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Appendix Manuscripts of the Key of Solomon

This post is a partial re-post from the The Societas Magica Newsletter (Spring 2007).

The Key of Solomon, Toward a Typology of the Manuscripts; Robert Mathiesen, Brown University.

Western Manuscripts of the Key of Solomon. I shall begin with manuscripts written in the Latin alphabet, reserving those in Greek and Hebrew for comment later. I have records of 122 such manuscripts now held in various libraries of Europe and North America. (They are listed in the appendix to this article.)

From booksellers’ catalogues and scholars’ monographs I also know of several other manuscripts which I cannot trace to any present owner. The languages in which these manuscripts are written are Latin, Dutch, English, Italian, French, and German. There is also one very late manuscript in Czech.

So far as I know, there are none in Spanish or Portuguese, in any Celtic or Scandinavian language, or in any Eastern European language other than Czech. One of these Western manuscripts may just possibly have been written as early as the 15th century, though it has not been described in much detail. However, it is in French, and so early a date for it fits very poorly with the history of the French text as revealed by the other manuscripts. The date of this manuscript needs to be reconsidered.

Eight of the remaining manuscripts were written in the 16th century. Of the others, about one-third were written in the 17th century and twothirds in the 18th century. More than half of the 18th-century manuscripts were written in French, which make up about three-fourths of all known French manuscripts. In France the Age of Enlightenment seems to have gone hand-in-hand with a substantial new interest in the Key of Solomon.

These numbers may be shown with greater precision in the form of a table (see below). As we shall see below, a Greek text of the Key of Solomon exists in more than a dozen manuscripts, some of which were written as early as the 15th century. This Greek text seems to be the original form of the Key of Solomon, which was probably translated into one or two Western languages at some point in the 16th century, and subsequently from them into the others. Plausibly, the first translations were into Latin and/or Italian, and the manuscripts themselves sometimes contain statements to that effect. Translations into other Western languages most likely were not made from the original Greek, but from some Western language.

In the West the most common form of the title is simply Clavicula Salomonis, or some vernacular equivalent. Frequently this Solomon is further identified as the son of David and/or the King of Israel (e.g. Clavicula Salomonis filii David regis Israelitarum). In a few manuscripts, however, he is identified simply as Rabbi Solomon, not said to be either a king or a son of David; these few manuscripts form a distinct text-group. In a very few manuscripts the work is connected with Toz (or Toç) Graecus, who is otherwise known as one of the several ancient sages also known as Hermes Trismegistus.

Toz is a corrupt form of Thoth, who was identified with Hermes in antiquity. In many Latin, Italian and French manuscripts this title is supplemented by a statement that the Key of Solomon was originally written in Hebrew and was translated into Italian (or sometimes, into Latin) at the behest of the Duke of Mantua by Abraham Colorni or Colorno.

Colorno is known from other sources to have been a remarkably gifted Jewish inventor and engineer who flourished in Mantua and Ferrara during the second half of the 16th century. The French manuscripts often add that the work was later translated into French.

I have found extensive descriptions for only about one-fifth of these manuscripts. Even from this limited material it has been possible to identify a certain number of text-groups. No doubt more such text-groups remain to be discovered when the rest of the manuscripts will have been examined more fully. Thus the following list of Western text-groups is no more than provisional.

Oldest (Western) Text [OT]. In its oldest form the Key of Solomon is a work divided into two books of about twenty chapters each. Manuscripts of this text-group were the main source of the English version which Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers published in 1899 for the use of actual ceremonial magicians under the title The Key of Solomon the King (Clavicula Salomonis). Mathers’ version, however, does not represent this text-group very accurately, for he omitted a few chapters that offended his sense of magical ethics and added several other chapters taken from other text-groups. In Mathers’ version there is a lengthy supplement between Book I and Book II, giving the details of forty-four different planetary pentacles. This supplement is present in many manuscripts of the Oldest Text, but not in all of them. We may, therefore, distinguish two sub-groups within this textgroup, one without the supplement [OT1], the other with it [OT2]. The extant Greek text (see below) appears not to have this supplement, so the first of these sub-groups is probably somewhat the older of the two. Yet each major sub-group includes at least one 16th-century manuscript. 

Toz Graecus Text-Group [TG]. These manuscripts derive at no great distance from the Oldest Text (without the supplement on pentacles), and they retain the two-book structure of their source. They are marked by a title that refers to “the secrets of secrets” (secreta secretorum) of Solomon or of his Key, and they also cite the exposition of these secrets by Toz Graecus (sometimes corrupted to Ptolomaeus Graecus). This text-group is known from one 16th-century manuscript in English, three 17th-century manuscripts in Latin, and at least one 18th-century manuscript in French.

