many writings which purported to be of divine origin and authorship, or at least the work of ancient culture-heroes and founders of religions who were of divine descent and divinely inspired. These oracular and mystic compositions usually pretend to great antiquity and often claim as their home such hoary lands as Egypt and Chaldea, although in the Hellenic past Apollo and in the Roman past the Sibylline books[1287] also afford convenient centers about which forgeries cluster. Assuming as these writings do to disclose the secrets of ancient priesthoods and to publish what should not be revealed to the vulgar crowd, they may be confidently expected to embody a great deal of superstition and magic along with their expositions of mystic theologies. Also the authors, editors, or publishers of astrological, alchemistic, and other pseudo-scientific treatises could not be expected to resist the temptation of claiming a venerable and cryptic origin for some of their books. Moreover, such pseudo-literature was not entirely unjustified in its affirmation of high antiquity. Few things in intellectual history antedate magic, and these spurious compositions are not especially[Pg 288] distinguished by new ideas, although they to some extent reflect the progress made in learning, occult as well as scientific, in the Hellenistic age. It must be added that much of their contents depends for its effect entirely upon its claim to eminent authorship and great antiquity and upon the impressionability of its public. To-day most of it seems trivial commonplace or marked by the empty vagueness characteristic of oracular utterances. I shall attempt no complete exposition or exhaustive treatment of such writings[1288] but touch upon a few examples which bear upon the relations of science and magic.

The Hermetic books.

Chief among these are the Hermetic books or writings attributed to Hermes the Egyptian or Trismegistus. “Under this name,” wrote Steinschneider in 1906, “there exists in many languages a literature, for the most part superstitious, which seems to have not yet been treated in its totality.”[1289] The Egyptian god Thoth or Tehuti, known in Greek as Θωύθ, Θώθ, and Τάτ, was identified with Hermes, and the epithet “thrice-great” is also derived from the Egyptian aā aā, “the great Great.” Citations of works ascribed to this Hermes Trismegistus can be traced back as early as the first century of our era.[1290] He is also mentioned or quoted by various church fathers from Athenagoras to Augustine and often figures in the magical papyri. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus[1291] in the fourth century ranks him with the great sages of the past such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Apollonius of Tyana. Our two chief descriptions of the Hermetic books from the period of the Roman Empire are found in the Stromata[1292] of the Christian Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.220 A.D.) and in the De mysteriis[1293] ascribed to the Neo-Platonist Iamblichus (died about 330[Pg 289] A. D.). Clement speaks of forty-two books by Hermes which are regarded as “indispensable.” Of these ten are called “Hieratic” and deal with the laws, the gods, and the training of the priests. Ten others detail the sacrifices, prayers, processions, festivals, and other rites of Egyptian worship. Two contain hymns to the gods and rules for the king. Six are medical, “treating of the structure of the body and of diseases and instruments and medicines and about the eyes and the last about women.” Four are astronomical or astrological, and the remaining ten deal with cosmography and geography or with the equipment of the priests and the paraphernalia of the sacred rites. Clement does not say so, but from his brief summary one can imagine how full these volumes probably were of occult virtues of natural substances, of magical procedure, and of intimate relations and interactions between nature, stars, and spirits. Iamblichus repeats the statement of Seleucus that Hermes wrote twenty thousand volumes and the assertion of Manetho that there were 36,525 books, a number doubtless connected with the supposed length of the year, three hundred and sixty-five and one-quarter days.[1294] Iamblichus adds that Hermes wrote one hundred treatises on the ethereal gods and one thousand concerning the celestial gods.[1295] He is aware, however, that most books attributed to Hermes were not really composed by him, since in other passages he speaks of “the books which are circulated under the name of Hermes,”[1296] and explains that “our ancestors ... inscribed all their own writings with the name of Hermes,”[1297] thus dedicating them to him as the patron deity of language and theology. By the time of Iamblichus these books had been translated from the Egyptian tongue into Greek.

Poimandres and the Hermetic Corpus.

There has come down to us under the name of Hermes a collection of seventeen or eighteen fragments which is generally known as the Hermetic Corpus. Of the frag[Pg 290]ments the first and chief is entitled Poimandres (Ποιμάνδρης), a name which is sometimes applied to the entire Corpus. Another fragment entitled Asclepius, since it is in the form of a dialogue between him and “Mercurius Trismegistus,” exists in a Latin form which has been ascribed probably incorrectly to Apuleius of Madaura as translator (Asclepius ... Mercurii trismegisti dialogus Lucio Apuleio Madaurensi philosopho Platonico interprete). None of the Greek manuscripts of the Corpus seems older than the fourteenth century, although Reitzenstein thinks that they may all be derived from the version which Michael Psellus had before him in the eleventh century.[1298] But the concluding prayer of the Poimandres exists in a third century papyrus, and the alchemist Zosimus in the fourth century seems acquainted with the entire collection. The treatises in this Corpus are concerned primarily with religious philosophy or theosophy, with doctrines similar to those of Plato concerning the soul and to the teachings of the Gnostics. The moral and religious instruction is associated, however, with a physics and cosmology very favorable to astrology and magic. Of magic in the narrow sense there is little in the Corpus, but a Hermetic fragment preserved by Stobaeus affirms that “philosophy and magic nourish the soul.” Astrology plays a much more prominent part, and the stars are ranked as visible gods, of whom the sun is by far the greatest. All seven planets nevertheless control the changes in the world of nature; there are seven human types corresponding to them; and the twelve signs of the zodiac also govern the human body. Only the chosen few who possess gnosis or are capable of receiving nous can escape the decrees of fate as administered by the stars and ultimately return to the spiritual world, passing through “choruses of demons” and “courses of stars” and reaching the Ogdoad or eighth heaven above and beyond the spheres of the seven planets.[1299] Such[Pg 291] Gnostic cosmology and demonology, especially the location of demons amid the planetary spheres, provides favorable ground for the development of astrological necromancy.

Astrological treatises ascribed to Hermes.

Not only is a belief in astrology implied throughout the Poimandres, but a number of separate astrological treatises are extant in whole or part under the name of Hermes Trismegistus,[1300] and he is frequently cited as an authority in other Greek astrological manuscripts.[1301] The treatises attributed to him comprise one upon general method,[1302] one on the names and powers of the twelve signs, one on astrological medicine addressed to Ammon the Egyptian,[1303] one on thunder and lightning, and some hexameters on the relation of earthquakes to the signs of the zodiac. This last is also ascribed to Orpheus.[1304] There are various allusions to and versions of tracts concerning the relation of herbs to the planets or signs of the zodiac or thirty-six decans.[1305] These treatises attribute magic virtues to plants, include a prayer to be repeated when plucking each herb, and tell how to use the[Pg 292] astrological figures of the decans, engraved on stones, as healing amulets.

Hermetic works of alchemy.

Works under the name of Hermes Trismegistus are cited by Greek alchemists of the closing Roman Empire, such as Zosimus, Stephanus, and Olympiodorus, but those Hermetic treatises of alchemy which are extant are of late date and much altered.[1306] Some treatises are preserved only in Arabic; others are medieval Latin fabrications. The Greek alchemists, however, seem to have recited the mystic hymn of Hermes from the Poimandres.[1307]

Nechepso and Petosiris.

Hellenistic and Roman astrology sought to extend its roots far back into Egyptian antiquity by putting forth spurious treatises under the names, not only of Hermes Trismegistus, but also of Nechepso and Petosiris,[1308] who were regarded respectively as an Egyptian king and an Egyptian priest who had lived at least seven centuries before Christ. Indeed, they were held to be the recipients of divine revelation from Hermes and Asclepius. A lengthy astrological treatise, which Pliny[1309] is the first to cite and from a fourteenth book of which Galen[1310] mentions a magic ring of jasper engraved with a dragon and rays, seems to have appeared in their names probably at Alexandria in the Hellenistic period. Only fragments and citations ascribed to Nechepso and Petosiris are now extant.[1311]


Yet another astrological work which claims to be drawn from the secret sacred books and cryptic monuments of ancient Egypt is ascribed to Manetho. It is a compilation[Pg 293] in verse of prognostications from the various constellations and is regarded as the work of several writers, of whom the oldest is placed in the reign of Alexander Severus in the third century.[1312]

The Lithica of Orpheus.

Orpheus is another author more cited than preserved by classical antiquity. Pliny called him the first writer on herbs and suspected him of magic. Ernest Riess affirms that Rohde (Psyche, p. 398) “has abundantly proved that Orpheus’ followers were among the chief promulgators of purifications and charms against evil spirits.”[1313] Among poems of some length extant under Orpheus’ name the one of most interest to us is the Lithica, where in 770 lines the virtues of some thirty gems are set forth with considerable allusion to magic.[1314] The authorship is uncertain, but the verse is supposed to follow the prose treatise by Damigeron who lived in the second century B. C. The date of the poem is now generally fixed in the fourth century of our era, although King[1315] argued for an earlier date. I agree with him that the allusion in lines 71-74 to decapitation on the charge of magic is, taken alone, too vague and blind to be associated with any particular event or time; editors since Tyrwhitt have connected it with the law of Constantius against magic and the persecution of magicians in 371 A. D. But King’s contention that the Lithica is by the same author as the Argonautica, also ascribed to Orpheus, and is therefore of early date, falls to the ground since the Argonautica, too, is now dated in the fourth century.

[Pg 294]

Argument of the poem.

The Lithica opens by representing Hermes as bestowing upon mankind the precious lore of the marvelous virtues of gems. In his cave are stored stones which banish ghosts, robbers, and snakes, which bring health, happiness, victory in war and games, honor at courts and success in love, and which insure safety on journeys, the favor of the gods, and enable one to read the hidden thoughts of others and to understand the language of the birds as they predict the future. Few persons, however, avail themselves of this mystic lore, and those who do so are liable to be executed on the charge of magic. After this introduction, which may be regarded as a piquant appetizer to whet the reader’s taste for further details, the virtues of individual stones are described, first in the words of Theodamas, a wise and divine man[1316] whom the author meets on his way to perform annual sacrifice at an altar of the Sun, where as a child he narrowly escaped from a deadly snake, and then in a speech of the seer Helenus to Philoctetes which Theodamas quotes. Greek gods are often mentioned; as the poem proceeds the virtues of a number of gems are attributed to Apollo rather than Hermes; and there are allusions to Greek mythology and the Trojan war. Some gems are found in animals, for instance, in the viper or the brain of the stag.

Magic powers of stones.

Let us turn to some examples of the marvelous virtues of particular stones. The crystal wins favorable answers from the gods to prayers; kindles fire, if held over sticks, yet itself remains cold; as a ligature benefits kidney trouble. Sacrifices in which the adamant is employed win the favor of the gods; it is also called Lethaean because it makes one forget worries, or the milk-stone (galactis) because it renews the milk of sheep or goats when powdered in brine and sprinkled over them. Worn as an amulet it counteracts the evil eye and gains royal favor for its bearer. The agate is an agricultural amulet and should be attached to the plowman’s arm and the horns of the oxen. Other stones help vineyards, bring rain or avert hail and pests from the crops.[Pg 295] Lychnis prevents a pot from boiling on a fire and makes it boil when the fire is dead. The magnet was used by the witches Circe and Medea in their spells; an unchaste wife is unable to remain in the bed where this stone has been placed with an incantation. Other stones cure snake-bite and various diseases, serve as love-charms or aids in child-birth, or counteract incantations and enchantments.

Magic rites to gain powers of divination.

To make the gem sideritis or oreites utter vocal oracles the operator must abstain for three weeks from animal food, the public baths, and the marriage bed; he is then to wash and clothe the gem like an infant and employ various sacrifices, incantations, and illuminations. The gem Liparaios, known to the learned Magi of Assyria, when burnt on a bloodless altar with hymns to the Sun and Earth attracts snakes from their holes to the flame. Three youths robed in white and carrying two-edged swords should cut up the snake who comes nearest the fire into nine pieces, three for the Sun, three for the earth, three for the wise and prophetic maiden. These pieces are then to be cooked with wine, salt, and spices and eaten by those who wish to learn the language of birds and beasts. But further the gods must be invoked by their secret names and libations poured of milk, wine, oil, and honey. What is not eaten must be buried, and the participants in the feast are then to return home wearing chaplets but otherwise naked and speaking to no one whom they may meet. On their arrival home they are to sacrifice mixed spices. It will be recalled that Apollonius of Tyana and the Arabs also learned the language of the birds by eating snake-flesh.

Powers of gems compared with herbs.

Thus gems are potent in religion and divination, love-charms and child-birth, medicine and agriculture. The poem fails, however, to touch upon their uses in alchemy or relations to the stars, nor does it contain much of anything that can be called necromancy. But the author ranks the virtues of stones above those of herbs, whose powers disappear with age. Moreover, some plants are injurious, whereas the marvelous virtues of stones are almost all beneficial as well as[Pg 296] permanent. “There is great force in herbs,” he says, “but far greater in stones,”[1317] an observation often repeated in the middle ages.

Magic herbs and demons in Orphic rites.

More stress is laid upon the power of demons and herbs in a description which has been left us by Saint Cyprian,[1318] bishop of Antioch in the third century, of some pagan mysteries upon Mount Olympus into which he was initiated when a boy of fifteen and which have been explained as Orphic rites. His initiation was under the charge of seven hierophants, lasted for forty days, and included instruction in the virtues of magic herbs and visions of the operations of demons. He was also taught the meaning of musical notes and harmonies, and saw how times and seasons were governed by good and evil spirits. In short, magic, pseudo-science, occult virtue, and perhaps astrology formed an important part of Orphic lore.

Books ascribed to Zoroaster.

Cumont states in his Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism that “towards the end of the Alexandrine period the books ascribed to the half-mythical masters of the Persian science, Zoroaster, Hosthanes and Hystaspes, were translated into Greek, and until the end of paganism those names enjoyed a prodigious authority.”[1319] Pliny regarded Zoroaster as the founder of magic and we have met other examples of his reputation as a magician. Later we shall find him cited several times in the Byzantine Geoponica which seems to use a book ascribed to him on the sympathy and antipathy existing between natural objects.[1320] Naturally a number of pseudo-Zoroastrian books were in circulation, some of which Porphyry, the Neo-Platonist, is said to have suppressed. At least he tells us in his Life of Plotinus[1321] that certain Christians and other men[Pg 297] claimed to possess certain revelations of Zoroaster, but that he advanced many arguments to show that their book was not written by Zoroaster but was a recent composition.

The Chaldean Oracles.

There has been preserved, however, in the writings of the Neo-Platonists a collection of passages known as the Zoroastrian Logia or Chaldean Oracles[1322] and which “present ... a heterogeneous mass, now obscure and again bombastic, of commingled Platonic, Pythagorean, Stoic, Gnostic, and Persian tenets.”[1323] Not only are these often cited by the Neo-Platonists, but Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus composed commentaries upon them.[1324] Some think that these citations and commentaries have reference to a single work put together by Julian the Chaldean in the period of the Antonines. This “mass of oriental superstitions, a medley of magic, theurgy, and delirious metaphysics,”[1325] was reverenced by the Neo-Platonists of the following centuries as a sacred authority equal to the Timaeus of Plato. Our next chapter will therefore deal with the writings of the Neo-Platonists upon whom this spurious mystic literature had so much influence.

[Pg 298]


Neo-Platonism and the occult—Plotinus on magic—The life of reason is alone free from magic—Plotinus unharmed by magic—Invoking the demon of Plotinus—Rite of strangling birds—Plotinus and astrology—The stars as signs—The divine star-souls—How do the stars cause and signify?—Other causes and signs than the stars—Stars not the cause of evil—Against the astrology of the Gnostics—Fate and free-will—Summary of the attitude of Plotinus to astrology—Porphyry’s Letter to Anebo—Its main argument—Questions concerning divine natures—Orders of spiritual beings—Nature of demons—The art of theurgy—Invocations and the power of words—Magic a human art: theurgy divine—Magic’s abuse of nature’s forces—Its evil character—Its deceit and unreality—Porphyry on modes of divination—Iamblichus on divination—Are the stars gods?—Is there an art of astrology?—Porphyry and astrology—Astrological images—Number mysticism—Porphyry as reported by Eusebius—The emperor Julian on theurgy and astrology—Julian and divination—Scientific divination according to Ammianus Marcellinus—Proclus on theurgy—Neo-Platonic account of magic borrowed by Christians—Neo-Platonists and alchemy.

Neo-Platonism and the occult.

That the Neo-Platonists were much given to the occult has been a common impression among those who have written upon the period of the decline of the Roman Empire, of the end of paganism, and the passing of classical philosophy. This is perhaps in some measure the result of Christian viewpoint and hostility; probably the Christians of the period would seem equally superstitious to a modern Neo-Platonist. If the lives of the philosophers by Eunapius sound like fairy tales,[1326] what do the lives of the saints of the same period sound like? If the Neo-Platonists were like our mediums,[Pg 299] what were the Christian exorcists like? But let us turn to the writings of the leading Neo-Platonists themselves, the only accurate mirror of their views.

Plotinus on magic.

Plotinus,[1327] who lived from about 204 to 270 A. D. and is generally regarded as the founder of Neo-Platonism, was apparently less given to occult sciences than some of his successors.[1328] One of his charges against the Gnostics[1329] is that they believe that they can move the higher and incorporeal powers by writing incantations and by spoken words and various other vocal utterances, all which he censures as mere magic and sorcery. He also attacks their belief that diseases are demons and can be expelled by words. This wins them a following among the crowd who are wont to marvel at the powers of magicians, but Plotinus insists that diseases are due to natural causes.[1330] Even he, however, accepted incantations and the charms of sorcerers and magicians as valid, and accounted for their potency by the sympathy or love and hatred which he said existed between different objects in nature, which operates even at a dis[Pg 300]tance, and which is an expression of one world-soul animating the universe.[1331]

The life of reason is alone free from magic.

Plotinus held further, however, that only the physical and irrational side of man’s nature was affected by drugs and sorcery, just as “even demons are not impassive in their irrational part,”[1332] and so are to some extent subject to magic. But the rational soul may free itself from all influence of magic.[1333] Moreover, remorselessly adds the clear-headed Plotinus with a burst of insight that may well be attributed to Hellenic genius, he who yields to the charms of love and family affection or seeks political power or aught else than Truth and true beauty, or even he who searches for beauty in inferior things; he who is deceived by appearances, he who follows irrational inclinations, is as truly bewitched as if he were the victim of magic and goetia so-called. The life of reason is alone free from magic.[1334] Whereat one is tempted to paraphrase a remark of Aelian[1335] and exclaim, “What do you think of that definition of magic, my dear anthropologists and sociologists and modern students of folk-lore?”

Plotinus unharmed by magic.

This immunity of the true philosopher and sincere follower of truth from magic received illustration, according to Porphyry,[1336] in the case of Plotinus himself, who suffered no harm from the magic arts which his enemy, Alexandrinus Olympius, directed against him. Instead the baleful defluxions from the stars which Olympius had tried to draw down upon Plotinus were turned upon himself. Porphyry also states[1337] that Plotinus was aware at the time of the “sidereal enchantments” of Olympius against him. Incidentally the episode provides one more proof of the essential unity of astrology and magic.

[Pg 301]

Invoking the demon of Plotinus.

Plotinus, indeed, was regarded by his admirers as divinely inspired, as another incident from the Life by Porphyry will illustrate.[1338] An Egyptian priest had little difficulty in persuading Plotinus, who although of Roman parentage had been born in Egypt, to allow him to try to invoke his familiar demon. Plotinus was then teaching in Rome where he resided for twenty-six years, and the temple of Isis was the only pure place in the city which the priest could find for the ceremony. When the invocation had been duly performed, there appeared not a mere demon but a god. The apparition was not long enduring, however, nor would the priest permit them to question it, on the ground that one of the friends of Plotinus present had marred the success of the operation. This man had feared he might suffer some injury when the demon appeared and as a counter-charm had brought some birds which he held in his hands, apparently by the necks, for at the critical moment when the apparition appeared he suffocated them, whether from fright or from envy of Plotinus Porphyry declares himself unable to state.

The rite of strangling birds.

This practice of grasping birds by the necks in both hands is shown by a number of works of art to have been a custom of great antiquity. We may see a winged Gorgon strangling a goose in either hand upon a plate of the seventh century B.C. from Rhodes now in the British Museum.[1339] A gold pendant of the ninth century B.C. from Aegina, now also in the British Museum, consists of a figure holding a water-bird by the neck in either hand, while from its thighs pairs of serpents issue on whose folds the birds stand with their bills touching the fangs of the snakes.[1340] There also is a figure of a winged goddess grasping two water-birds by the necks upon an ivory fibula excavated at Sparta.[1341]

[Pg 302]

Plotinus and astrology.

Porphyry also tells us in the Life that Plotinus devoted considerable attention to the stars and refuted in his writings the unwarrantable claims of the casters of horoscopes.[1342] Such passages are found in the treatises on fate and on the soul, while one of his treatises is devoted entirely to the question, “Whether the stars effect anything?”[1343] This was one of four treatises which Plotinus a little before his death sent to Porphyry, and which are regarded as rather inferior to those composed by him when in the prime of life. In the next century the astrologer, Julius Firmicus Maternus, regards Plotinus as an enemy of astrology and represents him as dying a horrible and loathsome death from gangrene.[1344]

The stars as signs.

As a matter of fact the criticisms made by Plotinus were not necessarily destructive to the art of astrology, but rather suggested a series of amendments by which it might be made more compatible with a Platonic view of the universe, deity, and human soul. These amendments also tended to meet Christian objections to the art. His criticisms were not new; Philo Judaeus had made similar ones over two centuries before.[1345] But the great influence of Plotinus gave added emphasis to these criticisms. For instance, the point made by him several times that the motion of the stars “does not cause everything but signifies the future concerning each”[1346] man and thing, is noted by Macrobius both in the Saturnalia[1347] and the Dream of Scipio;[1348] while in the twelfth century John of Salisbury, arguing against astrology, fears that its devotees will take refuge in the authority of Plotinus and say that they detract[Pg 303] nothing from the Creator’s power, since He established once for all an unalterable natural law and disposed all future events as He foresaw them. Thus the stars are merely His instruments.[1349]

The divine star-souls.

But let us see what Plotinus says himself rather than what others took to be his meaning. Like Plato, who regarded the stars as happy, divine, and eternal animals, Plotinus not only believes that the stars have souls but that their intellectual processes are far above the frailties of the human mind and nearer the omniscience of the world-soul. Memory, for example, is of no use to them,[1350] nor do they hear the prayers which men address to them.[1351] Plotinus often calls them gods. They are, however, parts of the universe, subordinate to the world-soul, and they cannot alter the fundamental principles of the universe, nor deprive other beings of their individuality, although they are able to make other beings better or worse.[1352]

How do the stars cause and signify?

In his discussion of problems concerning the soul Plotinus says that “it is abundantly evident ... that the motion of the heavens affects things on earth and not only in bodies but also the dispositions of the soul,”[1353] and that each part of the heavens affects terrestrial and inferior objects. He does not, however, think that all this influence can be accounted for “exclusively by heat or cold,”—perhaps a dig at Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos.[1354] He also objects to ascribing the crimes of men to the will of the stars or every human act[Pg 304] to a sidereal decision,[1355] and to speaking of friendships and enmities as existing between the planets according as they are in this or that aspect towards one another.[1356] If then the admittedly vast influence of the stars cannot be satisfactorily accounted for either as material effects caused by them as bodies or as voluntary action taken by them, how is it to be explained? Plotinus accounts for it by the relation of sympathy which exists between all parts of the universe, that single living animal, and by the fact that the universe expresses itself in the figures formed by the movements of the celestial bodies, which “exert what influence they do exert on things here below through contemplation of the intelligible world.”[1357] These figures, or constellations in the astrological sense, have other powers than those of the bodies which participate in them, just as many plants and stones “among us” have marvelous occult powers for which heat and cold will not account.[1358] They both exert influence effectively and are signs of the future through their relation to the universal whole. In many things they are both causes and signs, in others they are signs only.[1359]

Other causes and signs than the stars.

For Plotinus, however, the universe is not a mechanical one where but one force prevails, namely, that produced by or represented by the constellations. The universe is full of variety with countless different powers, and the whole would not be a living animal unless each living thing in it lived its own life, and unless life were latent even in inanimate objects. It is true that some powers are more effective than others, and that those of the sky are more so than those of earth, and that many things lie under their power. Nevertheless Plotinus sees in the reproduction of life and species in the universe a force independent of the stars. In[Pg 305] the generation of any animal, for example, the stars contribute something, but the species must follow that of its forebears.[1360] And after they have been produced or begotten, terrestrial beings add something of their own. Nor are the stars the sole signs of the future. Plotinus holds that “all things are full of signs,” and that the sage can not merely predict from stars or birds, but infer one thing from another by virtue of the harmony and sympathy existing between all parts of the universe.[1361]

Stars not the cause of evil.

