The Cyranides (also Kyranides or Kiranides) is a compilation of magico-medical works in Greek first put together in the 4th century.[1] A Latin translation also exists. It has been described as a "farrago" and a texte vivant,[2] owing to the complexities of its transmission: it has been abridged, rearranged, and supplemented. The resulting compilation covers the magical properties and practical uses of gemstones, plants, and animals, and is a virtual encyclopedia of amulets;[3] it also contains material pertinent to the history of western alchemy,[4] and to New Testament studies, particularly in illuminating meanings of words and magico-religious practices.[5] As a medical text, the Cyranides was held in relatively low esteem even in antiquity and the Middle Ages because of its use of vernacular language and reliance on lore rather than Hippocratic or Galenic medical theory.[6]

In the Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Thomas Browne described the Cyranides as "a collection out of Harpocration the Greek and sundry Arabick writers delivering not only the Naturall but Magicall propriety of things."[7] Although the Cyranides was considered "dangerous and disreputable" in the Middle Ages, it was translated into Latin by Pascalis Romanus, a clergyman with medical expertise who was the Latin interpreter for Emperor Manuel I Komnenos. The 14th-century cleric Demetrios Chloros was put on trial because he transcribed magical texts, including what was referred to as the Coeranis.[8]

Form and structure

The original 4th-century Cyranides comprised three books, to which a redactor added a fourth. The original first book of the Cyranides, the Κυρανίς (Kuranis), was the second component of a two-part work, the first part of which was the Ἀρχαϊκἠ (Archaikê). Books 2–4 are a bestiary. The edition of Kaimakis (see below) contains a fifth and sixth book which were not transmitted under the name Cyranides but which were included with the work in a limited number of manuscripts. A medieval Arabic translation of the first book exists, and portions of it are "reflected" in the Old French work Le livre des secrez de nature (The Book of Nature's Secrets).

The Cyranides begins by instructing the reader to keep its contents secret, and with a fictional narrative of how the work was discovered.[9] In one 15th-century manuscript, the author of the work is said to be Kyranos (Κοίρανος), king of Persia.[10]

Sample remedies and spells

The Cyranides devotes a chapter to the healing powers of the water snake; its bezoar is used to cure dropsy.[11] Fish gall is recommended for healing white spots in the eye; fish liver is supposed to cure blindness.[12] For a "large and pleasurable" erection, a mixture of arugula, spices, and honey is recommended, as is carrying the tail of a lizard or the right molar of a skink.[13] The fumigation or wearing of bear hair turns away evil spirits and fever.[14]

Daniel Ogden, a specialist in magic and the supernatural in antiquity, has gathered several references from the Cyranides on the use of gemstones and amulets.[15] The collection offers spells to avert the child-harming demon Gello, who was blamed for miscarriages and infant mortality, and says that aetite can be worn as an amulet against miscarriage.[16]

Magico-religious tradition

Olympidorus provides a summary of a passage from the work, not part of the abridged version now extant, that has cosmological as well as alchemical implications:

Talpa europaea MHNT Tete
The mole: once a man, and cursed for revealing the secrets of the sun, according to the Cyranides
Again in Kyranis Hermes, speaking riddlingly of the egg, said that it is properly the substance of gold-solder and the moon. For the egg challenges the golden-haired cosmos: the cockerel, Hermes says, was once a man, cursed by the sun. This he says in the book called Ancient (archaike). In it he also makes mention of the mole, saying that it too was once a man. It was cursed by god for revealing the secrets of the sun. And the sun made it blind and if it happens to be observed by the sun, the earth does not receive it till evening. He says '<the sun made it blind> as it knew as well what was the shape of the sun.' He exiled it in the melanitis land [black earth?],[17] as a law-breaker and divulger of his secret to the human race.[18]

In the extant version, the Cyranides contains a description of the heliodromus, a phoenix-like bird from India which, upon hatching, flies to the rising sun and then goes west when the sun passes the zenith. It lives only a year, and, according to some interpretations of an unreliable text, leaves behind an androgynous progeny.[19]

