Brian Copenhaver, professor of philosophy and history and former provost of UCLA’s College of Letters and Science, is publishing two books about the scholarly underpinnings of magic. Copenhaver studies magic and related beliefs and practices — astrology, demonology, divination, Kabbalah — as parts of normative philosophy and science as they were a few centuries ago. His research shows that magic and other occult beliefs and practices were supported primarily by the philosophy and science of Aristotle and Aristotelian scholasticism, which dominated European culture from the 13th through 17th centuries.
Published earlier this month, “Magic in Western Culture: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment” (Cambridge University Press) traces the history of the beliefs and practices called “magic,” starting in ancient Iran, Greece, and Rome and evolving to its crucial Christian phase in the Middle Ages. Centering on the Renaissance and Marsilio Ficino, whose work on magic was the most influential account written in pre-modern times, the book treats magic as a classical tradition with foundations that were distinctly philosophical. Copenhaver’s story of magic also features Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus, Aquinas, Agrippa, Pomponazzi, Porta, Bruno, Campanella, Descartes, Boyle, Leibniz, and Newton, to name only a few of the prominent thinkers discussed in the book.
“The Book of Magic: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment” (Penguin Classics) will be published on March 8. An anthology edited by Copenhaver, it features writers as various as Thomas Aquinas, John Milton, John Dee, Ptolemy and Paracelsus along with anonymous ancient and medieval works which, as the publisher describes them, were in some cases “viewed as simply too dangerous even to open …. This is a book filled with incantations, charms, curses, summonings, cures and descriptions of extraordinary, shadowy, only half-understood happenings from long ago.”
Learn more about Copenhaver and his work in this interview published by 3:AM Magazine.