Nor can the gods or stars be said to cause evil on earth, since their influence is affected by other forces which mingle with it. Like the earlier Jewish Platonist, Philo, Plotinus denies that the planets are the cause of evil or change their own natures from good to evil as they enter new signs of the zodiac or take up different positions in relation to one another. He argues that they are not changeable beings, that they would not willingly injure men, or, if it is contended that they are mere bodies and have no wills, he replies that then they can produce only corporeal effects. He then solves the problem of evil in the usual manner by ascribing it to matter, in which reason and the celestial force are received unevenly, as light is broken and refracted in passing through water.[1362]

Against the astrology of the Gnostics.

Plotinus repeats much the same line of argument in his book against the Gnostics, where he protests against “the tragedy of terrors which they think exists in the spheres of the universe,”[1363] and the tyranny they ascribe to the heavenly bodies. His belief is that the celestial spheres are in perfect harmony both with the universe as a whole and with our globe, completing the whole and constituting a great part of it, supplying beauty and order. And often they are to be regarded as signs rather than causes of the future. Their natures are constant, but the sequence of events may be varied by chance circumstances, such as different hours of[Pg 306] nativities, place of residence, and the dispositions of individual souls. Amid all this diversity one must also expect both good and evil, but not on that account call nature or the stars either evil themselves or the cause of evil.

Fate and free-will.

As the allusion just made in the preceding paragraph to “the dispositions of individual souls” shows, Plotinus made a distinction between the extent of the control exercised by the stars over inanimate, animate, and rational beings. The stars signify all things in the sensible world but the soul is free unless it slips and is stained by the body and so comes under their control. Fate or the force of the stars is like a wind which shakes and tosses the ship of the body in which the soul makes its passage. Man as a part of the world does some things and suffers many things in accordance with destiny. Some men become slaves to this world and to external influences, as if they were bewitched. Others look to their inner souls and strive to free themselves from the sensible world and to rise above demonic nature and all fate of nativities and all necessity of this world, and to live in the intelligible world above[1364].

Summary of the attitude of Plotinus to astrology.

Thus Plotinus arrives at practically what was to be the usual Christian position in the middle ages regarding the influence of the stars, maintaining the freedom of the human will and yet allowing a large field to astrological prediction. He is evidently more concerned to combat the notion that the stars cause evil or are to be feared as evil powers than he is to combat the belief in their influence and significations. His speaking of the stars both as signs and causes in a way doubles the possibility of prediction from them. If he attacked the language used by astrologers of the planets, and perhaps to a certain extent the technique of their art, he supported astrology by reconciling the existence of evil and of human freedom with a great influence of the stars and by his emphasis upon the importance of the figures made by the[Pg 307] movements of the heavenly bodies above any purely physical effects of their bodies as such. Thus he reinforced the conception of occult virtue, always one of the chief pillars, if not the chief support, of occult science and magic. On the other hand, men were not likely to reform a language and technique sanctioned by as great an astronomer as Ptolemy merely because a Neo-Platonist questioned its propriety.

Porphyry’s Letter to Anebo.

Although Plotinus denied that diseases were due to demons, we once heard him speak of “demonic nature,” and one of the Enneads discusses Each man’s own demon. Here, however, the discussion is limited to the power presiding in each human soul, and nothing is said of magic. For the connection of demons with magic and for the art of theurgy we must turn to the writings of Porphyry and Iamblichus, and especially to The Letter to Anebo of Porphyry, who lived from about 233 to 305, and the reply thereto of the master Abammon, a work which is otherwise known as Liber de mysteriis[1365]. The attribution of the latter work to Iamblichus, who died about 330, is based upon an anonymous assertion prefixed to an ancient manuscript of Proclus and upon the fact that Proclus himself quotes a passage from the De mysteriis as the words of Iamblichus. This attribution has been questioned, but if not by Iamblichus, the work seems to be at least by some disciple of his with similar views[1366]. Other works of Iamblichus are largely philosophical and mathematical; among the chief works of Porphyry, apart from his literary work in connection with Plotinus, were his commentaries on Aristotle and fifteen books against the Christians.

Its main argument.

The Letter to Anebo inquires concerning the nature of the gods, the demons, and the stars; asks for an explanation of divination and astrology, of the power of names and incantations; and questions the employment of invocations[Pg 308] and sacrifice. Other topics brought up are the rule of spirits over the world of nature, partitioned out among them for this purpose; the divine inspiration or demoniacal possession of human beings; and the occult sympathy between different things in the material universe. In especial the art of theurgy, a word said to be used now for the first time by Porphyry,[1367] is discussed. It may be roughly defined for the moment as a sort of pious necromancy or magical cult of the gods. Porphyry raises various objections to the procedure and logic of the theurgists, diviners, enchanters, and astrologers, which Iamblichus, as we shall henceforth call the author of the De mysteriis as a matter of convenience if not of certainty, endeavors to answer, and to justify the art of theurgy.

Questions concerning divine natures.

We may first note the theory of demons which is elicited from Iamblichus in response to Porphyry’s trenchant and searching questions. The latter, declaring that ignorance and disingenuousness concerning divine natures are no less reprehensible than impiety and impurity, demands a scientific discussion of the gods as a holy and beneficial act. He asks why, if the divine power is infinite, indivisible, and incomprehensible, different places and different parts of the body are allotted to different gods. Why, if the gods are pure intellects, they are represented as having passions, are worshiped with phallic ritual, and are tempted with invocations and sacred offerings? Why boastful speech and fantastic action are taken as indications of the divine presence; and why, if the gods dwell in the heavens, theurgists invoke only terrestrial and subterranean deities? How superior beings can be invoked with commands by their inferiors, why the Sun and Moon are threatened, why the man must be just and chaste who invokes spirits in order to secure unjust ends or gratify lust, and why the worshiper must abstain from animal food and not touch a corpse when sacrifices to the gods consist of the bodies of dead victims? Porphyry[Pg 309] wishes further an explanation of the various genera of gods, visible and invisible, corporeal and incorporeal, beneficent and malicious, aquatic and aerial. He wants to know whether the stars are not gods, how gods differ from demons, and what the distinction is between souls and heroes.

Orders of spiritual beings.

Iamblichus in reply states that as heroes are elevated above souls, so demons are inferior and subservient to the gods and translate the infinite, ineffable, and invisible divine transcendent goodness into terms of visible forms, energy, and reason.[1368] He further distinguishes “the etherial, empyrean, and celestial gods,” and angels, archangels, and archons.[1369] As for corporeal, visible, aerial, and aquatic gods, he affirms that the gods have no bodies and no particular allotments of space, but that natural objects participate in or are related to the gods etherially or aerially or aquatically, each according to its nature.[1370] “The celestial divinities,” for example, “are not comprehended by bodies but contain bodies in their divine lives and energies. They are not themselves converted to body, but they have a body which is converted to its divine cause, and that body does not impede their intellectual and incorporeal perfection.”[1371] Iamblichus denies that there are any maleficent gods, saying that “it is much better to acknowledge our inability to explain the occurrence of evil than to admit anything impossible and false concerning the gods.”[1372] But he admits the existence of both good and evil demons and makes of the latter a convenient scapegoat upon whom to saddle any inconsistencies or impurities in religious rites and magical ceremony.

Nature of demons.

Iamblichus does not, however, hold the view of Apuleius that demons are subject to passions. They are impassive and incapable of suffering.[1373] He scorns the notion that even the worst demons can be allured by the vapors of animal sacrifice or that petty mortals can supply such beings with anything;[1374] it is rather in the consumption of foul matter[Pg 310] by pure fire in the act of sacrifice that they take delight. Demons are not, however, like the gods entirely separated from bodies. The world is divided up into prefectures among them and they are more or less inseparable from and identified with the natural objects which they govern.[1375] Thus they may serve to enmesh the soul in the bonds of matter and of fate, and to afflict the body with disease.[1376] Also the evil demons “are surrounded by certain noxious, blood-devouring, and fierce wild beasts,” probably of the type of vampires and empousas.[1377] Iamblichus further holds that there is a class of demons who are without judgment and reason, each of whom has some one function to perform and is not adapted to do anything else.[1378] Such demons or forces in nature men may well address as superiors in invoking them, since they are superior to men in their one special function; but when they have once been invoked, man as a rational being may also well issue commands to them as his irrational inferiors.[1379]

The art of theurgy.

Iamblichus also undertakes the defense of theurgy and carefully distinguishes it from magic, as we shall soon see. It is also different from science, since it does not merely employ the physical forces of the natural universe,[1380] and from philosophy, since its ineffable works are beyond the reach of mere intelligence, and those who merely philosophize theoretically cannot hope for a theurgic union or communion with the gods.[1381] Even theurgists cannot as a rule endure the light of spiritual beings higher than heroes, demons, and angels,[1382] and it is an exceedingly rare occurrence for one of them to be united with the supramundane gods.[1383] This theurgy, or “the art of divine works,” operates by means of “arcane signatures” and “the power of inexplicable symbols.”[1384] It is thus that Iamblichus explains away most of the details in sacred rites and sacrifices to which Porphyry[Pg 311] had objected as obscene or material and as implying that the gods themselves were passive and passionate. They are mystic symbols, “consecrated from eternity” for some hidden reason “which is more excellent than reason.”[1385] Occult virtues indeed! We have already heard Iamblichus state that natural objects participate in or are related to the gods etherially or aerially or aquatically; theurgists therefore quite properly employ in their art certain stones, herbs, aromatics, and sacred animals.[1386] By employing such potent symbols mere man takes on such a sacred character himself that he is able to command many spiritual powers.[1387]

Invocations and the power of words.

Invocations and prayers are also much used in theurgical operations. But such invocations do not draw down the impassive and pure gods to this world; rather they purify those who employ them from their passions and impurity and exalt them to union with the pure and the divine.[1388] These prayers are symbolic, too. They do not appeal to human passions or reason, “for they are perfectly unknown and arcane and are alone known to the God whom they invoke.”[1389] In another passage[1390] Iamblichus replies to Porphyry’s objection that such prayers are often composed of meaningless words and names without signification by declaring—somewhat inconsistently with his previous assertion that these invocations are “perfectly unknown”—that some of the names “which we can scientifically analyze” comprehend “the whole divine essence, power and order.” Moreover, if translated into another language, they do not have exactly the same meaning, and even if they do, they no longer retain the same power as in the original tongue. We shall meet a similar passage concerning the power of words and divine names in the church father Origen who lived earlier in the third century than Porphyry and Iamblichus. Iamblichus concludes that “it is necessary that[Pg 312] ancient prayers ... should be preserved invariably the same.”[1391]

Magic a human art: theurgy divine.

Neither Porphyry nor Iamblichus, I believe, employs the word, “magic,” but they both often allude to its practitioners and methods by such expressions as “jugglers” and “enchanters” or by contrasting what is done “artificially” or by means of art with theurgical operations. In the last case the distinction is between what on the one hand is regarded as a divine mystery or revelation and what on the other hand is looked upon as a mere human art and contrivance. And “nothing ... which is fashioned by human art is genuine and pure.”[1392] Christian writers drew a like distinction between prophecy or miracle and divination or magic. Sometimes, however, Iamblichus speaks of theurgy itself as an art, an involuntary admission of the close resemblance between its methods and those of magic. We are also told that if the theurgist makes a slip in his procedure, he thereby reduces it to the level of magic.[1393]

Magic’s abuse of nature’s forces.

Another distinction is that theurgy aims at communion with the gods while magic has to do rather with “the physical or corporeal powers of the universe.”[1394] Both Porphyry and Iamblichus believed that harmony, sympathy, and mutual attraction existed between the various objects in the universe, which Iamblichus asserted was one animal.[1395] Thus it is possible for man to draw distant things to himself or to unite them to, or separate them from, one another.[1396] But art may also use this force of sympathy between objects in an extreme and unseemly manner, and this disorderly forcing of nature, we are left to infer, constitutes an essential feature of magic, whose procedure is not truly natural or scientific.

Its evil character.

Magic not only disorders the law and harmony, and makes a perverse and contrary use of natural forces. Its practitioners are also represented as aiming at evil ends and as[Pg 313] themselves of evil character.[1397] They may try by their illicit and impure procedure to have intercourse with the gods or with pure spirits, but they are unable to accomplish this. All that they succeed in doing is to secure the alliance of evil demons by associating with whom they become more depraved than ever. Such wicked demons may pose as angels of light by requiring that those who invoke them should be just or chaste, but afterwards they show their true colors by assisting in crimes and the gratification of lusts.[1398] It is they, too, who assuming the guise of superior spirits are responsible for the boastful and arrogant utterances of which Porphyry complained in persons supposed to be divinely inspired.[1399]

Its deceit and unreality.

Finally magic is unstable and fantastic. “The imaginations artificially produced by enchantment” are not real objects. Those who foretell the future by “standing on characters” are no theurgists, but employ a superficial, false, and deceptive procedure which can attract only evil demons.[1400] These demons are themselves deceitful and produce “fictitious images.”[1401] Porphyry in the Letter to Anebo also alluded to the frauds of “jugglers.” Although the attitude both of Porphyry and Iamblichus is thus professedly unfavorable to the magic arts, we find that one of Iamblichus’s disciples, named Sopater, was executed under Constantine on a charge of having charmed the winds.[1402]

Porphyry on modes of divination.

How is divination to be placed in reference to magic and theurgy? Porphyry had inquired concerning various methods of divination: in sleep, in trances, and when fully conscious; in ecstasy, in disease, and in states of mental aberration or enchantment. He mentioned divination on hearing drums and cymbals, by drinking water and other potions, by inhaling vapor; divination in darkness, in a wall, in the open air or in the sunlight; by observing entrails or the flight of birds or the motion of the stars, or even by means[Pg 314] of meal. Yet other modes of determining the future which he lists are by characters, images, incantations, and invocations, with which the use of stones and herbs is often combined. These details make it evident how impossible it is to draw any dividing line between the methods of magic and divination, and Porphyry himself states that those who invoke the gods concerning the future not only “have about them stones and herbs,” but are able to bind and to free from bonds, to open closed doors, and to change men’s intentions. Among the virtues of parts of animals mentioned in his treatise upon abstinence from animal food are the powers of divination which may be obtained by eating the heart of a hawk or crow.[1403]

Iamblichus on divination.

Porphyry states that all diviners attribute their predictions to gods or demons, but that he wonders if foreknowledge may not be a power of the human soul or perhaps accountable for by the sympathy which exists between different parts of the universe. Iamblichus holds, however, that divination is neither a human art nor the work of nature but of divine origin.[1404] He perhaps regards it as little more than a branch of theurgy. He distinguishes between human dreams which are sometimes true, sometimes false, and dreams and visions divinely sent.[1405] If one is able to predict the future by drinking water, it is because the water has been divinely illuminated.[1406] That we can predict when the mind is diseased and disordered, and that stupid or simple-minded men are often better able to prophesy than the wise and learned, are for him but further proofs that foreknowledge is a divine gift and not a human science, while divination by such means as rods, pebbles, grains of corn and wheat simply excites the more his pious admiration at the greatness of divine power.[1407] He disapproves of divination by standing on characters,[1408] but sees no reason why divination in darkness, in a wall, or in sunlight, or by potions and incantations, may not be divinely directed. He will not,[Pg 315] however, connect the disordered imaginations excited by disease with divine presentiments.[1409] From true divination he also separates the “natural prescience” of certain animals whose acuteness of sense or occult sympathy with other parts and forces of nature enables them to perceive some coming events before men do. Their power resembles prophecy, “yet falls short of it in stability and truth.”[1410] Augury is an art whose conjectures have great probability, but they are based upon divine signs or portents effected in nature by the agency of demons.[1411]

Are the stars gods?

The stars are on a totally different plane from the other substances employed in divination. To Porphyry’s question whether they are not gods Iamblichus is not content to reply that the celestial divinities comprehend these heavenly bodies and that the bodies in no way impede “their intellectual and incorporeal perfection.”[1412] He must needs go on to argue that the stars themselves, as simple indivisible bodies, unchanging in quality and uniform in movement, closely approach to “the incorporeal essence of the gods.” He then triumphantly if illogically concludes, “Thus therefore the visible celestials are all of them gods and after a certain manner incorporeal.” We may add the opinion of Chaeremon and others, noted by Porphyry, that the only gods were the physical ones of the Egyptians and the planets, signs of the zodiac, decans, and horoscope; all religious myths were explained by Chaeremon as astrological allegories.

Is there an art of astrology?

Porphyry objected that those who thus reduce religion to astrology submit everything to fate and leave the human soul no freedom, and furthermore that in any case astrology is an unattainable science. Iamblichus defends it against these objections, insisting that the universe is divided under the rule of planets, signs, and decans;[1413] that the Egyptians[Pg 316] do not make everything physical but ascribe two souls to man, one of which obeys the revolutions of the stars, while the other is intellectual and free;[1414] and that there is a systematic art of astrology based on divine revelation and the long observations of the Chaldeans, although like any other science it may at times degenerate and become contaminated by error.[1415] Iamblichus further regards as ridiculous the contention of those “who ascribe depravity to the celestial bodies because their participants sometimes produce evil.”[1416] In the brief separate treatise, De fato,[1417] he again holds that all things are bound by the indissoluble chain of necessity which men call fate, but that the gods can loose the bonds of fate, and that the human mind, too, has power to rise above nature, unite with the gods, and enjoy eternal life.

Porphyry and astrology.

Whether Porphyry in his other extant works evidences a belief in astrology or not, and whether he wrote an Introduction to the Tetrabiblos or astrological handbook of Ptolemy, has been disputed.[1418] This Introduction ascribed to Porphyry was much cited by subsequent astrologers[1419] and was printed in 1559 together with a much longer anonymous commentary on the Tetrabiblos which some ascribe to Proclus.[1420]

Astrological images.

Towards astrological images at least, Porphyry shows himself in the Letter to Anebo more favorable than Iamblichus, saying, “Nor are the artificers of efficacious images to be despised, for they observe the motion of celestial bodies.” Iamblichus, on the other hand, rather grudgingly admits that “the image-making art attracts a certain very obscure genesiurgic portion from the celestial effluxions.”[1421] He seems to have the same feeling against images as against[Pg 317] characters, perhaps regarding both as bordering upon idolatry.[1422]

Number mysticism.

Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus were all given to number mysticism. The sixth book of the sixth Ennead is entirely devoted to this subject, while Porphyry and Iamblichus both wrote Lives of Pythagoras and treatises upon his doctrine of number.

Porphyry as reported by Eusebius.

Other works by Porphyry than the Letter to Anebo are cited or quoted a good deal by Eusebius in Praeparatio evangelica, especially his Περὶ τῆς ἐκ λογίων φιλοσοφίας, but the extracts are made for Eusebius’s own purposes, which are to discredit pagan religion, and neither express Porphyry’s complete thought nor probably even tend to prove his original point. Besides showing that Porphyry was inconsistent in distinguishing the different victims to be sacrificed to terrestrial and subterranean, aerial, celestial, and sea gods in the above-mentioned work, when in his De abstinentia a rebus animatis he held that beings who delighted in animal sacrifice were no gods but mere demons, Eusebius quotes him a good deal to show that the pagan gods were nothing but demons, that they themselves might be called magicians and astrologers, that they loved characters, and that they made their predictions of the future not from their own foreknowledge but from the stars by the art of astrology, and that like men they could not even always read the decrees of the stars aright. The belief is also mentioned that the fate foretold from the stars may be avoided by resort to magic.[1423]

The Emperor Julian on theurgy and astrology.

The Emperor Julian was an enthusiastic follower of Iamblichus whom he praises[1424] in his Hymn to the Sovereign Sun delivered at the Saturnalia of 361 A. D. He also describes “the blessed theurgists” as able to comprehend unspeakable mysteries which are hidden from the crowd, such as Julian the Chaldean prophesied concerning the god[Pg 318] of the seven rays.[1425] The emperor tells us that from his youth he was regarded as over-curious (περιεργότερον, a word which almost implies the practice of magic) and as a diviner by the stars (ἀστρόμαντιν). His Hymn to the Sun contains a good deal of astrological detail, speaks of the universe as eternal and divine, and regards planets, signs, and decans as “the visible gods.” In short, “there is in the heavens a great multitude of gods.”[1426] The Sun, however, is superior to the other planets, and as Aristotle has pointed out “makes the simplest movement of all the heavenly bodies that travel in a direction opposite to the whole.”[1427] The Sun is also the link between the visible universe and the intelligible world, and Julian infers from his middle station among the planets that he is also king among the intellectual gods.[1428] For behind his visible self is the great Invisible. He frees our souls entirely from the power of “Genesis,” or the force of the stars exercised at nativity, and lifts them to the world of the pure intellect.[1429]

Julian and divination.

Julian believed in almost every form of pagan divination as well as in astrology. To the oracles of Apollo he ascribed the civilizing of the greater part of the world through the foundation of Greek colonies and the revelation of religious and political law.[1430] The historian Ammianus Marcellinus[1431] tells us that Julian was continually inspecting entrails of victims and interpreting dreams and omens, and that he even proposed to re-open a prophetic fountain whose predictions were supposed to have enabled Hadrian to become emperor, after which that emperor blocked it up from fear that someone else might supplant him through its instrumentality. In another passage[1432] he defends Julian from the charge of magic, saying, “Inasmuch as malicious persons have attributed the use of evil arts to learn the future to this ruler who was a learned inquirer into all branches of knowledge, we shall briefly indicate how a wise man is able[Pg 319] to acquire this by no means trivial variety of learning. The spirit behind all the elements, seeing that it is incessantly and everywhere active in the prophetic movement of perennial bodies, bestows upon us the gift of divination by the different arts which we employ; and the forces of nature, propitiated by varied rites, as from exhaustless springs provide mankind with prophetic utterances.”

Scientific divination.

Ammianus thus regards the arts of divination as serious sciences based upon natural forces, although of course in the characteristic Neo-Platonic way of thinking he confuses the spiritual and physical and substitutes propitiatory rites for scientific experiments. His phrase, “the prophetic movement of perennial bodies” almost certainly means the stars and shows his belief in astrology. In another passage[1433] he indicates the widespread trust in astrology among the Roman nobles of his time, the later fourth century, by saying that even those “who deny that there are superior powers in the sky,” nevertheless think it imprudent to appear in public or dine or bathe without having first consulted an almanac as to the whereabouts of Mercury or the exact position of the moon in Cancer. The passage is satirical, no doubt, but Ammianus probably objects quite as much to their disbelief in superior powers in the sky as he does to the excess of their superstition. That astrology and divination may be studied scientifically he again indicates in a description of learning at Alexandria. Besides praising the medical training to be had there, and mentioning the study of geometry, music, astronomy, and arithmetic, he says, “In addition to these subjects they cultivate the science which reveals the ways of the fates.”[1434]

Proclus on theurgy.

Iamblichus’s account of theurgy is repeated in more condensed form by Proclus (412-485) in a brief treatise or fragment which is extant only in its Latin translation by the Florentine humanist Ficinus, entitled De sacrificio et magia.[1435] Neither magic nor theurgy, however, is mentioned[Pg 320] by name in the Latin text. Proclus states that the priests of old built up their sacred science by observing the sympathy existing between natural objects and by arguing from manifest to occult powers. They saw how things on earth were associated with things in the heavens and further discovered how to bring down divine virtue to this lower world by the force of likeness which binds things together. Proclus gives several examples of plants, stones, and animals which evidence such association. The cock, for instance, is reverenced by the lion because both are under the same planet, the sun, but the cock even more so than the lion. Therefore demons who appear with the heads of lions (leonina fronte) vanish suddenly at the sight of a cock unless they chance to be demons of the solar order. After thus indicating the importance of astrology as well as occult virtue in theurgy or magic, Proclus tells how demons are invoked. Sometimes a single herb or stone “suffices for the divine work”; sometimes several substances and rites must be combined “to summon that divinity.” When they had secured the presence of the demons, the priests proceeded, partly under the instruction of the demons and partly by their own industrious interpretation of symbols, to a study of the gods. “Finally, leaving behind natural objects and forces and even to a great extent the demons, they won communion with the gods.”

Neo-Platonic account of magic borrowed by Christians.

Despite the writings of Porphyry and other Neo-Platonists against Christianity, much use was made by Christian theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries of the Neo-Platonic accounts of magic, astrology, and divination, especially of Porphyry’s Letter to Anebo. Eusebius in his Praeparatio Evangelica[1436] made large extracts from it on these themes and also from Porphyry’s work on the Chaldean oracles. Augustine in The City of God[1437] accepted Por[Pg 321]phyry as an authority on the subjects of theurgy and magic. On the other hand, we do not find the Christian writers repeating the attitude of Plotinus that the life of reason is alone free from magic, except as they substitute the word “Christianity” for “the life of reason.”

Neo-Platonists and alchemy.

The Neo-Platonists showed some interest in alchemy as well as in theurgy and astrology. Berthelot published in his Collection des Alchimistes Grecs “a little tract of positive chemistry” which is extant under the name of Iamblichus; and Proclus treated of the relations between the metals and planets and the generation of the metals under the influence of the stars.[1438] Of Synesius, who was both a Neo-Platonist and a Christian bishop, and who seems to have written works of alchemy, we shall treat in a later chapter.

[Pg 322]


Aelian On the Nature of Animals—General character of the work—Its hodge-podge of unclassified detail—Solinus in the middle ages—His date—General character of his work; its relation to Pliny—Animals and gems—Occult medicine—Democritus and Zoroaster not regarded as magicians—Some bits of astrology—Alexander the Great—The Hieroglyphics of Horapollo—Marvels of animals—Animals and astrology—The cynocephalus—Horapollo the cosmopolitan.

Aelian On the Nature of Animals.

From mystic and theurgic compositions we return to works of the declining Roman Empire which deal more directly with nature but, it must be confessed, in a manner somewhat fantastic. About the beginning of the third century, Aelian of Praeneste, who is included by Philostratus in his Lives of the Sophists, wrote On the Nature of Animals.[1439] Its seventeen books, written in Greek, which Aelian used fluently despite his Latin birth, are believed to have reached us partly in interpolated form through two families of manuscripts, of which the older and less interpolated text is found in a thirteenth century manuscript at Paris and a somewhat earlier Vatican codex.[1440] A number of its chapters are similar to and perhaps borrowed from Pliny’s Natural History; at any rate they are commonplaces of ancient science; but the work also has a marked individuality. Parallels have also been noted between this work and the later Hexaemeron of the church father Basil. Aelian was much cited in Byzantine literature and learning, and if he was not directly used in the Latin west, at least the attitude[Pg 323] toward animals which he displays and his selection of material concerning them are as apt precursors of medieval Latin as of medieval Greek scientific literature.

General character of the work.

In preface and epilogue Aelian himself adequately indicates the character of his work. He is impressed by the customs and characteristics of animals, and marvels at their wisdom and native shrewdness, their justice and modesty, their affection and piety, which should put human beings to blush. Thus Aelian’s work is marked by that tendency which runs through ancient and medieval literature to admire actions in the irrational brutes which seem to indicate almost human intelligence and virtue on their part, and to moralize therefrom at the expense of human beings. Another striking feature of his work is its utterly whimsical and haphazard order. He mentions things simply as they happen to occur to him. This fact, too, he recognizes, but refuses to apologize for, stating that it suits him, if it does not suit anyone else, and that he regards a mixed-up order as more motley, variegated, and pleasing. Not only does he attempt no classification whatever of his animals and mention snakes and quadrupeds and birds in the same breath; he also does not complete the treatment of a given animal in one passage but may scatter detached items about it throughout his work. There is, for instance, probably at least one chapter concerning elephants in each of his seventeen books.

Its hodge-podge of unclassified detail.

It would therefore be absurd for us to attempt any logical arrangement in discussing his contents; we may do justice to him most adequately by adopting his own lack of method and noting a few items and topics taken more or less at random from his work. Ants never go out in the new moon. Yet they neither gaze at the sky, nor count the number of days on their fingers, like the learned Babylonians and Chaldeans, but have this marvelous gift from nature.[1441] In sexual intercourse the female viper conceives through the mouth and bites off the head of the male; afterwards her young gnaw their way out of her vitals. “What have your[Pg 324] Oresteses and Alcmaeons to say to that, my dear tragedians?”[1442] Doves put laurel boughs in their nests to guard against fascination and the evil eye, and the hoopoe similarly employs ἀδίαvτον or καλλίτριχον as an amulet;[1443] and other unreasoning animals guard against sorcery by some mystic and marvelous natural power. Another chapter treats of divinations from the crow and how hairs are dyed black with its eggs.[1444] Others tell us of the generation of serpents from the marrow of a dead man’s spine,[1445] and of venomous women like Medea and Circe who are worse than the asp with its incurable sting, since they kill by mere touch.[1446]

We go on to read of swift little beasts called Pyrigoni who are generated from fire and live in it, of salamanders who extinguish flames, of the remedies used by the tortoise against snakes, of the chastity of doves whose marriages never result in divorce, and of the incontinence of the partridge.[1447] Also of the jealousies of certain animals like the stag which hides its right horn, the lizard who devours its cast-off skin, and the mare who eats the hippomanes from its colt, lest men obtain these precious substances.[1448] Of the care taken by storks, herons, and pelicans of their aged parents.[1449] How the swallow by the virtue of an herb gives sight to its young who are born blind, and how a hoopoe found an herb whose virtue dissolved the mud with which the caretaker of a building had plugged up the hole in the wall which it used for its nest.[1450] How the lion and basilisk fear the cock, and of a lake without fish in a place where the cocks do not crow.[1451]

How elephants venerate the waxing moon; how the weasel eats rue when about to fight the snake; and of the jeal[Pg 325]ousy of the hedgehog and lynx, the latter concealing his precious urine, the other watering his own hide when he is captured in order to spoil it.[1452] How the Indians fight griffins when collecting gold.[1453] How the presence of a cock aids a woman’s delivery.[1454] Of unnamed beasts in Libya who know how to count and leave an eleventh part of their prey untouched.[1455] That the sea dragon is easily captured with the left hand but not with the right.[1456] Dragons know the force of herbs and cure themselves with some and increase their venom with others.[1457] How dogs, cows, and other animals sense a famine or plague beforehand.[1458] How the Egyptians by their magic charm birds from the sky and snakes from their holes.[1459] When it rains in Egypt, mice are born from the small drops and plague the country. Traps and fences and ditches are of no avail against them, as they can leap over trenches and walls. Consequently the Egyptians are forced to pray God to end the calamity,[1460]—an interesting variant on the Old Testament account of the plagues of Egypt.

In dogs there exists a certain dialectical faculty of ratiocination.[1461] The weather may be predicted from birds, quadrupeds, and flies.[1462] The she-goat can cure suffusion of its eyes.[1463] Eagles drop tortoises on rocks to break their shells and the bald-headed poet Aeschylus met his death by having his pate mistaken thus for a smooth round stone.[1464] Some predict the future by birds, others by entrails, or by grains, sieves, and cheeses; the Lycians practice divination by fish.[1465] A stork whom a widow of Tarentum helped when it was too young to fly brought her a luminous precious stone the following year.[1466] Solon did not have to enact a law ordering[Pg 326] children to support their aged parents in the case of lions, whose cubs are taught by nature filial piety toward their elders.[1467] Only the horn of the Scythian ass can hold the water of the Arcadian river Styx; Alexander the Great sent a sample of it to Delphi with some accompanying verses which Aelian quotes.[1468] In Epirus dragons sacred to Apollo are employed in divination, and in the Lavinian Grove dragons spit out again the frumenty offered them by unchaste virgins.[1469] By flying beneath it an eagle saved the life of its young one who had been thrown down from a tower.[1470] Different fish eat different sea herbs.[1471] There are fish who live in boiling water.[1472] There are scattered mentions of the marvels of India throughout Aelian’s work, and in his sixteenth book the first fourteen chapters are almost exclusively concerned with the animals of that land.

Solinus in the middle ages.

A well-known work in the middle ages dating from the period of the Roman Empire was the Collectanea rerum memorabilium or Polyhistor of Solinus. Mommsen’s edition lists 153 manuscripts from 32 places,[1473] and we shall find many citations of Solinus in our later medieval authors. Martianus Capella and Isidore were the first to make extensive use of his work. In the thirteenth century Albertus Magnus had little respect for Solinus as an authority and expressed more than once the quite accurate opinion that his work was full of lies. Nevertheless copies of it continued to abound in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and by 1554 five printed editions had appeared. “From it directly come most of the fables in works of object so different as those of Dicuil, Isidore, Capella, and Priscian.”[1474]

His date.

The first extant author to make use of Solinus is Augustine in The City of God, while he is first named in the Genealogus of 455 A. D. None of the manuscripts of the work[Pg 327] antedate the ninth century, but many of them have copied an earlier subscription from a manuscript written “by the zeal and diligence of our lord Theodosius, the unconquered prince.” This is taken to refer to the emperor Theodosius II, 401-450. The work itself, however, has no Christian characteristics; on the contrary it is very fond of mentioning places famed in pagan religion and Greek mythology and of recounting miracles and marvels connected with heathen shrines and rites. Indeed, Solinus seldom, if ever, mentions anything later than the first century of our era. He speaks of Byzantium, not of Constantinople, and makes no mention of the Roman provinces as divided in the system of Diocletian. His book, however, is a compilation from earlier writings so that we need not expect allusions to his own age. The Latin style and general literary make-up of the work are characteristic of the declining empire and early medieval period. Mommsen was inclined to date Solinus in the third rather than the fourth century, but the work seems to have been revised about the sixth century, after which date it became customary to call it the Polyhistor rather than the Collectanea rerum memorabilium. It is also referred to, however, as De mirabilibus mundi, or Wonders of the World.

General character of his work: its relation to Pliny.

The work is primarily a geography and is arranged by countries and places, beginning with Rome and Italy. As each locality is considered, Solinus sometimes tells a little of its history, but is especially inclined to recount miraculous religious events or natural marvels associated with that particular region. Thus in describing two lakes he rather apologizes for mentioning the first at all because it can scarcely be called miraculous, but assures us that the second “is regarded as very extraordinary.”[1475] Sometimes he digresses to other topics such as calendar reform.[1476] Solinus draws both his geographical data and further details very largely from Pliny’s Natural History; but inasmuch as Pliny treated of these matters in separate books, Solinus has[Pg 328] to re-organize the material. He also selects simply a few particulars from Pliny’s wealth of detail on any given subject, and furthermore considerably alters Pliny’s wording, sometimes condensing the thought, sometimes amplifying the phraseology—apparently in an effort to make the point clearer and easier reading. Of Pliny’s thirty-seven books only those from the third to the thirteenth inclusive and the last book are used to any extent by Solinus. That is to say, he either was acquainted with only, or confined himself to, those books dealing with geography, man and other animals, and gems, omitting almost entirely, except for the twelfth and thirteenth books, Pliny’s elaborate treatment of vegetation and of medicinal simples[1477] and discussion of metals and the fine arts. Solinus does not acknowledge his great debt to Pliny in particular, although he keeps alluding to the fulness with which everything has already been discussed by past authors, and although he cites other writers who are almost unknown to us. Of his known sources Pomponius Mela is the chief after Pliny but is used much less. On the other hand, the number of passages for which Mommsen was unable to give any source is not inconsiderable. As may have been already inferred, the work of Solinus is brief; the text alone would scarcely fill one hundred pages.[1478]

Animals and gems.

It would perhaps be rash to conjecture which quality commended the book most to the following period: its handy size, or its easy style and fairly systematic arrangement, or its emphasis upon marvels. The last characteristic is at least the most germane to our investigation. Solinus rendered the service, if we may so term it, of reducing Pliny’s treatment of animals and precious stones in particular to a few common examples, which either were already the best known or became so as a result of his selection. Indeed, King was of the opinion that the descriptions of gems in Solinus were more precise, technical, and systematic than[Pg 329] those in Pliny, and found his notices “often extremely useful.”[1479] Solinus describes such animals as the wolf, lynx, bear, lion, hyena, onager or wild ass, basilisk, crocodile, hippopotamus, phoenix, dolphin, and chameleon; and recounts the marvelous properties of such gems as achates or agate, galactites, catochites, crystal, gagates, adamant, heliotrope, hyacinth, and paeanites. The dragons of India and Ethiopia also occupy his attention, as they did that of Philostratus in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana; indeed, he repeats in different words the statement found in Philostratus that they swim far out to sea.[1480] In Sardinia, on the contrary, there are no snakes, but a poisonous ant exists there. Fortunately there are also healing waters there with which to counteract its venom, but there is also native to Sardinia an herb called Sardonia which causes those who eat it to die of laughter.[1481]

Occult medicine.

Although Solinus makes no use of Pliny’s medical books, he shows considerable interest in the healing properties of simples and in medicine. He tells us that those who slept in the shrine of Aesculapius at Epidaurus were warned in dreams how to heal their diseases,[1482] and that the third daughter of Aeetes, named Angitia, devoted herself “to resisting disease by the salubrious science” of medicine.[1483] According to Solinus Circe as well as Medea was a daughter of Aeetes, but usually in Greek mythology she is represented as his sister.

[Pg 330]

Democritus and Zoroaster not regarded as magicians.

This allusion to Circe and Medea shows that magic, to which medicine and pharmacy are apparently akin, does not pass unnoticed in Solinus’s page. He copies from Mela the account of the periodical transformation of the Neuri into wolves.[1484] But instead of accusing Democritus of having employed magic, as Pliny does, Solinus represents him as engaging in contests with the Magi, in which he made frequent use of the stone catochites in order to demonstrate the occult power of nature.[1485] That is to say, Democritus was apparently opposing science to magic and showing that all the latter’s feats could be duplicated or improved upon by employing natural forces. In two other passages[1486] Solinus calls Democritus physicus, or scientist, and affirms that his birth in Abdera did more to make that town famous than any other thing connected with it, despite the fact that it was founded by and named after the sister of Diomedes. Zoroaster, too, whom Pliny called the founder of the magic art, is not spoken of as a magician by Solinus, although he is mentioned three times and is described as “most skilled in the best arts,” and is cited concerning the power of coral and of the gem aetites.[1487]

Some bits of astrology.

It is not part of Solinus’s plan to describe the heavens, but he occasionally alludes to “the discipline of the stars,”[1488] as he calls astronomy or astrology. On the authority of L. Tarrutius, “most renowned of astrologers,”[1489] he tells us that the foundations of the walls of Rome were laid by Romulus in his twenty-second year on the eleventh day of the kalends of May between the second and third hours, when Jupiter was in Pisces, the sun in Taurus, the moon in Libra, and the other four planets in the sign of the scorpion. He also[Pg 331] speaks of the star Arcturus destroying the Argive fleet off Euboea on its return from Ilium.[1490]

Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great figures prominently in the pages of Alexander Solinus, being mentioned a score of times, and this too corresponds to the medieval interest in the Macedonian conqueror. Stories concerning him are repeated from Pliny, but Solinus also displays further information. He insists that Philip was truly his father, although he adds that Olympias strove to acquire a nobler father for him, when she affirmed that she had had intercourse with a dragon, and that Alexander tried to have himself considered of divine descent.[1491] The statement concerning Olympias suggests the story of Nectanebus, of which a later chapter will treat, but that individual is not mentioned, although Aristotle and Callisthenes are spoken of as Alexander’s tutors, so that it is doubtful if Solinus was acquainted with the Pseudo-Callisthenes. He describes Alexander’s line of march with fair accuracy and not in the totally incorrect manner of the Pseudo-Callisthenes.

The Hieroglyphics of Horapollo.

In seeking a third text and author of the same type as Aelian and Solinus to round out the present chapter, our choice unhesitatingly falls upon the Hieroglyphics of Horapollo, a work which pretends to explain the meaning of the written symbols employed by the ancient Egyptian priests, but which is really principally concerned with the same marvelous habits and properties of animals of which Aelian treated. In brief the idea is that these characteristics of animals must be known in order to comprehend the significance of the animal figures in the ancient hieroglyphic writing. Horapollo is supposed to have written in the Egyptian language in perhaps the fourth or fifth century of our era,[1492] but his work is extant only in the Greek translation of it made by a Philip who lived a century or two later and who seems to have made some additions of his own.[1493]

[Pg 332]

Marvels of animals.

The zoology of Horapollo is for the most part not novel, but repeats the same erroneous notions that may be found in Aristotle’s History of Animals, Pliny’s Natural History, Aelian, and other ancient authors. Again we hear of the basilisk’s fatal breath, of the beaver’s discarded testicles, of the unnatural methods of conception of the weasel and viper, of the bear’s licking its cubs into shape, of the kindness of storks to their parents, of wasps generated from a dead horse, of the phoenix, of the swan’s song, of the sick lion’s eating an ape to cure himself, of the bull tamed by tying it to the branch of a wild fig tree, of the elephant’s fear of a ram or a dog and how it buries its tusks.[1494] Less familiar perhaps are the assertions that the mare miscarries, if she merely treads on a wolf’s tracks;[1495] that the pigeon cures itself by placing laurel in its nest;[1496] that putting the wings of a bat on an ant-hill will prevent the ants from coming out.[1497] The statement that if the hyena, when hunted, turns to the right, it will slay its pursuer, while if it turns to the left, it will be slain by him, is also found in Pliny.[1498] But his long enumeration of virtues ascribed to parts of the hyena by the Magi does not include the assertion in Horapollo’s next chapter[1499] that a man girded with a hyena skin can pass through the ranks of his enemies without injury, although it ascribes somewhat similar virtues to the animal’s skin. In Horapollo it is the hawk rather than the eagle which surpasses other winged creatures in its ability to gaze at the sun; hence physicians use the hawkweed in eye-cures.[1500]

[Pg 333]

Animals and astrology.

Animals also serve as astronomical or astrological symbols in the system of hieroglyphic writing as interpreted by Horapollo. Not only does a palm tree represent the year because it puts forth a new branch every new moon,[1501] but the phoenix denotes the magnus annus in the course of which the heavenly bodies complete their revolutions.[1502] The scarab rolls his ball of dung from east to west and gives it the shape of the universe.[1503] He buries it for twenty-eight days conformably to the course of the moon through the zodiac, but he has thirty toes to correspond to the days of the month. As there is no female scarab, so there is no male vulture. The female vulture symbolizes the Egyptian year by spending five days in conceiving by the wind, one hundred and twenty in pregnancy, the same period in rearing its young, and the remaining one hundred and twenty days in preparing itself to repeat the process.[1504] The vulture also visits battlefields seven days in advance and by the direction of its glance indicates which army will be defeated.

The cynocephalus.

The cynocephalus, dog-headed ape, or baboon, was mentioned several times by Pliny, but Horapollo gives more specific information concerning it, chiefly of an astrological character. It is born circumcised and is reared in temples in order to learn from it the exact hour of lunar eclipses, at which times it neither sees nor eats, while the female ex genitalibus sanguinem emittit. The cynocephalus represents the inhabitable world which has seventy-two primitive parts, because the animal dies and is buried piecemeal by the priests during a period of as many days, until at the end of the seventy-second day life has entirely departed from the last remnant of its carcass.[1505] The cynocephalus not only marks the time of eclipses but at the equinoxes makes water twelve times by day and by night, marking off the hours; hence a figure of it is carved by the Egyptians on their water-clocks.[1506] Horapollo associates together the god of the universe and fate and the stars which are five in number, for he believes[Pg 334] that five planets carry out the economy of the universe and that they are subject to God’s government.[1507]

Horapollo the cosmopolitan.

Horapollo cannot be given high rank either as a zoologist and astronomer, or a philologer and archaeologist; but at least he was no narrow nationalist and had some respect for history. The Egyptians, he says, “denote a man who has never left his own country by a human figure with the head of an ass, because he neither hears any history nor knows of what is going on abroad.”[1508]

[Pg 335]


Chapter 13. The Book of Enoch.
Chapter 14. Philo Judaeus.
Chapter 15. The Gnostics.
Chapter 16. The Christian Apocrypha.
Chapter 17. The Recognitions of Clement and Simon Magus.
Chapter 18. The Confession of Cyprian and some similar stories.
Chapter 19. Origen and Celsus.
Chapter 20. Other Christian Discussion of Magic before Augustine.
Chapter 21. Christianity and Natural Science; Basil, Epiphanius, and the Physiologus.
Chapter 22. Augustine on Magic and Astrology.
Chapter 23. The Fusion of Pagan and Christian Thought in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries.

[Pg 337]



We now turn back chronologically to the point from which we started in our survey of classical science and magic in order to trace the development of Christian thought in regard to the same subjects. How far did Christianity break with ancient science and superstition? To what extent did it borrow from them?

Magic and religion.

It has often been remarked that, as a new religion comes to prevail in a society, the old rites are discredited and prohibited as magic. The faith and ceremonies of the majority, performed publicly, are called religion: the discarded cult, now practiced only privately and covertly by a minority, is stigmatized as magic and contrary to the general good. Thus we shall hear Christian writers condemn the pagan oracles and auguries as arts of divination, and classify the ancient gods as demons of the same sort as those invoked in the magic arts. Conversely, when a new religion is being introduced, is as yet regarded as a foreign faith, and is still only the private worship of a minority, the majority regard it as outlandish magic. And this we shall find illustrated by the accusations of sorcery and magic heaped upon Jesus by the Jews, and upon the Jews and the early Christians by a world long accustomed to pagan rites. The same bandying back and forth of the charge of magic occurred between Mohammed and the Meccans.[1509]

Relation between early Christian and medieval literature.

It is perhaps generally assumed that the men of the middle ages were widely read in and deeply influenced by the fathers of the early church, but at least for our subject this influence has hardly been treated either broadly or[Pg 338] in detail. Indeed, the predilection of the humanists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for anything written in Greek and their aversion to medieval Latin has too long operated as a bar to the study of medieval literature in general. And scholars who have edited or studied the Greek, Syriac, and other ancient texts connected with early Christianity have perhaps too often neglected the Latin versions preserved in medieval manuscripts, or, while treasuring up every hint that Photius lets fall, have failed to note the citations and allusions in medieval Latin encyclopedists. Yet it is often the case that the manuscripts containing the Latin versions are of earlier date than those which seem to preserve the Greek original text.

Method of presenting early Christian thought.

There is so much repetition and resemblance between the numerous Christian writers in Greek and Latin of the Roman Empire that I have even less than in the case of their classical contemporaries attempted a complete presentation of them, but, while not intending to omit any account of the first importance in the history of magic or experimental science, have aimed to make a selection of representative persons and typical passages. At the same time, in the case of those authors and works which are discussed, the aim is to present their thought in sufficiently specific detail to enable the reader to estimate for himself their scientific or superstitious character and their relations to classical thought on the one hand and medieval thought on the other.

Before we treat of Christian writings themselves it is essential to notice some related lines of thought and groups of writings which either preceded or accompanied the development of Christian thought and literature, and which either influenced even orthodox thought powerfully, or illustrate foreign elements, aberrations, side-currents, and undertows which none the less cannot be disregarded in tracing the main current of Christian belief. We therefore shall successively treat of the literature extant under the name of Enoch, of the works of Philo Judaeus, of the doctrines of the Gnostics, of the Christian Apocrypha, of the Pseudo[Pg 339]-Clementines and Simon Magus, and of the Confession of Cyprian and some similar stories. We shall then make Origen’s Reply to Celsus, in which the conflict of classical and Christian conceptions is well illustrated, our point of departure in an examination of the attitude of the early fathers towards magic and science. Succeeding chapters will treat of the attitude toward magic of other fathers before Augustine, of Christianity and natural science as shown in Basil’s Hexaemeron, Epiphanius’ Panarion, and the Physiologus, and of Augustine himself. A final chapter on the fusion of paganism and Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries will terminate this second division of our investigation and also serve as a supplement to the preceding division and an introduction to the third book on the early middle ages. Our arrangement is thus in part topical rather than strictly chronological. The dates of many authors and works are too dubious, there is too much of the apocryphal and interpolated, and we have to rely too much upon later writers for the views of earlier ones, to make a strictly or even primarily chronological arrangement either advisable or feasible.

[Pg 340]


Enoch’s reputation as an astrologer in the middle ages—Date and influence of the literature ascribed to Enoch—Angels governing the universe; stars and angels—The fallen angels teach men magic and other arts—The stars as sinners—Effect of sin upon nature—Celestial phenomena—Mountains and metals—Strange animals.

Enoch’s reputation as an astrologer in the middle ages.

