Brian Copenhaver’s hefty anthology of some three-thousand-odd years of writing on magic is wide-ranging, bracingly independent-minded and deliciously erudite. The book is arranged in chronological order and divided into eleven sections, and it gathers together the better part of two hundred short texts – many of them freshly translated by Copenhaver, a professor of philosophy at UCLA – starting with the Old Testament. He moves on to ancient Greece and Rome, and then, via the Middle Ages and the early modern period, to the first stirrings of the Enlightenment in the later 17th century with the likes of Newton’s furious rival and enemy, Leibniz.
Some of the biggest guns in the Western intellectual canon are here. They include Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero, Pliny, St Augustine, Aquinas and Bacon, as well as the master poets – Virgil, Dante and, in a chapter devoted mainly to the supernatural in the English Renaissance, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson and