Secretum secretorum - An Overview of Magic in the Greco-Roman World
Background for Ars Magica sagas


  1. C.f. Scarborough, John. "The Pharmacology of Sacred, Plants & Roots," in Magika Hiera, pp. 138-174
  2. Pliny in Natural History XXV, 10-12 says that the "origin of botany" was closely aligned with magic, and he notes that Medea & Circe were early investigators of plants -- and that Orpheus was the first writer on the subject of botany.
  3. Pyth. 4.177
  4. Agamemnon 1630
  5. Euripides, Alcestis 357ff.
  6. He lacked "the courage to die as Alcestis did for love, choosing rather to scheme his way, living, into Hades. And it was for this that the gods doomed him, and doomed him justly, to meet his death at the hands of women." Plato, Symposus. 179d.
  7. W.K.C Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion, pp. 29ff and 132-143; also see Ivan M. Linforth, The Arts of Orpheus.
  8. Aristotle frag. 191 Rose (3rd ed.) (=pp. 130ff. Ross). Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, pp. 162ff.
  9. The best source book in English containing the texts and fragments about Pythagoras is Cornelia J. de Vogel's Greek Philosophy: A Collection of Texts, vol. 1, Thales to Plato.
  10. Diog. Laert. VIII. 60, 69ff; Putarch. de Curios. Princ. p. 515; Pliny Natural History XXXVI. 27
  11. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, pp. 145-46.
  12. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, pp. 26ff.
  13. Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, pp.23ff.
  14. See Papyri Graecae Magicae, ed. K. Preidendenz et al.
  15. A.D. Nock, "Greek Magical Papyri" in Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 15 (1979): 219-235; See also his "Paul and the Magus", in the Beginnings of Christianity, edited Jackson, pp. 5,171; and the many fine articles on magical themes collected in his Essays on Religion and the Magical World.
  16. E.R. Goodenough. Jewish Symbolism in the Graeco-Roman Period. vol. II, p. 164ff.
  17. On curses see A.E. Crawley, in Encyclopedia of religion and Ethics, 4:367ff.
  18. See C. Bonner, Studies in Magical Amulets.
  19. See Pliny, Natural History, 28:38, 29:66, 30:138.
  20. F.C. Burkitt, Church and Gnosis, pp.35ff.
  21. George Luck. Arcana Mundi, p. 19.
  22. E.R. Dodds, "Supernatural Phenomena in Classical Antiquity," first published in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 55 (1971) and reprinted, with additions, in his book The Ancient Concept of Progress, pp.156ff.
  23. Abraxas, another magical word, is often found on gems. Hocus-pocus appears much later, and its etymology is controversial; some derive it from the pseudo-Latin forumula Hax Pax Max Deus Adimax, which was first used in the Middle Ages by vagrant scholars who performed magic tricks; others see in it a parody of hoc est corpus, 'this is the body,' which is spoken by the priests during Holy Communion. C. Wilson, The Occult, p. 89ff.
  24. C. Wilson, The Occult, p. 106. The pentagram as protection against evil spirits seems to be very old. Reitzenstein, Poimandres, pp. 256ff.
  25. Dodds, The Greek and the Irrational, p.291, quoting from Proclus' Theological Platonism.
  26. Plotinus. Enneads 4.4.26.
  27. Iamblichus. Myst. 3.27.
  28. Lewy, Chaldaen Oracles and Theurgy; and Dodds The Greeks and the Irrational, pp. 283-311. Two good discussions of theurgy in general and of individual Platonists' involvement is found in Gregory Shaw, "Theurgy: Rituals of Unification in the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus," Traditio XLI (1985): 1-28; and in the second half of A. Smith, Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition. Some other helpful discussions of theurgy and magic are: Fritz Graf, "Prayer in Magic and Religious Ritual," in Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion; G. Luck, "Theurgy and Forms of Worship in Neoplatonism," in Religion, Science and Magic: In Concert and in Conflict ed. Jacob Neusner, Ernest S. Frerichs and Paul V.M. Flesher, pp. 185-225; Hans Dieter Betz, gen ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation; Garth Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, passim, but especially Part II; Charles Robert Phillips, "The Sociology of Religious Knowledge in the Roman Empire to A.D. 284," ANRW II.16.3.2677-2773; George Luck, Arcana Mundi, pp. 20-5; Anne Sheppard, "Proclus' Attitude to Theurgy," CQ 32 (1982): 212-14; Michael Winkelmann, "Magic: A Theoretical Reassessment," Current Anthropology XXIII no. 1 (1982): 37-66; A.A. Barb, "The Survival of Magic Arts," in The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century ed. Arnaldo Momigliano, pp. 101ff.