In collections of medieval manuscripts there often is found a treatise on fifteen stars, fifteen herbs, fifteen stones, and fifteen figures engraved upon them, which is attributed sometimes to Hermes, presumably Trismegistus, and sometimes to Enoch, the patriarch, who “walked with God and was not.”[1510] Indeed in the prologue to a Hermetic work on astrology in a medieval manuscript we are told that Enoch and the first of the three Hermeses or Mercuries are identical.[1511] This[Pg 341] treatise probably has no direct relation to the Book of Enoch, which we shall discuss in this chapter and which was composed in the pre-Christian period. But it is interesting to observe that the same reputation for astrology, which led the middle ages sometimes to ascribe this treatise to Enoch, is likewise found in “the first notice of a book of Enoch,” which “appears to be due to a Jewish or Samaritan Hellenist,” which “has come down to us successively through Alexander Polyhistor and Eusebius,” and which states that Enoch was the founder of astrology.[1512] The statement in Genesis that Enoch lived three hundred and sixty-five years would also lead men to associate him with the solar year and stars.

Date and influence of the literature ascribed to Enoch.

The Book of Enoch is “the precipitate of a literature, once very active, which revolved ... round Enoch,” and in the form which has come down to us is a patchwork from “several originally independent books.”[1513] It is extant in the form of Greek fragments preserved in the Chronography of G. Syncellus,[1514] or but lately discovered in (Upper) Egypt, and in more complete but also more recent manuscripts giving an Ethiopic and a Slavonic version.[1515] These last two versions are quite different both in language and content, while some of the citations of Enoch in ancient writers apply to neither of these versions. While “Ethiopic did not exist as a literary language before 350 A. D.,”[1516] and none[Pg 342] of the extant manuscripts of the Ethiopic version is earlier than the fifteenth century,[1517] Charles believes that they are based upon a Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic original, and that even the interpolations in this were made by an editor living before the Christian era. He asserts that “nearly all the writers of the New Testament were familiar with it,” and influenced by it,—in fact that its influence on the New Testament was greater than that of all the other apocrypha together, and that it “had all the weight of a canonical book” with the early church fathers.[1518] After 300 A. D., however, it became discredited, except as we have seen among Ethiopic and Slavonic Christians. Before 300 Origen in his Reply to Celsus[1519] accuses his opponent of quoting the Book of Enoch as a Christian authority concerning the fallen angels. Origen objects that “the books which bear the name Enoch do not at all circulate in the Churches as divine.” Augustine, in the City of God,[1520] written between 413 and 426, admits that Enoch “left some divine writings, for this is asserted by the Apostle Jude in his canonical epistle.” But he doubts if any of the writings current in his own day are genuine and thinks that they have been wisely excluded from the course of Scripture. Lods writes that after the ninth century in the east and from a much earlier date in the west, the Book of Enoch is not mentioned, “At the most some medieval rabbis seem still to know of it.”[1521] Yet Alexander Neckam, in the twelfth century, speaks as if Latin Christendom of that date had some acquaintance with the Enoch literature. We shall note some passages in Saint Hildegard which seem parallel to others in the Book of Enoch, while Vincent of Beauvais in his Speculum naturale in the thirteenth century, in justifying a certain discriminating use of the apocryphal books, points out that Jude quotes Enoch whose book is now called apocryphal.[1522]

[Pg 343]

Angels governing the universe: stars and angels.

The Enoch literature has much to say concerning angels, and implies their control of nature, man, and the future. We hear of Raphael, “who is set over all the diseases and wounds of the children of men”; Gabriel, “who is set over all the powers”; Phanuel, “who is set over the repentance and hope of those who inherit eternal life.”[1523] The revolution of the stars is described as “according to the number of the angels,” and in the Slavonic version the number of those angels is stated as two hundred.[1524] Indeed the stars themselves are often personified and we read “how they keep faith with each other” and even of “all the stars whose privy members are like those of horses.”[1525] The Ethiopic version also speaks of the angels or spirits of hoar-frost, dew, hail, snow and so forth.[1526] In the Slavonic version Enoch finds in the sixth heaven the angels who attend to the phases of the moon and the revolutions of stars and sun and who superintend the good or evil condition of the world. He finds angels set over the years and seasons, the rivers and sea, the fruits of the earth, and even an angel over every herb.[1527]

The fallen angels teach men magic and other arts.

The fallen angels in particular are mentioned in the Book of Enoch. Two hundred angels lusted after the comely daughters of men and bound themselves by oaths to marry them.[1528] After having thus taken unto themselves wives, they instructed the human race in the art of magic and the science of botany—or to be more exact, “charms and enchantments” and “the cutting of roots and of woods.” In another chapter various individual angels are named who taught respectively the enchanters and botanists, the breaking of charms, astrology, and various branches thereof.[1529] In the Greek fragment preserved by Syncellus there are further mentioned pharmacy, and what probably denote geomancy (“sign of[Pg 344] the earth”) and aeromancy (aeroskopia). Through this revelation of mysteries which should have been kept hid we are told that men “know all the secrets of the angels, and all the violence of the Satans, and all their occult power, and all the power of those who practice sorcery, and the power of witchcraft, and the power of those who make molten images for the whole earth.”[1530] The revelation included, moreover, not only magic arts, witchcraft, divination, and astrology, but also natural sciences, such as botany and pharmacy—which, however, are apparently regarded as closely akin to magic—and useful arts such as mining metals, manufacturing armor and weapons, and “writing with ink and paper”—“and thereby many sinned from eternity to eternity and until this day.”[1531] As the preceding remark indicates, the author is decidedly of the opinion that men were not created to the end that they should write with pen and ink. “For man was created exactly like the angels to the intent that he should continue righteous and pure, ... but through this their knowledge men are perishing.”[1532] Perhaps the writer means to censure writing as magical and thinks of it only as mystic signs and characters. Magic is always regarded as evil in the Enoch literature, and witchcraft, enchantments, and “devilish magic” are given a prominent place in a list in the Slavonic version[1533] of evil deeds done upon earth.

The stars as sinners.

In connection with the fallen angels we find the stars regarded as capable of sin as well as personified. In the Ethiopic version there is more than one mention of seven stars that transgressed the command of God and are bound against the day of judgment or for the space of ten thousand years.[1534] One passage tells how “judgment was held first over the stars, and they were judged and found guilty, and went to the place of condemnation, and they were cast into an abyss.”[1535] A similar identification of the stars with the fallen angels is found in one of the visions of Saint[Pg 345] Hildegard in the twelfth century. She writes, “I saw a great star most splendid and beautiful, and with it an exceeding multitude of falling sparks which with the star followed southward. And they examined Him upon His throne almost as something hostile, and turning from Him, they sought rather the north. And suddenly they were all annihilated, being turned into black coals ... and cast into the abyss that I could see them no more.”[1536] She then interprets the vision as signifying the fall of the angels.

Effect of sin upon nature.

An idea which we shall find a number of times in other ancient and medieval writers appears also in the Book of Enoch. It is that human sin upsets the world of nature, and in this particular case, even the period of the moon and the orbits of the stars.[1537] Hildegard again roughly parallels the Enoch literature by holding that the original harmony of the four elements upon this earth was changed into a confused and disorderly mixture after the fall of man.[1538]

Celestial phenomena

The natural world, although intimately associated with the spiritual world and hardly distinguished from it in the Enoch literature, receives considerable attention, and much of the discussion in both the Ethiopic and Slavonic versions is of a scientific rather than ethical or apocalyptic character. One section of the Ethiopic version is described by Charles[1539] as the Book of Celestial Physics and upholds a calendar based upon the lunar year. The Slavonic version, on the other hand, while mentioning the lunar year of 354 days and the solar year of 365 and ¼ days, seems to prefer the latter, since the years of Enoch’s life are given as 365, and he writes 366 books concerning what he has seen in his visions and voyages.[1540] The Book of Enoch supposes a plurality of heavens.[1541] In the Slavonic version Enoch is[Pg 346] taken through the seven heavens, or ten heavens in one manuscript, with the signs of the zodiac in the eighth and ninth. An account is also given of the creation, and the waters above the firmament, which were to give the early Christian apologists and medieval clerical scientists so much difficulty, are described as follows: “And thus I made firm the waters, that is, the depths, and I surrounded the waters with light, and I created seven circles, and I fashioned them like crystal, moist and dry, that is to say, like glass and ice, and as for the waters and also the other elements I showed each of them their paths, (viz.) to the seven stars, each of them in their heaven, how they should go.”[1542] The order of the seven planets in their circles is given as follows: in the first and highest circle the star Kruno, then Aphrodite or Venus, Ares (Mars), the sun, Zeus (Jupiter), Hermes (Mercury), and the moon.[1543] God also tells Enoch that the duration of the world will be for a week of years, that is, seven thousand, after which “let there be at the beginning of the eighth thousand a time when there is no computation and no end; neither years nor months nor weeks nor days nor hours.”[1544]

Mountains and metals.

Turning from celestial physics to terrestrial phenomena, we may note a few allusions to minerals, vegetation, and animals. “Seven mountains of magnificent stones” are more than once mentioned in the Ethiopic version and are described as each different from the other.[1545] Another passage speaks of “seven mountains full of choice nard and aromatic trees and cinnamon and pepper.”[1546] But whether[Pg 347] these groups of seven mountains are to be astrologically related to the seven planets is not definitely stated. We are also left in doubt whether the following passage may have some astrological or even alchemical significance, or whether it is merely a figurative prophecy like that in the Book of Daniel concerning the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream. “There mine eyes saw all the hidden things of heaven that shall be, an iron mountain, and one of copper, and one of silver, and one of gold, and one of soft metal, and one of lead.”[1547] At any rate Enoch has come very near to listing the seven metals usually associated with the seven planets. In another passage we are informed that while silver and “soft metal” come from the earth, lead and tin are produced by a fountain in which an eminent angel stands.[1548]

Strange animals.

As for animals we are informed that Behemoth is male and Leviathan female.[1549] When Enoch went to the ends of the earth he saw there great beasts and birds who differed in appearance, beauty, and voice.[1550] In the Slavonic version we hear a good deal of phoenixes and chalkydri, who seem to be flying dragons. These creatures are described as “strange in appearance with the feet and tails of lions and the heads of crocodiles. Their appearance was of a purple color like the rainbow; their size, nine hundred measures. Their wings were like those of angels, each with twelve, and they attend the chariot of the sun, and go with him, bringing heat and dew as they are ordered by God.”[1551]

[Pg 348]


Bibliographical note—Philo the mediator between Hellenistic and Jewish-Christian thought—His influence upon the middle ages was indirect—Good and bad magic—Stars not gods nor first causes—But rational and virtuous animals, and God’s viceroys over inferiors—They do not cause evil; but it is possible to predict the future from their motions—Jewish astrology—Perfection of the number seven—And of fifty—Also of four and six—Spirits of the air—Interpretation of dreams—Politics are akin to magic—A thought repeated by Moses Maimonides and Albertus Magnus.

But since every city in which laws are properly established has a regular constitution, it became necessary for this citizen of the world to adopt the same constitution as that which prevailed in the universal world. And this constitution is the right reason of nature.

On Creation, cap. 50.

Philo the mediator between Hellenistic and Jewish-Christian thought.

There probably is no other man who marks so well the fusion of Hellenic and Hebrew ideas and the transition from them to Christian thought as Philo Judaeus.[1552] He flourished at Alexandria in the first years of our era—the exact dates both of his birth and of his death are uncertain—and speaks of himself as an old man at the time of[Pg 349] his participation in the embassy of Jews to the Emperor Gaius or Caligula in 40 A.D. He repeats the doctrines of the Greek philosophers and anticipates much that the church fathers discuss. Before the Neo-Platonists he regards matter as the source of all evil and feels the necessity of mediators, angels or demons, between God and man. Before the medieval revival of Aristotle and natural philosophy he tries to reconcile the Mosaic account of creation with belief in a world soul, and monotheism with astrology. Before the rise of Christian monasticism he describes in his treatise On the Contemplative Life an ascetic community of Therapeutae at Lake Maerotis.[1553] After Pythagoras he enlarges upon the mystic significance of numbers. After Plato he repeats the conception of an ideal city of God[Pg 350] which was to gain such a hold upon Christian imagination.[1554] After the Stoics he proclaims the doctrine of the law of nature, holds that the institution of human slavery is absolutely contrary to it, and writes “a treatise to prove that every virtuous man is free” and that to be virtuous is to live in conformity to nature.[1555] He had previously written another treatise designed to show that “every wicked man was a slave,”[1556] and he held a theory which we met in the Enoch literature and shall meet again in a number of subsequent writers that sin was punished naturally by forces of nature such as floods and thunderbolts. He did not originate the practice of allegorical interpretation of the Bible but he is our first great extant example thereof. He even went so far as to regard the tree of life and the story of the serpent tempting Eve as purely symbolical, an attitude which found little favor with Christian writers.[1557] His effort by means of the allegorical method to find in the books of the Pentateuch all the attractive concepts and theories which he had learned from the Greeks became later in the Christian apologists an assertion that Plato and Pythagoras had borrowed their doctrines from Abraham and Moses. His doctrine of the logos had a powerful influence upon the writers of the New Testament and the theology of the early church.[1558] Yet Philo affirms that no more perfect good than philosophy exists in human life and in both literary style and erudition he is a Hellene to his very finger tips. The recent tendency, seen especially in German scholarship, to deny the writers of the Roman Empire any capacity for original thought and to trace back their ideas to unextant authors of a supposedly much more productive Hellenistic age has perhaps been carried too far. But if we may not regard Philo as a great originator, and it is evident that he borrowed many of his ideas, he was at any rate a great[Pg 351] transmitter of thought, a mediator after his own heart between Jews and Greeks, and between them both and the Christian writers to come. Standing at the close of the Hellenistic age and at the opening of the Roman period, he occupies in the history of speculative and theological thought an analogous position to that of Pliny the Elder in the history of natural science, gathering up the lore of the past, perhaps improving it with some additions of his own, and exercising a profound influence upon the age to come.

His influence upon the middle ages was indirect.

Philo’s medieval influence, however, was probably more indirect than Pliny’s and passed itself on through yet other mediators to the more remote times. Comparatively speaking, the Natural History of Pliny probably was more important in the middle ages than in the early Roman Empire when other authorities prevailed in the Greek-speaking world. Philo’s influence on the other hand must soon be transmitted through Christian, and then again through Latin, mediums. This is indicated by the fact that to-day many of his works are wholly lost or extant only in fragments[1559] or in Armenian versions,[1560] and that we have no sure information as to the order in which they were composed.[1561] But his initial force is none the less of the greatest moment, and seems amply sufficient to justify us in selecting his writings as one of our starting points. The extent to which one is apt to find in the writings of Philo passages which are forerunners of the statements of subsequent writers, may be illustrated by the familiar story of King Canute and the tide. Philo in his work On Dreams[1562] speaks of the custom of the Germans of charging the incoming tide with their drawn swords. But what especially concern us are Philo’s[Pg 352] statements concerning magic, astrology, the stars, the perfection and power of numbers, demons, and the interpretation of dreams.

Good and bad magic.

Philo draws a distinction between magic in the good and bad sense. The former and true magical art is the lore of learned Persians called Magi who investigate nature more minutely and deeply than is usual and explain divine virtues clearly.[1563] The latter magic is a spurious imitation of the other, practised by quacks and impostors, old-wives and slaves, who by means of incantations and the like procedure profess to change men from love to hatred or vice versa and who “deceive unsuspecting persons and waste whole families away by degrees and without making any noise.” It is to this adulterated and evil magic that Philo again refers when he likens political life to Joseph’s coat of many colors, stained with the blood of wars, and in which a very little truth is mixed up with a great deal of sophistry akin to that of the augurs, ventriloquists, sorcerers, jugglers and enchanters, “from whose treacherous arts it is very difficult to escape.”[1564] This distinction between a magic of the wise and of nature and that of vulgar impostors is one which we shall find in many subsequent writers, although it was not recognized by Pliny. Philo also antecedes numerous Christian commentators upon the Book of Numbers[1565] in considering the vexed question whether Balaam was an evil enchanter and diviner, or a divine prophet, or whether he combined magic and prophecy, and thus indicated that the former art is not evil but has divine approval. Philo’s conclusion is the more usual one that Balaam was a celebrated diviner and magician, and that it is impossible that “holy inspiration should be combined with magic,” but that in the particular case of his blessing Israel the spirit of divine[Pg 353] prophecy took possession of him and “drove all his artificial system of cunning divination out of his soul.”[1566]

Stars not gods nor first causes.

Philo has considerably more to say upon the subject of astrology than upon that of magic. He was especially concerned to deny that the stars were first causes or independent gods. He chided the Chaldean adepts in genethlialogy for recognizing no other god than the universe and no other causes than those apparent to the senses, and for regarding fate and necessity as gods and the periodical revolutions of the heavenly bodies as the cause of all good and evil.[1567] Philo more than once exhorts the reader to follow Abraham’s example in leaving Chaldea and the science of genethlialogy and coming to Charran to a comprehension of the true nature of God.[1568] He agreed with Moses that the stars should not be worshiped and that they had been created by God, and more than that, not created until the fourth day, in order that it might be perfectly clear to men that they were not the primary causes of things.[1569]

But rational and virtuous animals: and God’s viceroys over inferiors.

Philo, nevertheless, despite his attack on the Chaldeans, believed in much which we should call astrological. The stars, although not independent gods, are nevertheless divine images of surpassing beauty and possess divine natures, although they are not incorporeal beings. Philo distinguishes between the stars, men, and other animals as follows. The beasts are capable of neither virtue nor vice; human beings are capable of both; the stars are intelligent animals, but incapable of any evil and wholly virtuous.[1570] They were native-born citizens of the world long before its first human citizen had been naturalized.[1571] God, moreover, did not post[Pg 354]pone their creation until the fourth day because superiors are subject to inferiors. On the contrary they are the viceroys of the Father of all and in the vast city of this universe the ruling class is made up of the planets and fixed stars, and the subject class consists of all the natures beneath the moon.[1572] A relation of natural sympathy exists between the different parts of the universe, and all things upon the earth are dependent upon the stars.[1573]

They do not cause evil: but it is possible to predict the future from their motions.

Philo of course will not admit that evil is caused either by the virtuous stars or by God working through them. As has been said, he attributed evil to matter or to “the natural changes of the elements,”[1574] drawing a line between God and nature in much the fashion of the church fathers later. But he granted that “before now some men have conjecturally predicted disturbances and commotions of the earth from the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, and innumerable other events which have turned out most exactly true.”[1575] Philo’s interest in astronomy and astrology is further suggested by his interpretation of the eleven stars of Joseph’s dream as referring to the signs of the zodiac,[1576] Joseph himself making the twelfth; and by his interpreting the ladder in Jacob’s dream which stretched between earth and heaven as referring to the air,[1577] into which earth’s evaporations dissolve, while the moon is not pure ether like the other stars but itself contains some air. This accounts, Philo thinks, for the spots upon the moon—an explanation which I do not remember having met in subsequent writers.

Jewish astrology.

Josephus[1578] and the Jews in general of Philo’s time were equally devoted to astrology according to Münter, who says: “Only their astrology was subordinated to theism. The one God always appeared as the master of the host of heaven. But they regarded the stars as living divine beings and[Pg 355] powers of heaven.”[1579] In the Talmud later we read that the hour of Abraham’s birth was announced by the stars and that he feared from his observations of the constellations that he would go childless. Münter also gives examples of the belief of the rabbis in the influence of the stars upon the destiny of the Jewish people and upon the fate of individual men, and of their belief that a star would announce the coming of the Messiah.[1580]

Perfection of the number seven.

From Philo’s astrology it is an easy step to his frequent reveries concerning the perfection and mystic significance of certain numbers,—a train of thought which was continued by many of the church fathers, and is also found in various pagan writers of the Roman Empire.[1581] Thomas Browne in his enquiry into “Vulgar Errors”[1582] was inclined to hold Philo even more responsible than Pythagoras or Plato for the dissemination of such doctrines. Philo himself recognizes the close connection between astrology and number mysticism, when, after affirming the dependence of all earthly things upon the heavenly bodies, he adds: “It is in heaven, too, that the ratio of the number seven began.”[1583] Philo doubts if it is possible to express adequately the glories of the number seven, but he feels that he ought at least to attempt it and devotes a dozen chapters of his treatise on the creation of the world to it,[1584] to say nothing of other passages. He notes that there are seven planets, seven circles of heaven, four quarters of the moon of seven days each, that such constellations as the Pleiades and Ursa Major consist of seven stars, and that children born at the end of[Pg 356] seven months live, while those who see the light in the eighth month die. In diseases the seventh is a critical day. Also there are either seven ages of man’s life, as Hippocrates says, or, in accordance with Solon’s lines, man’s three-score years and ten may be subdivided into ten periods of seven years each. The lyre of seven strings corresponds to the seven planets, and in speech there are seven vowels. There are seven divisions of the head—eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth, seven divisions of the body, seven kinds of motion, seven things seen, and even the senses are seven rather than five if we add the vocal and generative organs.[1585]

And of fifty.

Philo’s ideal sect, the Therapeutae, are wont to assemble as a prelude to their greatest feast at the end of seven weeks, “venerating not only the simple week of seven days but also its multiplied power,”[1586] but the chief festival itself occurs on the fiftieth day, “the most holy and natural of numbers, being compounded of the power of the right-angled triangle, which is the principle of the origination and condition of the whole.”[1587]

Also of four and six.

The numbers four and six, however, yield little to seven and fifty in the matter of perfection. It was the fourth day that God chose for the creation of the heavenly bodies, and He did not need six days for the entire work of creation, but it was fitting that that perfect work should be accomplished in a perfect number of days. Six is the product of the first female number, two, and the first male number, three. Indeed, the first three numbers, one, two, and three, whether added or multiplied, give six.[1588] As for four, there are that many elements and seasons; it is the only number produced by the same number—two—whether added to[Pg 357] itself or multiplied by itself; it is the first square and as such the emblem of justice and equality; it also represents the cube or solid, as the number one stands for a point, two for a line, and three for a surface.[1589] Furthermore four is the source of “the all-perfect decade,” since one and two and three and four make ten. At this we begin to suspect, and with considerable justification, as the writings of other devotees of the philosophy of numbers would show, that the number of perfect numbers is legion. We may not, however, follow Philo much farther on this topic. Suffice it to add that he finds the fifth day fitting for the creation of animals possessed of five senses,[1590] while he divides the ten plagues of Egypt into three dealing with the more solid elements, earth and water, and performed by Aaron; three dealing with air and fire which were entrusted to Moses; the seventh was committed to both Aaron and Moses; while the other three God reserved for Himself.[1591]

Spirits of the air.

Philo believed in a world of spirits, both the angels of the Jews and the demons of the Greeks. When God said: “Let us make man,” Philo believed that He was addressing those assistant spirits who should be held responsible for the viciousness to which man alone of all creation is liable.[1592] Of the divine rational natures Philo regarded some as incorporeal, others like the stars as possessed of bodies.[1593] He also believed that there were spirits in the air as well as afar off in heaven. He could not see why the air should not be inhabited when there were stars in the ether and fish in the sea as well as other animals upon land.[1594] Indeed he argued that it would be absurd that the element which was essential for the vitality even of land and aquatic animals should have no living beings of its own. That these spirits of the air must be invisible did not trouble him, since the human soul is also invisible.

[Pg 358]

Interpretation of dreams.

Of Philo’s five books on dreams only two are extant. They suffice to show, however, that he accepted the art of divination from dreams. Of dreams he distinguished three varieties: those direct from God which require no interpretation; those in which the dreamer’s mind moves in unison with the world soul, and which are neither entirely clear nor yet very obscure—an instance is Jacob’s vision of the ladder; and third, those in which the mind is moved by a prophetic frenzy of its own, and which require the science of interpretation—such dreams were Joseph’s concerning his brothers, and those of the butler and the baker at Pharaoh’s court.[1595]

Politics akin to magic.

The recent war and its accompaniments and sequels have brought home to some the conviction that our modern civilization is after all not vastly superior to that of some preceding ages. To those who still imagine that because modern science has freed us from much past superstition concerning nature, we are therefore free from political fakirs, from social absurdities, and from fallacious procedure and reasoning in many departments of life, the reading may be recommended of a passage in Philo’s treatise on dreams,[1596] in which he classifies the art of politics along with that of magic. He compares Joseph’s coat of many colors to “the much-variegated web of political affairs” where along with “the smallest possible portion of truth” falsehoods of every shade of plausibility are interwoven; and he compares politicians and statesmen to augurs, ventriloquists, and sorcerers, “men skilful in juggling and in incantations and in tricks of all kinds, from whose treacherous arts it is very difficult to escape.” He adds that Moses very naturally represented Joseph’s coat as blood-stained, since all statecraft is tainted with wars and bloodshed.

