Main Article Content

Caterina Agostini


This paper considers some reflections on healing, witchcraft and magic in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, published around AD 77-79. As scholars of Classical antiquity, we find ourselves dealing with authors’ different ideas about reality and the consistency of truth and belief  in our understanding of life sciences, ancient medicine included. Representations of real, unreal or imagined experiences affected the Roman perception of differences and cultural specificity whenever  detailed magico-religious formulae came to the knowledge of Roman people from what Greece and Asia considered to be medical lore. A definition of science and its borders arises from the Natural History’s attitude in presenting knowledge and introducing the readership to the study of nature. Herbal recipes that he reports and are no longer knowable by any other means often enrich our ability to comprehend how man was considered to be the microcosm, that is, a miniature of the universe. This also serves the purpose of political propaganda, presenting the Roman Empire as the social milieu capable of giving people products from distant lands, as well as knowledge one might need and desire. I will explore the way in which magic is fully explored in the first encyclopaedia in the ancient world, Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, that is to say, the Encyclopaedia Britannica of his day, for which purpose Book XXX, starting with a preamble about magic arts, is particularly interesting, as well as Book VII on anthropology. From these sources, we learn that magical observation and actions tend to mirror nature. Therefore, interacting with nature is ruled either by analogy or by contrast actions to achieve a desired effect. There is more than just a repository of knowledge. Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, an influential textbook for over fifteen centuries, shaped the learning contents and methods leading to the way we perceive science and non-science even today.

Article Details

Conference papers