  29. See Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 1:319ff.
  30. R.N. Frye, The Heritage of Persia, p.75ff. On Democritus, L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, pp. 64-67.
  31. Smith, 71ff.
  32. Josephus (Wars II, 261ff; Antiquities XX, 92, 167, 188), for example, dismisses miracle-workers with the term.
  33. In the case of Apollonius of Tyana, the apologetic is presented right at the start. Philostratus, his official biographer, shows that, like philosophers, Apollonius was not afraid to learn about occult subjects, but that he never practiced magic. The emphasis is on becoming wise. Vita Apollonii I:2, compare with I: 26. See also Anitra B. Kolenkow, A Problem of Power: How Miracle Workers Counter Charges of Magic in the Hellenistic World, SBL Seminar Papers (1976) vol. 1, pp. 105-110.
  34. A.A. Barb, in The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, ed. Momigliano, pp. 118-119.
  35. J. Dan, in Encyclopedia Judaica (1971), s.v. "Magic."
  36. Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, p. 129; M. Smith, Jesus the Magician, pp. 45ff.
  37. R. Patai, "Biblical Figures as Alchemists," HUIA 54(1983): pp. 192-229, especially pp. 213-29. Mills, Human Agents of Cosmic Power, pp. 37-48.
  38. Cf. C.C. McCown, ed, The Testament of Solomon.
  39. Josephus, Antiq. Jud. 8.45
  40. See D. Winston, trans., The Wisdom of Solomon, pp. 172ff. The author of this apocryphal book was clearly familiar with Middle Platonism and may have belonged to the circle of Philo of Alexandria. See also, Mills, Human Agents of Cosmic Power, pp. 49-62.
  41. Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, p. 31.
  42. See G. Scholem, in Encylopaedia Judaica (1971), 10:489ff.; G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism;B. Pick, The Cabala.
  43. Seneca, Heracles on Mount Oeta, vv. 449-72.
  44. Senenca, Medea, vv.6-23 and 670-843
  45. Lucan, Pharsalia 6.413-830.
  46. A.D. Nock, in Beginnings of Christianity, vol. 5, ed. F.J.F. Jacson and K. Lake, pp. 164ff.; E.M. Butler, The Myth of the Magus, pp. 66ff.
  47. Arn., Adv. Gent. 1.43.
  48. See Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, p.38.
  49. M. Smith, Jesus the Magician, pp. 150ff; see also Mills, Human Agents of Cosmic Power, pp. 93-108.
  50. ibid., p. 151.
  51. See R.S. Casey, in Beginnings of Christianity, 5:151ff. See also G.N.L. all in Encylopaedia of religion and ethics ( J. Hastings et al, eds.) 11:541ff.;and P. Carrington, The Early Christian Church, 2 vols..
  52. There is a parallel story in Acts 13:6-12. While they were at Paphus, on Cyprus, Paul, John and Barnabas met a Jewish magus and pseudoprophet called Elymas. He was part of the household of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a Roman who was anxious to "hear the word of God." When the Jewish magus tried to influence the Roman proconsul against the Christian missionaries, Paul, "filled with Holy Spirit," looked at him, cursed him, and struck him with blindness, whereupon the proconsul became a believer. This even can be dated within a year or two of CE 45; see Nock, in Beginnings of Christianity, 5:182ff. Nock's discussion of Jewish magi of the period - the role that someone like Elymas might have played in the household of a Roman official, the scene of confrontation between someone in authority, and the fate of a magus beaten at his own game - is still important.