Editions and translations

  • Ruelle, M. Ch.-Ém. 1898. Les lapidaires de l'antiquité et du moyen-âge 2. Les lapidaires grecs, Tome 2, Fascicule 1, Paris. Partial Greek text.
  • Kaimakis, D. Die Kyraniden. Meisenheim am Glan, 1976. The Greek text. (NB: Kaimakis did not consult the Latin text while making this edition).
  • Delatte, Louis. Textes latins et vieux francais relatifs aux Cyranides. Paris: Droz, 1942. The Latin translation.
  • Toral-Niehoff, Isabel. Kitab Giranis. Die arabische Übersetzung der ersten Kyranis des Hermes Trismegistos und die griechischen Parallelen. (Diss. 1997) München: Herbert Utz, 2004. ISBN 3-8316-0413-4. Arabic translation and partial Greek text.
  • Waegeman, Maryse. Amulet and Alphabet: Magical Amulets in the First Book of Cyranides. Amsterdam, 1987. Text of Book 1 in Greek, with English translation and commentary.

Selected bibliography

  • Bain, David. "Μελανῖτις γῆ in the Cyranides and Related Texts: New Evidence for the Origins and Etymology of Alchemy." In Magic in the Biblical World: From the Rod of Aaron to the Ring of Solomon. T&T Clark International, 2003, pp. 191–218. Limited preview online.
  • Bain, David. "περιγίνεσθαι as a Medical Term and a Conjecture in the Cyranides." In Ethics and Rhetoric: Classical Essays for Donald Russell on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995, pp. 281–286. Limited preview online.
  • Faraone, Christopher A. Ancient Greek Love Magic. Harvard University Press, 2001. Limited preview online.
  • Mavroudi, Maria. "Occult Science and Society in Byzantium: Considerations for Future Research." University of California, Berkeley. Full text downloadable. Also published in The Occult Sciences in Byzantium (La Pomme d'or, 2006), limited preview online.


  1. ^ David Bain, "περιγίνεσθαι as a Medical Term and a Conjecture in the Cyranides," in Ethics and Rhetoric: Classical Essays for Donald Russell on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 283 online. Christopher A. Faraone, Ancient Greek Love Magic p. 121, dates the work to the 1st century.
  2. ^ French, "living text"; that is, an "open" document or text undergoing continuing revision by multiple hands and existing in no one authoritative form; see Wikipedia.
  3. ^ Faraone, Ancient Greek Love Magic, pp. 11 and 121.
  4. ^ David Bain, "Μελανῖτις γῆ in the Cyranides and Related Texts: New Evidence for the Origins and Etymology of Alchemy," in Magic in the Biblical World: From the Rod of Aaron to the Ring of Solomon (T&T Clark International, 2003), pp. 209–210, especially note 64.
  5. ^ Jeffrey B. Gibson, Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity (Continuum International Publishing, 2004), p. 246 online; used as a source by James A. Kelhoffer, The Diet of John the Baptist: "Locusts and Wild Honey" in Synoptic and Patristic Interpretation (Mohr Siebeck, 2005), passim.
  6. ^ Maria Mavroudi, "Occult Science and Society in Byzantium: Considerations for Future Research," University of California, Berkeley, p. 84, full text downloadable.
  7. ^ As cited by Bain, "Μελανῖτις γῆ," p. 208.
  8. ^ Bain, "Μελανῖτις γῆ," p. 208, note 61; Mavroudi, "Occult Science and Society in Byzantium," p. 84.
  9. ^ Bain, "Μελανῖτις γῆ," pp. 195 online, 203 and 209; "περιγίνεσθαι as a Medical Term," p. 283; "Some Textual and Lexical Notes on Cyranides 'Books Five and Six'," Classica et Mediaevalia 47 (1996), pp. 151–168 online.
  10. ^ Mavroudi, "Occult Science and Society in Byzantium," p. 74.
  11. ^ Bain, "περιγίνεσθαι as a Medical Term," p. 283.
  12. ^ Erich S. Gruen, Diaspora: Jews Amidst Greeks and Romans (Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 319 online.
  13. ^ Faraone, Ancient Greek Love Magic, p. 21, note 93. The possession of a molar by a skink seems not to be questioned; one wonders whether the translation is accurate.
  14. ^ Mavroudi, "Occult Science and Society in Byzantium," p. 84, note 137.
  15. ^ Daniel Ogden, Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook (Oxford University Press, 2002), passim, limited preview online.
  16. ^ Sarah Iles Johnston, Restless Dead: Encounters Between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece (University of California Press, 1999), pp. 166–167 online.
  17. ^ Based on the Latin translation and a poor text of the Greek, E.H.F. Meyer thought that μελανῖτις γῆ referred to southern Syria; others have thought Ethiopia; Egypt is now the standard view.
  18. ^ Bain, "Μελανῖτις γῆ," p. 199
  19. ^ R. van den Broek, The Myth of the Phoenix According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions (Brill, N.D.), pp. 286–287 online.. On the sex of the phoenix, see F. Lecocq, «‘Le sexe incertain du phénix’: de la zoologie à la théologie», Le phénix et son autre: poétique d'un mythe des origines au XVIe s., ed. L. Gosserez, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2013, p. 177-199, (ISBN 978-2-7535-2735-5)
Apple of Discord

