On Magic: Part 1

On Magic: Part 1 : An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistle 52


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The Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity), the anonymous adepts of a tenth-century esoteric fraternity based in Basra and Baghdad, hold an eminent position in the history of science and philosophy in Islam due to the wide reception and assimilation of their monumental encyclopaedia, the Rasa'il Ikhwan al-Safa (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity). This compendium contains fifty-two epistles offering synoptic accounts of the classical sciences and philosophies of the age; divided into four classificatory parts, it treats themes in mathematics, logic, natural philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, and theology, in addition to didactic fables. The Rasa'il constitutes a paradigmatic legacy in the canonization of philosophy and the sciences in mediaeval Islamic civilization, as well as having shown a permeating influence in Western culture. This is the fifth volume in a series presenting the very first critical edition of the Rasa'il in its original Arabic, complete with the first fully annotated English translation. Epistle 52: On Magic is the last in the corpus, and presents the short version of the 'Epistle on Magic, Incantations, and the Evil Eye'. Within its pages the authors of the epistle argue for the legitimacy of magic and the other occult sciences, and seek confirmation of their views in authorities as diverse as Plato, the Qur'an, the Torah, the astrologer Abu Ma'shar, and the mysterious sect of pagan star-worshippers known as the Sabians of Harran. As in all other volumes of the series, this volume provides the first critical edition of the Arabic text, together with an English translation and a substantial range of notes. An extensive introduction highlights the unique relevance of this treatise within the framework of the Brethren's encyclopaedia itself, and to the history of science in general.

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Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 154.94 x 236.22 x 27.94mm | 680.39g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English, Arabic
  • Annotated
  • Bilingual
  • 0199638950
  • 9780199638956
  • 1,666,931

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Author Information

Godefroid de Callatay is Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the University of Louvain, Belgium. He has specialised in the history of Arabic sciences and philosophy and is the author of numerous articles and books on the Brethren of Purity, including his French translations of Epistles 7, 28, and 36, and his latest volume: Ikhwan al-Safa': A Brotherhood of Idealists on the Fringe of Orthodox Islam, for the 'Makers of the Muslim World' series (Oxford: Oneworld, 2005). In addition, he is also directing a project on Arabic and Latin encyclopaedias of the Middle Ages at the University of Louvain. Having first embarked on a Civil Engineer career shich led him to work for many years in Arab countries of the Middle-East, Bruno Halflants joined the University of Louvain in 1995, where he obtained the Master degree in Arabic and Islamic studies. Established there as a scientific research worker, in 2007 he published an extensive grammar of Middle Arabic, supported by an original edition of the oldest known manuscript of one of the longest tales from the Thousand and One Nights. He has more recently joined the IIS Ikhwan project in order to prepare the critical edition of both the short and the long versions of Epistle 52 of the Brethren of Purity.

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Review quote

The publications that are planned within this project will no doubt rekindle the interest of scholars and students of Islam in Islam's rich cultural, educational and historical legacy ... The work of the Ikhwan al-Safa, like many other works that make up the classical Muslim educational thought, need to be seriously studied and reflected upon. This new publication project contributes immensely towards realizing this educational aim. Abdullah Sahin, Muslim World Book Review - about Epistles of the Brethren of Purity series The editors and translators of this short epistle on magic have provided a model of careful and thorough scholarship applied to a difficult and esoteric text. Emilie Savage-Smith, Times Literary Supplement

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