  53. Epiph., Adv. haeres. 6.21.2ff.
  54. Recogn. Clement. 2.15; Homil. Clement. 2.26. These passages are quoted in P.M. Palmer and R.P. More, Sources of the Faust Tradition, p. 16.
  55. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 1:242ff.;T. Whittaker, Apollonius of Tyana and Other Essays; and W.R. Halliday, Folklore Studies, ch. 6.
  56. Pliny, Natural History 2.62; Dodds, The Ancient Concept of Progress, p. 23.
  57. See W.H.S. Jones, in Proceedings of the Cambrdge Philological Society 181 (1950/51): 7-8.
  58. Pliny, 11.250-51.
  59. J.E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 3rd ed.( Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1922), pp. 4ff.
  60. F.E. Brenk, In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes in Plutarch's "Moralia" and "Lives" (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977), p. 59.
  61. Dillon, Middle Platonists, pp. 216ff.
  62. J. Tatum, Apuleius and the Golden Ass (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 28-29; A.D. Nock, Conversion (Oxford: Clarendon press, 1933), pp. 138ff.
  63. Dillon, pp.317ff.
  64. Pliny, Natural History 18.41-43.
  65. Eugene Tavenner, Studies in Magic from Latin Literature, p. 13; and J.E. Lowe, Magic in Greek and Latin Literature.
  66. Liebeschuetz, Continuity and Change, pp. 126-139.
  67. C.H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks; R.M. Grant, Gnosticism: A Source Book.
  68. The Gnostic texts of the Nag Hammadi library shed interesting light on this.
  69. Suda I. 433.4; Cook, Zeus, III, pp.324-44.
  70. Lewy, Oracles, pp. 3-13, 34-43, 60, 461-71, 487-96; Dodds, Irrational, pp. 283-99; Hadot (1978), pp. 703-19.
  71. Dillon, Middle Platonists, pp. 392-6.
  72. Fox, pp. 132-39.
  73. Richard Wallis, Neoplatonism is perhaps the best overview available.
  74. Merlan, in Isis 44 (1953): 341ff.; Armstrong in Phronesis 1 (1955): 73ff.
  75. Cf. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, pp. 278ff.
  76. Linforth, Orpheus, pp. 180-9; Guthrie, Orpheus, pp. 255-9; West, Orphic Poems, pp. 1, 26-37.
  77. Guthrie, Orpheus, pp. 72-6, 137-42; West, Orphic Poems, pp. 68-75, 100-11, 138-9, 174-5, 203, 223-9, 246-64.
  78. Sibylline Oracles 3.635-56; Collins, Oracles, pp. 332, 355-6; Parke, Sibyls, pp. 1-15; Russell, Jews, pp. 36, 105.
  79. Sibylline Oracles 12.187-205; Collins, Oracles, pp. 380-3, 390, 443; Bartlett, Jews, pp. 39-41.
  80. Virgil, Eclogue 4.4; Parke, Sibyls, pp. 14, 51-64, 72-93, 137-47, 190-212.
  81. Parke, Sibyls, pp. 16-18, 144-5, 162-67.
  82. Augustine, Against Faustus 13.1, 2, 15, 17; City of God 18.23; both are cited in Parke, Sibyls, pp. 169-70.
  83. Barb, in The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity, pp. 102ff.
  84. Inscription from the temple of Amun at Hibis: Brugsch, El Khargeh Tfa. xvi.33-4; Davies, Temple of Hibis PL 31 (tr. Boylan, Thoth 83)
