I’ve had a personal revelation about the nature of magicians after having read Jon Sherman’s dissertation, The Magician in Medieval Literature. Previously, when my thoughts turned to wizardry foremost on my mind was the spells associated with them. But by associating raw sorcery and spells to wizards seems like defining the quality of a scholar by how many guns they own. “I own a shotgun, three pistols, and a flame thrower…see how smart I am?”
The sorcerer in Medieval history is a blurring of the sciences and magic. Literature from the dark ages and all the way through Tolkien saw wizards as learned sages and wise men. Chemistry and astronomy derive their etymology from the older practices of alchemy and astrology. Healing arts of medicine and the intellectual pursuits of the seven liberal arts were often written in, what people of the time considered to be, mystical and heathenistic language. The basics of algebra and even having the language skills to read other arabic texts were the real skills sorcerers. So, previously when my hand turned to character burning magic-users, I would always be focused on how to get my sorcery skill as high as possible even to the point of putting reading or writing at exponent 3… In truth, the sorcery skill should probably be the lowest exponent skill. In “wizard schools” it would be the skill taught last after alchemy, astrology, reading, writing, language, etc. The difference perhaps is subtle, but I think, perhaps, it is the difference between Peter Jackson’s portrayal Gandalf and Tolkien’s. I did a bit of sleuthing on these forums of sorcerers burned up here, and I was not surprised to find that many were doing what I was doing. High sorcery skills compared to knowledge. I think this a hold-over for myself of my days of D&D. Where the wizards intelligence for languages in 0d&d quickly became lost in the quest for 9th level spells and fireballs as the playstyle shifted from exploration to combat. Food for thought!
As the author states in his preface
Umberto Eco’s medieval mystery The Name of the Rose also ascribes significant importance to books and learning, and examines questions of the disclosure and censorship of knowledge. The connection between magic and science, and the association of Arabic learning and heathen knowledge with heresy and magic, are common both to Eco’s twentieth-century novel set in the Middle Ages and to medieval literature in general. The suspicion of all knowledge, especially Arabic texts and heathen learning, embodied in Eco’s novel by the blind monk Jorge, is constantly contrasted with
the curiosity about and reverence for these same texts by others, notably William of Baskerville. Although a number of other issues play an important role in The Name of the Rose—including the relationship between sign and signifier, the conflict between ecclesiastical and secular authority, the Avignon Papacy and the inquisitorial process— three related ideas, embodied in both the library and the manuscript, link the various narrative threads of Adso’s seven-day stay at the abbey. The first is the connection between magic and science, and the blurring of the boundary between the two. The second is the suspicion of all things foreign, magic or heathen of being inherently dangerous to medieval Christianity. And the third is the battle between those who want to make knowledge public and available, and those who would suppress or even destroy it. These three ideas serve to unite the narrative strands of The Name of the Rose, a novel set at the medieval world’s greatest—albeit fictitious—library. Magic in Eco’s novel and, as I argue in this study, also in medieval German literature, serves as the embodiment of both the heretical, the dangerous and the unknown, as well as of learning and knowledge.