A thought repeated by Moses Maimonides and Albertus Magnus.

Twelve centuries later we find Philo’s association of politicians with magicians repeated by his compatriot Moses Maimonides in the More Nevochim or Guide for the Per[Pg 359]plexed,[1597] a work which appeared almost immediately in Latin translation and from which this very passage is cited by Albertus Magnus in his discussion of divination by dreams.[1598] There are some men, says Albert, in whom the intellect is abundant and active and clear. Such men are akin to the superior substances, that is, to the angels and stars, and therefore Moses of Egypt, i.e., Maimonides, calls them sages. But there are others who, according to Albert, confound true wisdom with sophistry and are content with mere probabilities and imaginations and are at home in “rhetorical and civil matters.” Maimonides, however, described this class a little differently, saying that in them the imaginative faculty is preponderant and the rational faculty imperfect. “Whence arises the sect of politicians, of legislators, of diviners, of enchanters, of dreamers, ... and of prestidigiteurs who work marvels by strange cunning and occult arts.”[1599]

[Pg 360]


Difficulty in defining Gnosticism—Magic and astrology in Gnosticism—Simon Magus as a Gnostic—Simon’s Helen—The number thirty and the moon—Ophites and Sethians—A magical diagram—Employment of names and formulae—Seven metals and planets—Magic of Simon’s followers—Magic of Marcus in the Eucharist—Other magic and occult lore of Marcus—Name and number magic—The magic vowels—Magic of Carpocrates—The Abraxas and the number 365—Astrology of Basilides—The Book of Helxai—Epiphanius on the Elchasaites—The Book of the Laws of Countries—Personality of Bardesanes—Sin possible for men, angels, and stars—Does fate in the astrological sense prevail?—National laws and customs as a proof of free will—Pistis-Sophia; attitude to astrology—“Magic” condemned—Power of names and rites—Interest in natural science—“Gnostic gems” and astrology—The planets in early Christian art—Gnostic amulets in Spain—Syriac Christian charms—Priscillian executed for magic—Manichean manuscripts—The Mandaeans.

Difficulty in defining Gnosticism.

Gnosticism[1600] is not easy to define and the term Gnostic appears to have been applied to a great variety of sects with a confusing diversity of beliefs. Many of the constituents and roots at least of Gnosticism were older than Christianity, and it is now the custom to associate the Gnosis or superior knowledge and revelation, which gives the movement its name, not with Greek philosophy or mysteries but with oriental speculation and religions. Anz[1601] has been impressed by its connection with Babylonian star-worship; Amélineau[1602] has urged its debt to Egyptian magic and[Pg 361] religion; Bousset[1603] has argued for Persian origins. The main features of the great oriental religions which swept westward over the Roman Empire were shared by Gnosticism: the redeemer god, even the great mother goddess conception to some extent, the divinely revealed mysteries, the secret symbols, the dualism, and the cosmic theory. Gnosticism as it is known to us, however, is more closely connected with Christianity than with any other oriental religion or body of thought, for the extant sources consist almost entirely either of Gnostic treatises which pretend to be Christian Scriptures and were almost entirely written in Coptic in the second or third century of our era,[1604] or of hostile descriptions of Gnostic heresies by the early church fathers. However, the philosopher Plotinus also criticized the Gnostics, as we have seen.

Magic and astrology in Gnosticism.

What especially concerns our investigation is the great use made, or said to be made, by the Gnostics of sacred formulae, symbols, and names of demons, and the prevalence among them of astrological theory as shown by their widespread notion of the seven planets as the powers who have created our inferior and material world and who rule over its affairs. Gnosticism was deeply influenced by, albeit it to some extent represents a reaction against, the Babylonian star-worship and incantation of spirits. The seven planets and the demons occupy an important place in Gnostic myth because they intervene between our world and the world of supreme light, and their spheres must be traversed—much as in the Book of Enoch and Dante’s Paradiso—both by the redeeming god in his descent and return and by any human soul that would escape from this world of fate, darkness, and matter. What encouragement there is for such views in the canonical Scriptures themselves may be[Pg 362] inferred from the following passage in which Christ foretells His second coming: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”[1605] But in order to pass the demons and the spheres of the planets, who are usually represented as opposed to this, one must, as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, know the passwords, the names of the spirits, the sacred formulae, the appropriate symbols, and all the other apparatus suggestive of magic and necromancy which forms so large a part of the gnosis that gives its name to the system. This will become the more apparent from the following particular accounts of Gnostic sects and doctrines found in the works of the Christian fathers and in the scanty remains of the Gnostics themselves. The philosopher Plotinus we have already heard charge the Gnostics with resort to magic and sorcery, and with ascribing evil and fatal influence to the stars. At the same time we shrewdly suspect that Gnosticism has been made a scapegoat for the sins in these regards of both early Christianity and pagan philosophy.

Simon Magus as a Gnostic.

Simon Magus, of whose magical exploits as recorded by many a Christian writer we shall treat in another chapter, is also represented by the fathers as holding Gnostic doctrine, although some writers have contended that Simon the magician named in Acts was an entirely different person from Simon the heretic and author of The Great Declaration.[1606] Simon declared himself the Great Power of God, or[Pg 363] the Being who was over all, who had appeared in Samaria as the Father, in Judea as the Son, and to other nations as the Holy Spirit.[1607] In the Pseudo-Clementines Simon is represented as arguing against Peter in characteristically Gnostic style that “he who framed the world is not the highest God, but that the highest God is another who alone is good and who has remained unknown up to this time.”[1608] According to Epiphanius Simon claimed to have descended from heaven through the planetary spheres and spirits in the manner of the Gnostic redeemer. He is quoted as saying, “But in each heaven I changed my form in accordance with the form of those who were in each heaven, that I might escape the notice of my angelic powers and come down to the Thought, who is none other than she who is likewise called Prounikon and the Holy Spirit.” Epiphanius further informs us that Simon believed in a plurality of heavens, assigned certain powers to each firmament and heaven, and applied barbaric names to these spirits or cosmic forces. “Nor,” adds Epiphanius, “can anyone be saved unless he learns this mystic lore and offers such sacrifices to the Father of all through these archons and authorities.”[1609]

Simon’s Helen.

The fathers tell us that Simon went about with a woman called Helena or Helen, who Justin Martyr says had formerly been a prostitute.[1610] Simon is said to have called her the mother of all, through whom God had created the angels and aeons, who in their turn had formed the world and men. These cosmic powers had then, however, cast her down to earth, where she had been confined in various successive human and animal bodies. She seems to have obtained her name of Helen from the fact that it was for her that the Trojan war had been fought, an event which Simon seems to have subjected to much allegorical interpretation. He also spoke of Helen as “the lost sheep,” whom he, the Great [Pg 364] Power, had descended from heaven to release from the bonds of the flesh. She was that Thought or Holy Spirit which we have heard him say he came down to recover. Simon’s Helen also corresponds to Pistis-Sophia, who in the extant Gnostic work named after her descends through the twelve aeons, deceived by a lion-faced power whom they have formed to mislead her, and then reascends by the aid of Jesus or the true light. It seems fairly evident that the fathers[1611] have taken literally and travestied by a scandalous application to an actual woman a beautiful Gnostic myth or allegory concerning the human soul. At the same time Simon’s Helen reminds us of Jesus’s relations with the woman taken in adultery, the woman of Samaria, and Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene, it may be noted, in the Gnostic writing, Pistis-Sophia, takes a rôle superior to the twelve disciples, a fact of which Peter complains to his Lord more than once. But Simon’s Helen was that spirit of truth which lies latent in the human mind and which he endeavored to release by means of the philosophy, astrology, and magic of his time. May modern scientific method prove more successful in setting the prisoner free!

The number thirty and the moon.

We find in the Pseudo-Clementines other details concerning Simon and Helen which bring out the astrological side of Gnosticism. We are told that John the Baptist had thirty disciples, a number suggestive of the days of the moon and also of the thirty aeons of the Gnostics of whom we elsewhere hear a great deal.[1612] But the revolution of the moon does not occupy thirty full days, so that we are not surprised to learn that one of these disciples was a woman and furthermore that she was the very Helen of whom we have been speaking. At least, she is so called in the Homilies of the Pseudo-Clement; in the Recognitions she is actually[Pg 365] called Luna or the Moon.[1613] After the death of John the Baptist Simon by his magic power supplanted Dositheus as leader of the thirty, and then fell in love with Luna and went about with her, proclaiming that she was Wisdom or Truth, “brought down ... from the highest heavens to this world.”[1614] The number thirty is again associated with Simon and Dositheus in a curiously insistent, although apparently unconscious, manner by Origen, who in one passage of his Reply to Celsus, written in the first half of the third century, expresses doubt whether thirty followers of Simon, the Samaritan magician, can be found in all the world, and in a second passage, while asserting that “Simonians are found nowhere throughout the world,” adds that of the followers of Dositheus there are now not more than thirty in all.[1615]

Ophites and Sethians.

Similar to Simon’s account of the heavens and of his descent through them were the teachings of the Ophites and Sethians who, according to Irenaeus,[1616] held that Christ “descended through the seven heavens, having assumed the likeness of their sons, and gradually emptied them of their power.” These heretics also represented the “heavens, potentates, powers, angels, and creators as sitting in their proper order in heaven, according to their generation, and as invisibly ruling over things celestial and terrestrial.” All ruling spirits were not invisible, however, since the Ophites and Sethians identified with the seven planets their Holy Hebdomad, consisting of Ialdabaoth, Iao, Sabaoth, Adonaus (or, Adonai), Eloeus, Oreus, and Astanphaeus,—names often employed in the Greek magical papyri,[1617] in medieval incantations, and in the Jewish Cabbala. The Ophites and Sethians further asserted that when the serpent was cast down into the lower world by the Father, he begat six sons[Pg 366] who, with himself, constitute a group of seven corresponding and in contrast to the Holy Hebdomad which surround the Father. They are the seven mundane demons who are ever hostile to humanity. The Sethians of course took their name from Seth, son of Adam, who in the middle ages was regarded sometimes, like Enoch, as the especial recipient of divine revelation and as the author of sacred books. The historian Josephus states in his Jewish Antiquities that Seth and his descendants discovered the art of astronomy and that one of the two pillars on which they recorded their findings was still extant in his time, the first century.[1618] Under the caption, Sethian Tablets of Curses, Wünsch has published some magical imprecations scratched on lead tablets between 390 and 420 A. D. at Rome.[1619] Eight revelations ascribed to Adam and Seth are also extant in Armenian.[1620]

A magical diagram.

In Origen’s Reply to Celsus is described a mystic diagram with details redolent of magic and astrological necromancy,[1621] which Celsus had laid to the charge of Christians generally but which Origen declares is probably the product of the “very insignificant sect called Ophites.” Origen himself has seen this diagram or one something like it, and assures his readers that “we know the depth of these unhallowed mysteries,” but he declares that he has never met anybody anywhere who put any faith in this diagram. Obviously, however, such a diagram would not have been in existence if no one had ever had faith in it. Furthermore, its survival into Origen’s time, when he asserts that men had ceased to use it, is evidence of the antiquity of the sect and the superstition. In this diagram ten distinct circles were united by a single circle representing the soul of all[Pg 367] things and called Leviathan. Celsus spoke of the upper circles, of which at least some were in colors, as “those that are above the heavens.” On these were inscribed such words and phrases as “Father and Son,” “Love,” “Life,” “Knowledge,” and “Understanding.” Then there were “the seven circles of archontic demons,” who are probably to be connected with the spheres of the seven planets. These seven ruling demons were represented by animal heads or figures, somewhat resembling the symbols of the four evangelists to be seen in the mosaics at Ravenna and elsewhere in Christian art. The angel Michael was depicted by a sort of chimaera, the words of Celsus being, “The goat was shaped like a lion”; Suriel, by a bull; Raphael, by a dragon; Gabriel, by an eagle; Thautabaoth, by a bear; Erataoth, by a dog; and Thaphabaoth or Onoel, by an ass. The diagram was divided by a thick black line called Gehenna and beneath the lowest circle was placed “the being named Behemoth.” There was also “a square pattern” with inscriptions concerning the gates of paradise, a flaming circle with a flaming sword as its diameter guarding the tree of knowledge and of life, “a barrier inscribed in the shape of a hatchet,” and a rhomboid with the words, “The foresight of wisdom.” Celsus further mentioned a seal with which the Father impresses the Son, who says, “I have been anointed with white ointment from the tree of life,” and seven angels who contend with the seven ruling demons for the soul of the dying body.

Employment of names and formulae.

Origen further informs us of the forms of salutation to each ruling spirit employed by “those sorcerers,” as they pass through “the fence of wickedness” or the gate to the realm of each spirit. The names of the spirits are now given as Ialdabaoth, who is the lion-like archon and with whom the planet Saturn is in sympathy, Iao or Jah, Sabaoth, Adonaeus, Astaphaeus, Aloaeus or Eloaeus, and Horaeus. The following is an example of the salutations or invocations addressed to these spirits: “Thou, O second Iao, who shinest by night, who art the ruler of the secret mysteries[Pg 368] of Son and Father, first prince of death, and portion of the innocent, bearing now thine own beard as symbol, I am ready to pass through thy realm, having strengthened him who is born of thee by the living word. Grace be with me; Father, let it be with me!” Origen also states that the makers of this diagram have borrowed from magic the names Ialdabaoth, Astaphaeus, and Horaeus, while the other four are names of God drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Seven metals and planets.

It is worth noting that immediately before this account of the diagram Celsus had described similar Persian mysteries of Mithras, in which seven heavens through which the soul has to pass were arranged in an ascending scale like a ladder.[1622] Each successive heaven was entered by a gate of a metal corresponding to the planet in question, lead for Saturn, tin for Venus, copper for Jupiter, iron for Mercury, a mixed metal for Mars, silver for the moon, and gold for the sun. This association of metals and planets became a common feature of medieval alchemy. At the same time the passage is said to be our chief literary source for the mysteries of Mithras.[1623]

Magic of Simon’s followers.

The Simonians, according to Irenaeus, were as addicted to magic as their founder had been, employing exorcisms and incantations, love-philters and enchantments, familiar spirits and “dream-senders.” “And whatever other curious arts may be resorted to are eagerly employed by them.” Menander, the immediate successor of Simon in Samaria, was “a perfect adept in the practice of magic” and taught that by means of it one could overcome the angels who had created this world.[1624] In a treatise on rebaptism, falsely ascribed to Cyprian but very likely contemporary with him, it is stated that the Simonians regard their baptism as superior to that of orthodox Christians, because when they descend into the water fire appears upon its surface. The writer thinks that this is done by some trick, or that there is some natural explanation of it, or that they merely imag[Pg 369]ine that they see a flame on the water, or that it is the work of some evil one and of magic power.[1625] Epiphanius states that Simon employed such obscene substances as semen and menstruum in his magic,[1626] but this seems to be a slander, at least against Gnosticism, since in a passage of the Gnostic Book of the Saviour, adjoined to the Pistis-Sophia, Thomas asks Jesus what shall be the punishment of men who eat “semen maris et menstruum feminae” mixed with lentils, saying as they do so, “We believe in Esau and Jacob,” and is told that this is the worst of sins and that the souls of those committing it will be absolutely blotted out.[1627]

Magic of Marcus in the Eucharist.

Next to Simon Magus, Marcus was the Gnostic and heretic most notorious as a practitioner of the magic arts, as Irenaeus states at the close of the second century, and Hippolytus and Epiphanius repeat in the third and fourth centuries respectively.[1628] In performing the Eucharist he would change white wine placed in three wine cups into three different colors, one blood-red, one purple, and one dark blue, according to Epiphanius, while Irenaeus and Hippolytus more vaguely state, although they lived closer to Marcus’s time, that he gave the wine a purple or reddish hue as if it had been changed into blood, an alteration which Marcus himself regarded as a manifestation of divine grace. Epiphanius attributes the change to an incantation muttered by Marcus while pretending to perform the Eucharist.[Pg 370] Hippolytus, who ascribes Marcus’s feats partly to sleight-of-hand and partly to demons, in this case charges that he furtively dropped some drug into the wine. Marcus was also accustomed to fill a large cup from a smaller one so that it would overflow, a marvel which Hippolytus again tries to account for by stating that “very many drugs, when mingled in this way with liquid substances” temporarily increase their volume, “especially when diluted in wine.”

Other magic and occult lore of Marcus.

Irenaeus, who is quoted verbatim by Epiphanius, further states that Marcus had a familiar demon by whose aid he was able to prophesy, and that he pretended to confer this gift upon others. He also accuses Marcus of seducing women by means of philters and love potions which he compounded. Hippolytus does not make these charges, but unites with the others in describing at length Marcus’s theory of mystic names and his symbolical and mystical interpretation of the letters of the alphabet and of numbers. Marcus made various calculations based upon the number of letters in a name, the number of letters in the name of each letter, and so on. When Christ, whose ineffable name has thirty letters, said, “I am Alpha and Omega,” He was believed by Marcus to have displayed the dove, whose number is 801. These reveries “are mere bits,” as Hippolytus says, of astrological theory and Pythagorean philosophy. We shall find them perpetuated in the middle ages in the method of divination known as the Sphere of Pythagoras.

Name and number magic.

Such symbolism and mysticism concerning numbers and letters seldom indeed remain a matter of mere theory but readily lend themselves to operative magic. Thus Hippolytus can speak in the same breath of “magical arts and Pythagorean numbers” or tell that Pythagoras himself “also touched on magic, as they say, and himself discovered an art of physiognomy, laying down as a basis certain numbers and measures.” Or note a third passage where Hippolytus is discussing Egyptian theology based on the theory of numbers.[1629] After treating of the monad, duad, and enneads,[Pg 371] of the four elements in pairs, of the 360 parts of the circle, of “ascending and beneficent and masculine names” which end in odd numbers, and of feminine and malicious and descending names which terminate in even numbers, Hippolytus continues, “Moreover, they assert that they have calculated the word, ‘Deity.’ Now this name is an even number, and they write it down and attach it to the body and accomplish cures by it. In the same way an herb which terminates in this number is bound around the body and operates by reason of a similar calculation of the number. Nay, even a doctor cures the sick by such calculations.“ Similarly Censorinus states that the number seven is ascribed to Apollo and used in the cure of bodily ills, while nine is associated with the Muses and heals mental diseases.[1630] But to return to Gnosticism.

The magic vowels.

The seven vowels were much employed by the Gnostics, undoubtedly as symbols for the seven planets and the spirits associated with them, but as symbols possessed of magic power as well as of mystic significance. “The Saviour and His disciples are supposed in the midst of their sentences to have broken out in an interminable gibberish of only vowels; magic spells have come down to us consisting of vowels by the fourscore; on amulets the seven vowels, repeated according to all sorts of artifices, form a very common inscription.”[1631] As the seven planets made the music of the spheres, so the seven vowels seem to have represented the musical scale, “and many a Gnostic sheet of vowels is in fact a sheet of music.”[1632]

Magic of Carpocrates.

Other heretics with Gnostic views who were accused of magic by the fathers were the followers of Carpocrates, who employed incantations and spells, philters and potions, who attracted spirits to themselves and made light of the cosmic angels, and who pretended to have great power over all[Pg 372] things so that they were able by their magic to satisfy every desire.[1633]

The Abraxas and the number 365.

Saturninus and Basilides were charged with “practicing magic, and employing images, incantations, invocations, and every other kind of curious art.” They also believed in a supreme power named Abrasax or Abraxas, whose number was 365; and they contended that there were 365 heavens and as many bones in the human body; “and they strive to set forth the names, principles, angels, and powers of the 365 imagined heavens.”[1634]

Astrology of Basilides.

Hippolytus gives further indication of the astrological leanings of Basilides, who held that each thing had its own particular time, and supported his view by citing the Magi gazing wistfully at the star of Bethlehem and the remark of Christ Himself, “Mine hour is not yet come.”[1635] I suppose that by this Hippolytus means to suggest that Basilides held the astrological doctrine of elections; Basilides further affirmed, according to Hippolytus, that Jesus was “mentally preconceived at the time of the generation of the stars; and of the complete return to their starting point of all the seasons in the vast conglomeration,” that is, at the end of the astronomical magnus annus, variously reckoned as of 36,000 or 15,000 years in duration.

The Book of Helxai.

In his Refutation of all Heresies[1636] Hippolytus tells of an Alcibiades from Apamea in Syria who in his time brought to Rome a book supposed to contain revelations made to a holy man, Elchasai or Helxai, by an angel ninety-six miles in height and from sixteen to twenty-four miles in breadth and leaving a footprint fourteen miles long. This angel was the Son of God, and was accompanied by a female of corresponding size who was the Holy Spirit. This apparition and revelation was accompanied by a preaching of a new remission of sins in the third year of Trajan’s reign, at which time we are led to suppose that the Book of Helxai[Pg 373] came into existence. It imposed secrecy upon those initiated into its mysteries. The sect, according to Hippolytus, were much given to magic, astrology, and the number mysticism of Pythagoras. The Elchasaites employed incantations and formulae to cure persons bitten by mad dogs or afflicted with disease. In such cases and also in the case of rebaptism for the remission of sins it was customary with them to invoke or adjure “seven witnesses,” not however in this case the planets, but “the heaven, and the water, and the holy spirits, and the angels of prayer, and the oil (or, the olive), and the salt, and the earth.” Hippolytus declares that their formulae of this sort were “very numerous and very ridiculous.” They dipped consumptives and persons possessed by demons in cold water forty times in seven days. They believed in the astrological doctrine of elections, since their sacred book warned them not to baptize or begin other important undertakings upon those days which were governed by the evil stars. They also seem to have predicted political events from the stars, foretelling that three years after Trajan’s subjugation of the Parthians “war rages between the impious angels of the northern (constellations), and on this account all kingdoms of impiety are in confusion.”

Epiphanius on the Elchasaites.

In the next century Epiphanius adds one or two further details to Hippolytus’ account of the Elchasaites. Besides the list of seven witnesses already given he mentions another slightly different one: salt, water, earth, wheat, heaven, ether, and wind. He also tells of two sisters in the time of Constantine who were supposed to be descendants of Helxai. One of them was still alive the last Epiphanius knew, and crowds followed “this witch” to collect the dust of her footprints or her spittle to use in curing diseases.[1637]

The Book of the Laws of Countries.

We possess an important document for the attitude of early Christianity and Gnosticism towards astrology in The Dialogue concerning Fate or The Book of the Laws of Countries of Bardesanes or Bardaisan.[1638] The complete[Pg 374] Syriac text is extant;[1639] there is a long and somewhat modified extract adopted from it in the Latin Recognitions of Clement,[1640] and briefer fragments in the Greek fathers. Strictly speaking, the text seems to be written by some follower of Bardesanes named Philip who represents his master as discussing the problem of human free will with Avida, himself, and other disciples. The bulk of the treatise is in any case put in Bardesanes’ mouth and it probably reflects his views with fair accuracy. Eusebius ascribed it to Bardesanes himself.

Personality of Bardesanes

Bardesanes (154-222 A. D.) was born in Edessa. He spent most of his life in Mesopotamia but for a time went to Armenia as a missionary. His many works in Syriac included apologies for Christianity, attacks upon heresies, and numerous hymns, but the only work extant is the treatise we are about to examine, with the possible exception of The Hymn of the Soul[1641] ascribed to him and contained in the Syriac Acts of St. Thomas. His doctrines were regarded by Ephraem Syrus and others as tainted with Gnostic heresy. He is often represented as a follower of Valentinus, but the ancient authorities, such as Epiphanius and Eusebius, disagree as to whether he degenerated from orthodoxy to Valentinianism or reformed in the opposite direction. In the dialogue which we consider he is represented as a Christian, but his remarks have often been thought to have a Gnostic flavor. F. Nau, however, has argued that he was not a Gnostic and that the statements in question in the dialogue can be explained as purely astrological.[1642]

Sin possible for men, angels, and stars.

The treatise opens with the query, why did not God make men so that they could not sin? The reply of course is that moral freedom for good or evil is a greater gift of God than compulsory morality. By virtue of his individual freedom of action man is equal to the angels, some of whom,[Pg 375] too, have sinned with the daughters of men and fallen, and is superior even to the sun, moon, and signs of the zodiac which are fixed in their courses. The stars, however, as in The Book of Enoch, “are not absolutely destitute of all freedom” and will be held responsible at the day of judgment. Presently some of them are called evil.

Does fate in the astrological sense prevail?

