Porreca (2021 Congress)

David Porreca
(Department of Classics, University of Waterloo)

“Introducing the Picatrix:
The Prologue’s Balancing Act between Content and Perception”

Hermes Trismegistus. Frontispiece image (Lyons, 1669) via Wikimedia Commons and Wellcome Images (Wellcome_L0000980).

Hermes Trismegistus. Frontispiece image (Lyons, 1669) via Wikimedia Commons and Wellcome Images.

Abstract of Paper
To be presented at the 56th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2021)

Session on “Prologues in Medieval Texts of Magic, Astrology, and Prophecy”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence (for the 2020 Congress)
Co-Sponsored by the RGME and the Societas Magica (for the 2021 Congress)

Organized by Vajra Regan

(Session Rescheduled from the cancelled 2020 Congress, and partly Rearranged for the 2021 Congress
For example, compare the Abstract for the Paper which David intended for the 2020 Congress:  Porreca (Congress 2020))

2020 Congress Program

2021 Congress Program Planning



The astral magic text known as Picatrix was the target of substantial opprobrium by many of the intellectual luminaries of the 15th–17th centuries, including François Rabelais, Symphorien Champier, Gabriel Naudé, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and Johannes Hartlieb.  Although some made profitable use of the text within their own work, they were so concerned about the cloud of controversy surrounding the text that they rarely (if ever) mentioned it by name.  (Examples are Marsilio Ficino in De vita libri tres; and the frescos by Cosimo Tura and Francesco del Cossa of allegorical scenes of the Zodiac at the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara). Moreover, the text was popular enough to survive in seventeen complete manuscripts between the 15th and the 17th centuries (in addition to multiple abridged or fragmentary versions), yet it never appeared in print until the 20th century.

The potential for controversy surrounding the text was also known to its original author Maslama bin Qāsim al-Qurṭubī (died 353 AH / 964 CE) and its subsequent translators (into Spanish, 1250’s; thence into Latin, later 13th century). Indeed, the text’s prologue strikes a delicate balancing act between providing the reader with an authentic reflection of its contents vs. trying to allay the negative reaction to said contents that could be expected from an insufficiently prepared readership.

This paper will explore the rhetorical devices, as well as the historical, theological, philosophical, and factual claims made therein, and discuss how that assemblage presents an accurate — yet almost completely whitewashed — picture of the text as a whole. For the most part, the Picatrix falls well beyond the window of acceptable discourse of the 10th–17thcenturies, and its prologue offers a vigorous attempt to distract the reader from that fact.



Now available:

Picatrix:  A Medieval Treatise on Astral Magic, translated with an Introduction by Dan Attrell and David Porreca, based on the Latin edition by David Pingree.  Magic in History Series (University Park, Pennsylvania:  The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019).  The Prologue to the Picatrix stands on pages 37–38.

The Book Signing at the 2019 Congress. The Translators Dan Attrell and David Porreca sign their new book. Photography Mildred Budny.

The Book Signing at the 2019 Congress. Photography Mildred Budny.


We thank David for his many contributions to Research Group activities over the years.

See, for example, the Abstracts for