Pythia

Pythia, Priestess of Delphi (1891) by John Collier. Pythia was inspired by the smoky pneuma rising from below the ground.

That same radio program that I mentioned in my last post about the Codex Seraphinianus also covered some other books that mix fact and fiction in ways that lead us to be unsure about what is real, unreal or even supernatural.

One of those books is The Book of Pythia which is part of the sacred scrolls of the Twelve Tribes of Kobol. The Pythia was more commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi. She was the priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.

In mythology, the Pythia was widely credited for her prophecies inspired by Apollo, the Book of Pythia also figured in the four seasons of the re-imagined television show Battlestar Galactica. The fictional universe utilized the real book.

Like many films and novels, the mixture of fact and fiction can confuse viewers and readers about what is real and what is the fiction. (Here’s a slide show of the book.)

Another mix of fact and fiction occurs in The Aleppo Codex. The book is said to be the oldest, most complete, most accurate text of the Hebrew Bible. The mystery comes from it going missing.

The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books is a story going back a thousand years.

This very real codex was kept safe and was said to be housed in the 1940s in a dark grotto in Aleppo, Syria, and so it took on the name Aleppo Codex.

The book is a tale by journalist Matti Friedman of his pursuit of this precious manuscript that was smuggled from Syria into Israel.

How did it get there? What about the pages that went missing?

Partly Indiana Jones, partly Dan Brown, partly National Treasure, it involves secret agents, clergymen, collectors and politicians, all in pursuit of the ancient book.

And finally there is a book of magic about a book of magic.

1001 nights

Alif the Unseen follows an Arab-Indian hacker whose shady clients he protects from surveillance. Alif (the first letter of the Arabic alphabet) has the misfortune of having the new fiancé of his ex-girlfriend be the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security. They go after Alif. He goes into hiding and in doing so discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn.

That book is not the One Thousand and One Nights that we know from the rather distorted Westernized/Disneyfied stories of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. Have you heard of the jinn? This Arabic word is probably more familiar to Westerners as genies. But these spiritual creatures are also mentioned in the Qur’an and other Islamic texts. They exist in a world we do not see because it is in dimensions beyond the visible universe of humans. Parallel universes? The jinn, humans and angels make up the three sapient creations of God.

The Qur’an mentions that the jinn are made of a smokeless and “scorching fire” which makes me think back to those seraph mentioned earlier. They can interact physically with people and objects and be acted upon and can be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent. They have free will like humans and unlike angels.

Does this mix of fact and fiction create magic? It seems to work for Dan Brown, author of Inferno: A Novel.

His 2013 mystery thriller novel is the fourth book in his Robert Langdon series (Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol).


Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology, gets pulled in again to a mystery centered on the literary masterpiece, Dante’s Inferno.

Mixing lots of real locations and real people and groups in with a liberal dose of suppositions and fiction, Langdon has to try to solve an ingenious riddle. The puzzle also mixes classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Of course, Dante’s dark epic poem is fiction, but it also mixed that fiction and guesswork with things that readers of his time would know as real or at least that they believed.

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