On Saturday’s “Weekend Edition” (6/26/2010), Scott Simon interviewed William Kalush, founder of the Conjuring Arts Research Center. Kalush gave Simon a tour of his library of books about magic tricks including some very ancient ones (via Magic Tricks Amuse Even In Extraordinary Times : NPR):
Detail of page from Albertus Magnus, De mirabilibus mundi
Mr. KALUSH: …the earliest complete book we have, originally it was written in about 1280.
Mr. KALUSH: The first time it was printed was in the 1470s. This example is about from 1480 and it was printed in Rome and it’s in Latin. And this particular book is attributed to Albertus Magnus. He’s now a saint but he wrote about a lot of interesting things, and in this book he writes about secrets and one of which is how to take a dead fly and resuscitate it, bring it back to life. And here it is, written in the 13th century and printed in the 15th century.
SIMON: Now, if I asked you how do you resuscitate a dead fly, would it be against the code for you to tell me?
Mr. KALUSH: I wouldnt tell you. No. I might tell you the path you might take to go find that method yourself. For example, I’ve already told you that it’s somewhere in this book in Medieval Latin. You might be able to find a copy of this book someplace and find somebody who can translate it…
I’m a little familiar with Albertus, since Felix Fabri draws on his De animalibus (On Animals) quite a bit for interesting facts, for instance, about crocodiles (2.120b) or the phoenix (2.139b). For those who need to know, in De mirabilibus mundi, or Wonders of the World, Albertus twice describes how to revive a dead fly or at least make it appear that you can. I haven’t been able to find a Latin text, but here it is in an Elizabethan translation:
…if drowned flies be put in warm ashes, they will recover their life after a little space. (8)
And Philosophers saith, if thou drown Flies in the water, they seem dead, and if they be buried in ashes, they rise up again. (37)
So there’s the trick. Drown a fly, then roll it ashes until it wakes up. Abracadabra! I hope no one tries this because it seems cruel to the fly.