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Picatrix: The Latin Version of the Ghayat al-Hakim.

David Pingree's edition of the Latin Picatrix marks the final stage of a project inaugurated by the Warburg Institute in 1933, with Helmut Ritter's edition of the famous Arabic magical text attributed falsely to Maslama al-Majriti. First translated into Spanish and then Latin under the patronage of Alfonso X el Sabio, the Picatrix, as is well known, became a powerful force in occidental magic during the Renaissance, influencing such diverse figures as Marsilio Ficino and Francois Rabelais. Pingree's edition of this text marks the legitimation of the so-called occult sciences as a serious field of scholarly studies, taken alongside such other recent works as the edition of al-Kindi's De radiis by M.-Th. d'Alverny and F. Hudry (1974), and the edition of Albertus Magnus' Speculum astronomiae by Paola Zambelli et alii (1977).

Pingree's scholarship has at least one quality lacking in previous researchers of the Picatrix. He combines the skills of a classical philologist with those of the Arabist and Sanskritist. These linguistic skills, along with his long immersion in the history of astronomy and astrology, put him in an unusually capable position as expositor of the Picatrix. Thus, in a series of seminal articles including (among others) "Some of the Sources of the Ghayat al-Hakim" (JWCI 43 |1980~: 15) and "Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic" (JWCI 82 |1989~: 1-13), Pingree has been able to make a number of hitherto unsuspected associations between the Indian and Arabic magical traditions.

Equally important is his argument in the former article that the type of celestial magic prescribed by the Picatrix, in which detailed astrological rules are combined with the ancient practice of vivifying a statue by drawing down "a god or demon to inhabit a statue," does not significantly predate al-Kindi. The latter's treatise De radiis appears therefore to be an innovative combination of catarchic astrology with the magical technique of telestike described for example in the Chaldaean Oracles of Julian the Theurgist.

Pingree's work on the Picatrix has also led him to make a pioneering study of the spread of Arabo-Latin magic in the medieval West. His article, "The Diffusion of Arabic Magical Texts in Western Europe" (in La diffusione delle scienze islamiche nel medioevo europeo |Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1987~, 57-102), tries to locate the principal loci of magical research in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. This is an essential first step toward the contextualizing of magic in Europe. One hopes that Pingree's efforts will be followed by exhaustive studies of the role of magic in such medieval courts as those of Alfonso el Sabio and Frederick II.

Pingree's edition of the Picatrix is a beautiful piece of work, in which the resources of the Warburg Institute were used to their maximum potential. It is of course regrettable that the apparatus criticus had to be consigned to microfiches located at the back of the book, but given the financial exigencies associated with the contemporary production of Latin texts, it is hardly surprising. The scholarly world--both Arabic and Latin--should eagerly await the second volume of Pingree's enterprise, which will contain a study of the Picatrix's influence, along with the extant Italian, French, and English versions of the text.
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Author:Newman, William R.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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