  85. Boylan, Thoth 165-72
  86. Acts XIV.11-12; cf. Iam., Myst 1.1.1 and Cyr. 41
  87. Porph. Abst. II.47.1
  88. Versnel, Mnemosyne 27 144-51
  89. Cic., Nat. D. III.56.
  90. P. Graec. Mag. V.400-21; VII. 551-7, 668-85; VIII. 1-52; XVIIb.
  91. P. Graec. Mag. VIII.14-15.
  92. P. Graec. Mag. VIII.2-6, 49-50; V. 246-51
  93. Shorter, in Studies presented to G. Ll. Griffith 130.
  94. Nilson, Opuscula 3.139-140; Bonner, Magical Amulets 24; Tardieu, in Studies presented to Gilles Quispel 412-418.
  95. Casarico, Aegyptus 61(1981) 122-4.
  96. Griffith, Demotic graffiti 17-31.
  97. On the absorption of Thoth-Hermes int the cult of the Egyptian Church in the guise of the archangel Michael see Wortmann, B.J. 166 (1966) 102. Cf. The assimilation of Hermes to Michael common to the Greek world: Lawson, Modern Greek folklore 45. On Hermes as archangel in the pagan tradition see Lewy, Chaldaen Oracles 225 n. 197.
  98. Cyril of Alexandria, Contra Julianum i.548ac.
  99. As it happens, Cyril(Cyr. Al., Jul. VI.812d) draws the parallel, observing that Hermes was of like mind with Moses, 'though he was not correct and above reproach in everything'.
  100. Plato, Phlb. 18b.
  101. Amm. Marc. XXI.14.5.
  102. E.g. Tert, An. II.3 (Silenus, Hermotimus, Orpheus, Musaeus, Pherecydes), XV.5-6 (Orpheus, Empedocles, Protagoras, Apollodorus, Chrysippus); Arn. II.13 (Pythagoras, Plato); Marc. Anc., Eccl. 7,9,16 (plato, Aristotle); Did. Al., Trin. II.27 (orpheus, Plato, Comicus, Porphyry); Aug., Faust. XIII.I, 15 (Sibyls, Orpheus), ep. 234.1 (Orpheus, Agis); Fulg., Mit. III.9 (Orpheus), Exp. Virg. pp. 85.20-86.2 (Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Plato, Chrysippus, Aristotle).
  103. C.H.I and XIII, esp. 3; and c.f. Athenagoras, Legatio XXVIII.6.
  104. Lact., Ira XI.12: long before Plato, Pythagoras and even the Seven Sages; Inst. I.6.3: 'antiquissimus'; Aug., Civ. Dei XVIII.39.
  105. Lact., Inst. I.6.1, VII.13.4.
  106. In connection with the two Hermeses, note also Synesius's assertion, De regno 7 and De providentia I.11, that the Egyptians make double images of Hermes in which an old and a young man stand side by side in order to signify that Hermes is both wise and brave.
  107. Ascl. 37
  108. Hornung, Conceptions of God 143-65.
  109. Ap. Geo. Sync. 72; and cf. Lacqueur, R.E. 14.1100.
  110. C.H. XVI.1-2 and 37-8.
  111. Iam., Myst. VIII.4.265,VIII.5, X.7.
  112. Plato, Tim. 21e ff., Critias 113ab. Like Iamblichus, Plato explains that a certain amount of Greek terminology inevitably creeps into these priestly sources in the course of transmission.
  113. Iam. Myst., I.1.3.
  114. Ap. Geo. Sync. 72-3.
  115. See Scott 3.491-2. Zos. Pan., fr. gr. 230.23-7, asserts that Asenas, the High Priest of Jeruselem, sent Hermes to one of the Ptolemies (presumably Ptolemy II, who ordered the production of the Septuagint) in order to translate Hebrew texts into Greek and Egyptian. This is extremely odd, and anyway rather a remote parallel to pseudo-Manetho.
  116. De Civitate Dei VII, 26
  117. see esp. S.H. xxvi.9, Ascl. 37.
  118. N.F. 3.cxxvi-cxxvii; Griffiths, Plutarch's De Iside 263-4; Ray, Archive of Hor 159.
  119. Gundel 25-7.
  120. Plato, Phdr. 274d; Manetho 105.31. Plato has Thoth reveal all the arts to Ammon (hence Philo of Byblos, fr. I (805.8-10), on texts by Thoth found in temples of Ammon: cf. Baumgarten,Philo of Byblos 77-80); and on this idea C.H. xvi, the Hermetic iatromathematical treatises addressed to Ammon (Phys. med. gr. I.387,430), and Iam. Myst. VIII.5.267 are simple variations. Ps.-Just., Coh. 38, quotes Ammon alongside Hermes on god as 'utterly hidden'; and cf. Syn., Dion 10.
