The oldest trick in the book

The oldest trick in the book

Westcar Papyrus on display in the  Ägyptisches Museum , Berlin

Westcar Papyrus on display in the Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin

It might seem like just a saying, but if you count papyrus, there's an actual 'oldest trick in the book'.

The 18th-16th century BCE Westcar Papyrus tells the story of King Cheops (of Great Pyramid fame) calling for the magician Dedi.

Dedi 'pulls the heads off' a goose, a duck, and an ox and restores them to life - a magic trick that is still performed today.

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Another magic trick dating from around Dedi's time is the 'Cups and Balls', and Dedi is credited with performing the trick on an Ancient Egyptian mural at Beni Hassan.

In Roman times, there was a dedicated group of magicians who performed the Cups and Balls using vinegar cups and stones, called The Acetabularii (Aceta = vinegar).

In fact, the 'Cups and Balls' is still a good test of a magician's competence - to become a member of the Inner Magic Circle, the Prince of Wales performed the Cups and Balls for his induction test.

The first book of tricks in English is The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot in 1584. As an executable offence, any mention of witchcraft drew attention - even if the book was sceptical of witchcraft itself, and explained how easy it was to fool people using simple conjuring tricks. In 1603, James I burnt all the copies he could find.

Read more

The Westcar Papyrus on Wikipedia

Dedi on Wikipedia

Photo credit: Keith Schengili-Roberts, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

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