- The Routledge History of Medieval Magic ed. by Sophie Page and Catherine Rider
Middle Ages, history of magic, medieval studies, musicology, art history, history of science, literary studies, Scholasticism, astrology, necromancy, superstition, natural philosophy, hermeticism, with trials
The study of magic in the medieval period has expanded tremendously over the last thirty-plus years, ever since Richard Kieckhefer's Magic in the Middle Ages appeared in 1989. Thanks to Kieckhefer and a number of other scholars—many represented in this volume—the study of magic in the medieval period has become increasingly important to the histories of science, medicine, religion, and politics, and also to literary studies, and to the scholarship of visual and material culture. The new Routledge History of Medieval Magic, which contains three dozen essays on different aspects of magic in this period, reflects the current state of the field and offers both a useful overview of recent scholarship and a basis for further interventions in the field. The volume is organized around five sections: key research methods and concepts; different linguistic (and cultural) traditions of magic and their dissemination; [End Page 452] genres of magical writing and key figures; thematic approaches ("Magic and …"); and antimagical discourses. The essays cohere around the period from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, from when texts in Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew became available in Latin and European vernacular languages, through the entrenchment of magic as a subject for courtly discourse and the lecture hall, until the rise in both hermeticism and persecutions for witchcraft by the end of the fifteenth century. The geographic scope goes beyond western and central Europe to include texts and traditions from Scandinavia, eastern Europe, and Celtic lands. However, the Byzantine and early Ottoman Empires and al-Andalus largely appear only as sources of texts and translations, re-inscribing the field's historical narrative about the introduction of foreign texts into its historiography.
Nevertheless, if the lacunae and silences in this volume direct the way to new themes or approaches, the scope of the essays in the volume demonstrates the richness of the topic and the abundance of recent research. Many of the essays will be valuable for those wanting an entré into a particular topic, either for themselves or for teaching (Stephen Marrone's essay on natural philosophy and magic and Peter Murray Jones and Lea Olsan's essay on medicine and magic are two sterling examples). The first section, on methodology and terminology, is a valuable tool for understanding different approaches to the subject and how to frame and answer research questions. Richard Kieckhefer, Claire Fanger, Bernd-Christian Otto, and David D'Avray each contributed an essay on key concepts and methods, and then responded to one another's chapters in a final roundtable essay. Kieckhefer and Fanger both explore the elasticity and ambiguity inherent in the word "magic"; Kieckhefer argues in favor of more precise terms referring to practices, such as divination and conjuration, while Fanger asserts that the ambiguity of the term "magic" is exactly what makes it a useful tool to talk about a set of problems in this period that require explanation. Otto echoes Kieckhefer's call to precision, but turns to learned magical texts (in the Latin tradition) for the terms he uses. D'Avray suggests that historians' categories, rather than actors' categories, are necessary to analyze and reveal new areas of affinity or rupture among practices and beliefs. This section alone is a wonderful resource for the researcher hoping to find crisply articulated methodological positions or the teacher guiding her students through multiple approaches to exploring complex historical phenomena.
The rest of the essays offer expansive overviews of different aspects of the history of magic and draw attention to historiography and directions for further study, and all have extensive notes that will be of use to scholars using these essays as a starting point for their own research. The importance of a few [End Page 453] of these topics to the history of magic may not be immediately evident, so their inclusion...