An apple of discord is a reference to the Golden Apple of Discord (Greek: μῆλον τῆς Ἔριδος) which, according to Greek mythology, the goddess Eris (Gr. Ἔρις, "Strife") tossed in the midst of the feast of the gods at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis as a prize of beauty, thus sparking a vanity-fueled dispute among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite that eventually led to the Trojan War (for the complete story, see The Judgement of Paris). Thus, "apple of discord" is used to signify the core, kernel, or crux of an argument, or a small matter that could lead to a bigger dispute.


In Greek mythology, Argo (; in Greek: Ἀργώ) was the ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed from Iolcos to Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece.


Baetylus (also Baetyl, Bethel, or Betyl, from Semitic bet el "house of god") is a word denoting sacred stones that were supposedly endowed with life. According to ancient sources, these objects of worship were meteorites, which were dedicated to the gods or revered as symbols of the gods themselves. A baetyl is also mentioned in the Bible at Bethel in the Book of Genesis in the story of Jacob's Ladder.


In the ancient Mediterranean region, bugonia or bougonia was a ritual based on the belief that bees were spontaneously (equivocally) generated from a cow's carcass, although it is possible that the ritual had more currency as a poetic and learned trope than as an actual practice.

Cap of invisibility

In classical mythology, the Cap of Invisibility (Ἅϊδος κυνέην (H)aïdos kuneēn in Greek, lit. dog-skin of Hades) is a helmet or cap that can turn the host invisible. It is also known as the Cap of Hades, Helm of Hades, or Helm of Darkness. Wearers of the cap in Greek myths include Athena, the goddess of wisdom, the messenger god Hermes, and the hero Perseus. The Cap of Invisibility enables the user to become invisible to other supernatural entities, functioning much like the cloud of mist that the gods surround themselves in to become undetectable.


In classical antiquity, the cornucopia (from Latin cornu copiae), also called the horn of plenty, was a symbol of abundance and nourishment, commonly a large horn-shaped container overflowing with produce, flowers or nuts.

