Magic in Pliny the Elder revisited
A. V. Belousov
Russian State University for Humanities (Russia, Moscow), Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences (Russia, Moscow), Lomonosov Moscow State University (Russia, Moscow)
Keywords: Pliny the Elder, Roman religion, Greek religion, ancient magic, iatromagia, history of magic, humanitas
Abstract: The article is devoted to a critical revision of information about the essence, history and content of ancient magic, which Pliny the Elder presents in Books 28 and 30 of his Natural History, as well as to analyzing a number of theoretical and source-study approaches to this information, which have developed to date in modern scholarship. The general reconsideration of Pliny the Elder’s concept of magic is caused, firstly, by the fact that our knowledge of magic and its theoretical underpinnings among the ancients has greatly expanded over the past half century, and, on the other hand, by the fact that in the past few decades the scientific approach to Natural History has greatly changed. Without ceasing to be, as it was for the medieval reader, a wonderful grandmother’s chest from which a variety of things can be obtained for various research purposes, Naturalis Historia became interesting in and of itself, as an opus sui generis. In the article, discussion of magic in Pliny the Elder derives primarily from the philosophical and ideological premises of Natural History itself. The author briefly summarizes Pliny’s information about magic and comes to the conclusion that all that Pliny says about magic (which he treats with undisguised contempt, see his rhetorical attacks on magic in Book 28 and in the essay on the history of magic in Book 30) in essence rests on two firm and interrelated ideas. The first — the obvious primacy and supremacy of Rome over the whole orbis terrarum, and the second — the idea of humanitas, which, like the Platonic Good, emanates from Rome to the whole world subject to it, even to those places where the truly human is practically absent.
To cite this article: Belousov, A. V. (2020). Magic in Pliny the Elder revisited. Shagi/Steps, 6(1), 73–90. DOI: 10.22394/2412-9410-2020-6-1-73-90.