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Babylonian Stories and the Ancient Novel: Magi and the Limits of Empire in Iamblichus’ Babyloniaka

From the book Cultural Crossroads in the Ancient Novel

  • Catherine Connors


This paper compares Iamblichus’ representation of Mesopotamia to Greek and Latin historical and geographical discourse about Mesopotamia. Magi and their powers are a regular part of Greek and Latin geographical and historical discourse about Mesopotamia. Against this historical background, Iamblichus’ narrator claims some expertise in the arts of the Magi, and the powers of the Magi were referred to explicitly and, I argue, implicitly throughout the novel. The non-fiction historical narratives of Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus, Pliny and Arrian, offer an essentialized view of what being a magus entails - you either are born one or you are not. By contrast, in Iamblichus’ Babylonian landscapes, the knowledge of the Magi is something that can be acquired even if one is not born into it. Iamblichus creates a Babylonian world where those who pay attention can use their knowledge to make things come out the way they want, at least for a while.

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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