A Sorcerer’s Handbook: Medieval Arabic Magic in Context

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Needed to Participate in “Sorcerer’s Handbook” Project

https://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BUH360/postdoctoral-research-fellow

The Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter wishes to recruit a Postdoctoral Research Fellow to participate in “A Sorcerer’s Handbook: Medieval Arabic Magic in Context,” awarded to Dr Emily Selove. This Leverhulme Trust funded post is available 01/11/2019. The successful applicant will transcribe and create draft translations of manuscripts of Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī’s Arabic grimoire, write scholarly articles about this subject, and aid the PI in editing a co-authored volume of essays about Sakkākī’s work.

Kitāb al-Shāmil (The Book of the Complete) is a technical manual containing a mixed collection of magical recipes and rituals. It includes instructions for creating talismans, for controlling jinn and devils, for causing sickness, for curing such magically-caused afflictions, and for calling upon the power of each of the planets. The power of God and phrases from the Qur’an are frequently invoked, but the texts in this collection claim to originate from famous Greek thinkers like Ptolemy and Hippocrates. Such Arabic texts concerned with astrological matters as well as the hidden properties of objects in the natural world were influential on European literary and scientific traditions. The translation of the title as The Book of the Complete is informed by a reading of the compiler’s introduction, which refers to the “perfect” scholars of the ancient world on which it purports to base its information, hence, “The book of the Perfect/Complete person”; it is possible that the title is a play on the similarly-titled 11th century book of magic al-Shāmil fī al-baḥr al-kāmil (Complete book of the Perfect Sea) by al-Ṭabasī.

Previous research on Sakkākī tends to centre on his influential book on language, Miftāḥ al-‘ulūm (The Key to the Sciences), often ignoring his reputation as a magician. Nevertheless, early biographical literature indeed credited him with the power to, for example, strike cranes down in mid flight with a magical inscription. Both Sakkākī’s linguistic and magical interests show his fascination with the power of language, and these interests will inform the literary style of translation of Sakkākī’s mysterious grimoire.

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