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Weldon (2015 Congress)

James Weldon
(Department of English Emeritus, Wilfrid Laurier University)
“Magical Anxieties:  Problems with Magic in the Naples Manuscript”

[Published on 30 March 2015]

Abstract of Paper presented at the 2015 International Congress on Medieval Studies
Session on “Magic Sung, Spoken, Inscribed, and Printed”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the Societas Magica
Organized by Frank Klaassen (University of Saskatchewan)

2015 Congress Events Announced and 2015 Congress Events Accomplished

[Published on 30 March 2015]

The Naples Manuscript (Biblioteca Nazionale, MS XIII.B.29) represents a typical fifteenth-century English anthology with its collection of romances, a saint’s life, and medieval recipes.  There are 140 listed items in the recipe collection, but many single entries contain several prescriptions for the same illness, so the number of actual recipes is somewhat higher.  Among the recipes are three charms, and there are several recipes that invoke simple homeopathic magic (like produces like), for the most part, and while these charms and recipes rely on supernatural effects or interventions, tensions arise with respect to the nature of the magic evoked.  How, for example, were charms meant to be written, or to function when there are errors in the writing?  Are certain words “realist” while others “nominalist”?  Are some words essential for the efficacy of the charm while others might be accidental?  Are these charms at all or are they really prayers to the saints listed?  Also, some recipes which have not been recognized as charms nevertheless mask the charm-creating ingredient as just another material component, like the date stone of the first recipe in the collection, to be shaved and mixed with wine.  But the date stone, embedded in the “flesh” of the fruit, comes to symbolize the child hidden in its mother’s womb which the “recipe” seeks to bring about in successful birth.  Other recipes come from a Gallenic tradition and therefore seem medically legitimate (a broad category in medieval medicine), yet they, too, often mask a sympathetic magic, as when female patients are enjoined to use the sap of the female green ash tree and males to use the sap of the male.

This manuscript appears just before the early modern period in England when such magical remedies were often crossed out in manuscript collections as the climate of disapproval concerning medieval superstition spread, yet in the Naples manuscript they occur unmolested, although they are often masked as in the example above, or “enhanced” – that is, the charm is concurrent with another non-magical recipe.  There is a thin line between the manuscript’s embrace of magic and its attempts to modify or re-present it.  My paper explores these anomalies and suggests a late medieval anxiety about “magical” medicine.

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2 thoughts on “Weldon (2015 Congress)

  1. […] 3. James Weldon (Department of English and Film Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University) ‘Magical Anxieties: Problems with Magic in Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS XIII.B.29’ Abstract of Paper […]

  2. […] 3. James Weldon (Department of English and Film Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University) ‘Magical Anxieties: Problems with Magic in Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS XIII.B.29’ Abstract of Paper […]