After some discussion whether man does wrong from his nature, the treatise turns to the question, how far are men controlled by fate, that is, by the power of the seven planets in accordance with the doctrine of the Chaldeans, which is the term here usually employed for astrologers. Some men attack astrology as “a lying invention” and hold that the human will is free and that such evils as man cannot avoid are due to chance or to divine punishment but not to the stars. Between these extremes Bardesanes takes middle ground. He believes that there is such a force in the stars, whom he refers to as Potentates and Governors, as the fate of which the astrologers speak, but that this fate evidently does not rule everything, since it is itself established by the one God who imposed upon the stars and elements that motion in conformity with which “intelligences undergo change when they descend to the soul, and souls undergo change when they descend to bodies,” a statement which appears to have a Gnostic flavor. This fate furthermore is limited by nature on the one hand and human free will on the other hand. The vital processes and periods which are common to all men, such as birth, generation, child-bearing, eating, drinking, old age, and death, Bardesanes regards as governed by nature. “The body,” he says, “is neither hindered nor helped by fate in the several acts it performs,” a view which most astrologers would probably not accept. On the contrary, in Bardesanes’ opinion wealth and honors, power and subjection, sickness and health, are controlled by fate which often disturbs the regular course of nature. This is because in genesis or the nativity the stars, some of which work with and some against nature,[Pg 376] are in conflict. In short, some stars are good and some are evil.

National laws and customs as a proof of free will.

If nature is thus often upset by the stars, fate in its turn may be resisted and overpowered by man’s exercise of will. This assertion Bardesanes proceeds to prove by the argument which has given to the dialogue the title, The Book of the Laws of the Countries, and which we find much repeated in subsequent writers. Briefly it is that in various nations certain laws are enforced upon, or customs observed by all the people alike regardless of their diverse individual horoscopes. In illustration of this are listed various prohibitions and practices fondly supposed by Bardesanes and his audience to characterize the Seres, Brahmans, Persians, Geli, Bactrians, Arabs, Britons, Parthians, Amazons, and other peoples. Savage tribes are mentioned among whom there are no artists, bankers, perfumers, musicians, and poets to fit the nativities decreed by the constellations for certain times. Bardesanes is aware of the astrological theory of seven zones or climes, by which the science of individual horoscopes is corrected and modified, but he contends that there are many different laws in each of these zones, and would be, even if the number were raised to twelve according to the number of the signs or to thirty-six after the decans. He also contends that men retain their laws or customs when they migrate to other climes, and adduces the fidelity of Jews and Christians to the commandments of their respective religions as a further illustration of the triumph of free will over the stars. He concedes, however, as before that “in every country and in every nation there are rich and poor, and rulers and subjects, and people in health and those who are sick, each one according as fate and his nativity have affected him.” Incidentally to the foregoing discussion it is affirmed that the astrology of Egypt and that of the Chaldeans in Babylon are identical. At the close of the treatise is appended a note stating that Bardesanes estimated the duration of the world at six thousand years on the basis of sixty as the least number of[Pg 377] years in which the seven planets complete an even number of revolutions.

The Pistis-Sophia: attitude to astrology.

If the work ascribed to Bardesanes is not certainly Gnostic, the Pistis-Sophia is, and we turn next to it and first of all to its attitude towards astrology. This treatise is extant in a Coptic codex of the fifth or sixth century;[1643] the Greek original text was probably written in the second half of the third century. It gives the revelations made by Jesus to his disciples after He had ascended to heaven and returned again to them. When He ascended through the heavens, He changed the fatal influence of the lords of the spheres and made the planets turn to the right for six months of the year, whereas before they had faced the left continually.[1644] In a long passage near the close of the Pistis-Sophia proper[1645] Jesus asserts the absolute control of human destiny hitherto by “the rulers of the fate” and describes how they fashion the new soul, control the process of generation and of the formation of the child in the womb, and decree every event of life down to the day and manner of death. Only by the Gnostic key to the mysteries can one escape their control.[1646] In the following Book of the Saviour, moreover, even the finding of this key is subjected to astral control, since a constellation is described under which all souls descending to this world will be just and good and will discover the mysteries of light.[1647]

“Magic” condemned.

The Pistis-Sophia assumes the usual attitude of condemnation of magic so-called. Among the evils which Jesus warns his followers to renounce are superstition and invocations and drugs or magic potions.[1648] One object of his reducing by one-third the power of the lords of the spheres when He ascended through the heavens was that men might not henceforth invoke them by magic rites for evil pur[Pg 378]poses. Marvels may still, however, be accomplished by “those who know the mysteries of the magic of the thirteenth aeon” or power above the spheres.[1649]

Power of names and rites.

But while magic is renounced, great faith is shown in the power of names and rites. Thus after a description of the dragon of outer darkness and the twelve main dungeons into which it divides and the animal faces and names of the twelve rulers thereof, who evidently represent in an inaccurate fashion the signs of the zodiac, it is added that even unrepentant sinners, if they know the mystery of any one of these twelve names, can escape from these dungeons.[1650] In the Book of the Saviour Jesus not only utters several long lists of strange and presumably magic words by way of invocation to the Power or powers above, but these are accompanied by careful observance of ceremonial. On both occasions Jesus and the disciples are clad in linen.[1651] In the first case the disciples are carefully grouped with reference to the points of the compass, towards which Jesus turns successively as He utters the magic words standing at a sacrificial altar. The result of this ceremony and invocation was that the heavens were displaced and the earth left behind and that Jesus and the disciples found themselves in the region of mid-air. Before uttering the other invocation Jesus commanded that fire and vine branches be brought, placed an offering on the flame, and carefully arranged two vessels of wine, two cups of water, and as many pieces of bread as there were disciples. In this case the object was to remit the sins of the disciples. In the Book of Jeû in the Bruce Papyrus there is a perfect riot of such magic names and invocations, seals and diagrams, and accompanying ceremonial.[1652]

Interest in natural science.

The interest of the Gnostics in natural science is seen in the list of things that will be known by one who has pene[Pg 379]trated all the mysteries and fully entered upon the inheritance of the kingdom of light. Not only will he understand why there is light and darkness, and why sin and vice exist and life and death, but also why there are reptiles and wild beasts and why they shall be destroyed, why there are birds and beasts of burden, why there are gems and precious metals, why there are brass, iron and steel, lead, glass, wax, herbs, waters, “and why the wild denizens of the sea.” Why there are four points of the compass, why demons and men, why heat and cold, stars, winds, and clouds, frost, snow, planets, aeons, decans, and so on and so forth.[1653]

“Gnostic gems” and astrology.

King has shown that many of the so-called “Gnostic gems” are purely astrological talismans and that “only a very small minority amidst their multitude present any traces of the influence of Christian doctrines.”[1654] Many are for medicinal or magical purposes rather than of a religious character. Some nevertheless are engraved with the truly Gnostic figure of Pantheus Abraxas which King regards as “the actual invention of Basilides.” Another common symbol, borrowed from Egypt, is the Agathodaemon, which by the third century had become the popular designation of the hooded snake of Egypt, or Chnuphis or Chneph, a great serpent with a lion’s head encircled by a crown of seven or twelve rays, representing the planets or signs. Often the seven Greek vowels are placed at the tips of the seven rays. On the obverse of the gem the letter “s” is engraved thrice and traversed by a straight rod, a design probably meant to depict a snake twisting about a wand. We are reminded, not only with King of the club of Aesculapius, but of Aaron’s rod, the magicians of Pharaoh, and the serpent lifted up in the wilderness; also of Lucian’s tale of the pretended discovery of the god Asclepius by the pseudo-prophet, Alexander. At least one “Gnostic amulet” has on the back the legend “Iao Sabao” (th).[1655]

[Pg 380]

The planets in early Christian art.

The influence of astrology may be seen in other and more certainly genuine works of early Christian art than many of the so-called Gnostic gems. On a lamp in the catacombs Christ is depicted as the good shepherd with a lamb on His shoulder. Above His head are the seven planets, although the sun and moon are shown again at either side, and about His feet press seven lambs, perhaps an indication that He is freeing the peoples of the seven climes from the fatal influence of the stars. In the Poemander attributed to Hermes it is stated that there are seven peoples from the seven planets. On a gem of perhaps the third century a similar scene is engraved except that the sun and moon are not shown apart from the seven planets, and that the lamb on Christ’s shoulders is counted as one of the seven, so that there are but six at His feet.[1656]

Gnostic amulets in Spain.

“Gnostic amulets and other works of art” are occasionally found in Spain, especially the Asturian northwest which remained Christian at the time of the Mohammedan conquest of the rest of the peninsula. One ring is inscribed with the sentence, “Zeus, Serapis, and Iao are one.” On another octagonal ring are Greek letters signifying the Gnostic Anthropos or father of wisdom. A stone is carved with a candelabrum and the seven planets, “the sacred hebdomad of the Chaldeans.”[1657]

Syriac Christian charms.

Gollancz in his Selection of Charms from Syriac Manuscripts presents a number of spells and incantations which, whether any of them are Gnostic or not, certainly seem to be Christian, since they mention the divine persons of Christianity, Mary, and various Biblical characters.[1658]

Priscillian executed for magic.

At the close of the fourth century the views of the Gnostics were revived in Gaul and Spain by Priscillian, who[Pg 381] seems to have been much influenced by astrology and who was put to death at Treves in 385 A. D. on a charge of magic. He confessed under torture, but was afterwards thought innocent. We are not told, however, what the magical practices were of which he was accused.[1659] Both Sulpicius Severus and Isidore of Seville[1660] state that he was accused of maleficium, which should mean witchcraft, sorcery, or magical operations with the intent to injure someone. But further details are wanting, except that Sulpicius calls Priscillian a man “more puffed up than was right with the knowledge of profane things, and who was further believed to have practiced magic arts since adolescence,” while Isidore states that Bishop Itacius (Ithaicus), who was largely responsible for pushing the charges against Priscillian, showed in a book which he wrote against Priscillian’s heresy that “a certain Marcus of Memphis, most learned in magic art, was a disciple of Mani and master of Priscillian.” Priscillian himself states in his extant works that Itacius had accused him of magic in 380. As the final trial proceeded, Itacius gave way as accuser to a public prosecutor (fisci patronus) who continued the case on behalf of the emperor Maximus who seems to have had his eye upon Priscillian’s large fortune. St. Martin of Tours in vain obtained from Maximus a promise that Priscillian should not be put to death.[1661] But his execution brought his persecutor Itacius into such bad odor that he was excommunicated and condemned to exile for the rest of his life.

Manichean Manuscripts

We have just heard that Priscillian was taught by a disciple of Mani, while Ephraem Syrus states that Bardesanes[Pg 382] was the teacher of Mani. Augustine in his youth, when a follower of the Manicheans, had been devoted to astrology. This connection between Gnosticism and astrology and Manicheism has been further attested by the fragments of Manichean manuscripts recently discovered in central Asia.[1662] In them the sun-god and moon-god and five other planets play a prominent part. Besides the five planets we have five elements—ether, wind, light, fire, and water—five plants, five trees, and five beings with souls—man, quadrupeds, reptiles, aquatic, and flying animals. The five gods or luminous bodies are represented as good forces who imprisoned five kinds of demons; but the devil had his revenge by imprisoning luminous forces in man, whom he made a microcosm of the universe. And whereas the good spirit had created sun and moon, the devil formed male and female. The great sage of beneficent light then appeared in the world and brought forth from his own five members five liberators—pity, contentment, patience, wisdom, and good faith—corresponding to the five elements just as among the Christians we shall find four virtues and four elements. Then ensued the struggle of the old man with the new man. Although we are commonly told that idolatry and magic were strictly prohibited by the Manicheans, the envoy of light is in one text represented as “employing great magic prayers” in his effort to deliver living beings. When men eat living beings, they offend against the five gods, the earth dry and moist, the five orders of animate beings, the five different herbs and five trees. Other numbers than five appear in these Manichean fragments: four seals of light and four praises, four courts with iron barriers; three vestments and three wheels and three calamities; ten vows and ten layers of heavens above, and eight layers of earth beneath; twelve[Pg 383] great kings and twelve evil natures; thirteen great luminous forces and thirteen parts of the carnal body and thirteen vices,—elsewhere fourteen parts; fifteen enumerations of sins for which forgiveness is sought; fifty days in the year to be observed; and so on.

The Mandaeans.

A sect derived either from Gnosticism or from common sources seems still to exist in the case of the Mandaeans of southern Babylonia.[1663] They believe that the earth and man were formed by a Demiurge, who corresponds to the Ialdabaoth of the Ophites, and who was aided by the spirits of the seven planets. They divide the history of the world into seven ages and represent Jesus Christ as a false prophet and magician produced by the planet Mercury. The lower world consists of four vestibules and three hells proper and has seven iron and seven golden walls. A dying Mandaean is clothed in a holy dress of seven pieces. The spirits of the planets, however, are represented as evil beings, and the first two of three sets of progeny borne by the spirit of hell fire were the seven planets and the twelve signs of the zodiac. The influence of these two numbers, seven and twelve, may be further seen in the regulation that a candidate for the priesthood should be at least nineteen years old and have had twelve years of previous training, which we infer would normally begin when he reached his seventh year and not before. Other prominent numbers in Mandaean lore are five,[1664] perhaps indicative of the planets other than sun and moon, and three hundred and sixty, suggestive of the number of degrees in the circle of the zodiac. Thus the main manifestations of the primal light are five, and the third generation produced by the spirit of hell fire was of like number. The number of aeons is often stated as three hundred and sixty, and the delivering deity or Messiah of the[Pg 384] Mandaeans is said to have sent forth that number of disciples before his return to the realm of light. We hear of yet other numbers, such as 480,000 years for the duration of the world, 60,000, and 240, but these too are commensurate, if not identical, with astrological periods such as those of conjunctions and the magnus annus. A peculiarity of Mandaean astronomy and astrology is that the other heavenly bodies are all believed to rotate about the polar star. Mandaeans always face it when praying; their sanctuaries are built so that persons entering face it; and even the dying man is placed so that his feet point and eyes gaze in its direction. Like the Gnostics, the Mandaeans invoke by many strange names their spirits and aeons who are divided into numerous orders. Their names for the planets seem to be of Babylonian origin. Passages from their sacred books are recited like incantations and are considered more effective in danger and distress than prayer in the ordinary sense of the word. Such recitations are also employed to aid the souls of the dead to ascend through various stages or prisons to the world of light. Earthenware vessels have recently been brought to light with Mandaean inscriptions and incantations to avert evil.[1665]

[Pg 385]


Magic in the Bible—Apocryphal Gospels of the Infancy—Question of their date—Their medieval influence—Resemblances to Apuleius and Apollonius in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy—Counteracting magic and demons—Other miracles and magic by the Christ child—Sometimes with injurious results—Further marvels from the Pseudo-Matthew—Learning of the Christ child—Other charges of magic against Christ and the apostles—The Magi and the star—Allegorical zoology of Barnabas—Traces of Gnosticism in the apocryphal Acts—Legend of St. John—Legend of St. Sousnyos—Old Testament Apocrypha of the Christian era.

Magic in the Bible.

It is hardly necessary to rehearse here in detail the numerous allusions to, prohibitions of, and descriptions of the practice of magic, witchcraft, and astrology, enchantments and exorcisms, divination and interpretation of dreams, which are to be found scattered through the pages of the Old and New Testaments. Such passages had a profound influence upon Christian thought on such themes in the early church and during the middle ages, and we shall have occasion to mention many, if not most, of such scriptural passages, in connection with this later discussion of them by the church fathers and others. For instance, Pharaoh’s magicians and their contests with Moses and Aaron; Balaam and his imprecations and enchantments and prediction that a star would come out of Jacob and a scepter out of Israel; the witch of Endor or ventriloquist and her invocation of what seemed to be the ghost of Samuel; the repeated use of the numbers seven and twelve, suggestive of the planets and signs of the zodiac, as in the twelve cakes of showbread and candlestick with seven branches; the dreams and interpretation of dreams of Joseph and Daniel, not to mention[Pg 386] the former’s silver divining cup;[1666] the wise men who saw Christ’s star in the east; Christ’s own allusion to the shaking of “the powers of the heavens” and the gathering of His elect from the four winds at His second coming; the accusation against Christ that He cast out demons by the aid of the prince of demons; the eclipse of the sun at the time of the crucifixion; the adventures of the apostles with Simon Magus, with Elymas the sorcerer, and with the damsel possessed with a spirit of divination who brought her master much gain by soothsaying; the burning of their books of magic by the vagabond Jewish exorcists; the prohibitions of heathen divination and witchcraft by the Mosaic law and by the prophets; the penalties prescribed for sorcerers in the Book of Revelation; at the same time the legalized practice of similar superstitions, such as the ordeal to test a wife’s faithfulness by making her drink “the bitter water that causeth the curse,”[1667] the engraved gold plate upon the high priest’s forehead,[1668] or the use of Paul’s handkerchief and underwear to cure the sick and dispel demons; the promise to believers in the closing verses or appendix of The Gospel according to St. Mark that they shall cast out devils, speak with new tongues, handle serpents and drink poison without injury, and cure the sick by laying on of hands. The foregoing scarcely exhaust the obvious allusions or analogies to astrology and other magic arts in the Bible, to say nothing of less explicit passages[1669] which were later taken to justify certain occult arts, as Exodus XIII, 9, to support chiromancy, and the Gospel of John XI, 9, to support the astrological doctrine of elections. Suffice it for the present to say that the prevailing atmosphere of the Bible is one of[Pg 387] prophecy, vision, and miracle, and that with these go, like the obverse face of a coin or medal, their inevitable accompaniments of divination, demons, and magic.

Apocryphal gospels of the infancy.

This is also the case in apocryphal literature of the New Testament which is now so much less familiar and accessible especially to English readers,[1670] but which had wide currency in the early Christian and medieval periods. We may begin with the apocryphal gospels and more particularly those dealing with the infancy and childhood of Christ. Of these two are believed to date from the second century, namely, the Gospel of James or “Gospel of the Infancy” (Protoevangelium Iacobi)[1671] and the Gospel of St. Thomas, which is mentioned by Hippolytus. However, he cites a sentence which is not in the present text—of which the manuscripts are scanty and for the most part of late date[1672]—and the gospel as we have it is not Gnostic, as he says it is, so that our version has probably been altered by some Catholic.[1673] Later in date is the Latin gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew—perhaps of the fourth or fifth century—and the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, which is believed to be a translation from a lost Syriac original. We are the worst off of all for manuscripts of its text and apparently there is no Latin manuscript of it now extant, although a Latin[Pg 388] text has reached us through the printed editions. Tischendorf was, however, “unwilling to omit in this new collection of the apocryphal gospels that ancient and memorable monument of the superstition of oriental Christians,” and for the same reason we shall survey its medley of miracle and magic in the present chapter. Speaking of the flight into Egypt this gospel says, “And the Lord Jesus performed a great many miracles in Egypt which are not found recorded either in the Gospel of the Infancy or in the Perfect Gospel.”[1674] Tischendorf noted the close resemblance of its first nine chapters to the Gospel of James and of chapters 36-55 to the Gospel of Thomas, while the intervening chapters “contain especially fables of the sort you may fittingly call oriental, filled with allusions to Satan and demons and sorceries and magic arts.”[1675] We find, however, the same sort of fables in the other three apocryphal gospels; there are simply more of them in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy. It appears to be a compilation and may embody other earlier sources no longer extant as well as passages from the pseudo-James and pseudo-Thomas.

Question of their date.

There is a tendency on the part of orthodox Christian scholars to defer the writing of apocryphal works to as late a date as possible, and they seem to have a notion that they can save the credibility or purity of the miracles of the New Testament[1676] by representing such miracles as those recorded of the infancy of Christ as the inventions of a later age. And it is probably true that all these marvels were not the invention of a single century but of a succession of[Pg 389] centuries. On the other hand, I know of no reason for thinking Christians of the first century any less credulous than Christians of the fifth century; it was not until the latter century that Pope Gelasius’ condemnation of apocryphal books was drawn up, but apocryphal books had long been in existence before that time; nor for thinking the Christians of the thirteenth century any more credulous than those of the other two centuries. It is only in our own age that Christians have become really critical of such matters. Moreover, these unacceptable miracles, whenever they were invented, were presumably invented by and accepted by Christians, who must bear the discredit for them. Whatever the century was, the same men believed in them who believed in the miracles recorded in the New Testament. If the plant has flowered into such rank superstition, can the original seed escape responsibility? The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy is no doubt an extreme instance of Christian credence in magic, but it is an instance that cannot be overlooked, whatever its date, place, or language.

Their medieval influence.

These apocryphal gospels of the Infancy, which are in part extant only in Latin, continued to be influential in the medieval period. At the beginning of it we find included in Pope Gelasius’ list of apocryphal works, published at a synod at Rome in 494,[1677] besides apocryphal gospels of Matthew and of Thomas—which last we are told, “the Manicheans use”—a Liber de infantia Salvatoris and a Liber de nativitate Salvatoris et de Maria et obstetrice. There are numerous manuscripts of such gospels in the later medieval centuries but it would not be safe to attempt to identify or classify them without examining each in detail. As Tischendorf said, the Latins do not seem to have long remained content with mere translations of the Greek pseudo-gospel of James but combined the stories told there with others from the Pseudo-Thomas or other sources into new[Pg 390] apocryphal treatises. Thus the extant Latin apocrypha in no case reproduce the Gospel of James accurately but rather are imitated after it, and include some of it, omit some of it, embellish some of its tales, and add to it.[1678] Mâle states in his work on religious art in France in the thirteenth century that The Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew and The Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate were the two apocryphal gospels especially used in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.[1679]

Resemblances to Apuleius and Apollonius in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy.

That the fables of the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy were at least not fresh from the orient is indicated by the way in which some of the incidents in the stories of Apuleius and Apollonius of Tyana are closely paralleled.[1680] In the parlor of a well furnished house where lived two sisters with their widowed mother stood a mule caparisoned in silk and with an ebony collar about his neck, “whom they kissed and were feeding.”[1681] He was their brother, transformed into a mule by the sorcery of a jealous woman one night a little before daybreak, although all the doors of the house were locked at the time. “And we,” they tell a girl who had been instantly cured of leprosy by use of perfumed water in which the Christ child had been washed and who had then become the maid-servant of the virgin Mary,[1682] “have applied to all the wise men, magicians, and diviners in the world, but they have been of no service to us.”[1683] The girl recommends them to consult Mary, who restores their brother to human form by placing the Christ child upon his back. This romantic episode is then brought to a fitting conclusion by the marriage of the brother to the girl who had assisted in his restoration to his right body. As the demon, who[Pg 391] in the form of an artful beggar was causing the plague at Ephesus and whom Apollonius had stoned to death, turned at the last moment into a mad dog, so Satan, when forced by the presence of the Christ child to leave the boy Judas, ran away like a mad dog.[1684] The reviving of a corpse by an Egyptian prophet in the Metamorphoses in order that the dead man may tell who murdered him is paralleled in both the Arabic Infancy and the gospels of Thomas and the Pseudo-Matthew by the conduct of Jesus when accused of throwing another boy down from a house-top. The text reads: “Then the Lord Jesus going down stood over the dead boy and said with a loud voice, ‘Zeno, Zeno, who threw you down from the house-top?’ Then the dead boy answered, ‘Lord, thou didst not throw me down, but so-and-so did.’”[1685]

Counteracting magic and demons.

Many were the occasions upon which the Christ child or his mother counteracted the operations of magic or relieved persons who were possessed by demons. Kissing him cured a bride whom sorcerers had made dumb at her wedding,[1686] and a bridegroom who was kept by sorcery from enjoying his wife was cured of his impotence by the mere presence of the holy family who lodged in his house for the night.[1687] Mary’s pitying glance was sufficient to expel Satan from a woman possessed by demons.[1688] Another upright woman who was often vexed by Satan in the form of a serpent when she went to bathe in the river,[1689] which reminds one somewhat of Olympias and Nectanebus,[1690] was permanently cured by kissing the Christ child. And a girl, whose blood Satan used to suck, miraculously discomfited him when he[Pg 392] appeared in the shape of a huge dragon by putting upon her head and about her eyes a swaddling cloth of Jesus which Mary had given to her. Fire then went forth and was scattered upon the dragon’s head and eyes, as from the blinking eyes of the artful beggar who caused the plague in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, and he fled in a panic.[1691] A priest’s three-year-old son who was possessed by a great multitude of devils, who uttered many strange things, and who threw stones at everybody, was likewise cured by placing on his head one of Christ’s swaddling clothes which Mary had hung out to dry. In this case the devils made their escape through his mouth “in the shape of crows and serpents.”[1692] Such marvels may offend modern taste but have their probable prototype in the miracles wrought by use of Paul’s handkerchief and underwear in the New Testament and illustrate, like the placing of spittle on the eyes of the blind man, the great healing virtue then ascribed to the perspiration and other secretions and excretions of the human body.

Other miracles and magic by the Christ child.

Sick children as well as lepers were cured by the water in which Jesus had bathed or by wearing coats made of his swaddling clothes,[1693] while the child Bartholomew was snatched from the very jaws of death by the mere smell of the Christ child’s garments the moment he was placed on Jesus’ bed.[1694] On the road to Egypt is a balsam which was produced “from the sweat which ran down there from the Lord Jesus.”[1695] The Christ child cured snake-bite, in the case of his brother James by blowing on it, in the case of his playfellow, Simon the Canaanite, by forcing the serpent who had stung him to come out of its hole and suck all the poison from the wound, after which he cursed the snake “so that it immediately burst asunder and died.”[1696] When the boy Jesus took all the cloths waiting to be dyed with different colors in a dyer’s shop and threw them into the furnace, the dyer began to scold him for this mischief, but the cloths all[Pg 393] came out of the desired colors.[1697] Jesus also miraculously remedied the defective carpentry of Joseph, who had worked for two years on a throne for the king of Jerusalem and made it too short. Jesus and Joseph took hold of the opposite sides and pulled the throne out to the required dimensions.[1698]

Sometimes with injurious results.

The usual result of the Christ child’s miracles was that all the bystanders united in praising God. But when his little playmates went home and told their parents how he had made his clay animals walk and his clay birds fly, eat, and drink, their elders said, “Take heed, children, for the future of his company, for he is a sorcerer; shun and avoid him, and from henceforth never play with him.”[1699] Indeed, if the theory of the fathers is correct that the surest hall-mark by which divine miracles may be distinguished from feats of magic is that the former are never wrought for any evil end while the latter are, it must be admitted that his contemporaries were sometimes justified in suspecting the Christ child of resort to magic. After his playmates had been thus forbidden to associate with Jesus, they hid from him in a furnace, and some women at a house near by told him that there were not boys but kids in the furnace. Jesus then actually transformed them into kids who came skipping forth at his command.[1700] It is true that he soon changed them back into human form, and that the women worshiped Christ and asserted their conviction that he was “come to save and not to destroy.” But on several subsequent occasions Jesus is represented in the apocryphal gospels of the infancy as causing the death of his playmates. When another boy broke a little fish-pool which Jesus had constructed on the Sabbath day, he said to him, “In like manner as this water has vanished, so shall thy life vanish,” and the boy pres[Pg 394]ently died.[1701] When a third boy ran into Jesus and knocked him down, he said, “As thou hast thrown me down, so shalt thou fall, nor ever rise;” and that instant the boy fell down and died.[1702] When Jesus’ teacher started to whip him, his hand withered and he died. After which we are not surprised to hear Joseph say to Mary, “Henceforth we will not allow him to go out of the house; for everyone who displeases him is killed.”[1703]

Further marvels from the Pseudo-Matthew.

As has been indicated in the footnotes many of the foregoing marvels are recounted in the Pseudo-Matthew and Latin Gospel of Thomas as well as in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy. The Pseudo-Matthew also tells how lions adored the Christ child and were bade by him to go in peace.[1704] And how he “took a dead child by the ear and suspended him from the earth in the sight of all. And they saw Jesus speaking with him like a father with his son. And his spirit returned unto him and he lived again. And all marveled thereat.”[1705] When a rich man named Joseph died and was lamented, Jesus asked his father Joseph why he did not help his dead namesake. When Joseph asked what there was that he could do, Jesus replied, “Take the handkerchief which is on your head and go and put it over the face of the corpse and say to him, ‘May Christ save you.’” Joseph followed these instructions except that he said, “Salvet te Iesus,” instead of “Salvet te Christus,” which was possibly the reason why the dead man upon reviving asked, “Who is Jesus?”[1706]

Learning of the Christ child.

While no very elaborate paraphernalia or ceremonial were involved in the miracles ascribed to the Christ child in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, it is perhaps worth noting that he was already possessed of all learning and nonplussed his masters, when they tried to teach him the alpha[Pg 395]bet, by asking the most abstruse questions. And when he appeared before the doctors in the temple, he expounded to them not only the books of the law,[1707] but natural philosophy, astronomy, physics and metaphysics, physiology, anatomy, and psychology. He is represented as telling them “the number of the spheres and heavenly bodies, as also their triangular, square, and sextile aspect; their progressive and retrograde motion; their twenty-fourths and sixtieths of twenty-fourths” (perhaps corresponding to our hours and minutes!) “and other things which the reason of man had never discovered.” Furthermore, “the powers also of the body, its humors and their effects; also the number of its members, and bones, veins, arteries, and nerves; the several constitutions of the body, hot and dry, cold and moist, and the tendencies of them; how the soul operates upon the body; what its various sensations and faculties are; the faculty of speaking, anger, desire; and lastly, the manner of the body’s composition and dissolution, and other things which the understanding of no creature had ever reached.”[1708] It may be added that in the apocryphal epistles supposed to have been interchanged between Christ and Abgarus, king of Edessa, that monarch writes to Christ, “I have been informed about you and your cures, which are performed without the use of herbs and medicines.”[1709]

Other charges of magic against Christ and the apostles.

Jesus is again accused of magic in The Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pontius Pilate, where the Jews tell Pilate that he is a conjurer. After Pilate has been warned by his wife, the Jews repeat, “Did we not say unto thee, He is a magician? Behold, he hath caused thy wife to dream.”[1710] In the Acts of Paul and Thecla, to which Tertullian refers and which are now seen to be an excerpt from the apocry[Pg 396]phal Acts of Paul, discovered in 1899 in a Coptic papyrus,[1711] the mob similarly cries out against Paul, “He is a magician; away with him.” In the Acts of Peter and Andrew[1712] they are both accused of being sorcerers by Onesiphorus, who also, however, denies that Peter can make a camel go through the eye of a needle. Nor is he satisfied when the feat is successfully performed with a needle and camel of Peter’s selection, but insists upon its being repeated with an animal and instrument of his own selection. Onesiphorus also has “a polluted woman” ride upon his camel’s back, apparently with the idea that this will break the magic spell. But Peter sends the camel through the eye of the needle, “which opened up like a gate,” as successfully as before, and also back again through it once more from the opposite direction.

The Magi and the star.

Some details are added by the apocrypha to the account of the star at Christ’s birth. The Arabic Gospel states that Zoroaster (Zeraduscht) had predicted the coming of the Magi, that Mary gave the Magi one of Christ’s swaddling clothes, that they were guided on their homeward journey by an angel in the form of the star which had led them to Bethlehem, and that after their return they found that the swaddling cloth would not burn in fire.[1713] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians states that this star shone with a brightness far exceeding all others, filling men with fear, and that with its coming the power of magic was destroyed and the new kingdom of God ushered in.[1714]

Allegorical zoology of Barnabas.

In the apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas occurs some of that allegorical zoology which we are apt to associate especially with the Physiologus. In its ninth chapter the hyena and weasel are adduced as examples of its contention that the Mosaic distinction between clean and unclean animals has a spiritual meaning. Thus the command not to eat the hyena means not to be an adulterer or corrupter of[Pg 397] others, for the hyena changes its sex annually. The weasel which conceives with its mouth signifies persons with unclean mouths. In the Acts of Barnabas he cures the sick of Cyprus by laying a copy of the Gospel of Matthew upon their bodies.[1715]

Traces of Gnosticism in the apocryphal Acts.

If we turn again to the various apocryphal Acts, where we have already noted charges of magic made against the apostles, we may find traces of gnosticism which have already been noted by Anz.[1716] In the Acts of Thomas the Holy Ghost is called the pitying mother of seven houses whose rest is the eighth house of heaven. In the Acts of Philip that apostle prays, “Come now, Jesus, and give me the eternal crown of victory over every hostile power ... Lord Jesus Christ ... lead me on ... until I overcome all the cosmic powers and the evil dragon who opposes us. Now therefore Lord Jesus Christ make me to come to Thee in the air.” The Acts of John, too, speak of overcoming fire and darkness and angels and demons and archons and powers of darkness who separate man from God.

Legend of John.

We deal in another chapter with the struggle of the apostles with Simon Magus as recounted in the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Paul, and with similar legends of the contests of other apostles with magicians. Here, however, we may mention some of the marvels in the apocryphal legend of St. John, supposed to have been written by his disciple Procharus and “which deluded the Greek Church by its air of sincerity and its extreme precision of detail,”[1717] although it does not seem to have reached the west until the sixteenth century. John is represented as drinking without injury a poison which had killed two criminals, and as reviving two corpses without going near them by directing an incredulous pagan to lay his cloak over them. A Stoic philosopher had[Pg 398] persuaded some young men to embrace the life of poverty by converting their property into gems and then pounding the gems to pieces. John made the criticism that this wealth might have better been distributed among the poor, and when challenged to do so by the Stoic, prayed to God and had the gems made whole again. Later when the young men longed for their departed wealth, he turned the pebbles on the seashore into gold and precious stones, a miracle which is said to have persuaded the medieval alchemists that he possessed the secret of the philosopher’s stone.[1718] At any rate Adam of St. Victor in the twelfth century wrote the following lines concerning St. John in a chant to be used in the church service:

Cum gemmarum partes fractas
Solidasset, has distractas
Tribuit pauperibus;
Inexhaustum fert thesaurum
Qui de virgis fecit aurum,
Gemmas de lapidibus.[1719]
Legend of St. Sousnyos.

The brief legend of St. Sousnyos, which Basset has included in his edition of Ethiopian Apocrypha,[1720] is all magic, beginning with an incantation or magic prayer against disease and demons. There is also a Slavonic version. This Sousnyos is presumably the same as the Sisinnios who is said by the author of the apocryphal Acts of Archelaus,[1721] forged about 330-340 A. D., to have abandoned Mani, embraced Christianity, and revealed to Archelaus secret teachings which enabled him to triumph over his adversary.

[Pg 399]

Old Testament apocrypha of the Christian era.

While on the subject, mention may be made of two works which properly belong to the apocrypha of the Old Testament, but which first appear during the Christian era and so fall within our period. The Ascension of Isaiah,[1722] of which the old Latin version was printed at Venice in 1522, and which dates back to the second century, is something like the Book of Enoch, describing Isaiah’s ascent through the seven heavens and vision of the mission of Christ. In the Book of Baruch, of which the original version was written in Greek by a Christian of the third or fourth century,[1723] the most interesting episode is the magic sleep into which, like Rip Van Winkle, Abimelech falls during the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. In the legend of Jeremiah the prophet’s soul is absent from his body on one occasion for three days, while on another occasion he dresses up a stone to impersonate himself before the populace who are trying to stone him to death, in order that he may gain time to make certain revelations to Abimelech and Baruch. When he has had his say, the stone asks the people why they persist in stoning it instead of Jeremiah, against whom they then turn their missiles.[1724]

Such is no exhaustive listing but rather a few examples of the encouragement given to belief in magic by the Christian Apocrypha.

[Pg 400]


The Pseudo-Clementines—Was Rufinus the sole medieval version?—Previous Greek versions—Date of the original version—Internal evidence—Resemblances to Apuleius and Philostratus—Science and religion—Interest in natural science—God and nature—Sin and nature—Attitude to astrology—Arguments against genethlialogy—The virtuous Seres—Theory of demons—Origin of magic—Frequent accusations of magic—Marvels of magic—How distinguish miracle from magic?—Deceit in magic—Murder of a boy—Magic is evil—Magic is an art—Other accounts of Simon Magus: Justin Martyr to Hippolytus—Peter’s account in the Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum—Arnobius, Cyril, and Philastrius—Apocryphal Acts of Peter and Paul—An account ascribed to Marcellus—Hegesippus—A sermon on Simon’s fall—Simon Magus in medieval art.

The Truth herself shall receive thee a wanderer and a stranger, and enroll thee a citizen of her own city.

Recognitions I, 13.

The Pseudo-Clementines.

The starting-point and chief source for this chapter will be the writings known as the Pseudo-Clementines and more particularly the Latin version commonly called The Recognitions. We shall then note other accounts of its villain-hero, Simon Magus, in patristic literature.[1725] The Pseudo[Pg 401]-Clementines, as the name implies, are works or different versions of one work ascribed to Clement of Rome, who is represented as writing to James, the brother of the Lord, an account of events and discussions in which he and the apostle Peter had participated not long after the crucifixion. This Pseudo-Clementine literature has a double character, combining romantic narrative concerning Peter, Simon Magus, and the family of Clement with long, argumentative, didactic, and doctrinal discussions and dialogues in which the same persons participate but Peter takes the leading and most authoritative part. Not only the authorship, origin, and date, but even the title or titles and the make-up and arrangement of the various versions and their original are doubtful or disputed matters. The versions now extant and published seem by no means to have been the only ones, but we will describe them first. In Greek we have the version known as The Homilies in twenty books, in which the didactic element preponderates. It is extant in only two manuscripts of the twelfth and fourteenth centuries at Paris and Rome,[1726] but is also preserved in part in epitomes. Different from it is the Latin version in which the narrative element plays a greater part.

Was Rufinus the sole medieval version?

This Latin version, now usually referred to as The Recognitions, because the main point in its plot is the successive bringing together again of, and recognition of one another by, the members of a family long separated, is the translation made by Rufinus, who is last heard from in 410. It is usually divided into ten books. Numerous manuscripts of this version attest its popularity and influence in the middle ages, when we early find Isidore of Seville quoting[Pg 402] Clement several times as an authority on natural science.[1727] Arevalus, however, thought that Isidore used some other version of the Pseudo-Clementines than that of Rufinus,[1728] and in the medieval period another title was common, namely, The Itinerary of Clement, or The Itinerary of Peter.[1729] William of Auvergne, for instance, in the first half of the thirteenth century cites the Itinerarium Clementis or “Book of the disputations of Peter against Simon Magus.”[1730] This Itinerary of Clement also heads the list of works condemned as apocryphal by Pope Gelasius at a synod at Rome in 494,[1731] a list reproduced by Vincent of Beauvais in his Speculum naturale in the thirteenth century[1732] and in the previous century rather more accurately by Hugh of St. Victor in his Didascalicon.[1733] In all three cases the full title is given in practically the same words, “The Itinerary by the name of the Apostle Peter which is called Saint Clement’s, an apocryphal work in eight books.”[1734] Here we encounter a difficulty, since as we have said The Recognitions are in ten books. We find, however, that in another passage[1735] Vincent correctly cites the ninth book of The Recognitions as Clement’s ninth book, and that the number of books into which The Recognitions is divided varies in the manuscripts, and that they, too, more often call it The Itinerary of Clement or even apply other designations. Rabanus Maurus in the ninth century quotes an utterance of the apostle Peter from The History of Saint Clement, but the passage is found in The Recognitions.[1736] Vincent of Beauvais also[Pg 403] quotes “the blessed apostle Peter in a certain letter attached to The Itinerary of Clement.” No letter by Peter is prefaced to the printed text of The Recognitions, nor does Rufinus mention such a letter, although he does speak in his preface of a letter by Clement which he has already translated elsewhere. Prefixed to the printed Homilies, however, and in the manuscripts found also with The Recognitions, are letters of Peter and Clement respectively to James. But the passage quoted by Vincent does not occur in either, but comes from the tenth book of The Recognitions.[1737] It would seem, therefore, despite variations in the number of books and in the arrangement of material, that the Latin version by Rufinus was the only one current in the middle ages, but we cannot be sure of this until all the extant manuscripts have been more carefully examined.[1738]

Previous Greek versions.

The version by Rufinus differed from previous ones not only in being in Latin but also in various omissions which he admits he made and perhaps other changes to suit it to his Latin audience. That there was already more than one version in Greek he shows in his preface by describing another text than that upon which his translation or adaptation was based. Neither of these two Greek texts appears to have been the same as the present Homilies.[1739] Yet The Homilies were apparently in existence at that time, since a Syriac manuscript of 411 A. D. contains four books of The Homilies and three of The Recognitions,[1740] thus in itself[Pg 404] furnishing an illustration of the ease with which new versions might be compounded from old. Both The Homilies and The Recognitions as they have reached us would seem to be confusions and perversions of this sort, as their incidents are obviously not arranged in correct order. For instance, when the story of The Recognitions begins Christ is still alive and reports of His miracles are reaching Rome; the same year Barnabas pays a visit to Rome and Clement almost immediately follows him back to Syria, making the passage from Rome to Caesarea in fifteen days;[1741] but on his arrival there he meets Peter who tells him that “a week of years” have elapsed since the crucifixion and of other intervening events involving a considerable lapse of time. Or again, in the third book of The Recognitions Simon is said to have sunk his magical paraphernalia in the sea and gone to Rome, but as late as the tenth and last book we find him still in Antioch and with enough paraphernalia left to transform the countenance of Faustus.

Date of the original version.

Yet this late and misarranged version on which Rufinus bases his text must have been already in existence for some time, since he confesses that he has been a long while about his translation. The virgin Sylvia who “once enjoined it upon” him to “render Clement into our language” is now spoken of as “of venerable memory,” and it is to Bishop Gaudentius that Rufinus “after many delays” in his old age “at length” presents the work. We might thus infer that the original and presumably more self-consistent Pseudo-Clementine narrative, which Rufinus evidently does not use, must date back to a much earlier period. We hear from other sources of The Circuits or Periodoi of Peter by Clement, but this may have been the version translated by Ru[Pg 405]finus.[1742] Conservative Christian scholars regard as the oldest unmistakable allusion to the Pseudo-Clementines that by Eusebius early in the fourth century, who, without giving any specific titles, speaks of certain “verbose and lengthy writings, containing dialogues of Peter forsooth and Apion,” which are ascribed to Clement but are really of recent origin. As for the date of the original work from which Homilies and Recognitions are derived,[1743] from 200 to 280 A. D. is suggested by Harnack and his school, who take middle ground between the extreme contentions of Hilgenfeld and Chapman. But the original Pseudo-Clement is supposed to have utilized The Teachings of Peter and The Acts of Peter, which Waitz would date between 135 and 210 A. D.[1744]

Internal evidence.

The work itself, even in the perverted form preserved by Rufinus, makes pretensions to the highest Christian antiquity. Not only is it addressed to James and put into the mouth of Clement, but Paul is never mentioned, and no book of the New Testament is cited by name, while sayings of Jesus are cited which are not found in the Bible. Christ is often alluded to in a veiled and mystic fashion as “the true prophet,” who had appeared aforetime to Abraham and Moses, and interesting and vivid incidental glimpses are given of what purports to be the life of an early Christian community and perhaps is that of the Ebionites, Essenes, or some Gnostic sect. Emphasis is laid upon the purifying power of baptism, upon Peter’s practice of bathing early every morning, preferably in the sea or running water, upon secret prayers and meetings, a separate table for the initiated, esoteric discussions of religion at cock-crow and in the night, and upon power over demons. All this may be mere clever invention, but there certainly is an atmosphere of verisimilitude about it; and it is rather odd that a later[Pg 406] writer should be “very careful to avoid anachronisms,” in whose account as it now stands are such glaring chronological confusions as those already noted concerning Clement’s voyage to Caesarea and Simon’s departure for Rome. But, as in the case of the New Testament Apocrypha, the exact date of composition makes little difference for our purpose, for which it is enough that the Pseudo-Clementines played an important part in the first thirteen centuries of Christian thought viewed as a whole. Eusebius and Epiphanius may find them unpalatable in certain respects and reject them as heretical, but Basil and Gregory utilize their arguments against astrology. Gelasius may classify them as apocryphal, but Vincent of Beauvais justifies a discriminating use of the apocryphal books in general and cites this one in particular more than once as an authority, and the incidents of its story were embodied, as we shall see, in medieval art.

Resemblances to Apuleius and Philostratus.

The same resemblance to the works of Apuleius and Philostratus that we noted in the case of an apocryphal gospel is observable in the Pseudo-Clementines. We see in The Recognitions the same mixed interest in natural science and in magic combined with religion and romantic incident that characterized the variegated and motley page of the author of the Metamorphoses and the biographer of Apollonius of Tyana. It is probably only a coincidence that two of the works of Apuleius are dedicated to a Faustinus whom he calls “my son,” while Clement’s father is named Faustus or Faustinianus, and the legend of Faust is believed to originate with him and the episodes in which he is concerned.[1745] Less accidental may be the connection between Peter’s religious sea-bathing and that purification in the sea by which the hero of the Metamorphoses began the process by which he succeeded in regaining his lost human form. More considerable are the detailed parallels to the work of Philostratus.[1746] Peter corresponds roughly to Apollonius and Clem[Pg 407]ent to Damis, while the wizards and magi are ably personified by the famous Simon Magus. If Apollonius abstained from all meat and wine and wore linen garments, Peter lives upon “bread alone, with olives, and seldom even with pot-herbs; and my dress,” he says, “is what you see, a tunic with a pallium: and having these, I require nothing more.”[1747] Like Philostratus the Pseudo-Clement speaks of bones of enormous size which are still to be seen as proof of the existence of giants in former ages;[1748] and the accounts of the Brahmans and allusions to the Scythians in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana are paralleled in The Recognitions by a series of brief chapters on these and other strange races.[1749] Peter is, of course, a Jew, not a Hellene like Apollonius, but in his train are men who are thoroughly trained in Greek philosophy and capable of discussing its problems at length. They also are not without appreciation of pagan art and turn aside, with Peter’s consent, to visit a temple upon an island and “to gaze earnestly” upon “the wonderful columns” and “very magnificent works of Phidias.”[1750] Just as Apollonius knew all languages without having ever studied them, so Peter is so filled with the Spirit of God that he is “full of all knowledge” and “not ignorant even of Greek learning”; but to descend from his usual divine themes to discuss it is considered to be rather beneath him. Clement, however, felt the need of coaching Peter up a little in Greek mythology.[1751] This mingled attitude of contempt for “the babblings of the Greeks” when compared to divine revelation, and of respect for Greek philosophy when compared with anything else is, it is hardly necessary to say, a very common one with Christian writers throughout the Roman Empire.

Science and religion.

The same attitude prevails toward natural science. At the very beginning of the Clementines the curiosity of the[Pg 408] ancient world in regard to things of nature is shown by the question which someone propounded to Barnabas when he began to preach, at Rome according to The Recognitions, at Alexandria according to The Homilies, of the Son of God. The heckler wanted to know why so small a creature as a fly has not only six feet but wings in addition, while the elephant, despite its enormous bulk, has only four feet and no wings at all. Barnabas did not answer the question, although he asserted that he could if he wished to, making the excuse that it was not fitting to speak of mere creatures to those who were still ignorant of their Creator.[1752]

Interest in natural science.

This unwillingness to discuss natural questions by no means continues characteristic of the Clementines, however. Not only does Peter explain to Clement the creation of the world and propound the extraordinary[1753] doctrine that after completing the process of creation God “set an angel as chief over the angels, a spirit over the spirits, a star over the stars, a demon over the demons, a bird over the birds, a beast over the beasts, a serpent over the serpents, a fish over the fishes,” and “over men a man who is Christ Jesus.”[1754] Not only does he later in public defend baptism with water on the ground that “all things are produced from waters” and that waters were first created.[1755] We also find Niceta accepting the Greek hypothesis of four elements, of the sphericity of the universe, and of the motions of the heavenly bodies “assigned to them by fixed laws and periods,” citing Plato’s Timaeus, mentioning Aristotle’s introduction of a fifth element,[1756] disputing the atomic theory of Epicurus,[1757] and alluding to “mechanical science.”[1758] He further discusses the generation of plants, animals, and human beings as evidences of divine design and providence,[1759] in which connection he collects a number of examples of marvelous gen[Pg 409] eration of animals such as moles from earth and vipers from ashes, and affirms that “the crow conceives through the mouth and the weasel generates through the ear.”[1760] Simon Magus declared himself immortal on the theory, which we shall find cropping out again in the thirteenth century in Roger Bacon and Peter of Abano, that his flesh was “so compacted by the power of his divinity that it can endure to eternity.”[1761] On the other hand, Niceta describes the action of the intestines in a fairly intelligent manner,[1762] and tells how the blood flows like water from a fountain, “and first borne along in one channel, and then spreading through innumerable veins as through canals, irrigates the entire territory of the human body with vital streams.”[1763] A little later on Aquila gives a natural explanation of rainbows.[1764]

God and nature.