  121. P. Oxy. 1381-230-1 calls Horus the son of Hermes.
  122. Marcus, J.N.E.S. 8 (1940) pp. 40-3.
  123. Scott I, 1-2; Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 1-4, 140-1, 161-213.
  124. Festugiere, HMP, pp. 50-69; Mahe, Hermes II, 22; for the Excerpts of Stobaeus, see NF III-IV; for the Nag hammadi Hermetica, see Parrott, NHC VI, pp. 1-7, 341-51, and Robinson, Library, pp. 321-38; for the Armenian Definitions, see Mahe, Hermes II, pp. 320-406; and for the Vienna fragments, see Mahe (1984).
  125. Clement, Miscellanies 6.4; Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 57-9.
  126. Fraser, Alexandria, I, pp. 435-9; Tester, Astrology, pp. 21-2; Fowden, EH, pp. 91-5.
  127. Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 89-91, 120-6; Wellman (1928), pp. 1-6; cf. Fraser, Alexandria, I, pp. 440-4; Jackson, Zosimos; CH I.15.
  128. Kamaikis, Kyraniden, pp. 1-5, 14-21, 112, 188, 244, 300, 309; Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 87-9.
  129. Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp xvi, 76-9; Copenhaver, pp 76-90; for passages in the Corpus and Asclepius more closely related than most to the theory and practice of magic, see C.H. I.9, 11, 13, 25, 27; II.6; III.2; VII.5; X.14, 22-3; XII. 15-16, XVI; Asclepius 2-6, 23-4, 37-8.
  130. Sambursky, Physics, pp. 1-7, 21-3, 29-44; Lloyd, Science, pp. 27-31, 82-4, 138-42.
  131. Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 98-100.
  132. Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 116-18; Asclepius 23-4, 37-8.
  133. NHC VI.6.56.12-22, 61.4-17; cf. 57.5-25, 63.9-14; Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 97-9.
  134. NHC VI.6.61.4-22; Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 103-5.
  135. Iamblichus, On the Mysteries 8.4.267-5.268; Asclepius 37-8; Betz, Papyri, pp.48-54; Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 82-8, 140-5, 168-71.
  136. NF I, xi-xii, xviii-xix, xlix; Scott IV, 244-6; Fowden,The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 9, 117-8.
  137. Suda, E.3038; Scott IV, 235.
  138. Scott I, 82-6, IV, 243-6; Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, pp. 7-9.
  139. Cyril, Against Julian 548B-C.
  140. NHC VI.6.63.2-3, 7a.65.14; Scott IV, 194-5; Fowden, Egyptian Hermes, pp. 4-6, 97-100, 200; Fox, Pagans, pp. 414-5; C.H. V.1; X.1;XIII.1;XIV.1; Asclepis 1; S.H. III.1, VI.1.
  141. Momigliano, Alien Wisdom, pp. 142-3.
  142. S.H. xxix, avriously attributed to Hermes, Manetho, Empedocles and Theon. The ps.-Orphic Lithica, which were probably first attributed to Orpheus in Byzantium (Halleux, pp. 3103), invokes the authority of Hermes - but the Greek Hermes, son of Maia.
  143. Lucian, Nec., esp 3-6.
  144. Christians liked to needle the philosphers for their lack of 'divina auctoritas': Lact, Inst. III.15.2-5; Aug. Civ. Dei XVIII.41.
  145. John Malalas, In Scott IV, 233.
  146. Brock, 1983, 1984, with some Greek parallels.
  147. On Jewish influences, C.H. Dodd's The Bible and the Greeks is still fundamental. It can be completed with Giles Quispel's "Hermetism and the New Testament, especially Paul"; Birger A. Pearson's "Jewish Elements in Corpus Hermeticum I" in Studies in Gnosticism and Hellenistic Religions, edited by Roelof van den Broek and Maarten J. Vermaseren (Leiden, 1981), pp. 336-348.

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