I’m very pleased to announce that our translation of “Picatrix: A Medieval Treatise on Astral Magic” – part of Penn State University Press’ ‘Magic In History’ series – is finally available for pre-order here (Release Date: February 8, 2019)
“So What’s So Special About Your Translation Anyhow?”
We’ve been getting a lot of [completely reasonable] questions regarding our new translation of Picatrix, specifically with respect to how it differs from the English translation which was published some years ago by John Michael Greer and Christopher Warnock, so we’ve put together a list of differences for those who are curious.
Firstly, it must be stated that our version was independently translated, which is to say, it was first translated directly from David Pingree’s 1986 Latin edition without reference to (or “cross-contamination” from) any other modern language translation until well after the first draft was finished by hand back sometime around 2013. On this level alone the text itself offers a different perspective and was produced through different translation philosophies. David Porreca and I are historians and philologists first and foremost, and our work thus takes a different methodological approach than JMG & CW’s translation, which was put together by practicing occultists for practicing occultists. By contrast, our translation was made by medieval historians for medieval historians.
In so far as our formatting is concerned, we’ve designed our translation to be very easy to use as a companion piece to Pingree’s Latin edition (which has been made available for free in PDF form by the Warburg Institute). That is to say, we follow the same paragraph breakdown and numbering systems as Pingree’s critical edition, and we also include page markers which denote what page you’re on relative to the original Latin text.
Since our first draft was written, we have (of course) thoroughly studied all other modern editions, and lifted from them (with all the appropriate citations) all of the most relevant information that served our purposes. For example, JMG and CW’s translation was particularly useful for elucidating the trickier bits of astrological minutiae (in particular the technical terminology), since we acknowledge that CW is unmatched in his practical knowledge of traditional Renaissance astrology. That said, we also buttressed and cross-referenced our work with those editions by Béatrice Bakhouche et al. (French), Paolo Rossi et al. (Italian), Ritter & Plessner (German), David Pingree’s microfiche apparatus criticus (Latin), and numerous books and articles by other specialists like Liana Saif, Charles Burnett, and Nicolas Weill-Parot to produce the most complete and accurate version possible.
Our introduction, translation, and bibliography reflect all the most up-to-date scholarship, of which there has been a great deal since 2011, and much of which is still not available in the English-speaking world. As just one example of what fruits recent scholarship has yielded (with extra special thanks to the Arabic manuscript work of Liana Saif), we have the original text’s author firmly identified as Maslama al-Qurtubi (not Maslama al-Majriti, or Pseudo-Majriti, to whom the Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm has long been traditionally ascribed). Our introduction includes a number of sections (“A Prehistory of the Latin Picatrix,” “A Brief History of the Latin Text,” “On Knowledge, Wisdom, and Self-Legitimacy in the Picatrix,” “On Nigromancia,” “The Cosmology of the Picatrix” “Social History and Material Culture” “Psychoactive and/or Poisonous Substances in the Picatrix” and lastly our “Translators’ Notes” which describe our methodology in detail. Each of these sections is designed to help elucidate and contextualize the text historically and historiographically, and one of these sections even includes an extremely detailed statistical breakdown of all the magical operations contained within the work, along with a number of useful charts and tables. Moreover, our book is fully equipped with an extremely detailed index put together explicitly for research purposes. As is typical for works published by a university press, our translation and introduction have been thoroughly peer-reviewed by a number of respectable scholars in the study of western esotericism.
One of our methodological approaches was to avoid producing (as much as possible) an ahistorical synthetic translation by merging bits and pieces from Arabic textual tradition with the Latin textual tradition, since it is the Latin (and not the Arabic) tradition which was passed on into the West and read by such famous Renaissance magi as Marsilio Ficino, Pico Della Mirandola, and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Though few, there were some passages included from outside texts that made their way into the JMG & CW editions (depending on which version you purchased) which were not part of the Latin Picatrix. These we expressly omitted. Conversely, there are some lesser passages from the Latin edition which they left out, but which we’ve retained (i.e., 3.3.25 to 3.3.33).
As far as ingredient identification is concerned, there are a great number of differences between the two English versions, though – as one would expect from a translation – there is also a great deal of overlap. We believe our translation to be more accurate in this respect, and if there are doubts, you can always check our notes for the more troublesome ingredients, where we provide references to what each other translation proposed to be the correct identification (i.e., if you think we’re wrong, the other interpretations are all cited there).
From a purely aesthetic perspective, our book has a sleek and scholarly look, and comes in a black hardcover with gold script on the spine (along with a lovely dust jacket that you can remove depending on your preference).
Ultimately, we expect that those die-hard readers/users of the Picatrix will avail themselves of numerous editions and make their own choice as to which version is most relevant to them (and we welcome reviews!). We hope the work may also encourage scholars of cultural and intellectual history, as well as the history of medicine and sexuality, to draw upon the copious information available in the Picatrix about many topics, whether magical or not.