There is noticeable, it is true, a tendency, common in patristic literature and found even among those fathers who hold the dualism of the Manichees in the deepest detestation, to make a distinction between God and nature and to attribute any flaws in the universe to the latter.[1765] Niceta cannot agree with “those who speak of nature instead of God and declare that all things were made by nature”; he holds that God created the universe. But Aquila, who supports his brother in the discussion, seems to think that God’s responsibility for the universe ceased, at least in part, after it was once created. At any rate he admits that “in this world some things are done in an orderly and some in a disorderly fashion. Those things therefore,” he continues, “that are done rationally, believe that they are done by Providence; but those that are done irrationally and inordinately, believe that they befall naturally and happen accidentally.”[1766]

Sin and nature.

But even nature sometimes rises up against the sins of mankind according to Peter and his associates. Aquila be[Pg 410]lieves that the sins of men are the cause of pestilences;[1767] that “when chastisement is inflicted upon men according to the will of God, he” (i. e. the Sun, already called “that good servant” and whom the early Christians found it difficult to cease to personify) “glows more fiercely and burns up the world with more vehement fires”;[1768] and that “those who have become acquainted with prophetic discourse know when and for what reason blight, hail, pestilence, and such like have occurred in every generation, and for what sins these have been sent as a punishment.”[1769] Peter gives the impression that nature sometimes acts rather independently of God in thus punishing the wicked. He says: “But this also I would have you know, that upon such souls God does not take vengeance directly, but His whole creation rises up and inflicts punishments upon the impious. And although in the present world the goodness of God bestows the light of the world and the services of the earth alike upon the pious and the impious, yet not without grief does the Sun afford his light and the other elements perform their services to the impious. And, in short, sometimes even in opposition to the goodness of the Creator, the elements are worn out by the crimes of the wicked; and hence it is that either the fruit of the earth is blighted, or the composition of the air is vitiated, or the heat of the sun is increased beyond measure, or there is an excess of rain or cold.”[1770] This is a close approach to the notion of The Book of Enoch that human sin upsets the world of nature, and an even closer approach to the theory of the Brahmans in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana that prolonged drought is a punishment visited by the world-soul upon human sinfulness.

Attitude to astrology.

Such vestiges of the world-soul doctrine, such a tendency to ascribe emotion and will to the elements and planets, to personify them, and to think of God as ruling the world indirectly through them, prepare us to find an attitude rather favorable to astrological theory. Indeed, in the first book[Pg 411] of The Recognitions[1771] we are told in so many words that the Creator adorned the visible heaven with stars, sun, and moon in order that “they might be for an indication of things past, present, and future,” and that these celestial signs, while seen by all, are “understood only by the learned and intelligent.” Astrology is respectfully described as “the science of mathesis,”[1772] and, as was common in the Roman Empire, astrologers are called mathematici.[1773] A defender even of the most extreme pretensions of the art is not abused as a charlatan but is courteously greeted as “so learned a man,”[1774] and all admire his eloquence, grave manners, and calm speech, and accord him a respectful hearing.[1775] Astrology, far from being regarded as necessarily contrary to religion, is thought to furnish arguments for the existence of God, and it is said that Abraham, “being an astrologer, was able from the rational system of the stars to recognize the Creator, while all other men were in error, and understood that all things are regulated by His Providence.”[1776] The number seven is somewhat emphasized[1777] and the twelve apostles are called the twelve months of Christ who is the acceptable year of the Lord.[1778] Somewhat similarly the Gnostic followers of the heretic Valentinus made much of the Duodecad, a group of twelve aeons, and believed, according to Irenaeus, “that Christ suffered in the twelfth month. For their opinion is that He continued to preach for one year only after His baptism.”[1779] Peter, too, has a group of twelve disciples.[1780] Niceta speaks of “man who is a microcosm in the great world.”[1781] It is admitted that the stars exert evil as well as good influence,[1782] and that the astrologer “can indicate the evil desire which malign[Pg 412] virtue produces.”[1783] But it is contended that, “possessing freedom of the will, we sometimes resist our desires and sometimes yield to them,” and that no astrologer can predict beforehand which course we will take.

Arguments against genethlialogy.

In fine, astrology is criticized adversely only when it goes to the length of contending that “there is neither any God, nor any worship, neither is there any Providence in the world, but all things are done by fortuitous chance and genesis”; that “whatever your genesis contains, that shall befall you”;[1784] and that the constellations force men to commit murder, adultery, and other crimes.[1785] On this point Niceta and Aquila, and finally Clement himself, have long discussions with an aged adept in genethlialogy which fill a large portion of the last three books of The Recognitions, and include a dozen chapters which are little more than an extract from The Laws of Countries of Bardesanes. Divine Providence and human free will are defended, and genethlialogy is represented as an error which has received confirmation through the operations of demons.[1786] It is asserted that men can be kept from committing crimes by fear of punishment and by law, even if they are naturally so inclined, and races like the Seres (Chinese) and Brahmans are adduced as examples of entire races of men who never commit the crimes into which men are supposed to be forced by the constellations. The argument is also advanced, “Since God is righteous and since He Himself made human nature, how could it be that He should place genesis in opposition to us, which should compel us to sin, and then that He should punish us when we do sin?”[1787] It is further charged that the constellations are so complicated,[Pg 413] that for any given moment one astrologer may infer a favorable and another a disastrous influence,[1788] and that most successful explanations of the effects of the stars are made after the event, like dreams of which men can make nothing at the time, but “when any event occurs, then they adapt what they saw in the dream to what has occurred.”[1789] Finally the aged defender of genesis, who believed that his own fate and that of his wife had been accurately prescribed by their horoscopes, turns out to be Faustinianus (called Faustus in The Homilies), the long-lost father of Clement, Niceta, and Aquila; is also restored to his wife; and learns that his previous interpretation of events from the stars was quite erroneous.[1790]

The virtuous Seres.

The ideal picture of the Seres or Chinese, “who dwell at the beginning of the world,” which The Recognitions apparently borrows from Bardesanes, is perhaps worth repeating here as an odd admission that a non-Christian people can attain a state of moral perfection and sinlessness, as well as an interesting bit of ancient ethnology. “In all that country which is very large there is neither temple nor image nor harlot nor adulteress, nor is any thief brought to trial. But neither is any man ever slain there.... For this reason they are not chastened with those plagues of which we have spoken; they live to extreme old age, and die without sickness.”[1791] Perhaps these virtuous Seres are the blameless Hyperboreans in another guise.

Theory of demons.

Demons and angels abound in The Recognitions. One may be rebuked and scourged at night by an angel of God.[1792] Peter says that every nation has an angel, since God has divided the earth into seventy-two sections and appointed an angel as governor and prince of each.[1793] Once, before beginning to preach, Peter expelled demons from a number of persons in the audience.[1794] In another passage is described the cure of a girl of twenty-seven who for twenty years[Pg 414] had been vexed by an unclean spirit and had been shut up in a closet in chains because of her violence and superhuman strength. The mere presence of Peter put this demon to rout and the chains fell off the girl of their own accord.[1795] Besides these personal encounters with demons, the theory of demoniacal possession is discussed more than once, and anything of which the author does not approve, such as the art of horoscopes, heathen oracles, the excesses of pagan rites and festivals, and the animal gods of the Egyptians, is attributed to the influence of demons.[1796] One becomes susceptible to demoniacal possession who eats meat sacrificed to idols or who merely eats and drinks immoderately.[1797] Demons are apt to get into the very bowels of those who frequent drunken banquets.[1798] Incontinence, too, is accompanied by demons whose “noxious breath” produces “an intemperate and vicious progeny.... And therefore parents are responsible for their children’s defects of this sort, because they have not observed the law of intercourse.”[1799] As much care should be taken in human generation as in the sowing of crops. But while demons abound, God has given every Christian power over them, since they may be driven out by uttering “the threefold name of blessedness.”[1800] Moreover, “what is spoken by the true God, whether by prophets or varied visions, is always true; but what is foretold by demons is not always true.”[1801]

Origin of magic.

With demons is associated the origin of the magic art. “Certain angels ... taught men that demons could be made to obey man by certain arts, that is, by magical invocations.”[1802] The first magicians were Ham and his son Mesraim, from whom the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians are descended, and who tried to draw sparks from the stars[1803] but set himself on fire “and was consumed by the demon[Pg 415] whom he had accosted with too great importunity.”[1804] But on this account he was called Zoroaster or “living star” after his death. Moreover, the magic art did not perish but was transmitted to Nimrod “as by a flash.”[1805] With this may be compared the slightly different account of the origin of magic given by Epiphanius in the Panarion, written about 374-375 A. D. Magic is older than heresy and was already in existence before the time of Ham or Mesraim in the antediluvian days of Jared, when it coexisted with “pharmacy,” a term here used to cover sorcery and poisoning, licentiousness, adultery, and injustice. After the flood Epiphanius mentions Nimrod (Νεβρώδ) as the first tyrant and the inventor of the evil disciplines of astrology and magic. He states that the Greeks incorrectly confuse him with Zoroaster whom they regard as the founder of magic and astrology. According to Epiphanius, “pharmacy” and magic passed from Egypt to Greece in the time of Cecrops.[1806]

Frequent accusations of magic.

In The Recognitions everyone, Christian, heretic, pagan, and philosopher, condemns or professes to condemn magic, and reference is made to the laws of the Roman emperors against it.[1807] But Christians, pagans, and heretics, while claiming divine power and protection for themselves, freely accuse one another of the practice of magic. An unnamed person, by whom Paul is perhaps meant, stirs up the people of Jerusalem to persecute the apostolic community there as “most miserable men, who are deceived by Simon, a magician.”[1808] The guards at the sepulcher, unable to prevent the resurrection, said that Jesus was a magician, a charge which is repeated by one of the scribes and by Simon Magus. Simon also calls Peter a magician on more than one occasion.[1809] Peter, of course, makes similar charges against Simon; he had been especially sent by James to Caesarea in order to refute this magician who was giving himself out to be the Stans or Christ.[1810] The gods of Greek[Pg 416] mythology, too, are accused of having resorted to magic transformations and sorcery.[1811] Philosophy, however, escapes the accusation of magic in The Recognitions,[1812] and it was a philosopher who deterred Clement, before the latter had become a Christian, from his plan of investigating the problem of the immortality of the soul by hiring an Egyptian magician to evoke a soul from the infernal regions by the art of necromancy.[1813] The philosopher condemned such an attempt as unlawful, impious, and “hateful to the Divinity.”[1814]

Marvels of magic.

But while magic is condemned, its great powers are admitted. Simon Magus makes great boasts of the marvels which he can perform. These include becoming invisible, boring through rocks and mountains as if they were clay, passing through fire without being burned, flying through the air, loosing bonds and barriers, transformation into animal shapes, animation of statues, production of new plants or trees in a moment, and growing beards upon little boys.[1815] He also asserted that he had formed a boy by turning air into water and the water into blood, and then solidifying this into flesh, a feat which he regarded as superior to the creation of Adam from earth. Later Simon unmade him and restored him to the air, “but not until I had placed his image and picture in my bedchamber as a proof and memorial of my work.”[1816] Not only does Simon himself make such boasts; Niceta and Aquila, who had been his disciples before their conversion by Zaccheus, also bear witness to[Pg 417] his amazing feats. “Who would not be astonished at the wonderful things which he does? Who would not think that he was a god come down from heaven for the salvation of men?”[1817] He can fly through the air, or so mingle himself with fire as to become one body with it, he can make statues walk and dogs of brass bark. “Yea, he has also been seen to make bread of stones.”[1818] When Dositheus tried to beat Simon, the rod passed through his body as if it had been smoke.[1819] The woman called Luna who goes about with Simon was seen by a crowd to look out of all the windows of a tower at the same time,[1820] an illusion possibly produced by mirrors. When Simon fears arrest, he transforms the face of Faustinianus into the likeness of his own, in order that Faustinianus may be arrested in his place.[1821]

How distinguish miracle from magic?

So great, indeed, are the marvels wrought by Simon and by magicians generally that Niceta asks Peter how they may be distinguished from divine signs and Christian miracles, and in what respect anyone sins who infers from the similarity of these signs and wonders either that Simon Magus is divine or that Christ was a magician. Speaking first of Pharaoh’s magicians, Niceta asks, “For if I had been there, should I not have thought, from the fact that the magicians did like things (to those which Moses did), either that Moses was a magician, or that the feats displayed by the magicians were divinely wrought?... But if he sins who believes those who work signs, how shall it appear that he also does not sin who has believed on our Lord for His signs and occult virtues?” Peter’s reply is that Simon’s magic does not benefit anyone, while the Christian miracles of healing the sick and expelling demons are performed for the good of humanity. To Antichrist alone among workers of magic will it be permitted at the end of the world to mix in some beneficial acts with his evil marvels. Moreover, “by this means going beyond his bounds, and[Pg 418] being divided against himself, and fighting against himself, he shall be destroyed.”[1822] Later in The Recognitions, however, Aquila states that even the magic of the present has found ways of imitating by contraries the expulsion of demons by the word of God, that it can counteract the poisons of serpents by incantations, and can effect cures “contrary to the word and power of God.” He adds, “The magic art has also discovered ministries contrary to the angels of God, placing the evocation of souls and the figments of demons in opposition to these.”[1823]

Deceit in magic.

But while the marvels of magic are admitted, there is a feeling that there is something deceitful and unreal about them. The teachings of the true prophet, we are told, “contain nothing subtle, nothing composed by magic art to deceive,”[1824] while Simon is “a deceiver and magician.”[1825] Nor is he deceitful merely in his religious teaching and his opposition to Peter; even his boasts of magic power are partly false. Aquila, his former disciple, says, “But when he spoke thus of the production of sprouts and the perforation of the mountain, I was confounded on this account, because he wished to deceive even us, in whom he seemed to place confidence; for we knew that those things had been from the days of our fathers, which he represented as having been done by himself lately.”[1826] Moreover, not only does Simon deceive others; he is himself deceived by demons as Peter twice asserts:[1827] “He is deluded by demons, yet he thinks that he sees the very substance of the soul.” “Although in this he is deluded by demons, yet he has persuaded himself that he has the soul of a murdered boy ministering to him in whatever he pleases to employ it.”

Murder of a boy.

This story of having sacrificed a pure boy for purposes of magic or divination was a stock charge, which we have previously heard made against Apollonius of Tyana and which was also told of the early Christians by their[Pg 419] pagan enemies and of the Jews and heretics in the middle ages. Simon is said to have confessed to Niceta and Aquila, when they asked how he worked his magic, that he received assistance from “the soul of a boy, unsullied and violently slain, and invoked by unutterable adjurations.” He went on to explain that “the soul of man holds the next place after God, when once it is set free from the darkness of the body. And immediately it acquires prescience, wherefore it is invoked in necromancy.” When Aquila asked why the soul did not take vengeance upon its slayer instead of performing the behests of magicians, Simon answered that the soul now had the last judgment too vividly before it to indulge in vengeance, and that the angels presiding over such souls do not permit them to return to earth unless “adjured by someone greater than themselves.”[1828] Niceta then indignantly interposed, “And do you not fear the day of judgment, who do violence to angels and invoke souls?” As a matter of fact, the charge that Simon had murdered or violently slain a boy is rather overdrawn, since the boy in question was the one whom he had made from air in the first place and whom he simply turned back into air again, claiming, however, to have thereby produced an unsullied human soul. According to The Homilies, however, he presently confided to Niceta and Aquila that the human soul did not survive the death of the body and that a demon really responded to his invocations.[1829]

Magic is evil.

Nevertheless, the charge of murder thus made against Simon illustrates the criminal character here as usually ascribed to magic. Simon is said to be “wicked above measure,” and to depend upon “magic arts and wicked devices,” and Peter accuses him of “acting by nefarious arts.”[1830][Pg 420] Simon in his turn calls Peter “a magician, a godless man, injurious, cunning, ignorant, and professing impossibilities,” and again “a magician, a sorcerer, a murderer.”[1831]

Magic is an art.

A further characteristic of magic which comes out clearly in The Recognitions is that it is an art. Demons and souls of the dead may have a great deal to do with it, but it also requires a human operator and makes use of materials drawn from the world of nature. It was by anointing his face with an ointment which the magician had compounded that the countenance of Faustinianus was transformed into the likeness of Simon, while Appion and Anubion, who anointed their faces with the juice of a certain herb, were thereby enabled still to recognize Faustinianus as himself.[1832] In another passage one of Simon’s disciples who has deserted him and come to Peter tells how Simon had made him carry on his back to the seashore a bundle “of his polluted and accursed secret things.” Simon took the bundle out to sea in a boat and later returned without it.[1833] Simon not only employed natural materials in his magic, but was regarded as a learned man, even by his enemies. He is “by profession a magician, yet exceedingly well trained in Greek literature.”[1834] He is “a most vehement orator, trained in the dialectic art, and in the meshes of syllogisms; and what is most serious of all, he is greatly skilled in the magic art.”[1835] And he engages with Peter in theological debates. It is also interesting to note as an illustration of the connection between magic and experimental science that Simon, in boasting of his feats of magic, says, “For already I have achieved many things by way of experiment.”[1836]

Other accounts of Simon Magus: Justin Martyr to Hippolytus.

In the Pseudo-Clementines we are told that Simon intended to go to Rome, but The Recognitions and The Homilies deal only with the conflicts between Peter and Simon in various Syrian cities and do not follow them to[Pg 421] Rome, where, as other Christian writers tell us, they had yet other encounters in which Simon finally came to his bitter end. Justin Martyr, writing about the middle of the second century, states that Simon, a Samaritan of Gitto, came to Rome in the reign of Claudius and performed such feats of magic by demon aid that a statue was erected to him as a god. In this matter of the statue Justin is thought to have confused Semo Sancus, a Sabine deity, with Simon. Justin adds that almost all Samaritans and a few persons from other nations still believe in Simon as the first God, and that a disciple of his, named Menander, deceived many by magic at Antioch. Justin complains that the followers of these men are still called Christians and on the other hand that the emperors do not persecute them as they do other Christians, although Justin charges them with practicing promiscuous sexual intercourse as well as magic.[1837] Irenaeus gives a very similar account.[1838] Origen, as we have seen, denied that there were more than thirty of Simon’s followers left,[1839] but his contemporary Tertullian wrote, “At this very time even the heretical dupes of this same Simon are so much elated by the extravagant pretensions of their art, that they undertake to bring up from Hades the souls of the prophets themselves. And I suppose that they can do so under cover of a lying wonder.”[1840] But Origen and Tertullian add nothing to the story of Simon Magus himself. Hippolytus, too, implies that Simon still has followers, since he devotes a number of chapters to stating and refuting Simon’s doctrines and to “teaching anew the parrots of Simon that Christ ... was not Simon.”[1841] But Hippolytus also gives further details concerning Simon’s visit to Rome, stating that he there encountered the apostles and was repeatedly opposed by Peter, until finally Simon declared that if he were buried alive he would rise again upon the third day.[Pg 422] His disciples buried him, as they were directed, but he never reappeared, “for he was not the Christ.”

Peter’s account in the Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum.

Peter himself is represented as briefly recounting his struggle at Rome with Simon Magus in the Didascalia Apostolorum, an apocryphal work of probably the third century, extant in Syriac and Latin, and more fully in the parallel passage of the Greek Constitutiones Apostolorum, written perhaps about 400 A. D.[1842] Peter found Simon at Rome drawing many away from the church as well as seducing the Gentiles by his “magic operation and virtues,” or, in the Greek version, “magic experiments and the working of demons.”[1843] In the Syriac and Latin account Peter then states that one day he saw Simon flying through the air. “And standing beneath I said, ‘In the virtue of the holy name, Jesus, I cut off your virtues.’ And so falling he broke the arch (thigh?) of his foot (leg?).”[1844] But he did not die, since Peter goes on to say that while “many then departed from him, others who were worthy of him remained with him.” In the longer Greek version Simon announced his flight in the theater. While all eyes were turned on Simon, Peter prayed against him. Meanwhile Simon mounted aloft into mid-air, borne up, Peter says, by demons, and telling the people that he was ascending to heaven, whence he would return bringing them good tidings. The people applauded him as a god, but Peter stretched forth his hands to heaven, supplicating God through the Lord Jesus to dash down the corrupter and curtail the power of the demons. He asked further, however, that Simon might not be killed by his fall but merely bruised. Peter also addressed Simon and the evil powers who were supporting him, requiring that he might fall and become a laughing-stock to those who had been deceived by him. Thereupon Simon fell with a great commotion and bruised[Pg 423] his bottom and the soles of his feet. It will be noted that here, as in the accounts by some other authors, Peter alone struggles with Simon Magus, lending color to the Tübingen theory once suggested in connection with the Pseudo-Clementines, that Simon Magus is meant to represent the apostle Paul.

Arnobius, Cyril, and Philastrius.

Arnobius, writing about 300 A. D., gives a somewhat different account of Simon’s mode of flight and fall. He says that the people of Rome “saw the chariot of Simon Magus and his four fiery horses blown away by the mouth of Peter and vanish at the name of Christ. They saw, I say, him who had trusted false gods and been betrayed by them in their fright precipitated by his own weight and lying with broken legs. Then, after he had been carried to Brunda, worn out by his shame and sufferings, he again hurled himself down from the highest ridge of the roof.”[1845] Cyril of Jerusalem, 315-386 A. D., also speaks of Simon’s being borne in air in the chariot of demons, “and is not surprised that the combined prayers of Peter and Paul brought him down, since in addition to Jesus’s promise to answer the petition of two or three gathered together it is to be remembered that Peter carried the keys of heaven and that Paul had been rapt to the third heaven and heard secret words.”[1846] Philastrius, another writer of the fourth century, describes Simon’s death more vaguely, stating that after Peter had driven him from Jerusalem he came to Rome where they engaged in another contest before Nero. Simon was worsted by Peter on every point of argument, and, “smitten by an angel died a merited death in order that the falsity of his magic might be evident to all men.”[1847] But it is hardly worth while to pile up such brief allusions to Simon in the writings of the fathers.[1848]

[Pg 424]

Apocryphal Acts of Peter and Paul.

Other fuller accounts of Simon’s doings at Rome are contained in the Syriac Teaching of Simon Cephas[1849] and in the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Paul.[1850] In the former Peter urges the people of Rome not to allow the sorcerer Simon to delude them by semblances which are not realities, and he raises a dead man to life after Simon has failed to do so. In the latter work Simon opposes Peter and Paul in the presence of Nero and as usual they charge one another with being magicians. Simon also as usual affirms that he is Christ, and we are told that the chief priests had called Jesus a wizard. Simon had already made a great impression upon Nero by causing brazen serpents to move and stone statues to laugh, and by altering both his face and stature and changing first to a child and then to an old man. Nero also asserts that Simon has raised a dead man and that Simon himself rose on the third day after being beheaded. It is later explained, however, that Simon had arranged to have the beheading take place in a dark corner and through his magic had substituted a ram for himself. The ram appeared to be Simon until after it had been decapitated, when the executioner discovered that the head was that of a ram but did not dare report the fact to Nero. When Simon met the apostles in Nero’s presence, he caused great dogs to rush suddenly at Peter, but Peter made them vanish into air by showing them some bread which he had been secretly blessing and breaking. As a final test Simon promised to ascend to heaven if Nero would build him a tower in the Campus Martius, where “my angels may find me in the air, for they cannot come to me upon earth among sinners.” The tower was duly provided, and Simon, crowned with laurel, began to fly successfully until Peter, tearfully entreated by Paul to make haste, adjured the angels of Satan who were supporting Simon to let him drop. Simon then fell upon the Sacra Via and his body was broken into[Pg 425] four parts.[1851] Nero, however, chose to regard the apostles as Simon’s murderers and put them to death, after which a Marcellus, who had been Simon’s disciple but left him to join Peter, secretly buried Peter’s body.

An account ascribed to Marcellus.

To this Marcellus is ascribed a very similar narrative which is found in an early medieval manuscript and was perhaps written in the seventh or eighth century.[1852] Fabricius and Florentinus give its title as, Of the marvelous deeds and acts of the blessed Peter and Paul and of Simon’s magic arts.[1853] I have read it in a Latin pamphlet printed at some time before 1500, where the full title runs: The Passion of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and their disputation before the emperor Nero against Simon, a certain magician, who, when he saw that he could not resist the utterances of St. Peter, cast all his books of magic into the sea lest he be adjudged a magician. Then when the same Simon Magus presumed to ascend to heaven, overcome by St. Peter he fell to earth and perished most miserably. At its close occurs the statement, “I, Marcellus, a disciple of my lord, the apostle Peter, have written what I saw.” When this Marcellus began to desert his former master, Simon, to follow Peter, Simon procured a big