Nashimiron wrote:Anyway, here is a question for the class. Look at this image and the caption below it (from Skinner's book) and tell us who is illustrated in the image
This is Besas (or Bes, Besa) according to Preisendanz; or at a guess it might be the headless one? there’s a nice image in vol. I of Preisendanz’ work that’s a bit similar:http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/heidhs3763IIA-51bd1/0448
Nashimiron wrote:I'm amazed that even his thesis contains the assertion that the very absence of the circle in the PGM means it can be taken for granted. I thought when you write a PHD thesis you are supposed to have water-tight arguments supported by textual evidence, but here he is just making stuff up, and even stating that he is doing so. Maybe it has something to do with him living in Singapore and his PHD coming from Newcastle. I know universities get a lot of money for study abroad students.
It's Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, which has a campus in Singapore. I don't think Australian universities demand a viva voce with an academic opponent, so he would have been examined on the written research alone and the outcome rests on the knowledge of his supervisors.(who do not have a lot of experience in the history of magic so far as I can tell).
There are all sorts of problems with the thesis in my opinion. The troubling thing is that Skinner’s confirmation bias runs through the whole dissertation. He either ignores or glosses over evidence that undermines his argument. One of the things he ignores is the assertion made by Jean-Patrice Boudet (professor of medieval history at the University of Orléans and general editor of the Micrologus “Salomon Latinus” book series), presented in two of the works listed in Skinner’s bibliography, that the Latin Clavicula Salomonis probably emerged in the second half of the thirteenth century and that copies were known to be in Italian libraries at the beginning of the fifteenth (see Boudet’s Entre Science et Nigromance
(2006), 354-357 for example). It’s relevant to his thesis but I think Skinner ignored it (just as in the same way he quickly dismisses the other late medieval magical works attributed to Solomon) because it’s inconvenient. In light of Boudet’s dating it becomes possible that the Clavicula Salomonis and the Hygromanteia could well have emerged in parallel, or even worse for Skinner’s argument, the Clavicula Salomonis is the earlier of the two texts and could have influenced the Hygromanteia instead of the other way round.
All Skinner can offer by way of an alternative earlier dating is his weak and jejeune argument that because a mid-fifteenth century copy of the Hygromanteia shares its title (Apotelesmatike Pragmateia) with a seventh-century work of the same name then it must be descended from the earlier text. Even though all the known versions of the seventh-century work, attributed to Stephanos of Alexandria, deal with astrology and not ritual magic. Then, without any real evidence Skinner suggests that a magical text might also have existed and so based on no more than speculation claims Stephanos as the author of the Hygromanteia. What’s extraordinary is that he goes on to say he will withdraw the claim only if someone offers “a better candidate for authorship” (“Magical Techniques and Implements [etc]” thesis, 114). In other words he seems to think it’s not for him to prove he’s right, it’s for others to prove he’s wrong. Not only that, he also expects them to identify the author of an anonymous manuscript.
It’s an odd thing to find in a thesis at this level and for me reads more like the declamation of a petulant undergraduate than a doctoral candidate. He’s used the same obstinate tactic again at the end of his introduction to the recent John Dee’s Spiritual Diaries
(2011): it’s clear that it’s not enough for him that Egil Asprem and other critics of his work have proved that Thomas Rudd couldn’t have written the “Enochian tables” manuscript, he now says he wants an “alternative and viable name” before he’d reconsider his position (op. cit. p 35). It’s pathetically evasive and he hasn’t helped his case by citing two pieces of spurious evidence in support of his “Thomas” claim. I’d reconsider my
position if Skinner can provide chapter and verse for the two pieces of “evidence” (by which I mean something other than quoting his own books as if they’re the final word on the matter), but I already know he can’t, because I already know they are spurious.
On the subject of citing evidence I was surprised to notice, without looking too hard, instances in Skinner’s thesis where he failed to properly reference or source statements he made. He’s done this before but it’s one thing finding it in his self-published books, quite another in a doctoral thesis where academic integrity is a factor and failing to acknowledge sources can more readily give rise to accusations of plagiarism. Here’s just one example: at p 94 of the thesis he refers to a letter by “G. G. I. E. of Antwerp”; both this and the information in note 343 are taken from Eileen Reeves’ “Occult Sympathies and Antipathies: The Case of Early Modern Magnetism” in Wolfgang Detel and Claus Zittel (eds), Wissenideale und Wissenkulturen in der Frühen Neuzeit
(Berlin 2002) 97-114 (see 101–102), but Skinner doesn’t credit Reeve’s article in his notes, nor is it listed in his bibliography. There are others and this type of thing should really have been spotted by his supervisors, as should the inconsistencies scattered throughout the thesis. There’s also his misrepresentation of something written by Ronald Hutton. Skinner mentions Hutton’s dividing of the evolution of western ritual magic into three periods, the second of which (15th-16th centuries) is “grimoire magic derived from the hygromanteia” (“Magical Techniques and Implements”, 35). The thing is, Hutton doesn’t actually say this and particularly he doesn’t mention the hygromanteia. He does write about a Byzantine Greek influence in this period, but only with reference to the translation into Latin of the Corpus Hermeticum and the rediscovered works of Plato and the Neoplatonists, and their influence on Ficino, Agrippa, Bruno, etc; magical manuscripts only receive a couple of brief sentences (Hutton, Witches, Druids and King Arthur
(2003) 173-191). It must have served Skinner’s purpose to pretend that Hutton had written something that agreed with his own theory, but we’re back to confirmation bias again, only this time with added misrepresentation.
There’s much more I could say about the issues I found with the thesis, but I’ve labored the point enough. I will just add something that made me laugh out loud when I read it. It’s the spell at p 343 of Skinner’s thesis supposedly taken from a sixteenth century manuscript in the British Library (“Make a drawing of Besa on your left hand …”). Skinner’s source was C.J.S. Thompson’s Mysteries of Magic
(1927), a broad and not very reliable book which can be frustrating. I remember once spending hours searching through microfilms of different manuscripts for the source of something he quoted. This spell on the other hand is an easy find: it’s not from a manuscript at all, instead it’s copied from E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic
(1899) p 216. You can tell Budge was Thompson’s source because the text is identical and he copied Budge’s typo, “blood of a cow” instead of “blood of a crow”. So, Budge translated the spell from British Museum Papyrus 122, and from there it’s easy enough to find the text in Greek Papyri in the British Museum
(vol. 1, 1893) 118-119, Preisendanz’ Papyri Graecae Magicae
(vol 2, 1931) 48-9, and finally Betz (PGM VIII, 64-110), which Skinner does mention in a different part of his dissertation. Egyptian Magic
is in Skinner’s bibliography and I don’t know why he didn’t make the connection, especially because PGM VII 222-249 and VIII 64-110 cross reference each other. More to the point, if Skinner really believed there was a 16th century manuscript in the British Library containing this spell, why he didn’t try to track down the original? He calls it an “extraordinary survival” and yet lacked the intellectual curiosity to look for it. Or maybe he did, found it came from Wallis Budge after all but decided to leave the claims about this non-existent 16th century manuscript in his thesis because it helped support his arguments about the survival of these texts. Either way it doesn't reflect well on him. Or his supervisors for that matter.
Anyway, I'll stop here because I've come full circle: the image you posted appears at the end of PGM VIII. I've gone on for long enough and it's not as if Skinner will care about it. After all, I'm just the latest anonymous, nitpicking critic!