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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Rooms 8 & 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Thursday, 29 November, 2018 - 17:15 to 18:45

External speaker:
Dr Emily Selove, Lecturer of Medieval Arabic Language and Literature, University of Exeter

Presented as part of the Middle Eastern Studies Seminar Series

Free and open to all

Handbooks like that ascribed to the famous 13th-century scholar of language and magic, Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī’s Kitāb al-Shāmil wa-baḥr al-kāmil, do not themselves invite literary readings. This grimoire often displays all the literary charms of an ungrammatical cookbook; it is a technical manual—a mixed collection of magical recipes and rituals. It includes instructions for creating talismans, for contacting both jinn and devils, for causing hatred and sickness, for curing such magically caused afflictions, and for calling upon the power of each of the planets. As for previous research on Sakkaki, such studies tend to center on his influential book on language and rhetoric, Miftāḥ al-‘ulūm (The Key to the Sciences), often ignoring his reputation as a magician. Nevertheless, early biographical literature credited him with the power to, for example, strike cranes down in mid flight with a magical inscription. I will argue that both Sakkaki’s linguistic and magical interests show his fascination with the power of language. The power of language to alter the mind or create effects in the physical world is described as a kind of bewitchment in occult literature as well as in studies of language, not to mention in love poetry, and my own strategy in approaching magical texts is to read them with the techniques applied to poetry. I will also discuss some evidence of the practise of magic today, focusing on a mysterious 6-folio fragment of spells in Yale’s Beinecke library.

Emily Selove (PhD UCLA 2012) is a lecturer of Medieval Arabic literature at the University of Exeter. Her illustrated translation of Al-Khatīb al-Baghdādī’s book of party-crashing is titled Selections from the Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq (Syracuse University Press, 2012). She is also the author of Hikayat Abi al-Qasim: A Literary Banquet (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), a study of another 11th-century book of party-crashing, and she has published articles on the history of medicine.

Dr Charis Olszok, Dr Assef Ashraf:
Dr Charis Olszok, Dr Assef Ashraf: