story of magic is as old as recorded history. The Westcar
Papyrus, written nearly 4000 years ago, holds a story of a
magician performing centuries earlier in the Pharaoh's court.
Magicians performed in the streets and marketplaces of ancient
Greece and Rome. Almost every society has some form of magic.
Some say that magic is the most universal of the performing
arts, because it translates so easily from one culture to
the year 1750, most magic was performed outdoors in marketplaces,
in fairs, and on street corners. Magicians had no stages of
their own. Their shows were limited to what they could carry
with themor what their audiences were likely to have
EGYPT Beheadings in the court
5000 years ago, magic entertained the court of the Egyptian
king Cheops. A magician named Dedi cut off and restored the
heads of a goose, a pelican and an ox.
GREECE Magic on the street
Magicians drew crowds on the streets of ancient Greece. One
watcher wrote of seeing a man put three small cups on a table.
The magician then moved pebbles "one by one under the cups,
and thenI don't know howmade them appear
under one cup, and showed them in his mouth."
The illusion that never was
tale of the famed "Indian rope trick" goes back more than
600 years. The story goes roughly as follows: a magician suspends
a rope in an outdoor clearing. Then a boy climbs the rope
and disappears, calling down insults. The magician grabs a
sword, follows and disappears too. The audience hears screams
as body parts fall to the ground. Then the magician reappears,
climbs down, throws the bloody parts into a basket and shakes
it. The boy steps out of the basket unhurt.
one problem: as described here, it's impossible. While
magicians have reproduced some parts of the Indian rope trick,
the whole tale is most likely just a story passed along by
people who said they knew others who had seen it. Many magicians
have said that repeating it all outdoors just can't be
famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch shows the popular
Magic for kings and commonersand suspicion
some European magicians performed in royal courts, most worked
in marketplaces, at fairs and on street corners.
the illusions were quite popular, people sometimes accused
the magicians of witchcraft. To make it easier to find "real"
witches, Reginald Scot wrote "The Discoverie of Witchcraft"
in 1584. In it, he revealed how magicians did some common
illusions to show that they used natural methods, not witchy