Demetrios Chloros

Demetrios Chloros was a 14th-century physician, astrologer, and priest who was tried for possessing magic books.Chloros was a protonotarios, or secretary of the patriarch, and former kanstresios, supervisor of offerings. He was put on trial by the patriarchate at Constantinople because he had transcribed texts with content pertaining to magical practices, including the Coeranis, a portion or all of the Cyranides. Chloros defended the texts on the basis of their medical value. Other physicians who were witnesses against him called Chloros a disgrace to the art of medicine and said he insulted Hippocrates and Galen by regarding them as magicians. Chloros was subsequently sentenced to live as a monk under surveillance in the monastery of the Peribleptos.Chloros is known to have vacillated between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The synodal decree that condemned him gives equal weight to recounting his ecclesiastic career and his movements between Constantinople and the papal court. Since other churchmen advertised themselves as knowledgeable occult practitioners, the mere possession of magic texts is not likely to have been the true or primary cause of action against him.Evidence in a later case against a physician named Gabrielopoulos included the discovery at his home of a book of spells by Chloros and the Cyranides. Chloros's notebook was said to be "filled with all manner of impiety including incantations, chants, and names of demons."Stephanus of Byzantium and the Nicander Scholia refer to Chloros.

Dragon's teeth (mythology)

In Greek myth, dragon's teeth feature prominently in the legends of the Phoenician prince Cadmus and in Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. In each case, the dragons are real and breathe fire. Their teeth, once planted, would grow into fully armed warriors.

Cadmus, the bringer of literacy and civilization, killed the sacred dragon that guarded the spring of Ares. The goddess Athena told him to sow the teeth, from which sprang a group of ferocious warriors called the spartoi. He threw a precious jewel into the midst of the warriors, who turned on each other in an attempt to seize the stone for themselves. The five survivors joined with Cadmus to found the city of Thebes.The classical legends of Cadmus and Jason have given rise to the phrase "to sow dragon's teeth." This is used as a metaphor to refer to doing something that has the effect of fomenting disputes.

Galatea (mythology)

Galatea (; Greek: Γαλάτεια; "she who is milk-white") is a name popularly applied to the statue carved of ivory by Pygmalion of Cyprus, which then came to life in Greek mythology. In modern English the name usually alludes to that story.

Galatea is also the name of Polyphemus's object of desire in Theocritus's Idylls VI and XI and is linked with Polyphemus again in the myth of Acis and Galatea in Ovid's Metamorphoses.


The harpē (ἅρπη) was a type of sword or sickle; a sword with a sickle protrusion along one edge near the tip of the blade. The harpe is mentioned in Greek and Roman sources, and almost always in mythological contexts.

The harpe sword is most notably identified as the weapon used by Cronus to castrate and depose his father, Uranus. Alternately, that weapon is identified as a more traditional sickle or scythe. The harpe, scythe or sickle was either a flint or adamantine (diamond) blade, and was provided to Cronus by his mother, Gaia. According to an ancient myth recorded in Hesiod's Theogony, Uranus had cast his and Gaia's children, the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires, down into Tartarus. The enraged Gaia plotted Uranus' downfall. She beseeched each of her sons to rise up against Uranus but was refused by all but the youngest, Cronus. So, Gaia provided him with the weapon, and when Uranus next came to lay with Gaia, Cronus leapt up into action and castrated his father, overthrowing him and driving him away forever. Thus the blade (whether harpe, sickle or scythe) became a symbol of Cronus's power.

Perseus, a grandson of Cronus, is also regularly depicted in statues and sculpture armed with a harpe sword in his quest to slay the Gorgon, Medusa, and recover her head to use against Ceto. Perseus was provided with such a sword by his father, Zeus (Cronus' youngest son and later overthrower).

In Greek and Roman art it is variously depicted, but it seems that originally it was a khopesh-like sickle-sword. Later depictions often show it as a combination of a sword and sickle, and this odd interpretation is explicitly described in the 2nd century Leucippe and Clitophon.


In Greek mythology, ichor ( or ; Ancient Greek: ἰχώρ) is the ethereal fluid that is the blood of the gods and/or immortals.

Lotus tree

The lotus tree (Greek: λωτός, translit. lōtós) is a plant that is referred to in stories from Greek and Roman mythology.