Invocation of Angels Text-Group [IA]. Two 17th-century manuscripts have an English text under the title On the Invocation of Angels. In his catalogue of manuscripts in the Sloane collection, Ayscough listed this text under “Solomon, Clavicula (Anglice),” so it may be a third independent English translation of the Key of Solomon.

Zekorbeni Text-Group [Zk]. Three 17th-century manuscripts in Latin or Italian have the strange title Zekorbeni, sive Claviculae Salomonis libri IV.10 (The word “Zekorbeni” remains unclear to me.) This form of the Key of Solomon is divided into four books as follows: (1) De praeparamentis, (2) De experimentis, (3) De pentaculis, and (4) De artibus. The contents are more or less the same as the Oldest Text (with the supplement on pentacles), but the chapters have been somewhat rearranged. There are also two 18th-century French manuscripts of a text with the title Zekerboni, attributed to Pierre Mora, but I do not have enough information to determine whether they contain the same work as the Latin and Italian manuscripts.

Armadel Text-Group [Arm]. These manuscripts derive from the Oldest Text (with the supplement on pentacles), but the chapters have been greatly rearranged to reflect the order in which they would be consulted in conducting an actual magical operation. In some, but not all, of these manuscripts, the old division of the chapters into two books has also been obliterated and the chapters have been renumbered sequentially. There is also some added material at the end. This text-group is known from several French manuscripts of the 17th or 18th centuries, with the title Les vrais clavicules du Roi Salomon, ouvrage traduit de l’hébreux en langue vulgaire par Armadel, 1220.

Secret of Secrets Text-Group [SS]. Despite a similar title and similar references to “Toz Graec” in the prologue, these manuscripts differ greatly in content and structure from those in the Toz Graecus text-group. They lack any division into books or into chapters. This text-group is known from several French manuscripts of the 17th or 18th centuries, with the title Le Secret des Secrets, autrement la Clavicule de Salomon, ou le veritable grimoire. These last two text-groups [Arm and SS] were sometimes copied as a two volume set.

Rabbi Abognazar Text-Group [Ab]. These manuscripts are not divided into books or numbered chapters. This text-group is known only from a few French manuscripts of the 18th century. The usual form of the title is simply Les Clavicules de Salomon or Les Veritables Clavicules de Salomon. The prologue states that it was anciently translated from Hebrew into Latin by Rabbi Abognazar, who took his translation to Arles, where it was found and translated into French by the Archbishop of Arles after the destruction of the Jews of that city. In some copies the archbishop’s surname is given as Barrault, and J. Jaubert de Barrault did serve as Archbishop of Arles from 1630 until his death in 1643. 

Clavicule Magique et Cabalistique Text-Group [CMC]. This distinctive form of the Key of Solomon is in sixteen chapters. It is known from three manuscripts in French and one in German, all probably of the 18th century. Its full title is La Clavicule Magique et Cabalistique du Sage Roy Salomon. The prologue states that it was translated from Hebrew into Latin by Cornelius Agrippa, and then from Latin into French by Rabbi Nazar. This latter name is an echo of Rabbi Abognazar in the prologue of the preceding text-group. 

Rabbi Solomon Text-Group [RS]. This equally distinctive form of the Key of Solomon is known only from about six 18th-century French manuscripts and a English translation from that French text. Its title is Les Clavicules de Rabbi Salomon, traduites exactement du texte Hébreu en françois, le tout enrichi d’un grand nombre de figures mistérieuses, de talismans, de pentacules, cercles, canderies et charactères. The first fourth of the work is divided into ten chapters on magical work. The rest is not divided into chapters, but consists of seven parts, one for each day of the week and its corresponding planet, giving such things as the planetary pentacle, the names and angels of each hour of the day and of the night for that weekday, the geomantic characters for that planet, its perfume, its prayer, invocation and conjuration, and several pentacles and talismans for purposes appropriate to that day of the week.

Lemegeton Text-Group [Lmg]. There are at least five 17th-century manuscripts of an English work in five parts under a long descriptive title beginning: Lemegeton; Clavicula Salomonis; or, The Little Key of Solomon. It is a work in five parts, compiled from texts that had otherwise circulated independently. Its fifth part is an English translation by Robert Turner of The Notary Art of Solomon, which the compiler took from a printed edition of 1657. That year gives a terminus a quo for the Lemegeton in its present form. One manuscript was copied in 1687, which gives a terminus ad quem.

Expurgated Text-Group [Exp]. At least three 18th-century manuscripts contain a short work in German titled Clavicula Salomonis Expurgata, oder Schlüssel des Königs Salomons wunderbahrlicher Geheimnisse und vieler zukünftigen Dinge. From its brevity as well as its incipit and explicit this is likely to be (as its title says) a heavily expurgated form of the Key of Solomon. 

The Greek Original of the Key of Solomon. There is a work on magic in Greek attributed to Solomon which corresponds closely in content and structure to the first of the above-mentioned text-groups, viz., the Oldest Western Text (without the supplement on Pentacles). Its title varies from manuscript to manuscript. Sometimes it is called the Magical Treatise of Solomon (Apotelesmatike` pragmateîa Solomôntos), sometimes The Little Key of the Whole Art of Hygromancy, Found by Several Craftsmen and by the Holy Prophet Solomon (Tò kleidíon tês páses tékhnes tês hugromanteías, heurethèn hupò diaphóron tekhnitôn kaì toû hagíou prophêtou Solomôntos), and sometimes simply Hygromancy. It is evidently the work of a Christian magician, not a Jewish one. 

This work is known from sixteen or seventeen manuscripts. Six of them were written in the 15th century and another six or seven in the 16th century. (The other four are equally divided between the 17th and the 18th century.) Since the manuscript evidence for this Greek text is significantly earlier than the manuscript evidence for any Western text of the Key of Solomon, the Greek text itself is also probably earlier than any of the texts in Western languages. It is almost certain that the earliest Western version was translated from this Greek text. Greenfield (162) speaks of “the Italian origin or influence apparent in a number of the manuscripts” of the Greek text. This fact gives some support to the claim made in a number of Western manuscripts that the Key of Solomon was originally translated in Italy, whether into Italian or into Latin. Of course there is no mention in the Greek manuscripts of the Duke of Mantua or of Abraham Colorni. 

A Hebrew Version of the Key of Solomon There are also a few Hebrew manuscripts of a Key of Solomon (Mafteach Shelomoh), all of which were written in the very late 17th or the 18th century. They all contain recent Hebrew translations from Italian or Latin magical texts, including passages from the Key of Solomon. They have no bearingon the problem of a possible Hebrew original for that work, which – if it had existed – might have lain behind the Greek and the earliest Western versions. The claim of very many Western manuscripts (mentioned above) that the Key of Solomon was originally written in Hebrew may be only a presumption that any work by King Solomon would first have been written in Hebrew. 

An Arabic Version of the Key of Solomon. In addition to his two reprinted editions, The Greater Key of Solomon and The Lesser Key of Solomon, L. W. De Laurence also published what he said is an Arabic translation of the Greater Key under the title Al-Miftah al-Azam li-Sulayman al-Hakim. In his Catalog of Books, de Laurence says that he paid for this translation to be made and he published it in 1920. This claim needs to be investigated by some qualified scholar. The edition itself appears to bear a publication date of 1916. 

Tentative Conclusions. The best tentative conclusions that can be drawn from all the above-mentioned data are as follows: 

• A work called the Little Key of the Whole Art of Hygromancy, found ... by Solomon was composed in Greek (by a Christian) no later than the 15th century. This Greek text had reached Italy by the 15th century. 

• In Italy it was translated in the 16th century, if not in the 15th. It was first translated into Latin and/or Italian under the simplified title Clavicula Salomonis. It was also translated into English in the 16th century. It remains to be seen whether any of these early translations were made from one another, or whether each of them was made independently from the Greek. 

• Somewhat later the Clavicula Salomonis was translated into other Western vernacular languages, namely, into German, Dutch, French and Czech. These later translations were probably made from a Latin, Italian or English text, not from the Greek. 

• In the West the Clavicula Salomonis circulated as a wild text from the 16th century onward. Copyists felt free to change the text as they copied it, adding, subtracting, and rearranging material at will. This process created distinct text-groups, about ten of which have been identified above. Many other text-groups surely remain to be identified. 

• In the West the Clavicula Salomonis seems to have had its greatest popularity in France in the 18th century, that is, in the Age of Enlightenment. 

• The extant Hebrew texts of the Key of Solomon derive (in part) from these Western texts. There is no evidence whatever that the Greek text or any Western text was translated from the Hebrew, and no good evidence that a Hebrew text of the Key of Solomon existed before the 17th century.


The Societas Magica Newsletter (Spring 2007)