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The "Secretum Philosophorum"

An English "Dangerous Book for Boys" (c.1300): the seven liberal arts made mechanical.

The "Secretum philosophorum" was a substantial, useful, amusing and popular Latin text, circulated widely in England, where it was probably compiled, most probably c.1300. Ostensibly it is a treatise on the seven liberal arts. In fact it merely uses them as a framework in which to describe and demystify conjouring, party tricks, 'tricks of the trade' and applied sciences. It is a multidisciplinary collection of learning containing a number of extracts or paraphrases from other texts but nevertheless a substantial proportion of the material is not found elsewhere.

Mark Clarke is in the course of preparing an edition, translation, and commentary.


Glasgow University Library, MS Hunter 110, folios 39r-72v.

The first part has just been published:
Clarke, M. 'Writing recipes for non-specialists c.1300: The Anglo-Latin Secretum Philosophorum, Glasgow MS Hunterian 110', in: Sources and Serendipity: Testimonies of Artists' Practice Edited by Erma Hermens and Joyce H Townsend. London: Archetype Publications (2009), pp. 50-64

These extracts from book 1 of the Secretum Philosophorum include recipes for the materials required 'for correct writing': pigments, tempering, adhesives, varnish, writing tablets, artificial pumice, and invisible ink, and for writing on metal. Many are unique, rare, variant or unusually early witnesses to practices, or clarify obscure recipes in other treatises. The instructions appear to be for amateur use.


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Last updated 9 May 2011       Mark Clarke       http://www.clericus.org/secretum.htm