The lotus tree is mentioned in Homer's Odyssey as bearing a fruit that caused a pleasant drowsiness, and which was said to be the only food of an island people called the Lotophagi or Lotus-eaters. When they ate of the lotus tree they would forget their friends and homes and would lose their desire to return to their native land in favor of living in idleness. Botanical candidates for the lotus tree include the date-plum (Diospyros lotus), which is a sub-evergreen tree native to Africa that grows to about 25 feet bearing yellowish green flowers, as well as Ziziphus lotus, a plant with an edible fruit closely related to the jujube, native to North Africa and the islands in the Gulf of Gabes such as Jerba.

In Ovid's Metamorphoses, the nymph Lotis was the beautiful daughter of Neptune, the god of water and the sea. In order to flee the violent attention of Priapus, she invoked the assistance of the gods, who answered her prayers by turning her into a lotus tree.The Book of Job has two lines (40:21-22), with the Hebrew word צֶאֱלִים‎ (tse'elim), which appears nowhere else in the Bible. A common translation has been "lotus trees" since the publication of the Revised Version. However it is sometimes rendered simply as "shady trees".

Necklace of Harmonia

The Necklace of Harmonia was a fabled object in Greek mythology that, according to legend, brought great misfortune to all of its wearers or owners, who were primarily queens and princesses of the ill-fated House of Thebes.

Panacea (medicine)

The panacea , named after the Greek goddess of universal remedy Panacea, is any supposed remedy that is claimed to cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely. It was in the past sought by alchemists as a connection to the elixir of life and the philosopher's stone, a mythical substance which would enable the transmutation of common metals into gold.

The Cahuilla people of the Colorado Desert region of California used the red sap of the elephant tree (Bursera microphylla) as a panacea.The Latin genus name of ginseng is Panax, (or "panacea") reflecting Linnean understanding that ginseng was widely used in traditional Chinese medicine as a cure-all.A panacea (or panaceum) is also a literary term to represent any solution to solve all problems related to a particular issue. The term panacea is also used in a negative way to describe the overuse of any one solution to solve many different problems especially in medicine.

Pascalis Romanus

Pascalis Romanus (or Paschal the Roman) was a 12th-century priest, medical expert, and dream theorist, noted especially for his Latin translations of Greek texts on theology, oneirocritics, and related subjects. An Italian working in Constantinople, he served as a Latin interpreter for Emperor Manuel I Komnenos.

Philia (Greco-Roman magic)

Out of all of the forms of love magic that existed in the Greco-Roman world, the two most common were eros and philia. Unlike eros, which was more commonly used by men, philia magic was utilized by women and others who were considered to be social inferiors.

Since there was an emphasis on service to the state in Greco-Roman culture, these social inferiors felt like they were doing their country a service. If a woman was capable of repairing her broken marriage and improving her husband’s interaction with the neighbors through magic, society was benefiting as a whole. Despite this protective purpose seen by women, philia spells were looked down on by men. They were a great source of anxiety because men saw them as tools used by the social inferiors to hijack power from the male-dominated hierarchy.


Talaria (Latin: tālāria; Ancient Greek: πτηνοπέδῑλος, ptēnopédilos or πτερόεντα πέδιλα, pteróenta pédila) are winged sandals, a symbol of the Greek messenger god Hermes (Roman equivalent Mercury). They were said to be made by the god Hephaestus of imperishable gold and they flew the god as swift as any bird. The name is from the Latin tālāria, neuter plural of tālāris, "of the ankle".


A thyrsus or thyrsos (Ancient Greek: θύρσος) was a wand or staff of giant fennel (Ferula communis) covered with ivy vines and leaves, sometimes wound with taeniae and topped with a pine cone or by a bunch of vine-leaves and grapes or ivy-leaves and berries.

Winnowing Oar

The Winnowing Oar (athereloigos - Greek ἀθηρηλοιγός) is an object that appears in Books XI and XXIII of Homer's Odyssey. In the epic, Odysseus is instructed by Tiresias to take an oar from his ship and to walk inland until he finds a "land that knows nothing of the sea", where the oar would be mistaken for a winnowing fan. At this point, he is to offer a sacrifice to Poseidon, and then at last his journeys would be over.

Magnum opus

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