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Persian Magoi and the birth of the term ‘magic’

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Chapter Summary

The practice of magic probably goes back several millennia, but the origin of the term has its roots in ancient Greece. This origin was investigated in a famous article by Arthur Darby Nock in 1933. His reputation is probably the cause of the fact that no contemporary investigation into magic has taken trouble to see whether his views can be improved upon. When origin of Greek terms magos and mageia is mentioned, scholars invariably refer to Nock. Yet a closer look at Nock's article reveals that he did not collect all available evidence and that his views on Iranian religion are outdated; moreover important new evidence has been discovered both on Iranian and Greek fronts since the appearance of his study. This chapter reviews these evidences, and focuses on the period before the arrival of Alexander the Great.

Keywords: ancient Greece; Arthur Darby Nock; Iranian religion; mageia; magic; magoi; Persian king



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