Historia Naturalis 30.1–6, translation W. H. S. Jones
The Historia Naturalis (HN) of Gaius Plinius Secundus (b. 23 CE; d. 79 CE) is the oldest extant encyclopaedic work in Latin comprising 37 volumes and 2493 chapters on all aspects of (ancient) knowledge. Its wide scope, consistent reference to sources and comprehensive list of contents in the beginning of the HN made it a model for many later encyclopaedias. The passage presented here stems from the beginning of Book 30, which forms part of a set of twelve books treating botany, pharmacology and medicine (Books 20 to 32) and, in particular, of five books on remedies made from animals (Books 28 to 32).
The excerpt represents the first attested attempt to historicize “magic”. Pliny's historical synopsis suggests, however, that there must have been in circulation more Greek and Latin works about “magic” during the first century CE. Due to the variety of these sources, the text is complex; therefore, we limit ourselves to a few general observations. Pliny claims that “magic” originated from medicine and additionally adopted the powers of “religion” and “astrology” in order to hold “men's emotions in a three-fold bond” (HN 30.1). Taking a closer look at the various “magicians” mentioned in our text, one wonders, however, whether there is a semantic bond that holds them together – he classifies, among others, Zoroaster, mythological figures from Homer (the Sirens, Circe, Teiresias), the Thessalians, Orpheus, Osthanes, Greek philosophers (Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, Plato), Moses and the Jews, and even the Gallic druids as experts in the field.