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  • Ritual Healing: Magic, Ritual and Medieval Therapy from Antiquity until the Early Modern Period ed. by Ildikó Csepregi and Charles Burnett
  • Julien Véronèse
Ildikó Csepregi and Charles Burnett, eds. Ritual Healing: Magic, Ritual and Medieval Therapy from Antiquity until the Early Modern Period. Micrologus’ Library, no. 48. Florence: Sismel, 2012. 221 pp. Ill. €45.00 (978-88-8450-443-2).

This volume is the fruit of a colloquium organized at the Warburg Institute in 2006. It includes a set of nine contributions that centers around the theme of ritual healing and embraces a vast chronological field—from the antiquity to the sixteenth century. At the same time, the essays travel through a large number of cultural and religious universes and are based on an important variety of sources.

In the first chapter, Siam Bhayro, using the Biblical episode of Saül’s cure by David’s lyre, uses archeological evidence to study the belief in a therapeutic and painkilling effect of music in antiquity. Gideon Bohak’s chapter deals with a formula of exorcism preserved in a magical fragment of the Cairo Genizah. [End Page 142] This document in Hebrew, dated from the eleventh century, actually preserves in reality older material, as shown by the limited use of the Aramaic and the voces magicae. The formula, intended to drive back the attacks of evil spirits by using divine names, is incomplete (p. 51); but it can convincingly be compared with the older exorcism (AD 50–70) of a Qumran scroll (11Q11) which keeps exorcistic psalms attributed to David and maybe also to Solomon. So here is a remarkable case of continuity between Antiquity and the Middle Ages, even if we do not really know its ways.

Vivian Nutton examines a manuscript, “Liber sapientie artis medicine,” kept in the Apostolic Library of the Vatican, produced in Bologna, and dated from the middle of the fourteenth century. In this text, medicine is considered as knowledge revealed to Noah through the archangel Raphaël to cure the illnesses caused by men’s sins. Noah’s book, transmitted to his son Shem, is afterward at the root of a medicine tinged with magic and astrology among nations, until, after a long period of eclipse, the art is brought back to life under the authority of Hippocrates and the founding members of the various Greek schools. If the passage on Hippocrates and the Greek founding fathers is borrowed from a late antique Ars medicinae to be found in several medieval manuscripts, the first part dedicated to the revelation and to the distribution of the art finds its origin in the prologue of a Hebrew book of medicine, the Book of Asaph (p. 59). To a greater extent, the theme of the revelation is not without a link with Jewish eschatologic literature (I Enoch) as well as Jewish magic literature (from late antique Sefer ha-Razim to medieval Sefer Raziel).

The following two contributions are dedicated to healing practices commonly used in the Greco-Roman world. Árpad M. Nagy looks at magical gems with the power to cure; his article shows that the definition of these gems given by archaeologists (based on three criteria: presence of magical names, magical signs, and non-standard iconographic types) is too wide or too narrow and must be reviewed in light of textual sources. Maria Elena Gorrini devotes her chapter to the subject of statues invested with healing virtue (in particular against fevers). If the first attested cases in the Greek world go back to the sixth century (BC) and, according to a recurring pattern, concern statues of perfect, victorious, and almost divine athletes (Thaegenes of Thasus, Euthymos and Euthykles of Lokroi, etc.) whose therapeutic function is recognized within the framework of a worship in the Roman world, in particular in Asia Minor in the second century (AD), the heroes are warriors (Hektor, Protesilaos).

The dream, through which the contact with the spiritual sphere takes place, is also one of the main media of the miraculous cure in Antiquity as well as in the medieval period. In this case, its production is requested by a rite of incubation, “the practice of sleeping in a sacred place...


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